The Price of Oil

BBC News - Ban Ki-moon condemns Sudanese air raid on South Sudan

via BBC News – Ban Ki-moon condemns Sudanese air raid on South Sudan.

The past few months have seen sporadic fighting in the oil-rich areas along the two countries’ undemarcated border, prompting concern the violence could escalate into a full-blown war.

When South Sudan voted for independence, they knew they would have a steady income – oil.  The problem lies in selling it, however.  Because the new country is landlocked, it relies on pipelines through Sudan to ports on the Red Sea.

In January, South Sudan decided to shut down oil production, which provides 98% of the government’s revenue, after Khartoum impounded South Sudanese oil shipments amid a dispute over transit fees.

The growing dispute has escalated into air raids and ground fighting in areas along the border.  If it is not resolved soon, a repeat of the 22 year long civil war is possible.

Meanwhile, South Sudan’s President Kiir has arrived in China for a six-day visit during which he will meet his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao.

China has traditionally been an ally of diplomatically-isolated Sudan, but observers say Chinese officials are likely to push for an end to hostilities between the two countries.

China is the major buyer of Sudanese oil, so they have a vested interest in solving the problem quickly.  Sudan takes almost a quarter of the South’s oil as payment for export fees.  Since the oil is the main source of government revenue in the desperately poor nation,  South Sudan is upset with what they call the “theft.”

How will this crisis be resolved?  What effect will the dispute have on oil prices?  How many more refugees will leave their homes due to the fighting?  And how will the South Sudan government pay for all the infrastructure they need if they can’t export their oil?

The following is from Human Rights Watch, via Nicholas Kristof

One Child, or Else! (But make sure its a boy)

Ex-diving star Tian’s second child spurs probe — Shanghai Daily | 上海日报 — English Window to China New.

AN investigation has been launched into whether two-time Olympic diving champion Tian Liang has violated China’s one-child policy after his wife, Ye Yiqian, gave birth to a boy, their second child, in Hong Kong early this year.

China adopted the one-child policy in 1978 to curb population growth that led to a doubling of China’s population in less than 30 years (1949-76).

The Shaanxi Province Population and Family Planning Commission is investigating whether Tian broke China’s family-planning rules. Under the law, there are only a few conditions under which couples can have a second child.

Online, many people said that none of those conditions – such as both parents coming from one-child families themselves – applied in Tian’s case

Parents who violate the rules must pay hefty fines.  Schooling and healthcare also become more expensive, since those with more than one child must pay the full cost.

Some rural families, minority groups, or people who were themselves only children can be exempted from the family-planning policy.  Also, children born overseas who do not seek Chinese citizenship are exempt.

The policy has managed to curb the population growth, but has led to a gender imbalance, since many families want a son.  Males are the ones who (well, their wives, really) care for aging parents.  Females move off and live with the husband’s family.  So according to tradition and social custom, sons are very important.  This has led to female infanticide and gender-selective abortions, to ensure male offspring.  And now China has “missing women,” almost 50 million according to some estimates.

But back to the Chinese diving sensation and now movie star:

Tian, who works at the Shaanxi Sports Bureau in central China’s Shaanxi Province, could face expulsion from the government facility.

The bureau said late last week that Tian was removed from his position as vice director of the swimming administration center but wouldn’t be sacked because his son was born in Hong Kong.

The policy has curbed growth, and in a few years China’s population will quit growing altogether, and begin to shrink.  Will the policy change?  How will a shrinking population affect the labor force?  At what point do government officials think the population will be ‘just right’?





Overcrowded Planet

via In Nigeria, a Preview of an Overcrowded Planet –

In a quarter-century, at the rate Nigeria is growing, 300 million people — a population about as big as that of the present-day United States — will live in a country roughly the size of Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada.

If the population growth continues, by 2100 they will surpass the US as the 3rd most populous nation, with over 700 million people.  According to United Nations Population Division data released in May 2011, the global population could increase to over 15.8 billion by 2100.  Most of the growth will occur in sub-Saharan Africa.

Lifelong residents like Peju Taofika and her three granddaughters inhabit a room in a typical apartment block known as a “Face Me, Face You” because whole families squeeze into 7-by-11-foot rooms along a narrow corridor. Up to 50 people share a kitchen, toilet and sink — though the pipes in the neighborhood often no longer carry water.

Students are packed into classrooms, up to 100 to a room.  High school and university graduates can’t find jobs – unemployment among the 20-somethings is 50% in urban areas.  Unemployed, dissatisfied youth are more likely to cause trouble, joining groups like Boko Haram.

So what are countries doing to make sure they can provide services for all those people?

Across sub-Saharan Africa, alarmed governments have begun to act, often reversing longstanding policies that encouraged or accepted large families. Nigeria made contraceptives free last year, and officials are promoting smaller families as a key to economic salvation, holding up the financial gains in nations like Thailand as inspiration.

Nigeria, already the world’s sixth most populous nation with 167 million people, is a crucial test case, since its success or failure at bringing down birthrates will have outsize influence on the world’s population. If this large nation rich with oil cannot control its growth, what hope is there for the many smaller, poorer countries?

Half of Nigerian women are under 19, and so population will continue to rise as they reach their child=bearing years.  The status of women is also on the line –

Large families signal prosperity and importance in African cultures; some cultures let women attend village meetings only after they have had their 11th child.

According to the article, there are also regional differences, as would be expected:

The average number of children per woman in the wealthier south of Nigeria has decreased slightly in the last five years, but increased to 7.3 in the predominantly Muslim north, where women often cannot go to a family planning clinic unless accompanied by a man.

Another issue with the continuance of large families is the decreasing amount of land

In Nigeria’s desperately poor neighbor, Niger, women have on average more than seven children, and men consider their ideal to be more than 12. But with land divided among so many sons, the size of a typical family plot has fallen by more than a third since 2005, meaning there is little long-term hope for feeding children.

How will these countries, and the other nations of sub-Saharan Africa, cope with their rapidly increasing numbers?  Will some natural tragedy befall them?  Will they be able to feed increasing numbers of people?  How will they provide services and infrastructure for all the new souls?  Will the rest of the world really step up to help?

Megaslums – The Solution?

Dhaka Bangladesh | Megacity | Urbanization.

Depending on how one measures, the planet now boasts 20 or so megacities — urban agglomerations where the United Nations estimates the population has reached 10 million or more. The world’s rapid urbanization is a reality fraught with both peril and hope. The peril is obvious. Overcrowding, pollution, poverty, impossible demands for energy and water all result in an overwhelming sense these megacities will simply collapse. But the hope, while less obvious, needs more attention. The potential efficiencies of urban living, the access to health care and jobs, along with plummeting urban birth rates have all convinced some environmental theorists the migration to cities may in fact save the planet. But only, these experts hasten to add, if this shift is well managed.

Because You Asked Today in Class

I saw this in the news, so I’m sharing:

400 Girls And Women In Afghanistan Are In Prison For Running Away From Forced Marriages And Beatings.

Up to 400 women and girls are being held in Afghan prisons for “moral crimes” including running away from home to escape beatings or forced marriage according to a study.

Virtually all teenage girls held in prison are accused of immorality, either extramarital sex or running away, and around half of adult women inmates.

In the ten years since the US invaded the country with the goal of overthrowing the Taliban and bringing human rights to the country, not much has changed.  Girls are forced into marriage at an early age, and when they run away, they are jailed.  The Afghan Supreme Court has ruled this is ok, since they are being “protected” from prostitution and promiscuity.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said: “It is shocking that 10 years after the overthrow of the Taliban, women and girls are still imprisoned for running away from domestic violence or forced marriage.

“No one should be locked up for fleeing a dangerous situation even if it’s at home. President Karzai and Afghanistan’s allies should act decisively to end this abusive and discriminatory practice.”

The report, called “I Had to Run Away,” details shocking stories of abuse in the poor, war-torn country.

The United Nations has estimated around three quarters of marriages in Afghanistan are forced and unmarried girls are also sometimes given, or exchanged, to resolve disputes or stand in place of a dowry.

Few women are able to gain divorces. If they run away instead, the husband’s family often press for a conviction of extramarital sex as well, as an extra punishment, the report found.

What will enable women to gain their rights?  What cultural values support the current system, and how can they be changed?  Why is this arrangement acceptable in this country (and others)?

Timbuktu and Tuareg, Too

Rebels threaten Timbuktu’s ancient treasures – ABC Melbourne – Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Timbuktu, a cradle of Islamic learning and a thriving trade centre in its 16th-century heyday, was overrun on Sunday by Tuareg separatists and Islamist rebels.

The takeover follows hard on the heel of a military coup in the Mali capital.  Tuareg rebels took advantage of the power vacuum to seize the ancient city.

The ancient trading center, a link between gold and salt traders, is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Once home to universities with 25,000 students, the town is now being swallowed by the sands of the Sahara desert.  But many of those ancient library manuscripts still exist:

Timbuktu is home to nearly 100,000 ancient manuscripts, some dating to the 12th century, preserved in family homes and private libraries under the care of religious scholars.

“These manuscripts have survived through the ages thanks to a secular order, in an area of trade where all the region’s peoples intersect. With the arrival of the Islamists, that secular order is broken, that culture is in danger,” he said.

Also endangered is the unique architecture of Timbuktu.  Mud mosques and houses abound, but the buildings are susceptible to bullets.

“Timbuktu’s outstanding earthen architectural wonders that are the great mosques of Djingareyber, Sankore and Sidi Yahia must be safeguarded,” UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova said.

She called the city “essential to the preservation of the identity of the people of Mali and of our universal heritage”.

Will the coup leaders heed the calls of the African Union to stand down and restore democracy?  Will the rebels destroy the ancient city, or will they retreat?  Hopefully Mali’s unique treasures will survive this most recent assault.

Read a description of the town in the 1700s here.

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