Wednesday, May 26, 2010

50,000 Afghan refugees return home so far this year

ince January 2010, some 50,000 Afghan refugees have returned home from the neighboring states of Pakistan and Iran, a statement of United Nations Refugee Agency ( UNHCR) said Sunday.
"Two months after the UN Refugee Agency resumed its 2010 voluntary repatriation program in Pakistan and five months since return started in Iran, 50,000 Afghan refugees have returned home with UNHCR's assistance," the statement said.
Of these, 48,000 refugees have returned from Pakistan and some 2,000 others from Iran, the statement further said.
The UNHCR-assisted repatriation program from Pakistan, according to the statement resumed on March 22; while from Iran early this year.
Each Afghan returning with UNHCR assistance receives a cash grant averaging about 100 U.S. dollars, depending on the distance to their area of origin. The grant is given out to returning refugees at one of the five UNHCR encashment centers in Afghanistan.
There are still some 2.7 million registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran many of whom have lived there for over two decades.Over 6 million Afghans had left their home country due to three decades of war and civil strife.
More than 3.6 million Afghans have returned home from Pakistan and 865,000 others from Iran with UNHCR's help since 2002, the UN Refugee Agency stressed in the statement.

Conflict injuries stretch Afghan health services: ICRC

KABUL — Health services in Afghanistan, one of the world's poorest countries, are being strained by a rising number of people injured in the escalating insurgent war, the Red Cross said Tuesday.
Southern provinces Helmand and Kandahar, where fighting between Taliban and US-led NATO and Afghan forces is intensifying, were the most troubling areas, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement.
"Fighting, mines and road blocks are preventing many people in the conflict-affected areas of Afghanistan from getting to hospital," it said."The armed conflict is taking a heavy toll on health services around the country. Even basic first aid is often lacking, let alone advanced war surgery. And when health care is available, it is not always easy to get it," it said.
This has been the case in Marjah, a poppy-growing district of Helmand where international and Afghan forces launched a major operation in mid-February.
Insurgents planted booby-trap bombs, known as improvised explosive devices (IEDs), throughout Marjah, impeding the progress of military and civilian efforts to re-establish government sovereignty, the statement said.
Mines planted on roads around Marjah made it difficult for residents and injured Taliban fighters alike to leave.
"Even after the fighting is over in a particular area, we're having difficulty transporting patients to doctors," the statement quoted a volunteer with the Afghan Red Crescent Society as saying.
"Mines, checkpoints and general insecurity stop us getting through safely," the volunteer said.
The ICRC said it was seeing a similar situation emerge in neighbouring Kandahar, which has become the latest focus of the war and regarded by the Taliban as their fiefdom.The ICRC said its operatives had tracked a "worrying" trend in Kandahar with "a substantial increase in the number of patients injured by improvised explosive devices and other weapons".
Attacks against international forces are also on the rise as US, NATO and Afghan forces put the squeeze on the insurgents with the aim of eradicating the Taliban threat from the province before elections set for September.The United States and NATO are ramping up their overall deployment in Afghanistan to 150,000 troops by August. Most of the thousands of extra troops will go through Kandahar as part of the operations underway there.Health facilities are woefully inadequate in Afghanistan, which has been in the grip of war for the past three decades.
Hospitals and clinics, along with education and power generation, top the wish lists of Afghans but despite billions of dollars in aid since the Taliban regime was overthrown in 2001, health remains poorly under-resourced.
The ICRC said it was training Afghan doctors, as well as providing first aid training and equipment to "arms carriers and to civilians living in conflict areas".

More Workers Start to Quit

As the job market begins to loosen up, human-resource managers might increasingly be surprised by an announcement from employees they haven't heard in a while: "I quit."
In February, the number of employees voluntarily quitting surpassed the number being fired or discharged for the first time since October 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Before February, the BLS had recorded more layoffs than resignations for 15 straight months, the first such streak since the bureau started tracking the data a decade ago. Since the BLS began tracking the data, the average number of people voluntarily leaving their jobs per month has been about 2.7 million. But since October 2008, the average number dropped to as low as 1.72 million. In March, it was about 1.87 million.And recent sentiment indicates that the number of employees quitting could continue to grow in the coming months. In a poll conducted by human-resources consultant Right Management at the end of 2009, 60% of workers said they intended to leave their jobs when the market got better. "The research is fairly alarming," says Michael Haid, senior vice president of global solutions for Right Management. "The churn for companies could be very costly."

Adecco Group, a world-wide staffing firm based in Zurich, has seen several of its clients ask for candidates for key positions after employees made surprise departures, says Vice President Rich Thompson. Although so far there haven't been widespread departures, Mr. Thompson says his company is readying itself for large-scale changes within the next few months. "We're preparing for a massive reshuffling of talent at all job levels in all industries," he says, noting that the recession earlier this decade was so short and shallow that the turnover this time around is likely to be much greater.

Recruiters and human-resource experts say the increase in employees giving notice is a product of two forces. First, the natural turnover of employees leaving to advance their careers didn't occur during the recession because jobs were so scarce. This created a backlog of workers waiting for better times to make a move to better jobs. The median monthly voluntary turnover rate in 2009 was 0.5%, half of the rate in 2008, according to the Bureau of National Affairs, a specialized news publisher for professionals.
During the recession, even if they heard of an opening, employees were reluctant to switch employers, says Peter Cappelli, director of the Center for Human Resources at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business. "The idea of moving when the world was already in uncertainty was quite scary," he says. But those hang-ups are disappearing, and employees are becoming more receptive to recruiter calls and beginning to tap their networks again for signs of opportunities, he says.

Another factor making it harder for companies to retain employees is the effect of the heavy cost-cutting and downsizing during the downturn on workers' morale. A survey conducted last summer for the Conference Board, a management research organization, found that the drivers of the drop in job fulfillment included less satisfaction with wages and less interest in work. In 2009, 34.6% of workers were satisfied with their wages, down more than seven percentage points from 1987. About 51% in 2009 said they were interested in work, down 19 percentage points from 1987.

"Employees feel disengaged with their jobs, which is going to lead to a lot of churn as we come out of the recession," says Brett Good, a district president of Southern California for Robert Half International (NYSE: RHI - News), an executive recruiting firm.

Mr. Good, who worked for Robert Half in the San Francisco Bay Area earlier this decade,says his company saw a "tremendous amount" of departures from technology companies that needed to be refilled when the dot-com recession ended. Already, Mr. Good says he's received calls from executives who nine months ago felt trapped because of economic conditions and didn't want to lose sure-thing positions, but now feel they're able to move on. "They feel like 'a bird in the hand' isn't good enough anymore," he says.

An increase in turnover can be costly for companies. It typically costs a company about half of the position's annual salary to recruit a person for that job, but the cost can run up to several times that if the position requires rare skills, says Right Management's Mr. Haid. Convincing employees to stay might not be cheap either. Nearly 5,400 members of, a job board for positions that pay $100,000 or more, responded to an April survey that asked how much more money it would take to convince them to stay if they wanted to leave. More than 20% said it would take a raise of more than $25,000. In all, about 50% of respondents said it would take more than $15,000.

To re-engage employees, Robert Half International is advising clients to hold town hall meetings and one-on-one sessions with employees to hear grievances and try to rekindle interest in the company among workers, Mr. Good says. Some clients had made broad-based cuts in departments based solely on salary or without regard to employee tenure, damaging the trust of the employees who survived, Mr. Good says.

Florida Hospital Flagler, an 850-employee hospital in northern Florida, faced a 30% turnover rate in 2008, almost double the average for area hospitals, says Alyson Parker, director of human resources. That dipped to 20% in 2009 as the economy suppressed voluntary departures, but the hospital still spent $3 million in 2009 on covering open positions, and finding and training new employees. The average search for a new nurse, for example, costs the hospital between $52,000 and $60,000, Ms. Parker says. This year, the hospital implemented regular town hall and department meetings, and one-on-one "stay" interviews for employees to air grievances and give ways to improve the work environment. So far, the measures have helped the hospital to lower its turnover rate by about 2 percentage points. "We're trying to catch people before they even start looking for a new job, which will become even more important as the economy improves and more opportunities at competitors open up," Ms. Parker says.

Human-resource managers often have trouble getting resources from top management until employees actually start to leave, says Mr. Cappelli. In the late 1990s, companies that were losing employees started to offer concierge services, discounted lunches, and hiring bonuses in a mad scramble to keep employees and recruit new ones, a trend Mr. Cappelli says could come back if the job market continues to improve. But this time around, Mr. Cappelli says companies might try to deal with more nuanced employee requests, such as lowering stress at work, improving work-life balance, and creating more opportunities for career advancement within the company.

For some employees, it might be too late., a job board for tech professionals, asked members what could persuade them to stay in their jobs if they found another opportunity. More than 57% of the 1,273 surveyed said nothing could persuade them to stay. Of those who said they could be persuaded, 42% said they wanted a higher salary and 11% wanted a promotion.

Swat - regained Paradise Lost, welcomes once again

Once falling under the reign of terror, facing the largest displacement after military operation, the breathtaking valley of Swat - ringed by Hindu Kush mountains, once again invites its beloved nature lovers to flock to its scenic treasure. Located about 250 kilometers away from Islamabad, a valley - ‘regained paradise lost’ comes in the mountainous region to the north of the Peshawar plain; it includes the main valley of the upper course of the River Swat, for a length of about 200 km from the source.

After restoring peace, the valley seemed tranquil. Stores were opened and streets were bustling. Merchants, children, shoppers, bicyclists, goats, donkey carts, rickshaws and tractors jostled for space in the narrow roadways.
Efforts to promote tourism of Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) at Swat valley of course weigh a lot. To accomplish the goal, it offered attractive package to foreigners for Udyana and Suvastu- an ancient sources for Swat because of the scenic beauty of the valley and the name of the river respectively.
Apart from its fascinating landscapes, crystal clear water torrents, diverse flora and fanna, mesmerizing lakes, there are some ‘installations’ although to be ‘overlooked’ yet widely observed by visitors.
Factually, the spectacle role of Pakistan Army made possible the ‘densely forested valley’ peaceful for the survivors. It owes responsibility to continue safeguard ‘the beauty of nature’ through stalling its troops for lasting peace in the area.
People on their visit to Swat come across sprawling troops at different check posts to the valley, alarming the visitors of the residue of the past. The troops’ deployment is a part of long term strategy for durable peace, but it instilled a premature caution of the presence of relics of past for all.
In addition, another factor which reduces visits of tourists at the valley is presence of stinky atmosphere that surrounds the area. Rather, worth seen places have been abused by the people having least concern about beauty of nature.
“Worse” because for the most part, the quality of that local room, food and health products are unreliable and probably unregulated. And whose fault is that - the tourist’s?”, said a visitor staying at common and a low-paid motel. He added the motel management probably don’t filter their drinking water (forcing each and every guest to buy bottles of water, don’t provide garbage and bin and don’t ask guests if they’d be willing to have their sheets washed every other day.
It is not a matter of local business, some tourists and inhabitants of the locality were noticed throwing their garbage on the ground without even looking for a garbage bin - someone will deal with it, sometime. “I saw a lot of garbage on the way from Islamabad to here,” said a local journalists on trip to Swat.
It’s overwhelming issue, not to be overlooked, if we really want to revive the old era in the valley, to make it a ‘tourists heaven. What to be suggested, it should be taken at earnest level, for nature attracts people through its cleanliness.
Upon that critical situation, spokesman of Ministry of Tourism, Joint Secretary Muhammad Yasin Janjua described the issue as ‘very important’, but passed the buck to Tehsil Municipal Administration of Swat.
He said that it should at least be given training to the locals to save the environment, for it would boom business in malls of the city, causing prosperity to the local people. He assured to convey ‘the observation’ to concerned authority soon.
Answering the general impression after deploying the security forces at place to place in the area, the spokesman told APP that the matter had already been taken up in meeting with the military officials deputed in the locality.
“We told them to remove security check or at least lower down upto remarkable extent”, he said.
The cheered Moulana Atta-ur-Rehman after restoration of peace in the scenic valley, by using this medium of agency urged countrymen to visit Swat, assuring of complete security in the area. He added the provincial and federal governments were making efforts to revive tourism in the picturesque Swat valley.
He owed important role to the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to revive Swat, once a tourist hub. To conclude, it is certainly a paradise for nature lovers where they can feast their eyes on the diverse bounties of nature ranging from the densely forested.

Moderate Drinking May Protect Brain From Alzheimer's

Moderate drinking may help protect against the onset of Alzheimer's disease among otherwise healthy people, a new Spanish study suggests.
Women who don't smoke appear to gain the most benefit from alcohol consumption, according to the research team, from the University of Valencia, the Valencia government and the Municipal Institute of Medical Investigation in Barcelona.
"Our results suggest a protective effect of alcohol consumption, mostly in non-smokers, and the need to consider interactions between tobacco and alcohol consumption, as well as interactions with gender, when assessing the effects of smoking and/or drinking on the risk of Alzheimer's disease," the study's lead author, Ana M. Garcia, from the University of Valencia's department of preventive medicine and public health, said in a news release.
"Interactive effects of smoking and drinking are supported by the fact that both alcohol and tobacco affect brain neuronal receptors," Garcia explained.
The findings, published in the May issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, are gleaned from a comparative analysis of both the medical background and the smoking and drinking habits among people with Alzheimer's disease stacked up against a group of healthy individuals.Both groups were similar in age and in gender breakdown.
Smoking appeared to have no impact on Alzheimer's risk, the authors found. However, moderate drinking did seem to reduce risk for the disease, particularly among non-smoking women.