News Wrap


Drought in India has affected 330 million people, this year. About 15% of India’s GDP comes from agriculture, and 68% of the 1.3 billion population are farmers. The drought has been devastating, with no water for irrigation. Hundreds of families in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana have had to leave their lands, in search of water. For rice farmers, rice is a water-intensive crop, taking more than 2500 litres of water to produce one kilo. Farmers harvest their crop twice a year, but since the drought they have suffered enormous financial losses. One million farmers in Maharashtra have little or no access to water. This year at least 225 farmers committed suicide in the state. Since May 2016, trains are carrying thousands of litres of water reaching the region of Marathawada. The Union Government of India introduced a $1.3 billion crop insurance scheme in 2016, but only 19% of farmers have signed up. In some places, doctors have postponed surgeries, as they do not have water to wash their hands. With no harvest and no water, villagers are flocking to the cities, where water is more easily available. Drought migrants have no homes in a city. Some have made makeshift shelters on building sites, footpaths and park benches. Local governments in Punjab and Haryana are fighting for control of rivers.

Tenants and Religion
A study by the Helsinki-based United Nations World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER) confirms that muslims in India, seeking accommodation in Delhi/Gurgaon/Noida on rent, find it more difficult than their counterparts. Surveys conducted on a house-rental portal, indicate that a muslim applicant must respond to 45 listings to receive 10 landlord call backs, while an upper caste Hindu applicant must respond to only 28.6 listings to receive the same numbers. Muslims have to apply to 60% more houses than upper caste Hindus. While the probability of a landlord responding to the upper caste applicant is 0.3%, the corresponding probability is 0.22 for muslim applicants. The study, in contrast, could not find statistically significant evidence of bias, against those from scheduled castes or other backward classes. A muslim applicant for a rented flat, needs to send about 21 ‘‘expressions of interest’’ to get 10 call backs, whereas an upper-caste candidate would need to send only 12 applications. Muslims are easily, indentifiable from their names. Landlords offering one bedroom properties are particularly reluctant to respond to muslim applicants. Male applicants for one bedroom properties, are commonly perceived to be single. Upper caste vegetarian landlords prefer vegetarian tenants.

Heaped Garbage
Deonar land fill site in Mumbais is vast city rubbish dump growing since 1927. Now residents want action. Fires often emit poisonous fumes, in the mountain of rubbish, that burns for days. Asia’s oldest and largest dump, Deonar, when it caught fire in April 2016, the smoke was visible from space, according to NASA images. Described ‘Mumbai’s silent killer’ or ‘toxic time bomb’, the dump has led to new environmental awakening. The stench remains in clothes, curtains and upholstery of middle class residents in the area. The dump spans 120 hectares of untreated, unsegregated, putrefying trash. More than half of Mumbai’s 10,000 tons of unsegregated and untreated rubbish is dumped there daily. In 2016, the dump caught fire several times, worsening Mumbai’s air quality to ‘‘poor’’ and ‘‘very poor’’. Rubbish overflows and floats in open drains, and lies in small heaps outside homes, in the slum neighbourhood. The garbage dump is the daily bread for trash pickers. Clinics in the neighbourhood swarm with patients of respiratory illnesses, diarrhoea and jaundice. Only 23% of India’s urban solid waste is processed.

Maritime expansionism
China’s claim to the South China Sea is based partly on the idea that its fishermen have worked there for centuries. Since March 2016, tensions have flared between China and Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam, as Chinese fishermen, often backed by coastguard vessels, have ventured to other nation’s coasts. China is in a long-running battle to expand its fishing grounds, and expand its maritime dominance. The country claims 90% of the South China Sea, close to the shores of the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and the Natunas Islands (Indonesia). The Chinese provincal Hainan government heavily subsidises the construction of larger, steelhulled trawlers, and the supply of an expensive satellite system. The airstrip runway on the Fiery Cross Reef is 3000 metres long, and is one of the three, China has been building for more than a year, by dredging sand up on to reefs and atolls in the Spratley archipelago. Test run civilian flights and military aircraft have landed at the new airport.

Gaza Tunnellers
Two years after the end of the last war between Israel and Gaza, in which the discovery of Hamas’s tunnels was declared a causes belli by Israel, large scale digging has resumed. Hamas fighters are digging twice as much as the number of tunnels dug in Vietnam. During the summer 2014, 50-day war, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) destroyed 32 tunnels that crossed under the border. In the war, Israeli forces destroyed or damaged nearly 100,000 homes in Gaza. Since the war, almost 3.5 million tons of construction materials have entered Gaza, through the Israeli-controlled Karem Shabom border crossing. Hamas has diverted much of that from house-building to tunnel construction, assisted by a flourishing black market. In December 2015, Hamas’s military wing, the Qassam Brigades, formed a special unit to dig and equip tunnels, and train fighters to use them. At least five tunnels have collapsed in 2016, killing 12 members of the Qassam Brigades, and injuring dozens more. A few of the tunnels are intended for smuggling arms from Egypt into Gaza. USA has provided $400 million in 2016, to Israel, to establish anti-tunnel capabilities and neutralize underground tunnels.

Vol. 49, No.7, Aug 21 - 27, 2016