India’s Kerala to give workers a siesta to help beat the heat

This photo taken on January 8, 2018 shows an Indian women picking tea leaves at a tea plantation near Munnar in the state of Kerala. (AFP)
Updated 07 March 2019

India’s Kerala to give workers a siesta to help beat the heat

  • There are an estimated 3 million migrant workers in Kerala, which offers daily wages that are up to three times higher than in other Indian states, labor rights campaigners say

MUMBAI: Workers in India’s Kerala state are now getting a three-hour afternoon siesta as part of a series of benefits aimed at combating soaring temperatures and improving labor conditions, government officials said on Wednesday.
Kerala, which suffered its worst floods in a century last year, is bracing itself for more extreme weather conditions in 2019 and the state’s disaster management authority last week issued sunstroke warnings for the next three months.
“There is extreme heat in Kerala. So we are making arrangements for workers and have announced a three-hour break from noon until 3 p.m.,” said Sreedharan Tulasidharan, a labor commissioner with the Kerala government.
There are an estimated 3 million migrant workers in Kerala, which offers daily wages that are up to three times higher than in other Indian states, labor rights campaigners say.
Most work in the construction, agriculture, mining and fishing industries.
“We call them our guests. Migrant workers’ output is very high. Their productivity contributes to our GDP. We are nurturing and treating them well,” Tulasidharan told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
Climate experts have warned that the world can expect higher temperatures and more frequent heat waves, with the poorest communities likely to be worst-affected as the impacts of climate change kick-in.
The World Health Organization says heat-stress, linked to climate change, is likely to cause 38,000 extra deaths a year worldwide between 2030 and 2050.
Home to 60 percent of the world’s population, Asia-Pacific is the planet’s most disaster-prone region, according to the Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2017.
India, with approximately 1.3 billion people, is the second most populous country in the world and also among the most disaster-prone. Heat waves in India caused over 2,400 deaths in 2015, according to government data.
Officials of the Kerala’s disaster management authority said cases of heat stroke and sunburn were already being reported and they had asked various government departments to take precautionary measures.
“Summer in Kerala was never harsh,” said Sekhar L. Kuriakose, a senior official with the Kerala State Disaster Management Authority, which issued the sunstroke warning last week.
“This year we saw temperatures rise by 3 degrees in 14 days during February. That is not normal,” said Kuriakose.
Kerala announced health and pension benefits for migrant workers in November.
Last week, the state inaugurated hostels for migrant workers in Palakkad town and now plans to expand the scheme.
With high levels of literacy and an aging population, Kerala leans heavily on migrant workers, said Benoy Peter, executive director at Kerala’s Center for Migration and Inclusive Development, a non-profit.
($1 = 70.5425 Indian rupees)


Taliban aim to sign deal with US by end of month

Updated 18 January 2020

Taliban aim to sign deal with US by end of month

  • Washington has for weeks been calling on the militants to reduce violence
  • The Taliban and the US had been negotiating the deal for a year

KABUL: The Taliban are aiming to reach a withdrawal agreement with the US by the end of January and are prepared to “scale down” military operations ahead of signing the deal, according to their chief spokesman.
The statement by Suhail Shaheen to Pakistani daily Dawn comes as the group and the US held discussions in Doha this week, after insurgent sources told AFP they had offered to initiate a brief cease-fire.
“We have agreed to scale down military operations in days leading up to the signing of the peace agreement with the United States,” Shaheen told Dawn in a report published Saturday.
He added that the Taliban were “optimistic” a deal with Washington could be signed before the end of the month and that the reduction in fighting across the country would also include the targeting of Afghan forces.
“It’s now a matter of days,” said the spokesman.
Washington has for weeks been calling on the militants to reduce violence, posing it as a condition for resuming formal negotiations on an agreement that would see US troops begin to leave the country in return for security guarantees, after a near two-decade fight.
The Taliban and the US had been negotiating the deal for a year and were on the brink of an announcement in September 2019 when President Donald Trump abruptly declared the process “dead,” citing Taliban violence.
Talks were later restarted between the two sides in December in Qatar, but were paused again following an attack near the Bagram military base in Afghanistan, which is run by the US.
Any agreement with the Taliban is expected to have two main pillars — an American withdrawal from Afghanistan, and a commitment by the insurgents not to offer sanctuary to militants — and would ultimately have to be given final approval by Trump.
The Taliban’s relationship with Al-Qaeda was the main reason cited for the US invasion more than 18 years ago.
A deal would hopefully pave the way for intra-Afghan talks.
Many observers agree that the war can no longer be won militarily, and that the only route to a lasting peace in Afghanistan is for an agreement between the Taliban and the US-backed government in Kabul.
The Taliban have until now refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, which they consider an illegitimate regime, raising fears that fighting will continue regardless of any deal ironed out with the Americans.

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