India’s elephants in peril

December 18, 2008

Sankar Roy at Asia Sentinel:

india-elephantAlthough the world’s concern has risen over the fate of India’s tigers, the descending numbers of India’s elephants have not caused alarm. They are not listed as endangered species. The Federal Ministry of Environment and Forests estimated the population of wild elephants at 26,413 in 2002, the last figure available. Although officials say the population has risen, the World Wildlife Fund believes that India’s elephant population has fallen by 50 percent over the last two decades. Statistical estimation on either tigers or elephants is not sound.

Obviously, as man encroaches, the elephant population faces problems, not least because they love to break into human settlements and poach not only crops but vats of homemade liquor. An Indian elephant needs some 500 square miles to roam, consumes 250 kilograms of leaves and wild fruits and drinks as much as 180 liters of water a day. Indiscriminate felling of trees and development projects cuts their habitat. Although the federal government has written and passed laws, implementation is in the hands of state governments, which often look the other way when poachers strike.

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Dear John

December 12, 2008

Sara Blask on the myriad benefits of toilets, and why the world needs more of them. From the Smart Set:

toiletWe spend about three years of our lives sitting on a toilet. Though we in the Western world may not realize it, that white piece of flushable porcelain is one of man’s best friends. We sit on its haunches morning, noon, and night, usually between six and eight times a day. It’s there for us after six-packs of beer, dried prunes, and bad Mexican food; through late nights and parties, bouts of nervousness and morning sickness; in sickness and in health. A good American Standard rarely lets us down and when it does, we just yank its chain and it dutifully begins to work again. These bad boys put up with our shit and rarely complain.

But some 2.6 billion people, including 980 million children, do not have this luxury, which is one of the reasons why the United Nations declared 2008 the International Year of Sanitation. Almost 40 percent of the Earth’s population does not have access to adequate sanitation, neither basic toilets nor hygiene facilities, according to the latest U.N. Development Program statistics. And what does this all mean? A lot of death, a lot of sickness, a lot of lost dignity, and millions of tourist dollars unearned. One child dies every 15 seconds from water-born disease. More than 400 million schooldays are lost worldwide every year because of diarrheal diseases. Mothers die in childbirth, menstruating girls skip school because of poor facilities, and the threat of rape increases as women look for places to relieve themselves in dignity at night. It’s these facts – along with a picture of Joe the Plumber – that got me listening to what a petite man with glasses and slightly graying hair had to say on the day Americans were lining up at the voting booths.

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A billion-rupee racket

November 2, 2008

A Nepali Times investigation reveals that Nepal has become the main conduit for the smuggling of counterfeit Indian currency:

Our investigation shows that every day, some Rs 30 million is being taken across from Birganj to Raxaul in bicycles, rickshas and tangas. Couriers are paid IRs 500 (in real money) for every bundle of fake Rs 100,000 that they take across. Dealers in India buy every fake IRs 1,000 note for IRs 700 and they pass them on to retailers across the country.

Fake cash is now appearing in ATMs as far afield as Bangalore and Chennai. Indian sources say that at this rate, there will be IRs 100 billion fake currency in circulation in the next two years. Nepal is also affected because the Indian rupee is used widely in the Tarai. The political instability in Nepal and the criminalisation of politics in the Tarai have abetted the smuggling. The porous Indo-Nepal border, always a haven for smugglers, just has another contraband to push fake cash. More:

“Politicians and police are involved”

As the sun rose above the misty Tarai last week, policemen at Nepal’s border with India at Birganj stirred awake to guard a checkpoint through which 80 per cent of Nepal’s trade with the outside world passes. By the end of the day, Rs 30 million in fake Indian currency will have traveled from Nepal to India concealed in sacks on bicycles, rickshas, tangas and even on the knapsacks of pedestrians. More


The idea of cities

October 7, 2008

In a cover story on urban areas around Southasia, Himal looks “at the idea of cities as an active collective impulse that is ever evolving.” Below, a sample:

Lahore: By Raza Rumi

I spent my early years in a Model Town colonial bungalow, which was originally the creation of a Hindu doctor who had to leave the city at Partition. This was an age when birds were an integral feature of Lahori skies, and the seasons played out their glory. As the name suggests, Model Town was an ‘ideal’ suburb, created during the Raj by the advanced citizenry on the idea of ‘cooperative urban life’. Established in 1922, Model Town was the fruition of advocate Diwan Khem Chand’s unshakeable belief in the values of self help, self responsibility and democracy, loosely the principles of cooperative societies. This was the reason why Model Town was established as, and still is, a ‘cooperative society’. What fewer people know is that these values of cooperation were first popularised by George Jacob Holyoake, a 19th-century English social reformer responsible for the cooperative movement. Incidentally, Holyoake was also infamous for the distinction of having invented the phrase ‘secularism’, for which he was the last citizen to be convicted for blasphemy in England.

Kabul: By Anne Feenstra

Kabul is a city of dramatic contrasts. In the streets, shiny black-windowed limousines drive immediately alongside scruffy pushcarts with wobbly wheels. On the sidewalks, one-legged beggars hold out hands to well-dressed business men in sharp, knitted suits and gleaming shoes. Perhaps little of this is particularly exceptional in urban areas around the world, including in Southasia. Perhaps more to the point in the Afghan context would be the contrast in the inner city between Western female diplomats being driven around in armoured vehicles, and the local ladies who are fully covered in azure burqas.

Galle: By Richard Boyle

Galle’s location at the southwestern tip of Sri Lanka, with only the Antarctic across more than 5000 miles of ocean, ensured the prominence of the port during the early history of navigation. Not surprisingly, it became the natural focal point at the southernmost part of the Silk Routes that connected Asia with the Mediterranean. Galle also provided a relatively equidistant location for Arab and Chinese ships to converge and trade, thus avoiding much longer voyages. It had a fine natural harbour protected to the southeast by an elevated headland and to the northwest by a flat peninsula, although there were submerged rocks and the harbour was not protected from the southwest monsoon.

Dhaka: By Zafar Sobhan

Dhaka today is utterly unrecognisable as the sleepy, charming, tranquil town it was even half a century ago. There is something thoroughly startling about this transmutation from a genteel and sedate town of tree-lined avenues, ponds, canals and spacious bungalows set amidst overgrown gardens – to this present incarnation as a dizzying metropolis of 12 million people, blaring automobiles and block after block of unpainted concrete apartments, as far as the eye can see. But the difference is more than merely in the physical transformation; it is also one of tone and feel. Dhaka today is a high-octane megacity, where life is fast and furious (except for the traffic, which remains slow and torpid), where anger and violence simmer beneath the surface.

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Death or glory: The truth about K2

August 28, 2008

Swept away by avalanches, left dangling at the ends of their ropes and crushed by falling ice – these were the fates of 11 mountaineers who perished on K2 earlier this month. In Pakistan, Andrew Buncombe talks to the survivors, and pieces together a horrifying chain of events that led to one of the worst climbing accidents in history. From The Independent:

Gerard McDonnell died in an avalanche on the Himalayan peak while attempting, fellow climbers believe, to free a trapped member of the expedition. PA / The Independent

Gerard McDonnell died in an avalanche on the Himalayan peak while attempting, fellow climbers believe, to free a trapped member of the expedition. PA / The Independent

Somewhere above 8,000m things are going very badly wrong for Wilco van Rooijen. All but blinded by altitude sickness, his brain and body slowed by lack of oxygen, he staggers and stumbles helplessly down the precipitous slope of the mountain. The searing elation that the 40-year-old had experienced just hours before on reaching the peak of K2, perhaps the world’s most dangerous mountain, is long extinguished. He has already seen two other climbers fall to their deaths and he knows that all around him others are battling for their lives, struggling to get off the slope.

Stranded in the so-called Dead Zone, he forces himself to block out all other thoughts from his numbed mind – his wife and nine-month child at home in the Netherlands, the safety of base camp – and focus simply on surviving. Somehow he has to get off the mountain. “All you are thinking is that you have to survive,” he recalls later, sitting with bandaged, frostbitten feet in a hotel in Pakistan. “You have to get out.”

Van Rooijen was lucky: 11 other climbers were not.

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Digitizing the Himalayas

August 19, 2008

A California professor recreates Asia’s most magnificent mountains via computer. From Asia Sentinel:

Seemingly real enough for digital Tomb Raider Lara Croft to scamper around in, this is the Himalaya Atlas of Aerial Panoramas, a unique digital collection of more than 700 images, depicting the world’s most spectacular mountain range, from Arunachal Pradesh in the east to Uttar Pradesh in the west .
Dr William Bowen, a California State University, Northridge geographer and the project’s creator, said he initially began making digital photo maps to give his students a visual of the material they covered in class.

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Questions from Southasia

August 7, 2008

Himal looks at the region and asks whether the concept of Southasia is even useful.

Image by Adam J West in Himal

Image by Adam J West in Himal

Has it been overtaken by ‘globalised’ time, or can it be an additional identity-marker that helps us to achieve political stability and progress? Is there any use for nostalgia about the pre-1947 ‘India’, and how would we have evolved differently in the aftermath of Partition and nation-statism? Can regionalism be a tool for economic growth and social justice in the poorest, most populated and adjacent parts of Pakistan, North India, Bangladesh and Nepal? Some say that the real divide is not that between India-Pakistan-Bangladesh, but rather between North Southasia and South Southasia.

Click here to read the views of 75 eminent Southasian thinkers in the latest issue of Himal:


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