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Water in Central Asia: An increasingly scarce resource

12-09-2018

While it is rich in fossil fuels and minerals, Central Asia is poor in water. However, water plays a key role in the economies of the five Central Asian countries. In mountainous Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, hydroelectricity is already a vital energy resource; new dams could also make it a major export revenue earner. Downstream, river water irrigates the cotton fields of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Heavy water use, particularly in agriculture, is putting water supplies under pressure. Central Asian ...

While it is rich in fossil fuels and minerals, Central Asia is poor in water. However, water plays a key role in the economies of the five Central Asian countries. In mountainous Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, hydroelectricity is already a vital energy resource; new dams could also make it a major export revenue earner. Downstream, river water irrigates the cotton fields of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Heavy water use, particularly in agriculture, is putting water supplies under pressure. Central Asian countries have to share limited resources fairly, while balancing the needs of upstream hydroelectricity generation and downstream agriculture. For this reason, cooperation is vital. However, competition for water has often been a source of tensions, particularly between Uzbekistan and its upstream neighbours. The situation has improved recently, now that Uzbekistan's new president has taken a more constructive approach to resolving these regional water-related problems. Water use also has many environmental implications. Soviet engineers succeeded in turning deserts into fertile farmland, but at the expense of the Aral Sea, a formerly huge inland lake that has all but dried up. Intensive agriculture is also polluting the region's rivers and soils. Leaky irrigation infrastructure and unsustainable greening projects are wasting huge amounts of water. In future, more efficient water use and closer cooperation will become increasingly necessary, as population growth and climate change pile pressure on the region's scarce water resources. The EU has made water one of the main priorities of its development aid for the region. Among other things, EU funding supports regional cooperation and improvements to water infrastructure.

Digital technology in elections: Efficiency versus credibility?

10-09-2018

Digital technology brings greater efficiency in many walks of life, and elections are no exception. Online databases hugely facilitate the task of creating and managing accurate and up-to-date electoral rolls. In less developed countries, whose citizens often lack reliable identity documents, biometric technology can help to identify voters, thus preventing fraud in the form of multiple voting. However, for some aspects of election management, digitalisation is more controversial. Electronic voting ...

Digital technology brings greater efficiency in many walks of life, and elections are no exception. Online databases hugely facilitate the task of creating and managing accurate and up-to-date electoral rolls. In less developed countries, whose citizens often lack reliable identity documents, biometric technology can help to identify voters, thus preventing fraud in the form of multiple voting. However, for some aspects of election management, digitalisation is more controversial. Electronic voting machines count votes quickly and accurately. First used in the United States, they have spread to several Latin American and Asian countries. However, the intangible nature of digital processes makes detecting tampering more difficult; as a result, most European countries are sticking to tried-and-trusted conventional paper ballots. Even more controversial is the idea of internet voting. On the one hand, allowing citizens the convenience of casting their vote online without the need to visit polling stations could help to reverse a worrying decline in voter turnout across the world. On the other hand, current technology does not allow internet voting systems to be fully secured against hackers, a major concern given the growing sophistication of cyber-attacks (for example, from Russia). To date, only Estonia gives all voters the option of online voting in national elections.

Seven economic challenges for Russia: Breaking out of stagnation?

18-07-2018

This publication describes the current condition of the Russian economy, which has suffered recently from external shocks, such as a collapse in oil prices and Western sanctions. However, it argues that poor economic performance has more to do with long-term internal problems, including a lack of competitive markets, low levels of investment, an absence of innovation and excessive dependence on natural resources. Finally, it discusses President Putin's promises of economic reforms to tackle such ...

This publication describes the current condition of the Russian economy, which has suffered recently from external shocks, such as a collapse in oil prices and Western sanctions. However, it argues that poor economic performance has more to do with long-term internal problems, including a lack of competitive markets, low levels of investment, an absence of innovation and excessive dependence on natural resources. Finally, it discusses President Putin's promises of economic reforms to tackle such issues, and evaluates the prospects for major change.

Human Rights in Cambodia

16-07-2018

Ravaged by genocide and armed conflict in the 1970s and 1980s, since 1985 Cambodia has been under the stable but repressive rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen. Nominally a multi-party democracy, the country has long been in effect a one-party state. Repression has intensified since the results of the 2013 election showed growing support for the opposition. With the next parliamentary election scheduled for July 2018, the government decided to ban the country's main opposition party, a move which drew ...

Ravaged by genocide and armed conflict in the 1970s and 1980s, since 1985 Cambodia has been under the stable but repressive rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen. Nominally a multi-party democracy, the country has long been in effect a one-party state. Repression has intensified since the results of the 2013 election showed growing support for the opposition. With the next parliamentary election scheduled for July 2018, the government decided to ban the country's main opposition party, a move which drew international condemnation.

Human rights in Thailand

04-07-2018

Thailand is one of several south-east Asian countries where the human rights situation has recently deteriorated. Following a military coup in May 2014, the junta clamped down on political dissent. In 2017 a new constitution restored some of the rights taken away in 2014, but the timing of elections remains uncertain and the military is likely to maintain political influence even after handing over power to a civilian government. Other long-standing concerns include abuses of migrant workers' labour ...

Thailand is one of several south-east Asian countries where the human rights situation has recently deteriorated. Following a military coup in May 2014, the junta clamped down on political dissent. In 2017 a new constitution restored some of the rights taken away in 2014, but the timing of elections remains uncertain and the military is likely to maintain political influence even after handing over power to a civilian government. Other long-standing concerns include abuses of migrant workers' labour rights and restrictions on freedom of expression.

EU sanctions: A key foreign and security policy instrument

08-05-2018

Sanctions have become an increasingly central element of the EU's common and foreign security policy. At present, the EU has 42 sanctions programmes in place, making it the world's second-most active user of restrictive measures, after the US. Unlike the comprehensive trade embargoes used in the past, the EU has moved towards asset freezes and visa bans targeted at individual persons and companies, aiming to influence foreign governments while avoiding humanitarian costs for the general population ...

Sanctions have become an increasingly central element of the EU's common and foreign security policy. At present, the EU has 42 sanctions programmes in place, making it the world's second-most active user of restrictive measures, after the US. Unlike the comprehensive trade embargoes used in the past, the EU has moved towards asset freezes and visa bans targeted at individual persons and companies, aiming to influence foreign governments while avoiding humanitarian costs for the general population. Other measures in the sanctions toolkit include arms embargoes, sectoral trade and investment restrictions, as well as suspensions of development aid and trade preferences. The declared purpose of EU sanctions is to uphold the international security order as well as defending human rights and democracy standards, by encouraging targeted countries to change their behaviour. Measuring their effectiveness is difficult, as sanctions rarely achieve all their aims, and usually there are other causes to which changes can be attributed. However, even when this primary purpose is not achieved, sanctions may have useful secondary effects, for example by deterring other actors from similar behaviour. The broader the international support for EU sanctions and the closer the relationship between the EU and the targeted country are, the stronger the prospects for success will be. On the other hand, effectiveness can be undermined by inconsistent application of sanctions standards and by the difficulty of coordinating implementation between multiple stakeholders.

Malaysia's 2018 general election

26-04-2018

On 9 May 2018, Malaysians go to the polls to elect federal and state parliaments. Although a financial scandal and rising living costs have dented the popularity of the government, the opposition faces an uphill battle to end the governing Barisan Nasional coalition's six-decade rule, and it is not widely expected to win.

On 9 May 2018, Malaysians go to the polls to elect federal and state parliaments. Although a financial scandal and rising living costs have dented the popularity of the government, the opposition faces an uphill battle to end the governing Barisan Nasional coalition's six-decade rule, and it is not widely expected to win.

Socioeconomic inequality in Russia

19-04-2018

Russia has gone from Soviet-era egalitarianism to extremes of wealth and poverty. Economic growth since 2000 has slightly reduced the gap between rich and poor, but inequality is still higher than in most other developed countries. The income gap is exacerbated by such factors as corruption and low taxes for the rich, but it is also mitigated by a relatively inclusive education system.

Russia has gone from Soviet-era egalitarianism to extremes of wealth and poverty. Economic growth since 2000 has slightly reduced the gap between rich and poor, but inequality is still higher than in most other developed countries. The income gap is exacerbated by such factors as corruption and low taxes for the rich, but it is also mitigated by a relatively inclusive education system.

Water disputes in the Mekong basin

17-04-2018

The Mekong is south-east Asia's longest river (around 4 900km). From its source in Tibet, it flows southwards through the Chinese province of Yunnan before passing through five south-east Asian countries (Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam). Nearly half of the river is in China, where it is known as the Lancang. For the 70 million people who live in the Mekong basin, the river is a vital source of food and water, as well as an important transport route. Increasingly, it is being used to ...

The Mekong is south-east Asia's longest river (around 4 900km). From its source in Tibet, it flows southwards through the Chinese province of Yunnan before passing through five south-east Asian countries (Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam). Nearly half of the river is in China, where it is known as the Lancang. For the 70 million people who live in the Mekong basin, the river is a vital source of food and water, as well as an important transport route. Increasingly, it is being used to generate hydroelectricity. Human activity threatens the river's fauna and flora, and competition for natural resources is intensifying.

Russia's 2018 presidential election: Six more years of Putin

08-03-2018

On 18 March 2018, Russians will elect the president who will govern their country for the next six years. Incumbent, Vladimir Putin is firmly on track to win, with approval ratings that have stayed above 80 % since Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. Russians see him as a strong president, who has brought order to the country and restored its great power status. They are worried about the economy, poverty and corruption, but these problems, though partly blamed on Putin, have barely dented ...

On 18 March 2018, Russians will elect the president who will govern their country for the next six years. Incumbent, Vladimir Putin is firmly on track to win, with approval ratings that have stayed above 80 % since Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. Russians see him as a strong president, who has brought order to the country and restored its great power status. They are worried about the economy, poverty and corruption, but these problems, though partly blamed on Putin, have barely dented his popularity. Reportedly, Putin's campaign has set a twin target of a 70 % vote in his favour and a 70 % turnout. Polls suggest that Putin will indeed win by a record margin, but also that a low turnout will tarnish his victory, denying him a ringing endorsement at the start of his fourth and probably final term in office. Apathy will probably be the main reason for voters staying at home, but some will heed an election boycott called by Alexey Navalny, Putin's most vocal opponent, who has been barred from the race. Vying for second place are seven other candidates. The most likely runners-up are veteran Vladimir Zhirinovsky and newcomer Pavel Grudinin. Reality TV star Xenia Sobchak adds colour to an otherwise lacklustre campaign, but few see her as a credible candidate. Widespread electoral fraud on the day of the vote is not expected. Nevertheless, the exclusion of Alexey Navalny and the lack of any real alternative to Putin raise questions about the democratic legitimacy of the election.

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