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ASEAN 50 Years On: From Community of Governments to Community of People

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] F [/yt_dropcap]ifty years since its founding, ASEAN is in transition, evolving gradually into a more open community, with young people driving change, business, government and civil society leaders from across the region said in a session on the “ASEAN Way” at the World Economic Forum on ASEAN.

Fielding questions from young South-East Asians, the leaders stressed ASEAN’s accomplishments while at the same time accepting the need for change. ASEAN is moving from being a community of governments to being a community of South-East Asian people, Nurul Izzah Anwar, a Member of Parliament of Malaysia and Vice-President of the People’s Justice Party, said.

While she appreciated the ASEAN Way principles of consensus and non-interference, she said: “We must move further on so we can address issues head-on.” ASEAN should give voice to the concerns of young people and be more inclusive, she argued. “We should make sure we involve more levels of society. We should see how we can engage in a more constructive manner so that ASEAN succeeds.”

The ASEAN Way was meant to open dialogue among countries, explained Vongthep Arthakaivalvatee, Deputy Secretary-General, Socio-Cultural Community, at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta. “It was created to bring peace and cooperation.” In response to a participant who asked if ASEAN should move towards creating an “enforcement mechanism” that would allow members to intervene in the affairs of other members, Vongthep stressed that rather than move towards such a mechanism, it would be better to work together to prevent problems. This underscored why education and youth engagement are so important, he said.

“Quiet diplomacy is more preferable,” Kao Kim Hourn, Minister attached to the Prime Minister of Cambodia, reckoned. “We engage each other in a discreet and calm manner rather than in an open and confrontational way.” The decision by Myanmar’s military leadership to open up the country’s political system is an example of how ASEAN’s quiet diplomacy helped, noted Thant Myint-U, Founder and Chairman of the Yangon Heritage Trust in Myanmar. “We can say that, to some extent, ASEAN keeping the door open allowed for the transition to democracy. It’s very hard for me to picture how an ASEAN enforcement mechanism could intervene.” Solutions to problems usually have to come from the country itself and not imposed from outside, he added.

“For all the weaknesses the ASEAN Way has, over time it has also brought a lot of positive consequences to the region,” John Riady, Executive Director of the Lippo Group in Indonesia, observed. “More and more countries in ASEAN are shifting to democratic rule. This requires strong leadership.” ASEAN countries are becoming more closely connected, with young people travelling around the region.

“Openness is good; there is more connectivity and more integration,” Kim Kao Hourn agreed. “We are seeing incremental gains,” Riady observed. “I am very optimistic that 10 to 20 years from now we will be in better place.” Vongthep concluded: “ASEAN is about the future – and what we are doing is laying the foundation of the future through the youth.”

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World Bank Launches Stakeholders Consultations to Support Peace in Afghanistan

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The World Bank today launched a stakeholder’s consultation to identify economic initiatives to support and sustain peace in Afghanistan once a potential political settlement is reached with the Taliban.

After completing several consultations with international and Afghan stakeholders, the World Bank is now seeking broader input from all stakeholders and made public several draft documents on its website to facilitate the process.  

At the 2018 Geneva Ministerial Conference on Afghanistan, the World Bank was tasked to support planning for post-settlement economic development projects and programming following discussions.

According to Henry Kerali, the World Bank Country Director for Afghanistan, the consultations will serve several purposes. “First, we want to show that a peace agreement can bring substantial economic benefits to all Afghans and is in the interest of all parties involved in the ongoing conflict. Second, we want to identify potential principles and themes to guide programming decisions following a settlement. Finally, we want to provide some concrete ideas about the kind of programs that could be scaled up or initiated to maintain peace and realize new economic opportunities in Afghanistan.”  

Kerali also noted that the consultations come at a critical time for Afghanistan. “The World Bank is merely providing technical analysis and is not involved in any negotiations; our priority is to plan for the future of Afghanistan. Peace prospects can improve if the right economic conditions are in place and create job opportunities for those who might otherwise take up arms.” Kerali also noted that public input would be vital to ensure effective planning.

The World Bank is inviting comment on three documents now published on its Afghanistan website:

  1. A two-page consultation note;
  2. A short consultation presentation; and
  3. A full technical report.

Consultations are expected to continue until a peace agreement is reached and new programming decisions are made. The public is invited to share comments and questions throughout the process via email or through comments on the relevant website.

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Environment

Microplastic pollution is everywhere, but not necessarily a risk to human health

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A woman fetches water in Pakistan. Photo: UNDP Pakistan

Tiny plastic particles known as microplastics are “everywhere – including in our drinking-water”, but they are not necessarily a risk to human health, UN experts said on Thursday.

In its first summary of the latest research into the impact of the tiny plastic pollutants on humans, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that they have been found in marine settings, waste and fresh water, food, the air and drinking-water, both bottled and from a tap.

Frequently, microplastics are defined as less than five millimetres long, according to WHO.

Its report notes that the particles most commonly found in drinking-water are plastic bottle fragments.

“Based on the limited information we have, microplastics in drinking water don’t appear to pose a health risk at current levels. But we need to find out more,” said Dr Maria Neira, WHO’s Director, Department of Public Health, Environment and Social Determinants of Health. “We urgently need to know more about the health impact of microplastics because they are everywhere – including in our drinking-water.”

According to WHO’s findings, microplastics larger than 150 micrometres (a micrometre is a millionth of a metre) are unlikely to be absorbed in the human body, while the uptake of smaller particles is likely to be limited. 

Absorption of microplastic particles “including in the nano-size range may, however, be higher”, the WHO report continues, before cautioning that available data in this “emerging area” is extremely limited.

Asked by journalists about how levels of plastic pollutants differ between tap water and bottled water, WHO’s Jennifer de France from WHO’s Department of Public Health, replied that bottled water “in general did contain higher particle numbers”.

Nonetheless, Ms. France also cautioned against jumping to conclusions, owing to the lack of available data.

“In drinking water in general, often the two polymers that were most frequently detected were polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polypropylene,” she said. “Now these polymers – the polyethylene terephthalate – is often used in producing bottled water bottles, and polypropylene, is often used in producing caps. However, there were other polymers detected as well, so more studies are needed to really make a firm conclusion about where the sources are coming from.”

While citing the handful of available studies into the absorption of microplastics and nanoplastics in rats and mice, which showed symptoms including inflammation of the liver, WHO’s report insists that people are unlikely to be exposed to such high levels of pollutants.

Drinking-water contamination: a million lives lost each year

A much more clearly understood potential threat than microplastics is exposure to drinking-water contaminated by human or animal waste, said Bruce Gordon, from WHO’s Department of Public Health, highlighting a problem that affects two billion people and claims one million lives a year.

One way that Governments can tackle this problem is by putting in place better waste-water filtration systems.

The move would reduce microplastic pollution by around 90 per cent, the WHO official explained, before noting that the report had touched on people’s wider concerns about how to live more sustainably and waste less.

“Consumers shouldn’t be too worried,” Mr. Gordon said. “There’s many dimensions to this story that are beyond health. What I mean by that is, if you are a concerned citizen worried about plastic pollution and you have access to a well-managed piped supply – a water supply – why not drink from that? Why not reduce pollution. Of course, there are times when you need a water bottle when you’re walking around, but please reuse it”, he emphasized.

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Brazilian stakeholders of UNIDO-GEF project trained on biogas

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The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovations and Communications (MCTIC), and the International Center of Renewable Energy (CIBiogás) trained members and partners of the Steering Committee of its GEF Biogas project on the biogas value chain in Brazil – a renewable source of energy produced from the decomposition of organic waste generated by various enterprises, such as farms and restaurants.

“The potential use of biogas arises from the need to pursue sustainability in agribusiness; at the same time, it represents an opportunity for local economic development”, said UNIDO Project Management Specialist Bruno Neves. “Organic waste generated by the Brazilian agricultural production can result in economic, social and environmental gains as the benefits of biogas production can both be internalized by producers and be made available in the form of thermal energy, fuel and electricity”.

Representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (MAPA); the Ministry of Environment (MMA); the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME); the Ministry of Planning, Development and Management (MP); the Brazilian Micro and Small Business Support Service (SEBRAE); the Energy Research Company (EPE); the Brazilian Cooperation Agency (ABC); the National Agency of Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuels (ANP); Itaipu Binacional and the German cooperation agency (GIZ) participated in the training.

“The main objective of the training was to raise the awareness of ministries and important institutional agents about the need to make rules around renewable energy generation more flexible”, said CIBiogas CEO Rodrigo Regis. “Today, Brazil is very dependent on diesel and we have a growing demand for energy, which biogas can partly supply in a decentralized way, and can develop a new economy for the country, thereby generating jobs, income, development and progress”.

The training included a visit to the Itaipu hydroelectric dam and to a demonstration unit supported by CIBiogas: with a breeding of five thousand pigs, the farm is capable of generating 770 cubic meters of biogas per day, resulting in savings of over US$1,000 per month in energy costs.

“The development of biogas is one of MCTIC’s strategic priorities”, said Rafael Menezes, Coordinator of Innovation at the Ministry’s Secretariat for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. “The Brazilian potential for biogas and biomethane production is underexplored; we have to create public policies and a favorable environment so that we can increasingly tap into this potential”.

The GEF Biogas project “Biogas Applications in Brazilian Agroindustry” foresees local and federal actions to stimulate the sustainable integration of biogas in the national production chain. It is financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and aims to expand the production of renewable energy and strengthen national technology supply chains in the sector.

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