Low-key NSW election likely to reveal a city-country divide


Gregory Melleuish, University of Wollongong

It may come as news to many people living in New South Wales, but there is a state election to be held on March 23. There has been little of the hullabaloo associated with elections, although I have noticed the occasional election poster in the front yards of houses as I walk along the street.

This may have something to do with the fact I live in a safe Labor electorate, or it may reflect the somewhat low key approach to politics taken by Premier Gladys Berejiklian, and the low profile of her rival, Labor leader Michael Daley.

Plus federal politics has been far more exciting, especially as high-level Liberals choose to leave in advance of the upcoming federal election.

This may give the impression the NSW state election is a somewhat mundane affair. Given the relatively robust state of the NSW economy, one might expect the Liberal-National Coalition will be re-elected.

Yes, they have been in office for eight years but, on the surface at least, they appear to have done little to arouse the ire of voters, especially voters in Sydney.

However, there is a good chance that, after the election, NSW will have some sort of minority government, with an outside chance of a Labor government.

This would have enormous ramifications for both the Liberal and the National parties. If, as seems very likely, they lose office in Canberra after the federal election, they could find themselves out of office not only federally but also in Australia’s three largest states.

In the 2016 federal election, it was the Liberal Party that was battered and lost seats while the National Party held its ground. Similarly, at the 2015 NSW state election, the Liberals lost 14 seats while the Nationals lost only one.




Read more:
NSW Coalition wins a thumping victory despite a swing against it


Since 2015, the Coalition has lost two further seats at byelections: Orange (National) to Shooters, Fishers and Farmers and Wagga (Liberal) to an independent.

The current situation in the NSW Legislative Assembly (lower house) is that the Liberals hold 35 seats, the Nationals 16, the ALP 34, the Greens 3, Shooters, Fishers and Farmers 1, and Independents 3. The seat of Wollondilly is currently vacant but the Liberal Party faces a high profile independent.

In 2019, the expectation is that it will be the National Party that primarily will lose seats, thereby putting the NSW Coalition government majority at risk. Should the Coalition lose five seats, the current government will be reduced to minority status (a majority requires 47 seats). The Coalition holds seven seats with a margin of less than 3.5%, five of which are held by the Nationals, while Labor has four such seats.




Read more:
Mark Latham in the upper house? A Coalition minority government? The NSW election is nearly upon us and it’s going to be a wild ride


ABC election analyst Antony Green has emphasised, however, it is almost impossible to predict the results of this election on the basis of a uniform swing. This is because electorates and their interests vary widely with regard to age, income, ethnic origin and interests.

The state is far from homogenous, and this is reflected in what policies find favour and where. It’s been reported that in Barwon, in the state’s far west, polls show the primary vote for the National Party has dropped from 49% in 2015 to 35%.

The Coalition government under Mike Baird attempted to implement two extremely unpopular policies in many rural areas: the amalgamation of small councils and the attempt to close down greyhound racing. Both policies may have seemed sensible to city dwellers, but they didn’t resonate with the bush.

In recent days, two issues have come to the fore. The Sydney Cricket Ground Trust and the demolition of Allianz Stadium. Fascinating as such matters may be to Sydney-siders, they are hardly issues of great import to the inhabitants of Dubbo or Grafton.

There has always been a tension between Sydney and the bush but it appears this tension has increased considerably since the 2015 election.

There are a number of reasons for this. In the case of Barwon, there is the impact of the drought and water issues, including the mass death of fish in the Darling River. The provision of health services is a perennial issue in rural NSW – what is just down the road in Sydney can often be a long drive if one lives in a small country town.

There appears to be a growing discontent in the bush, one that can be seen in by-elections over the past few years, including Orange, Murray, Cootamundra and Wagga. The Nationals lost Orange and experienced substantial swings against them in Cootamundra and Murray, while the Liberals lost Wagga to an independent. In 2019, the Nationals will be contesting Wagga on behalf of the Coalition.




Read more:
Politics with Michelle Grattan: Michael McCormack on banks and the bush, and the election battle


It’s difficult to pin down this discontent in terms of specific policies – rather, it’s a matter of attitude. Gabrielle Chan’s book Rusted Off provides the best analysis of that attitude. At its root is a feeling of being taken for granted.

Chan, who lives near the town of Harden-Murrumburrah, believes the issue for many country people is that they know that the Nationals will always be the junior partner in a coalition with the Liberal Party.

Country voters are attached to the Nationals by a bond rooted in their identity. Where are they to go if the Nationals fail to deliver and become too subservient to their senior urban partners? By instinct they will not vote Labor.

Country people are, so to speak, caught in a bind. Chan puts it eloquently: “‘make it marginal’ should be the catch-cry of country electorates”.

If country voters are to “make it marginal”, then it will not be by supporting Labor because it goes against the grain. They also value independence. This means they look to independents and parties such as Fishers, Shooters and Farmers.

If Chan is correct, then what might very well determine the outcome of this election will not be disputes over particular policies but a desire to punish the National Party for what is perceived to be its neglect of the bush. It is simply a matter of respect.The Conversation

Gregory Melleuish, Professor, School of Humanities and Social Inquiry, University of Wollongong

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Indians promised benefits of 100 smart cities, but the poor are sidelined again



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Residents of slums like Kamla Nehru Nagar, a kilometre away from Patna Junction, have yet to share in the promised benefits of smart cities.
Sujeet Kumar, Author provided

Sujeet Kumar, Jawaharlal Nehru University

India’s urban population is growing. More than 50% of the country’s population is forecast to be living in cities by 2030. This is a major challenge for government because the country’s cities lack the infrastructure (affordable housing, roads) and basic services (sanitation, water, health care) for existing inhabitants, let alone the influx of people over the next decade.

Globally, one in eight people live in slums where they face issues of durable housing, access to safe drinking water and toilets, and insecure tenure. In India, one in every six city residents lives in a slum.




Read more:
Will India’s experiment with smart cities tackle poverty – or make it worse?


Many Indian children are growing up in very disadvantaged circumstances. These two live in Mahmudi Chak slum next to Rajendra Nagar Railway Junction in Patna.
Sujeet Kumar, Author provided

However, estimates of slum populations differ widely in many Indian cities due to differences in the counting criteria. For example, in cities like Mumbai and Delhi, it’s estimated more than 50% of the population live in slums, but the 2011 Indian Census put the figures at 41.3% and 14.6% respectively.

Launching the national Smart Cities Mission in 2016, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “… if anything has the potential to mitigate poverty it is our cities”. He said the mission, which has a target of 100 smart cities, aims to ensure access to basic services for the people. This includes houses for the urban poor.

The program aims to fulfil the aspirations and needs of the citizens through comprehensive development of institutional, physical, social and economic infrastructure. This comprehensive development would also ensure increased public participation, Modi said.

Villagers migrated to the Danapur Block slum after the Ganga river flooded.
Sujeet Kumar, Author provided

Smart city plan has a dark side

In one of the 100 cities selected for the Smart City Mission, Patna (Bihar), I witnessed the flip side of the smart city. Patna, the state capital of Bihar, has a rich history, but 63% of its population lives in slums. And 93% of them are from the historically oppressed “scheduled castes” and “other backward castes” (based on data collected in 42 slums).

Demolished homes at Meena Bazar.
Sujeet Kumar, Author provided

The city administration often demolishes slums without following due process of law in order to seize the land in the name of beautification and development of Patna.

In slums like Meena Bazar (near the famous Nalanda Medical College Hospital) and Amu Kuda Basti (near Patna Airport) people have been living there for generations in houses often partially funded by government housing projects. These have been bulldozed.

Riot police are on hand when slum dwellers’ homes are demolished at Amu Kuda Basti.
Sujeet Kumar, Author provided

The city administration usually makes ad-hoc loudspeaker announcements before bulldozing these settlements. A massive police presence and riot vehicles are on hand in case residents protest the demolitions. They use derogatory language and forcefully enter houses and thrash male members, say women in Amu Kuda Basti.

The government could have given them more time or relocated them elsewhere in the city, rather than just bulldozing their houses, which they had built with hard-earned money, the slum dwellers said.

Residents of slums like Amu Kuda Basti say houses they built with their own hard-earned money are being demolished with little notice.
Sujeet Kumar, Author provided

There is apparently reason to smash these homes. There always is. The usual arguments for demolition include: beautification of the city, construction of a government building or enterprise, extension of the airport, crime locations, governance, illegality, encroachment etc. The state says demolitions of such slums are necessary for the development of the city.




Read more:
Smart or dumb? The real impact of India’s proposal to build 100 smart cities


In 2011, the state proposed a slum policy to relocate slum dwellers who had lived in the city for generations to the outskirts in a plan to develop Patna and make it a smart city, says Kishori Das, an advocate for the rights of slum dwellers for years. Faced with widespread protests, the state deferred the policy, but it is silently applying it on the ground, he said.

Who speaks for the marginalised poor?

These two leaders from Meena Bazar are among 84 community representatives, elected and non-elected, interviewed by the author.
Sujeet Kumar, Author provided

Local and mainstream media are not reporting these demolitions and forced evictions, especially when it happens in non-metro cities like Patna. Civil society and advocacy NGOs also take little notice of these frequent demolitions, probably due to threats to life and, if not, then to co-option by the state. The roles of the ruling party and opposition are also dubious.

Bihar has been ruled by leaders who attracted votes by campaigning on issues of poverty, caste and social justice for the past three decades. In the early 1990s, the prominent leader Lalu Prasad Yadav mobilised the poor and the oppressed caste groups under the umbrella of “Vikas nahin, samman chahiye” (we want dignity, not development). The present chief minister, Nitish Kumar, also known as Sushaasan Babu (good governance man), adopted the slogan “Nyay ke saath vikas” (development with justice).

However, the frequent injustices suffered by the urban poor negate the political commitment. These actions are also in conflict with the motto of the Indian Constitution, which frames justice as a balancing wheel between the haves and have-nots.

Promises of social justice ring hollow for residents of bulldozed communities like Amu Kuda Basti.
Sujeet Kumar, Author provided

These challenges are not limited to one city. In the name of smart and developed cities, the government is not only taking over urban land where millions of the poor have lived for decades but is also acquiring fertile land and violating the constitutional rights of farmers, tribes and other indigenous groups in various cities.

These reports of struggle and forced evictions contradict the statements by Modi when he said smart cities development would strictly follow large-scale public participation in preparing these plans.

Such demolitions reveal a dark side to making Indian cities smart and cast serious doubt on claimed government commitment to the urban poor. These actions hardly live up to the idea of the rights of the poor. It became more challenging when the head of the biggest democracy in the world denounces those who speak up for the poor, oppressed and voiceless as “urban Naxals”.

In the words of Abraham Lincoln, democracy is “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. For India, this means the urban poor need help both from political parties and civil society so that their voice finds expression and their demands and concerns are heard and considered in public policy. The Conversation

Children sleep out in the open in a slum area in Harding Park, Patna.
Sujeet Kumar, Author provided

Sujeet Kumar, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

This is how regional rail can help ease our big cities’ commuter crush



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Rail investments have brought Ballarat, Geelong and other regional centres closer in travel time to Melbourne than many outer suburbs.
Tony & Wayne/flickr, CC BY-NC

Michael Buxton, RMIT University

In Sydney and Melbourne, the squeeze is on. Population is booming; house prices are still rising; roads and trains are congested. Australian governments generally have ignored the benefits of relating metropolitan and regional planning.

However, some state governments are now investigating more integrated sectoral and spatial planning strategies, initially through shifting public sector jobs to regional centres.

In particular, improved regional rail connections do work. Already rail investments have brought Ballarat, Geelong and other regional centres closer in travel time to Melbourne than many outer suburbs, and this trend will continue.


Further reading: Commuters help regions tap into city-driven growth


Sydney has similar opportunities with regional rail connections, but has not yet exercised them. Rail services to and from Gosford, Newcastle and Wollongong have improved little over recent decades.

Rail bypasses clogged arteries

For decades, policymakers’ preferred solution to congestion has been adding and widening freeways. But promises of faster travel times and freer movement have been illusory. New roads and freeway lanes induce more traffic and will provide short-lived solutions in our biggest cities.


Further reading: Traffic congestion: is there a miracle cure? (Hint: it’s not roads)


These cities are the main drivers of Australia’s national economy, attracting advanced business service professionals and knowledge providers.

Access to high-value jobs, transport arteries that function well, and better-managed population growth will become critically important to urban economies as these cities move towards populations of 8 million people.

In Sydney and Melbourne, critics are claiming that major new road projects such as WestConnex and the Western Distributor will increase central city traffic congestion, particularly for work-related journeys.


Further reading: Modelling for major road projects is at odds with driver behaviour


Victoria proves regional rail works

Contrast that with the success of regional rail development. Victoria has invested several billion dollars in a series of projects. These have raised maximum regional train speeds to provincial cities to 160kph, increased reliability, provided new and much faster trains and transformed frequency.

Victoria’s investment in regional rail has quadrupled train services and almost halved travel time between Ballarat and Melbourne.
Hugh Llewelyn/flickr, CC BY-SA

The 119km peak-hour trip from Ballarat to Melbourne before these investments took two hours, with four trains a day on offer. Today 22 daily trains operate in each direction between Melbourne and Ballarat. Boarding the 4.33pm from Southern Cross delivers passengers to Ballarat 65 minutes later.

From Geelong, the transformation has been even greater. The recently completed Regional Rail Link runs 55 daily trains each way. The project was the first to be approved by Infrastructure Australia, backed by A$3.8 billion in state and Commonwealth funding.

Patronage boom calls for more work

These upgrades, however, have become victims of their own success. Some lines have recorded a 300% increase in patronage. Similar increases are projected for the next decade.

Remarkably, within two years of opening, patronage growth has already reached capacity on the inner part of the Regional Rail Link (which segregates metropolitan from country trains for travel to and from central Melbourne). There is little or no capacity for extra trains to be run in peak times.

Trains are becoming ever more crowded. Long-distance commuters have valued their ability to work, read or sleep on these trains, especially during their homeward journeys. They must now compete for seats with others from rapidly expanding western suburbs, which are yet to gain their own suburban train services.

A short-term fix would create longer trains of eight carriages instead of six. A medium-term fix would electrify and provide separate services to the part of the Geelong line that serves the new dormitory suburbs.

These changes need to be complemented by more frequent and better co-ordinated feeder bus services to stations. In addition, easily accessed large commuter carparks need to be built on vacant land on the Melbourne side of the major regional centres.

In the longer term, the answer lies in providing more multiple tracks to fully segregate suburban and regional trains in suburban areas. Providing robust double-line railways in each corridor will prevent the cascade effect that occurs when trains delay each other on single lines.

The completion of level-crossing removals will also allow higher operating speeds and safer operations. Trains will be able to move progressively to maximum speeds of 200kph where feasible rather than 160kph.

Regional cities must avoid past mistakes

These rail investments will further promote population growth in regional cities. Already, regionally developed services, more affordable housing stock and less frantic lifestyles are acting as attractors.

It is essential to integrate the planning of major regional transport projects with spatial planning to avoid the undesirable results of fragmented policy.

Some regional centres are repeating the worst mistakes of metropolitan low-density urban sprawl by expanding on greenfield sites far from town centres. Modelling of Victorian regional towns has shown that they contain in-fill opportunities to at least double existing populations and provide a range of affordable housing options.

To maintain liveability for expected high population growth, heavy rail investment is vital. Carefully targeted regional rail investment can shrink distance, provide access to more jobs and better lifestyles, and contribute to wider housing choices.

This investment is a critical requirement for continued prosperity in Australia’s largest urban centres.


This article was co-authored by Bill Russell of the Rail Futures Institute, Melbourne.

The ConversationFind out more about what Victoria can do to overcome the commuter crush at Railway Remedies: Cutting the Crush on Geelong Trains, hosted by the RMIT Centre for Urban Research (CUR) and Deakin University at the Percy Baxter Theatre, Deakin Geelong campus, on Wednesday, August 9.

Michael Buxton, Professor of Environment and Planning, RMIT University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Farming the suburbs – why can’t we grow food wherever we want?



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Some local councils are more tolerant than others in allowing residents to grow food where they want.
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Jennifer Kent, University of Sydney

Food provides the foundations for human flourishing and the fabric of sustainability. It lies at the heart of conflict and diversity, yet presents opportunities for cultural acceptance and respect. It can define neighbourhoods, shape communities, and make places.

In parts of our cities, residents have embraced suburban agriculture as a way to improve access to healthier and more sustainably produced food. Farming our street edges and verges, vacant land, parks, rooftops and backyards is a great way to encourage an appreciation of locally grown food and increase consumption of fresh produce.

Despite these benefits, regulations, as well as some cultural opposition, continue to constrain suburban agriculture. We can’t grow and market food wherever we like, even if it is the sustainable production of relatively healthy options.

While good planning will be key to a healthier, more sustainable food system, planning’s role in allocating land for different uses across the city also constrains suburban agriculture.

Two steps towards healthier food systems

Making our food systems healthier and more sustainable requires a two-step approach.

  • First, we need to fortify the parts of the system that enable access to healthy food options.

  • Second, we need to disempower elements that continuously expose us to unhealthy foods.

Although food is a basic human need, the way we consume food in many countries, including Australia, is harmful to the environment and ourselves. Many of us don’t eat enough fresh and unprocessed foods. The foods we do eat are often produced and supplied in carbon-intensive and wasteful ways.

Primarily through land-use zoning, town planners can help to shape sustainable and healthy food systems. For example, good planning can:

  • protect peri-urban agricultural lands;

  • encourage farmers’ markets, roadside stalls and community gardens;

  • prevent the location of fast-food outlets near schools; and

  • even help regulate food advertising environments.

Why have land-use zones?

Modern town planning originated in the 19th century out of the need and ability to separate unhealthy, polluting uses from the places where people lived.

This was a direct response to the Industrial Revolution, which brought with it both an upscaling of the noisy, smelly and dirty uses to be avoided, and the emergence of new ways to travel relatively long distances away from these uses.

As a result, our urban areas are made up of a mosaic of what we call zones. Within each zone, certain uses are permitted and others are prohibited. If a piece of land is zoned as commercial, for example, that land can be used for a shop, but not for a house.

While this might seem logical to us today, to those living in housing scattered among the factories and tanneries of Manchester in the 1800s it would have been quite radical.

It is this function of planning that means we cannot grow food anywhere in the city. Instead, we have regulations that attempt to ensure related activities occur only in areas where such a use is compatible with the surrounding uses.

Where food gardens are next to roads these should not carry heavy traffic, which could be a source of contamination.
ACFCGN

Incompatibility might relate to safety. For example, in some cities it is prohibited to locate a community garden on a main traffic-generating road due to concerns about contamination of produce.

It could also be related to amenity. For example, in some areas local produce cannot be sold on the roadside due to concerns about creating additional traffic and parking.

These are two fairly obvious examples, but problems arise when definitions of what is safe and amenable differ within the community. Does a verge planted with an over-enthusiastic pumpkin vine detract from or enhance the visual appeal of the street? Should a locality embrace a roadside produce stall even if it means traffic is slowed and parking is less available?

How do we resolve planning conflicts?

Town planners attempt to grapple with these issues by developing new policies and regulations to respond to changing demands, or by assessing applications for food growing and distribution on a case-by-case basis.

In cities that are rapidly densifying, and in a cultural environment where growing one’s own produce is enjoying a renaissance, it’s not surprising some local authorities are struggling to keep up.

This struggle is ostensibly the result of local authorities failing to recognise and prioritise their role in supporting sustainable and healthy food systems. There are immense benefits – biophysical, economic and social – to be gained from local government giving priority to urban agriculture.

Yet a recent study of the content of local community strategic plans across New South Wales found that only 10% of strategies mentioned anything about food systems as a community priority. In this sense, Australia is part of an international trend.

The ConversationSurprisingly, the local authorities in New South Wales doing the most for better food systems were regional councils. These saw food security and the opportunities presented by local food production as urgent issues. There is obviously room for our metropolitan councils to catch up and capitalise on increased cultural interest in farming our suburbs.

Jennifer Kent, Research Fellow, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Smart or dumb? The real impact of India’s proposal to build 100 smart cities



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Part of Mumbai’s character is in its chawls, which could soon become history with the state government’s push to replace them with high-rise towers.
from www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-ND

Hugh Byrd, University of Lincoln

In 2014, the new Indian government declared its intention to achieve 100 smart cities.

In promoting this objective, it gave the example of a large development in the island city of Mumbai, Bhendi Bazaar. There, 3-5 storey housing would be replaced with towers of between 40 to 60 storeys to increase density. This has come to be known as “vertical with a vengeance”.

We have obtained details of the proposed project from the developer and the municipal authorities. Using an extended urban metabolism model, which measures the impacts of the built environment, we have assessed its overall impact. We determined how the flows of materials and energy will change as a result of the redevelopment.

Our research shows that the proposal is neither smart nor sustainable.

Measuring impacts

The Indian government clearly defined what they meant with “smart”. Over half of the 11 objectives were environmental and main components of the metabolism of a city. These include adequate water and sanitation, assured electricity, efficient transport, reduced air pollution and resource depletion, and sustainability.

We collected data from various primary and secondary sources. This included physical surveys during site visits, local government agencies, non-governmental organisations, the construction industry and research.

We then made three-dimensional models of the existing and proposed developments to establish morphological changes, including building heights, street widths, parking provision, roof areas, open space, landscaping and other aspects of built form.

Demographic changes (population density, total population) were based on census data, the developer’s calculations and an assessment of available space. Such information about the magnitude of the development and the associated population changes allowed us to analyse the additional resources required as well as the environmental impact.

India’s plan to build smart cities by replacing current housing with high-rise towers is neither smart nor sustainable.
from shutterstock.com, CC BY-ND

Flow-on effects of high-rise housing

In order to compare the environmental impact of the new development with the existing housing, it is useful to measure it in terms of changes per capita or unit of floor area.

The redevelopment of Bhendi Bazaar would result in a population increase of about 25%. Our research indicates that metabolism does not increase linearly (on a per capita basis) with density, but accelerates instead.

Water consumption and waste water production per capita is likely to increase by 155%, largely because of the potential for more appliances and bathrooms in the towers. Rainwater harvesting, a compulsory requirement, is likely to reduce to less than half (45%) as the roof catchment area of towers is smaller than that of the existing housing.

Residential electricity consumption per capita is predicted to increase by 30%. In commercial and retail spaces, electricity use will more than double per unit of floor area (226% increase). This is primarily because of the increased requirement for air conditioning in the towers, but also because of the need for more lighting, ventilation pumping and lifts in the common areas and basements.

Carbon dioxide emissions more than double as electricity consumption increases, resulting in a 43% increase in per capita emissions. However, emissions from transport increase by 176% per capita because the development leads to more private car ownership, with 3,000 car spaces where there were none before.

All this is happening is a city that already rations water to a few hours per day and where electricity blackouts are common because of insufficient supply. Only about 20% of sewage is treated. The rest discharges into the Arabian Sea. Landfill sites have already outlived their carrying capacity.

Verticality and vulnerability

The quest to make cities smart and liveable has been promoted alongside increased population densities and urban compaction. We argue that this planning goal is reaching a point where resources are inadequate for the functioning of a city.

Case studies such as Bhendi Bazaar provide an example of plans for increased density and urban regeneration. However, they do not offer an answer to the challenge of limited infrastructure to support the resource requirements of such developments.

The results of our research indicate significant adverse impacts on the environment. They show that the metabolism increases at a greater rate than the population grows. On this basis, this proposed development for Mumbai, or the other 99 cities, should not be called smart or sustainable.

With policies that aim to prevent urban sprawl, cities will inevitably grow vertically. But with high-rise housing comes dependence on centralised flows of energy, water supplies and waste disposal. Dependency in turn leads to vulnerability and insecurity.

The ConversationSuburbia offers some buffer. Water and power can be collected from individual roofs and food produced in individual gardens. However, we argue that vertical urban form on this scale offers little resilience.

Hugh Byrd, Professor of Architecture, University of Lincoln

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Taliban on the Attack in Afghanistan


The Taliban have moved onto the offensive in Afghanistan with a massive co-ordinated attack. Embassies in Kabul have been targeted, including the British, German, Russian and US embassies, as well as the Afghan Parliament and the NATO headquarters. There are also attacks on other sites in the city. The attacks have been going on now for at least two hours and are continuing.

It is not just Kabul that is under attack, there are attacks also in the cities of Jalalabad, Pul-e-Alam and Gardez.

For more, visit:
http://www.newsday.com/news/nation/taliban-attack-afghan-capital-3-other-cities-1.3661714
http://www.euronews.com/newswires/1483048-multiple-attacks-on-kabul-taliban-claims-spring-offensive/

New Zealand: Three Major Tremors


The New Zealand city of Christchurch was struck by three major tremors yesterday and a large number of minor ones. These are all considered aftershocks of the first major earthquake that Christchurch suffered some time ago. There is now expected to be a period of increased seismic activity.

The following videos feature footage and updates concerning the latest earthquake developments in Christchurch.

New Zealand: Christchuch Reeling Again


A major aftershock/earthquake has struck Christchurch, causing more damage to the devastated city.

More at:
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10775043

 

Pastor, Church Official Shot Dead in Nigeria


Muslim militants of Boko Haram blamed for killings in Borno state.

JOS, Nigeria, June 10 (CDN) — Muslim extremists from the Boko Haram sect on Tuesday (June 7) shot and killed a Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN) pastor and his church secretary in Maiduguri, in northeastern Nigeria’s Borno state.

The Rev. David Usman, 45, and church secretary Hamman Andrew were the latest casualties in an upsurge of Islamic militancy that has engulfed northern Nigeria this year, resulting in the destruction of church buildings and the killing and maiming of Christians.

The Rev. Titus Dama Pona, pastor with the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) in Maiduguri, told Compass that Pastor Usman was shot and killed by the members of the Boko Haram near an area of Maiduguri called the Railway Quarters, where the slain pastor’s church is located.

Pona said Christians in Maiduguri have become full of dread over the violence of Boko Haram, which seeks to impose sharia (Islamic law) on northern Nigeria.

“Christians have become the targets of these Muslim militants – we no longer feel free moving around the city, and most churches no longer carry out worship service for fear of becoming targets of these unprovoked attacks,” Pona said.

Officials at COCIN’s national headquarters in Jos, Plateau state, confirmed the killing of Pastor Usman. The Rev. Logan Gongchi of a COCIN congregation in Kerang, Jos, told Compass that area Christians were shocked at the news.

Gongchi said he attended Gindiri Theological College with Pastor Usman beginning in August 2003, and that both of them were ordained into pastoral ministry on Nov. 27, 2009.

“We knew him to be very gentle, an introvert, who was always silent in the class and only spoke while answering questions from our teachers,” Gongchi said. “He had a simple lifestyle and was easygoing with other students. He was very accommodating and ready at all times to withstand life’s pressures – this is in addition to being very jovial.”

Gongchi described Usman as “a pastor to the core because of his humility. I remember he once told me that he was not used to working with peasant farmers’ working tools, like the hoe. But with time he adapted to the reality of working with these tools on the farm in the school.”

Pastor Usman was excellent at counseling Christians and others while they were at the COCIN theological college, Gongchi said, adding that the pastor greatly encouraged him when he was suffering a long illness from 2005 to 2007.

“His encouraging words kept my faith alive, and the Lord saw me overcoming my ill health,” he said. “So when I heard the news about his murder, I cried.”

 

Motives

The late pastor had once complained about the activities of Boko Haram, saying that unless the Nigerian government faced up to the challenge of its attacks, the extremist group would consume the lives of innocent persons, according to Gongchi.

“Pastor Usman once commented on the activities of the Boko Haram, which he said has undermined the church not only in Maiduguri, but in Borno state,” Gongchi said. “At the time, he urged us to pray for them, as they did not know how the problem will end.”

Gongchi advised the Nigerian government to find a lasting solution to Boko Haram’s violence, which has also claimed the lives of moderate Muslim leaders and police.

The Railway Quarters area in Maiduguri housed the seat of Boko Haram until 2009, when Nigerian security agencies and the military demolished its headquarters and captured and killed the sect’s leader, Mohammed Yusuf, and some of his followers.

The killing of Pastor Usman marked the second attack on his church premises by the Muslim militants. The first attack came on July 29, 2009, when Boko Haram militants burned the church building and killed some members of his congregation.

On Monday (June 6), the militants had bombed the St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, along with other areas in Maiduguri, killing three people. In all, 14 people were killed in three explosions at the church and police stations, and authorities have arrested 14 people.

The Boko Haram name is interpreted figuratively as “against Western education,” but some say it can also refer to the forbidding of the Judeo-Christian faith. They say the word “Boko” is a corruption in Hausa language for the English word “Book,” referring to the Islamic scripture’s description of Jews and Christians as “people of the Book,” while “Haram” is a Hausa word derived from Arabic meaning, “forbidding.”

Boko Haram leaders have openly declared that they want to establish an Islamic theocratic state in Nigeria, and they reject democratic institutions, which they associate with Christianity. Their bombings and suspected involvement in April’s post-election violence in Nigeria were aimed at stifling democracy, which they see as a system of government built on the foundation of Christian scripture.

Christians as well as Muslims suffered many casualties after supporters of Muslim presidential candidate Muhammudu Buhari lost the April 16 federal election to Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian. Primarily Muslim rioters claimed vote fraud, although international observers praised the polls as the fairest since 1999.

Nigeria’s population of more than 158.2 million is almost evenly divided between Christians, who make up 51.3 percent of the population and live mainly in the south, and Muslims, who account for 45 percent of the population and live mainly in the north. The percentages may be less, however, as those practicing indigenous religions may be as high as 10 percent of the total population, according to Operation World.

Report From Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org/

 

Nepal Christians Begin Legal Battle for Burial Ground


Hindu group declares country a Hindu state; upper castes seek halt to conversions.

KATHMANDU, Nepal, April 19 (CDN) — With the government refusing to listen to their three-year plea for an official cemetery and ignoring a protracted hunger strike, Nepal’s Christians are now seeking redress from the Supreme Court.

“Every day there are two to three deaths in the community, and with each death we face a hard time with the burial,” said Chari Bahadur Gahatraj, a pastor who filed a petition in the high court on March 13 asking it to intervene as authorities of Nepal’s oldest Hindu temple had begun demolishing the graves of Christians there.

Gahatraj and Man Bahadur Khatri are both members of the newly formed Christian Burial Ground Prayer and National Struggle Committee that since last month began leading a relay hunger strike in a public area of the capital, asking for a graveyard. They said they were forced to go to court after the Pashupati Area Development Trust (PADT), which runs Nepal’s oldest Hindu shrine, the Pashupatinath temple, said it would no longer allow non-Hindus to use the temple’s forested land.

“We don’t want to hurt the sentiments of any community,” Gahatraj told Compass. “Nor are we trying to grab the land owned by a temple. We are ready to accept any plot given to us. All we are asking for is that the burials be allowed till we get an alternate site.”

Judge Awadhesh Kumar Yadav has since ordered the government and PADT not to prevent Christians from using the forest for burials until the dispute is resolved. The legal battle, however, now involves a counter-suit. Hindu activist Bharat Jangam filed a second writ on March 20, saying that since the forest was the property of a Hindu temple, non-Hindus should not be allowed to bury their dead there just as churches do not allow Hindu burials.

Subsequently, the court decided to hear the two petitions together, and yesterday (April 18), the hearings began. While two lawyers argued on behalf of Gahatraj and Khatri, a cohort of 15 lawyers spoke against their petition. The next hearing is scheduled for May 3.

Along with the legal battle, Christians have kept up their relay hunger strike. To step up pressure on the government, the protestors also announced they would lead a funeral march to the offices of the prime minister and the culture minister and hand over coffins to them as a symbolic protest. If that too failed, they warned they would have no option but to go on hunger strike in front of the prime minister’s office and parliament, this time carrying dead bodies with them.

Alarmed at the rate the issue was snowballing, the government finally responded. Yesterday Culture Minister Gangalal Tuladhar opened talks with the protestors, agreeing to continue the negotiations after three days. The government also formed a four-member committee to look into the demand. Currently, Christians are asking for cemetery land in all 75 districts of Nepal.

Protestors were wary of the government’s intent in the overture.

“This could be a ploy to buy time and bury the issue,” said a member of the Christian committee formed to advise parliament on drafting the new constitution, who requested anonymity.

Though the committee formed to look into the Christians’ demand for burial land has been asked to present a report within two weeks, Christians suspect the panel is dragging its feet.

“The new constitution has to be promulgated by May 28, but it does not seem likely that the main political parties will be able to accomplish the task,” the Christian committee member said. “And if the constitution doesn’t materialize in time, there will be a crisis and our problem will be shelved.”

 

Hindu Nation

Adding to their unease, Christians are now facing a redoubled campaign by Hindu groups for the restoration of Hinduism as the state religion, five years after parliament declared Nepal, the world’s only Hindu kingdom, secular.

If the new constitution had been promulgated last year, it would have consolidated secularism in Nepal. But with the country missing the deadline due to protracted power-sharing rows among the major political parties, Christians still feel under threat.

On Thursday (April 14), when the country celebrated the start of the indigenous new year 2068 with a public holiday, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal, which seeks the reinstatement of Hinduism as the state religion, kicked off a campaign at the Bhadrakali temple in Kathmandu. As curious onlookers and soldiers patrolling the nearby army headquarters looked on, party members fervently blew into conch shells and rang bells to draw people’s attention to their demand.

The party, which is also seeking the restoration of monarchy, took some oblique shots at the Christian community as well.

“There is a deliberate and systematic attempt by organizations to convert Hindus,” said Kamal Thapa, party chief and a former minister. “These organizations are guided by foreign powers and foreign funds. If the widespread conversion of Hindus is not stopped immediately, we will have to take stern measures.”

Three days later, an umbrella of Hindu groups – the Rastriya Dharma Jagaran Mahasabha (the National Religion Resurrection Conference) held a massive gathering in the capital, declaring Nepal a “Hindu state” and meeting with no official objection. The proclamation came as the climax to a three-day public program calling for the restoration of “the traditional Hindu state.” Several Hindu preachers and scholars from neighboring India attended the program, held on the grounds of the Pashupatinath temple, which is also a UNESCO-declared World Heritage Site.

The “Hindu state” proclamation was the brainchild of Shankar Prasad Pandey, a former member of parliament from Nepali Congress, the second largest party in Nepal, now in opposition. Though Pandey was a sitting Member of Parliament in 2006, when the body unanimously declared Nepal secular, he began opposing the move soon afterwards, leading four campaigns against it nationwide.

“I consider the nation and the Hindu religion to be more important than the party,” said Pandey, known as the MP who began to go barefoot 32 years ago to show solidarity with Nepalese, who are among the poorest in the world. “Over 90 percent of the Nepalese want Nepal to be a Hindu state. However, the government is led by people whose only concern is power and money.”

Pandey’s campaign is supported by Hindu groups from India and the West: Narendranath Saraswati, who is the Shankaracharya or religious head of a prominent Hindu shrine in India’s Varanasi city; Dr. Tilak Chaitanya, chief of a group in the United Kingdom that propagates the Gita, the holy book of the Hindus; and Tahal Kishore, head of a Hindu organization, Radha Krishna Sevashram, in the United States.

Two weeks before the May 28 deadline for the new constitution, Pandey and his followers plan to step up the campaign for a “Hindu state” in the capital. Though Pandey denies it could stir up animosity between the majority-Hindus and Christians – whose minority population is said to have crossed 2 million but is actually only 850,801, according to Operation World – there are fears of religious tension if not outright violence.

The Hindu rallies continue to grow as a pressure tactic. Yesterday (April 18), members of Nepal Brahman Samaj, an organization of “upper castes” from whose echelons temple priests are appointed, fought with security forces in front of parliament house, demanding their rights be respected and an end to conversions.

More Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) campaigning is scheduled on April 29, when the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal’s Thapa has called for a mass gathering in the capital.  

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org