Water, Conflict and Female Vulnerability

Woman with water vessel. Source: waterdotorg/flickr

On Monday, August 29th, the Environmental Change and Security Progam (ECSP), part of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC, will host a free afternoon event exploring the linkages between water access, gender, and conflict. “Digging Deeper: Water, Women, and Conflict” will be a panel discussion under the auspices of a fledgling ECSP research project examining how these dynamics interact and contribute to human insecurity. If you are unable to attend the event in person, it will also be transmitted live via webcast.

Development Possibilities in the DPRK

Informal markets – pointing the way forward?
Informal markets – pointing the way forward? Image: fresh888/flickr

Next Tuesday, July 19th, ISN partner organization the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) will be hosting a one-day conference in Washington, DC exploring various transformations inside North Korea that will have significant implications for the regime, as well as for US policy toward North Korea. Speakers at the event include a group of Seoul-based North Korean defectors, as well as various USIP experts.

Informal Markets and Peacebuilding in North Korea” is part of a multi-stage USIP research project on informal markets in North Korea, drawing upon key findings from ongoing interviews with defectors, as well as the Northeast Asia Track 1.5 dialogues. With regard to North Korea, the role of informal markets is largely understudied: most research either focuses or speculates on nuclear weapons development, or troubled relations with South Korea, the US and other Asian states. This conference breaks new ground in examining the remarkable transformations that have been taking place at the local level: Informal markets constitute important coping mechanisms and survival strategies for members of diverse socioeconomic groups close to the Sino-North Korean border.

Papua New Guinea: No Thunder, No Rain

Where is Papua New Guinea headed? photo: Drew Douglas/flickr

Papua New Guinea (PNG) can be a little confusing. Although it shares half of the island of New Guinea with Papua – an Indonesian province – Papua New Guinea is distinctly different from its neighbor. Indeed PNG seems to exist in a world of its own – one plagued by political mismanagement, human rights abuses, corruption, and low levels of development.

Contrary to the outbursts of unrest in the Middle East, however, the peoples of PNG are highly unlikely to lead protests or a revolt against their government. PNG is a country of incredible linguistic and cultural diversity – though perhaps surprisingly, not in terms of religion (96 percent are Christian). It is also a relatively “young” country, having only gained independence in 1975. The current Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare, has been in and out of power in PNG since 1972, and like certain other political heads of state, seems not to want to relinquish his position. Just over a month ago, the government successfully evaded another vote of no confidence by using its majority to adjourn parliament until May. Deputy opposition leader Bart Philemon notes that by the next election, there will have been 10 years of (relative) political stability – but hardly any improvement in the standard of living for the majority of the population.

South America’s Anomaly

Artistic support for "Boss" Dési Bouterse. Photo: Nicholas Laughlin/Flickr

Suriname is not a country which often features in international news. Located on South America’s northern coast between Guyana and French Guiana, many people often forget this former Dutch colony even exists. Being out of the media spotlight has allowed what some might consider unusual developments to occur.

Whilst most states which have experienced military coups and dictatorships celebrate the removal of authoritarian rulers, Suriname went in the opposite direction. After having conceded defeat to Ronald Venetiaan in the 1991 elections after ten years in power, former military ruler Dési Bouterse left the armed forces and instead founded the National Democratic Party (NDP). In July 2010, just under twenty years after being ousted from government, Bouterse was duly elected President of Suriname.

Having gained a taste for power during his decade-long rule in the 1980s, he apparently embraced political life and, rather than instigate another coup, he put himself to the vote. His political campaign targeted the youth demographic, using Bob Marley tracks at his rallies. This age group is especially important for Bouterse as they were not alive when the “December 1982” killings took place, for which he has been on trial since 2007. That a former dictator wanted for murder is now President may lead some to question whether there was underhand political chicanery involved.

Facing up to Fiji

Bread and circus for the people of Fiji? photo: Mark Heard/flickr

As seems to be the case with most countries that have experienced coups, once the initial furor over the regime change has died down and change is not readily forthcoming, the international media quiets down. Whether this is because a public scolding is not seen as the best way to induce progress towards more democratic rule, or simply because there is nothing headline-grabbing to cover, it is a widely repeated pattern.

The Republic of the Fiji Islands is no exception, with coverage having dwindled following the 2006 coup. This is a shame, as the (interim) government of Commander ‘Frank’ Bainimarama has recently instituted some very interesting policies.

Perhaps inspired by Juvenal’s idea of “bread and circuses”, the 2010 Price Control Order was implemented on 6 Novemver by the Commerce Commission. The Order required that the price of 24 “essential” basic foodstuffs – such as baby food, milk, garlic and edible oils – be reduced by 10-20 percent to a government-set maximum. ‘High-end’ products – such as olive oil – were notably exempt. In updating the 1970 Price Control Order, criticized for its complexity and opacity – so far, so good. However, the circus soon followed.