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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

UN agency allocates over $2 million for 84 media development projects

3 March 2010 – The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has awarded $2.1 million for 84 media development projects from around the world, ranging from producing programmes in indigenous languages in Mexico to training journalists in Kazakhstan and Cambodia.

The bureau of UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) selected the projects at the group’s 54th annual meeting, held last week at the agency’s headquarters in Paris.

A total of 95 project proposals were submitted by community media organizations, journalists associations and journalism schools. The 84 selected – including 33 in Africa – were chosen on the basis of their contribution to three priorities of the International Programme: promoting freedom of expression and media pluralism; developing community media; and training for media professionals.

Among those selected are programmes to produce publications in the languages of Burkina Faso, develop investigative journalism in Colombia, and develop humanitarian news coverage in Palestine.

The Haitian Journalists Association received a special grant of $130,000 following the 12 January earthquake that devastated the small Caribbean nation.

The bureau of the International Programme also discussed nominations for the UNESCO-IPDC Prize for Rural Communication, a winner for which will be chosen by the agency’s Director-General, Irina Bokova, and awarded during the meeting of the IPDC Intergovernmental Council, which will held from 24 to 26 March.

The IPDC Council meets every two years and comprises representatives of 39 member States elected by the UNESCO General Conference.

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CAMBODIA: On the road

In most countries, a road is just something you walk or drive on - not something most people spend a lot of time thinking about. But in Cambodia that is not always the case.

Take Ou Rumchek Krom village in Battambang province. Until recently, the people who lived here were too afraid to use most of the road that runs through the village. They would only follow a narrow section of it.

"It was just a small path and I was afraid to walk on it," recalls Leng Phally.

"We knew the land was mined, but we had no choice," adds her husband, Mao Rith.

The couple were right. Seventeen mines and 41 items of unexploded ordnance were found when MAG cleared the road in 2007, with support from the UK government's Department for International Development (DFID) and World Vision Cambodia.

The deputy village chief, Vanh Nhoeurn, says the villagers are happy that they have a safe, paved road for them to transport their crops to market.

"The villagers are very grateful to MAG," he says. "People can sell their crops more easily now."

Mao Rith says that people feel very differently about the road these days. "Today, I feel confident that it is safe to walk on," he says.

MAG also cleared the land immediately alongside the road, and several houses have now sprung up. The landowners were previously too afraid to build anything.

However, deputy village chief Vanh Nhoeurn says that community members still do not dare to use uncleared land.

"[This village] was a former battlefield, so we can't guarantee that the land is safe. It is surely contaminated, because there have been accidents when people were working or trying to clear the land on their own," he says.

"I talked to former members of the Khmer Rouge and they told me they had brought a truck of assorted mines to lay in this area."

He hopes that MAG can return to the village to clear more land.

For more information on MAG's programme in Cambodia go to www.maginternational.org/cambodia.
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Starting with serious handicaps

"Asia has a bright future. The region’s developing countries should be central participants and beneficiaries, tapping into Asia’s dynamic production nexus, and by moving up the ladder. To manage this transition smoothly, however, the necessary preconditions must be in place. This means establishing and sustaining macroeconomic stability while reducing infrastructure deficits and strengthening social safety nets," said John Lipsky, the International Monetary Fund’s first deputy managing director, in a forum in Hanoi last Monday.

But Asia is not a monolithic territory. Asia could grow as high as 8-1/2% if the fast-growing giants like China and India were included. Regrettably, Asia consists of many economies with varying degrees of fiscal vulnerability, states of public infrastructure, and levels of poverty.

Being part of Asia does not guarantee strong growth for any country. On the contrary, strong economic growth will depend heavily on the quality of its governance, the strength of its political institutions, and the competitiveness of its industries. An important lesson in the recent past is that China and India may grow rapidly even as the economies of its Asian counterparts contract.

Each country has to face its own handicaps. And its leaders must pursue a sensible post-crisis plan, undertake fundamental reforms, and muster the political will to complete them with the common good, rather than narrow personal interests, in mind.

THE PHILIPPINES AND ASEAN

Rather than compare with the whole of Asia, I think it is reasonable to compare the Philippines with its ASEAN-5 neighbors (Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Singapore) plus Brunei, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. There are complementarities in the economies of these ASEAN countries, but some of these economies are also the Philippinesí natural competitors.

Looking at the Global Competitiveness Index for 2009-2010, the Philippines ranked 87 out of 133 countries, with a score of 3.90. ASEAN countries which ranked higher than the Philippines are (score in parenthesis): Singapore, 3 (5.55), Malaysia, 24 (4.87), Brunei, 32 (4.64), and Vietnam, 75 (4.03). Lagging behind the Philippines is Cambodia, 110(3.50). There is not record for Laos.

In terms of macroeconomic stability, the Philippines ranked 76 with a score of 4.54. Ahead of the Philippines are (ranking in parenthesis): Brunei (1), Thailand (22), Singapore (35), Malaysia (42), and Indonesia (52). Lagging behind the Philippines are Vietnam (111) and Cambodia (122).

The Philippines faces an imminent fiscal crisis. Its ballooning national government debt and sputtering tax collection are serious limiting factors in the pursuit of a more aggressive public spending for public infrastructure, investment in human capital, and social protection for the poor.

"Large infrastructure gaps are present in developing Asia and the Asian Development Bank has estimated that Asia-Pacific countries need to invest about $8 trillion over the next decade," Mr. Lipsky said.

In terms of infrastructure, the Philippines ranked 98, behind all its ASEAN neighbors (ranking in parenthesis): Singapore (4), Malaysia (26), Thailand (40), Brunei (41), and Indonesia (84), Vietnam (94), and Cambodia (95). Catching up on public infrastructure is going to be a major challenge for the next president of the Republic.

And with the region’s poor remaining vulnerable, "more should be done across the board to protect the poor and vulnerable and to raise access to basic public services, including health care," Lipsky added.

On the state of health and primary education, the Philippines ranked 93. Its ASEAN counterparts that outrank the Philippines are: Singapore (13), Malaysia (34), Brunei (42), Thailand (61), Vietnam (76) and Indonesia (82). Only Cambodia (107) ranked lower than the Philippines.

The quality of political institutions matter, too. The stronger political institutions are, the higher the likelihood that the government would be able to institute real, necessarily painful, reforms. Here, the Philippines ranking is miserable —113 out of 133 countries and the lowest among all rated ASEAN countries.

Ease of doing business

The Philippines ranked poorly in terms of ease of doing business. Based on a simple average of the economy’s rankings on the 10 topics covered in Doing Business 2010 survey, the Philippines ranked 144 in 2010 from last year’s ranking of 141 in 2009. It was outranked (ranking in parenthesis) by Singapore (1), Thailand (12), Malaysia (23), Vietnam (93), Brunei (96), and Indonesia (122). Ranked one level lower than the Philippines is Cambodia (145) while Laos ranked 167.

Other governance characteristics are important, such as, political stability, control of corruption, rule of law and government effectiveness. Unfortunately, the Philippines ranked poorly compared to its ASEAN-5 counterparts.

Finally, Asia has to address climate change, which Lipsky described "as one of the greatest long-term risks facing the developing world." He warned: "Southeast Asia is one of the region’s most vulnerable to climate change, given its long coastlines, its coastal concentrations of people and activity, and its reliance on agriculture, natural resources, and forestry. The incipient effects of climate change already are notable, exacerbating water shortages, threatening food security, and increasing health risks. If nothing is done, Southeast Asia could lose the equivalent of 6-3/4% of GDP each year by the end of this century, more than twice the global average loss."

The Philippines is the most calamity prone among Southeast Asian countries. An adequate response to this long-term problem is a leadership with long-term vision, a well-performing bureaucracy, and tons of money. That sums up the herculean challenge for the next presidents.
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