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AS IT IS - The Relations Between Burma's Ethnic Rohingyas and Rakhine Buddhists

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From VOA Learning English, welcome to AS IT IS! Hello, I'm Steve Ember.

Today we look at relations between Burma's ethnic Rohingyas and Rakhine Buddhists, which have been tense for years.

A report to the United Nations Human Rights Council on how empowering women would help reduce hunger around the world.

And, the World Health Organization now estimates that more than 360 million people suffer from disabling hearing loss.

These stories coming up on "As It Is."

Thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled Burma by sea to escape religious violence. The United Nations plans to discuss their situation at a conference in Jakarta later this month. Bob Doughty has more.

Relations between Burma's ethnic Rohingyas and Rakhine Buddhists have been tense for years.

Recently, a crowd of angry Buddhists targeted a non-Rohingya Muslim community in Rangoon, Burma's largest city. They attacked stores and a school. The cause of the violence was unclear. Some reports said people thought an Islamic religious center was being built there.

Nyunt Maung Shein is president of Burma's Islamic Religious Affairs Council. He says relations between Muslims and Buddhists in Burma are generally satisfactory. He says a small minority caused the violence in Rangoon. And he blames politics, not discrimination or religion.

Former Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla agrees. He visited Burma's Rohingya camps last year. He also has worked to reduce religious conflicts in two parts of Indonesia: Aceh and Maluku.

Mr. Kalla says conflicts that often appear to be fueled by theological differences are influenced by economic, not religiousbased, issues.

But ethnic Rohingyas are denied citizenship in Burma. That is true even for Rohingya families who have lived in the country for generations.

Phil Robertson works for the group Human Rights Watch. He says the violence in Rangoon demonstrates the weak state of interreligious harmony in Burmese society.

"Once that discriminatory standard is set that some have rights and some don't, in a multi-ethnic country like Burma, this is a profoundly dangerous lesson to draw."

He adds that the international community needs to work with people of good will in Burma to prevent more violence from taking place.

You are listening to "AS IT IS" in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.

A special investigator on the right to food says empowering women would help reduce hunger around the world. The United Nations investigator gave his report to the UN Human Rights Council earlier this month.

The report says discrimination keeps women powerless and forces them to work hard, both inside and outside the home. It says families can be harmed when women are denied the right to education and the chance to seek work that could improve their economic well-being.

UN special investigator Olivier De Schutter says men in developing countries often must move away from the farm in search of work. The women who are left to do the farming are often denied the tools to do the job. The investigator is calling for an end to all laws and customs that prevent women from owning land or borrowing money for seeds and equipment.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has reported that women could increase production on their farms by 20 to 30 percent if they had equal access.

Mr. De Schutter says women also must care for their children and older family members, transport water and fuel, prepare food, and do other things. Yet he notes women often have no control over household spending.

"Women, when they are not able to decide where the household budget should go to, which priorities it should be dedicated to, are not in a position to improve, as they could, the health, educational, nutritional outcomes for the children."

Mr. De Schutter says research has shown that 20 percent more children survive when women have decision-making power within the family. He says this is because women make the right choices for their children.

He also says research shows the education of women to be one of the best ways of gaining food security. A study of developing countries between 1970 and 1995 found a 43 percent decrease in hunger because of progress in women's education.

The UN investigator says greater efforts must be made to guarantee equality between the sexes. He urges governments to do more to help women by providing services like childcare, running water and electricity.

"We will only succeed in doing this if men understand that they have a stake in this transformation that they are not threatened by this transformation, but instead can have a lot to gain by this redefinition of the respective roles of men and women."

Mr. De Schutter says involving men in the reforms takes more time and is more difficult. Yet, he says, including men has more lasting results.

You are listening to "As It Is" in VOA Special English.

New estimates by the World Health Organization show that more than 360 million people suffer from disabling hearing loss. That number represents more than five percent of the world's population. WHO also says more people face losing their hearing as they age. It notes that one in three people over the age of 65 has difficulty hearing. But it is not just older adults who suffer from hearing loss. Elizabeth Fuller has the story.

Shelly Chadha of WHO says about 32 million children under age

15 have the problem. She describes how it can happen.

"There is (are) conditions which lead to this hard of hearing situation include ear infections, which are very, very common in the low and middle-income countries…"

Dr. Chadha also blames noise for the condition.

She notes that damaging noise traditionally was limited to some occupations. But today, she says, environmental noise and technology-related noise are, in her words, "a part of all our lives."

WHO reports disabling hearing loss is highest in South Asia, East Asia and the Pacific and Africa south of the Sahara Desert.

Vaccinations can prevent most infectious diseases that can cause hearing loss. WHO says about half of all cases of hearing loss can easily be prevented.

But Dr. Chadha says many people fear seeking help because society may not find hearing loss acceptable.

"Even where we do try to improve access to hearing aids, very often people are resistant because they do not want to wear a hearing aid."

WHO says people with hearing loss who are not able to communicate with others often feel lonely. And in developing countries, the health experts say children with this problem rarely receive any schooling. I'm Elizabeth Fuller.

And that's "As It Is" for today. Remember you can hear the latest news at the top of the hour Universal Time. I'm Steve Ember.

Thanks for joining us.

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