Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Finland To Investigate Pöyry’s Role in Xayaburi Dam

October 31st, 2012
Helsinki, Finland – The Government of Finland has announced plans to investigate the role of the Pöyry Group in the controversial Xayaburi Hydropower Project on the Mekong River in Laos. Since 2011 the Pöyry Group has played an active role in the high-profile, water conflict that has emerged between four Mekong governments over whether or not to build the dam.

“The Pöyry Group has encouraged the controversial Xayaburi Dam to move forward, despite concern among neighboring countries that the project’s impacts have not been fully studied,” said Otto Bruun, Campaign Manager at Siemenpuu Foundation in Finland. “This is part of a larger pattern of unethical behavior in Pöyry’s overseas operations. For years, Pöyry has acted at odds with Finland’s foreign policy in Southeast Asia.”

The investigation follows a complaint brought against Pöyry in June 2012 by fifteen civil society organizations from seven countries.

The complaint alleges that Pöyry violated Finland’s responsible business standards through its involvement in the Xayaburi Hydropower Project, the first of eleven large dams proposed on the Lower Mekong River. In 2010, a scientific study funded by the Government of Finland and led by the Mekong River Commission found that the dams would have dramatic impacts if built—decimating the river’s fisheries and agriculture and affecting up to 40 million people. A 1995 agreement requires the four Mekong governments to seek agreement before deciding whether to build any dams on the river.

“Laos has rapidly advanced construction on the highly destructive Xayaburi Dam, despite ongoing opposition from Cambodia and Vietnam,” said Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia Program Director for International Rivers. “Pöyry has played a central role in this diplomatic conflict, urging Laos to unilaterally move forward and to build the dam without first studying the project’s transboundary impacts as requested by neighboring countries.”

Numerous stakeholders in the Mekong region have raised concerns about Pöyry’s role in the project. Lam Thi Thu Suu, Coordinator of the Vietnam Rivers Network said, “Both Vietnam and Cambodia are in favor of responsible study of the Mekong River before deciding if we should move ahead with any Mekong dams. Pöyry’s misleading information about the impacts of the Xayaburi Dam has prevented joint cooperation from advancing.”

Last week, Vietnam’s Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment urged the Prime Minister of Laos to conduct comprehensive scientific research on the environment impacts of the projects before further construction takes place on the Xayaburi Dam and other Mekong mainstream projects.

Finland’s Minister of Employment and the Economy, Lauri Ihalainen, signed the decision to proceed with the investigation on October 16th and informed the civil society complainants on October 25th.

The Xayaburi Hydropower Project is the most advanced of 11 proposals to construct dams on the Lower Mekong’s mainstream. The project is being built by the Government of Laos and a Thai company Ch. Karnchang, which will sell the electricity to the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand.

Despite much disagreement and continuing opposition from Cambodia and Vietnam, construction of the Xayaburi Dam is now ongoing.  

The Finnish Ministry of Employment and the Economy functions as Finland’s “OECD National Contact Point,” a type of complaint mechanism used in OECD countries to raise corporate responsibility concerns with companies’ activities abroad. The mechanism provides a “mediation and conciliation platform.” Complainants must demonstrate how Pöyry has failed to follow the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises, which the Government of Finland has committed to uphold and promote.

Vietnam Sentences Songwriters to Prison

Vietnam sentenced two songwriters to several years in prison Tuesday for posting songs online that a court judged to be antigovernment propaganda, the latest convictions in a mounting crackdown against online dissent in the communist country.

Vo Minh Tri, better known as Viet Khang, and Tran Vu Anh Binh were convicted at a one-day trial in Ho Chi Minh City and sentenced to four years and six years in prison, respectively, according to their lawyer, Tran Vu Hai. The songs, some seen as critical of government intimidation and praising the courage of dissidents, were posted on video-sharing site YouTube. They denied being political activists, their lawyer said.

The convictions came a month after three bloggers were sentenced to between four and 12 years in prison on similar charges, a crackdown on online dissent that has intensified over the year as Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has come under criticism inside and outside the ruling party in part due to to the weakening economy and a widening wealth gap.

Human-rights groups criticized Tuesday's ruling. "Vietnam's escalating crackdown on freedom of expression has now reached the ranks of musicians, showing that even singing about ideas opposed by the government will see the offender condemned to a long prison term," said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division.

The songwriters had been held in custody for many months before their trial and are currently jailed in Ho Chi Minh City. They have 15 days to appeal the judgment.

In one song, Mr. Tri sang in condemnation of police officers who detained anti-China protesters at a time of heightened tensions over conflicting claims in the South China Sea. But Mr. Hai, his lawyer, said that Mr. Tri told the court that he was not an activist and that his songs reflected "a time when China had very aggressive acts against Vietnam."

Internet penetration rates are quickly rising in Vietnam—now at 34% of the 90 million-strong population, which includes about 8.5 million Facebook users, according to digital agency We Are Social. But as more turn to the relatively unregulated online space to air dissenting views, the government has become increasingly insistent on reining in criticisms. The trend has captured the attention of U.S. leaders, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who criticized Vietnam's human-rights record during a visit in July.

Human Rights Watch urged European Council President Herman Van Rompuy to use a three-day visit starting Wednesday to pressure Vietnam to loosen controls on free speech and to free prisoners convicted of political acts. The bloc is Vietnam's third largest trading partner, after China and the U.S., with imports from the Southeast Asian country totaling €12.8 billion (US $16.5 billion) at the end of 2011.

Write to Shibani Mahtani at
A version of this article appeared October 31, 2012, on page A12 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Vietnam Sentences Songwriters To Prison.

DFA Encourages Public to Join the ASEAN-India Car Rally

31 October 2012 - Car rally enthusiasts and the general public are encouraged to participate in the 27-day ASEAN-India Car Rally from 25 November to 20 December 2012.

The event will be non-competitive. The organizers will shoulder the cost of airfare, fuel and basic board and lodging.

The rally aims to create public awareness about ASEAN-India relations, promote connectivity, demonstrate India's proximity with its ASEAN neighbors, and enhance trade, investment, tourism and people-to-people links between India and ASEAN member states.

The rally will begin in Yogjakarta, Indonesia, on November 25. The drivers will go through Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Viet Nam, Lao People's Democratic Republic (PDR), Thailand, and Myanmar. The last leg, which will be in New Delhi, India, is expected to be completed on December 20.

The participating Philippine team will be composed of four members using the vehicles provided by the organizers.

Interested parties may contact the DFA Office of ASEAN Affairs at 834-3755 or send an e-mail to Please look for Mr. Ralf Roldan, Principal Assistant, or Ms. Arlene Pascasio-Racho, Assistant. Deadline of applications will be on 5 November 2012. END.

UN urges foreign fishing fleets to halt ‘ocean grabbing’

By: Alister Doyle

GRAB ... A UN report says emerging nations should tighten rules for access to their waters by an industrial fleet that is rapidly growing and includes vessels from China, Russia, the European Union, the United States and Japan.

OSLO – ‘Ocean grabbing’ or aggressive industrial fishing by foreign fleets is a threat to food security in developing nations where governments should do more to promote local, small-scale fisheries, a study by a UN expert said on Tuesday.

The report said emerging nations should tighten rules for access to their waters by an industrial fleet that is rapidly growing and includes vessels from China, Russia, the European Union, the United States and Japan.
‘Ocean-grabbing is taking place,’ Olivier de Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food and the report’s author, told Reuters. ‘It’s like land-grabbing, just less discussed and less visible.’

The 47-page report on ‘Fisheries and the Right to Food’, which said 15 per cent of all animal protein consumed worldwide is from fish, will be presented to the UN General Assembly.

De Schutter said ocean grabbing involved ‘shady access agreements that harm small-scale fishers, unreported catch, incursions into protected waters, and the diversion of resources away from local populations.’

The report cited the example of islands in the western and central Pacific that get only about six per cent of the value of a US$3 billion tuna fishery off their coasts. Foreign fishing fleets get the rest.

Equally, Guinea-Bissau nets less than two per cent of the value of the fish caught off its coast under a deal with the EU. De Schutter said some countries where industrial fleets were based were already taking steps to tighten laws.

“What’s getting worse is that the capacity of industrial fishing fleets is increasing,” he said. Governments give an estimated US$30-34 billion in subsidies to fishing each year.

That money is often spent on boat-building or fuel that skews competition.

“We need to do more to reduce the capacity of the industrial fishing fleets and to manage the fish stocks in a much more sustainable way,” said de Schutter. Food security is also at risk from threats such as climate change and pollution, he said.


De Schutter said aquaculture was disproportionately concentrated in Asia which is responsible for 88 per cent of all production. “Extremely little has been done in Africa and Latin America in particular. There is a huge potential there,” he said.

Fisheries received less attention than farming, he suggested, partly because the sector employed only about 200 million people globally. By contrast, the world has 1,5 billion small-scale farmers, he said.

The report said that local fishing was more efficient and less wasteful than industrial fishing, urging measures to promote small-scale fishing such as the creation of “artisanal fishing zones”.

“Small-scale fishers actually catch more fish per gallon of fuel than industrial fleets, and discard fewer fish,’ it said. It praised some measures which have already been taken to promote local fishing - such as in Cambodia’s biggest lake or off the Maldives.

Estimates of the scale of illegal catches range from 10 to 28 million tonnes, while some 7,3 million tonnes, or almost 10 per cent of global wild fish catches were discarded as unwanted by-catches every year, the report said.

It said industrial fishing was by far the most wasteful.

Total global fish production was about 143 million tonnes - 90 million from wild fish catches and 53 million from fish farming, the report said.

De Schutter said fish farming would have to expand to feed a rising world population, now just above seven billion. Population growth would raise demand by a forecast 27 million tonnes over the next two decades, he said.

“Yet again we have an authoritative report which shows us that overfishing and the damaging effects of poorly managed fisheries is seriously impacting vulnerable communities’ food security and livelihoods” said John Tanzer, Marine Director, WWF International.

“The fact that the number of boats and fishermen has increased eight fold between 1970 and 1990 yet they are not seeing anything like the equivalent increase in catch numbers speaks volumes about the consequences of overfishing and the effects this will have on food security in the near future.”

“Yet we are still seeing relatively wealthy governments putting public funds into subsidising boat building and industrial fishing activities. It makes no sense because we are essentially mining the oceans instead of nurturing their capacity to support people’s ongoing needs.” he said.

Increased globalisation of the fishing industry has meant in 2010 the value of traded fish products was estimated at US$102 billion, up from US$8 billion in 1976. Many developing countries have benefited from this increase in the form of export revenue and state revenue from selling access to their fishing ground to distant water fleets.

“Without any safeguards and in the absence of effective fisheries management, these access agreements could prove harmful to local communities in the form of loss of fish for people, especially in places where food shortages occur” said Alfred Schumm, Leader of WWF’s global Smart Fishing Initiative.  – Nampa-Reuters

Asia Battles Drug-Resistant Malaria

 An anopheles mosquito, the only mosquito species that carries and transmits malaria to humans, is seen in a microscope at a malaria research facility in Timika, Papua.  (JG Photo/Jurnasyanto Sukarno) An anopheles mosquito, the only mosquito species that carries and transmits malaria to humans, is seen in a microscope at a malaria research facility in Timika, Papua. (JG Photo/Jurnasyanto Sukarno)
Sydney. Drug-resistant malaria is spreading in Asia, experts warned as a high-level conference opened Wednesday with the aim of hammering out an action plan to strengthen the region’s response.

Resistance to the drug used everywhere to cure the life-threatening disease has emerged in Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar, said Richard Feachem, director of global health at the University of California, San Francisco.

“In the Mekong Basin there is a growing and spreading problem of resistance... to the drug artemisinin which is the front-line drug worldwide,” he said ahead of “Malaria 2012: Saving Lives in the Asia-Pacific” in Sydney.

“I think we’ve undoubtedly slowed it down, the international efforts have undoubtedly had a positive effect, but as far as we can tell it is still growing and it is still spreading.

“The danger is that at some time this resistance may break out of Southeast Asia and crop up in Africa,” added Feachem, the former founding head of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Some 22 countries in the Asia-Pacific still have malaria, but enormous progress has been made in combating the devastating disease with the number of infections falling by about 50 percent in the past decade, he said.

Yet there were still an estimated 30 million cases in the Asia-Pacific in 2010, and more than 40,000 deaths in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Drug-resistant malaria was found on the Thailand-Cambodia border eight years ago, and has also been found along the Thailand-Myanmar frontier and in parts of Vietnam, prompting an urgent call for action from the WHO in September.

The Sydney conference of politicians, scientists and health experts will seek consensus on the actions needed to strengthen the region’s response to malaria.

Fatoumata Nafo-Traore, who leads the Roll Back Malaria Partnership which aims to provide a coordinated global approach to fighting the disease, said the resistance was most troubling in border areas.

“The current concern is that even though it is localized in those border areas, there is a potential to have it spreading to other parts of the world, because of the population inflow, because of the migrant workers and so on,” she told AFP.

“This is really why we are getting concerned, because this is the only class of anti-malarial drug available to cure all uncomplicated malaria cases.”

Resistance to artemisinin currently does not prevent patients being cured, thanks to other drugs it is used in concert with, but treatment typically takes longer than normal.

It is not known why the resistance has emerged in Cambodia, one of the first countries to deploy the treatment some 30 years ago.

But Ric Price, from the Centre of Tropical Medicine at Oxford in Britain, said high levels of counterfeit drugs and people not taking the full course of treatment could be factors.

“Artemisinin still remains the treatment of choice but it’s under threat and we have to monitor where those areas are, where it is declining,” he said.

The conference will discuss the need for vigilance against malaria, with Feachem saying there had been numerous cases in the past when the disease had almost been eradicated but complacency saw it come sweeping back.

“It’s the penalty of success,” he said. “Some countries in the region now have very little malaria. When you’re down to 100 cases a year, the politicians [lose interest] and malaria comes surging back.”

He said one of the conference goals was for half of the malaria-afflicted countries in the Asia-Pacific to eradicate the disease by 2025.

“That would be a huge historic step forward,” he said.

Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted through the bites of infected mosquitoes. It killed an estimated 655,000 people in 2010, mostly African children.

Agence France-Presse

Cambodia Receives 2.57 Million Foreign Tourists In Nine Months, Up 24 Per Cent

PHNOM PENH, Oct 31 (Bernama) -- Cambodia attracted some 2.57 million international visitors in the first nine months of this year, a 24 percent rise compared with the same period last year, China's Xinhua news agency said citing a report of the Ministry of Tourism revealed on Wednesday.

The report said that during the January-September period this year, about 1.48 million foreign visitors had visited the world heritage Angkor Wat Temple in Siem Reap province, up 27 percent compared with the same period last year, whilst the world heritage Preah Vihear temple attracted 13,140 foreigners, up 77 percent.

Vietnam still topped the chart among the top 10 arrivals to Cambodia with 579,890 tourists, up 25 percent, followed by South Korea with 306,550, up 24 percent, and Chinese visitors at third with 234,440, up 32 percent.

Laos and Thai visitors to the country stood at fourth and fifth respectively. During the period, some 177,140 Laotians and 137,430 Thais had visited Cambodia, up 90 percent and 70 percent, respectively.

It said that roughly 47 percent of the visitors arrived in the country by air, 50 percent by land and the rest by water ways.

The report also predicted that the country could receive 3.3 million foreign tourists in the whole year of 2012.

Tourism is one of the major four pillars supporting the economy. Last year, the sector attracted 2.88 million foreign tourists, generating the total revenue of US$1.91 billion.

Meanwhile, the report said that during the first nine months of this year, some 585,800 Cambodians had visited abroad, up 15 percent compared with the same period last year.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

ASEAN chief: 'Sense of urgency' in S. China Sea row

 Oct 30, 2012

KUALA LUMPUR: Disputes over sovereignty in the South China Sea could become violent but China and Southeast Asia are showing a sense of urgency in trying to ease tensions, the ASEAN chief said Tuesday.
Regional divisions about how to handle China on the issue prevented the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) from issuing a joint statement after a July summit in Phnom Penh for the first time in its 45-year history.

But ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan said "good signs" were emerging from informal talks this week in the Thai resort of Pattaya between the 10-nation bloc and China.

"Now both sides are saying we want to get (a code of conduct) done as soon as possible because it doesn't serve anybody's interests (to delay). It's a yo-yo but at least now they agree to talk," he told reporters after a speech in Kuala Lumpur.

"Both sides display a sense of urgency that we can't let the world live in this sense of anxiety and not knowing which direction we are going to go - it could spill out into the open, it could become violent."

However, he did not offer detailed comment on what he expects from an ASEAN summit set for November 15-20, again hosted by its current chair Cambodia.

He said "a flurry of exchanges among senior people in the region" took place after the July summit in Phnom Penh, leading to a six-point agreement a week later.

"There has been rather intense communication going on so we can put the issue, at least, under containment," he said.

ASEAN announced the six principles and vowed to work towards a "code of conduct" in the disputed sea where tensions have flared, with Vietnam and the Philippines accusing Beijing of increasingly aggressive behaviour.

Diplomats had said a key point in the July impasse was a refusal by Cambodia, a close China ally, to mention bilateral maritime disputes in a joint statement.

That pitted the current ASEAN chair against Manila, which wanted a reference to a months-long standoff with Beijing over a disputed shoal.

"It's a traumatic experience for ASEAN not being able to issue a joint communique for the first time in our history," Surin said.

China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the resource-rich sea, which is home to vital shipping lanes. But ASEAN members the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have overlapping claims in the area. -AFP

Australian Senate Pushes for Fair Elections in Cambodia

By Zsombor Peter
The Cambodia Daily
October 30, 2012 

The Australian Senate yesterday urged the Cambodian government to run free and fair national elections next year without the “harassment or intimidation” of opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who remains in self-imposed exile avoiding an 11-year jail sentence.

The appeal comes only days after the European Parliament passed its own resolution condemning what it called Mr. Rainsy’s “politically motivated” sentence and urging the government to fix “major flaws” in how it runs the country’s elections.

Both Australia and the European Union (E.U.) are major aid donors to Cambodia.

The resolution from the Australian Senate “calls on the Cambodian government to hold free and fair elections in 2013 and to ensure that opposition parties are able to participate fully in Cambodian politics without physical or judicial harassment or intimidation, including opposition leader Sam Rainsy, as recommended by the U.N. special rapporteur.”

Surya Subedi, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on human rights to Cambodia, in his latest report called for a political solution that would allow Mr. Rainsy to “play a full role in Cambodian politics” and recommended several other reforms to the election process.

Government officials have been taking an increasingly harsh view of Mr. Subedi’s reports, however, and have repeatedly rejected calls to let Mr. Rainsy return to Cambodia without arrest.

Mr. Rainsy, president of the eponymously named Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), was first convicted in 2010 of destroying public property for uprooting temporary border posts along Cambodia’s frontier with Vietnam and later of disinformation for posting maps of the area online.

The SRP, the country’s largest opposition party, is threatening a possible boycott of July’s national elections unless Mr. Rainsy is allowed back to contest the poll and unless the government concedes to reforms of an electoral process it accuses of favoring the ruling CPP.

On Friday, the European Parliament in Brussels passed a resolution of its own noting that E.U. observers found Cambodia’s last national elections in 2008 to have fallen short of international standards.

Mirroring Mr. Subedi’s language, it called on the government to work with the opposition so that it could “play a full role in Cambodian politics and in the forthcoming elections in order to provide credibility to the electoral process.”

From Mainlining to Methadone in Cambodia

By Zsombor Peter and Phorn Bopha
The Cambodia Daily
October 30, 2012

Ly Chan Long could not recall just when it was that he first tried to quit heroin on his own. He had been using for three or four years, and his first attempt soon failed. Dates were still hazy. But he had no trou­ble remembering what it felt like. 

“It was like 100 diseases were inside my body and like my bones were choking,” said the wiry 26-year-old with a thick, messy mop of hair and the scraggly first wisps of a beard.

Since joining a government-run methadone program for heroin addicts a few months ago he has managed to cut back to injecting once or twice a week, with almost none of the withdrawal symptoms. The program hopes to get Mr. Long off heroin altogether in a matter of months.

It is what the program has come to do well since Cambodia’s first—and, thus far, only—methadone clinic opened its doors at Phnom Penh’s Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital in July 2010.

Getting heroin addicts onto a daily dose of methadone and gradually off of heroin has been the clinic’s success. But in almost every other respects, the program is still struggling.

Both the clinic’s director and the NGOs he works with complain of stubbornly low enroll­ment, poor drug counseling and not enough help finding patients work and reconnecting them with family—the things health experts say ul­timately decide whether a methadone program succeeds. Some of the NGOs also feel the clin­ic has given too little thought to eventually get­ting patients off methadone, essentially just a synthetic version of heroin with a longer, mild­er high.

“Where the problems are is everything be­hind the clinical process,” said David Harding, international training coordinator for the NGO Friends International, which works with drug users in Cambodia.

“The social aspects are lagging a long, long way behind still,” he said.

One of the clinic’s aims was to show the gov­ernment a kinder, voluntary approach to treating drug addicts that works. But the state appears to have lost little enthusiasm for the centers where it locks up some 2,000 drug users against their will each year and runs them through military-style drills for a few months in the place of gen­uine treatment. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), just about everyone who goes through the centers soon relapses.

Plans to impose new user fees on the pa­tients, or the NGOs that sponsor them, could also threaten the collapse of the clinical side of the program that actually works.
Slow Start
Mr. Chan Long, one of the methadone clin­ic’s newest patients, started out taking yama—methamphetamine tablets that take their name from the Hindu god of death—in 2003 with his friends. Another group of friends put him onto heroin a few years later. To pay for his habit, he painted motorcycles.

“But it was not enough money, so I would go out and steal. It could be a motorbike, anything,” he recalled. A two-year stint in Prey Sar prison, for beating a man while trying to steal his mo­torbike, did nothing to stop his cravings. A few months at two of the government’s drug centers also did nothing to help. After each stay, he went straight back to injecting. Each attempt to quit on his own quickly failed.

His home life suffered. “My parents some­times chained me to a pole in the house or locked me in a room,” he said. None of it worked, and his parents eventually threw him out.

Living on the street, he would sometimes pick up clean needles from outreach workers for the Khmer HIV/AIDS NGO Alliance (Kha­na), one of two NGOs along with Mith Samlanh with a state license to run needle exchange pro­grams, which hand out new needles in return for used ones. But even the clean needles Mr. Chan Long would share with two other friends. He was soon diagnosed with HIV.

Down and out and sleeping rough, he finally let Khana sign him up for the methadone pro­gram a few months ago.

“It calms me down,” he said of the small cup of ruby red syrup he now drinks religiously ev­ery morning at the clinic, a small, refurbished stand-alone tucked away in a corner of the im­posing Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital.

“I still use heroin sometimes,” he confessed, as a drowsy expression settled on his face some­where between apathy and suspicion. “Less than before, though, so I can save some money,” he added. Since starting on methadone, he has also reconciled with his parents and moved back home.

But finding drug addicts to join the program is getting harder.

After enrolling about 100 patients in its first year, the clinic had just over 130 at the end of its second, in July. That comes to barely half of clinic director Chhit Sophal’s goal of 250.

“Our partners should work more…to refer [addicts] to the clinic,” he said.
Khana and three other organizations that work with the city’s drug users mostly blamed stepped-up police sweeps over the past two years for driving addicts deeper underground. The sweeps are part of the government’s so-called “commune and village safety plan.” In neighborhoods where outreach workers used to find dozens of users they say they’re now lucky to find two or three.

“Since 2010, the government has put the safe­ty plan in place and the police try to clean up the drug user,” taking them off the street and forcing them into the government’s drug centers, said Pin Sokhom, outreach team leader at Mith Sam­lanh. “So they hide, and it gets harder for the Mith Samlanh staff to find them.”
No one is sure just how many drug users there are in Phnom Penh, let alone those in­jecting heroin.
Government and U.N. figures on drug users nationwide vary wildly from a few hundred to 48,000. In an evaluation of the meth­adone program after its first year for AusAid, the Australian government’s international aid arm and one of the program’s key donors, Universi­ty of Adelaide professor Robert Ali said best es­timates from his sources suggested that Phnom Penh had some 1,500 inject­ing drug users, the vast ma­jority of them most likely on heroin.

The last time the govern­ment surveyed intravenous drug users, in 2007, it found one in every four of them were infected with HIV or AIDS, the highest rate of any group in the country. By con­vincing injecting heroin users to switch to methadone, the clinic was designed to bring that number down.

But Prof. Ali’s report said the program would need to reach at least 40 percent of all injecting drug users, or up to 600 people, if it hopes to make a difference.

The 131 patients enrolled at the methadone clinic as of September 30 comes nowhere near that. And with police driving potential patients deeper underground, the clinic may not get near the number any time soon.
Another Addiction
Besides bringing them patients, the metha­done program relies on the NGOs it works with to offer the social services it cannot, things like vocational training and housing assistance and reconnecting patients with estranged relatives. This way, each patient in the program essentially gets sponsored by one of those NGOs.
Mr. Harding, of Friends, said his organiza­tion sponsors 15 patients at the clinic but has grave concerns that the program has given little thought to eventually weaning patients off meth­adone. After more than two years, clinic staff say the program has yet to see a single patient suc­cessfully give up methadone.

By working like a milder, longer lasting ver­sion of heroin, methadone is supposed to give patients a chance at getting on with their lives—find work, make a home and reconnect with fam­ily. But methadone is still a drug, and still addic­tive. While patients typically progress to smaller doses, it can take them years to quit altogether. Some never do.

But in Cambodia, Mr. Harding said, “there is not a single facility, institution or program that helps them detox from methadone, which actu­ally is harder to detox from than heroin.”

He said NGOs lack their own facilities to run a safe detox program and are not licensed to administer the other medical drugs, like co­deine, often used to help the process along. The metha­done clinic has no such facil­ities, either.

“So you’re talking about a program that lends itself to continual expansion,” Mr. Harding said.
Bun Ratana, another patient at the clinic, is a case in point.

Now 28, he left home at 13 to escape an abu­sive stepfather and ended up working on a deep-sea trawler in Thailand’s notoriously abusive fishing industry, where crewmen are often fed amphetamines to help them work through gru­eling hours in slave-like conditions. Mr. Ratana started taking yama.

Returning to Phnom Penh in 2005, he joined the city’s tribe of scavengers and soon added heroin to his diet, eventually injecting up to five times a day. As he leaned forward to tell his sto­ry, his shirtsleeves drew back and the pale green flames of a fire tattoo ran up the inside of his left forearm like the teeth of an old saw. A souve­nir from the year he spent in Prey Sar prison for buying drugs, he said. As with Mr. Chan Long, though, jail did nothing to stop his cravings and upon release Mr. Ratana picked up his heroin habit just where he’d left it.

He tried adding the occasional odd job to his scavenging, he recalled, “but I could not work all day because the pain would hit me.”

Drug outreach workers for the NGO Korsang finally steered him to the methadone clinic and Mr. Ratana became one of its first patients in mid-2010. He has stopped using heroin, now has a wife and a 1-year-old son and works as a park­ing attendant.

“I don’t have to spend all that money on drugs and I can save for my kid,” he said with a ready smile on a recent morning at the clinic. “It’s a re­ally good program; it’s helped me a lot. It’s like I’m reborn.”

But asked if clinic staff had ever broached the idea of trying to take him off methadone at some point, he knitted his brow as though the thought had never even occurred to him and shook his head.

It is what the NGOs are worried about. Be­yond handing out daily doses of methadone, clin­ic staff are falling short with almost everything else. More than two years on, they say some pa­tients are still not getting their regular month­ly addiction counseling and that the counseling they do get is of poor quality.

And though the clinic keeps no running tal­ly, NGOs say more than half the methadone pa­tients—even those who have quit heroin—keep using or pick up other drugs.

“What we really need for our clients is the psycho-social part; they need [better] coun­seling,” said Taing Phoeuk, Korsang’s execu­tive director. “We try to counsel them the way we know how,” he added, but confessed that his own staff has no professional training.

Asked about the criticism of the program, Dr. Sophal smiled knowingly and sighed.
“This is our challenge…because our team don’t have much experience for that. The skill is not good enough,” he said.
Paying the Price
Dr. Sophal lays much of the blame on the on-again, off-again supply of salary supplements to his staff for fostering low morale.

Part of a nationwide program to improve the public sector, several of Cambodia’s foreign do­nors had for years been paying salary supple­ments for state employees working on donor-funded projects like the methadone clinic. By substantially boosting their modest public sal­aries, the supplements were supposed to en­courage civil servants to work full days instead of checking out early for better-paid second and third jobs in the private sector. But behind-the-scenes wrangling between donors and the gov­ernment over who should get how much period­ically derailed delivery.

Officials at the Finance Ministry have de­clined to comment on the salary supplements. But several donors confirmed that they pulled out of the program again in July after failing to agree with the government on how to keep the program going.

To keep the supplements to its staff coming, the methadone clinic came up with an “equi­ty fund” to be filled by charging the patients-—or, more likely, the NGOs sponsoring them—for service. A cup of methadone each morning, for example, would cost $2. A session with a drug counselor would cost $2.50.

Dr. Sophal reasons that methadone clinics in other countries already charge such fees and fig­ures that patients could put some of the money they spent buying drugs toward helping them­selves get well at the clinic. The most indigent would still be exempt from the fees, he added.

“If the patient decides to come,” even if they have to pay, he said, “they commit to coming; it means they are committed.”

Several donors have agreed to help cover the clinic’s fees for now. But once the NGOs hit their new fiscal year next summer, Dr. Sophal said, the burden could still shift to them.
That has both the NGOs and the WHO worried.

What works elsewhere may not work here, said Yel Daravuth, the WHO’s resident substance abuse specialist. “In the West they can afford it, but if you look to this country they do not have the money and they have to [spend it all] just for their food. So it’s going to be quite a challenge in this country,” he said, even for the NGOs.

The NGOs see a calamity coming. Korsang’s Mr. Phoeuk is especially worried. With some 90 methadone patients under its wing, his NGO sponsors the most of any. If those patients can’t pay, and Korsang can’t pay for them, there is lit­tle they will be able to done.

“For Korsang it won’t work,” he said of the user fees. “Just for dosing, take $2 times 90. We can’t afford that.”

Korsang would have to spend $65,700 a year for methadone alone, not including the follow-ups and counseling the patients need just as much. There would even be a $2 fee for a first-time consultation with every new patient the NGOs bring in.

“It’s not really been thought through,” Mr. Harding said.

If the fees do end up falling on the shoulders of the patients or the NGOs sponsoring them, he warned, “You could see a 50 percent dropout [of patients] almost immediately, and that’s not go­ing to look good for anybody.”

Should that happen, the clinic would be even further from reaching the 600 patients it needs to start bringing down HIV and AIDS infection rates among intravenous drug users, the clin­ic’s very raison d’etre. And it would make it only harder to convince the government to close down its notorious drug centers, another of the WHO’s goals.

The government calls them rehabilitation centers, though the U.N. and NGOs say they fail to do any genuine rehabilitating. The cen­ters, 10 in all, were in the spotlight in 2010 when the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) re­leased a scathing report that drew on dozens of interviews with former detainees. It accused the facilities of not only failing to treat drug users but often subjecting them to physical and sexu­al abuse.
Government officials have repeatedly de­nied the harshest claims, but in July, HRW again called on Cambodia to close the centers down.

The National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD) rejected the idea.

“Of course, it [the government] cannot shut down the drug rehabilitation centers,” Meas Vyrith, the NACD’s deputy secretary-general, said at the time. “Why do they just always rec­ommend closure? Do they want the drug users walking around?…. I think Human Rights Watch should build a drug center by itself to satisfy its demands.”

The methadone clinic and another volun­tary program for treating drug users, now tak­ing shape in Oddar Meanchey province’s pub­lic health clinics, are signs that attitudes toward drug addiction treatment may slowly be starting to change. But the government’s drug centers are still open. Just last month, the Social Affairs Ministry reminded Vietnam of a long-standing offer to fund the construction of what would be Cambodia’s largest government-run drug cen­ter in Preah Sihanouk province.

As Mr. Harding at Friends sees it, the gov­ernment has come to a fork in the road‑—forced treatment down one path and voluntary treat­ment down the other—and decided it had no reason to choose just one.

“There’s still the same number of centers; they’re still working the same way,” he said. “They’re basically saying ‘We’ll take both, thank you very much.’”

Dr. Sophal, who also wants to see the govern­ment abandon its drug centers, is willing to wait and let the methadone clinic speak for itself.

“It’s long term, not just one or two years,” he said.

He offered an analogy that Adam Smith, the godfather of the free market, would surely have appreciated.
“The [clinic] is a restaurant and the govern­ment [centers] are a restaurant. What kind of food do they serve? What kind of noodle? If the food is more delicious, they will come.”

Monday, October 29, 2012

China’s big shift

As the ‘factory of the world’ faces rising labour and production costs, Chinese companies are taking a closer look at Asean and Thailand.

Oct 29, 2012
Bangkok Post

Thailand and Southeast Asian countries continue to be a magnet for investment by Chinese companies thanks to the growth prospects of the region and the imminent formation of the Asean Economic Community (AEC).
Vietnam overtook China to become the largest producer of Nike shoes in 2010.

“Chinese investors have shown a growing tendency to establish production bases in Asean and Thailand is among the first countries to which they pay attention,” said Bang-on Thitapaisalpol, the director of the Guangzhou office of the Board of Investment (BoI).

She said there were many reasons for the trend but one of the biggest
advantages Thailand has is its location in the centre of Asean, where new rail and road links would help make Thailand the logistics centre of the region.

Asean, which currently has about 600 million people and trade valued in excess of $2 trillion, has seen its role gradually rise among Chinese investors, who have either used the region as the source for materials for their manufacturing sector or as export markets for processed goods.

This has prompted a surge in two-way trade between China and Asean which hit a new high last year, reflecting the gains made under free trade agreement that took effect in 2010 between Asean and the world’s second largest economy.
Last year China-Asean trade value totalled $362.3 billion, a surge of 24% from 2010. In the first seven months of the year, the figure was up 9% year-on-year to $220.57 billion. China’s top three Asean trade partners are Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore.

Under the FTA, the average tariff on goods from Asean countries to China has been reduced to 0.1% from 9.8%.

Apart from this, there has been a gradual shift of production bases from China to Asean nations over the past few months in response to rising wages at home. As a result, some Asean members have started to take China’s place as the “world’s factory”. Vietnam is a good example, usurping China to become the largest producer of Nike shoes in 2010.

In July, the sportswear giant Adidas said it would close its only affiliated factory in Jiangsu province, with plans to relocate the factory to Myanmar.

Research by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) indicates that rising labour and production costs in China have made it less competitive than some Asean economies.

Although Guangdong province is still the world’s biggest manufacturer of computer parts, several electronics companies have moved their factories to Asean countries, Chen Zhihua, president of the Guangdong Computer Vendors’ Chamber of Commerce was quoted by Shanghai Daily recently.

The Unctad investment report stated that $117 billion worth of foreign direct investment went into Southeast Asia in 2011, up 26% annually, while FDI to China rose only 8%.
Chen Jiagui, former associate dean of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that transferring manufacturing to Southeast Asia is inevitable as China has entered the next stage of industrialisation, which means rising labour and land costs.

Research conducted by Unctad this year indicates that multinational corporations believe Indonesia and Thailand have benefited greatly from the relocation of industries there.

Vietnam can speak for the benefits of industrial relocation. After Nike transferred more of its orders to Vietnam, the country saw its manufacturing industry output value increase, as well as an overall industrial upgrade that has allowed it to produce more high-end goods.

“Southeast Asian countries’ lower labour costs and land prices have attracted more overseas and Chinese investors,” said Chen, adding that less trade friction and avoidance of trade barriers  also prompted foreign companies to move their factories to Southeast Asia.

Ms Bang-on said that countries such as Thailand could benefit from the shift although some concerns remain about the rising wages and the security of industrial property after the calamitous floods of 2011.

“However, we didn’t see any impact from the inquiries of Chinese investors who are interested in investing in Thailand,” she said.

During the first eight months of this year, Chinese investors submitted 25 applications for investment support for projects worth 14.88 billion baht in total, which was higher than in the same period last year.

Ms Bang-on said that language and transport, two obstacles perceived by Chinese investors in the past, had now started to improve. Student exchange programmes between Thailand and China have been helpful in creating greater communication.

Apart from this, logistics and transport routes in the region have also improved, so these positive factors will help expand two-way trade and investment further, she said.

Bussarakum Sriratana, director of the services and consulting division of the BoI, said that Thailand had high potential to support foreign investors in a lot of industrial fields. Among them are for agriculture and agro-industry, alternative energy, research and development (R&D) business for biotechnology and nanotechnology, molds and dies, software development, automobiles and parts, electronic products and parts, machinery equipment and parts, and high value-added natural rubber products.

Recent data collected by the BoI on Chinese investment in Thailand from 2005-12 showed the total value of the projects was US$4.19 billion. The services sector led in value at $1.32 billion, followed by metal products and machinery ($821.55 million), agriculture and agro-industry ($750.43 million), minerals and ceramics ($729.46 million), chemicals and paper ($316.47 million), electrical and electronic products ($127.59 million) and light industries such as textiles ($117.31 million).

“I think China has high potential to invest in Thailand, especially in five major industries,” said Ms Bussarakum. “They are automobiles and auto parts, electronic products and parts, machinery equipment and parts, alternative energy and high value-added natural rubber products.

“In these industries, we are confident that we can be a high-potential base for Chinese investors.”

Thailand was the world’s 15th largest automobile producer in 2011 and aims to move into the top 10 by 2015 with total output of 2.43 million units. Of all the tier-1 car and parts companies in Thailand, 54% are foreign majority-owned.

In the electronics and electrical products industry, Thailand is the world’s largest hard disk drive (HDD) producer. The export value of $53.95 billion for all electronic and electrical goods was ranked 24th in the world.

“Our major products in this field are hard disk drives, integrated circuits, televisions and air-conditioners. We also provide strong supporting industries in electrical appliances such as compressors, motors, plastic and metal parts,” Ms Bussarakum said.

Opportunities also exist in machinery and parts although Thailand will remain dependent on foreign industrial machinery in the near term, she added.

“We have high demand for machinery, especially in food and farm machinery, alternative energy, energy conservation equipment, textile machinery, automotive machinery, and for the mold and die industry.”

Thailand is the world’s largest producer of rubber but only 10% of the natural rubber produced in Thailand has been utilised as a raw material for value-added production.

Rubber exports last year were worth 397.07 billion baht, the fifth highest-value export category. China was the largest export market for Thai rubber with a total value of $4.94 billion.

“We would like to see more Chinese enterprises set up value-added processing for rubber products in Thailand,” Ms Bussarakum said.

Vietnam, Thailand issue cabinet retreat joint statement

Vietnam and Thailand issued a joint statement on their second joint cabinet retreat in Hanoi on October 27.

As agreed upon by the Governments of Vietnam and Thailand, the second Vietnam-Thailand Joint Cabinet Retreat was co-chaired by Prime Minister of Vietnam Nguyen Tan Dung and Prime Minister of Thailand Yingluck Shinawatra.

The statement said in their opening remarks, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra underlined the importance of the Second Joint Cabinet Retreat as it represented progress in bilateral traditional friendship and multifaceted cooperation.

The two PMs expressed confidence that the Joint Cabinet Retreat would create new momentum for further progress in the existing good bilateral cooperation in the coming years, contributing to each country’s socio-economic development, maintaining peace and stability and enhancing cooperation and prosperity in the region and the world.

The statement elaborated that following the opening ceremony, the two PMs held closed talks and the Ministers of the two Governments discussed in three thematic groups on Political and Security, Economic, and Social, Cultural and Educational issues.

PM Dung and PM Shinawatra noted with satisfaction the progress and development of the traditional friendship and multifaceted cooperation between Vietnam and Thailand over the past 36 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations on August 6, 1976.

Exchanges of high-level delegations had been conducted on a regular basis with a view to enhancing mutual trust and understanding. Bilateral cooperation continued to deepen and expand.

In addition to good political relations, cooperation between the two countries had been thriving in many fields. Cooperation in security and defence had been continually strengthened and expanded. Economic, trade and investment cooperation had become increasingly productive.

Bilateral trade had seen continual growth, amounting to some US$8.17 billion in 2011. Thailand had 292 projects at work in Vietnam with the accumulated capital of US$6 billion, ranking 10th among the 96 countries and territories investing in the country.

The two PMs highly appreciated the results of group meetings and agreed on measures to further strengthen the existing good relations between the two countries.

With regard to political and security issues, the two sides agreed to maintain and promote exchange of visits and contacts at all levels, develop and effectively implement the various phases of the “Action Plan” for bolstering cooperation.

The two sides agreed to strengthen existing cooperation mechanisms including the Joint Cabinet Retreat, the Joint Consultative Mechanism, the Joint Commission, the Joint Trade Committee, the Joint Working Group on Political and Security Cooperation, the Political Consultation Group.

Both sides agreed to expand and strengthen cooperation in combating trans-national crime, particularly trafficking in women and children, enhance cooperation to combat terrorism both in bilateral and multilateral frameworks, establish a Working Group with a view to increase information exchange and to find proper solutions to the issue of illegal fishing activities in the sea area of each country.

The two sides also discussed issues related to consular cooperation with a view to establishing an Agreement on Consular Cooperation. The two sides reaffirmed that they would not allow any individuals and hostile forces to use their territories for activities against the other country.

On economic cooperation, both sides welcomed the outcomes of the 1 st Joint Trade Committee meeting on July 2012 in Hanoi and affirmed the determination to step up trade promotion programs, enhance cooperation between businesses of the two countries, strive to achieve the target of 20 percent annual growth in two-way trade in the 2012-2015 period, promote trade and investment cooperation between the two countries on GMS, East-West Economic Corridor (EWEC) frameworks and conduct study on ways and means to facilitate transport of passengers and goods on other potential routes including Route No.8 and No. 12 linking Thailand-Laos and Vietnam which were not part of GMS CBTA designated routes.

Both sides agreed to continue to enhance cooperation in producing, processing and exporting rice, enhance cooperation in industry and energy, and boost connectivity between the two countries by developing new airline routes between provinces of the two countries in the time to come.

The two sides also welcomed the establishment of the Thailand-Vietnam and the Vietnam-Thailand Business Councils and encouraged closer cooperation between the private sectors of both countries.

On cultural, social and educational cooperation, the two sides reaffirmed their cooperation in enhancing vocational training, labour and social welfare as well as expediting the signing of the MOU on Labour Cooperation.

The two countries agreed to intensify the areas of cooperation of the Joint Working Group on Educational Cooperation, to increase cultural, and art activities and sport exchanges between the two countries, promote cooperation in education and training, share teaching experience, promote exchange among students and teachers, encourage the teaching of Vietnamese and Thai languages at schools and universities in each country.

To elevate bilateral ties to a strategic level in the time to come, the two government leaders agreed to task the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of each country to work as the focal point for coordinating with relevant ministries and agencies to work out the specific elements of and roadmap for upgrading bilateral ties to strategic partnership in the interest of the two peoples for peace, stability, cooperation and prosperity in the region and the world at large.

With regard to ASEAN cooperation, PM Dung and PM Shinawatra agreed that the two countries would work closely with each other and with other ASEAN countries to successfully realise the goal of an ASEAN Community by 2015, strengthen unity cooperation and intra-ASEAN integration, maintain ASEAN’s central role in regional institutions.

The two sides reiterated their determination to work closely with other riparian countries to ensure sustainable use of water resources in the Mekong River .

The two PMs exchanged views on the recent developments in the East Sea and underlined the importance of peace, stability, and maritime security and safety in the East Sea, resolve disputes in peaceful manner on the basis of conforming to the law and the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, fully and effectively implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC), ASEAN’s declaration of 6-Point Principles on the East Sea and resume discussion towards the adoption of the Code of Conduct in the East Sea (COC).

Vietnam believed that Thailand, in its capacity as the coordinating country for ASEAN-China relations (2012-2015), would help further promote ASEAN-China strategic partnership, actively contributing to peace, stability, security and development in the region.

At the end of the Meeting, the two PMs witnessed the signing ceremony of the Joint Statement of the Second Vietnam-Thailand Joint Cabinet Retreat, the Joint Statement on Thailand - Vietnam Security Outlook for 2012-2016 and the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the Establishment of the Thailand – Vietnam and the Vietnam – Thailand Business Councils.

The statement stated that the Second Vietnam – Thailand Joint Cabinet Retreat was concluded with great success.

The two sides affirmed the willingness to maintain and promote the effectiveness of the Joint Cabinet Retreat mechanism in the coming time with a view to elevating the bilateral ties to a higher level towards strategic partnership.

PM Shinawatra expressed gratitude to the Government and people of Vietnam for the warm hospitality accorded to the Thai Delegation.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra extended an invitation to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung for an official visit to Thailand in the coming time. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung accepted the invitation with pleasure. The time of the visit would be arranged through the diplomatic channel.


Storm leaves 27 dead in Philippines

MANILA, Philippines, Oct. 29 (UPI) -- Tropical Storm Son-Tinh killed at least 27 people in the Philippines, officials there said, as Vietnam and China readied for its onslaught with typhoon force.

The storm, called Ofel in the Philippines, struck its central and southern regions, triggering landslides and flooding.

The Philippines Star, quoting disaster risk management officials, said the death toll as of Sunday had risen to 27 people.

The storm also injured 19 others and displaced more than 11,000 others. The worst hit were the Mimaropa, Calabarzon and Visayas regions. More than 11,430 people remained in evacuation centers.

Meanwhile, China's Xinhua News Agency Monday reported five people were missing after their boat was hit by Typhoon Son-Tinh's strong winds in the South China Sea off Sanya on southern Hainan province.
The report said the local sea rescue center in Sanya received a report Sunday that the boat, which had no power, had partially gone under near a cargo terminal.

Sanya's maritime safety administration said a search team of helicopters and rescue vessels had been dispatched to the area.

Separately, Xinhua reported more than 80,000 people in Hainan province had been relocated with the typhoon pounding the region with gale force winds and rains since Saturday.

Authorities have suspended train services and shipping across the Qiongzhou Strait that links the Hainan island with Guangdong Province due to high winds and rains.

Vietnam refugees share their stories

 By Amy Taxin
Associated Press
Viola Van snaps a self-portrait with her father, Hugo. She is part of a Vietnamese-American oral history project at the University of California, Irvine, that assembles, preserves and disseminates the life stories of Vietnamese-Americans in Southern California. It is indicative new efforts by Vietnamese-Americans in the U.S. to keep elders’ stories alive. (Associated Press)

IRVINE, Calif. — The knock came at night more than 30 years ago. Hugo Van, then a young man, had a chance to flee newly communist Vietnam and walk to freedom.

There were no guarantees, but Mr. Van didn’t hesitate to take the risk. With a few hundred dollars, he and his younger sister got a car ride to a Vietnamese village, then a boat to Cambodia and began the trek across barren land until they were caught by Cambodian soldiers. For nearly two weeks, they were held in a camp where they were given wormy rice to eat and Mr. Van found himself staring down six guns as guards attempted to attack his younger sister.

“Everybody knew: boat or walk,” Mr. Van, now 57, told his American-born daughter in words she was hearing for the first time. “When you escape you use your life to bet.”

Mr. Van, a retired pressman, had never shared the harrowing tale of his journey with his daughter, Viola, until she began recording it as part of a project to capture the experiences of Vietnamese refugees — many now well into their 70s and 80s — to preserve their memories before it’s too late.

His story is one of 300 being collected by the University of California, Irvine, in an effort to create a digitized history of the Vietnamese-American experience and bridge the generation gap between refugees and their American-born children who are helping conduct the interviews, said Thuy Vo Dang, the project’s director.
“They have survived extreme types of experiences — war displacement, the death of half their family, the immigration process, refugee camps — the experiences have left a silence in the community,” Ms. Vo Dang said. “When it comes to the home space, it is very difficult to share these stories.”

The oral history project comes amid new efforts by Vietnamese-Americans across the country to keep elders’ stories alive. Community groups recorded stories in Louisville, Ky., and Austin, Texas, where volunteers amassed 500 video histories that are now being donated to universities. Another oral history project is being considered in Maryland.

The oral histories — which are logged as audio recordings with transcripts and translation into English — are being housed at the school’s Southeast Asian Archive, as well as online. The collection also features interviews conducted in the Austin project, which dates back to 2008.

Nancy Bui, who started that effort, said the idea began two decades ago when her daughter got a failing grade on a paper about the Vietnam War after drawing from her mother’s experiences.

Ms. Bui spoke with the teacher, who said the curriculum she was given offered a different portrayal of Vietnam’s communist leaders than the refugees did.

“I told my daughter, someday mom will try to do something because your teacher has a point — we have so many stories, we need to tell our story so the world knows what really happened in Vietnam in the war and our journey to freedom,” said Ms. Bui, president of the Vietnamese American Heritage Foundation.

Nearly 1.9 million Vietnamese live in the United States. It is the fourth-largest Asian-American community in the country, according to U.S. Census data.

Philippines with least gender disparity in Asia

Ana G. Roa
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Publication Date : 29-10-2012

The Philippines still leads Asian countries in reducing inequality between men and women, according to the 2012 Global Gender Gap rankings of the World Economic Forum (WEF).
The report showed the Philippines remained among the top 10 with the least gender disparity. It had an overall score of 0.7757, to rank eighth out of 135 countries, unchanged from the previous year.

Nordic countries Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden led the world, having closed their gender gaps by over 80 per cent. Other countries in the top 10 are Ireland (5th), New Zealand (6th), Denmark (7th), Nicaragua (9th) and Switzerland (10th).

Countries in the bottom 10 are Egypt (126th), Iran (127th), Mali (128th), Morocco (129th), Cote d’Ivoire (130th), Saudi Arabia (131st), Syria (132nd), Chad (133rd), Pakistan (134th) and Yemen (135th).

“The key for the future of any country and any institution is the capability to attract the best talents,” Klaus Schwab, WEF founder and chair, said in a statement.

“In the future, talent will be more important than capital or anything else. To develop the gender dimension is not just a question of equality; it is the entry card to succeed and prosper in an ever more competitive world,” he added.

The annual survey ranks countries on their ability to close gender gap in four categories namely educational attainment, health and survival, economic participation and opportunity and political empowerment. The scores range between 1 (equality) and 0 (inequality).

The Philippines got the perfect score of 1 to rank first (tied with 19 countries) in educational attainment which captures the ratios of women to men in primary, secondary, and tertiary levels of education.

With a score of 0.9796, the Philippines also grabbed the top spot (tied with 31 countries) in health and survival which gives an overview of the differences between women’s and men’s health.

Further, the Philippines was among the top 20 in the two other categories with a score of 0.7719 (17th) in economic participation and opportunity and 0.3515 (14th) in political empowerment.

“The Philippines is the only country in Asia this year to have closed the gender gap in both education and health,” the report said adding it had the highest rank among Asian countries.
The country’s overall ranking bested Association of Southeast Asian Nations neighbours Singapore (55th), Thailand (65th), Vietnam (66th), Brunei Darussalam (75th), Indonesia (97th), Malaysia (100th) and Cambodia (103rd).

Meanwhile, global trends showed that the 135 countries covered in the report, representing over 90 per cent of the world’s population, have closed almost 96 per cent of the gender gap in health and nearly 93 per cent of the gender gap in educational attainment.

However, the gap between women and men in economic participation and political empowerment remains wide. Only 60 per cent of the gap in economic outcomes and 20 per cent of the gap in political outcomes have been closed, the report said.

Saadia Zahidi, head of the forum’s women leaders and gender parity programme noted that six of the top 10 countries in the 2012 WEF Global Competitiveness Index were in the top 20 of the Global Gender Gap Index.

These countries are Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, Netherlands, Germany and United Kingdom.

“This shows the imperative for countries that have already invested in the health and education of women to address the economic and political realms, and for those that have not to do so before their economies fall further behind,” Zahidi said.