BEIJING – The global economic crisis has taken hold deep in China's impoverished countryside, as millions of rural migrants are laid off from factory jobs and left to scratch a living from tiny landholdings — creating unsettling prospects for a government anxious to avoid social unrest.

With demand for Chinese toy, shoe and electronics exports evaporating overseas, as many as 26 million of China's estimated 130 million migrant workers are now unemployed, the government announced Monday. A day earlier, Beijing warned of "possibly the toughest year" this decade and called for development of rural areas to offset the economic fallout.

"The government should not sit idly and disappoint the farmers," said Liu Shanying, a political scientist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

"If they are unemployed for a long time, it will be a time bomb," Liu said.

The severity of the situation will become clearer in the weeks ahead, as workers eager to test their prospects return from spending the Lunar New Year with their families in the countryside.

But already, agencies that seek to match workers with factory managers say demand has plummeted.

Zhang Quanshou, an agency director in the southern manufacturing powerhouse of Shenzhen, said he had requests for only half the number of workers as last year.

"Orders are down, so there are comparatively fewer jobs for the migrant workers," Zhang said Monday, as a crowd of workers fresh from Henan province, central China's breadbasket, filled out forms outside his office.

Zhang said he was seeking to adjust to the situation by first providing factory jobs to young women, seen by employers as more efficient at assembly line work.

"Last year, the demand for workers was high, so it was OK to have male workers and more mature workers. But this year, we asked the male and more mature workers to come later and the young women to come first," he said.

Throughout the years of China's long economic boom, migrant work provided a sort of social pressure release valve, allowing millions of farmers to escape to factory jobs in better developed coastal regions.

Those jobs, however, have dried up quickly as China's economic growth — once red-hot — plunged to 6.8 percent in the final quarter of last year. Analysts have cut forecasts for whole-year economic growth in 2009 to as low as 5 percent, with the export sector particularly hard-hit.

Layoffs have already led workers in some cities to take to the streets in protest at factory shutdowns or to demand back pay. Authorities have moved quickly to placate them, in some cases using public funds to pay workers after factory owners run off.

Now, the fear among Communist leaders is that unrest could spread to the countryside, where jobs have always been scarce and migrant workers contribute 65 percent of the average rural family's cash income, according to research from the People's Bank of China.

"We have roughly 25 million to 26 million rural migrant workers who are now coming under pressures for employment," Chen Xiwen, director of the Central Rural Work Leading Group, a government advisory body, said at a news conference Monday.

"So from that perspective, ensuring job creation and maintenance is ensuring the stability of the countryside."

In comparison, U.S. statistics in December showed an estimated 11.1 million Americans were without jobs, a rate of 7.2 percent unemployment that represents a 16-year high.

Adding to the pressure in China are millions of urban workers laid off amid the reform of moribund state industries in recent years and college graduates soon to be entering the work force.

Chen outlined a number of policies aimed at helping migrants, including encouraging companies to retain workers, investing in public projects to absorb rural workers and helping returning migrants set up businesses in their hometowns.

Premier Wen Jiabao also said in comments published Monday that Beijing was considering new steps to boost economic growth. The report, in the British newspaper Financial Times, did not give details of possible plans, which would follow a 4 trillion yuan ($586 billion) package unveiled in November with heavy spending onpublic works projects.

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Heavy snow fall disrupts UK transportation and communications

The heaviest snow to fall for 18 years has caused transport problems in some parts of the United Kingdom.

Almost a foot (30cm) of snow has fallen in the southeast of England, halting train and bus services and making driving treacherous. Flights to and from London's Heathrow and City airports and the outer London Gatwick and Stansted airports are suffering delays and cancellations. In some affected areas, the majority of schools have been closed.


The centre of London, which usually sees no snow at all most years, has around 4" (10cm) of laying snow, whilst Kent, Sussex and Surrey have up to 10" (25cm). The snow reduces further north but has still disrupted travel, with England's Highways Agency advising against car journeys unless essential. The agency had 500 gritters clearing main roads during the night and 600 motorway patrols out in the morning. Stretches of motorway and main road have been blocked by jack-knifed lorries or closed as a preemptive measure.

The snow caused disruption to British transport websites, with National Rail Enquiries, Transport for London and South West Trains websites all brought down by heavy traffic. The Highways Agency's site was also unavailable and returned with interactive features turned off. People calling and texting during the abortive rush hour jammed the mobile telephone networks. Mobile network '3' said it had seen "a very steep jump in the number of picture message sent across the network" whilst T-Mobile UK reported 73% more calls, 21% more texts and 20% more broadband bandwidth being used than usual.

The Met Office has a severe weather warning in place for England, Wales and parts of Scotland, with further snow expected across the country later in the week.


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Eurovision '82 winner Nicole talks about 'Ein bißchen Frieden', her success and the Contest today

It has been nearly 27 years since Nicole, then a high school student from the Saarland in extreme western Germany, sang a heartfelt plea for world peace on the stage at the Eurovision Song Contest held in Harrogate, North Yorkshire in the United Kingdom. That simple message was wrapped with success; she became the first German in Contest history to take home the grand prize. The song was a brainchild of her former record producer, Ralph Siegel, and would be their greatest achievement in their nearly three-decade partnership.


Afterward, she was propelled to stardom across Europe by recording versions of her winning song, "Ein bißchen Frieden" (A little peace), in many European languages. To this day, it was the last winning Eurovision song to top the charts in the United Kingdom; it also has the distinction of being the 500th #1 single on the British charts.

This newfound fame brought her music to audiences across Europe, and in time, into Asia as well. By the end of the 1980s, however, her fame subsided somewhat and she refocused her career domestically. Since 1980, she has released over 30 albums in Germany; her most recent offering, Mitten ins Herz (Right into your heart), was accompanied by a three-month "unplugged" tour that ended in the third week of January.

Now off the road, Nicole spoke with Wikinews' Mike Halterman about her past success, her life and career today, and her overall impressions of the Eurovision Song Contest, both past and present. This is the first in a series of interviews with past Eurovision contestants, which will be published sporadically in the lead-up to mid-May's next contest in Moscow.



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More power needed behind renewable energy push

Abu Dhabi, UAE - WWF has told an audience of energy experts and senior government officials from more than 20 countries that the world’s leading governments and businesses must lead the planet towards the benefits of renewable energy and a sustainable future.

At the second World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi last week delegates were told that if everybody in the world consumed resources like the average person in a G8 country then another three planet Earths would be needed to sustain them.

Attending the summit were Professor Lord Nicholas Stern, author of the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, and Dr Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of the Nobel Peace-prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The closing speaker was former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

“If we are to change the paradigm then governments with unsustainable ecological footprints must set verifiable targets for reducing their carbon, water and commodity footprints,” Eduardo Gonçalves, International Coordinator for WWF’s One Planet Living initiative, told the delegates.

“They must remove the regulatory barriers to those businesses investing in a sustainable future. They must promote civic awareness of the impending ecological credit crunch.

“Businesses must reform their practices and look at the products they bring to the market. They must lobby governments for a level playing field for sustainable corporate practice, and promote sustainable consumer behaviour.

“And consumers must look again at their own choices and tell governments and business leaders that they demand a new paradigm.”

He went on to outline the fact that globally we are now outspending our natural income – the renewable natural resources the planet produces and replenishes – by 30 per cent and that figure is growing so fast that in another 25 years we are going to need another planet to live on.

WWF’s One Planet Living programme represents a radical shift from wasteful and inefficient consumption and production to an understanding of the natural limits of our ecosystems and the services they provide.

Gonçalves also went on to praise the work of summit hosts United Arab Emirates in the field of sustainability.

At the summit Abu Dhabi alone announced the first firm commitments from an Opec member to produce 7 per cent of its energy from renewables. It has also plendged $15bn to developing its Masdar low carbon city initiative and the establishment of a solar power joint venture.

“The government has signed an agreement with WWF to work with us and our partners to research the country’s national ecological footprint – the flows of energy, consumption of resources, and production of waste,” said Gonçalves, “and to work with us in mapping out a sustainable future for the country and its citizens.

“It is an example that should be followed, particularly by governments in North America and the European Union. The G8 countries may account for only 13 per cent of the world's population but they represent one third of humanity's total ecological footprint.”

In his closing remarks former Prime Minister Blair urged world leaders not to allow the current financial crisis to get in the way of the fight against climate change. He called for a new global agreement setting tough interim targets up to 2020 to transform countries into low-carbon economies.

“It is right now, at the instant when our thoughts are centred on the economic challenge, that we must not set to one side the challenge of global warming, but instead resolve to meet it and put the world on the path to a sustainable future,” he said.

“It needs not just a 2050 target but an interim target to get there, for example a target for 2020 that shows seriousness of intent and gives business a clear, unequivocal signal to invest in a low-carbon future.”

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Global economy could lose up to 51 million jobs this year, says UN agency

The International Labor Organization (ILO), a branch of the United Nations concerned with labor and workers' rights issues, issued a report Wednesday explaining how the global economic crisis could create a global employment crisis by the end of the year.

"By the end of 2008 working poverty, vulnerable employment and unemployment were beginning to rise as the effects of the slowdown spread," the report states. "If the recession deepens in 2009, as many forecasters expect, the global jobs crisis will worsen sharply." Even for those who keep their jobs, the report predicts that "earnings and other conditions of employment will deteriorate."

In a worst-case scenario, the ILO says 51 million jobs could be lost in 2009, meaning that 7.1% of the world's working population would be out of a job. In a more realistic scenario, the report foresees a loss of 30 million jobs, with a global unemployment rate of 6.5%. The unemployment rate has increased in recent years, from 5.7% in 2007 to an estimated 6% in 2008.

Even the report's most optimistic scenario for this year, a loss of 18 million jobs at an unemployment rate of 6.1%, is not much different than the ILO's October 2008 prediction of 20 million jobs lost this year due to the financial crisis.

The report warns that developing countries in South Asia and Subsaharan Africa will be harshly affected by the economic crisis. Although working poverty - defined as having daily wages of US$2 or less - is on an overall decline, these regions are still characterized by poor working conditions, low salaries, and an insecure job market. This will only worsen in 2009, according to the ILO.

"Taking into account that a wage and salary job in poor regions may still not ensure all the components of a decent job, it becomes understandable that only a minority of working people have a job that is well paid, respects their fundamental rights and ensures some security in case of job loss, personal or family illnesses, or other difficulties." The report says that by the end of 2008, nearly 53% of workers around the world could be in "vulnerable employment".

In terms of actual unemployment, however, developed countries are the ones most likely to be affected by the downturn, as they are more tied to the global financial system. The unemployment rate in the European Union and other developed economies increased by 0.7 percentage points in 2008, the largest increase of all regions. "Globalization combined with rapid technological advances is another challenge for labour markets in the region," the ILO says. "It is important for workers and employers to be ready and able to adjust quickly to change and to stiffer competition."

Still, the unemployment rate of 6.4% in these developed countries is far less than in North Africa and the Middle East, which had unemployment rates of 10.3% and 9.4% respectively. East Asia had the lowest unemployment rate of the regions at 3.8%.

The report urged global economies to take cooperative measures, including working with the United Nations, in order to stem the economic crisis. It also asks governments to address the "negative social consequences of globalization" by placing on emphasis an social justice-based programs targeted toward women, youth, and other "vulnerable groups".

In particular, the ILO says governments should establish public infrastructure projects such as road construction, expand health insurance and unemployment benefits, and focus on the creation of green jobs when devising their stimulus plans. "When governments design fiscal stimulus packages, it is important that they consider employment-related goals, including explicit employment growth targets," the report concluded.

"In the world, there remains a huge untapped labour potential, and economic growth and development could be much higher if everyone was given the chance of a decent job."

Sources: Wikinews

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