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17 December 2004Archive Subscribe for free by E-mail or Human News RSS feed

China On Track To Achieve A Millennium Goal

By Marwaan Macan-Markar (IPS)

China's rapid march towards economic prosperity is helping East Asia guarantee its place as one region in the developing world that would meet a 2015 deadline of halving the number of people living on less than one U.S. dollar a day. That optimistic forecast in a new report from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) contrasts with the odds faced by other regions to help millions of their poor rise out of abject poverty by getting a decent and secure job.

According to the Geneva-based U.N. labour agency, the reality is worst for those living below two dollars a day. "Current estimates for 2003 show that 1.39 billion people in the world work but are still unable to lift themselves and their families above the two U.S. dollar poverty line," states the "World Employment Report--2004-05." "Among them, 550 million cannot even lift themselves and their families above the extreme one U.S. dollar a day poverty threshold," added the 256-page report.

Little of this is true in East Asia, says the report, since it "is on track" to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the number of people living on less than one dollar a day. "In fact China has already achieved the goal," states the report. "Additionally, because China's workforce represents 95 percent of the labour force in the region, the region has also halved the number of working poor since 1990."

By 2003, China's economy had cut the number of the working poor to 139 million from 242 million in 1990, a 43 percent reduction, adds the report. The Asian giant's success is rooted in its agriculture and industrial sector. Agriculture productivity increased since reforms aimed at reducing poverty were introduced in 1978, the report notes. They led to "higher rural incomes through change in the marketing system and employment structure and encouraged the outflow of workers from agriculture into rural non-farm activities."

The dramatic drop in the number of the rural poor reflects this achievement. By 2000, the rural poor only amounted to 30 million people, or only 3.7 percent of the rural population, as against the high of 250 million people, or 33 percent of the rural poor--the year agriculture reforms were introduced in 1978. "A reduction in poverty on this scale and within such a short time is unprecedented in history," states the ILO report.

The growth of the industrial sector in urban areas due to foreign investments has also helped reduce poverty, Elizabeth Morris, a senior employment specialist at the ILO's Asia-Pacific regional office, told IPS. "You can see it in the jobs generated by the construction sector."

The number of manufacturing jobs has grown rapidly in China.

In the rest of East and South-east Asia, small and medium-scale businesses have been the engines of growth, providing employment and helping to reduce those living in poverty. "Most jobs have been created by these private sector enterprises," said Morris. Vietnam, she adds, is typical, where 80 percent of the new jobs have been created by the small-scale businesses. China is the region's best economic performer, achieving annual growth rates of around eight percent for years, while Vietnam follows close behind, with annual growth rates of six percent.

The MDG on halving poverty is one of eight targets agreed upon by the world's leaders at a U.N. summit in 2000. At that meeting in New York, heads of governments also pledged to halve the number of global poor living in hunger by 2015. They also pledged to ensure all girls and boys will have access to and complete a full course of primary education by the deadline, along with promoting gender equality and empowering women, reduce by two-thirds child mortality and improve maternal health.

Currently more than 1.2 billion people--almost one in every five people--live on less than one dollar a day. And that the Asia-Pacific region will serve as a major test for these goals stems from it being home to almost 768 million--or two-thirds--of the world's people who live in extreme poverty.

Source: UN  
The percentage of people living on less than one dollar a day has decreased in South and East Asia.

The ILO argued in its report that the creation of "decent and productive employment is vital for reducing global poverty" as called for in the MDGs. However labour rights activists are not as sanguine as the ILO about China being the panacea to aid those living in abject poverty across East and South-east Asia.

"The labour market in China is not a safe indicator for the region because it is not sustainable," Junya Yimprasert, coordinator of the Thai Labour Campaign, a Bangkok-based labour rights lobby, told IPS. The lack of freedom to associate and some other internationally recognised labour rights are denied to the Chinese workers, she said. "There is no law to make the employers accountable to labour rights issues and it has already begun to cause problems. Some Chinese workers have started to protest."

Meanwhile, other activists worry that the stress on China's achievement may conceal the pockets of poverty across East and South-east Asia that remain ignored in the MDG campaign. "There is a danger that the achievements in China will mask what is happening in the region towards an underclass living in poverty in villages and cities," Ashvin Dayal, regional programme manager for the British development agency Oxfam, told IPS.

At the same time, there is a fear that the anticipated dominance of China next year in producing clothes for export will affect poor Asian countries that have depended on the garment sector for foreign exchange and as a source of employment. "Cambodia is very vulnerable," said Dayal, since that South-east Asian country may see companies producing garments leaving for China when an agreement to protect the garment sector market ends this year. "That could lead to more poverty, particularly for women."

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Mines Maim Minors

Each year, about 20,000 people are injured or killed by land mines. Over a third are children.

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Corruption in Cambodia

A recent U.S. Agency for International Development report charged that 500 million dollars is lost annually to corruption in Cambodia.

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A Smoking Gun Loaded And Ready To Fire

By Larry Baum

Source: WHO
An anti-smoking ad.

The global war on smoking passed a major milestone on 30 November 2004. On that day, Peru became the 40th country to ratify an international treaty to reduce smoking, thus triggering activation of the treaty in 90 days.

Tobacco consumption is the single leading preventable cause of death. It prematurely ends the lives of 5 million people a year, a figure which will double by 2020 if current trends are not reversed. Tobacco is the only legal product that causes the death of one half of its regular users. This means that of the current 1.3 billion smokers, 650 million people will die prematurely due to tobacco. Another way to look at the effect of smoking is to measure the average reduction in life expectancy among smokers. A study published in the British Medical Journal in June 2004 followed 34,439 male doctors since 1951 and showed that smokers died on average 10 years earlier than non-smokers.

Although the number of smokers has stabilized or fallen in developed areas, it is rising in developing or transitional regions, which contain more of the world's population and already 84% of the world's smokers. To fight this increasing health threat, the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) was unanimously adopted by the 56th World Health Assembly in May 2003 following almost three years of negotiations. The treaty aims to reduce both the demand for and the supply of tobacco by setting standards on tobacco price and tax increases, tobacco advertising and sponsorship, labelling, illicit trade and second-hand smoke.

Studies show that increasing prices through taxes on tobacco products is the most cost-effective way to reduce smoking. The World Bank estimated that a 10% increase in tobacco prices would, on average, result in a reduction of 4% of the demand in high-income countries and 8% in lower-income countries. Thus the treaty suggests tobacco taxes or price controls, although it neither suggests specific levels nor requires any taxes or price controls.

The treaty requires all countries adopting it to ban, to the extent allowed by their constitutions, all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship within five years. Health warnings must occupy at least half of the principal display areas of a pack, but they must not be less than 30%. These health warnings must be changed regularly and may include pictures. Cigarette packages must contain information on ingredients and emissions.

Source: CDC Media Campaign Resource Center
An anti-smoking ad. View more here.

The treaty aims to reduce smuggling by requiring adopting nations to mark all tobacco packages for tracing purposes and to indicate their country of destination, as well as to cooperate with each other in monitoring and controlling the movement of tobacco products and investigating their diversion. The treaty bans tobacco sales to and by minors.

The idea for an international instrument for tobacco control was initiated in May 1995 at the 48th World Health Assembly. But it wasn’t until 1999, a year after the then WHO Director-General, Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, made global tobacco control a priority, that work on the present treaty began. During the year after the FCTC was written, 167 countries signed and 23 countries ratified it, making it one of the most rapidly embraced UN Treaties of all time. "The momentum growing around the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control seems unstoppable. It demonstrates the importance placed by the international community on saving many of the millions of lives now lost to tobacco,” said Dr LEE Jong-wook, WHO Director-General. "I look forward to more countries joining the 40 states that are making it possible for this Treaty to become law."

Of the countries ratifying the treaty, the largest are (in order of decreasing population) India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Japan, Mexico, Thailand, France, and Burma. Nations that have signed but not yet ratified include China, USA, Brazil, Nigeria, Philippines, Viet Nam, Germany, and Egypt. The largest non-signers are Indonesia, Russia, Colombia, Tanzania, and Uzbekistan. The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan went beyond the treaty requirements when on December 17 it became the first country in the world to completely ban the sale of tobacco.

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Stem Cells From Umbilical Cords

By F. Merlin Flower

In the future, babies with cancer in India could smile, thanks to an advanced technology which has reached the Indian shores. Umbilical cord stem cell transplants have cured children of 45 diseases, mostly different types of cancer, as well as some inherited disorders of the blood, immune system, or metabolism. Asia Cryo-Cell is offering cord stem cell storage in partnership with American company Cryo-Cell International.

At birth, blood will be removed from the umbilical cord. Stem cells will be separated from the blood and stored in liquid nitrogen at -196 degrees Celsius. If needed later, they can help replace the blood cells lost during cancer treatment, for example. Most transplant recipients are siblings or people unrelated to the donors. Such transplants have cured 3,500 children in America, said Dr. Saranya Nandakumar, director of Asia Cryo-Cell.

The charge for the separation and storage service will be Rs. 50,990 (US$1,100), according to Dr. Saranya Nandakumar. This is almost twice the annual income of an average Indian. She denied the company is targeting only the elite market.

The cost is very high and would take time to penetrate a developing country like India, said Polani Seshagiri, professor at the Indian Institute of Sciences. The cells will be stored for 21 years, and the cryo-preservation equipment used is quite expensive, which justifies the cost, said Seshagiri. However, according to Imtiaz Zaffar, a scientist at the National Center for Biological Sciences, it is the transplant and the tissue culture which are costly, rather than the storage.

Sujoy Kumar, professor of genetics at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said that there were no legal and moral issues involved as the cells used were not embryonic cells. The company had patented the process and so can carry on with its research in India, said Ramesh Murthy, professor at the National Law School of India University in Bangalore. He added that the company would have to get an approval certificate from the government. Saranya said the company was still waiting for the certificate.

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