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 81 
 on: May 20, 2015, 06:40 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
North Korea submarine missile launch photos may be fake, say experts

Analysis of pictures release by Kim Jong-un’s regime indicate they were manipulated
Images obtained by Yonhap News Agency show what North Korea claimed was a ballistic missile being launched from underwater near Sinpo, on the northeast coast of North Korean. Experts believe the claim they were launched from a submarine may be suspect.

Wednesday 20 May 2015 05.20 BST

Photos showing a North Korean missile launched from a submarine were manipulated by state propagandists, and the isolated country may still be years away from developing the technology, analysts and a senior US Navy admiral said on Tuesday.

North Korea, heavily sanctioned by the United States and United Nations for its missile and nuclear tests, said on 9 May it had successfully conducted an underwater test-fire of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) which, if true, would indicate progress in its pursuit of building missile-equipped submarines.

But Pyongyang was still “many years” from developing submarine-launched ballistic missiles, Admiral James Winnefeld told an audience at the Centre for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) in Washington on Tuesday.

Analysis seen by Reuters from German aerospace engineers Markus Schiller and Robert Schmucker of Schmucker Technologie supported Winnefeld’s statement.

The Munich-based pair said photos of the launch were “strongly modified“, including reflections of the missile exhaust flame in the water which did not line up with the missile itself.

North Korea, which regularly threatens to destroy the United States, had a track record of offering faked proof to claim significant advances in missile technology, Schiller and Schmucker said, such as poorly built mockups of missiles on display at military parades in 2012 and 2013.

“Considering the track record of North Korean deceptions, it seems sensible to assume that any North Korean SLBM capability is still a very long time in the future, if it will ever surface,” Schiller and Schmucker said.

The pair also agreed with analysis posted by experts on the websites 38north.org and armscontrolwonk.com that the missile was likely launched from a specially designed submerged barge, and not from a submarine.

A photo on state TV showed a missile high in the sky leaving a trail of white smoke, whereas other photos from state media showed no white smoke, suggesting the two photos were of different missiles with different propulsion systems, Schiller and Schmucker said.

“They have not gotten as far as their clever video editors and spinmeisters would have us believe,” Winnefeld said.

South Korean military officials said after the launch that photos showing the missile appeared to be authentic.

“We haven’t changed our stance that the rocket was fired from a submarine and flew about 150 metres out of the water,” a South Korean military official said, when asked to comment on Winnefeld’s remarks.

“As we have previously said, the photos don’t appear to have been manipulated.”

 82 
 on: May 20, 2015, 06:38 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Indonesia and Malaysia agree to offer 7,000 migrants temporary shelter

Move signals shift in policy that would allow those adrift to come ashore, but both countries make clear assistance is short term and they would take no more

Reuters in Kuala Lumpur
Wednesday 20 May 2015 12.31 BST
Guardian

Malaysia and Indonesia have said they will offer shelter to 7,000 refugees and migrants adrift at sea in rickety boats but made clear that their assistance was temporary and they would take no more.

More than 3,000 have landed so far this month in Malaysia and Indonesia. Together with Thailand, the two south-east Asian countries have pushed away many boats that approached their shores despite appeals from the United Nations to take them in.

While the latest statement signalled a shift in policy by Malaysia and Indonesia that would allow the migrants to come ashore, they underlined that the international community also had a responsibility to help them deal with the crisis.

The migrants are Rohingya Muslims from Burma and Bangladeshis – who fled persecution and poverty at home or were abducted by traffickers, and now face sickness and starvation at sea.

“What we have clearly stated is that we will take in only those people in the high sea,” the Malaysian foreign minister, Anifah Aman, said. “But under no circumstances would we be expected to take each one of them if there is an influx of others.”

Malaysia and Indonesia said in a joint statement in Kuala Lumpur that they would offer resettlement and repatriation, a process that would be “done in a year by the international community”.
Aman said temporary shelters would be set up, but not in Thailand, a favoured transit point for the migrants who try to make their way to work illegally in Malaysia.

Thai officials have said authorities will check on migrants at sea and will allow the sick to come ashore for medical attention, but the government has stopped short of saying whether it would allow others to disembark.

Thailand, whose foreign minister also attended the meeting in the Malaysian capital, has called a regional conference on the issue in Bangkok for next week.

“We maintain our stance that we are a transit country. In the meeting we said that our country has more problems than theirs,” the Thai prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, said. “On whether we will accept or not accept more migrants you have to wait until 29 May when various organisations and countries will meet.”

Hours before the ministers met to discuss a crisis on which the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) has barely commented, hundreds of Rohingyas and Bangladeshis landed in Indonesia’s Aceh province.

“We have to find ways to resettling them as soon as possible without creating a new moral hazard,” Dewi Fortuna Anwar, a political adviser to Indonesia’s vice-president, said. “If migrants start thinking of Indonesia as a transit point or as having a higher chance of getting resettled, that would create another problem that we have to prevent.”

She added that the main responsibility lay with Burma. The UN said last weekthe Burmese government must end the persecution of Rohingya Muslims if the pattern of migration from the corner of the Bay of Bengal into the Andaman Sea and Malacca Strait is to stop.

Most of Burma’s 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims are stateless and live in apartheid-like conditions. Almost 140,000 were displaced in clashes with ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in 2012.

Rangoon labels Rohingya Muslims as “Bengalis”, a name most Rohingya reject because it implies they are immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh despite having lived in Burma for generations.

“We have a big desire to help but this is not just Indonesia’s responsibility. This is mainly the responsibility of the Burmese government, which should be protecting all its citizens and not forcing some of them to flee,” Anwar said.

On Wednesday, Burma’s foreign ministry said the government was making “serious efforts” to prevent people smuggling and illegal migration.

This included patrolling by the navy and air force in Burma’s territorial waters, it said, adding that the country was prepared to work with the international community to alleviate the suffering of smuggled victims.

 83 
 on: May 20, 2015, 06:36 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Hong Kong to get new crowdfunded independent newspaper

A group of journalists concerned at lack of press freedom secured launch funding after just two days
A Hong Kong policeman looks at a demonstrator holding an umbrella while taking part in a democracy march in 2014. Concerns over press freedom in the former British colony has led to the start up of a new independent newspaper.

Ilaria Maria Sala in Hong Kong
Wednesday 20 May 2015 06.01 BST
Guardian

A crowdfunded online newspaper is to be launched in Hong Kong to combat the lack of diversity and add what the organisers say will be “a truly independent voice”.

To be called Hong Kong Free Press, the free English-language newspaper will have its soft launch in June and start regular publication by 1 July – the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty.

A group of independent journalists behind the venture says it has had a very enthusiastic response to a crowdfunding appeal to set up the paper.

“Our aim was to raise HK$150,000 [£12,500] in one month in order to start operations. We raised that in two days,” explained Tom Grundy, a freelance journalist and the co-director of the new project.

The crowdfunding, through the Fringe Backer website which specialises in media, charity and arts-related projects, has now entered its second phase, whereby every additional HK$50,000 raised will ensure one more month of publication, said Grundy.

The aim is to then become sustainable through continued crowdfunding efforts, advertising and sponsorship events.

“We know that none of these can work individually, but we are hoping that by adding them all together, we may last longer,” said Grundy.

With a staff of fewer than a dozen bilingual people, and a strong reliance on the possibilities offered by new information technologies, Hong Kong Free Press plans to operate with very little overhead costs and concentrate on local news.

The project was conceived before last year’s protests for universal suffrage in Hong Kong, but gained greater momentum after the “umbrella revolution” brought tens of thousands of people on to the streets – and sparked a reaction from pro-government forces that has made the issue of censorship and self-censorship all the more acute.

As the denunciations of increased pressure on freedom of the press in Hong Kong have been growing, many independent Chinese language news portals have been trying to gain a foothold in the local media landscape, but nothing has emerged in English so far.

“English being the global lingua franca, we felt that it was important to provide a platform with a diversity of voices. Normally, it takes from six hours to two days for news in the Chinese media to percolate through in English. We want to fill that gap. Even during the Occupy protests it was really tough to find out what was going on on the ground for those who were not fluent in Chinese,” said Grundy, adding that the aim is “to start with simple local news, and investigative pieces about Hong Kong”.

For years, the English-language media landscape has been dominated by one player, the South China Morning Post, founded in 1903 and today controlled by Kerry Group Limited (part of the Kuok Group).

Various attempts over the years at breaking this monopoly have all succumbed to financial pressures, which is one of the main reasons behind the idea of a not-for-profit news outlet.

A number of English-language weeklies, which included at one point prestigious names such as the Far Eastern Economic Review and Asiaweek, have all folded due to earnings judged insufficient by their parent companies.

Hong Kong publications that have a clear pro-democracy editorial line, like the Chinese-language Apple Daily, also suffer from a lack of advertising revenue, as companies keen on doing business with China are discouraged from buying ad space.

 84 
 on: May 20, 2015, 06:31 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Why is Aung San Suu Kyi silent on the plight of the Rohingya people?

Burma’s opposition leader appears to be cowed by her need to dampen ethnic tensions and win votes from an electorate in the thrall of Islamophobia

Sara Perria
Tuesday 19 May 2015 17.03 BST
Guardian

When thousands of Rohingya people from Burma were discovered floating in boats on the south-east Asian seas much of the world was understandably gripped by this unfolding human tragedy.

Voices of anger were raised; something had to be done to end the suffering, to help those men, women and children in need.

But what has surprised some is the silence of the Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

After all, these are the poverty-stricken and disenfranchised refugees from her own country who are now the focus of greater attention than ever before.

'They hit us, with hammers, by knife': Rohingya migrants tell of horror at sea..Read more..http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/17/they-hit-us-with-hammers-by-knife-rohingya-migrants-tell-of-horror-at-sea

The contrast could not be more striking: how could such an iconic figure of human rights be so reticent when it comes to defending an ethnic minority from her own country?

It was only at the urging of reporters on Monday that a spokesman for her opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), addressed the issue.

He said the Rohingya people should be entitled to human rights, while urging a solution that acknowledged their right to citizenship status.

But nothing has come directly from the party’s leader. Aung San Suu Kyi herself has previously justified her reluctance to speak out on the issue of the Rohingya, even when pressed to do so during Buddhist-Muslim clashes that swept through the country in 2013.

She feared that any statement she made would only fuel tensions between the Buddhist majority and the Rohingya, who make up about a third of the population of Rakhine state, which borders Bangladesh.

Now, a surge of Buddhist nationalism and the complex ethnic political ramifications for a country that has just started a transition to democracy are taking their toll on her international image.

In the courtyard of a Buddhist monastery in the ancient Rakhine capital of Mrauk-U, the difficulties faced by the opposition leader known as “the Lady” are illustrated by a senior monk who repeats what he says are the warnings of Ashin Wirathu, an influential monk based in Mandalay who has become a leading voice of a new generation of nationalists espousing the cause of the Bamar, the dominant ethnic group in Burma.

“They will come with swords, they will kill us,” the senior monk says of the Muslim “hordes” he sees encroaching on Burma.

    Muslims reproduce like rabbits, they want to kill us with swords, they want to conquer us

“Muslims reproduce like rabbits; they want to kill us with swords; they want to conquer us – we have to defend ourselves and our religion,” he insists, explicitly identifying the Rohingya with Islamist terrorism around the world.

Extremist movements such as 969, which is driven by Ashin Wirathu, and Ma Ba Tha – the Organisation for the Protection of Race and Religion – present themselves as defenders of the country’s interests and its Bamar soul against foreign influence in post-sanctions Burma.

While insisting that he is against violence, Ashin Wirathu and those like him have fuelled and exploited tensions between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine state, promoting the belief that Islam is penetrating the country to install sharia law and leave Buddhists as a minority.

The nationalists are also trying to smear Aung San Suu Kyi by depicting her as “the Muslim lover”.

In a country that is 90% Buddhist there is little sympathy to be found for the Rohingya cause, and expressing support could be political suicide for both the NLD and the military-backed ruling party less than six months before parliamentary elections.

A party source close to Aung San Suu Kyi, who asked not to be named, said the party leader was deeply upset over what was happening. But the source said she also understood the penalty for being seen as favouring Muslims and believed she needed to be in government to deal with the backlash.

There is a strong belief that powerful people with close links to radical monks are deliberately stirring up tensions between communities in an attempt to disrupt ongoing political reforms.

According to some observers, Aung San Suu Kyi and her strategists have decided that speaking up for the Rohingya may not be in their electoral interests.

“Aung San Suu Kyi and her strategists are looking at the electoral maths,” says Nicholas Farrelly, director of the Australian National University’s Myanmar Research Centre.

“They have long imagined that any perception the NLD is too cosy with the country’s Muslims could lose them millions of votes. That, at least, is the fear.

“They are anxious that the Rohingya could serve as a wedge between Aung San Suu Kyi and tens of millions of Buddhists that she is counting on for votes. It doesn’t help that many NLD members probably support harsh treatment for the Rohingya and feel no special compassion for them.”

Burma’s quasi-civilian government, which is headed by former generals, is in a similar situation. President Thein Sein’s success in bringing the country back into the international fold after decades of isolation is threatened by foreign coverage of the Rohingya boat crisis.

For days the government line was to resist diplomatic pressure and insist the root cause of the crisis was trafficking of migrants, not the persecution of a stateless people whose name, Rohingya, is not even officially recognised.

But on Tuesday the official newspaper, Global New Light of Myanmar, reported on the crisis for the first time, in a further sign that the government is moderating its rejectionist position. The daily quoted the information minister, Ye Htut, as telling foreign ambassadors that Burma would cooperate with regional and international counterparts “to tackle the ongoing boat people crisis, which is a consequence of human trafficking of people from Rakhine state and Bangladesh to Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

“The Myanmar [Burmese] government will scrutinise the boat people and bring back those who can show evidence of citizenship,” the minister said.

The government’s move to at least acknowledge the problem in public could make it easier for the NLD to follow suit and promote a united response.

On the other hand, Aung San Suu Kyi might decide to maintain her silence, calculating it is in her interests to leave the government on its own to deal with any backlash across the country but especially in Rakhine as the elections draw near.

 85 
 on: May 20, 2015, 06:28 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
$8bn habitat conservation plan scrapped as California prioritises agribusiness

Decision to scrap habitat conservation plans sparks outrage as regulators and water contractors push forward with multi-billion dollar engineering project

Amy Westervelt
May 20 2015 13.19 BST
Guardian

For the past eight years, California politicians, utility companies, farmers and environmentalists have been arguing over the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP). Environmental groups are now speaking out after recent announcements that the conservation part of the plan has been shelved.

Authorities have billed the BDCP as a comprehensive strategy to restore a sensitive, damaged ecological area and reliably deliver water from the wetter northern regions of California to the drier south.

Critics, however, argue that the purpose of the plan is to justify charging taxpayers to fund an expensive project to divert water to California’s agricultural regions, in effect subsidising agribusinesses in a water-scarce region. $240m (£157m) has been spent on the plan’s research and development to date.
US water parks stricken by drought attempt to conserve a dwindling resource
Read more

Earlier this month, California governor Jerry Brown announced that the BDCP would be moving forward without the habitat conservation part of the plan. The state’s natural resources director, Richard Stapler, says a parallel conservation effort will ensure the protection of habitat and fisheries, but environmental groups are angry and frustrated, calling the announcement a classic case of bait and switch.

A river runs through it

The Sacramento Delta sits at the intersection of California’s two largest rivers - the Sacramento and the San Joaquin. A large pump in the Delta takes water from the region and sends it south, negatively impacting water quality and fisheries in the process.

Even those who benefit from the export of Delta water - farmers in the Central Valley and urban water districts - complain about the current infrastructure. Because 21 Delta fish are listed as endangered, the pump cannot be operated as often as originally intended.

Jason Peltier, chief deputy general manager of Westlands Water District, a 600,000-acre agricultural district in San Joaquin Valley, blames the Endangered Species Act more than drought for his farmers’ water woes. “The focus is on limiting the movement of water from the Delta south,” he says. “That has resulted in chronic shortages for us - we have only had our expected supply for three of the last 20 years.”

The BDCP would replace the pump with two 35-mile tunnels taking water from the Sacramento River, underground past the Delta, and delivering it to export pumps near Tracy, about 60 miles east of San Francisco. From there, an existing system of pumps, canals and aqueducts will deliver the water to Los Angeles, Silicon Valley and millions of acres of farmland in central California.

    The economic system we have rewards the sale of water, so water utilities lose money when they sell less water.
    Peter Gleick

Putting a price on water

The tunnels are estimated to cost $12-14bn to build, but given expected construction overruns and maintenance costs, the overall budget has been estimated at $50 to $64bn . That cost will largely be covered by property taxes and water rate hikes. Critics have complained that agricultural water districts will have an unfair advantage: the ability to re-sell their BDCP water supply.

In a 2014 Kern County Water District policy document, the largest Central Valley water agency indicates its intention to sell any excess supply it receives from the BDCP tunnels, in an effort to offset construction costs. In a 2012 senate hearing on the project, Westlands’ Peltier said he couldn’t assure legislators that his district wouldn’t end up re-selling BDCP water. While it makes sense that water agencies recoup their investments, BDCP critics are concerned that the policy sets a precedent for the privatisation of a public resource.

“They continue to say we’re about farming,” says Barbara Barrigan-Perilla, executive director of nonprofit Restore the Delta. “But the reality is that in 25 to 30 years those drainage-impaired lands in Westlands will have to be retired no matter what.”

Westlands has in fact already retired some 300,000 acres, about half the district, according to Peltier. The district has bought back water rights from several of those farmers.

“I think that’s the end-goal: farms will have to be retired, farmers will walk away with settlements from the federal government, and Westlands Water District will buy back water rights and re-sell their existing shares of water,” says Barrigan-Perilla.

It’s indicative of a larger issue in California. “The economic system we have rewards the sale of water, so water utilities lose money when they sell less water,” says Peter Gleick, executive director of Pacific Institute. “We learned in the energy business to decouple efficiency from rates and reward efficiency, and we could do the same with water.”

The ‘bare-minimum’ approach

The now-scrapped habitat restoration component of the BDCP had earmarked $8bn and 140,000 acres of habitat. By separating restoration from the permitting of the tunnels, Stapler says restoration efforts can start immediately. He has also said that some of the funds made available under California’s Water Action Act (Proposition 1) will be used, but it’s unclear how the state will get anywhere near the $8bn originally intended for habitat restoration.

In addition, the separate restoration plan will not address any issues caused by the tunnels themselves, over which both environmental groups and government agencies have voiced concerns. Last year, the US Environmental Protection Agency asked for a more thorough environmental impact analysis, with particular focus on water quality and the tunnels’ impact on fisheries (most notably salmon).

Nonetheless, Stapler is convinced that the state needs to pursue every course of action: alternative water strategies, restoration and the completion of the tunnels.

“The Delta provides a substantial amount of the basic water supply for 25 million people,” he says. “We know that working toward an ideal of regional self-reliance is important. However, we must also maintain and improve our current system because we will continue to rely on it well into the foreseeable future.”

According to Chelsea Tu, staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, in addition to taking a “bare-minimum approach” to environmental impacts, the new plan puts the tunnels project in the hands of federal permitting agencies, effectively bypassing the public.

“Now Californians will not have a say in a project that is so costly and has so many environmental impacts,” Tu says.

The water hub is funded by Grundfos. All content is editorially independent except for pieces labelled ‘brought to you by’. Find out more here.

 86 
 on: May 20, 2015, 06:25 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Will mega dams turn Bhutan's happiness sour?

Famed for its pursuit of happiness, Bhutan’s investment in a new wave of hydropower projects suggests all may not be as it seems in the Buddhist kingdom

Beth Walker reporting from Bhutan
Beth Walker is the UK editor of thethirdpole.net
Wednesday 20 May 2015 11.02 BST

The tiny kingdom of Bhutan, wedged high in the Himalayas between China and India, has become famous for its pursuit of gross national happiness (GNH) – conserving nature and cultural values over and above economic growth.

Bhutan is also praised as a global leader in environmental protection: 72% of the country is under forest cover and more than half is a protected area. The country has declared it will be the world’s first 100% organic nation and carbon neutral for all time to come.

Yet, less than 20km downstream from the sacred Buddhist fortress at Punakha, Bhutan’s winter capital, we are forced to a halt by the intensity of thick clouds from construction dust, machinery and buses shuttling workers home at the end of a long day. The roadsides are littered with shantytown settlements housing the thousands of migrants who’ve come to work at the site of one of Bhutan’s mega dams, Puna I.

All hail hydropower

Bhutan’s plans to exploit the vast potential of its high peaks and running rivers promise to transform it from an isolated backwater into one of the world’s fastest growing economies.

It aims to install 10,000 MW of hydropower by 2020, 80% of which will be sold to India. So far it has exploited only 5% of its potential, but the long-term plan envisages 74 dams in cascades across the country.

For Bhutan’s political leaders – the remote Himalayan state turned from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy in 2008 – hydropower is a saviour, providing a perfect vehicle “to balance material and spiritual needs”, says Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk, minister of hydropower and economic affairs. It offsets dirty fuel across the border in India, and provides about 25% of Bhutan’s GDP and almost half of government revenue (expected to soar to 75% in the future).

But there are increasing misgivings about the massive expansion plans, in part because they are so dependent on India, which provides most of the financing, receives most of the electricity and whose companies have most of the construction contracts.
Kathmandu: a city within sight of glaciers struggles with water crisis
Read more

Economic growth has stuttered in Bhutan because of rising debt and a debilitating trade imbalance with India, which supplies almost all Bhutan’s needs, from petrol to construction materials, grains to meat. In addition, while Bhutan exports power to India in summer, it must import electricity at a higher price during the winter when river flow is low.

Trouble on the horizon

Financial problems will only increase as India replaces grants with commercial loans and inter-governmental projects shift to joint ventures.

Prime minister Tshering Tobgay recently expressed interest in opening up the hydropower sector to other foreign direct investment. The ultimate aim is to sell power to Nepal and Bangladesh through regional power grids, but existing agreements with India give the country little room to manoeuvre.

Most of the jobs created by hydropower are in construction – unattractive to young Bhutanese, products of the country’s good education system, and youth unemployment rates remain high.

A host of environmental problems have also emerged. Dam builders have tried to minimise damage by constructing “run of the river” dams, channelling water through tunnels and turbines rather than collecting it in large reservoirs. However, the blasting and tunnelling for the Punatsangchhu projects – the two largest dams under construction – have caused widespread environmental disruption to forests and river systems, and destroyed the habitats of the endangered white bellied heron and golden mahseer, a rare species of Himalayan carp.

Other projects in the pipeline, such as the Sunkosh dam, will involve large reservoirs, which may flood agricultural land and important religious sites.

Landslides and a sinking river banks have significantly delayed the Puna I project and the dumping of muck into rivers has clogged channels, ruined paddy land and dried up underground springs. Many of the Indian companies designing and building the dams have poor track records.
Vulnerable region

Climate change adds another layer of complexity. Bhutan has lost 20% of its glaciers in the last 20 years and river flow is predicted to fall significantly over coming decades, leaving dams inoperable. In the short term, melting glaciers pose major flood risks, which could lead to catastrophic failures of dams and hydropower projects.

Even more alarming, Bhutan sits on the fault line responsible for the earthquake that devastated Nepal last month, and scientists warn that further large earthquakes could hit the region in coming decades.

Tremors felt in Thimphu roused anxiety: “We’re not prepared,” Chhador Wangdi, director of the disaster management department, told the Bhutanese media in the aftermath of the quake. The country has not mapped earthquake prone areas or drawn up emergency response plans, he admitted.

While the government rushes forward with plans to ease the increasing economic malaise and satisfy the growing consumer class, many in the region fear the lack of systematic planning.

“Currently when you look at maps for this region it’s pretty much a shotgun approach,” says Sami Tornikoskhi, leader of WWF’s Living Himalayas Initiative based in Thimphu. There are no cumulative impact assessments to identify the best and riskiest places to build hydropower and they’re not looking at the trade-offs between key sectors of the economy – agriculture and tourism for example, he says.

New challenges of democracy

Uygen Wangchuk, secretary of the National Environment Commission and in charge of granting environmental clearances for new projects, admits there are increasing pressures both within and outside the government to push through hydropower, mining and quarrying. “Our ecosystem is very fragile, very mountainous and mitigation costs are far higher than other countries. How to prevent the impact of degradation, floods and erosion is really a big challenge for us. But I’m a tough man,” he says, slapping his betel stained lips.

Wangchuk would like to persuade the government to keep a stretch of one river free flowing and is working with WWF to develop a proposal. He hopes a declaration will be made to mark the fourth king’s birthday later this year.

It was Bhutan’s fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who first espoused the vision of gross national happiness. However, the reality on the ground in a modernising and developing country with hydropower is different.

“What we have accumulated and come to be articulated as GNH can be lost with the wrong policy and this could be irreversible,” the hydropower minister says.

My questions about GNH are generally met with giggles or a roll of the eyes. “This is something our leaders talk about,” one journalist confided. “It doesn’t mean anything to us.”

Bhutan’s conservative Buddhist society has no tradition of open criticism, and NGOs have yet to put the state’s political leaders under pressure. However, Rinchen Wangmo, programme manager at Bhutan’s first environmental NGO, Royal Society for Protection of Nature, sees an opportunity to do things differently.

“Environment conservation doesn’t feature as a priority in party manifestos,” she says. “This is a wake-up call for NGOS to move away from our comfort zone, strengthen our advocacy and bring about change.”

The water hub is funded by Grundfos. All content is editorially independent except for pieces labelled “brought to you by”. Find out more here.

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 87 
 on: May 20, 2015, 06:24 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Will mega dams turn Bhutan's happiness sour?

Famed for its pursuit of happiness, Bhutan’s investment in a new wave of hydropower projects suggests all may not be as it seems in the Buddhist kingdom

Beth Walker reporting from Bhutan
Beth Walker is the UK editor of thethirdpole.net
Wednesday 20 May 2015 11.02 BST

The tiny kingdom of Bhutan, wedged high in the Himalayas between China and India, has become famous for its pursuit of gross national happiness (GNH) – conserving nature and cultural values over and above economic growth.

Bhutan is also praised as a global leader in environmental protection: 72% of the country is under forest cover and more than half is a protected area. The country has declared it will be the world’s first 100% organic nation and carbon neutral for all time to come.

Yet, less than 20km downstream from the sacred Buddhist fortress at Punakha, Bhutan’s winter capital, we are forced to a halt by the intensity of thick clouds from construction dust, machinery and buses shuttling workers home at the end of a long day. The roadsides are littered with shantytown settlements housing the thousands of migrants who’ve come to work at the site of one of Bhutan’s mega dams, Puna I.

All hail hydropower

Bhutan’s plans to exploit the vast potential of its high peaks and running rivers promise to transform it from an isolated backwater into one of the world’s fastest growing economies.

It aims to install 10,000 MW of hydropower by 2020, 80% of which will be sold to India. So far it has exploited only 5% of its potential, but the long-term plan envisages 74 dams in cascades across the country.

For Bhutan’s political leaders – the remote Himalayan state turned from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy in 2008 – hydropower is a saviour, providing a perfect vehicle “to balance material and spiritual needs”, says Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk, minister of hydropower and economic affairs. It offsets dirty fuel across the border in India, and provides about 25% of Bhutan’s GDP and almost half of government revenue (expected to soar to 75% in the future).

But there are increasing misgivings about the massive expansion plans, in part because they are so dependent on India, which provides most of the financing, receives most of the electricity and whose companies have most of the construction contracts.
Kathmandu: a city within sight of glaciers struggles with water crisis
Read more

Economic growth has stuttered in Bhutan because of rising debt and a debilitating trade imbalance with India, which supplies almost all Bhutan’s needs, from petrol to construction materials, grains to meat. In addition, while Bhutan exports power to India in summer, it must import electricity at a higher price during the winter when river flow is low.

Trouble on the horizon

Financial problems will only increase as India replaces grants with commercial loans and inter-governmental projects shift to joint ventures.

Prime minister Tshering Tobgay recently expressed interest in opening up the hydropower sector to other foreign direct investment. The ultimate aim is to sell power to Nepal and Bangladesh through regional power grids, but existing agreements with India give the country little room to manoeuvre.

Most of the jobs created by hydropower are in construction – unattractive to young Bhutanese, products of the country’s good education system, and youth unemployment rates remain high.

A host of environmental problems have also emerged. Dam builders have tried to minimise damage by constructing “run of the river” dams, channelling water through tunnels and turbines rather than collecting it in large reservoirs. However, the blasting and tunnelling for the Punatsangchhu projects – the two largest dams under construction – have caused widespread environmental disruption to forests and river systems, and destroyed the habitats of the endangered white bellied heron and golden mahseer, a rare species of Himalayan carp.

Other projects in the pipeline, such as the Sunkosh dam, will involve large reservoirs, which may flood agricultural land and important religious sites.

Landslides and a sinking river banks have significantly delayed the Puna I project and the dumping of muck into rivers has clogged channels, ruined paddy land and dried up underground springs. Many of the Indian companies designing and building the dams have poor track records.
Vulnerable region

Climate change adds another layer of complexity. Bhutan has lost 20% of its glaciers in the last 20 years and river flow is predicted to fall significantly over coming decades, leaving dams inoperable. In the short term, melting glaciers pose major flood risks, which could lead to catastrophic failures of dams and hydropower projects.

Even more alarming, Bhutan sits on the fault line responsible for the earthquake that devastated Nepal last month, and scientists warn that further large earthquakes could hit the region in coming decades.

Tremors felt in Thimphu roused anxiety: “We’re not prepared,” Chhador Wangdi, director of the disaster management department, told the Bhutanese media in the aftermath of the quake. The country has not mapped earthquake prone areas or drawn up emergency response plans, he admitted.

While the government rushes forward with plans to ease the increasing economic malaise and satisfy the growing consumer class, many in the region fear the lack of systematic planning.

“Currently when you look at maps for this region it’s pretty much a shotgun approach,” says Sami Tornikoskhi, leader of WWF’s Living Himalayas Initiative based in Thimphu. There are no cumulative impact assessments to identify the best and riskiest places to build hydropower and they’re not looking at the trade-offs between key sectors of the economy – agriculture and tourism for example, he says.

New challenges of democracy

Uygen Wangchuk, secretary of the National Environment Commission and in charge of granting environmental clearances for new projects, admits there are increasing pressures both within and outside the government to push through hydropower, mining and quarrying. “Our ecosystem is very fragile, very mountainous and mitigation costs are far higher than other countries. How to prevent the impact of degradation, floods and erosion is really a big challenge for us. But I’m a tough man,” he says, slapping his betel stained lips.

Wangchuk would like to persuade the government to keep a stretch of one river free flowing and is working with WWF to develop a proposal. He hopes a declaration will be made to mark the fourth king’s birthday later this year.

It was Bhutan’s fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who first espoused the vision of gross national happiness. However, the reality on the ground in a modernising and developing country with hydropower is different.

“What we have accumulated and come to be articulated as GNH can be lost with the wrong policy and this could be irreversible,” the hydropower minister says.

My questions about GNH are generally met with giggles or a roll of the eyes. “This is something our leaders talk about,” one journalist confided. “It doesn’t mean anything to us.”

Bhutan’s conservative Buddhist society has no tradition of open criticism, and NGOs have yet to put the state’s political leaders under pressure. However, Rinchen Wangmo, programme manager at Bhutan’s first environmental NGO, Royal Society for Protection of Nature, sees an opportunity to do things differently.

“Environment conservation doesn’t feature as a priority in party manifestos,” she says. “This is a wake-up call for NGOS to move away from our comfort zone, strengthen our advocacy and bring about change.”

The water hub is funded by Grundfos. All content is editorially independent except for pieces labelled “brought to you by”. Find out more here.

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 88 
 on: May 20, 2015, 06:18 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Families living in poverty in the shadow of Azerbaijan's luxury sports stadiums

As authorities invest heavily in hosting European Games, residents ask who will benefit from the event. Meydan TV report

Aytac Tapdıq and Sevinc Vaqifqızı for Meydan TV, part of the New East network
Wednesday 20 May 2015 05.00 BST

Gulnara Suleymanova and her family of five live in a wagon behind Baku’s prestigious new sports stadium, built especially for next month’s European Games.

“On your way here, you might have seen piles of sand, that’s where my husband sieves when there’s no work,” says Suleymanova, who is a cleaner.

The family’s income is about 300 Azerbaijani manats (£184) a month – which is barely enough for food, she says.

Theirs is the story of a family subsisting alongside the ambitious venues constructed for Azerbaijan’s inaugural Games and generously funded by the state oil company Socar. The authoritarian president, Ilham Alyev, a keen enthusiast of the Games, is said to have invested a total of £6.5bn in sports venues and infrastructure.

Organisers are also paying the travel and accommodation expenses of all 6,000 athletes competing in the event, a move condemned by human rights groups as an attempt to whitewash the country’s poor human rights record and endemic corruption.

Last week the government extended the detention of award-winning investigative journalist who had written articles exposing state corruption.

Life in the oilfields

For Suleymanova, the glaring disparity between the luxury stadiums and her family’s daily struggle raises important questions about who the Games will actually benefit.

“It’s cold in the winter, and it doesn’t matter how much you use the heater,” Suleymanova says. “In the summer, it’s terribly hot. We take water from the neighbour. Water, gas, electricity are all one big problem. When it comes to living, you have to experience it yourself in order to understand. It’s hard to describe.”

After 10 years of renting, the family settled in their oilfield wagon behind the stadium. The smell of oil is ubiquitous, but it’s not their biggest problem: they are hungry, thirsty and the health of two of her children is deteriorating.

Suleymanova’s son has a hearing impairment and her daughter has problems with her vision. Each time she sees the stadium she wonders how many children could access medical treatment with the money it cost to build.

“Only 100th of those four billion manats would be enough to treat my child,” she says. “But they didn’t give it to me. Wherever I went, I got nothing.”

‘Everything I have is inside this room’

Suleymanova’s family live in one dim, narrow, room scant with furniture.

“I don’t have a table. I can’t offer you a chair, because I don’t have it,” Suleymanova says. “This is both my living room and bedroom. I don’t have proper curtains. If you ask for a bathroom, we don’t have it either, we shower at the neighbours’ place.”

“I don’t have a kitchen. Everything I have is inside this room,” she adds.

Her requests for government help have fallen on deaf ears. She applied for targeted social assistance but didn’t qualify. “They told me your husband must have a job in a state-funded entity. You need to bring a paper proving that. If I had a job in a public company why would I ever need your social assistance?” she asks.

Turning black gold into sporting glitter: what Azerbaijan tells us about modern sport... Read more..http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2014/dec/19/black-gold-sporting-glitter-azerbaijan-modern-sport

“They build sports complexes, construct roads, but who benefits from them? Why don’t they help children? Why don’t they think that there are small children, sick and poor people living in this country? Why don’t they help them?” she asks.

Click to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JIVpeWdtLuI&hd=1

 89 
 on: May 20, 2015, 06:12 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Japanese aquariums vote to stop buying Taiji dolphins

Aquariums promise to stop acquiring live cetaceans from controversy-hit town amid threat of ejection from leading zoo organisation

Justin McCurry in Tokyo
Wednesday 20 May 2015 12.33 BST
Guardian

Aquariums in Japan have voted to stop buying live dolphins from the town of Taiji, where the annual slaughter of hundreds of cetaceans has drawn widespread condemnation, after being threatened with expulsion from the world’s leading zoo organisation.

The Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (Jaza) voted to stay part of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (Waza) on Wednesday, a move that in effect ends the procurement of Taiji dolphins by aquariums and sea parks in Japan.

The decision comes weeks after Waza suspended its Japanese members and threatened them with expulsion unless they ended their “unethical” association with the town.

Taiji, in Wakayama prefecture on the Pacific coast, gained notoriety in the Oscar-winning 2009 documentary The Cove, which showed fishermen herding pods of dolphins into shallow water before killing them with knives.

Most of the animals captured during the drive hunts are butchered for their meat, but some are sold to aquariums and sea parks in Japan and overseas.

A majority of the 89 zoos and 63 aquariums belonging to Jaza voted to remain in the global zoo organisation, Japanese media reported.

Voting to retain their commercial ties to Taiji would have led to expulsion and threatened their ability to acquire rare animal species from zoos and aquariums overseas through a global database.

Swiss-based Waza suspended its Japanese members on 22 April after they ignored requests to stop acquiring Taiji dolphins, almost all of them bottlenoses.

The suspension came soon after the Guardian revealed that Waza had been targeted in a court action launched by Australia for Dolphins. The group accused it of being complicit in the infamous hunts by failing to take decisive action against Japanese aquariums.

Australia for Dolphins described Wednesday’s vote as “the beginning of the end of dolphin hunting”. “We are absolutely delighted to hear Japan’s peak zoo body has voted to uphold international animal welfare standards and stop purchasing Taiji dolphins,” Sarah Lucas, the chief executive, said.

“This momentous decision marks the beginning of the end for dolphin hunting in Japan. The capture of live dolphins, which sell for up to $100,000, is the motivation for the brutal dolphin hunts in Taiji. This decision, which stops Japanese aquariums demanding more Taiji dolphins, is a huge blow to the hunts.

“Jaza aquariums provide up to 40 percent of total demand for live dolphins from Taiji. So, as of today, the market for Taiji dolphins could be nearly cut in half. Without demand, the hunts won’t continue. It is the first major step towards ending the Taiji dolphin hunts once and for all.”

Lucas said the group would continue its legal action against Waza because other members of the organisation continue to buy dolphins from Taiji and other inhumane hunts. At least 18 of the 33 aquariums in Japan that keep dolphins obtained the animals from drive hunts, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun.

Jaza officials said they would concentrate on expanding domestic breeding programmes in an attempt to make up for the expected shortfall in the supply of dolphins, a huge attraction at the country’s many aquariums and sea parks.

Before the vote, the governor of Wakayama prefecture, Yoshinobu Nisaka, said the threat of expulsion amounted to “bullying from all over the world”.

Yoshihide Suga, the chief cabinet secretary, defended the Taiji hunts, describing them as “a sustainable fishing [method] under appropriate control by the government with scientific foundations, and carried out carefully so that dolphins are not hurt”.

The capture of dolphins is said to have doubled in the past 10 years. A fully trained dolphin on public display can be worth more than $100,000 (£62,000), compared with as little as $100 if butchered for meat. Anti-hunt campaigners say the market for captured dolphins in China is growing rapidly.

Over the past five years, observers say, more than 5,000 dolphins have been killed at Taiji, with a further 750 captured for aquariums.

 90 
 on: May 20, 2015, 06:09 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
EU Parliament Lifts Immunity for Sarkozy Aide

by Naharnet Newsdesk 19 May 2015, 16:51

The European Parliament on Tuesday lifted the immunity of a French lawmaker wanted for questioning by judges over a scandal relating to the funding of former president Nicolas Sarkozy's 2012 presidential campaign.

In an overwhelming majority show of hands, the parliament in Strasbourg, France responded to the request of the French judges and lifted the immunity of Jerome Lavrilleux, the former deputy director of Sarkozy's campaign.

"I myself voted to have my immunity lifted. I had said since last May that I would not hide behind my immunity to shirk my responsibilities," Lavrilleux told reporters.

"I'm available to answer all questions the judges would like to ask," he added.

French judges are investigating PR firm Bygmalion, which is accused of falsifying invoices for staging Sarkozy events, billing the conservative UMP party instead of the Sarkozy campaign.

The alleged fraud was supposedly carried out to circumvent strict caps on campaign spending.

Lavrilleux dropped the bombshell in May last year that campaign spending was passed off as party conferences through sham invoices.

He has said that neither Sarkozy nor then UMP chief Jean-Francois Cope knew of the scheme.

However, caught up in the scandal, Cope later resigned from the party leadership.

Last November Sarkozy was elected UMP leader despite his legal woes.

Although undeclared, Sarkozy is on the hunt to grab back the keys of the Elysee Palace from the man who beat him in 2012, the now deeply unpopular Socialist President Francois Hollande.

Source: Agence France Presse

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