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ON THE AGENDA: Homophobia, Cyclone Mahasen and Pakistan’s election

Source: Mon, 13 May 2013 15:48 GMT
People displaced by violence in Pauktaw pass the time at their shelters at Owntaw refugee camp for Muslims outside Sittwe in November 2012. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
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A sneak peek at what’s on our radar for the week of May 13

First up on our radar: Tropical Storm Mahasen, now roiling its way north across the Bay of Bengal. We’ll keep a close eye on this beast, which is expected to reach hurricane strength by the time it hits Myanmar, Bangladesh and India’s West Bengal region over the next 72 hours.

Are we looking at a storm comparable to Cyclone Nargis, which killed nearly 140,000 people in Myanmar in 2008? Hopefully not – though cyclone watchers do fear for the wellbeing of tens of thousands of displaced Rohingya who are already living in dire conditions after fleeing ethnic violence in the western part of the country. The storm also poses a real-life test to new early-warning systems set up in Bangladesh for just such a catastrophe.

All of which comes as a timely reminder that, more than any other kind of natural risk, it’s the hydro-meteorological crises that uproot the most people worldwide.

New figures out today from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre show that climate and weather hazards like floods and storms caused 98 percent of displacement from natural disasters in 2012. The total number of people displaced – 32.4 million – was almost double the 2011 number, due largely to major floods in Nigeria and India. Megan Rowling has the story.

Here are some of the other issues our correspondents will be exploring this week:

Delhi-based Nita Bhalla has an interview with Unni Karunakara, head of Medicins Sans Frontiers, on the increasing challenges faced by aid workers, particularly those in the health sector.

She’ll also be blogging about the extraordinary lengths many parents in India go to in the interests of saving their daughters from sexual violence. From restricting their movements to banning them from using mobile phones or even stopping them going to school, girls often suffer more as a result of measures aimed at “protecting them”.

And Nita will be analysing how women fared in Pakistan’s historic elections. Not only have millions more come out to vote for the first time, but more women have defied Taliban and hard-line Muslim clerics to go out of their way – despite the threat of attacks – to cast their ballots. But will the results make a difference for women and girls across the country?

What do you do when your life’s work running an NGO that has rescued more than 80,000 girls from traffickers is suddenly besmirched with allegations of corruption, your reputation is in question and your donor pool dries up? First, you cry. Then, you fight.

Lisa Anderson has been spending time with Cecilia Flores-Oebanda, head of the anti-trafficking Visayan Forum in the Philippines, who is trying to clear her name after allegations that her organisation falsified receipts and other documentation for $1.5 million of the $2.1 million it received from the United States Agency for International Development over six years. She claims she is the victim of a smear campaign by powerful enemies. Her story is chronicled in a two-hour CNN documentary "The Fighters" to be aired globally May 17 and 18.

Lisa also has an interview with Molly Melching, the founder of an organisation called Tostan that is widely praised for pretty much wiping out female genital mutilation in Senegal. And she’ll be covering the GBC Health Conference in New York, which brings together thought leaders in business and global health.

There may not be enough money to solve all of the world's problems, but capital is increasingly gravitating towards investments that have a positive social impact. Southeast Asia is expected to be the next hub for this type of finance, known as impact investing, as Astrid Zweynert will report.

Astrid will also write about an initiative to find the world’s 100 most resilient cities to natural and man-made shocks, presumably to contrast them with cities that are particularly vulnerable. And on a leafier note, she and Magda Mis will produce a “picture factbox” on how forest delicacies can help food security, an issue of special interest to the forest gardener in me.

Friday is International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, which we’ll mark with a multimedia package of stories ranging from interviews with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex asylum seekers to coverage of a global report on laws prohibiting same sex activity between consenting adults.

Finally, we’ll be reporting from Sittwe in Myanmar, where displacement of Muslims by their Rakhine neighbours has turned a once bustling urban centre into a ghost town

The only place Muslims remain in Sittwe is in the Aung Mingalar quarter – ghetto might be a better word – where nobody is allowed in or out, except for a market truck that goes in twice a week. The Rakhine community seems pleased with the arrangement while the Muslims wish they could go back to their burnt-out homes. Is this ethnic cleansing in action?

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