Banning Bull Slaughter Makes Vulnerable Populations Poorer
Earlier this year, the government of Maharashtra, India, decided to ban bullock and bull slaughter. The slaughtering of cows, which are considered to be sacred in Hinduism, had already been prohibited since 1976. This new law has faced opposition from many sectors of society that claim it destroys businesses, makes farmers’ livelihoods more vulnerable, and hurts the very animals it hopes to protect.

Another argument against the law is that is promotes Hindu extremist interests over the nation’s secular principles. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the force behind the new law, argues instead that it protects religious beliefs. However, even one of the BJP’s strongest allies, the Republican Party of India (RPI), has expressed discontent with the law.

Farmers from the state have protested that banning bull slaughter means they can no longer sell their old animals that have outlived their usefulness. Many farmers count on the money made from the sale to pay back loans. In India, where huge numbers of farmer suicides have been a pressing concern, the new law has made farmers’ limited sources of income more precarious.

Some people have even argued that the law will lead to farmers simply abandoning their cattle because they cannot afford to look after them. They will be left on the streets to starve and die, or be smuggled in terrible conditions to Bangladesh, where they will be slaughtered. The very purpose of the law—to protect bulls—would be left unfulfilled.

The law has also eliminated the only type of meat poor people can afford. In India, beef is commonly called the “poor mans’ protein,” as it is much cheaper than mutton or chicken. Buffalo meat, while still legal, is predicted to become more expensive because of a lack of alternatives. In a country where more than half of children under five are malnourished, this ban is feared to increase rates of starvation and sickness.

Specific castes have also been negatively affected. The Qureshis, a Muslim community that has been synonymous with bull slaughter for generations, can no longer practice the only livelihood they know.

The Dharavi leather market has also lost its bearings. Dharavi, one of the biggest slums in Asia, obtained much of its income from its once-thriving leather industry, where workers would make wallets, belts, jackets and handbags. Now, hundreds of workers have been left jobless.

Sources: The Hindu 1, The Hindu 2, The Hindu 3, Times of India, The Independent, Al Jazeera, New York Times 1, New York Times 2
Photo: Stock Photos

UN Reinventing the Approach to European Roma Poverty-TBP
The Roma people are a large ethnic minority living in Europe whose population totals to 10 to 12 million people. Despite the existence of laws aimed at protecting this group of people from discrimination, the Romas experience harsh prejudices. The lack of opportunities to available to them often keeps them below the poverty line. They have low literacy rates, little access to healthcare centers and high rates of hunger.

The countries with the highest percentage of Roma communities are Macedonia, Slovakia, Romania, Serbia, Hungary and Bulgaria. They make up between 7 and 10 percent of the populations of these countries.

Roma people suffer from many health issues, but their access to health insurance is limited. Their cause is further hurt by the high price of healthcare. More than half of Roma households cannot afford prescriptions and about 20 percent say that they have had overnight stays in health centers. (Non-Roma people ranked at 1/3 and about 12 percent, respectively.) Vaccination rates are also low among the Roma, while births outside the hospital are high.

Education is another area where there is a significant lack of support and progress. Because of child marriages, many young girls are taken out of school before they are able to finish. In most of Central and Eastern Europe, about 50 percent of the Roma have, at the very least, a lower secondary education than their non-Roma counterparts. Schools are often ethnically segregated.

The United Nations had a mission to help lower Roma poverty and improve their living conditions. In 2007, the UN opened centers to help the Roma people receive affordable and accessible healthcare and proper education. However, the programs were highly inefficient and slow moving and accomplished little. That is why the UN is out to reinvent the Roma outreach.

After experimenting with three prospective methods in Macedonia to engage the Roma people and to improve their situation, the UN settled on the Roma Centre of the Future.

Using Roma and non-Roma peoples, the centers work to help the Roma people access education, healthcare and other public services. This time, the centers have the skills, knowledge, tools and technology needed to run such an idea efficiently and effectively, with the goal being to reach as many Roma people as possible. The workers help people through complicated paperwork, direct them to opportunities like job trainings and provide useful community programs. There is also a special focus on the elderly, a concentration that did not exist in the earlier programs.

The program is already seeing success. Within the first five months the center reached 820 people, which was more than the old centers used to help in a year! This new, dedicated focus on reaching the needs of the people appears to be working, as the Roma people are seeing the positive effects the centers have on the community and are thus going to these centers for help.

Katherine Hewitt

Sources: EC Europa, UNDP 1, UNDP 2, New Int
Photo: UNDP

minority_groups_in_albania
Since the fall of socialism in 1991, Albania has made great strides in establishing itself as an economic and political power in Europe. The country has joined the United Nations, NATO, World Trade Organization and the Council of Europe. It is poised to join the European Union.

One of the factors holding the country back has been the exclusion of its minorities, primarily the Roma and Egyptians. This exclusion has left 75 percent of Roma and 70 percent of Egyptians categorized as very poor, compared to the 28.8 percent of Albanians with the same rating.

This socioeconomic status is due largely to of a lack of education, employment and basic infrastructure.  This has led many members of these groups to seek wages in the informal labor market, which includes prostitution, women and child trafficking and drug trafficking.

While the government has claimed to include these minority groups in Albania, Egyptians have not been given minority status. The government claims they have not met the criteria necessary. Egyptians must share the same language (other than Albanian), have documentation to prove its distinct ethnic origin or national identity and have distinct customs and traditions or a link to a kinship state outside of the country.

However, the Roma have met these criteria, and, as of 2005, the Albanian government has signed up for the Decade of Roma, a World Bank initiative designed to help in four key areas: education, employment, health and housing and gender and non-discrimination. To date however, the results are not very encouraging, as the number of Roma still labeled as very poor continues to rise.

Against this very bleak picture, several rays of hope have begun to shine on the Roma and Egyptian communities from several organizations. One of these organizations is the United Nations Development Plan, implemented by the Ministry of Social Welfare and funded by the European Union.

These organizations have constructed a project designed to promote social inclusion of Roma and Egyptians through vocational training to increase their employability and strengthen artisan and entrepreneurship skills, especially for women and girls.

The training entailed learning how to cultivate medicinal plants. It was a week-long program where participants were trained how to cultivate, collect and dry medicinal plants. They also learned how to start a business. Additionally, women who owned pieces of land were given sage seeds to help get them started.

Within six months, several of the women who took the course were entrepreneurs employing up to three other women in their businesses. The UNDP recruited sage specialists to assist farmers throughout the process and help them in timing their sales and marketing their product.

Luan Ahmetaj, Director of the Medicinal Plant Institute in Tirana, Albania said, “What makes this intervention unique is the involvement of women in business dominated and run by men. This contributes in empowering those communities.”

There is a huge potential for Albanian medicinal plants. According to the U.S. Agricultural Department, 57 percent of sage imports into the U.S. come from Albania. There are close to 300 members of Roma and Egyptian communities in the regions of Berat, Korca and Vlora that are now benefiting from the initiative, almost half of them women.

Another aspect of this program has been the support of interventions into infrastructure identified by Roma and Egyptian Community Councils, such as kindergartens, road rehabilitations and other interventions. These programs also support the Government of Albania in its efforts to achieve the objectives set forth in the Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005 – 2015. It also promotes respect for human rights and appreciation for cultural diversity, as prerequisites for the country’s EU accession.

Frederick Wood

Sources: Minority Rights 1, Minority Rights 2, UNDP, UN Albania, ERRC
Photo: Flickr

doctors_without_borders_flag
The Myanmar government banned Doctors Without Borders (DWB) from operating in one of its most impoverished states, following rumors of ethnic tension.

Most of the disenfranchised Muslim minority reside in the Rakhine State. The government accused the DWB of favoring this minority over its rival group, the Rakhine Buddhists. This tension led to widespread violence, killing 100 people and displacing nearly 140,000 others. The government regards Muslims as “interlopers” from Bangladesh, as opposed to a legitimate minority. President Thein Sein granted DWB permission to resume its work in other regions, but continued its ban on operations in Rakhine.

Presidential spokesman Ye Htut accused DWB of “not following their core principle of neutrality and impartiality.”

Rakhine State government accused the NGO of intentionally fueling tension between the minorities, according to Htut. The perception of bias led to large-scale protests in the state capital against DWB.

The organization responded to these accusations in a statement, asserting “services are provided based on medical need only, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or any other factor.”

This January, DWB released a statement contradicting the government on an alleged massacre in Rakhine. This reportedly “triggered” the ban on its operations in the region. The United Nations report the death of more than 40 Rohingya Muslims, and DWB confirmed treating 22 victims. Wounds occurred at the hands of state security forces, yet the government denounced these claims, reporting the death of one police officer.

Following the ban, the Ministry of Health plans to provide health services for the “whole community.” Myanmar President Thein Sein also dispatched the emergency response workers and ambulances to the region, replacing the DWB clinics.

These services cannot match those provided by the NGO. The national health services rank “among the most rudimentary in Asia,” according to the New York Times. The government also confines Muslims to their villages, preventing the group from receiving medical care.

Banning DWB deprives nearly 750,000 people of proper healthcare.

The NGO acted as the largest provider in northern Rakhine, a region largely populated with Muslim Rohingya. It managed five permanent clinics as well as 30 mobile units. Within these clinics, workers operated an intensive feeding center for undernourished children. Medical professionals report diagnosing more than 20 percent with acute malnourishment.

The government ban forced these centers to close, following the removal of DWB.

The organization also served those living in displaced camps outside the state capital, Sittwe. Tuberculosis, a disease endemic to Muslim neighborhood Aung Mingla, threatens the health of displaced Muslims. HIV and malaria also threaten resident health. With limited medical attention, the supplies of medicine continue to dwindle.

The government prevents these patients from leaving the area, surrounding the camp with “barbed-wire security posts and police officers.”

As head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Myanmar, Mark Cutts expresses concern for the present healthcare shortage. Rather than antagonizing the government, though, the U.N. has chosen “quiet diplomacy.”

For the time, the International Committee of the Red Cross and other organizations can provide care. Myanmar deputy health director Dr. Soe Lwin Nyein plans to accept tuberculosis and HIV medication from DWB. These concessions help patients in the region receive more than the minimum government care, yet negotiations over the medicine distribution appear ongoing.

Cutts plans to coordinate with the government and reinstate DWB “as soon as possible,” protecting the minority from disease. As ethnic tension continues to incite violence, the government banned professionals in the best position to serve its people.

Ellery Spahr

Sources: CNN, New York Times
Photo: Richard Roche