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‘Food Prices May Lead Asians Into Poverty’

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Resurgent food prices, which rose by 10% on average in many regional economies in Asia in 2011, can push an additional 64 million people into extreme poverty, an Asian Development Bank (ADB) report says. The study, titled, ‘Global Food Price Inflation and Developing Asia’, by the multilateral lending agency, finds that a 10% rise in domestic food prices could push an additional 64 million people, out of 3.3 billion people living in the continent, into extreme poverty, based on the $1.25 a day poverty line. “For poor families in developing Asia, who already spend more than 60 per cent of their income on food, higher food prices further reduce their ability to pay for medical care and their children’s education,” ADB chief economist Changyong Rhee said.

The report said the fast and persistent rise in the cost of many Asian food staples since the middle of last year, coupled with crude oil reaching a 31-month high in March, are a serious setback for the region, which has rebounded rapidly and strongly from the global economic crisis. As per the report, if the global food and oil price hikes seen in early 2011 persist for the remainder of the year, economic growth in the region could be reduced by up to 1.5 percentage points.

“Left unchecked, the food crisis will badly undermine recent gains in poverty reduction made in Asia,” Rhee added.

The short-term outlook looks bleak, as food prices are likely to continue with their upward trend because of factors such as production shortfalls, rising demand for food from more populous and wealthier developing countries and shrinking available agricultural land, the report said. Other dampening factors behind the double-digit increases seen in the price of wheat, corn, sugar, edible oils, dairy products and meat include the weak US dollar, high oil prices and subsequent export bans by several key food producing nations. Commenting on the current scenario, Rhee said, “Efforts to stabilise food production should take centre stage, with greater investments in agricultural infrastructure to increase crop production and expand storage facilities, to better ensure grain produce is not wasted.”

The report further calls for enhanced market integration and the elimination of policy distortions that create hurdles in transferring food from surplus to deficit regions, besides, controlling speculative activities in food markets. The ASEAN Integrated Food Security Framework, under which the 10-member ASEAN group of countries has agreed to establish an emergency regional rice reserve system, is a positive step in that direction, the report said.

-HT

 

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SOUTH ASIA

Pakistani Anti-graft body wants travel ban on Nawaz Sharif, kin

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Pakistan’s anti-corruption watchdog has asked authorities to place ousted premier Nawaz Sharif, his daughter and son-in-law on the Exit Control List to prevent them from leaving the country.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) sent a formal request to the ministry of interior. The interior ministry officials confirmed that the NAB wrote that names of Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Capt (retd) Muhammad Safdar should be put on the Exit Control List (ECL), which listed individuals not allowed to leave Pakistan.

The NAB argued that as the trial of the three nears its conclusion, it is feared that they would leave the country.

Earlier, a similar request to place name of finance minister Ishaq Dar on ECL was not accepted, allowing him to go to London and never return.

Sharif, 68, and his family this week filed an application with the accountability court seeking a fortnight’s exemption from personal appearance from February 19 onwards to let them go to London to see Sharif’s ailing wife. Three cases were filed against Sharif and his family last year, including Avenfield properties, Azizia & Hill Metal Establishment, and Flagship Investments.

Maryam and Safdar are accused only in Avenfield properties case. The NAB had filed two supplementary references against Sharif, his sons Hasan and Hussain regarding Al-Azizia Steel Mills & Hill Metal Establishment and Flagship Investment cases.

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SOUTH ASIA

Pakistan “breaches obligations’ on nuclear arms reduction, UN court told

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The Hague: Pakistan is violating its “obligations” to the international community by failing to reduce its nuclear arsenal, the Marshall Islands told the UN’s highest court on Tuesday.

The small Pacific Island nation is this week launching three unusual cases against India, Pakistan and Britain before the International Court of Justice.

Majuro wants to put a new spotlight on the global nuclear threat, its lawyers said yesterday, by using its own experience with massive US-led nuclear tests in the 1940s and 1950s.

“Pakistan is in breach of its obligations owed to the international community as a whole,” when it comes to reducing its nuclear stockpile, said Nicholas Grief, one of the island nation’s lawyers.

Islamabad and its nuclear-armed neighbour India “continue to engage in a quantitative build-up and a qualitative improvement” of their atomic stockpiles, added Tony deBrum, a Marshallese government minister.

DeBrum warned that even a “limited nuclear war” involving the two countries would “threaten the existence” of his island nation people.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.

In 1998, the rival neighbours both demonstrated nuclear weapons capability.

The ICJ’s judges are holding hearings for the next week and a half to decide whether it is competent to hear the lawsuits brought against India and Pakistan — neither of which have signed the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

A third hearing against Britain — which has signed the NPT — scheduled to start on Wednesday will be devoted to “preliminary objections” raised by London.

The Marshalls initially sought to bring a case against nine countries it said possessed nuclear arms: Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and the United States.
Israel has never admitted to having nuclear weapons.

But the Hague-based ICJ, set up in 1945 to rule in disputes between states, has only admitted three cases against Britain, India and Pakistan, because they have accepted the ICJ’s compulsory jurisdiction.

Pakistan’s lawyers did not attend Tuesday’s hearings.

It did however file a counter-claim against Majuro’s allegations saying “the court has no jurisdiction to deal with the application” and insisting that the case is “not admissible”, said ICJ President Ronny Abraham.

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SOUTH ASIA

Bangladesh to drop Islam as official religion following attacks on Hindus

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Bangladesh to drop Islam as official religion following attacks on Hindus

New Delhi: Bangladesh is likely to drop Islam as its official religion following a series of attacks on people from other faiths in the country. The country’s Supreme Court is hearing a plea challenging the status of the official religion of the country to Islam.

Bangladesh, which was declared a secular country after its formation in 1971, was declared an Islamic country following a constitutional amendment in 1988.

According to a report in the Daily Mail, the plea has challenged the declaration of Islam as the national religion of the country.

The move is being supported by leaders from the minority communities like Hindus, Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.

Bangladesh has 90 per cent of Muslims, 8 per cent Hindus and remaining constitutes Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.

In last month, a Hindu priest was hacked to death following an attack on a temple in Panchgarh district. Two others were seriously injured in the attack. There have been several lethal attacks on writers and bloggers.

According to a report in the Independent, Islamist groups Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh and Ansarullah Bangla Team are believed to have carried out at least seven attacks on foreign and minority people in Bangladesh in the past year.

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