Monday, April 25, 2011

Landmines Are Not an Issue of Security but Rather an Issue of Human Rights

By Ozlem Ozturk

Toplumsal Duyarlilik Dernegi (Association for Social Awareness)

Children don’t play soccer or tag in southeastern Turkey. They wish they did. But the several thousands of landmines that are scattered across over 3,000 villages won’t allow them. According to the Turkish-based Human Rights Association, and Association for Social Awareness (ASA), the regions of Mardin, Sirnak, Hakkari, Siirt, Diyarbakir, Bitlis, Batman, Van and Bingol are especially overrun with landmines.

Landmines were planted as a result of an intense conflict in Turkey’s southeast over the past several decades. Both Turkish government forces and opposition rebels are guilty of planting the deadly weapons. Landmine Monitor estimates that over 930,00 mines were planted between 1957 and 1998.

Though the number of landmines in Turkey is grossly high, there is little information about them. There are no studies, research or evaluation about the risks of unexploded mines. Moreover, there are no laws on behalf of mine victims.

Since June 2008, as ASA, we have been fighting to eliminate landmines and raise awareness to protect the public. We are committed to making landmine awareness a human rights issue that the Turkish government needs to tackle. Toward that end, in 2006, we conducted a survey in Hakkari, collecting data about unexploded mines and information about those injured by mines. From 2006 to 2007 we rolled out a “Therapy and Prosthetics Project” that provided prosthetics to 65 landmine victims. It culminated in the publication of a book entitled Geride Kalanlar.

These efforts have shed much needed light on the plight of those living in the southeast of Turkey, often under harsh conditions of poverty, gender inequality and poor education. Organizations such as Turkish Philanthropy Funds are critical in helping move our efforts forward.

One of those efforts has been the “Mine and Conflict Waste Education for Children” program. Piloted in Hakkari, this program aims to reduce the risk of harm that unexploded landmines can have on children. The project is currently run in public elementary schools where children between 7 and 15 learn about the dangers of landmines and other explosives. It’s touched 20,000 in Hakkari. Since the program started there have been no landmine accidents.

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Monday, April 4, 2011

Will Bill Gates and Warren Buffett visit Turkey?

By Michael Green

Is giving America’s new big export to the world? Bill Gates and Warren Buffett certainly hope so. Last month they visited India on their second foreign expedition, after a trip to China at the end of last year, to promote their ‘Giving Pledge’ – a commitment by billionaires to give away at least half of their wealth. The idea has certainly taken off back home, where one in ten of America’s super-rich have signed on the dotted line. Could Turkey be next?

Critics have been quick to point out that the ‘Giving Pledge’ tours have not been a rip-roaring success. In China Buffett and Gates got a pretty indifferent response, in public at least, and none of India’s economic winners has yet signed on. This is no surprise say some who think that philanthropy is a curiously American habit that is inappropriate in countries with different cultures and social models.

Yet philanthropy is not an alien concept outside America. In India in particular there is a rich tradition of giving, as Gates acknowledged on his visit, that goes back centuries and lives on today through the philanthropy of people like Ratan Tata, the head of the giant Tata industrial group.

Indeed, rather than being a call to action to overseas billionaires, the Giving Pledge tour is better understood as an acknowledgement of a trend that is already underway. In both India and China the fundamentals are in place for a boom in giving – a new generation of entrepreneurial wealth-creators and countries with plenty of tough challenges ahead as they try to turn soaring economic growth into sustainable and equitable development for their societies.

America was already exporting the idea of high-impact philanthropy long before Gates and Buffett set off on their tour – through successful Chinese and Indian Americans giving back to their countries of origin. Take Vinod Khosla for example. Born and raised in India, he earned his fortune in venture capital in California and is now applying his business skills to his giving back in his home country through a series of investments in ‘social’ businesses like the microcredit provider SKS.

Such diaspora philanthropy is a growing trend in its own right. Migrants have always been generous in supporting their families and communities at home – according to the World Bank global remittance flows are now far greater than official aid from the governments of rich countries. But it’s not just about the cash. From Haiti to India, diaspora philanthropists are getting increasingly well organised and focused on making sure that their giving is more than expression of concern but a real force for change.

The Turkish economy is certainly producing the entrepreneurial wealth to fuel a golden age of philanthropy. Maybe, with the help and leadership of the diaspora, Turkey might soon merit a visit from Messrs Buffett and Gates.

Michael Green is the co-author, with Matthew Bishop, of Philanthrocapitalism: how giving can save the world

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