July 10th, 2010

Paradise found: Water and life return to Iraq's 'Garden of Eden'

One of Saddam Hussein's greatest acts of ecological destruction – the draining of the Mesopotamian marshes – has been reversed as birds and rivers return to the region

Saddam Hussein's draining of the Mesopotamian marshes of Iraq – recorded as the Garden of Eden in the Bible - was one of the most infamous outrages of his regime, leaving a vast area of once-teeming river delta a dry, salt-encrusted desert, emptied of insects, birds and the people who lived on them.

But nearly two decades later the area is buzzing and twittering with life again after local people and a new breed of Iraqi conservationists have restored much of what was once the world's third largest wetland to some of its former glory.

The story of this once almost impossible restoration is told in an exhibition of photographs that has opened in the UK. They show the huge expanses of reeds and open water – now at least half the size of the Florida Everglades – where plants, insects and fish have returned, creating a vast feeding area for migrating and breeding birds, including the majestic Sacred Ibis, the endemic Basrah Reed Warbler and the Iraq Babbler, along with most of the world's population of Marbled Teal ducks, bee-eaters and many more.

"We call them stop-over sites, refuelling sites," said Richard Porter, Middle East advisor for the conservation group Birdlife International, who has helped train biologists and other experts for the local Birdlife partner Nature Iraq. "They are as important as the breeding and over-wintering grounds for species; if you have got to make a journey from central Africa to norther Europe and Asia, and you've got nothing to feed on, you're stuffed."

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Source: The Guardian
Serendipity

In India, Castes, Honor and Killings Intertwine

KODERMA, India — When Nirupama Pathak left this remote mining region for graduate school in New Delhi, she seemed to be leaving the old India for the new. Her parents paid her tuition and did not resist when she wanted to choose her own career. But choosing a husband was another matter.

Her family was Brahmin, the highest Hindu caste, and when Ms. Pathak, 22, announced she was secretly engaged to a young man from a caste lower than hers, her family began pressing her to change her mind. They warned of social ostracism and accused her of defiling their religion.

Days after Ms. Pathak returned home in late April, she was found dead in her bedroom. The police have arrested her mother, Sudha Pathak, on suspicion of murder, while the family contends that the death was a suicide.

The postmortem report revealed another unexpected element to the case: Ms. Pathak was pregnant.

“One thing is absolutely clear,” said Prashant Bhushan, a social activist and lawyer now advising Ms. Pathak’s fiancé. “Her family was trying their level best to prevent her from marrying that boy. The pressure was such that either she was driven to suicide or she was killed.

In India, where the tension between traditional and modern mores reverberates throughout society, Ms. Pathak’s death comes amid an apparent resurgence of so-called honor killings against couples who breach Hindu marriage traditions.

This week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ordered a cabinet-level commission to consider tougher penalties in honor killings.

In June, India’s Supreme Court sent notices to seven Indian states, as well as to the national government, seeking responses about what was being done to address the problem.

The phenomenon of honor killings is most prevalent in some northern states, especially Haryana, where village caste councils, or khap panchayats, often operate as an extralegal morals police force, issuing edicts against couples who marry outside their caste or who marry within the same village — considered a religious violation since villages are often regarded as extended families.

 

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Source

Mancession? Get real

This week, the press seems unable to decide whether the recession is going to be good for men and bad for women, or good for women and bad for men. The latter scenario has even acquired its own cloying portmanteau – the "mancession" – as journalists attempt to eke column inches out of the wobbly implication of a financial gender war.

The possibility that something more systemic and pernicious is going on simply hasn’t crossed the consciences of headline writers, who understand the value of simplifying every social equation to a playground scrap between the girls and the boys.

Arguments on both sides of this weary discussion are bloating the pages of every major liberal media outlet. Should we worry about men, as suggested by Will Hutton in the Guardian and Alice Miles here in New Statesman, or should we worry about women, as per Deborah Orr in the Guardian and Samira Shackle in New Statesman?

The answer, of course, is that we should worry about the poor, whatever their genital arrangement.

It’s not that gender doesn’t matter in this recession. On the contrary; it matters a great deal. As a society, we have been torturously slow in coming to terms with the real, permanent effects that the cultural changes of the past fifty years have had on our economic organisation.

At the annual Marxism conference at the Institute of Education last weekend, Feminist academic Dr Nina Power observed that the "feminization" of the British workforce has allowed employers to hold down wages in real terms so that a single salary is no longer enough to support a family, leading to “a race to the bottom in which everyone loses”.

The change in the organisation of families as economic units, the shift in patterns of employment away from traditionally male heavy industry towards jobs in the service sector, the concentration of women in low-paid, part-time and insecure work – these are all factors which will have a bearing upon how this country weathers the economic storms ahead.

They are factors that require a far more subtle response than "who’s winning – men or women?" Meanwhile, right-wing opportunists like Iain Duncan Smith seem to view the economic downturn as a perfect excuse to shrink the state until it’s small enough to fit into people’s bedrooms, with clunkily social engineering projects such as the government’s attack on single mothers.

Gender matters in this recession. What doesn’t matter is trying to figure out which gender is "winning" and which is "losing". Let’s be witheringly clear: there’s only one group of people who will remain secure and comfortable at everyone else’s expense over the next few years, and that’s the rich.

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Source: Laurie Penny @ New Statesman