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April 24, 2018

Five years after quake, Haiti struggles to reopen its doors to the world

Growing up on the Haitian island of Ile-a-Vache, Exerre Dieunest used to hate going to school in the rainy season. It was bad enough that there were no buses, but there were also no roads. He walked two hours each way from Kay Kok, and when the paths turned to deep mud, he could hardly manage the trek.

It’s different for kids today. Kay Kok now has a school, “and it’s thanks to tourism,” says Mr. Dieunest. Tourists came, saw the need, established a foundation, and funded the building of a school. Tourist donations also helped expand a local orphanage.

Ile-a-Vache residents see great potential in hospitality, but when the central government tried to launch a major tourism plan here in 2014, it sparked protests from locals who feared a land-grab. The tourism ministry has since achieved buy-in from much of the community, but now it faces another challenge: Keeping the confidence of investors as Haitian democracy teeters on the brink.

Recommended: Where does Haiti stand three years after its 7.0 earthquake?

Just over five years ago, Haiti looked relatively ripe for investment. Crime was low, there was a reprieve from anti-government demonstrations, and democratic institutions seemed to be functioning better than ever. Haitian and foreign leaders said Haiti was stable, and ready to grow.

That’s when a 7.0 earthquake struck the country, killing tens of thousands of people.

Today, Haiti is rebuilding, still mired in the poverty people had hoped to escape before the earthquake, and now trying to avoid a massive political upheaval – one that could scare off the very investors who could help the country develop. 

The prime minister was deposed in December, and on January 12 most legislators’ terms expire – with no one to replace them due to a failure to hold elections. Popular protests against President Michel Martelly have grown, along with fears he will rule by decree – unless Parliament approves on Monday an agreement reached Sunday night between President Martelly and opposition leaders.  

Ile-a-Vache feels far from the tumult of the capital, but its struggles may exemplify Haiti’s challenges in democracy and development. 

TRUST AND DEVELOPMENT

Ile-a-Vache is a 16-square mile jewel of an island, with rolling hills, paths connecting sweet cottages on a candy-colored bit of Caribbean Sea. But its residents – roughly 15,000 farmers and fishermen – say the government has continuously left them in the dark, literally, with no electricity or roads. Health care and potable water aren’t delivered by the government, and tourism remains at a trickle.

But this might change.

After the 2010 earthquake, a government came in with the motto, “Haiti is Open for Business.” The government wooed investors – with massive tax breaks and supportive infrastructure supplied by foreign aid – to take part in an industrial park and capital city hotels. They drew up plans for massive tourism developments, including one on Ile-a-Vache complete with roads, an airport, a port, a marina, 1,000 hotel rooms, and an 18-hole golf course.

The island was finally getting attention, but residents weren’t happy. In early 2014, protesters took to the newly carved roads. A presidential decree declared the island a tourism development zone, property of the government. Waterfront residents were driven from their homes without compensation and roadside dwellers lost fruit trees vital for their livelihoods. Riot police appeared on the island to back up the few officers already there.

But when the tourism minister met with community leaders, gave checks to those robbed of their land, and implemented projects for the community – like drinking wells, a community center, and subsidized community cafeterias – many residents began to show support for the government’s tourism plans, in spite of lingering fears.

An elderly islander named Myltha Boulot says there is no knowing whether or not the government will take her land, but when it comes to tourism: “That’s another thing entirely. If tourists come, they’ll give jobs to the poorest men and women, so people can survive.”

Yet now, if locals don’t block the tourism plan, would-be investors might.

Haiti has peaks and valleys of instability, says Mark Schneider, a long-time Haiti-watcher and senior vice president of the International Crisis Group. “I think we’re at a point close to a peak,” Mr. Schneider says, prior to Sunday’s agreement.  That is, if there is no executive-legislative agreement, Martelly might rule by decree, causing more protests, and possibly violence, Schneider says. In which case, “there’s no way for investors to tell their boards or financial backers that the situation is on its way to being resolved and they can go back to expanded plans for development.”

Pamela Cox, who was the World Bank’s vice president for Latin American and the Caribbean at the time of the earthquake, says when nascent democratic institutions fumble, everyone gets spooked.

“Any time there’s huge political uncertainty, it scares investors away,” Ms. Cox says, especially in countries like Haiti, where there’s a lack of domestic trust in the government, and likely civil unrest.

In the coming days, Haiti’s political leaders will signal to investors and constituents whether or not their country is on solid ground.

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Five years after quake, Haiti struggles to reopen its doors to the world

Putrajaya snubbed cheaper energy savings scheme for nuclear plans, forum told

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 24 ― Putrajaya “ignored” a proposed energy savings scheme that could have saved Malaysia billions of ringgit and scrap any need to construct nuclear power plants here, a former civil servant claimed.

Energy efficiency activist Zaini Abdul Wahab, 40, told a forum last night that the government was well aware of alternative options to the two nuclear power plants it was planning to build in Malaysia.

“Because I know for a fact that it was mentioned in Parliament and in many seminars by the agencies, by having just a 10 year programme on energy efficiency, the only money required from the government is less than one billion (ringgit), average [RM100,000] a year, we can avoid capacity of at least 3GW of power demand, equivalent to three nuclear power plants,” he told a 60-strong crowd at a forum here last night.

Zaini, who has worked with the Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry (Kettha) and Sustainable Energy Development Authority (Seda) during his eight-year service, claimed that the government had “ignored” the proposed programme, which would have purportedly translated into billions of savings as Putrajaya would not have to fork out money to subsidise nuclear energy.

“But they ignored that. As for now, they ignore that. That’s my first argument why I’m against nuclear, because they have the options, they ignore that,” said Zaini, now an energy management consultant in the private sector.

Zaini, who was not listed as a speaker but was invited to address the crowd, said there was a need to be “realistic”, however, and that he expects nuclear plants will eventually be introduced in a few more decades to meet power demands.

His arguments echoed the stand of Prof G. Lalchand, a speaker at the same forum.

Lalchand, a former Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) staff, told the crowd that he was not anti-nuclear, but he believes that nuclear plants should only be a last resort in another decade.

“We do not need nuclear before 2025, in the meantime, the chances are there for energy efficiency to drop the demand from consumers to the same as the nuclear power can generate,” said Lalchand, who is both an engineer and an academic, adding that it would be cheaper

Nodding to major disasters involving nuclear power plants such as the US’s Three Mile Island’s 1979 accident, Ukraine’s Chernobyl 1986 accident, Japan’s Fukushima 2011 incident, Lalchand said that such accidents had always prompted the raising of safety standards.

“That’s why I said it should be as late as possible to get more safe,” he said, when explaining that a delay in Malaysia’s rolling out of nuclear power plants would enable the use of newer and safer technology.

Until then, Lalchand pushed for energy efficiency ― where users maximise the work done through the energy used ― to save costs and avert the need to build new power plants.

During the forum, another panellist, Datuk Dr Ronald McCoy spoke about the hidden costs in using nuclear technology to generate electricity, citing studies on how the number of cancer-related deaths had risen among those living near nuclear power plants.

According to McCoy, the hidden costs include the maintenance of nuclear power plants, and the disposal of radioactive waste, as well as the decommissioning of plants.

The forum which also featured activist Prof Dr Tan Ka Kheng was held in conjunction with the launch last night of anti-nuclear grassroots movement Anak Malaysia Anti Nuklear (Aman), which is chaired by McCoy.

Aman, which is urging the government to scrap its plans in the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) to build nuclear plants, has listed seven reasons for its objection.

Among the reasons given were safety concerns, fears of Malaysia being dependent on other countries for expertise and supply of nuclear materials for the plants, adequate power supply currently, as well as slower growth in new nuclear plants with countries tapering off the use of such power-generating methods.

As early as December 2010, the government was reported to be planning to build the country’s first ever nuclear power plants, with reports later saying that seven locations in Malaysia had been identified as the possible sites for two nuclear plants.

Initially slated for completion in 2021 and 2022, the plan was later postponed last year as the Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown remained fresh in the public’s minds.

In July this year, Minister in Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Mah Siew Keong said the government will carry out studies to determine the feasibility of building a nuclear plant within the next 10 years, promising to “make everything transparent” and keep the public informed.

Continued here: 

Putrajaya snubbed cheaper energy savings scheme for nuclear plans, forum told

Top Asian News at 5:30 p.m. GMT

HONG KONG (AP) — Both victims in a double murder case that has shocked Hong Kong were Indonesian women, and one of the victims was frequenting a red light district on a lapsed domestic worker visa, an Indonesian consulate official said Tuesday. Consulate spokesman Sam Aryadi confirmed one of the women found dead in an upscale apartment over the weekend was 29-year-old Seneng Mujiasih, who had come as a domestic worker from the city of Muna on Sulawesi island.

BANGKOK (AP) — One of the founders of popular file-sharing website The Pirate Bay has been arrested under an Interpol warrant as he was crossing into Thailand from Laos, police said Tuesday. Hans Fredrik Lennart Neij, who uses the alias TiAMO, was detained Monday by Thai immigration police at a checkpoint in Thailand’s Nong Khai province, about 500 kilometers (310 miles) northeast of Bangkok.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday the U.S. and China must work together to stave off a global catastrophe from climate change, as he appealed for greater cooperation between the two world powers despite strains between them over cyber theft and maritime security. Kerry heads to Beijing this week, to set the stage for a visit by President Barack Obama for a regional summit and talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping. That will be first leg of a three-nation swing through Asia, intended to underscore the president’s commitment to the region.

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s military-installed government appointed a committee on Tuesday to draft the country’s new constitution amid speculation that it will seek to bar former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his allies from politics. The 36-member panel consists of law experts, academics, former senators and others with close ties to the military and traditional conservative establishment. The appointment came more than five months after the military, led by Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, toppled an elected government headed by Thaksin’s allies.

BANGKOK (AP) — A Thai court sentenced a university student to 2 1/2 years in prison on Tuesday for posting a message on Facebook that the court said insulted the country’s king. A Criminal Court judge found 24-year-old Akkaradet Eiamsuwan guilty of violating Thailand’s lese majeste law, which punishes people who defame, insult or threaten the monarchy.

NEW DELHI (AP) — India on Tuesday ordered that Delhi’s legislative assembly be dissolved for a new election after the three main political parties failed to form a government this year for a city of nearly 25 million people. Delhi has been run by the federal government since the city’s top elected official resigned in February.

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand last month was one of five nations to win elections for coveted seats on the U.N. Security Council. It will serve a two-year term as a non-veto-wielding member beginning in January. Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully says it’s an opportunity to boost the South Pacific island nation’s profile and contribute to solving international problems such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and long-divided Cyprus. The Associated Press recently interviewed McCully about what the win means. The interview has been edited for clarity and length. ___

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Police in Pakistan say a Muslim mob has beaten to death a Christian couple and burned their bodies in a brick kiln where they worked over them allegedly desecrating the Quran. Tuesday’s slaying is the latest targeting minorities in Pakistan who allegedly committed blasphemy.

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — A big victory by German stallion Protectionist in the Melbourne Cup on Tuesday was overshadowed by the deaths of two horses after Australia’s richest horse race, including the favorite Admire Rakti. Red Cadeaux strode to the lead in the last straight of the 2-mile (3,200-meter) classic but was overhauled on the inside by five-year-old Protectionist, which went on to win by four lengths in only its 10th race.

BANGKOK (AP) — Revelers in northern Thailand have been asked not to launch lanterns into the sky near airports to avoid airborne accidents during a popular festival this week, airport officials said Tuesday. The air traffic control center in Chiang Mai province has declared a 5-kilometer (3-mile) zone around the airport where people are advised not to launch lanterns from Wednesday to Friday, when Loy Krathong festival celebrations will take place, said Kiattisak Rienvatana, the center’s director.

In this photo taken on a smartphone camera by Leesa Willmott, a fallstreak hole forms in the sky over Wonthaggi, Australia. The bizarre sight seen Monday in the town near Melbourne looked like a hole in the sky, or perhaps an alien spacecraft. Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Adam Conroy said fallstreak holes are circular gaps that appear in high clouds when a section of the cloud freezes. The ice crystals are heavy, so they fall out of the cloud, leaving a hole. It is a relatively rare phenomenon.

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A day after saying a billboard advertisement highlighting climate change was too political for world leaders gathering in the Australian city of Brisbane for a major economic summit, local airport authorities said Tuesday that they had also rejected an ad highlighting corruption problems. Brisbane Airport Corp. confirmed Monday that a World Wildlife Fund ad asking leaders of wealthy and developing countries to put climate change on the agenda of their G20 summit next week had been banned because it had “political intent.”

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese engineers have successfully tested a laser weapon that can shoot down low-flying, slow-moving drones, state media reported Tuesday. The Low Altitude Sentinel system can detect a small aircraft within a 2-kilometer (1.2-mile) radius and shoot it down within five seconds, the newspaper China Daily said, citing a statement from the China Academy of Engineering Physics.

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The shooting of a Shiite religious leader outside a Sydney prayer hall appeared to have been influenced by the Islamic State movement, Australia’s prime minister said Tuesday. Rasoul Al Mousawi, 47, was blasted with a shotgun in the face and shoulder in a drive-by shooting outside the Husainiyah Nabi Akram Center in suburban Greenacre early Monday.

WASHINGTON (AP) — A cyberattack similar to previous hacker intrusions from China penetrated computer networks for months at USIS, the government’s leading security clearance contractor, before the company noticed, officials and others familiar with an FBI investigation and related official inquiries told The Associated Press. The breach, first revealed by the company and government agencies in August, compromised the private records of at least 25,000 employees at the Homeland Security Department and cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars in lost government contracts.

This article:  

Top Asian News at 5:30 p.m. GMT

Japanese get anti-radiation pills ahead of nuclear restart

Tokyo (AFP) – Japanese officials are handing out radiation-blocking iodine tablets to people living in the shadow of two nuclear reactors slated to restart this year, underscoring concerns about atomic power after the Fukushima crisis.

The move to distribute the pills — which help to reduce radiation buildup in the body — started Sunday for those living within a five-kilometre (three-mile) radius of the Sendai nuclear plant.

The site, roughly 1,000 kilometres from Tokyo on the southern island of Kyushu, recently cleared new safety standards and could start operations in a few months.

It comes despite vocal opposition to the plan, three years after the worst atomic crisis in a generation.

Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority said earlier this month that two atomic reactors at the Sendai plant were safe enough to switch back on, marking a big step towards restarting nuclear plants which were shuttered after Fukushima.

Officials in Satsumasendai city and the Kagoshima prefecture said they were handing out iodine tablets to about 4,700 people in the area, some as young as three years old.

Several dozen people have refused the free pills, which were part of stricter central government guidelines aimed at preparing for another accident.

The pills are used to protect the human thyroid gland in the event of airborne radiation, although there is some debate about their effectiveness.

“The affected residents came to five designated locations yesterday to pick up the tablets,” a Kagoshima prefecture official said Monday.

“The central government has guidelines for distributing iodine pills and we asked the affected residents to keep them in easy to remember places, such as medicine cabinets,” he added.

Despite the likely restart of the two Sendai reactors in the autumn, switching on dozens more reactors could prove to be a major challenge for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Abe has been trying to persuade a wary public that the world’s third largest economy must return to an energy source which once supplied more than a quarter of its power.

Widespread anti-nuclear sentiment has simmered in Japan ever since a quake-sparked tsunami in March 2011 slammed into the Fukushima power plant and sent reactors into meltdown — the worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl.

The area remains a no-go zone and cleaning up the crippled site could take decades. Tens of thousands of area residents may never be able to return to their homes near the plant.

Continued here:  

Japanese get anti-radiation pills ahead of nuclear restart