By SHAI OSTER
—Gao Sen and Sue Feng contributed to this article.
NEWS, RESEARCH AND OPINION ARTICLES ON ISSUES RELATING TO WORLD CURRENT AFFAIRS, MONEY & FINANCE, NATURAL RESOURCES, LATIN AMERICA, THE MIDDLE EAST, AS WELL AS OTHER MISCELLANEA FROM THE WEB.
Interesting article from the Financial Times:
Asia: Heirs and spares
Financial Times, 11:14pm Sunday 10th July 2011
By Amy Kazmin, Patti Waldmeir and Girija Shivakumar
The political, economic and social consequences of a preference for sons – and an attendant shortage of girls – is alarming policymakers
In the Indian farming village of Medina, 200km from Delhi, the narrow lanes are clogged with high-end sport utility vehicles, reflecting the prosperity brought by rising land values to this traditional community. In their mud-floored homes, residents display flatscreen televisions, refrigerators and other modern conveniences.
But Medina’s families are also using their new wealth to acquire a scarce local commodity: teenage girls to act as wives for the community’s growing cohorts of unmarried men.
Read the full article at: http://on.ft.com/o8nrCy
Sent from my iPad
A Japanese woman’s role in society is to give birth, and “all we can do is ask them to do their best per head,” said Hakuo Yanagisawa, Japan’s former health minister. His remark, as reported by Bloomberg in 2007, drew criticism for being sexist, but it touches on one of Japan’s most pressing issues: its rapidly aging and shrinking population.
Japan is expected to see its population contract by one-fourth to 95.2 million by 2050, according to the Population Reference Bureau, a Washington-based research group, making it the fastest-shrinking country in the world.Former Eastern Bloc nations Ukraine and Georgia came in second and third, respectively, in a ranking of more than 200 countries by Businessweek.com based on the Population Reference Bureau’s 2010 World Population Data Sheet.
These countries defy the global trend—but that doesn’t mean they’ll be spared problems of their own. The world population is expected to expand by 37 percent to 9.5 billion in 2050, according to the report, but growth will not be evenly distributed. Developing countries will grow the most, with the population in Africa expected to double.
Meanwhile, other regions will shrink as the boomer generation ages, people have fewer children, and workers leave for opportunities abroad. The most widespread decline is projected in Eastern Europe, where birthrates have declined since the breakup of the Soviet Union. The number of people in every country in the region, except the Czech Republic, is forecast to contract. By 2050 the region will have lost 13.6 percent of its population, according to data from the Population Reference Bureau.
“Europe, Korea, and Japan have gone into panic mode,” says Carl Haub, a senior demographer at the Population Reference Bureau. A declining population impacts a country’s economic growth, labor market, pensions, taxation, health care, and housing, according to the U.N. Globally by 2050, the number of older persons in the world will exceed the number of young for the first time in history, according to the U.N. The imbalance will create havoc in the pension systems and make it difficult to support retired and elderly persons, Haub says.
Despite these economic and social consequences, there have been no easy long-term solutions for countries trying to reverse this trend. “Demographic changes are pretty glacial,” says Haub.
That does not mean governments are not trying. Many countries are on a mission to raise the number of births. Although migration patterns affect many countries—such as Lithuania, where the number of people leaving the country is several times the number entering it—they change quickly and can be difficult to project.
Japan’s fertility rate fell from 1.57 children per woman in 1989 to 1.26 in 2005, according to Haub. It has rebounded to 1.4, but remains below the rate needed to replace the population: 2.
To encourage people to have more children, the government started implementing a series of programs called “Angel Plans” in 1994, says Toshiko Kaneda, senior research associate at the Population Reference Bureau. The plan offers counseling to couples, increases child-care services, and provides a monthly stipend of 26,000 yen (approximately $303) per child to ease the burden of raising a family.
In Germany, where the fertility rate is 1.3, the government pledged to increase the number of nursery schools and introduced an allowance that pays 67 percent of a parent’s income for the first year after a child is born if he or she stays home.
Even in Iran, where the fertility rate is 1.8, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently introduced a policy that pays families for every child born and deposits money into the child’s bank account until he or she is 18.
Such policies only have moderate success, says Dimiter Philipov, a research group leader at the Vienna Institute of Demography in the Austrian Academy of Sciences. As subsidies mainly cause people to have children earlier, the number of births typically increases in the first few years after a policy is passed. The allowances are much lower than the amount needed to raise a child, but “this is a success because it brings in more babies and makes population changes smoother,” he says.
Also, while declining fertility was once attributed to the falling marriage rate, today the deteriorating job environment also affects people’s decisions to have children, according to NLI Research Institute in Japan. Thus, in developed countries, rather than offer financial incentives, Philipov says, it is more effective to relieve pressure on parents through child-care services and ensuring job security for mothers. “Some would say no one has done it better than France,” where there is a broad menu of services for women and parents, says Haub.
Some argue the need to boost the fertility rate might not be so urgent. Tomáš Sobotka, a research scientist at the Vienna Institute of Demography, wrote in February in a column for The Guardian in the U.K. that demographers have been envisioning the demise of Europe since birthrates in the region began declining in the late 19th century, but “it is not population size but affluence and technology that make some countries more powerful than others.”
Philipov says a debate has emerged about the ideal fertility rate. Advances in science and technology that boost productivity might compensate for a fertility rate below the replacement level, such as 1.7 to 1.8, he says.
Still, a fertility rate of 1.4 or 1.5, as seen in many countries, is “too low,” Philipov says. At that level, the number of entries into the labor force becomes too narrow, making it difficult to support pensioners and children.
As fewer children are born, the fastest-growing age group in the world is people age 80 and older, according to the U.N. In 2000, there were about 4 people over age 85 for every 100 people ages 50 to 64; by 2050, it will rise to 11.
The situation is more dire in places such as Japan, where the Population Reference Bureau predicts there will only be one working-age person for every person over age 65 in 2050. Already, there are long waiting lists at nursing homes in Japan’s cities. To meet demand, the government has been recruiting, testing, and training nurses from Indonesia and the Philippines.
Also, new technologies are being introduced in Japan to serve the elderly, although they are no substitute for people. For example, companies have reportedly been designing robot caretakers, devices for remote medical care, and cars that monitor brain activity to assist older drivers.
Over the next 40 years, the age pyramid will be upside down and technological advancements will only provide limited relief. While demographic trends are difficult to change, Haub says, “something will have to happen.”
Click here to see the 25 countries with the fastest-shrinking populations.
—Gao Sen and Sue Feng contributed to this article.
|Walid Jumblatt, the Lebanese Druse leader who crossed the lines a year ago and left the pro- Western coalition to join the Syrian camp, has thrown another bombshell into the political arena. The aim is further exacerbating tensions and conflicts within Lebanese society. On June 19 he stunned the political community by submitting to parliament four bills which, if adopted, would grant Palestinian refugees a number of rights – not including citizenship.
They would be given the right to own a place of residence outside refugee camps, to be free to gain employment in whatever field they chose and to enjoy attendant social benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans.
The move was sure to heighten hostilities between Christians and Muslims and it did not fail. All Christian political parties – including that of Michel Aoun, the Christian general who joined the opposition led by Hizbullah – opposed the proposals and managed to send them to various parliamentary committees for further consideration. As to the Muslim parties, Hizbullah included, their reaction was muted and they let it be known they were open to discussion.
At the core of the problem is the fear shared by all that granting rights to Palestinian refugees would not only ultimately lead to their settling in Lebanon for good – thus destroying the fragile equilibrium between all communities – but also violate the unanimous Arab consensus against settling refugees in host countries, since they must return to Palestine.
According to UNRWA there are 425,000 Palestinian refugees – a number which includes those who fled in 1948 and their descendants – living in 12 camps scattered all over Lebanon. The number is probably inflated, since many managed to move to other Arab countries or to the West to find suitable employment.
FOLLOWING THE 1969 Cairo Agreement between the Lebanese government and the PLO and other understandings reached over the years between the Lebanese government and the PLO/Fatah under Yasser Arafat, the refugees must live in the camps, where they enjoy administrative autonomy, are allowed to have weapons and to “train toward the liberation of Palestine.” Lebanese security forces do not enter the camps but are posted around them.
Created in 1949, UNRWA sees to the welfare of the denizens of the camps, provides education and health services as well as food; however its budget is steadily shrinking. Buildings have replaced tents, but the refugees cannot leave to find work or buy a home outside, and the camps have turned into slums whose inhabitants are exploited by a number of Palestinian organizations with their own agendas. Fatah rules most of the camps, but Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and all the other groups are there; more recently jihadist organizations loosely affiliated with al- Qaida have also moved in. Quarrels often turn violent and can degenerate into gunfights.
It is from some of the camps that jihadist organizations planned their operations before going outside to fire rockets into Israel.
Lebanese authorities are forbidden to enter the camps and they can only watch helplessly. But in 2007 extremist elements in the Al-Barad camp near Tripoli, doing Syria’s bidding, planned a series of terror operations in northern Lebanon to further destabilize the country. Syria wanted to pressure the Lebanese government into stopping the operation of the international court of justice it had set up with the UN Security Council to investigate the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. Damascus is the prime suspect.
There ensued three months of bloody fighting between the extremists and the Lebanese army, leaving 400 dead, including 168 soldiers. The camp was totally destroyed and tens of thousands of refugees were left homeless.
Pro-Syrian Palestinian factions, such as Ahmed Jibril’s PFLP-General Command, also set up fortified positions outside the camps, mainly in the eastern part of the Bekaa Valley along the Syrian border. The Syrians are using these positions, where the Lebanese army dares not enter, to stockpile ammunition and to train Jibril’s militants, who bear arms openly, to carry out subversive operations against Lebanon.
The overall picture is bleak, but no one in Lebanon or in the Arab world will acknowledge the fact that this situation is the result of the deliberate Arab policy not to settle the refugees in neighboring Arab states to preclude any attempt at putting an end to the conflict born of the Arab refusal to accept the partition plan which would have provided for a Palestinian state. It was the concerted attempt of Arab states to destroy the newly born State of Israel that created the plight of the Palestinian refugees.
MORE THAN 60 years later, Lebanon is the main victim of this impossible state of affairs that threatens its very existence.
Putting the refugees into camps was supposed to be a temporary solution. Successive Lebanese governments repeated that the refugees would ultimately go back to Palestine and refused to let them settle in the country. This was set in the constitution and included in the Taif agreement of 1989 that ended the Lebanese civil war.
The agreement also stipulated that all militias outside the camps – Hizbullah and Jibril’s organization included – would be stripped of their weapons. It did not happen. No Lebanese government was able to enforce that part of the agreement.
Poverty, terror and lack of hope have turned the camps not only into a festering sore in the heart of the country, but also a powder keg which could explode at any time, throwing Lebanon into chaos and threatening to splinter into a myriad of warring units.
All parties understand that this can’t go on much longer and that “something” has to be done. So far Lebanon is clinging to the so-called Saudi/Arab initiative which reiterated that the refugees would not be settled in their host countries – an empty statement by all accounts.
Now Jumblatt has dropped his bombshell, knowing full well that his country alone cannot solve the problem, and that even discussing it will only deepen the chasm between the communities and weaken the government.
The committee for legal affairs to which the proposals were submitted first postponed the debate, then scheduled it for July 15. The refugees, however, are restless and they held a mass demonstration in Beirut demanding civil rights “to be able to live decently.” Hamas chairman Khaled Mashaal told Palestinian students in Damascus that Palestinians must be given full civil rights, while adding that this by no means meant that the refugees would be settled in Lebanon, since the Palestinians would never give up their right of return.
UNRWA chairman Filippo Grandi, who was in the Lebanese capital at the end of June, also called on the Lebanese government to grant civil rights to the refugees, claiming that creating a stable Palestinian society was in the interest of Lebanon.
The purpose of his visit had been to collect funds to rebuild the Al-Barad camp, which had been destroyed in the fighting.
In a press conference he said that he had only been able to raise half of the $450 million needed. In other words, in spite of all the problems the UN is willing to rebuild the camp, thus perpetuating the refugee status of the Palestinians.
Christian political parties are standing firm in their opposition. Aoun declared at a recent congress of his party that he will never agree to a measure which would let Palestinians buy real estate in his country.
It is worth mentioning no human rights organization has seen fit to comment on the plight of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Arab countries feel bad about a situation which is of their making, and choose not to interfere.
The end of June also saw a meeting of the Lebanese-Palestinian dialogue committee in Beirut. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sent a delegation headed by Azzam al-Ahmed, a member of the Fatah central committee, which was joined by representatives of the PLO in Lebanon. The delegation met with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and Prime Minister Saad Hariri as well as with Christian party representatives Amin Gemayel and Aoun. They had the same message for all: Palestinian refugees would remain guests in Lebanon according to the laws of the country and would not abandon their right of return – but they demanded civil rights to enable them to live decently.
All were waiting to see what the prime minister would have to say when he rose to speak at the meeting. They were disappointed: There was nothing new in his speech. Hariri repeated that though the Lebanese government was responsible for the Palestinians living in Lebanon, the international community must assume its share and ensure that they are given their right to return to Palestine.
He added that the government and the parliament would do what they have to do, but the world must do the same.
The Lebanese prime minister has no miracle solution and is in deep trouble.
Granting refugees the right to buy real estate throughout the country and to work in whichever profession they choose would be a blow to young Lebanese who are trying to buy a home and find a job. It would also be a first step toward settling in Lebanon for good. The Christian parties are opposed to such a move and the Muslim parties are not keen either: They know only too well that it would only deepen Christian antagonism and could lead to a renewed civil war. Tearing the country apart is just what the Syrians want because it would leave Lebanon weak and helpless.
Nobody knows how to deal with Jumblatt’s bombshell or how to defuse it. For the present, the Lebanese will deal with it in the traditional way – by doing nothing and hoping that the camps do not blow up in their face.
The writer is a former ambassador to Egypt and Sweden.
Danny Ayalon hopes move is first step toward citizenship.
|The Lebanese parliament voted on Tuesday to grant the country’s 400,000 Palestinian refugees the right to work in the same professions as other foreigners, lifting a decades-old ban that had relegated the refugees to the most menial jobs.
The bill was intended to transform Lebanese policies toward the refugees, although Palestinian leaders in Lebanon and human rights workers say it was only a first step that leaves significant stumbling blocks in place.
The Palestinians living in Lebanon are isolated from the rest of the country in refugee camps to a higher degree than anywhere else in the Arab world.
“I was born in Lebanon and I have never known Palestine,” said Ahmed al- Mehdawi, 45, a taxi driver who lives in the Ein el- Hilweh refugee camp, which is notorious for its lawlessness.
“What we want is to live like Lebanese. We are human beings and we need civil rights.”
Ein el-Hilweh, the largest camp in Lebanon with about 70,000 inhabitants, is located on the outskirts of Sidon.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon (Israel Beiteinu) praised the Lebanese parliament’s decision and expressed hope that Lebanon and other Arab states would give the Palestinians living in their countries full rights.
There was no reason for them to be considered refugees after 62 years, he said.
“This is only a small step that is long overdue on the way to completely naturalizing them in Lebanon and in other places around the world that host Palestinians,” Ayalon said. “History shows that displaced people eventually get adopted where they live.”
Ayalon wrote an article that was published in The Wall Street Journal’s American, European and Asian editions on July 29 in which he highlighted the poor treatment of Palestinians in Lebanon at a time when a Lebanese flotilla was said to be bound for the Gaza Strip.
“Today, there are more than 400,000 Palestinians in Lebanon who are deprived of their most basic rights,” Ayalon wrote. “The Lebanese government has a list of tens of professions that a Palestinian is forbidden from being engaged in, including professions such as medicine, law and engineering. Palestinians are forbidden from owning property and need a special permit to leave their towns. Unlike all other foreign nationals in Lebanon, they are denied access to the health-care system.”
Ayalon said he could not assess whether his article and the international pressure on Lebanon it caused had a significant impact on the parliament’s decision, but he said that “even if the impact was marginal, I am satisfied.”
According to UN figures, around 4.7 million Palestinians claiming to be refugees – who fled or were driven from their homes during the 1948-9 and 1967 wars – and their descendants are scattered across the Middle East. They live mostly in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.
Palestinian negotiators have demanded at least partial repatriation, but Israel has refused, saying an influx of refugees would dilute its Jewish majority and threaten the existence of the state.
Unlike in neighboring Syria and Jordan, where Palestinians enjoy more rights, the refugees in Lebanon live mostly on UN handouts and payments from the rival Palestinian factions. Those who do work are generally either employed by the UN agency UNRWA or as laborers at menial jobs such as construction.
Parliament on Tuesday lifted the restrictions that kept Palestinians almost entirely out of the formal labor market, although they are still subject to the same regulations as other foreign workers.
Lebanon’s National News agency said the lawmakers amended a segment of the labor law that dates back to 1946.
But the laws governing foreign workers in Lebanon pose a unique problem for Palestinians, who are stateless.
Lebanese law restricts some professions only to Lebanese, while many other professions – such as law, medicine and engineering – require the employees to be members of the relevant professional association.
But most of these associations say foreign membership depends on reciprocity in their home country – which effectively bars Palestinians, who don’t have one.
“If you’re a Palestinian born and raised in Lebanon and your dream is to become a doctor, you’re out of luck,” said Nadim Houry, the Beirut director at Human Rights Watch.
Houry said Tuesday’s vote was a welcome step, but more needed to be done.
Ali Hamdan, an aide to the speaker of Lebanon’s parliament, Nabih Berri, said Tuesday’s vote would legalize much of the work that many Palestinians already were doing and open up positions in fields such as insurance and banking.
“For the first time, Lebanon, which is a small country, is trying to solve a historic crisis for the Palestinian refugees,” Hamdan said.