India’s flood-ravaged Kerala seeks at least $1.4 bln loan for reconstruction

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Indian men carry food and water aid distributed to those stranded by floods in Pandanad in Alappuzha District in the south Indian state of Kerala on August 21, 2018. (AFP)
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Volunteers pass boxes of food aid at a relief camp for people displaced by flooding in Aluva on the outskirts of Kochi in the south Indian state of Kerala on August 20, 2018. (AFP)
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An Indian rescue worker carries a baby boy rescued with his family from homes in a water-logged area as they are moved to a relief camp in Chenagannur following widespread flooding in the south Indian state of Kerala on August 20, 2018. (AFP)
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Indian men take a small boat to travel across flood waters past a marooned farm building to reach their homes in Pandanad in Alappuzha District in the south Indian state of Kerala on August 21, 2018. (AFP)
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Vehicles are seen parked together, some of them submerged in flood waters in Alappuzha in the southern state of Kerala, India, Monday, Aug. 20, 2018. (AP)
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Babies and their mothers seeking refuge from flooding interact at a relief camp in Aluva on the outskirts of Kochi in the south Indian state of Kerala on August 20, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 22 August 2018

India’s flood-ravaged Kerala seeks at least $1.4 bln loan for reconstruction

  • About 50,000 homes have been destroyed, according to one Kerala legislator
  • Millions of dollars in donations have poured into Kerala from the rest of India and abroad

NELLIYAMPATHY/NEW DELHI: India’s flood-ravaged Kerala state will seek to borrow more than 100 billion rupees ($1.4 billion) to finance reconstruction work after a disaster that has claimed nearly 400 lives, its chief minister said on Tuesday.
The proposed loan is part of a special package that the southern state, which estimates it has suffered damage of at least 200 billion rupees, will seek from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government for rebuilding efforts, minister Pinarayi Vijayan said.
Kerala will ask Modi’s government to raise the state’s borrowing ceiling to 4.5 percent of its GDP from 3 percent, which will help raise an additional 105 billion rupees from the market, Vijayan said.
“Our aim is not merely a restoration of the state to pre-flood times, but the creation of a new Kerala,” Vijayan told reporters.
The worst floods in the state in a century claimed 383 lives, razed tens of thousands of homes, and washed away roads and bridges. Around 1.3 million are sheltering in thousands of relief camps.
Even as rescue efforts come to a halt across Kerala and focus shifts to relief, more than 3,000 people in a remote village located in an eco-sensitive area are angry with what they say is the apathy of forest officials in rescue and relief operations.
Villagers in Nelliyampathy, a remote hill station that has been isolated from the nearest town after its only road suffered heavy damage due to flooding and landslides, allege officials are restricting aid efforts by blocking locals and outsiders from bringing in food supplies.
Government engineers said the temporary restoration of road access will take another four days and that food supplies won’t be airlifted any more, insteady being transported by volunteers and government staff.
Roads were found to be impassable and huge trees had fallen over them. Diesel and food supplies have to be carried to reach the point at which the road is accessible.

“There is no way to communicate with the rest of the state as none of the mobile networks are working, bank and government officials have not turned up, and even our own people are being stopped from carrying food,” said K Girija, vice president of the village administration, adding that multiple representations to the government had gone unanswered.
Asked why the forest department is restricting aid efforts, the district’s top most administrative officer declined to comment.
“A system would be put in place to ensure sufficient food supplies and provide other amenities,” D. Balamurali told Nelliyampathy villagers, as three helicopters descended to supply food. Helicopters were used to transport pregnant women and cancer patients on Tuesday.
However, the villagers say the aid was coming too late as the road had become inaccessible six days ago and villagers had found it difficult to communicate problems relating to restricted movement and damaged property.
The federal government has classified the floods as a “calamity of severe nature,” and has committed 6 billion rupees in interim relief so far. Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan said the government will provide as much help as possible.
Authorities are handing out medicines and disinfectants to ward off diseases as a huge clean-up gathers pace.
The federal government has sent tons of emergency drugs and bleaching powder, besides supplying tablets for water purification, though J.P. Nadda, federal health minister, said no outbreak of communicable disease had been reported yet.
The United Arab Emirates said it will provide 7 billion rupees to the state. “Kerala has a special relationship with the UAE, which is a home away from home for Malayalees,” Vijayan said.
Several Gulf countries have a sizeable population of Keralites as expatriate workers. Since the 1960s, remittances from the Gulf have been the backbone of Kerala’s economy, making up a third of its gross domestic product.
India said on Tuesday it plans to set up a cyclone warning center in Kerala’s capital Thiruvananthapuram in a month’s time, as several tropical cyclones and severe weather events have recently struck the state and neighboring Karnataka coasts.
($1 = 70.0900 Indian rupees)

Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh get doves of peace from the Middle East

Updated 58 min 47 sec ago

Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh get doves of peace from the Middle East

  • A Dubai NGO has paired up with one in the UK to distribute toys made from upcycled refugee blankets
  • It’s one initiative marking the UN’s International Day of Peace on Friday, at a time when the world is in conflict

DUBAI: Eight-year-old Anjuman, living in Camp 7 at Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, has received the most beautiful gift. “I am very happy to have received this dove. I like it so much,” she said.

She is among 150 children in the camp who have received “peace doves” from Dubai after winning an art competition organized in the camp.

To celebrate the UN-declared International Day of Peace on Friday, a Dubai-based NGO, NRS International, and a UK-based NGO, Empathy Action, have given wings to a message of hope, peace and reconciliation. 

Both these organizations have come together to make dove toys (symbolizing peace) to distribute among children, who are among the first victims of conflict in any part of the world.

And while peace isn’t something the world often associates with the Middle East, there are plenty of ways in which countries in the region are trying to make the world a better place, from smaller initiatives such as the doves in Bangladesh to major efforts such as the peace deal brokered this week by Saudi Arabia between Ethiopia and Eritrea. 

The peace doves were handmade by women at NRS International’s factory in Pakistan. As many as 650 dove toys have been stitched and handcrafted from upcycled offcuts of refugee blankets and tarpaulins.

“Each dove, made from excess blanket material that normally keeps refugees warm, is a symbol of peace,” said Wieke de Vries, head of corporate social responsibility at NRS International. It is the leading supplier of humanitarian relief items such as fleece blankets to UN agencies and international aid organizations.

Sandy Glanfield, innovations manager at Empathy Action, said the doves will carry a reminder that for 68.5 million displaced people worldwide, a blanket or tarpaulin is a basic necessity to survive. “The passionate and skillful women who made the doves add the love into this story,” said Glanfield.

About 150 larger versions of peace doves have been distributed to Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh camps, with the support of the Danish Refugee Council. 

S.M. Atiqur Reza, who is a child protection assistant at the council, said that the peace doves have put smiles on the faces of the children in the refugee camp. 

“The children were so excited, and they loved these doves and making plans to take it back home (whenever they go back home).” 

But in a world of conflicts, there is still much to be done. Anjuman is just one of nearly 25.4 million refugees in the world, over half of whom are under the age of 18.

Dr. Hadia Aslam, who sets up health care systems for refugees in Europe and the Middle East, is not hopeful about world peace in the near future.

“I feel we have desensitized entirely to any atrocity that happens now. Nothing shocks us. I do not see a future for peace, but I do see conflict. Our systems are geared to hosting this,” said the young doctor, who is the founder of a charity that has treated thousands of refugees in Europe. 

For her, human rights violations by Israel are a major threat to world peace. “I don’t know a lot about politics, but I can categorically raise concerns about Israel’s human rights track record being astounding and the world silently watching. Their only motive is occupation and apartheid. There is no space for peace in such a place.”

Vidya Bhushan Rawat, a leading peace activist based in New Delhi, said that the biggest threat to peace is injustice and growing inequalities.” I don’t think that the world has become a peaceful place at the moment. There is a steady growth of right-wing politics the world over, where minorities and immigrants are considered a threat to the nation.

“To protect the only planet we have we need to eradicate poverty, illiteracy, hunger, malnutrition, gender disparity and superstition from our societies.”

Dr. Kamran Bokhari, director of strategy and programs at the Center for Global Policy in Washington, does not see peace becoming the norm any time soon.

 “We constantly hear about peace talks. But seldom do these efforts produce actual peace. The rise of nationalism is undoing the internationalist order that we thought would gain ground after the end of the Cold War a quarter of a century ago. Meanwhile, non-state actors are filling the vacuums left behind by weakening states, which suggests greater, not less, global conflict.”

Dr. Shehab Al-Makehleh also believes that the world is less peaceful now than it has been in a long time. “Right now, peacefulness is at the worst level of any time since 2012. By the end of 2017, 1 percent of the world population had been refugees and displaced,” said the executive director of Geostrategic media in Washington, DC.

He does not expect things to improve unless decision-makers in the international community give this matter attention as the world will be witnessing new economic and financial crises that could turn major countries into enemies.

“Unless the UN takes necessary measures that the world does not fall into anarchy due to populism and nationalism, the domino effect will cross borders, causing insecurity at all levels, toppling some regimes and changing borders with hundreds of thousands of people dying of poverty and terrorism,” Dr. Al-Makehleh said.

All the more reason to bring hope to children such as Anjuman. As Reza said of the Rohingya children in the camp: “They want peace. They say they want to go back home. They want to go to their schools and study. They find the camp is a very small place to live. They are really sad here.”