Cyclone Idai: A Time to Reassess Disaster Management

Cyclone Idai’s aftermath in Mozambique. Credit: Denis Onyodi:IFRC/DRK/Climate Centre

By Sally Nyakanyanga
HARARE, Mar 28 2019 – It was one of the worst tropical cyclones hit Southern Africa in recent times. Cyclone Idai, which has been characterised by heavy rains and flooding including mudslides in some parts of Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi, has left more than 750 dead, with thousands marooned in remote rural areas, whilst others are still unaccounted for. More than 1,5 million people are affected by the cyclone in the region.

Almost two weeks after the cyclone hit, many of the areas have not been accessible as roads, bridges, homes were completely destroyed and communication cut off making it impossible for the rescue teams to provide support in the affected areas.

But as people begin to pick up the pieces of their lives, and as aid pours into the region from all corners of the world, questions are being asked about the disaster preparedness of many countries.

While the highest tolls of those affected are from Mozambique, eastern Zimbabwe was also hard hit by Cyclone Idai. There, large areas of water bodies are present where homes once were.

Meteorology and Early warning systems

Claris Madhuku, director for Youth Development Trust, a community-based nonprofit organisation based in Zimbabwe’s Chipinge and Chimanimani areas (the areas most affected by the cyclone), tells IPS that information provided by Zimbabwe’s meteorological department ahead of Cyclone Idai making landfall had been insufficient to prepare people of the danger.

In addition, many people did not have the capacity to cope with the cyclone and there were no safe alternative places for communities to flee to in the event of an evacuation.

“As an organisation we only managed to provide information on the cyclone by word of mouth as well as social media, in this case What’s app, which is rarely taken seriously as it is often seen as a gossip platform,” says Madhuku.

The country’s Civil Protection Unit, which is part of Zimbabwe’s Local Government Ministry, had told people to move to higher ground. It was a case of being between a rock and a hard place, as even those who sought refuge at high-lying areas were affected by mudslides.

Climate change expert, Dr. Leonard Unganai stated that almost every season tropical cyclones form in the southern hemisphere, but only five percent tend to make a landfall.

But since 2018 was the warmest year on record, as seen by the droughts and dry spells that characterised the 2018/2019 farming season, this created conducive conditions for cyclones to form.

“A tropical cyclone requires energy that’s why they tend to form mostly on the ocean as the ocean temperatures are a bit warm. Furthermore, with climate change, a situation whereby surface temperatures are rising even the oceans are warming up which creates favourable conditions for these extreme weather events to form,” says Unganai, adding that there is likely to be an increase in terms of the intensity of the severity of the cyclone system.

“We have a warm atmosphere and warm oceans such that when they strike they tend to cause a lot of destruction,” Unganai tells IPS.

Climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Unganai advised that there should be more awareness and education around climate change. In the case of Cyclone Idai there was lack of preparedness and people underestimated the gravity or amount of rain that would fall.

Local rescue operations in the aftermath have not all been effect as in some cases people resorted to using shovels and hoes to dig up rocks and trees. The lack of adequate equipment and tools to undertake rescue operations has been obvious and the country has turned to neighbours and other partners for assistance. South Africa has offered sniffer dogs in order to identify dead bodies trapped under boulders.

“There is a lot of panic as there is a mismatch of official statistics available about people who are missing, pointing to the fact that more people could have lost their lives,” Madhuku notes.

There is obviously a need for governments to put in place measures and systems to ensure adequate support and disaster mitigation. 

“We still going to get tropical cyclones affecting lives, we need to map areas that are susceptible – having long term plans to deal with future cyclones if they happen. Ideally we need to ensure that every part of the country should have some level of preparedness,” Unganai advises.

Where people are housed after a natural disaster is also import.

Some areas in Chimanimani and Chipinge had preciously designated for plantations, but in the aftermath of the cyclone there are settlements of people seeking shelter. 

Madhuku remembers back in 2000 when Cyclone Eline affected communities in the eastern part of the country. People had fled the destruction and ended up erecting permanent structures on the river banks and below the mountains.

Anguilla’s Fishers Share their First-Hand Knowledge About Climate Change and its Impact

Dr. Ainka Granderson, manager of the Caribbean Natural Resources Institute’s climate change programme in Trinidad and Tobago. Credit:Jewel Fraser/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PORT-OF-SPAIN, Mar 28 2019 – Fishers in Anguilla saw posted on Youtube this week a video they helped produce that depicts the impacts of climate change on their industry. Titled “Anguilla’s Fishing Dilemma”, the four-and-a-half minute video highlights some of the main challenges Anguilla’s 92 licensed fishers face in earning a living.

Kenyetta Alord, one of the fishers who worked on the video, told IPS that the video was important to “demonstrate to people that you definitely need help.” He and several other fishers produced the video as part of a workshop sponsored by the UK’s Darwin Plus project for climate change adaptation in fisheries. Darwin Plus helps Britain’s overseas territories, including those in the Eastern Caribbean such as Anguilla, by funding projects in the areas of conservation and environmental sustainability.

The workshop, which ran in late December, was conducted by the Trinidad-based Caribbean Natural Resources Institute (CANARI) and Anguilla’s Department of Fisheries and Marine Resources. “It was part of a campaign of mobilising the knowledge fishers have to get them and the agencies that support them to start taking action on climate change,” said Dr. Ainka Granderson, senior technical officer and manager of CANARI’s Climate Change and Risk Reduction Programme.

Twenty-five participants attended the workshop, including delegates from the Anguilla National Trust, dive operators, and government agencies that work in fisheries and marine resource management, Granderson said.

“The idea is that there is a lot of local knowledge about the impacts [of climate change] that have not been tapped into by the authorities,” she said. “So the workshop was to get [participants] thinking about how they can share their knowledge and raise awareness about these specific aspects.”

Granderson said fishers often may not have “a clear voice” when it comes to decision making with regard to the fishing industry. The workshop on communications using participatory videos was designed to help them “say what are their priority needs and what are the actions they would like to see to build their resilience.”

The fishing industry is important for Anguilla’s economy, said Director of Anguilla’s Department of Fisheries and Marine Resources Kafi Gumbs. She told IPS via e-mail that the fishing industry is “the second highest revenue generator” for Anguilla. “Besides revenue, it forms an important part of the locals’ diet and culture.”

She said authorities in Anguilla were concerned that the impacts of climate change could lead to the collapse of the fishing industry and related ecosystem services. In addition, her department was concerned about possible migration “and/or no or delayed migration” of some pelagics; sea level rise; loss of calcium carbonate plants and animals such as conch and lobster, the latter being Anguilla’s main fisheries export; as well as damage to reefs and water inundation, since “a lot of the hospitality businesses which the local fishers depend on are along the coast.”

The fishers also feel the impacts of climate change in the form of rougher seas, said Granderson, that seriously reduce the number of days they are able to fish. “Snow storms in the U.S. produce groundswells, making very rough sea conditions. Every two weeks there are days when they cannot go out. It is an ongoing issue.”

Alord confirmed that rough seas pose a major challenge for local fishers. “Now you have to wait at least a month or two before you go out. Before, there were calm days in every month,” he said. But “now we have to wait two months to go out, so we are earning a lot less.”

And because of the increasing fishing effort required, due in part to the effects of climate change, fishers also have to go further out to sea, greatly increasing their fuel costs. “Fuel is incredibly expensive on these small islands, which rely on fossil fuel. They spend a lot of money,” Granderson told IPS.

Alord told IPS that his boat, which carries a crew of three, routinely spends hundreds of dollars on fishing trips in one week.

He said the training in video production was valuable for helping the fishers to showcase their concerns. It helped them appreciate the importance of identifying a target audience for their video, as well as helped them in crafting their message in the most effective way.

Alord said, “We had to show why we need these things in place. We have to present the videos in the most [graphic] way where we definitely have to make them understand what we are saying.”

Granderson said the workshop training was successful partly because most of the fishers in Anguilla are young.”Because of that they were very accustomed to using Youtube.There was already a fisher who has his own Youtube channel that everybody follows, so they were tech savvy and used to using video,” Granderson said.

She said she was pleased with the response of the Anguillan fishers and their turnout for the workshop, which was unusually high.”There are a lot requests for their time, so there is a lot of stakeholder fatigue.” She added that the quality of the video produced was also superior to that of other participatory videos CANARI had done over the years. “We will do an official launch next week….The feedback was generally very positive,” Granderson said.

“Don’t Tell My Husband I Have Leprosy”: Social Stigma Silences Marshall Islands’ Women

Meretha Pierson, a nurse in the leprosy clinic of Majuro, Marshall Islands, shows the medication to cure leprosy that are provided for free. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
MAJURO, Mar 28 2019 – Meretha Pierson has been a nurse for the past seven years, working in the government-run leprosy clinic in Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands. Her patients come in all ages, from different economic backgrounds and different professions. But, aside from their diagnosis, they all have something else in common: everyone wants to keep their illness a secret.

“Everyone requests me not to tell their neighbours. But women who are young, request me to not inform even their spouses. ‘Please don’t tell my husband,’ they say.  Sometimes, such a request is really hard to keep,” Pierson tells IPS.

Unwanted labels

There is a reason why Pierson, one of the handful of trained health workers who can detect a case of leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, can’t always promise full confidentiality to her patients.

Marshall Islands is believed to have 50 to 80 new cases of leprosy every year – a number that is very big for a population of only 60,000.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), if more than 1 in every 10,000 people are affected by leprosy, then it should be considered as a disease that has not been eliminated.

Marshall Islands, as classified by the WHO, is therefore far from eliminating the disease.

But it is a classification that the government is eager to get rid of. In mid-2018, the government and the country’s Ministry of Health, ran a three-month long health screening campaign where over 27,000 citizens were tested for both leprosy and tuberculosis so that every affected person could receive treatment.

Concrete details on the number of leprosy cases are yet to be made public, but health workers like Pierson have already been instructed to keep a close eye on the patients who do not return to report on their health and who stop treatment in the middle of the course. And this is why it makes it really difficult to keep the promise of not alerting anyone to their illness as health workers are often compelled to seek out the patients.

Tracking these patients down and convincing them to restart their medication is both a necessity and a requirement that forms part of the government’s new campaign to curb the disease.

But as they do so, the requests for confidentiality becomes more frequent.

“They do not want us to go to their houses. So, we make phone calls, call them to a place outside of their homes and their neighbourhood and that’s where we do our counselling and advise them to return to the clinic for a check-up and continue the treatment. But it’s hard,” Pierson tells IPS.

The leprosy hotspots in the Marshall Islands. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Discrimination towards the caregiver

However, it is not only patients who are stigmatised on this island nation. Health workers themselves often bear the brunt themselves in a society where over 80 percent of the population are of Christian faith. Pierson, a Mormon, says that she has often faced discrimination from her neighbours and relatives who have suspected her of having leprosy.

“They think because I work in a leprosy clinic, I am carrying the germ or the disease myself. Some even ask why I do not give up this job. I have to always tell them that I am a nurse and I do not have leprosy myself. Even in the church, I get those stares,” she says. Fortunately, her husband is supportive and has never asked her to leave her job.

The hotspots

There are around 30 atolls that comprise the Marshall Islands and about a quarter of them are known as the hotspots of leprosy, according to Dr. Ken Jetton, the main physician at the country’s Department of Public Health.

Jetton officially diagnoses and confirms leprosy cases after Pierson detects a possible case and refers the patient to him.

He tells IPS that few of these ‘hotspots’ include the atolls of Kwajalein, Ailinglaplap, Mili, Arno, Wotje and Ebon. During the recent mass health screening, about 47 new cases were reported from these places.

The data sheet is yet to be complied, but once this is done, a proper plan will be drawn up to treat each patient until they are cured, Jetton reveals. The medication, Multi Drug Therapy (MDT), an oral medicine, is given free of charge in 6 packs for children and 12 packs for adults.

Understanding the gaps in country’s leprosy elimination campaign is one of the reasons why a team from the Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation (SMHF), led but its executive director Takahiro Nanri, as well as the world’s leading expert on leprosy, Dr. Arturo Cunanan, are travelling around the Marshall Islands and the Micronesia region. They have been meeting with senior government and health officials and leprosy experts and have visited clinics in Marshall Islands and the Federated State of Micronesia. Yohei Sasakawa, chair of the Nippon Foundation, the parent body for SMHF, is the WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, and Japan’s Ambassador for the Human Rights of People Affected by leprosy. He will be touring the region in April to also assess the progress governments have made.

However, Pierson says that despite the screening and follow up activities, social stigma, especially towards the female leprosy patients might take longer than expected to fade away. This is because the island nation is still largely ignorant of the fact that leprosy as a curable disease, she explains.

Patience, therefore, is the key, she reminds. “We must be patient and  also have empathy for those who hide their diseases from others. They are vulnerable and scared of losing their dignity and we need to understand this,” says the nurse.

Human Trafficking: Rohingyas faced horrific crimes

By Porimol Palma
Mar 28 2019 (IPS-Partners)

(The Daily Star) – A transnational human-trafficking syndicate committed crimes against humanity in Malaysia and Thailand against the Rohingya from 2012 to 2015, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) and Fortify Rights, a nongovernment rights body, have found in a six-year investigation.

During 2012-15, more than 170,000 people boarded ships from Myanmar and Bangladesh bound for Malaysia and Thailand, and the trade over Rohingyas is estimated to have generated between $50 and $100 million a year.

At sea and in the camps of Thai and Malaysian borders, the trafficking network committed “murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation or forcible transfer, imprisonment, torture, and rape, as part of a widespread and systematic attack directed against Rohingya civilians from Myanmar and Bangladesh” with knowledge of the widespread and systematic attack underway, the report said.

The majority of people trafficked were Rohingya Muslims, but in late 2014 and 2015, traffickers began to target Bangladeshi nationals as well, says the joint report “Sold Like Fish” released in Bangkok yesterday.

“The Commission and Fortify Rights therefore have reasonable grounds to believe that human-trafficking networks committed crimes against humanity at sea and in camps in Malaysia and Thailand against Rohingya civilians from 2012 to 2015,” said the report.

It comes at a time when the world witnesses one of the biggest refugee crisis as some 750,000 Rohingyas fled a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where they are denied citizenship and basic rights, since August 2017.

Escalation of conflicts between Arakan Army and Myanmar military is currently displacing thousands in Rakhine state.

Meanwhile, dozens of cases of trafficking of Rohingyas from the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar to Malaysia and Indonesia made headlines in recent months.

“The victims of these crimes and their families suffered tremendously, and these horrific crimes should never happen again in Malaysia and anywhere else for that matter,” said SUHAKAM Commissioner Jerald Joseph in a statement.

WHAT HAPPENED IN 2012-2015?

On April 30, 2015, the Thai authorities discovered more than 30 bodies in a mass grave in a makeshift camp near Malaysian border. Then on May 25 the same year, Malaysian police announced discovery of 139 graves and 28 suspected human-trafficking camps in Wang Kelian, Perlis State.

The discoveries led to a crackdown against human traffickers only to find another crisis in the sea where some 5000 to 6000 victims of human trafficking — believed to be Rohingyas and Bangladeshis — were found drifting in rickety boats. After initial reluctance, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia rescued them.

The investigation is based on more than 270 interviews with eyewitnesses, survivors, human traffickers, government officials, and others from 2013 to 2019.

It revealed traffickers piled hundreds and thousands of Rohingya refugees into repurposed fishing vessels and deprived them of adequate food, water, and space, committing torture and, in some cases, rape at sea.

Traffickers murdered captives, and many died by suicide at sea. In the Thai and Malaysian jungle camps, traffickers provided their captives with three options: raise upwards of $2,000 in exchange for release, be sold into further exploitation, or die in the camps, the report said.

Members of a syndicate tortured, killed, raped, and otherwise abused untold numbers of men, women, and children, buying and selling them systematically in many cases, in concert with government officials.

Traffickers from Myanmar, Thailand, and Malaysia denied their captives access to adequate food, water, and space, resulting in deaths, illness, and injury. They tortured Rohingya captives with pipes, bats, clubs, belts, wires, tasers, nails, threats and intimidation, and other means, the report said.

“When I was unable to pay the money to the men, they poured boiling water on my head and body,” said a Rohingya Muslim who was 16 years old when traffickers tortured him in a camp on the Malaysia-Thailand border in 2014.

The perpetrators also murdered or caused the death of captives and buried bodies in mass graves and, in some cases, forced captives to bury bodies.

“People died every day,” said a 20-year-old Rohingya woman who survived a human-trafficking camp on the border. “Some days more, some days less, but people died every day.”

Traffickers also systematically sold untold numbers of Rohingya women and girls into forced marriages and situations of domestic servitude in Malaysia, said the report.

“For years, this was a calculated business and attack on the Rohingya community,” said Matthew Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Fortify Rights.

“The massive scale and horrific severity of these operations were never properly documented or fully prosecuted. This new evidence demonstrates the need for accountability.”

However, that still remains a far cry. In 2017, Thailand convicted 62 defendants, including nine Thai government officials, for crimes related to the human trafficking. Since 2015, Malaysian courts convicted only four non-Malaysian persons of trafficking-related offences connected to the mass graves discovered at Wang Kelian in Perlis.

Eyewitness testimonies indicate the complicity or, in some cases, direct involvement of government authorities in the transnational trade over Rohingya refugees. Thai authorities extra-judicially transferred or sold them from state custody to members of a transnational human-trafficking syndicate, the report said.

Late last month, Malaysia created a Royal Commission of Inquiry to investigate and ensure accountability for the human trafficking and mass graves in Wang Kelian.

“There’s a fresh political will in Malaysia to right these wrongs and ensure justice and accountability for Rohingya and all victims of these heinous crimes,” said Jerald Joseph of SUHAKAM.

SUHAKAM and Fortify Rights demand protection of the survivors of these attacks under Malaysian law as survivors of human trafficking, and, in the case of Rohingya, protection as refugees.

The Malaysia government should put into place measures to prevent such crimes from occurring again, the report said.

“The international community should do everything in its power to address the root causes of this crisis in Myanmar.”

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Developing Effective and Sustainable Programmes for Those Living with and Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder

WHO-SEARO Goodwill Ambassador for ASD Saima Wazed Hossain with the Honorable Prime Minister of Bhutan during a ‘Special Session’ featuring self-advocates. Credit: Rohit Vohra, APF

WHO-SEARO Goodwill Ambassador for ASD Saima Wazed Hossain with the Honorable Prime Minister of Bhutan during a ‘Special Session’ featuring self-advocates. Credit: Rohit Vohra, APF

By Saima Wazed Hossain
DHAKA, Mar 28 2019 – The Kingdom of Bhutan is a landlocked country surrounded by Bangladesh, India and the Tibetan region of China. It is a country that brought the term Gross National Happiness as a concept by which to measure a country’s progress. In April 2017 it celebrated WAAD by hosting the International Conference on Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders (ANDD2017) in Thimphu.

Not only did it bring together the senior most political leaders for both countries, Prime Minister H.E. Sheikh Hasina and H.E. Dasho Tshering Tobgay, but also Her Majesty the Druk Gyaltsuen, Jetsun Pema Wangchuk, wife of the King of Bhutan.

The 3-day conference, hosted by the Ministry of Health, Royal Government of Bhutan and co-organized with Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Bangladesh, WHO-SEARO, Shuchona Foundation, and Ability Bhutan Society, the event was organized without any external funding partners and by invitation only.

The theme, developing effective and sustainable multi-sectorial programs for individuals, families and communities living with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs) was actively discussed through open ended discussions by panels that comprised of experts, care-givers, parents and self-advocates addressing the core challenges faced by families and still left largely unaddressed in the era of the SDGs.

The inaugural ceremony at the Royal Banquet Hall was honored by the presence of Her Majesty the Druk Gyaltsuen, who launched a book titled, Guideline for Differently Abled Friendly Construction published by the Royal Government of Bhutan.

 

The International Conference on Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders (ANDD2017) in Thimphu. Not only did it bring together the senior most political leaders for both countries, Prime Minister H.E. Sheikh Hasina and H.E. Dasho Tshering Tobgay, but also Her Majesty the Druk Gyaltsuen, Jetsun Pema Wangchuk, wife of the King of Bhutan.

Panelists speaking during the session on ‘Early Identification’. Credit: Rohit Vohra, APF

 

Followed by speeches by the honored guests, debut of a short film on inclusion produced by Shuchona Foundation and a powerful presentation by Dr. Yolanda Liliana Mayo Ortega, Founder/Executive Director of CASP on ‘The power of two’.

This was followed by a High-Level Discussion on Enabling countries to successfully address ASD and other NDDs as part of their SDGs featuring participation by regional directors and representatives of UNICEF, UNESCAP, UN Women, UNESCO, IOM, ILO and WHO, country representatives and experts. Chaired by H.E., Sheikh Hasina, Co-Chaired by Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director of WHO-SEARO and moderated by Saima Hossain the discussion focused on common aspirations and not only set the tone of the Conference but the powerful remarks by speakers paved the way for an effective way forward so that children and adults with NDDs can be included in the global development agenda.

The majority of the conference comprised of 5 thematic sessions on identification, intervention, education, employment and independent living. Each session comprised of 2 panels with 7 participants consisting of self-advocates, professionals and caregivers.

The first thematic session discussed community-based early identification systems, focusing on issues in understanding screening vs. diagnostic evaluation and how rigorous methods can be implemented within the health system. Although early identification is of utmost importance, ASD is difficult to identify conclusively before 5 years of age, and panellists recommended that recognizing developmental deficits with the help of parents and caregivers, will ensure that relevant intense interventions are provided and conducted at the community level at the earliest ages possible.

Day 2 sessions focused on issues surrounding Models for Intervention Services and Evidence-based Intervention Programs. Successful examples of various community-based models for intervention delivery was discussed. The panel on Education explored how individuals with ASD and other NDDs have varying levels of skills and benefit from maximum time with same age typically functioning peers. Self-advocate, Dr. Stephen Shore emphasized the need for various models for appropriate education and variety of resources required for inclusion in all settings.

 

The International Conference on Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders (ANDD2017) in Thimphu. Not only did it bring together the senior most political leaders for both countries, Prime Minister H.E. Sheikh Hasina and H.E. Dasho Tshering Tobgay, but also Her Majesty the Druk Gyaltsuen, Jetsun Pema Wangchuk, wife of the King of Bhutan.

The Honorable Prime Minister of Bhutan speaking at the inaugural ceremony. Credit: Rohit Vohra, APF

 

A Special Session, featured self-advocates, Dr. Stephen Shore (USA), Daniel Giles (Australia), and Qazi Fazli Azeem (Pakistan) and a special guest Prime Minister  Dasho Tshering Tobgay. While each one’s experience was starkly different, it was an opportunity to showcase the uniqueness of ASD and how no two persons on the spectrum are truly alike.

Despite their differences in experiences, each of them has supportive families, friends, and a sense of community and belongingness. They emphasized the importance of individualized customized approach, the family as the central focus of services, developing a sense of self, as a pathway to effective self-advocacy.

The final day’s panels on employment and independent living focused on human rights and emphasized that the right to employment, earning and self-care is an important but often overlooked aspect of disability; the panellists, shared their successful models for training and living independently with varying degrees of support.

A Round-Table Discussion followed by the launch of the Regional Collaborative Framework for Addressing Autism by the Advisor for Mental Health (WHO-SEARO).

Government, civil society, and international organizations, as well as professional bodies and academia discussed the existing challenges of the treatment gap, lack of awareness and policies, stigma, paucity of financial, institutional and human resources, and the need for a coordinated response and intergovernmental collaboration for inclusive development.

A call was made to ensure cost-effective systematic response that is structured, coordinated and feasible for low-resource countries. In addition to panels, 11 technical workshops on the latest diagnostic and intervention tools, posters, and a side event of the international Early Childhood Development Task Force were held concurrently.

The Conference of 300 stakeholders from 31 countries not only adopted the Thimphu Declaration and Regional Collaborative Framework, but also compiled essential recommendations to ensure international resolutions are effectively implemented in the era of the SDG’s.

Following ANDD2017, the Royal Government of Bhutan has requested Shuchona Foundation to develop a multisectoral national strategic plan for ASD.

Rising Inequalities in Asia-Pacific have become a Major Obstacle to Accelerating Progress

Social Protection and Financing Social Development

By Amina J. Mohammed
BANGKOK, Thailand, Mar 28 2019 – 2019 will be a defining year for the 2030 Agenda; and the regional forums will pave the way for our first stocktaking on the SDGs in the General Assembly in September.

Asia-Pacific is a region like no other. This is an incredibly diverse group of countries. From large economies to the small island states. From G20 economies to countries facing long-lasting crises and seeking a transition back into development. From middle to low income countries – this region is a microcosm of our global community.

Each face unique challenges, but all driven by the same ambition of a better future for all. Over recent years, I have watched with fascination the progress of nations of Asia and the Pacific in their road to sustainable development.

Your governments have taken on the challenge of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with decisive leadership. You are making significant investments to enhance data and statistical coverage, take partnerships to scale and promote people-centered policies, strategies and programmes.

This region has also established strong foundations for cooperation and peer exchange. And here I want to acknowledge the leadership of our ESCAP Executive Secretary, for ensuring that you are well supported.

You have a regional roadmap for implementing the 2030 Agenda, which ensures clarity in the direction of travel. Your follow-up and review infrastructures re designed to allow you to understand the human stories behind the numbers and to exchange best practices to move forward.

Many of you are leaders in south-south cooperation and – as we were reminded in Buenos Aires last week – cooperation amongst countries from the south is an invaluable asset to advance sustainable development.

And you are taking steps, together, to leave no one behind – today’s focus on inclusion and equality speaks to that commitment.

This is a powerful message of the 2030: no matter where you are born, how marginalized your community is – the world is determined to carry everyone along in our journey to 2030.

I encourage you to take advantage of the discussions today to address a few fundamental questions: Who are the “no-ones” that we pledge to not leave behind? What determines their exclusion? What does it mean to feel included – or excluded? Are we doing enough, collective, to empower all individuals in our human family?

These are not theoretical questions voiced through microphones in meeting rooms of New York, Bangkok or other capitals of the world.

These are real-life dilemmas for billions around the world, who look at the 2030 Agenda as a life-changing possibility for a better future.

We must recognize that we are not on track to deliver on the ambitions we set for ourselves. The data starting to emerge indicates that the world is not on track to achieve the SDGs.

In Asia-Pacific, rising inequalities have become a major obstacle to accelerating progress. Inequality of wealth, of access to basic services and inequality in the ability to withstand setbacks and respond to the ravages wrought by climate change, are all on the rise. The numbers are clear.

The region’s combined income inequality has increased by over 5 percent in the past two decades, including in the region’s most populous countries – China, India and Indonesia.

As a result, 70 per cent of the population in this region lives in countries where inequality has grown over recent years.

Gender inequality continues to hinder progress. Close to two-thirds of all working women are in the informal sector, with insecure employment and little – if any – social protection.

And while the region is now home to the largest number of billionaires in the world, millions of people lack access to fundamental services. This erodes social and economic progress, but also undermines the social contract, with consequences for peace and stability.

Environmental degradation is also taking its toll. The average loss in productivity due to pollution is roughly 8 times higher in developing countries than in developed countries in the region.

I know I speak for all of us when I say that it is time to share the benefits of growth and globalization more widely. It is a matter of urgency to empower our women and girls; to leverage the immense potential of youth for positive change and innovation; to reverse the trend on inequalities; and to put people and planet at the center.

There is no need to look far. There are abundant examples in this region that point the way forward for empowerment and inclusion of everyone.

But the question we must all address is: how can we increase ambition and accelerate implementation of the 2030 Agenda?

Allow me to highlight three drivers. First, we need to break down the silos that constrain policy action across sectoral lines. The paradigm shift ushered in by the 2030 Agenda is not complete.

We have not yet fully transitioned from the Millennium Development Goals into the era of the SDGs. For example, addressing climate change is not only about preventing catastrophic events; reducing fossil fuels use has also direct and immediate benefits on health.

Second, we need to match intentions with finance – both public and private. There is growing private interest in SDG financing and a proliferation of impact investment in the region. This is great. But we are still far from the “trillions” that are required to achieve the SDGs everywhere, for everyone.

Third, we need to take action to scale to partnerships at a scale that we have not witnessed before. We will not achieve the 2030 Agenda – nor win the race against climate change – without involving all sectors of society towards our common goals.

You can count on the United Nations to continue to transform and better support your efforts. The Secretary-General is leading a deep reform of the United Nations, to place prevention at the center and ensure that the Organization is better positioned to support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

We now have a roadmap for change and clear and ambitious mandates by the UN General Assembly. And we are moving forward at full speed.

We know many of you are already engaged with our UN Country Teams to leverage these reforms and effect change on the ground. At the end of this process, you can expect to see more cohesive, effective and accountable UN Country Teams. We want to adapt more closely to the priorities and needs of each developing country, with an empowered leader for development, with much better coordination.

Resident Coordinators will be critical to leverage more systematically all the expertise ad assets that are scattered across the UN – including in our Regional Economic Commissions and specialized agencies.

We are currently working on the review of all our regional assets, to see how we can maximize our impact in support to country action. We need a architecture that responds to the heightened demands of the 2030 Agenda.

On 1 January, we have crossed a major milestone in this reform process with the creation of an independent and empower system to coordinate all development activities of the UN.

Resident Coordinators were also Representatives of the UN Development Programme. Now they dedicate full attention to the coordination, policy and partnerships needs of the SDGs.

And UNDP can fully focus on its important development mandate, and reassert its role as a though leader that is so deeply valued. Later today, I will meet with Resident Coordinators from the region, who are here to engage in these regional discussions and come back with new tools to support you.

Resident Coordinators are our leaders for development on the ground. And they work to support your efforts and make the 2030 Agenda a reality for all. I know they are excited to proceed in this journey with you.

The clock is ticking on the 2030 Agenda, and the true test of our reforms will be results in each country. It is our collective responsibility to show greater urgency.

I know that we have both the energy and the leadership in this conference room to make it happen. In that spirit of partnership and shared endeavor, I wish you all the best for a successful forum.

NHIF Reform Critical to Affordable Health For All in Kenya

Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki pushing hard for UHC in Kenya. Credit: MOH Kenya

By Felipe Jaramillo and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 27 2019 – Consider this. One million Kenyans fall into poverty every year due to catastrophic out of pocket health expenditures.

For the almost four in every five Kenyans who lack access to medical insurance, the fear that they are just an accident or serious illness away from destitution.

Ill health is easily the most destructive wrecking-ball to any country’s plans for sustainable development, which validates President Uhuru Kenyatta’s commitment to deliver Universal Health Coverage (UHC) by 2022, as part of his Big Four development agenda.

The number of Kenyans who continue to suffer from communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB, as well as the increasing burden of non-communicable diseases like diabetes, cancer and hypertension, present formidable challenges to the country.

Among the poorest in Kenya, only 3% have health insurance, which is provided by the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF). Among the wealthiest, many who also have private cover, this rises to 42%, indicating again that the poorest are at risk of being left behind even further, and do not have an appropriate safety-net to fall back on.

Felipe Jaramillo

Investing in UHC is: 1) a moral obligation – it is not acceptable that some members of society should face death, disability, ill health or impoverishment for reasons that could be addressed at limited cost; and 2) a very smart investment – prevention of malnutrition and ill health will have enormous benefits in terms of longer and more productive lives, higher earnings, and averted care costs.

But delivering quality affordable healthcare for all comes at a cost. And this cost should certainly not be carried by those who cannot afford it.

The delivery of UHC requires robust financing structures. When people have to pay most of the cost for health services out of their own pockets, the poor are often unable to obtain many of the services they need, and even the rich may be exposed to financial hardship in the event of severe or long-term illness. Pooling funds from compulsory funding sources (such as mandatory insurance contributions) can minimise the financial risks of illness across a population.

Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki recently unveiled a team of experts to spearhead radical reforms at the NHIF. This new initiative will build on past efforts at reforming NHIF, which were only partially implemented. The team will analyse the financial sustainability of NHIF, oversee legal and regulatory reforms among other propose organisational reforms to reposition NHIF as a national social health insurance provider and ensure its accountability and transparency.

Siddharth Chatterjee

The realization of UHC in Kenya will only be achieved if the Government of Kenya will increase its budget allocation towards health and lead solid health system strengthening initiatives – as for example the NHIF reform – to increase efficiency, effectiveness and accountability within the health sector.

The health system strengthening initiatives currently on their way in Kenya are critical, yet exciting, and require “all hands-on deck” and much collaboration.

The Government of Kenya can count on the support of the World Bank, and United Nations family as its development partners.

Within the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) 2018-2022 for example, the human capital development pillar (which includes health) is receiving the largest share of human and financial resources – and rightly so, as we recognise the importance of supporting the Country to realise the vision of UHC by 2022.

The World Banks’ Transforming Health Systems for Universal Care Project for Kenya is improving utilization and quality of primary health care services with a focus on reproductive, maternal, new-born, child, and adolescent health services. Supporting health financing reforms is a key component of this project. Under the recently approved Kenya Social and Economic inclusion Project (with US$ 250 million IDA credit and US$ 70 million of DFID grant), the Bank is supporting the Government to systematically enrol and register National Safety Net Program beneficiaries in the NHIF through an established referral mechanism.

The Government of Kenya is aligning forces as well with the private sector. Through the United Nations’s SDG Partnership Platform, the Government has already been identifying and scaling up transformative primary health care partnerships through galvanising support from the private and philanthropic sectors.

The successful delivery of the NHIF reform will demonstrate Kenya’s ability to efficiently pool revenues to cover for a healthcare package with essential services for all Kenyans, at all ages. This again will enhance confidence to join and invest in NHIF and create opportunities within the health sector to develop new partnership models for the delivery of care which all will help the Country to make rapid strides towards the realization of UHC.

Kenya can lead the way in realising Universal Health Coverage – and we stand with Kenya to “Deliver as One” and leave no one behind.

Siddharth Chatterjee is the UN Resident Coordinator to Kenya.

Felipe Jaramillo is the World Bank country director for Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, based in Nairobi

Changing Weather Will Affect Living Standards of Half of India’s Population

Credit: Getty Images

By Richard Mahapatra
NEW DELHI, Mar 27 2019 – The India Meteorological Department (IMD) on January 16 declared that 2018 was the sixth- warmest year in the last 117 years or since 1901, when recording started. Pointing towards changing weather and climate parameters, it also noted that the last monsoon rainfall was the sixth-lowest since 1901.

“The 2018 annual mean land surface air temperature for the country was +0.41°C above the 1981-2010 average, thus making 2018 the sixth-warmest year on record since 1901,” said a release from IMD.

That India is witnessing consistent warmer seasons is clear from the IMD’s analysis that pointed out that 11 out of 15 warmest years were in the last 15 years (2002-2018). The last year was also the consecutive third-warmest year after 2016 and 2017.

“The past decade (2001-2010/2009-2018) was also the warmest on record, with anomalies of 0.23°C/0.37°C. The annual mean temperature during 1901-2018 showed an increasing trend of 0.6°C/100 years, with a significant increasing trend in maximum temperature (1.0°C/100 years), and relatively lower increasing trend (0.2°C/100 years) in minimum temperature,” said IMD.

Climate change impacts are likely to lower the living standards of nearly half of India’s population, says a new World Bank report.

According to the report titled ‘South Asia’s Hotspots: Impacts of Temperature and Precipitation Changes on Living Standards’, rising temperatures and erratic rainfall pattern could cost India 2.8 per cent of its GDP.

It says that almost half of South Asia, including India, lives in vulnerable areas and will suffer from declining living standards.

Approximately 60 crore Indians live in areas where changes in average temperature and precipitation will negatively impact living standards. These areas, called hotspots, were identified using spatial granular climate and household data analysis.

The analysis was done for two scenarios—one indicating a pathway where climate change mitigating actions were taken and the other where current trends of carbon emissions continued.

“We have attempted to identify how climate change will affect household consumption, and that is the basis of the estimation and hotspot mapping. The granular data is from the household level, which is aggregated to give larger level analyses at block, district, state and country levels,” Muthukumara Mani, lead economist, World Bank South Asia region told Down To Earth.

A warming trend is now witnessed in all seasons including the winter (January-February). “The country averaged season mean temperatures during all the four seasons, with the winter season (January-February, +0.59°C) being the 5th warmest since 1901 and the pre-monsoon season (March-May, with an anomaly of +0.55°C above average) being the 7th warmest ever since 1901,” said IMD.

Similarly, there is a declining trend for the monsoon as well. “The 2018 Northeast monsoon season (October-December) rainfall over the country as a whole was substantially below normal (56 per cent of LPA, 1951-2000 average). This was 6th lowest since 1901,” reported the IMD release.

Monoculture Crops Threaten Community Water Projects in El Salvador

A mother washes kitchen utensils in the Aguas Calientes River, while her children play. She told IPS that this small river, part of the watershed of the Lempa River - the longest in El Salvador - always had an abundant flow, but now due to climate change and the use of water for the irrigation of sugar cane, the water level is down. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

A mother washes kitchen utensils in the Aguas Calientes River, while her children play. She told IPS that this small river, part of the watershed of the Lempa River – the longest in El Salvador – always had an abundant flow, but now due to climate change and the use of water for the irrigation of sugar cane, the water level is down. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN CARLOS LEMPA, El Salvador, Mar 27 2019 – For nearly three decades, several communities in southeastern El Salvador have collectively and efficiently managed the water they consume, but monoculture production and climate change put their water at risk.

“These are the collateral effects of climate change, as well as deforestation and monoculture,” the president of the Lempa Abajo Community Development Association, Patrocinio Dubón, told IPS.

Dubón is a native of San Carlos Lempa, a village in the eastern municipality of Tecoluca where the offices of the association – which administers a community water project that emerged 25 years ago – are located

Like other nearby villages, San Carlos Lempa includes the name of the Lempa River, which runs across more than 440 km of this small Central American country before flowing into the Pacific Ocean. It is the longest in El Salvador and is vital to the life and agricultural activity of a considerable part of the local rural communities.

These coastal lands, former cotton plantations, were parceled out and distributed to part of the recently demobilised guerrillas after the end of El Salvador’s 1980-1992 civil war.

Because the indiscriminate use of agrochemicals in cotton and later sugar cane had polluted the aquifers, residents of San Marcos Lempa stopped using that water and instead sought a cleaner source, which they found in a well located 13 km further north.

With the support of international development aid, they set up the community water project, which now supplies 26 nearby communities comprising some 2,000 families who would otherwise find it difficult to have access to piped water.

According to official figures, 95.5 percent of urban households have access to piped water, but the figure drops to 76.5 percent in rural areas.

The beneficiaries of the water project pay 5.65 dollars per month for 15 cubic metres, the amount needed to supply a family of six. With the installation of water meters in each household, it is possible to verify if consumption has increased, and the cost is added to the bill.

To access this community network, each family had to pay 389 dollars for the installation and other costs of the system, but if they did not have the money, they were allowed to pay the amount in six installments.

Patrocinio Dubón, a former guerrilla fighter who lost his right arm in a 1989 battle during El Salvador's civil war, is the president of the Lempa Abajo Community Development Association, whose water project supplies San Carlos Lempa and 26 other villages in the municipality of Tecoluca, San Vicente department, in eastern El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Patrocinio Dubón, a former guerrilla fighter who lost his right arm in a 1989 battle during El Salvador’s civil war, is the president of the Lempa Abajo Community Development Association, whose water project supplies San Carlos Lempa and 26 other villages in the municipality of Tecoluca, San Vicente department, in eastern El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Currently, about 70 percent of local residents are connected to the system, and the rest get their water from neighbors who are hooked up.

Threats to the community water system

However, the sustainability of the project is now at risk because the impacts of climate change, deforestation and sugarcane monoculture have hit the country’s watersheds, and this region is no exception, Dubón said.

The water level in the well that supplies San Carlos Lempa, he noted, has dropped almost three metres from the optimum level it was at a few years ago, which has made it necessary to adopt rationing measures.

“We have been rationing it for the past two years, serving different communities on different days,” he said.

A technical study will soon begin to be carried out, and “we are going to ration it even more,” Dubón added.

The sugar industry, whose primary raw material is sugar cane, is a powerful sector with influence on the economy and politics of this Central American country of 7.3 million people.

The Sugar Association, which represents the industry, is made up of six sugar mills, the majority of which are controlled by influential Salvadoran agribusiness families.

The sugar sector generates some 48,000 direct jobs and another 187,000 indirect jobs, and generates more than 186.5 million dollars in revenue, according to industry figures.

However, the industry has been under constant fire from environmental groups due to the pollution caused by the expansion of the crop, whether through the indiscriminate use of agrochemicals, excessive consumption of water for irrigation, or other harmful practices for the environment.

These include the burning of sugar cane to remove the outer leaves around the stalks before harvesting, to make it easier and faster for the thousands of sugar cane workers to cut the cane. But the fires pollute the environment.

However, the most worrying thing is the intensive use of water to irrigate the fields.

Silvia Ramírez shows how the water level has dropped in small rivers around the village of San Fernando in eastern El Salvador, due, among other reasons, to the excessive use of water by sugarcane producers, who build small dams to divert the water to their crops, affecting the surrounding rural communities. Credit: Courtesy of Edgardo Ayala

Silvia Ramírez shows how the water level has dropped in small rivers around the village of San Fernando in eastern El Salvador, due, among other reasons, to the excessive use of water by sugarcane producers, who build small dams to divert the water to their crops, affecting the surrounding rural communities. Credit: Courtesy of Edgardo Ayala

In a 2016 article, IPS focused on the impacts of the sugar cane industry on the way of life of peasant farmers and onl local ecosystems. At the time, the industry downplayed the effects and claimed that it irrigated just 15 percent of the 116,000 hectares dedicated that year to sugar cane.

The problems faced by the San Carlos Lempa water system are no exception.

In the village of San Fernando, also in the municipality of Tecoluca, the water supply has been affected by the same issues.

“We are rationing it to take care of it,” Silvia Ramírez, administrator of the Santa Mónica Water Board, told IPS.

Because the beneficiaries also manage their consumption through water meters, the local families “have learned to use it rationally,” she said.

In other municipalities in the country, which receive water from the state-run water company, faucets often run dry, even in households connected to the main water grid.
to the main grid, they often have no water.

Salvadoran media regularly report roadblocks by angry residents in urban neighborhoods or rural municipalities complaining about the lack of water.

Controversial water bill

The water conversation efforts of rural communities contrast with the decisions that Salvadoran legislators are reaching with respect to a controversial water bill, especially the article that stipulates the creation of a National Water Authority (ANA).

The lawmakers in the Environment and Climate Change Commission in the legislature reached an agreement on Mar. 18 that the industrial and agricultural sectors should participate in the board of directors of the new water authority.

The agreement, which was given a green light by eight of the 11 members of the legislative commission, has not yet been discussed or approved in the plenary session. But it does have the backing of all of the political parties represented in the commission, except for the ruling Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, which steps down from power in June.

This means that, if the bill moves on to debate in the coming weeks, there is already a preliminary agreement for these influential sectors, with interests alien to those of the general population, to not only participate in the water authority, but also to control the decisions taken regarding water supplies.

The social movement, which began with protest marches during the week of International Water Day, celebrated on Friday, Mar. 22, argues that only public bodies should participate in the water authority.

“If we include these private sectors, which are only moved by the profit margin, it’s like the fox guarding the henhouse,” activist Marielos de León told IPS.

The ANA would consist of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, city governments, citizen water boards and the University of El Salvador, in addition to the two private sectors in question.

Japan’s Gender Gap

A lack of gender equality in career opportunity and long work hours perpetuate wage differences between men and women.

By Kazuo Yamaguchi
CHICAGO, Illinois, Mar 27 2019 – Japan is not making progress in gender equality, at least relative to the rest of the world. Despite the Japanese government’s attempts in recent years to pass legislation promoting the economic activity of women, Japan ranked a miserable 110 out of 149 in the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Gender Gap Index, which benchmarks countries on their progress toward gender parity across four major areas.

While this rank is a slight improvement over 114 out of 146 in 2017, it remains the same or lower than in the preceding years (111 in 2016 and 101 in 2015).

Among the primary reasons for Japan’s low ranking is its large gender wage gap. At 24.5 percent in 2018, the gender wage gap is the second largest among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations, surpassed only by South Korea.

Why is this gap so large in Japan? A major cause is the large number of women who are “non-regular” workers. “Regular” workers in Japan are employed on indefinite terms without specific job obligations and are strongly protected from firings and layoffs, while non-regular workers—including many fulltime employees—have fixed-term contracts with specific job obligations.

Just over 53 percent of employed women ages 20 to 65 fall into the non-regular category, compared with just 14.1 percent of employed men in 2014.

As is true elsewhere, Japan’s non-regular employees have nearly uniformly low wages, irrespective of age and gender. For regular employees, on the other hand, wages increase with age until the employee reaches approximately 50 years old.

This is because in a large majority of Japanese firms, regular employees receive wage premiums based on years of service. The gender disparity in the proportion of non-regular employees is perpetuated by the employers’ perception that new graduates are more desirable candidates for regular employment.

Because employers tend to prioritize the hiring of these younger job seekers for regular employment, women who leave their jobs for childrearing and attempt to re-enter the job market at a later date have very limited opportunities for regular employment.

However, my analysis of the gender wage gap by a combination of employment types (four categories distinguishing regular versus non-regular employment and full-time versus part-time work) and age categories finds that gender differences in employment type—specifically the larger proportion of women than men employed in non-regular positions—explain only 36 percent of the gender wage gap (Yamaguchi 2011).

In fact, the primary factor is actually the gender wage gap within full-time regular employment, which accounts for more than half of the overall gender wage gap. The elimination of the gender wage gap among regular workers is therefore a more pressing issue than fixing the overrepresentation of women in non-regular employment.

A major cause of gender wage disparity among regular employees in Japan is the dearth of female managers. According to the 2016 Basic Survey on Equality of Employment Opportunity by the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare, women hold 6.4 percent of the positions of department director or equivalent; 8.9 percent of section head or equivalent; and 14.7 percent of task-unit supervisor or equivalent.

This same survey also asked employers with very few female managers for the possible causes of the paucity of women in the higher ranks. The two major reasons identified among many prespecified possible reasons were “at the moment, there are no women who have the necessary knowledge, experience, or judgment capability” and “women retire before attaining managerial positions due to their short years of service.” Such perceptions held by employers are misguided, as my own research (Yamaguchi 2016) reveals a very different picture.

I conducted an analysis of firms with 100 or more employees and found that only 21 percent of the gender disparity among regular workers in middle management (section heads) and above could be explained by gender differences in education and employment experience.

The rest of the disparity arose from gender differences in the rate of promotion to managerial positions among employees with the same levels of education and experience. The limited employment duration of women was not a major factor.

My analysis further showed that being male increased the odds of becoming a manager more than tenfold, whereas being a college graduate made it only 1.65 times more likely. (The study controlled for other determinants for becoming a manager.)

We regard societies where social opportunities and rewards are determined primarily by individual achievements as “modern” and societies where they are determined by an ascribed status as “pre-modern.”

Although “post-modernism” has been discussed in Japan, contemporary Japanese society maintains characteristics that cannot even be considered “modern.” Gender at birth is what determines whether a person becomes a manager in Japan, not individual achievement such as earning a college degree.

Gender-segregated career tracks are largely to blame for the country’s gender inequality in the rate of promotion to managerial positions. In Japan, there is a managerial career track (sogo shoku) and a dead-end clerical track (ippan shoku).

This track system is strongly associated with gender. Many women do not pursuesogo shoku jobs despite their greater opportunity for career development because they require regular overtime hours.

Indeed, among women, the major correlate of becoming a manager is the presence of long work hours, indicating that women who do not work long overtime hours are deprived of opportunities to become managers.

However, extended work hours for women are incompatible with Japanese family roles after marriage due to the strong persistence of traditional division of labor in which the burden of childcare and household tasks is chiefly borne by women.

As a result, Japanese firms’ insistence on long work hours is an inherent source of gender inequality, especially for the attainment of managerial positions.

Another major cause of the gender wage gap is the high degree of gender segregation in professions. In OECD countries, women tend to be overrepresented in the human services professions, such as education, health care, and social work. In Japan, two additional characteristics exist.

First, even among human service professions, women are underrepresented in the high-status professions—for example, the proportion of women among physicians and college educators in Japan is the lowest among OECD nations.

Second, women are seriously underrepresented in non-human-service professions—such as research, engineering, law, and accounting.

My latest research takes a close look at the gender wage gap among professionals, focusing on the Japanese and US labor markets.

Drawing on a 2005 nationwide survey for Japan and the 2010 US Population Census, I looked at gender proportions in the two categories of careers described above: the human services professions, excluding high-status professions, such as physicians and college educators, which I chose to call Type-II professions, and other professions, including high-status human service professions and all non-human-service professions, which I called Type-I professions.

The research showed that in Japan, the proportion of women in the latter category is remarkably low: in the United States, 12.7 percent of female employees are in Type-I professions, compared with fewer than 2 percent of Japanese female employees (see chart). Women’s jobs in Japan are clearly concentrated in Type-II professions.

This division of professions leads to a large gender wage gap for two reasons. First, while gender wage disparity in Type-I professions is very small, women are severely underrepresented in these professions.

Second, there are large gender wage disparities within Type-II professions. Whereas the average wage for males in Type-II professions is higher than the wages of male clerical, sales, or manual workers, the average wage for females in Type-II professions is not only lower than the average wage for males in the same type of work, but it is also lower than the average wage of male clerical, sales, and manual workers.

My research also shows that the smaller proportion of women in management and Type-I professions cannot be explained by gender differences in educational background, including college majors (Yamaguchi, forthcoming).

Japan and Turkey are the only two countries in the OECD where college graduation rates of women are still lower than those of men, and therefore, we may expect that gender equalization would reduce gender inequality in the attainment of high-status occupations.

My analysis reveals, however, that if current gender-specific matching of education and occupation continues as the college graduation rate of women increases, it will be reflected mostly by the increase of women in already female-overrepresented Type-II professions.

The increase of women in female-underrepresented managerial and Type-I professions, on the other hand, will be minimal. Hence, on average, achieving gender equality in educational attainment will not greatly reduce the gender wage gap.

The only exception to this rule would lie in the equalization in the proportion of college graduates majoring in science and engineering. This would increase the share of female scientists and engineers, thus reducing gender disparity in the proportion of Type-I professions and thereby narrowing the gender wage gap to some extent.

The fact that educational background does not explain gender segregation among professions in Japan suggests that the segregation is a reflection of Japanese hiring practices. As a result of practices rooted in gender stereotypes, women lack the opportunity to go into professions other than those deemed suitable for women.

The main careers open to Japanese women are extensions of women’s traditional family roles, such as children’s education, nursing, and other supportive roles in health care.

Employers in Japan ought to acknowledge that the workplace is not an extension of gender divisions at home, but rather a place for individuals to fulfill their potential and contribute to society. But such an acknowledgment, for the most part, remains to be seen.

Although the government aims to pay equal wages for equal jobs—especially for regular and irregular workers with the same job—I believe that providing equal occupational opportunity, especially for managerial and high-status professional positions, is more critical for the reduction of the gender wage gap in Japan.

Moreover, since the lack of opportunity for women persists not only because of hiring practices but also because of the long work hours required, the government should aim to create the conditions for better work-life balance. It could do so by changing the work culture that relies on long work hours and by promoting flexible workplaces. It could also encourage a change in the attitude that assumes child-care and home-care responsibilities are only for women.

*The article was first published in Finance & Development, the IMF’s quarterly print magazine and online editorial platform, which publishes cutting-edge analysis and insight on the latest trends and research in international finance, economics, and development.