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    Source: Inter Press Service
    Country: Cambodia, Thailand

    By Irwin Loy

    PHNOM PENH, Apr 19, 2011 (IPS) - Allegations that Thailand used controversial cluster munitions during recent border clashes with Cambodia have become the latest wedge driving tensions between the two neighbours.

    The disarmament advocacy group Cluster Munition Coalition earlier this month announced that it had confirmed the Thais used the weapons as part of February skirmishes between Thai and Cambodian troops around a disputed area near the Preah Vihear temple.

    The group said this marked the first time such weapons have been deployed since a landmark treaty banning their use came into effect last year – though Thailand continues to dispute whether or not the weapons should be classified as cluster bombs.

    The CMC said Thailand’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Sihasak Phuangketkeow, acknowledged in an April meeting that Thai troops used 155mm Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions, or DPICM, during the February clashes.

    Laura Cheeseman, director of the CMC, said it was "appalling" that Thailand had resorted to using cluster munitions. "Thailand has been a leader in the global ban on antipersonnel mines and it is unconscionable that it used banned weapons that indiscriminately kill and injure civilians in a similar manner," Cheeseman said in a statement.

    However, Thailand is refusing to classify the weapons as cluster bombs. Thai officials said soldiers used the weapons in response to Cambodian forces firing rockets into Thai territory.

    "(Thai) soldiers defended themselves when attacked by multiple rockets," government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn told IPS. "When the civilian targets in Thailand were attacked, they defended themselves by using a particular kind of weaponry, including (DPICM)."

    Cluster munitions are designed to explode in mid-air over their targets, unleashing smaller bomblets over the blast radius. But critics have sought to outlaw the weapons, arguing high fail rates mean the bomblets often fail to explode on impact, leaving a deadly legacy for civilians long after fighting has stopped.

    The CMC said its members have examined two contaminated areas around the UNESCO-listed Preah Vihear temple and found multiple kinds of cluster bomblets, including M85-type DPICM submunitions.

    A 2007 report by the group Norwegian People’s Aid found that failure rates for the Israeli-produced M85 submunitions were unacceptably high. Though equipped with self-destruct mechanisms meant to ensure no more than 1 percent of the bomblets fail to explode, the report estimated previous use of the weapons in Iraq and Lebanon resulted in ‘dud rates’ as high as 12 percent in some cases.

    A typical 155mm projectile can carry 49 M85 bomblets, meaning that a single fired rocket could leave at least five unexploded submunitions over a three-hectare blast radius.

    Denise Coghlan, director of the group Jesuit Refugee Service in Cambodia, was part of a group that visited the Preah Vihear area shortly after the February fighting. She said two men were killed and another two people lost appendages after the cluster bombs exploded.

    "I was really outraged that people were killed and that people were injured by cluster munitions," Coghlan told IPS. "This is such a flagrant breach of the new international law."

    Though Thailand continues to insist the DPICM are not cluster bombs, other observers have issued sharply worded criticisms nonetheless.

    "Norway condemns all use of cluster munitions," Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Jonas Gahr Støre said in a statement this month. "These weapons kill and maim civilians and have unacceptable humanitarian consequences long after they are used.

    "South-east Asia is a region that is already badly affected, and the incident on the border between Cambodia and Thailand demonstrates clearly why this weapon is now prohibited."

    The United Kingdom has also raised its concerns over the allegations with Thai authorities, a spokeswoman with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office told IPS. "That cluster munitions may have been used is of serious concern to the UK," she said. "We condemn in the strongest terms the use of cluster munitions, which cause unacceptable harm to the civilian population."

    The CMC, meanwhile, says Thailand’s apparent use of the weapons should provide further impetus for both countries to sign on to the global Convention on Cluster Munitions. The treaty banning signatories from using and stockpiling the weapons came into effect last year with neither Cambodia nor Thailand on board.

    But it appears the February incident may hinder, rather than encourage, either country from doing so.

    Cambodia had been a vocal proponent of the treaty. But it surprised observers by not signing on to at its first opportunity in 2008, citing the on-going border tensions with Thailand as well as a need to ascertain its current stock of cluster bombs.

    Analysts say the question of signing the ban in Cambodia has been one that balances political will with caution from military officials. Any confirmed use of cluster bombs by the Thai side, then, could add more weight to the arguments of Cambodian defence officials already hesitant to join the treaty.

    Cambodian Secretary of State Prak Sokhon is an advisor to Prime Minister Hun Sen on the cluster bomb issue. He said his country’s goal remains to sign on to the global pact. But Thailand’s reported deployment complicates the matter.

    "We’re still studying. But from a military point of view, it’s hard to make a decision while the other side uses these kinds of munitions against us," Sokhon told IPS. "If the two countries can find a peaceful solution in the future, then we will reconsider our stance."

    Thai officials say they are still considering the treaty. (END)


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    Source: Inter Press Service
    Country: Bangladesh, Benin, Burundi, Cambodia, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lao People's Democratic Republic (the), Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Uganda, World

    UNITED NATIONS, Jul 10 2012 (IPS) - Knowledge-sharing has become a cornerstone of successful cooperation among developing countries, in areas ranging from agriculture to health and renewable energies.

    “There is a feeling that there are some solutions which can be generated by the South for the benefit of the South, and that ought to be shared between Southern countries,” John Ashe, president of the United Nations High-level Committee on South-South Cooperation, told IPS.

    “South-South Cooperation (SSC) is intended to be that vehicle, but it’s not intended to be a replacement for the traditional North-South cooperation,” Ashe added.

    To date, Japan is the largest contributor to SSC under the Japan Human Resources Development Fund (JHRDF) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) partnership fund.

    Between 1996 and 2011, Japan contributed more than 33 million dollars to South-South initiatives.

    Masato Watanabe, the vice-president of Japan’s International Cooperation Agency, told IPS, “We’ve devised a couple of modalities and approaches. One is to have triangular training programmes. The second one is to have bilateral partnership programmes with potential providers of development cooperation. The third one is to explore the possibility of utilising so called centres of excellence in the South.”

    NERICA (New Rice for Africa), an initiative funded by the Japanese government, the African Development Bank and the UNDP, has been in operation for 15 years. Today, over 700,000 hectares of NERICA varieties of rice are cultivated in 31 countries, leading to a five-percent reduction in poverty in Uganda and a 13-percent reduction in Benin.

    “What we are trying to do is to share these modalities or potential modalities and approaches with other partners so that they can learn our experience and through mutual learning processes we may create better models or approaches,” said Watanabe.

    Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, permanent representative of India to the United Nations, spoke to IPS on behalf of IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa). “South-South Cooperation is doing what it can and that’s what needs to be accepted in its own framework, in the way it is, based on the national priorities of the countries which are the partner countries,” said Puri.

    The IBSA Facility for Poverty and Hunger Alleviation Fund has aided initiatives of the U.N. SSC unit since it was created in 2004.

    It has helped to combat HIV and AIDS in Burundi by building and equipping a prevention, testing and treatment centre. This centre will enable around 39,000 consultations per year for various health-care services including HIV and AIDS, reproductive health, sexually transmitted diseases, prenatal care and family planning.

    The IBSA fund also supports Guinea-Bissau’s agriculture, education and clean energy development by training over 4,500 farmers in enhanced agriculture techniques for rice cultivation, and implementing a solar-energy strategy for rural areas. This has led to a 12-percent increase in crop yields and enabled 3,000 individuals to access electricity, according to IBSA.

    The programme will soon be expanded to include 20 additional villages.

    Puri also noted the importance of both South-South Cooperation and traditional North-South Cooperation.

    “South-South Cooperation can neither be seen as substitute, or in any way as a displacer for North-South cooperation, which must remain strong,” Puri said.

    China’s investment in solar energy systems in Kenya has benefitted 250. The project researched and developed solar technologies that were adapted to the geographical conditions of the region.

    GNERI (The Gansu Natural Energy Research Institute) was the partner responsible for researching and developing these solar products, and produced 50 solar photocaic demonstration systems, 100 solar water heating systems and 100 solar cooker systems, all designed for use by villages and households in sub-Saharan Africa.

    The Korean National Commission for UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation), and KEMCO (Korea Energy Management Corporation) are piloting projects for the RICE (Regional Initiative for Climate change Education) which provides climate change education in developing countries throughout Asia.

    To date, pilot projects are underway in Laos, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand. In 2012, seven projects will be added in Bangladesh, Cambodia and Burma.

    The UNDP has been credited for facilitating South-South and Triangular development as an important means for advancing development and achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

    In an exhibition that opened last Friday at the United Nations, SSC and its successful partnerships are now displayed for the public to see.

    Speaking at the opening of the exhibition, Helen Clark, UNDP administrator and chair of the United Nations Development Group, said, “We believe that through the universal presence we have in developing countries we have the capacity to link people, countries, communities, ideas, experience and best practice.”


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    Source: Inter Press Service
    Country: Cambodia

    PHNOM PENH, Sep 13 2012 (IPS) - Public health experts in Cambodia are unenthused by reports of trials for a dengue vaccine conducted in neighbouring Thailand, saying it will be too costly for those who need it most – children in the least developed and developing countries.

    “Of course, they cannot come out with a vaccine that costs 20 cents,” Dr. Philip Buchy, head of the virology unit at the Pasteur Institute of Cambodia, told IPS.

    Buchy was referring to the Paris-based pharmaceutical company Sanofi SA’s dengue vaccine efficacy trials, the results of which were published in the British medical journal Lancet, this month.

    Dr. Stephen Bjorges, leader of the vector-borne disease team at the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia, agrees. Even if Sanofi succeeds “funds would need to be mobilised” to cover the cost of inoculating children in Cambodia, he said.

    A dengue epidemic that raged through Cambodia during the first eight months of the year landed more than 30,000 people in hospital, the majority of them children.

    According to the Lancet report, Sanofi’s vaccine offers some protection against three of the four serotypes of the dengue virus – about 30 percent against serotype one and from 80 to 90 percent against serotypes three and four.

    However, Sanofi’s vaccine does not protect against serotype two, which was circulating in the study area during the trial, giving the vaccine an overall efficacy rate of 30.2 percent, the report said.

    Large-scale phase-3 trials are underway on 31,000 children and adolescents in Latin America and Southeast Asia, Sanofi said in a press statement timed with the release of the Lancet report.

    According to the Reuters news agency, the company has already invested more than 430 million dollars in a new factory in France to produce the vaccine.

    WHO’s Bjorges said that if the phase 3 trials proved the vaccine was effective, its initial market likley would be tourists from wealthy nations and the military, a view Buchy agrees with.

    Buchy doubted, however, that an effective vaccine was around the corner. “The vaccine is not for tomorrow,” he said. “Dengue epidemics still have good days ahead of them.”

    Still, both doctors expect increasing investment in vaccines and vaccine-related research as global warming expands the range of the mosquito that transmits dengue into southern Europe and the United States.

    Developed countries are beginning to factor the costs of dengue treatment into their long-range healthcare budgets, while pharmaceutical companies have identified a potentially lucrative, emerging market, Buchy said. “Global warming is providing a shortcut for vaccine research.”

    “Interest in vaccines is going to grow exponentially now that there is some success with a vaccine,” Bjorges said.

    The European Union provided more than 10 million dollars for three dengue-related research projects in Southeast Asia earlier this year – including one in Cambodia – to investigate the role that asymptomatic carriers play in transmission, Buchy said.

    “If we can identify a gene that is protective this may allow us to develop drugs for treatment and vaccination,” he added.

    Funding for prevention and control of epidemics in poor countries remains scant, however. The budget for Cambodia’s national dengue control programme is about 500,000 dollars, most of it provided by the Asian Development Bank.

    Bjorges says one reason for the lack of funding for prevention and control is that it has shown little success. “Dengue control is 50 years old and everything that has been thought of has been tried.”

    Breeding sites have to be eradicated weekly in order to prevent the mosquito that transmits the virus from emerging from its larvae, and this requires changes in human behaviour that have proven difficult to sustain on a weekly basis, Bjorges explained.

    Another problem may be that those who allocate global health funds rely on short-term cost-benefit models, Bjorges said. They are under pressure to produce quick, quantifiable results for the funds they allocate, and dengue prevention and control projects do not fit these models, he explained.

    Buchy was less pessimistic about the possibility of changing human behaviour. “Behaviour change is possible, but it requires more investment in education.”

    Buchy’s view is echoed by Prof. Duch Moniboth of Cambodia’s National Pediatric Hospital that treated 1,673 children for dengue in the first seven months of this year. “There is not enough education about dengue – how to prevent infection and how to eradicate breeding sites.”

    New research, however, suggests that dengue is far more prevalent in Cambodia than previously calculated, underscoring the need for increased investment in prevention.

    The disease is underreported partly because Cambodia’s dengue surveillance system relies on data from state-run hospitals and charitable children’s hospitals. Cases treated at private hospitals and clinics are not reported to the health ministry.

    Charitable hospitals treating dengue patients in Cambodia have been pleading for donations after being inundated with patients in May. The National Paediatric Hospital has been relying on nursing students to treat children who spill into the hallways and the foyer around the main stairwell.

    The hospital receives a mere 20 dollars per patient, regardless of how long the child stays, Moniboth said. On average, doctors receive monthly salaries of about 125 dollars, while nurses are paid about 75 dollars, he said.

    With such meager funding for healthcare what is needed is a cheap vaccine, Moniboth said.


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    Source: Inter Press Service
    Country: Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Viet Nam

    By Marwaan Macan-Markar

    BANGKOK, Dec 20 2012 (IPS) - As Thailand braces itself to combat drug-resistant malaria, a spread of small, nondescript buildings scattered close to corn and rice fields along its hilly, western border are being cast into a bigger, international role.

    Hundreds of these health clinics and malaria posts have become a pivotal frontline to detect the genetic mutation of Plasmodium falciparum, which makes the deadly parasite resistant to artemisinin, the most effective anti-malaria drug used globally.

    “They have been equipped to test and treat local people and migrant workers who come down with fever in that malaria belt,” says Wichai Satimai, director of the bureau of vector-borne disease at the Thai Public Health Ministry. “The results of a blood test are given in 15 minutes and the staff will be able to assess if the patient has malaria and what strain.”

    This healthcare for the largely farming and migrant labour community has taken on added significance after medical researchers revealed signs of drug-resistant malaria along the border Thailand shares with Myanmar (or Burma) in April this year.

    “These blood tests have to be carried out more regularly and frequently in the environments that are conducive to spread the parasite from carriers of drug-resistant malaria,” Wichai told IPS. “The health staff must regularly monitor and treat the patients.”

    The efforts to contain drug-resistant malaria in the isolated areas along the border “makes the fight more difficult,” noted Fatoumata Nafo-Traore, head of the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, a global initiative coordinating the drive against the disease, following a recent visit to health clinics along the Thai-Myanmar border. “There are communities living in forest areas and remote areas.

    “We need to contain the resistance in these local areas,” she said in an interview with IPS. “This has to be seen as a global concern because there is no other highly effective anti-malaria drug than artemisinin therapy.”

    But even as the border health clinics begin to shoulder a bigger role, concerns about funding the free health services offered to local and migrant communities are also growing. Officials of the Thai health ministry warned early this month that the Southeast Asian nation may have to meet the cost of containing drug-resistant malaria if international funding dries up.

    Currently, the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which finances programmes to combat these three killer diseases in the developing world, remains a major contributor. It has disbursed 40 million dollars for a range of malaria control programmes, including the running of the 300 malaria posts and health clinics along the Thai border.

    Thailand’s fear of a looming funding crisis was echoed in the ‘World Malaria Report 2012’, which was released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) this week. “International funding for malaria appears to have reached a plateau” that is below the estimated level to meet internationally-agreed global malaria targets, it states.

    “An estimated 5.1 billion U.S. dollars is needed every year between 2011 and 2020 to achieve universal access to malaria interventions in the 99 countries with on-going malaria transmissions,” it adds. “While many countries have increased domestic financing of malaria control, the total available global funding remained at 2.3 billion U.S. dollars in 2011 – less than half of what is needed.”

    The need for sustained funding was underscored by malaria’s global transmission, with 2010 witnessing an estimated 219 million cases occurring, while the disease killed about 660,000 people, mostly children under five years in Africa, according to the WHO’s report.

    While South and Southeast Asia’s number of 2.4 million malaria cases in 2010 may be dwarfed by the global rates, the annual malaria report singled out the Mekong River region – shared by Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam – as the epicentre of drug-resistant malaria.

    “If resistance to artemisinin develops and spreads to other larger geographical areas, the public health consequences could be dire, as no alternative anti-malarial medicines will be available for at least five years,” the WHO warned.

    Artemisinin is the active ingredient in the anti-malarial drug artesunate. It comes from the wormwood plant in China and is the most potent antidote to falciparum malaria, the parasitic strain of malaria responsible for most deaths.

    Artemisinin replaced chloroqunine, a once potent anti-malarial drug, following a resistance strain which emerged in Thailand’s eastern border it shares with Cambodia. The resistance to chloroquinine was first detected in Pailin, a Cambodian town that was once the stronghold of that country’s genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, and was then detected along the Thai-Cambodian border before spreading across the world.

    Fear of such a repeat with artemisinin also haunts health clinics and malaria outposts along the Thai-Cambodian border, where artemisinin-resistant strains have been detected and contained.

    “Good malaria control and elimination will contain the artemisinin-resistant malaria,” said Steven Bjorge, head of the malaria and vectorborne disease section at the WHO’s Cambodia office. “There is no way of knowing that a case of malaria is resistant or sensitive a priori, so detecting and treating each and every case is the proper and necessary means of containing the resistant cases.”

    Cambodia’s western provinces such as Pailin, Oddar Meanchey and Battambang – once the spawning ground for the lethal parasite – have seen a reversal of the falciparum strain. “This is an indication of success in preventing transmission,” Bjorge told IPS. “The overall incidence rate has dropped. Deaths have dropped.”


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    Source: Inter Press Service
    Country: Cambodia, Cocos (Keeling) Islands (Australia), Ethiopia, India, World

    By Lucy Westcott

    UNITED NATIONS, May 22 2013 (IPS) - PATH, a Seattle-based global health development organisation, is aiming to save two million lives by 2015 by jointly tackling diarrhea and pneumonia, the leading killers of children globally.

    Steve Davis, president and CEO of PATH, delivered the message at the ninth annual PATH Breakfast for Global Health held in Seattle on Tuesday.

    “Today we placed a bold stake in the ground, with partners around the world, to save two million lives by the end of 2015,” Davis told IPS.

    PATH will begin its efforts in India, Cambodia and Ethiopia, where intervention is most urgently needed and PATH has resources. While all three countries have seen their child mortality rates from diarrhea drop, India’s pneumonia death rate remains stagnant, accounting for 24 percent of deaths of children under five, the same as in 2000, according to 2013 World Health Organisation statistics.

    “No parent should have to bury a child because of something we can help prevent or treat,” Davis said.

    Diarrhea and pneumonia are two diseases that overwhelmingly affect children in African and Asian countries, Davis said, with diarrhea claiming around 760,000 lives a year. And while the number of children dying in Africa before the age of five has decreased, it still vastly outnumbers all other parts of the world, according to the 2013 WHO statistics.

    Melinda Gates, philanthropist and founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which helps fund health development and vaccines world wide, spoke at the breakfast of the importance of vaccinating children as well as “appropriate” science that meets the needs of communities in the developing countries.

    “[The] developing world is littered with pilot programmes,” Gates said.

    As he took to the stage, Davis pointed to a tool belt around his suit jacket. A visual aid, the belt allowed Davis to show and carry some of the tools that can prevent the deaths of so many children from diarrheal disease, tools that will be used to achieve PATH’s life-saving goal.

    Clean water, soap, zinc tablets for oral rehydration therapy and the rotavirus vaccine, which stops some diarrheal diseases before they start, were all included.

    But it’s not just science and vaccines that can improve the lives of communities ravaged by diarrhea. Deeply held cultural traditions and ideas about the disease have to be altered as well.

    Dr. Alfred Ochola, PATH’s Technical Advisor for Child Survival and Development in Kenya, spoke about educating Kenyans on how to reduce the risk of diarrhea in their communities through hygiene practices like hand washing.

    But Ochola, who lost a brother and sister to a diarrhea outbreak in Kenya as a child, has found that at first, people are reluctant to embrace change.

    “A big [challenge] is combatting old beliefs that diarrhea is a curse and not an infection, and that the death of a child is an inevitable part of life. ‘God will give you another one’ is a common saying in Kenya,” Ochola said.

    Many people believe a child who has diarrhea is cursed, Ochola said. Vomiting and diarrhea are welcomed because it rids the body of the evil inside it, while it should be taken as a sign that something is seriously wrong.

    Poverty is another challenge in combatting the diseases. Although heart disease and diabetes are becoming the new illnesses of poverty, according to Davis, diarrhea and pneumonia still adversely affect children of developing countries in Africa and Asia.

    In Africa and Southeast Asia, the percentage of child deaths are higher than the global average and have not significantly decreased in 10 years. Both regions have seen child mortality from diarrhea fall from 13 percent to 11 percent of deaths from 2000 to 2010, but in Africa, the rate of death from pneumonia has actually increased, from 16 percent to 17 percent.

    “Too many people lack the financial means to seek care when it’s most needed, like paying for transportation to get to a health facility far from home… We often reach women and their children too late,” Ochola said.

    Ochola told the story of Jane Wamalwa, a Kenyan woman who came to understand the reasons behind making a change in long-held practices in treating and preventing diarrhea. Wamalwa lost three children to the disease, and has now become a trusted source of information on good anti-diarrhea practice in her community, Ochola said.

    “It has become her calling,” he added.


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    Source: Inter Press Service
    Country: Afghanistan, Cambodia, Kenya, Nepal, Uganda, World

    UNITED NATIONS, May 27 2016 (IPS) - Around the world girls are struggling to stay in school when their menstrual hygiene needs are forgotten or ignored, yet the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and education sectors have remained reluctant to address the issue.

    Menstrual Hygiene Day, celebrated on May 28, aims to raise awareness of the fundamental role that MHM plays in enabling women and girls to reach their full potential in areas such as education.

    Globally, 52 percent of the female population, or 26 percent of the total population, is of reproductive age. For all of these women and girls, menstruation is a natural, monthly reality. However, as the subject continues to be taboo in societies around the world, access to MHM materials remain limited.

    According to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), in Kenya alone, approximately 50 percent of school-age girls do not have access to sanitary pads.

    “Boys used to laugh at me and I eventually simply stayed home whenever my periods started,” Joan stated.

    “The girl with her period is the one to hang her head. Children and boys will make fun of her,” one young girl told researchers in Kenya.

    The problem is similar in neighbouring Uganda.

    “I used to use clothes that I would cut from my old T-shirts to keep the blood from staining my dresses, but they were not enough and blood would still stain my clothes,” 16-year-old Joan told Catholic Aid organisation Caritas Lira in Uganda.

    This prevents girls from participating and attending school, as they feel shame and fear humiliation from their peers.

    In Nepal and Afghanistan, 30 percent of girls report missing school during their periods. In India, over 20 percent of girls drop out of school completely after reaching puberty.

    Lack of access to private toilets and clean water also hinder school participation.

    “Girls…lack access to clean, safe private toilets. There is no clean water within or near the toilets, which means there is nowhere to clean up and discreetly dispose of used menstrual products,” said Plan International USA’s Director of Water, Sanitation and Health Darren Saywell.

    Trem, a 14-year old girl from Cambodia, told Plan International that she has to go home to change her sanitary pad due to poor facilities in her school. Though her house is close by, she said that other girls have to travel further so “they don’t bother coming back to school.”

    The exclusion of women and girls from education is costly, many note.

    “When girls drop out of school at an early age, they are less likely to return to education, leaving them vulnerable to early marriage, violence and forced sexual relations,” Saywell said.

    According to the UN’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF), girls who remain in secondary school are six times less likely to marry young. In Sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia, child marriage would decrease by over 60 percent if all girls had secondary education.

    UNICEF also noted the larger health benefits that come with educating women and girls, including decreases in maternal, infant and child mortality rates as well as poverty.

    Some organisations have begun to address the issue including Caritas Lira and Plan International which works with schools and communities to raise awareness of hygiene and teach them how to make reusable sanitary pads.

    However, MHM continues to be left out of the agenda from both the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and education sectors, even in development and emergency relief programmes.

    WaterAid, an international clean water and sanitation organisation, found that women and girls are often excluded from decision-making in such programmes, resulting in little control over matters such as money to spend on MHM materials.

    “Most people, and men in particular, find menstrual hygiene a difficult subject to talk about. As a result of these issues, WASH interventions often fail to address the needs of women and girls,” WaterAid said in a report.

    “If the situation does not change, it may not be possible for development programmes to achieve their goals,” they stated.


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    Source: Inter Press Service
    Country: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Liberia, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Timor-Leste, World

    By Thalif Deen

    NEW YORK, Jun 23 2016 (IPS) - The United Nations claims it is doing its best to curb widespread sexual abuses in its peacekeeping operations overseas – from Haiti all the way to the Central African Republic.

    But the UN’s best is just not good enough, says Ian Richards, President, Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations.

    Richards, who represents over 60,000 staffers in the UN system worldwide, told IPS: “We cannot stand by while a few colleagues and military personnel commit acts of sexual exploitation and abuse against those seeking our help.”

    Judging by what Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and member states have said, the intentions are there, but there’s a lot of work to do, and it’s not clear how far things are moving forward, said Richards, who is based in Geneva.

    “That’s why we as staff unions have decided to take a moral stand,” he declared, pointing out that last year alone, 99 women, children and men were allegedly sexually exploited or abused by those working under the UN flag.

    In a report released in March, Human Rights Watch said exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers and personnel have been reported since the 1990s relating to peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Timor-Leste, Haiti, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and South Sudan, among others.

    Troops from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Burundi, the Republic of Congo, and the Democratic Republic of Congo have been among those implicated in the abuse, although some of those cases concerned peacekeeping forces led by the African Union. The UN’s handling of sexual abuse claims by French Peacekeepers in the Central African Republic has also drawn widespread condemnation, although the French troops were not UN Peacekeepers.

    Also in March, the UN began investigating 104 new cases of sexual abuses with the peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic.

    Asked for a response, UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq told IPS the Secretary-General is trying to ensure that a system is in place to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel and to have accountability when such abuse occurs.

    “He continues to follow up with Member States on this issue and appreciates the support of UN staff in that effort,” said Haq.

    Richards complained that the investigation process is too slow and it doesn’t make sense to have one investigation process for staff and other for military personnel depending on their country of origin.

    It is also unclear how staff and victims should report abuse and what exists to protect them.

    For example, he pointed out, the whistleblower policy still doesn’t require the Ethics Office to be accountable for failure to protect whistleblowers.

    “As recent events have shown, we desperately need such a policy.”

    There also needs to be a culture change. It cannot be right that staff are discouraged from raising questions about the behaviour of certain troops. Accountability should apply to all who turn a blind eye, he noted.

    Richards appreciated the work of Jane Holl Lute, “but she needs more support for her recommendations.”

    Last February, the Secretary-General, alarmed by the rise in sexual abuse, appointed Lute as the Special Coordinator on Improving UN Response to Sexual Exploitation and Abuse.

    In a statement released June 22, the Coordinating Committee called for joint action by colleagues, UN management and member states to:

    • stop all sexual exploitation and abuse, whether by staff, contractors or peacekeepers;
    • provide a single and fair investigation process for both staff and military personnel;
    • put in place better reporting mechanisms for victims and staff, and more effective protection for whistleblowers;
    • implement zero tolerance not just for those who commit such acts but also for those in positions of responsibility who turn a blind eye or cover up;
    • institute a culture change at headquarters so that military forces with records of abuse aren’t contracted to peacekeeping missions; and
    • ensure accountability for all, including through national judicial systems.

    The staff unions believe that each case of abuse and rape, whether committed by military personnel or our own colleagues, tars all staff with the same brush and damages the trust staff have worked so hard to build with the communities they serve.

    Both the Secretary-General and member states have rightly condemned this trend, the statement added.

    “But despite this, allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse continue to go un-investigated, high profile cases remain unprosecuted, member states continue to argue how best to prosecute guilty peacekeepers, and many staff feel scared to report abuse for fear of retaliation.”

    The staff unions of the UN common system, grouped under the staff federations have decided to issue the statement “as a wake-up call to colleagues, our organisations and member states.”

    The Secretary-General has said “the United Nations, and I personally, are profoundly committed to a zero- tolerance policy against sexual exploitation or abuse by our own personnel. This means zero complacency. When we receive credible allegations, we ensure that they are looked into fully. It means zero impunity.”

    According to the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations, UN rules forbid sexual relations with prostitutes and with any persons under 18, and strongly discourage relations with beneficiaries of assistance (those that are receiving assistance food, housing, aid, as a result of a conflict, natural disaster or other humanitarian crisis, or in a development setting).

    The UN has a three-pronged strategy to address all form of misconduct including sexual exploitation and abuse: pre­vention of misconductenforcement of UN standards of conduct and remedial action.


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    Source: Inter Press Service
    Country: Cambodia

    By Amy Fallon

    KAMPONG SPEU PROVINCE, Sep 26 2016 (IPS) - In Kampong Speu province, when the wet weather doesn’t come, as in other parts of Cambodia, it can affect whether food goes on the dinner table.

    “When there’s drought, it strongly affects crop production,” Vann Khen, 48, a married father of three from Amlaing commune, who farms corn for his family’s consumption, and rice, cattle, pigs, chickens and ducks to sell, told IPS.

    What has been worsening the situation for farmers in Kampong Speu, some 40 miles west of the country’s capital Phnom Penh and with a population of at least 700,000, was that a 770-metre water canal, made during the reign of dictator Pol Pot, needed urgent restoration, so when it did rain farmers could access water.

    In each irrigation scheme, a command area normally allows all farmers access to water. But in many instances lack of maintenance, destruction due to floods or animals, and culverts or other gates not working properly can prevent farmers from accessing water, stress officials with FAO Cambodia.

    In other cases, if the irrigation scheme is not built correctly or if there is ineffective land levelling, the water won’t flow. Those not having water access, in both cases, rely mainly on rain patterns. During long dry spells and drought, they suffer more than farmers who have access to irrigation water.

    “Last year wasn’t a good harvest, I got only about 500 dollars in total,” Phal Vannak, 28, a married father of three, who mainly farms corn and rice, told IPS.

    For corn alone, he earned only about 100 dollars due to the delay in rainfall.

    Kampong Speu has been on the other end of extreme weather, suffering from floods and storms.

    But the province experienced severe droughts in 1987, 1999, 2000 and the last two years in a row.

    “In 2015 and 2016, as in other countries, Cambodia has been hit by El Nino, affecting crop production,” Proyuth Ly, from FAO Cambodia, told IPS.

    The dry periods are the “most prominent hazard” threatening the agriculture sector in Kampong Speu, says FAO Cambodia. The industry is one of the sectors most impacted by drought, and smallholder farmers particularly suffer. Tens of thousands of households are thought to be affected by drought every year, with “millions” spent saving lives and recovering livelihoods, according to FAO Cambodia.

    Vannak is the president of a Farmer Water User Group (FWUG) for the Kampong Speu irrigation scheme.

    There are 500 households from six villages who are members. To effectively manage water use, they established six sub-committees (one for each village), and a sub-committee of between four to eight people.

    “The farmers weren’t happy (last year) because they needed the water to get into the rice field,” said Vannak.

    After a request for help from Cambodia’s ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, FAO Cambodia, with funding from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (DIPECHO), rehabilitated the canal.

    “Livelihoods would be affected as they could not grow intended crops,” Etienne Careme, in charge of operations at FAO Cambodia, told IPS. “FAO Cambodia rehabilitated the canal to ensure correct flow of water to needy farmers. It meant rehabilitating canal corridor, strengthening slopes, constructing or rehabilitating culverts.”

    The 80,000-dollar, three-month project, completed last December, included setting up software to train farmer water user groups in water management (a figure that doesn’t include staff time and other travel costs).

    Today, even though Kampong Speu is still experiencing a dry period, rice grows in lush green fields.

    The irrigation scheme is connected from a stream located about 20 miles from the Aoral mountain, the main source, and can supply water to 400 ha of paddy fields.

    “This water has really saved this rice crop,” said Ly on a recent field trip to Kampong Speu to monitor the irrigation scheme and the farmer’s needs, trips conducted regularly, as water rushed past him.

    Vannak said this season’s harvest was already an improvement on last year.

    “When I heard this (canal) was being fixed I was very happy because some people didn’t have water to save their crops,” he said, clutching a handful of corn in a field.

    Khen said he was also happier. “We can open or close the water gate,” he said. “Also the small water gate is allowing us to better regulate water and better distribute it to farmers in the commune.”

    Careme said the restoration of the irrigation scheme had improved rice yields.

    “It allows better production and therefore increases incomes through sale of rice,” he said.


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    Source: Inter Press Service
    Country: Cambodia

    By Erik Larsson

    PHNOM PENH, Apr 24 2017 (IPS) - Mao Neav takes a few quick steps out into the field, followed by her faithful dog Onada, tail wagging, tongue out and panting, ready for what is out there. The field is peppered with cluster bombs.

    Mao Neav is the leader of a small group of bomb and mine clearers working in the Ratanakiri province of north-east Cambodia.

    Her job for the past two years has been to clear the bombs and land mines that litter what was once part of the so-called the Ho-Shi-Minh trail. With the Vietnamese border only 70 kilometres away, this area was part of the logical system that routed supplies for the North Vietnamese troops during the Vietnam War.

    US carpet bombing of Cambodia began in 1970 in an attempt to break the supply chain. 47 years later, there are still plenty of cluster bombs stuck in the ground, and they are still a threat to all passers through.

    ”I heard about the job in an NPA commercial on the radio”

    NPA is the Norwegian People’s Aid, which is the Norwegian labour movement’s ”humanitarian solidarity organisation”. The NPA fund and lead the project. They purposely hire women to prove that women can do mine clearing work too, which generally is very male-dominated in Cambodia.

    Twenty-five of the thirty-five clearers at the base in Ratanakiri are women. Mae Naev says ” There’s no difference between us. We are as skillful as the men”.

    A six-month training course is what the NPA require for new employees. ”We started with one-month of learning to use the metal detector”.

    Thereafter she learned to identify the different types of bombs and mines and how they work respectively.

    In this area there are many undetonated cluster bombs. The most common are BLU 42, 26, 52 and 54 according to the US airforce codes on the bombs that were released here. In eastern Cambodia these cluster bombs are a major problem for farmers and others that pass through the forests.

    In western Cambodia land mines are a greater problem. In the whole country, on average, about two people are maimed or killed every week.

    The total amount of land mines in the country is estimated at around 4 million, thus making Cambodia one of the worst sufferers of undetonated bombs and mines in the world.

    Clearing cluster bombs is much simpler than mines.

    ”Cluster bombs are supposed to explode immediately on impact. That’s why they don’t have a trigger and the risks of explosion are less. Land mines though, are worse”.

    After training on detection and bomb identification, Mao Neav received a three month dog training program.

    ”I love dogs. Being with them is my favorite part of the job”.

    Dogs are used to sniff out the explosives.

    During training she also learned mine clearing techniques. A grid technique divides a specific area into a grid. The clearers then move according to set patterns within each section, marking each find for later transport and destruction.

    ”The first time I stepped out into a mine field I was afraid. But that passed quickly”

    ”My worst experience? I was bitten by my dog once”, she adds.


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    Source: Inter Press Service
    Country: Cambodia, Thailand

    By Irwin Loy

    PHNOM PENH, Apr 19, 2011 (IPS) - Allegations that Thailand used controversial cluster munitions during recent border clashes with Cambodia have become the latest wedge driving tensions between the two neighbours.

    The disarmament advocacy group Cluster Munition Coalition earlier this month announced that it had confirmed the Thais used the weapons as part of February skirmishes between Thai and Cambodian troops around a disputed area near the Preah Vihear temple.

    The group said this marked the first time such weapons have been deployed since a landmark treaty banning their use came into effect last year – though Thailand continues to dispute whether or not the weapons should be classified as cluster bombs.

    The CMC said Thailand’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Sihasak Phuangketkeow, acknowledged in an April meeting that Thai troops used 155mm Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions, or DPICM, during the February clashes.

    Laura Cheeseman, director of the CMC, said it was "appalling" that Thailand had resorted to using cluster munitions. "Thailand has been a leader in the global ban on antipersonnel mines and it is unconscionable that it used banned weapons that indiscriminately kill and injure civilians in a similar manner," Cheeseman said in a statement.

    However, Thailand is refusing to classify the weapons as cluster bombs. Thai officials said soldiers used the weapons in response to Cambodian forces firing rockets into Thai territory.

    "(Thai) soldiers defended themselves when attacked by multiple rockets," government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn told IPS. "When the civilian targets in Thailand were attacked, they defended themselves by using a particular kind of weaponry, including (DPICM)."

    Cluster munitions are designed to explode in mid-air over their targets, unleashing smaller bomblets over the blast radius. But critics have sought to outlaw the weapons, arguing high fail rates mean the bomblets often fail to explode on impact, leaving a deadly legacy for civilians long after fighting has stopped.

    The CMC said its members have examined two contaminated areas around the UNESCO-listed Preah Vihear temple and found multiple kinds of cluster bomblets, including M85-type DPICM submunitions.

    A 2007 report by the group Norwegian People’s Aid found that failure rates for the Israeli-produced M85 submunitions were unacceptably high. Though equipped with self-destruct mechanisms meant to ensure no more than 1 percent of the bomblets fail to explode, the report estimated previous use of the weapons in Iraq and Lebanon resulted in ‘dud rates’ as high as 12 percent in some cases.

    A typical 155mm projectile can carry 49 M85 bomblets, meaning that a single fired rocket could leave at least five unexploded submunitions over a three-hectare blast radius.

    Denise Coghlan, director of the group Jesuit Refugee Service in Cambodia, was part of a group that visited the Preah Vihear area shortly after the February fighting. She said two men were killed and another two people lost appendages after the cluster bombs exploded.

    "I was really outraged that people were killed and that people were injured by cluster munitions," Coghlan told IPS. "This is such a flagrant breach of the new international law."

    Though Thailand continues to insist the DPICM are not cluster bombs, other observers have issued sharply worded criticisms nonetheless.

    "Norway condemns all use of cluster munitions," Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Jonas Gahr Støre said in a statement this month. "These weapons kill and maim civilians and have unacceptable humanitarian consequences long after they are used.

    "South-east Asia is a region that is already badly affected, and the incident on the border between Cambodia and Thailand demonstrates clearly why this weapon is now prohibited."

    The United Kingdom has also raised its concerns over the allegations with Thai authorities, a spokeswoman with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office told IPS. "That cluster munitions may have been used is of serious concern to the UK," she said. "We condemn in the strongest terms the use of cluster munitions, which cause unacceptable harm to the civilian population."

    The CMC, meanwhile, says Thailand’s apparent use of the weapons should provide further impetus for both countries to sign on to the global Convention on Cluster Munitions. The treaty banning signatories from using and stockpiling the weapons came into effect last year with neither Cambodia nor Thailand on board.

    But it appears the February incident may hinder, rather than encourage, either country from doing so.

    Cambodia had been a vocal proponent of the treaty. But it surprised observers by not signing on to at its first opportunity in 2008, citing the on-going border tensions with Thailand as well as a need to ascertain its current stock of cluster bombs.

    Analysts say the question of signing the ban in Cambodia has been one that balances political will with caution from military officials. Any confirmed use of cluster bombs by the Thai side, then, could add more weight to the arguments of Cambodian defence officials already hesitant to join the treaty.

    Cambodian Secretary of State Prak Sokhon is an advisor to Prime Minister Hun Sen on the cluster bomb issue. He said his country’s goal remains to sign on to the global pact. But Thailand’s reported deployment complicates the matter.

    "We’re still studying. But from a military point of view, it’s hard to make a decision while the other side uses these kinds of munitions against us," Sokhon told IPS. "If the two countries can find a peaceful solution in the future, then we will reconsider our stance."

    Thai officials say they are still considering the treaty. (END)


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    Source: Inter Press Service
    Country: Bangladesh, Benin, Burundi, Cambodia, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lao People's Democratic Republic (the), Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Uganda, World

    UNITED NATIONS, Jul 10 2012 (IPS) - Knowledge-sharing has become a cornerstone of successful cooperation among developing countries, in areas ranging from agriculture to health and renewable energies.

    “There is a feeling that there are some solutions which can be generated by the South for the benefit of the South, and that ought to be shared between Southern countries,” John Ashe, president of the United Nations High-level Committee on South-South Cooperation, told IPS.

    “South-South Cooperation (SSC) is intended to be that vehicle, but it’s not intended to be a replacement for the traditional North-South cooperation,” Ashe added.

    To date, Japan is the largest contributor to SSC under the Japan Human Resources Development Fund (JHRDF) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) partnership fund.

    Between 1996 and 2011, Japan contributed more than 33 million dollars to South-South initiatives.

    Masato Watanabe, the vice-president of Japan’s International Cooperation Agency, told IPS, “We’ve devised a couple of modalities and approaches. One is to have triangular training programmes. The second one is to have bilateral partnership programmes with potential providers of development cooperation. The third one is to explore the possibility of utilising so called centres of excellence in the South.”

    NERICA (New Rice for Africa), an initiative funded by the Japanese government, the African Development Bank and the UNDP, has been in operation for 15 years. Today, over 700,000 hectares of NERICA varieties of rice are cultivated in 31 countries, leading to a five-percent reduction in poverty in Uganda and a 13-percent reduction in Benin.

    “What we are trying to do is to share these modalities or potential modalities and approaches with other partners so that they can learn our experience and through mutual learning processes we may create better models or approaches,” said Watanabe.

    Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, permanent representative of India to the United Nations, spoke to IPS on behalf of IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa). “South-South Cooperation is doing what it can and that’s what needs to be accepted in its own framework, in the way it is, based on the national priorities of the countries which are the partner countries,” said Puri.

    The IBSA Facility for Poverty and Hunger Alleviation Fund has aided initiatives of the U.N. SSC unit since it was created in 2004.

    It has helped to combat HIV and AIDS in Burundi by building and equipping a prevention, testing and treatment centre. This centre will enable around 39,000 consultations per year for various health-care services including HIV and AIDS, reproductive health, sexually transmitted diseases, prenatal care and family planning.

    The IBSA fund also supports Guinea-Bissau’s agriculture, education and clean energy development by training over 4,500 farmers in enhanced agriculture techniques for rice cultivation, and implementing a solar-energy strategy for rural areas. This has led to a 12-percent increase in crop yields and enabled 3,000 individuals to access electricity, according to IBSA.

    The programme will soon be expanded to include 20 additional villages.

    Puri also noted the importance of both South-South Cooperation and traditional North-South Cooperation.

    “South-South Cooperation can neither be seen as substitute, or in any way as a displacer for North-South cooperation, which must remain strong,” Puri said.

    China’s investment in solar energy systems in Kenya has benefitted 250. The project researched and developed solar technologies that were adapted to the geographical conditions of the region.

    GNERI (The Gansu Natural Energy Research Institute) was the partner responsible for researching and developing these solar products, and produced 50 solar photocaic demonstration systems, 100 solar water heating systems and 100 solar cooker systems, all designed for use by villages and households in sub-Saharan Africa.

    The Korean National Commission for UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation), and KEMCO (Korea Energy Management Corporation) are piloting projects for the RICE (Regional Initiative for Climate change Education) which provides climate change education in developing countries throughout Asia.

    To date, pilot projects are underway in Laos, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand. In 2012, seven projects will be added in Bangladesh, Cambodia and Burma.

    The UNDP has been credited for facilitating South-South and Triangular development as an important means for advancing development and achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

    In an exhibition that opened last Friday at the United Nations, SSC and its successful partnerships are now displayed for the public to see.

    Speaking at the opening of the exhibition, Helen Clark, UNDP administrator and chair of the United Nations Development Group, said, “We believe that through the universal presence we have in developing countries we have the capacity to link people, countries, communities, ideas, experience and best practice.”


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    Source: Inter Press Service
    Country: Cambodia

    PHNOM PENH, Sep 13 2012 (IPS) - Public health experts in Cambodia are unenthused by reports of trials for a dengue vaccine conducted in neighbouring Thailand, saying it will be too costly for those who need it most – children in the least developed and developing countries.

    “Of course, they cannot come out with a vaccine that costs 20 cents,” Dr. Philip Buchy, head of the virology unit at the Pasteur Institute of Cambodia, told IPS.

    Buchy was referring to the Paris-based pharmaceutical company Sanofi SA’s dengue vaccine efficacy trials, the results of which were published in the British medical journal Lancet, this month.

    Dr. Stephen Bjorges, leader of the vector-borne disease team at the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia, agrees. Even if Sanofi succeeds “funds would need to be mobilised” to cover the cost of inoculating children in Cambodia, he said.

    A dengue epidemic that raged through Cambodia during the first eight months of the year landed more than 30,000 people in hospital, the majority of them children.

    According to the Lancet report, Sanofi’s vaccine offers some protection against three of the four serotypes of the dengue virus – about 30 percent against serotype one and from 80 to 90 percent against serotypes three and four.

    However, Sanofi’s vaccine does not protect against serotype two, which was circulating in the study area during the trial, giving the vaccine an overall efficacy rate of 30.2 percent, the report said.

    Large-scale phase-3 trials are underway on 31,000 children and adolescents in Latin America and Southeast Asia, Sanofi said in a press statement timed with the release of the Lancet report.

    According to the Reuters news agency, the company has already invested more than 430 million dollars in a new factory in France to produce the vaccine.

    WHO’s Bjorges said that if the phase 3 trials proved the vaccine was effective, its initial market likley would be tourists from wealthy nations and the military, a view Buchy agrees with.

    Buchy doubted, however, that an effective vaccine was around the corner. “The vaccine is not for tomorrow,” he said. “Dengue epidemics still have good days ahead of them.”

    Still, both doctors expect increasing investment in vaccines and vaccine-related research as global warming expands the range of the mosquito that transmits dengue into southern Europe and the United States.

    Developed countries are beginning to factor the costs of dengue treatment into their long-range healthcare budgets, while pharmaceutical companies have identified a potentially lucrative, emerging market, Buchy said. “Global warming is providing a shortcut for vaccine research.”

    “Interest in vaccines is going to grow exponentially now that there is some success with a vaccine,” Bjorges said.

    The European Union provided more than 10 million dollars for three dengue-related research projects in Southeast Asia earlier this year – including one in Cambodia – to investigate the role that asymptomatic carriers play in transmission, Buchy said.

    “If we can identify a gene that is protective this may allow us to develop drugs for treatment and vaccination,” he added.

    Funding for prevention and control of epidemics in poor countries remains scant, however. The budget for Cambodia’s national dengue control programme is about 500,000 dollars, most of it provided by the Asian Development Bank.

    Bjorges says one reason for the lack of funding for prevention and control is that it has shown little success. “Dengue control is 50 years old and everything that has been thought of has been tried.”

    Breeding sites have to be eradicated weekly in order to prevent the mosquito that transmits the virus from emerging from its larvae, and this requires changes in human behaviour that have proven difficult to sustain on a weekly basis, Bjorges explained.

    Another problem may be that those who allocate global health funds rely on short-term cost-benefit models, Bjorges said. They are under pressure to produce quick, quantifiable results for the funds they allocate, and dengue prevention and control projects do not fit these models, he explained.

    Buchy was less pessimistic about the possibility of changing human behaviour. “Behaviour change is possible, but it requires more investment in education.”

    Buchy’s view is echoed by Prof. Duch Moniboth of Cambodia’s National Pediatric Hospital that treated 1,673 children for dengue in the first seven months of this year. “There is not enough education about dengue – how to prevent infection and how to eradicate breeding sites.”

    New research, however, suggests that dengue is far more prevalent in Cambodia than previously calculated, underscoring the need for increased investment in prevention.

    The disease is underreported partly because Cambodia’s dengue surveillance system relies on data from state-run hospitals and charitable children’s hospitals. Cases treated at private hospitals and clinics are not reported to the health ministry.

    Charitable hospitals treating dengue patients in Cambodia have been pleading for donations after being inundated with patients in May. The National Paediatric Hospital has been relying on nursing students to treat children who spill into the hallways and the foyer around the main stairwell.

    The hospital receives a mere 20 dollars per patient, regardless of how long the child stays, Moniboth said. On average, doctors receive monthly salaries of about 125 dollars, while nurses are paid about 75 dollars, he said.

    With such meager funding for healthcare what is needed is a cheap vaccine, Moniboth said.


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    Source: Inter Press Service
    Country: Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Viet Nam

    By Marwaan Macan-Markar

    BANGKOK, Dec 20 2012 (IPS) - As Thailand braces itself to combat drug-resistant malaria, a spread of small, nondescript buildings scattered close to corn and rice fields along its hilly, western border are being cast into a bigger, international role.

    Hundreds of these health clinics and malaria posts have become a pivotal frontline to detect the genetic mutation of Plasmodium falciparum, which makes the deadly parasite resistant to artemisinin, the most effective anti-malaria drug used globally.

    “They have been equipped to test and treat local people and migrant workers who come down with fever in that malaria belt,” says Wichai Satimai, director of the bureau of vector-borne disease at the Thai Public Health Ministry. “The results of a blood test are given in 15 minutes and the staff will be able to assess if the patient has malaria and what strain.”

    This healthcare for the largely farming and migrant labour community has taken on added significance after medical researchers revealed signs of drug-resistant malaria along the border Thailand shares with Myanmar (or Burma) in April this year.

    “These blood tests have to be carried out more regularly and frequently in the environments that are conducive to spread the parasite from carriers of drug-resistant malaria,” Wichai told IPS. “The health staff must regularly monitor and treat the patients.”

    The efforts to contain drug-resistant malaria in the isolated areas along the border “makes the fight more difficult,” noted Fatoumata Nafo-Traore, head of the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, a global initiative coordinating the drive against the disease, following a recent visit to health clinics along the Thai-Myanmar border. “There are communities living in forest areas and remote areas.

    “We need to contain the resistance in these local areas,” she said in an interview with IPS. “This has to be seen as a global concern because there is no other highly effective anti-malaria drug than artemisinin therapy.”

    But even as the border health clinics begin to shoulder a bigger role, concerns about funding the free health services offered to local and migrant communities are also growing. Officials of the Thai health ministry warned early this month that the Southeast Asian nation may have to meet the cost of containing drug-resistant malaria if international funding dries up.

    Currently, the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which finances programmes to combat these three killer diseases in the developing world, remains a major contributor. It has disbursed 40 million dollars for a range of malaria control programmes, including the running of the 300 malaria posts and health clinics along the Thai border.

    Thailand’s fear of a looming funding crisis was echoed in the ‘World Malaria Report 2012’, which was released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) this week. “International funding for malaria appears to have reached a plateau” that is below the estimated level to meet internationally-agreed global malaria targets, it states.

    “An estimated 5.1 billion U.S. dollars is needed every year between 2011 and 2020 to achieve universal access to malaria interventions in the 99 countries with on-going malaria transmissions,” it adds. “While many countries have increased domestic financing of malaria control, the total available global funding remained at 2.3 billion U.S. dollars in 2011 – less than half of what is needed.”

    The need for sustained funding was underscored by malaria’s global transmission, with 2010 witnessing an estimated 219 million cases occurring, while the disease killed about 660,000 people, mostly children under five years in Africa, according to the WHO’s report.

    While South and Southeast Asia’s number of 2.4 million malaria cases in 2010 may be dwarfed by the global rates, the annual malaria report singled out the Mekong River region – shared by Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam – as the epicentre of drug-resistant malaria.

    “If resistance to artemisinin develops and spreads to other larger geographical areas, the public health consequences could be dire, as no alternative anti-malarial medicines will be available for at least five years,” the WHO warned.

    Artemisinin is the active ingredient in the anti-malarial drug artesunate. It comes from the wormwood plant in China and is the most potent antidote to falciparum malaria, the parasitic strain of malaria responsible for most deaths.

    Artemisinin replaced chloroqunine, a once potent anti-malarial drug, following a resistance strain which emerged in Thailand’s eastern border it shares with Cambodia. The resistance to chloroquinine was first detected in Pailin, a Cambodian town that was once the stronghold of that country’s genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, and was then detected along the Thai-Cambodian border before spreading across the world.

    Fear of such a repeat with artemisinin also haunts health clinics and malaria outposts along the Thai-Cambodian border, where artemisinin-resistant strains have been detected and contained.

    “Good malaria control and elimination will contain the artemisinin-resistant malaria,” said Steven Bjorge, head of the malaria and vectorborne disease section at the WHO’s Cambodia office. “There is no way of knowing that a case of malaria is resistant or sensitive a priori, so detecting and treating each and every case is the proper and necessary means of containing the resistant cases.”

    Cambodia’s western provinces such as Pailin, Oddar Meanchey and Battambang – once the spawning ground for the lethal parasite – have seen a reversal of the falciparum strain. “This is an indication of success in preventing transmission,” Bjorge told IPS. “The overall incidence rate has dropped. Deaths have dropped.”


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    Source: Inter Press Service
    Country: Cambodia, Cocos (Keeling) Islands (Australia), Ethiopia, India, World

    By Lucy Westcott

    UNITED NATIONS, May 22 2013 (IPS) - PATH, a Seattle-based global health development organisation, is aiming to save two million lives by 2015 by jointly tackling diarrhea and pneumonia, the leading killers of children globally.

    Steve Davis, president and CEO of PATH, delivered the message at the ninth annual PATH Breakfast for Global Health held in Seattle on Tuesday.

    “Today we placed a bold stake in the ground, with partners around the world, to save two million lives by the end of 2015,” Davis told IPS.

    PATH will begin its efforts in India, Cambodia and Ethiopia, where intervention is most urgently needed and PATH has resources. While all three countries have seen their child mortality rates from diarrhea drop, India’s pneumonia death rate remains stagnant, accounting for 24 percent of deaths of children under five, the same as in 2000, according to 2013 World Health Organisation statistics.

    “No parent should have to bury a child because of something we can help prevent or treat,” Davis said.

    Diarrhea and pneumonia are two diseases that overwhelmingly affect children in African and Asian countries, Davis said, with diarrhea claiming around 760,000 lives a year. And while the number of children dying in Africa before the age of five has decreased, it still vastly outnumbers all other parts of the world, according to the 2013 WHO statistics.

    Melinda Gates, philanthropist and founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which helps fund health development and vaccines world wide, spoke at the breakfast of the importance of vaccinating children as well as “appropriate” science that meets the needs of communities in the developing countries.

    “[The] developing world is littered with pilot programmes,” Gates said.

    As he took to the stage, Davis pointed to a tool belt around his suit jacket. A visual aid, the belt allowed Davis to show and carry some of the tools that can prevent the deaths of so many children from diarrheal disease, tools that will be used to achieve PATH’s life-saving goal.

    Clean water, soap, zinc tablets for oral rehydration therapy and the rotavirus vaccine, which stops some diarrheal diseases before they start, were all included.

    But it’s not just science and vaccines that can improve the lives of communities ravaged by diarrhea. Deeply held cultural traditions and ideas about the disease have to be altered as well.

    Dr. Alfred Ochola, PATH’s Technical Advisor for Child Survival and Development in Kenya, spoke about educating Kenyans on how to reduce the risk of diarrhea in their communities through hygiene practices like hand washing.

    But Ochola, who lost a brother and sister to a diarrhea outbreak in Kenya as a child, has found that at first, people are reluctant to embrace change.

    “A big [challenge] is combatting old beliefs that diarrhea is a curse and not an infection, and that the death of a child is an inevitable part of life. ‘God will give you another one’ is a common saying in Kenya,” Ochola said.

    Many people believe a child who has diarrhea is cursed, Ochola said. Vomiting and diarrhea are welcomed because it rids the body of the evil inside it, while it should be taken as a sign that something is seriously wrong.

    Poverty is another challenge in combatting the diseases. Although heart disease and diabetes are becoming the new illnesses of poverty, according to Davis, diarrhea and pneumonia still adversely affect children of developing countries in Africa and Asia.

    In Africa and Southeast Asia, the percentage of child deaths are higher than the global average and have not significantly decreased in 10 years. Both regions have seen child mortality from diarrhea fall from 13 percent to 11 percent of deaths from 2000 to 2010, but in Africa, the rate of death from pneumonia has actually increased, from 16 percent to 17 percent.

    “Too many people lack the financial means to seek care when it’s most needed, like paying for transportation to get to a health facility far from home… We often reach women and their children too late,” Ochola said.

    Ochola told the story of Jane Wamalwa, a Kenyan woman who came to understand the reasons behind making a change in long-held practices in treating and preventing diarrhea. Wamalwa lost three children to the disease, and has now become a trusted source of information on good anti-diarrhea practice in her community, Ochola said.

    “It has become her calling,” he added.


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    Source: Inter Press Service
    Country: Afghanistan, Cambodia, Kenya, Nepal, Uganda, World

    UNITED NATIONS, May 27 2016 (IPS) - Around the world girls are struggling to stay in school when their menstrual hygiene needs are forgotten or ignored, yet the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and education sectors have remained reluctant to address the issue.

    Menstrual Hygiene Day, celebrated on May 28, aims to raise awareness of the fundamental role that MHM plays in enabling women and girls to reach their full potential in areas such as education.

    Globally, 52 percent of the female population, or 26 percent of the total population, is of reproductive age. For all of these women and girls, menstruation is a natural, monthly reality. However, as the subject continues to be taboo in societies around the world, access to MHM materials remain limited.

    According to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), in Kenya alone, approximately 50 percent of school-age girls do not have access to sanitary pads.

    “Boys used to laugh at me and I eventually simply stayed home whenever my periods started,” Joan stated.

    “The girl with her period is the one to hang her head. Children and boys will make fun of her,” one young girl told researchers in Kenya.

    The problem is similar in neighbouring Uganda.

    “I used to use clothes that I would cut from my old T-shirts to keep the blood from staining my dresses, but they were not enough and blood would still stain my clothes,” 16-year-old Joan told Catholic Aid organisation Caritas Lira in Uganda.

    This prevents girls from participating and attending school, as they feel shame and fear humiliation from their peers.

    In Nepal and Afghanistan, 30 percent of girls report missing school during their periods. In India, over 20 percent of girls drop out of school completely after reaching puberty.

    Lack of access to private toilets and clean water also hinder school participation.

    “Girls…lack access to clean, safe private toilets. There is no clean water within or near the toilets, which means there is nowhere to clean up and discreetly dispose of used menstrual products,” said Plan International USA’s Director of Water, Sanitation and Health Darren Saywell.

    Trem, a 14-year old girl from Cambodia, told Plan International that she has to go home to change her sanitary pad due to poor facilities in her school. Though her house is close by, she said that other girls have to travel further so “they don’t bother coming back to school.”

    The exclusion of women and girls from education is costly, many note.

    “When girls drop out of school at an early age, they are less likely to return to education, leaving them vulnerable to early marriage, violence and forced sexual relations,” Saywell said.

    According to the UN’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF), girls who remain in secondary school are six times less likely to marry young. In Sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia, child marriage would decrease by over 60 percent if all girls had secondary education.

    UNICEF also noted the larger health benefits that come with educating women and girls, including decreases in maternal, infant and child mortality rates as well as poverty.

    Some organisations have begun to address the issue including Caritas Lira and Plan International which works with schools and communities to raise awareness of hygiene and teach them how to make reusable sanitary pads.

    However, MHM continues to be left out of the agenda from both the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and education sectors, even in development and emergency relief programmes.

    WaterAid, an international clean water and sanitation organisation, found that women and girls are often excluded from decision-making in such programmes, resulting in little control over matters such as money to spend on MHM materials.

    “Most people, and men in particular, find menstrual hygiene a difficult subject to talk about. As a result of these issues, WASH interventions often fail to address the needs of women and girls,” WaterAid said in a report.

    “If the situation does not change, it may not be possible for development programmes to achieve their goals,” they stated.


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    Source: Inter Press Service
    Country: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Liberia, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Timor-Leste, World

    By Thalif Deen

    NEW YORK, Jun 23 2016 (IPS) - The United Nations claims it is doing its best to curb widespread sexual abuses in its peacekeeping operations overseas – from Haiti all the way to the Central African Republic.

    But the UN’s best is just not good enough, says Ian Richards, President, Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations.

    Richards, who represents over 60,000 staffers in the UN system worldwide, told IPS: “We cannot stand by while a few colleagues and military personnel commit acts of sexual exploitation and abuse against those seeking our help.”

    Judging by what Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and member states have said, the intentions are there, but there’s a lot of work to do, and it’s not clear how far things are moving forward, said Richards, who is based in Geneva.

    “That’s why we as staff unions have decided to take a moral stand,” he declared, pointing out that last year alone, 99 women, children and men were allegedly sexually exploited or abused by those working under the UN flag.

    In a report released in March, Human Rights Watch said exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers and personnel have been reported since the 1990s relating to peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Timor-Leste, Haiti, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and South Sudan, among others.

    Troops from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Burundi, the Republic of Congo, and the Democratic Republic of Congo have been among those implicated in the abuse, although some of those cases concerned peacekeeping forces led by the African Union. The UN’s handling of sexual abuse claims by French Peacekeepers in the Central African Republic has also drawn widespread condemnation, although the French troops were not UN Peacekeepers.

    Also in March, the UN began investigating 104 new cases of sexual abuses with the peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic.

    Asked for a response, UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq told IPS the Secretary-General is trying to ensure that a system is in place to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel and to have accountability when such abuse occurs.

    “He continues to follow up with Member States on this issue and appreciates the support of UN staff in that effort,” said Haq.

    Richards complained that the investigation process is too slow and it doesn’t make sense to have one investigation process for staff and other for military personnel depending on their country of origin.

    It is also unclear how staff and victims should report abuse and what exists to protect them.

    For example, he pointed out, the whistleblower policy still doesn’t require the Ethics Office to be accountable for failure to protect whistleblowers.

    “As recent events have shown, we desperately need such a policy.”

    There also needs to be a culture change. It cannot be right that staff are discouraged from raising questions about the behaviour of certain troops. Accountability should apply to all who turn a blind eye, he noted.

    Richards appreciated the work of Jane Holl Lute, “but she needs more support for her recommendations.”

    Last February, the Secretary-General, alarmed by the rise in sexual abuse, appointed Lute as the Special Coordinator on Improving UN Response to Sexual Exploitation and Abuse.

    In a statement released June 22, the Coordinating Committee called for joint action by colleagues, UN management and member states to:

    • stop all sexual exploitation and abuse, whether by staff, contractors or peacekeepers;
    • provide a single and fair investigation process for both staff and military personnel;
    • put in place better reporting mechanisms for victims and staff, and more effective protection for whistleblowers;
    • implement zero tolerance not just for those who commit such acts but also for those in positions of responsibility who turn a blind eye or cover up;
    • institute a culture change at headquarters so that military forces with records of abuse aren’t contracted to peacekeeping missions; and
    • ensure accountability for all, including through national judicial systems.

    The staff unions believe that each case of abuse and rape, whether committed by military personnel or our own colleagues, tars all staff with the same brush and damages the trust staff have worked so hard to build with the communities they serve.

    Both the Secretary-General and member states have rightly condemned this trend, the statement added.

    “But despite this, allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse continue to go un-investigated, high profile cases remain unprosecuted, member states continue to argue how best to prosecute guilty peacekeepers, and many staff feel scared to report abuse for fear of retaliation.”

    The staff unions of the UN common system, grouped under the staff federations have decided to issue the statement “as a wake-up call to colleagues, our organisations and member states.”

    The Secretary-General has said “the United Nations, and I personally, are profoundly committed to a zero- tolerance policy against sexual exploitation or abuse by our own personnel. This means zero complacency. When we receive credible allegations, we ensure that they are looked into fully. It means zero impunity.”

    According to the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations, UN rules forbid sexual relations with prostitutes and with any persons under 18, and strongly discourage relations with beneficiaries of assistance (those that are receiving assistance food, housing, aid, as a result of a conflict, natural disaster or other humanitarian crisis, or in a development setting).

    The UN has a three-pronged strategy to address all form of misconduct including sexual exploitation and abuse: pre­vention of misconductenforcement of UN standards of conduct and remedial action.


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    Source: Inter Press Service
    Country: Cambodia

    By Amy Fallon

    KAMPONG SPEU PROVINCE, Sep 26 2016 (IPS) - In Kampong Speu province, when the wet weather doesn’t come, as in other parts of Cambodia, it can affect whether food goes on the dinner table.

    “When there’s drought, it strongly affects crop production,” Vann Khen, 48, a married father of three from Amlaing commune, who farms corn for his family’s consumption, and rice, cattle, pigs, chickens and ducks to sell, told IPS.

    What has been worsening the situation for farmers in Kampong Speu, some 40 miles west of the country’s capital Phnom Penh and with a population of at least 700,000, was that a 770-metre water canal, made during the reign of dictator Pol Pot, needed urgent restoration, so when it did rain farmers could access water.

    In each irrigation scheme, a command area normally allows all farmers access to water. But in many instances lack of maintenance, destruction due to floods or animals, and culverts or other gates not working properly can prevent farmers from accessing water, stress officials with FAO Cambodia.

    In other cases, if the irrigation scheme is not built correctly or if there is ineffective land levelling, the water won’t flow. Those not having water access, in both cases, rely mainly on rain patterns. During long dry spells and drought, they suffer more than farmers who have access to irrigation water.

    “Last year wasn’t a good harvest, I got only about 500 dollars in total,” Phal Vannak, 28, a married father of three, who mainly farms corn and rice, told IPS.

    For corn alone, he earned only about 100 dollars due to the delay in rainfall.

    Kampong Speu has been on the other end of extreme weather, suffering from floods and storms.

    But the province experienced severe droughts in 1987, 1999, 2000 and the last two years in a row.

    “In 2015 and 2016, as in other countries, Cambodia has been hit by El Nino, affecting crop production,” Proyuth Ly, from FAO Cambodia, told IPS.

    The dry periods are the “most prominent hazard” threatening the agriculture sector in Kampong Speu, says FAO Cambodia. The industry is one of the sectors most impacted by drought, and smallholder farmers particularly suffer. Tens of thousands of households are thought to be affected by drought every year, with “millions” spent saving lives and recovering livelihoods, according to FAO Cambodia.

    Vannak is the president of a Farmer Water User Group (FWUG) for the Kampong Speu irrigation scheme.

    There are 500 households from six villages who are members. To effectively manage water use, they established six sub-committees (one for each village), and a sub-committee of between four to eight people.

    “The farmers weren’t happy (last year) because they needed the water to get into the rice field,” said Vannak.

    After a request for help from Cambodia’s ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, FAO Cambodia, with funding from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (DIPECHO), rehabilitated the canal.

    “Livelihoods would be affected as they could not grow intended crops,” Etienne Careme, in charge of operations at FAO Cambodia, told IPS. “FAO Cambodia rehabilitated the canal to ensure correct flow of water to needy farmers. It meant rehabilitating canal corridor, strengthening slopes, constructing or rehabilitating culverts.”

    The 80,000-dollar, three-month project, completed last December, included setting up software to train farmer water user groups in water management (a figure that doesn’t include staff time and other travel costs).

    Today, even though Kampong Speu is still experiencing a dry period, rice grows in lush green fields.

    The irrigation scheme is connected from a stream located about 20 miles from the Aoral mountain, the main source, and can supply water to 400 ha of paddy fields.

    “This water has really saved this rice crop,” said Ly on a recent field trip to Kampong Speu to monitor the irrigation scheme and the farmer’s needs, trips conducted regularly, as water rushed past him.

    Vannak said this season’s harvest was already an improvement on last year.

    “When I heard this (canal) was being fixed I was very happy because some people didn’t have water to save their crops,” he said, clutching a handful of corn in a field.

    Khen said he was also happier. “We can open or close the water gate,” he said. “Also the small water gate is allowing us to better regulate water and better distribute it to farmers in the commune.”

    Careme said the restoration of the irrigation scheme had improved rice yields.

    “It allows better production and therefore increases incomes through sale of rice,” he said.


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    Source: Inter Press Service
    Country: Cambodia

    By Erik Larsson

    PHNOM PENH, Apr 24 2017 (IPS) - Mao Neav takes a few quick steps out into the field, followed by her faithful dog Onada, tail wagging, tongue out and panting, ready for what is out there. The field is peppered with cluster bombs.

    Mao Neav is the leader of a small group of bomb and mine clearers working in the Ratanakiri province of north-east Cambodia.

    Her job for the past two years has been to clear the bombs and land mines that litter what was once part of the so-called the Ho-Shi-Minh trail. With the Vietnamese border only 70 kilometres away, this area was part of the logical system that routed supplies for the North Vietnamese troops during the Vietnam War.

    US carpet bombing of Cambodia began in 1970 in an attempt to break the supply chain. 47 years later, there are still plenty of cluster bombs stuck in the ground, and they are still a threat to all passers through.

    ”I heard about the job in an NPA commercial on the radio”

    NPA is the Norwegian People’s Aid, which is the Norwegian labour movement’s ”humanitarian solidarity organisation”. The NPA fund and lead the project. They purposely hire women to prove that women can do mine clearing work too, which generally is very male-dominated in Cambodia.

    Twenty-five of the thirty-five clearers at the base in Ratanakiri are women. Mae Naev says ” There’s no difference between us. We are as skillful as the men”.

    A six-month training course is what the NPA require for new employees. ”We started with one-month of learning to use the metal detector”.

    Thereafter she learned to identify the different types of bombs and mines and how they work respectively.

    In this area there are many undetonated cluster bombs. The most common are BLU 42, 26, 52 and 54 according to the US airforce codes on the bombs that were released here. In eastern Cambodia these cluster bombs are a major problem for farmers and others that pass through the forests.

    In western Cambodia land mines are a greater problem. In the whole country, on average, about two people are maimed or killed every week.

    The total amount of land mines in the country is estimated at around 4 million, thus making Cambodia one of the worst sufferers of undetonated bombs and mines in the world.

    Clearing cluster bombs is much simpler than mines.

    ”Cluster bombs are supposed to explode immediately on impact. That’s why they don’t have a trigger and the risks of explosion are less. Land mines though, are worse”.

    After training on detection and bomb identification, Mao Neav received a three month dog training program.

    ”I love dogs. Being with them is my favorite part of the job”.

    Dogs are used to sniff out the explosives.

    During training she also learned mine clearing techniques. A grid technique divides a specific area into a grid. The clearers then move according to set patterns within each section, marking each find for later transport and destruction.

    ”The first time I stepped out into a mine field I was afraid. But that passed quickly”

    ”My worst experience? I was bitten by my dog once”, she adds.


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    Source: Inter Press Service
    Country: Cambodia, Lao People's Democratic Republic (the), Viet Nam, World

    By Pascal Laureyn

    PHNOM PENH, Nov 14 2017 (IPS) - In Laos, the lush forests are alive with the whines of drills that pierce the air. On the Mekong, a giant concrete wall rises slowly above the trees. The Don Sahong dam is a strong symbol, not only for a power-hungry Asia but also for what critics fear is a disaster in the making.

    Landlocked Laos wants to become ‘the battery of Southeast Asia’. The mountainous country with swirling rapids has the ideal geography for hydropower production and Don Sahong is just one of nine dams that Laos wants to build on the mainstream Mekong, claiming that this is the only way to develop the poor country.

    But there are serious drawbacks. The Don Sahong dam is being built with little or no consideration of the impact on ecosystems and communities along the Mekong. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Mekong is the second most biodiverse river in the world, after the Amazon. It supports the world’s largest freshwater capture fishery. The Lower Mekong Basin provides a wide variety of breeding habitats for over 1,300 species of fish. But damming the Mekong will block fish migration towards these habitats.

    The FAO calculated that about 85 percent of the Lower Mekong Basin’s population lives in rural areas. Their livelihoods and food security is closely linked to the river and is vulnerable to water-related shocks – not just for fishers but for thousands more who sell food products or provide hundreds of related services, says FAO. Millions of people in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam could lose the fish they rely on for food.

    Chhith Sam Ath, the Cambodian director of the World Wide Fund (WWF), claimed in The Diplomat that the Don Sahong Dam is “an ecological time bomb”.

    “It threatens the food security of 60 million people living in Mekong basin,” he said. “The dam will have disastrous impacts on the entire river ecosystem all the way to the delta in Vietnam.” This is particularly devastating for downstream Cambodia because more than 70 percent of the protein consumed there comes from fish.

    The 260-megawatt dam can also endanger the Irrawaddy dolphins, which are an important source of ecotourism on the Cambodian side of the Mekong. There are only 80 dolphins left. Some live just a few miles from the Don Sahong dam site. WWF warns that damming the Mekong will soon drive all the remaining dolphins to extinction.

    A battery worth 800 million dollars

    Laos is going forward with the dam all the same, without approval from the Mekong River Commission and in defiance of protests from NGOs and downstream countries. Lao officials say that they cannot stop the country from pursuing its right to development. They argue that they will address some of the concerns with ‘fish-friendly turbines’ and fish ladders. But critics are not convinced that these measures are sufficient.

    Downstream, Cambodia is making things much worse. On a Monday morning in September, Prime Minister Hun Sen pushed a symbolic button. For the first time the floodgates of Lower Sesan 2 Dam closed and an artificial lake started to fill. Cambodia now has its own 800-million-dollar battery, built with Chinese funds and knowhow.

    In the opening ceremony, Hun Sen praised the technological miracle and the Chinese investors. He pointed out that the need for electricity is growing rapidly. Cambodia has the most expensive electricity in Southeast Asia. That will change with this 400-megawatt dam on the river Sesan, close to its confluence with the Mekong.

    Drowning village

    In Kbal Romeas, upstream the Sesan, fishermen waited in vain for the yearly migration in May and June. No more fish to catch. The villagers have moved elsewhere, escaping the rising water and increasing poverty. The only reminder of a once lively Kbal Romeas is the roof of a pagoda that seems to float on the empty water.

    “The river Sesan is blocked by the dam,” Maureen Harris of NGO International Rivers writes in her report. “That’s a problem for the 200 species that migrate from the Mekong to their breeding grounds in the Sesan.”

    The American National Academy of Sciences predicts that the fish population in the Lower Mekong Basin will decline by 9.3 percent. That’s just one dam. More dams are on the drawing table. The Mekong River Commission (MRC), the intergovernmental body charged with coordinating the river’s management, recently released provisional but alarming results of their research. The two finished dams and the 11 scheduled dams will decimate the fish population in the Lower Mekong Basin by half.

    The dams would also affect roughly 20 million Vietnamese people in the Mekong Delta, an area that accounts for more than a quarter of the country’s GDP. Dams block the flow of sediments, rich with nutrients needed to make soil suitable for cultivation. In Vietnam eroded riverbanks and houses tumbling in the water have become a common spectacle.

    The Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen dismissed these environmental concerns, criticising “radical environmentalists”.

    “How else can we develop?” he said. “There is no development that doesn’t have an effect on the environment.”

    The international NGO Mother Nature mapped the environmental consequences of the Lower Sesan 2 dam. Consequently, the Cambodian government revoked its license. One of the founders, Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, has been banned from the country.

    Costs outweigh benefits

    The dams come at a high environmental cost, imperil food security and risk increasing poverty for millions of people. Moreover, the river’s potential is overestimated by dam developers, says the Mekong River Commission. Dams will meet just 8 percent of the Lower Mekong Basin’s projected power needs. The MRC proposes a ten-year moratorium on dam building. But few governments are listening.

    The MRC valued the combined fisheries for the Mekong Basin at 17 billion dollars. Energy from the 13 dams may yield 33.4 billion, according to an international study by Mae Fa Luang University in Chiang Rai. But a denuded river system carries a price tag of 66.2 billion dollars, the same study predicts.

    The real costs of hydropower seem to outweigh the benefits. But the projects still go ahead. The thump of jackhammers will become more common. The mother of all rivers will have to face an army of men with safety hats that want to stop her from flowing freely.


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    Source: CGIAR, Inter Press Service
    Country: Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Lao People's Democratic Republic (the), Myanmar, Philippines, Viet Nam, World

    by Madelline Romero

    Researchers from eight Asian countries – Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Laos, Myanmar, Philippines, Vietnam – gathered on December 12-13, 2017 in Haikou City, China, to form the Asian Forage Legumes Network.

    This is in response to the increasing pressure for farming systems in Asia to produce more without causing further harm to the environment.

    “As soils deteriorate and become unable to provide the nitrogen that crops need, crops tend to look for other ways to obtain nitrogen,” explains Didier Lesueur, soil scientist at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). “This is why nitrogen-fixation from the atmosphere is very important in agriculture. And the most important nitrogen-fixing agents in agricultural systems are the symbiotic – mutually beneficial – associations between crop, forage legumes, and rhizobia – the nitrogen-fixing bacteria that camp inside the root nodules of legumes.”

    In addition to fixing atmospheric nitrogen (N), intercropped legumes contribute to enhancing soil carbon content through the leaves and root systems that remain in the field after harvest. When used as green manure, multipurpose legumes help in mitigation of soil erosion by providing a better soil cover. Beyond facilitating soil health, when used as forages, legumes provide high-quality livestock feed, thereby helping increase livestock production. These are some of the benefits of the integration of multipurpose legumes in farming systems. For scientists at CIAT, this is one way to sustainably diversify tropical crop-livestock systems in Asia.

    “We would like for farmers to take advantage of the many benefits derived from nitrogen fixed in crop-livestock systems,” notes Sabine Douxchamps, integrated farming systems researcher at CIAT. “And we need to be able to answer a number of questions, like what are the economic benefits to a farmer, how much savings in fertilizer will it effect, and others, to encourage farmers to adopt certain farming practices.”

    Building a Forage Legumes Network in Asia

    The network looked into the current level of knowledge on biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) by forage legumes in Asian farming systems. In the end, the group of researchers identified several broad research subjects deemed critical to understanding and promoting biological nitrogen fixation within the region.

    As members of the Asian Forage Legumes Network, the researchers have committed to collaborate on research studies, as well as on a number of initiatives, including the identification and conservation of forage legume species that are tolerant to stresses such as those caused by salinity, drought, waterlogging, and acidity. Others are the establishment of a forage legumes rhizobia bank, testing of some commercial rhizobia inoculants, and development of quality control guidelines to ensure high-quality inoculants.

    “In tropical areas like the parts of China that suffer from acidity, nutrient loss, and degradation, soil research is very important,” said Prof. Changjun Bai, Director of the Tropical Pasture Research Center at the Chinese Academy of Tropical Agricultural Sciences (CATAS), the meeting host. “For the benefit of smallholders, it is important to pursue collaborative research projects.”

    To this end, CIAT is brokering regional cooperation in agricultural science and technology by helping establish research platforms among Asian countries, jointly facilitated by CIAT and China.

    Asian Cassava Breeders Network

    An economically significant crop for many countries in Asia, cassava is one such research subject that has attracted collaboration among researchers in the region. A week before the meeting in Haikou City, researchers from CIAT, China, and a host of other research institutions and programs, met at the Kasetsart University in Thailand for the third annual meeting of the Asian Cassava Breeders Network (ACB-Net).

    ACB-Net is a regional community of practice that brings together cassava breeders and other interested stakeholders for a systematic collaboration on cassava genetic enhancement and crop improvement. Established in 2015, the network includes classical breeding programs and molecular breeding laboratories, as well as public and civil society organizations interested in evaluating cassava varieties. Currently, some 28 organizations from the research, public, and private sectors, in 10 Asian countries, form membership of the network.

    At the meeting, researchers shared updates on each their institution’s work on cassava breeding . They also discussed actions to address the issue of cassava mosaic disease (CMD), a disease caused by a virus and transmitted by whiteflies, and which causes cassava plants to produce few or no tubers at all. In Africa, yield losses induced by cassava mosaic virus (CMV) in different countries had ranged from 20 to 95 percent, at one point.

    The disease’s presence was discovered in Cambodia in 2015. Since then researchers from CIAT and CATAS have been actively collaborating on regional surveillance together with partners in Cambodia and Vietnam. Results of the 2016 regional surveillance will be published in a peer reviewed publication, while a new round of regional sampling in 2018 will be coordinated by CIAT and CATAS.

    “The fast pace of CMD spread is a huge concern for cassava production in mainland Southeast Asia,” said Stef de Haan, researcher at CIAT and member of the ACB-Net steering committee. “CIAT has already introduced sources of resistance to Thailand and Vietnam. ACB-Net will collaborate to further introduce additional breeding populations with resistance, from CCTRI in India and IITA in Africa. Incorporating resistance genes into breeding programs and testing the materials under intentional field-level exposure will require active collaboration between regional breeding programs. The network will allow for this international collaboration to take shape.”

    Beyond CMD-resistance breeding, other activities that the network has in place for 2018 include capacity building events for young breeders; introduction and regional distribution of germplasm, including of elite progenitors; publication of standard procedures; and development of projects to address regional priorities.