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'People-to-people contacts can help manage conflicts'

Communal conflicts in the country and cross-border disputes could be better managed with increased people-to-people contacts, said a UN report.

The UN's 'State of World's Volunteerism Report', the first-ever such study released by the world body, underlined that voluntary efforts could play a role in combating communal tensions.

In India, where confrontation between religious groups are not uncommon, it has been observed that inter- religious participation in festivals helps to prevent conflict.

"Hindus and Muslims participate in each others' celebrations and share each others' food. Joint peace vigils and marches are further examples of cross-ethnic collaborations," it said.

The report said that youth exchanges between India and Pakistan could reduce the potential for conflict by strengthening mutual understanding.

"This is a Gandhian peace approach with young people living together with one another's families and engaging in actions for peace. These programmes are entirely volunteer- based," the report said.

It also cited different examples of volunteerism in public and private sectors in India where voluntary efforts have impacted the lives of the common people.

The report, however, said that volunteer work in money terms was less than one per cent of the country's GDP while noting that such efforts could increase though greater participation of civil society and panchayati raj institutions.

It said in countries like Sweden, Norway, France and the UK, volunteer work contributes to over 3.5 per cent of their GDPs.

The report said that volunteerism was paramount to achieving the eighth millennium development goals framed by the world body which seek to reduce the number of people in absolute poverty and increase retro-viral treatment for HIV patients, among others.

"There is lot of scope for increasing volunteerism in countries like India keeping in pace expansion in South-South cooperation, increasing penetration of the private sector and rise and spread of information and communication technology," said UN Development Programme Deputy Country Director, India, Alexandra Solovieva while releasing the report here.

The report comes a decade after the UN observed the International Volunteers' year in 2001. The report has been released simultaneously in 80 countries.

"Volunteerism contributes to laying a sound basis for citizen' participation in governance. It promotes and sustains feeling of being able to express one's views and to influence decisions that have an impact on one's community. This may come about through formal channels of civic engagements such as...Panchayats in India," it said.

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