Thursday, June 13, 2013

Food Insecurity in your County

from Feeding America
The above map shows the levels of food insecurity in America. The darkest areas on the map mean that at least 30 percent of that area's population is food insecure. While the lightest areas are between 4 and 14 percent.

While a light area might look good acording to this map, keep in mind what the general population might look like. For example, notice that Los Angeles is one of lighter areas of the map. Because of the large population of Los Angeles however, over 650,000 children are still in danger of going hungry.

A full interactive data graphic can be found at the link below.
Map the Meal Gap | Food Insecurity in your County

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Poor countries currently enjoy the stongest economic growth

The following video from The Economist describes a graph that shows economic growth for rich, middle and poor income countries. Currently, the strongest economic growth is taking place in the poorest countries, while the richest countries are not growing much at all.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Philippine delegate breaks down and cries at U.N. climate change talks

A delegate from the Philippines broke down and cried yesterday during the United Nations climate change talks. Naderev Sano is negotiating with the world on how to combat climate change while his nation recovers from another severe storm. Typhoon Bopha killed hundreds of Philippine residents and thousands more are now left homeless. Locals say it was a storm that was stronger than usual and traveled farther south than usual. The Philippines loses five percent of their annual GDP to storm damage and recovery.

From the Guardian, writer John Vidal has this excerpt of the speech that led Sano to tears.

Madam chair, we have never had a typhoon like Bopha, which has wreaked havoc in a part of the country that has never seen a storm like this in half a century. And heartbreaking tragedies like this are not unique to the Philippines, because the whole world, especially developing countries struggling to address poverty and achieve social and human development, confront these same realities.

"Madam chair, I speak on behalf of 100 million Filipinos, a quarter of a million of whom are eeking out a living working here in Qatar [as migrant labourers]. And I am making an urgent appeal, not as a negotiator, not as a leader of my delegation, but as a Filipino …"
At this point he broke down.
"I appeal to the whole world, I appeal to leaders from all over the world, to open our eyes to the stark reality that we face. I appeal to ministers. The outcome of our work is not about what our political masters want. It is about what is demanded of us by 7 billion people.

"I appeal to all, please, no more delays, no more excuses. Please, let Doha be remembered as the place where we found the political will to turn things around. Please, let 2012 be remembered as the year the world found the courage to find the will to take responsibility for the future we want. I ask of all of us here, if not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?"

"Thank you madam chair."
The hall rose and applauded.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Typhoon death toll in the Philippines reaches 283

The death toll continues to rise in the Philippines after the biggest typhoon to hit the island nation in a year. Officials say 283 people are dead from Typhoon Bopha. The rains were strong enough to cause mudslides traveling down the country’s mountains. In some areas, the rain and mudslides caused water reservoirs to collapse, further adding to the strength of the water.

Last year, Typhoon Washi killed 1,500 people in the Philippines. 

From Reuters Alert Net, reporter Eric de Castro gives us the latest update.

Hardest hit was the southern island of Mindanao, where Bopha made landfall on Tuesday. It triggered landslides and floods along the coast and in farming and mining towns inland.
Interior Minister Manuel Roxas said 300 people were missing.
"Entire families were washed away," Roxas, who inspected the disaster zone, told reporters.
Most affected areas were cut off by destroyed roads and collapsed bridges and army search-and-rescue teams were being flown in by helicopter.
Power was cut and communications were down.
According to tallies provided by the military and disaster agency officials, 283 people were killed.
Thousands of people were in shelters and officials appealed for food, water and clothing. Dozens of domestic flights were suspended on Wednesday.
The governor of the worst-hit province, Compostela Valley, in Mindanao said waves of water and mud came crashing down mountains and swept through schools, town halls and clinics where huddled residents had sought shelter.
The death toll in the province stood at 160. In nearby Davao Oriental province, where Bopha made landfall, 110 people were killed.

The Flawed NGO; Zoe's Ark

Sometimes an act of charity can be a bad idea and cause more harm than is intended. People who are moved to do something about poverty can do the wrong thing if careful planning is not done first. They need to talk with the people who would be the recipients of this help and make sure it is something they really need. Spending some time in the far flung places they have only seen in the media can go a long way to making sure the help is effective.

We have heard the stories about free t-shirts and shoes, what follows is a story about a bad idea surrounding orphans. From the Guardian writer Simon Allison details the flawed NGO called Zoe's Ark.
My personal favourite terrible international aid idea comes courtesy of French NGO Zoe's Ark, whose founders saw a terrible problem and an easy solution. In 2007, with war raging in Darfur, they realised that the orphans left stranded by the conflict would need a new home. They also realised that there were plenty of French families who wanted to adopt, but were struggling due to France's complicated adoption system. So they hired a plane, flew to Chad and rounded up some orphans from a refugee camp near the Sudanese border, the costs covered by the cash advances paid by eager potential parents.
This is where the problems began. Before the plane could return to France, the Zoe's Ark crew were arrested by unhappy Chadian authorities, who quite rightly pointed out that the NGO should have complied with Chad's own adoption laws. Also, the Chadians noted, most of these Sudanese orphans were neither orphans nor were they from Sudan; they were local kids lured in by Zoe's Ark's false promises of a trip to the clinic or a better school (this was subsequently confirmed by UN agencies and the Red Cross). Blinded by their ignorance, moral righteousness and end-justifies-the-means mentality, Zoe's Ark was only just prevented from kidnapping dozens of children, all in the name of doing good.
They didn't escape unpunished. A court in Chad sentenced members of the group to eight years in prison, and ordered them to pay €6.3 million in damages to parents of the children. Shortly afterwards, they were transferred home and pardoned by Chad's president, Idriss Deby, probably thanks to extreme diplomatic pressure from France. The damages have yet to be paid.
This was not the end of the affair. In France, 103 expectant parents, all of whom had forked out between R25,000 and R50,000 (about £1,750 to £3,500) to Zoe's Ark, did not receive the little Sudanese orphan that had been promised them. This amounts to fraud, some claimed, and French authorities launched an investigation. On Monday in Paris the trial began of six members of the NGO, who have been charged with illegal involvement in adoption procedures, attempting to bring minors into the country illegally, and fraud. With its sensational, noxious mix of international intrigue and naïve idealism, the trial is receiving huge attention in France.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Typhoon Bopha the strongest to hit the Philippines in a year

The latest typhoon to hit the Philippines is the strongest to hit the island in a year. Typhoon Bopha is said to have killed 40 Philippine residents. Early evacuation efforts are being credited for keeping the death toll low. Agriculture experts expect that recently planted rice and corn crops should not be affected by the typhoon.

From Reuters Alert Net, we get more details on the latest weather emergency. 
About 40 people were killed or missing in flash floods and landslides near a mining area on Mindanao, ABS-CBN television reported, saying waters and soil had swept through an army post.
A television reporter said she saw numerous bodies lined up near the army base. A military spokesman earlier said about 20 people, including six soldiers, were missing.
Disaster official Liza Mazo, said more casualties were expected to be discovered as search and rescue teams fanned out.
Media said dozens of people were injured by flying debris, falling trees and swept away by swollen rivers and flash floods.
But the relatively low death toll was due in part to an early evacuation. More than 155,000 people were in shelters late on Tuesday.
 Farm Minister Proceso Alcala said on Monday he expected minimal damage to rice and corn crops as they had only recently been planted and could be replaced quickly if damaged.

The new female leader of the African Union

The African Union is celebrating the appointment of its first female leader in the organization’s fifty year history.  Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma rose to the title after years of cleaning up South Africa's home affairs department. Dlamini-Zuma is credited with cleaning up the crime and corruption that have long plagued the department. She now moves on to the AU which has its own share of mismanagement that needs to be cleaned up.

From the Guardian, writer Elissa Johnson interviews Dlamini-Zuma.
Dlamini-Zuma says the biggest challenges facing the continent are underdevelopment, poverty and the inequitable distribution of wealth. Since taking over as chairwoman in October, she has repeatedly stressed the need to ensure that peace and security issues – which she believes take "a lot of time, a lot of energy and a lot of resources" – are balanced with development.
"It's important to understand that development is not a 'nice to have', it's essential for peace, for stability and for progress in the world," she says. "To me those are two sides of the same coin – if you don't develop your country, if people don't feel [there is] an equitable distribution of wealth, you are actually threatening peace."
"If you look at Africa today," she says, "we have more than a billion people, and more than 60% of those are young people; that has certain implications." Those "implications" were clear on the streets of Tunisia and Egypt almost two years ago – the high level of youth unemployment was chief among the triggers of the Arab spring. Africa's population growth means that 1m new jobs are needed every month and, like many of the leaders she now serves, Dlamini-Zuma is conscious of the problems that could lie ahead if the continent's youth don't have access to education and the skills necessary to earn a decent living.
Infrastructure is another priority. "We have to get roads, rail … our transport on the high seas [and] we have to get telecommunications infrastructure – everybody's going broadband and Africa should not be left behind," Dlamini-Zuma insists. This, she believes, will enable African states to trade among themselves and develop inter-continental tourism.
At the same time, she'd like to see the continent explore ways of accelerating the process of industrialisation. "Our GDP is growing but its growing mainly on raw materials – and that's not sustainable growth," she says, adding that Africa needs to export more processed goods "so that we can get more value for our products".

Money for neglected disease research up by half a billion dollars

A new study looks into funding research on neglected diseases and finds some changing patterns in how the money is given and spent. The amount of money being contributed has increased over the last five years by half a billion dollars. Seventy percent of all the money contributed is made by only a few organizations; including the National Institutes of Health, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The fact that a few groups from the United States make a vast majority of research funding is worrying to the authors of this report.

From the Inter Press Service, writer Carey Biron looks into the research.  
Although overall funding for neglected diseases has gone up by 443.7 million dollars, to about 2.9 billion dollars, since 2007, both public and philanthropic shares have gone down substantially. This is worrisome given that the public sector continues to make up around two-thirds of international funding for such research, almost all from high-income countries, and more than half of the top 20 governments cut their funding for such research in 2011 alone.
While the U.S. government remains the single largest public funder of research into neglected diseases (following only the Gates Foundation), Washington too cut its outlay in 2011, down 2.2 percent to around 30.6 million dollars.
“Some governments now appear to be in it for the long haul, which is great,” Dr. Mary Moran, one of the report’s authors and the executive director of Policy Cures, a London-based research group that published the G-FINDER, said Monday in unveiling the report.
“But we’re worried that their investment model seems to be shifting back to the ‘bad old days’, where the public sector funded basic research leaving product development to industry or philanthropy – and consequently almost no medicines, vaccines or diagnostics for neglected diseases were developed. This model doesn’t and can’t work for truly neglected non-commercial diseases.”
According to findings by Policy Cures, over the past five years, public money for basic research has increased by more than a quarter, to around 124 million dollars, and currently makes up about a third of all public investment in neglected diseases. Meanwhile, public investment in the costly and uncertain product development has actually gone down slightly.
Moran compares this model to putting a man on the moon, for which one needs both scientists to do the research and someone to actually build the physical rocket.
“Governments need to bite the bullet,” she says. “If they want products for neglected diseases, they need to fund product development as well as basic research, and their funding needs to be linked to what’s happening in product pipelines and to be prioritised based on need.”

Monday, December 03, 2012

Gross National Happiness

Most of the world uses gross domestic product as a measure of development. The tiny country of Bhutan uses a completely different measure called gross national happiness. Bhutan measures happiness through how healthy, educated and environmentally conscious their citizens are.

The world is meeting now in Doha for United Nations climate change talks. Bhutan's approach is getting some serious consideration as a way to combat global warming. Still, the happy tiny country still has mounting challenges with poverty and climate change.

From the Guardian, writer Annie Kelly explains Bhutan's GNH.
Since 1971, the country has rejected GDP as the only way to measure progress. In its place, it has championed a new approach to development, which measures prosperity through formal principles of gross national happiness (GNH) and the spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of its citizens and natural environment.
For the past three decades, this belief that wellbeing should take preference over material growth has remained a global oddity. Now, in a world beset by collapsing financial systems, gross inequity and wide-scale environmental destruction, this tiny Buddhist state's approach is attracting a lot of interest.
As world leaders prepare to meet in Doha on Monday for the second week of the UN climate change conference, Bhutan's stark warning that the rest of the world is on an environmental and economical suicide path is starting to gain traction. Last year the UN adopted Bhutan's call for a holistic approach to development, a move endorsed by 68 countries. A UN panel is now considering ways that Bhutan's GNH model can be replicated across the globe.
As representatives in Doha struggle to find ways of reaching a consensus on global emissions, Bhutan is also being held up as an example of a developing country that has put environmental conservation and sustainability at the heart of its political agenda. In the last 20 years Bhutan has doubled life expectancy, enrolled almost 100% of its children in primary school and overhauled its infrastructure.
At the same time, placing the natural world at the heart of public policy has led to environmental protection being enshrined in the constitution. The country has pledged to remain carbon neutral and to ensure that at least 60% of its landmass will remain under forest cover in perpetuity. It has banned export logging and has even instigated a monthly pedestrian day that bans all private vehicles from its roads.
"It's easy to mine the land and fish the seas and get rich," says Thakur Singh Powdyel, Bhutan's minister of education, who has become one of the most eloquent spokespeople for GNH. "Yet we believe you cannot have a prosperous nation in the long run that does not conserve its natural environment or take care of the wellbeing of its people, which is being borne out by what is happening to the outside world."
Powdyel believes the world has misinterpreted Bhutan's quest. "People always ask how can you possibly have a nation of happy people? But this is missing the point," he says. "GNH is an aspiration, a set of guiding principles through which we are navigating our path towards a sustainable and equitable society. We believe the world needs to do the same before it is too late."

Friday, November 30, 2012

Barclays bank to stop participating in food price specualtion

There are three things that contribute to high food prices that should be stopped. Land grabs, speculation and using food for bio-fuels. We often report on land grabs and bio-fuels, but he have a hard time finding the issue of speculation in the news. That could be the speculation is done behind the doors of big institutions that secure their inner workings tightly.

Today, a major player in food price speculation has announced that they will stop doing it.  Barclays bank is the latest bank to swear off food speculation following a few other major European banks. We hope that the banks in the U.S. will begin to follow this trend.

From Reuters Alert Net, writer Astrid Zweynert relays the announcement. 

The Financial Times website reported that the British bank is looking into withdrawing from agricultural commodities trading as part of its drive to rebuild its reputation after a series of scandals.
The FT said such a possible retreat was part of a strategic overhaul by the bank’s new chief executive, Antony Jenkins, who is screening the reputational impact of every business line Barclays operates in.
“If I decided to stop trading soft agricultural products it is not driven by regulation,” the FT quoted Rich Ricci, chief executive of corporate and investment banking, as saying.
“It is because it doesn’t sit socially well with the large constituent of our customers,” Ricci said at the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards on Wednesday.
Financial speculation in staple foods, such as wheat, maize and corn, fuels dramatic spikes in food prices, pushing food beyond the reach of the world’s poorest people, campaigners say.
 “Barclays appears to be relying on the police force of public opinion to tell it that speculating on food prices is wrong, rather than acknowledging its own moral responsibility,” said Deborah Doane, chief executive of the World Development Movement.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Big Pharma improves access to medicine

The Big Pharmaceutical companies are slowly improving access of drugs for everyone. After decades of accusations of looking after profits more than the public's health, Big Pharma has taken some positive steps. Some companies are introducing tiered pricing systems that give discounts to poorer nations. They have also been taking steps to give the discounts for a wider range of products.

An annual survey rates how well each pharmaceutical company is doing, and the latest edition has just been released. The Access to Medicine index rakes each company on a range of access issues. Glaxco Smith Kline, Johnson and Johnson and Sanofi rank at the top. you can download the entire report from this link.

Guardian reporter Sarah Boseley has this introduction to the report.   
While British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), whose chief executive Sir Andrew Witty has announced moves to increase access to medicines in the developing world, continues to top the league table, its lead on the rest has shrunk. Two other major pharmaceutical companies, Johnson & Johnson and the vaccine manufacturer Sanofi, are now close behind.
The index ranks 20 leading pharmaceutical companies and is published every two years by the Netherlands-based non-profit Access to Medicines Foundation. It has become an authoritative guide, with input from the World Health Organisation, governments, universities, NGOs and institutional investors.
Drug companies are scored on a range of measures, from their willingness to discount prices in poor countries, to research on neglected diseases of poor people to lobbying, transparency and conduct in clinical trials.
This is the third index and it finds a much greater focus on drug access within drug companies – where it is now often an issue for the board.
"This year's index shows that companies are becoming more organised internally in their approach to access to medicine and that those who do this best tend to perform well across the other aspects we measure. The leaders are really raising the bar," said Wim Leereveld, founder of the index. "It's also clear that companies that do not continue to step up their efforts tend to be overtaken by their peers."

Corruption in Mozambique’s public health service

Corruption in Mozambique occurs at the last place that it should happen… in the health sector. Sick people wait for hours upon hours outside of public health centers because they don't have enough money for bribes. The people that have money or connections are treated right away. The low wages earned by nurses and receptionists is believed to be the cause of the corruption.

From IRIN, this story looks into how the corruption effects the health of the public. 
Eulalia Laichela caressed her six-year-old son, Leosio, who lay on the pavement, coughing from beneath a blanket. They had been waiting in the park outside José Macamo, one of the largest hospitals in Mozambique's capital Maputo, since early morning.

Laichela hoped her sister-in-law, who works at the hospital, would help find a doctor to attend to Leosio before the end of the day. Waiting in the queue at the hospital's reception area was not an option, she said.

"If you don't have extra money to pay the doctor, there is no point in doing that. There are many people outside waiting, and they sit there hour after hour without being attended to," she told IRIN.

Ansina was among the patients waiting in the queue. She feared she had malaria but lacked family connections or money for a bribe. "Something is wrong. I have number 142, and they are calling 188. I have been waiting here since this morning," she complained to the man next to her. He told her that it is patients’ money that determines who goes first, not their medical conditions.

"That´s why we are still here," he said. Ansina agreed.

Corruption is rife in Mozambique's public health sector. According to a 2006 study by the Centre for Public Integrity (CIP) in Maputo, corruption is present at all levels in the system: from the reception to the laboratory, during appointments with doctors, and even at the morgue.

A 2011 regional household survey by Transparency International found that nearly 40 percent of Mozambican respondents had paid bribes for medical services in the past year - the highest such figure in the region. In Mozambique, it was second only to the percentage that had paid bribes to the police.

Poor pay

The CIP study identified low salaries as one of the main causes of health sector corruption. A doctor identified as Cossa*, who has worked at hospitals in Maputo over the last 18 years, agreed. Doctors earn between US$700 and $1,000 per month, and the lowest paid nurses earn just over $100 - no more than a domestic worker.

Cossa maintained that most bribes are paid to the nurses and other workers who see patients before they reach a doctor. But he added that doctors earn additional income in other ways. For example, most public-sector doctors also work at private clinics; according to the CIP study, this makes them chronically tired. The study links the deterioration of public sector health care to a 1998 government decision to allow public-sector doctors to also work in the private sector.

Cossa noted that by 10am, the majority of doctors have already left the city's public hospitals for their private-sector jobs.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The warring factions in global development

More and more we see two maybe three different sets of methods of global development waring against each other. China, the west, and sometimes Brazil fight to prove who is doing the most good.

China will help countries develop as long as they get something in return. The West demands changes to other countries so their markets will soon see something in return. While Brazil seems intent on showing other nations what has worked for them. They are new to this process, so we have yet to see what they will get in return.

We see this contrast in a big way in the country of Angola. China develops fast, yet few
Angolans are pleased with their work. Brazil cooperates with the Angolan people on development, yet it makes it harder for them to do it on their own. Inter Press Service writer Mario Osava gives us this on the ground viewpoint. 
Today, 35 years later, it is the excesses and glaring contrasts that shock the visitor to this city in southwestern Africa. Shiny new cars on brand-new roads and highways lined by thousands of still-empty or half-built office buildings, apartment blocks and residential towers stand in sharp contrast to the sprawling slums around the city.
Signs on construction sites written in Chinese clearly reflect the Asian giant’s high level of participation in the construction of today’s new Angola.
The most ambitious project carried out by companies from China is the Nova Cidade de Kilamba (Kilamba New City), a huge development designed to house half a million people, 20 km south of downtown Luanda.
When it is completed, the new neighbourhood will have more than 80,000 apartments built for large families – the norm in Angola – in buildings five to 13 storeys high. The development is also to be fitted out with dozens of schools, child care centres, health clinics and shops.
Nearly one-quarter of the buildings have been completed. But almost all of them are empty, even though more than 3,000 apartments were already available when the development was inaugurated in July 2011.
Also involved in building the new city are Brazilian firms, especially construction giant Odebrecht, which is in charge of key projects like electricity and water grids and the construction of roads.
The foreign presence in the massive new developments “is not something to be admired, because it shows that there are no national companies with the capacity to build them,” said one of Angola’s most prominent writers, Artur Pestana, better known as Pepetela, who is also a professor of sociology.
“The Chinese build faster, they work round-the-clock shifts, and they offer almost interest-free long-term loans,” he said. But they employ few Angolan workers and “there are many complaints about the quality of their construction work,” he added.
Meanwhile, Brazilian companies “apparently learned their lesson from a few initial fiascos which made them the butt of national jokes, and they now stand out for the quality of their work,” which enables them to compete with the Chinese, said the author, who has published many historical novels that are critical of the government of José Eduardo dos Santos, president since 1979.
It was the first non-oil company from Brazil to begin to operate in Angola with a “long-term outlook,” said Victor Fontes, director general of the Angolan company Elektra, which specialises in power and water grids. He said this had the positive effect of attracting other firms also interested in the long haul, instead of just short-term opportunities.
The director of institutional relations at Odebrecht Angola, Alexandre Assaf, told IPS that the consortium is committed to “continuity” in Angola, above and beyond the effects of wars or the global economic crisis.
Five years ago, only nine percent of the “strategic posts” in the company were held by Angolans – a proportion that has risen to 41 percent, he noted, to illustrate the company’s commitment to local development.

New AIDS cases worldwide still too high says ONE

The ONE organization has released a new study that looks into new AIDS cases worldwide. The charity says that new cases of AIDS are still to high to meet the Millennium Development Goal of 2015. The study says that there were 2.5 million new cases of AIDS in 2011. That is more than double the amount needed to meet the MDG.

From Reuters Alert Net, writer Anna Yukhananov gives us more on the study's content.
Progress over the past decade has cut the death toll for the disease, mainly due to better access to drugs that can both treat and prevent the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) which causes AIDS, the United Nations said in its annual report last week.
But while access to treatment has improved, in 2011 there were 2.5 million new cases of HIV. That is more than double the target of having only 1.1 million people newly infected each year, said ONE, a charity co-founded by Irish rock star Bono, that is dedicated to fighting poverty and preventable disease.
There were 34 million people living with AIDS at the end of last year.
At current rates, the world will not reach targets to reverse the spread of AIDS until 2022, seven years behind schedule, according to ONE.
"We recognize the world has done wonders in (fighting AIDS) in the last 10 years. But 2015 is around the corner," said Michael Elliott, ONE's chief executive.
"Here's a moment to put your pedal to the metal and go for it."
Much of the gap is due to funding cuts in major donor countries. The UN estimates there is about a $6 billion AIDS funding gap each year. Countries also have not coordinated a global strategy to tackle the AIDS epidemic, such as targeting treatment to groups at highest risk.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

War and corruption in the Congo

The future for Africa does look bright except for a couple of trouble spots. One of the most troubling is the Republic of Congo. War has plagued the nation for many years, and there is some suspicion that neighboring countries are contributing to the fighting.

Also creating trouble in Congo is the terribly corrupt government that is supported by western aid money.

A couple of stories today help explain what is going on in the Congo. First, we look at how western aid has failed the country, then a story on how corruption has kept the population of Congo hungry.

For the western aid angle, we turn to the Guardian and this commentary by Richard Dowden.

The knee-jerk reaction of Britain and other western countries is therefore to give Congo aid. And the only way of spending 0.7% of our GDP on aid is to give it to governments. But has Congo got a government? In 1997 the remnants of the Mobutu regime were pushed out by the armies of Rwanda and Uganda. They replaced him with Laurent Kabila, a former revolutionary and cafe owner, living in exile. When he rejected the Rwandans' tutelage, they had him murdered and replaced him with his son, Joseph.
To legitimise Joseph Kabila the aid donors paid for and organised two elections, each costing more than a billion dollars. In 2011 that came out of a national budget of £4.6 billion ($7.3 billion). The elections satisfied the western political need to give Kabila international legitimacy so he could now receive aid. But the elections in Congo divided rather than united. The losers saw them as fraudulent.
After the election supporters were rewarded, opponents shunned but they live in different parts of the country so a small war broke out. At the very moment when the country needed to come together, the western solution deepened the divisions. It also handed total political and economic power to a greedy elite incapable of constructing a viable state – even, as one Congolese academic said, in their own narrow interests.
What has wrecked the Congo is not lack of aid. It is politics. Aid has probably made things worse by offering development which may never be delivered. There is no state capable of delivering it. If ever there was a case for a country to be under a UN mandate, it is Congo. The United Nations' current half-baked, ill-thought-out mandate was cruelly exposed last week as UN troops stood back to allow rebels to take the city of Goma in eastern Congo.
But there was a second, even more catastrophic contradiction in western policy. After the Rwandan genocide, western governments, ridden with guilt, supported the incoming Rwandan regime, a rebel group led by the charismatic Paul Kagame. He now runs a capable state – perhaps too capable. Rwanda is a tightly controlled dictatorship, with almost no press or political freedom. But it uses aid well, it is not stolen. A succession of British aid ministers from Clare Short to Andrew Mitchell see Kagame as the saviour of Africa. They gave him money – currently £83m a year, knowing it will be spent on education, health and other good things.
Next, a story on how corruption within the Congo government is causing inflation and hunger from IRIN. 
The Republic of Congo, which imports over US$240 million worth of food a year, has seen sharply rising staple food and fuel prices since the beginning of 2012, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and a local consumer rights body.

A 25-litre tin of vegetable oil which sold in January 2012 for the equivalent of $32, is now going for $50, while less than 5kg of cassava has gone up from $1 to $2.6, according to Dieudonné Moussala, chairman of the Consumer Rights Association.

He also said the price of a litre of kerosene had risen from 70 US cents to $2.6 on the black market in the same period.

"I now buy a kilo of meat from the slaughterhouse for 3,500 CFA francs [$7], whereas it used to cost less than 2,000 [$4],” Carine Moutombo, 32, a mother of three, told IRIN.

"It is difficult to get by and eat one’s fill. The cooking money is no longer enough," said Moutombo.

"All the prices of imported frozen products have increased because of corruption in the supply chain [from entry at the port of Pointe-Noire to small retailers]," said Moussala.

"There are too many unofficial taxes and too many checkpoints in the supply chain. Retailers and other importers are corrupt at all levels. In the end, they pass on any losses to poor consumers - hence the surge in commodity prices," said Moussala.

"While we have not found the solution to all the problems [related to imports]… We still have a long way to go. That is why our country’s struggle against food insecurity is key in terms of public policy," said Minister of Agriculture and Livestock Rigobert Maboundou in April. According to him the Congo is a "food-deficit country".

To limit imports and ensure food security, Congo launched in 2010 a US$26 million project to build "new agricultural villages". With this project, "we have halved the import bill for eggs. We produced 6.6 million eggs in 2011, while imports are estimated at 13 million eggs per year," said Maboundou.

In 2011, Congo also leased 180,000 hectares of arable land to a group of South African farmers who have managed to plant 1,200 hectares of maize.

"The Congo imports almost half of the essential commodities it needs. You need to know this to understand current soaring prices. Imported products contain imported inflation,” André Kamba, chief of staff at the Ministry of Trade and Supply, told IRIN.

Saving newborns in Burundi

A country that once suffered a long civil war has surpassed a milestone in health.

Burundi had a long civil war that lasted over a decade. Even though the war ended in 2006, many people still have untreated injuries from the war. Medicines Sans Frontiers set up a hospital in Burundi's capital to help treat these injuries, but found that more women were showing up than former soldiers. MSF then decided to turn the clinic into a maternal health ward.

The hospital's work has helped to contribute to Burundi's improving record on maternal health. The country has now surpassed the Millennium Development Goal on maternal health, cutting mortality rates by 75%.

From the Guardian, writer Clar Ni Chonghaile tells us more about the hospital.
In a report (pdf) released last week, MSF said the €1.8m (£1.5m) project in Kabezi, just outside Bujumbura, and a similar programme in Sierra Leone, had cut maternal deaths by up to 74% by providing free access to emergency obstetric care 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
In 2011, maternal mortality in Kabezi fell to 208 per 100,000 live births, compared with a national average of 800 per 100,000 live births. In Bo, Sierra Leone, the rate declined to 351 per 100,000 compared with 890 per 100,0000 in the rest of the country – a 61% decrease.
This means that in Kabezi, the millennium development goal – of reducing maternal mortality by 75% from national rates in 1990 – has already been achieved. MSF is confident it can replicate that success in Bo. "You do not need state-of-the-art facilities or equipment to save many women's lives," says Vincent Lambert, MSF's medical adviser for projects in Burundi.
In Kabezi, MSF provides an ambulance referral service for women suffering complications during labour or pregnant women at risk. The women used to be brought to the MSF Curgo clinic in Kabezi but since floods threatened the facility in November, the team has been based in CMCK. They hope to move back to Kabezi in a few weeks.
The cost works out at just over €3 per person in the Kabezi area, which is home to around 600,000 people. The Curgo clinic registers about 3,000 births per year, with 50% coming from caesareans.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Urban Agriculture in Dakar

Even in the midst of supercities agriculture is thriving. In Senegal's Dakar over 6,000 people work in agriculture and the harvests are growing each year. Agriculture within urban areas does have its own set of unique challenges. Farmers are unable to expand their operations with more land. Loans are hard to come by for the farmers as some are working on land they do not own.

From the Inter Press Service, Koffigan Abigbli looks at one thriving farm. 
Watering cans in hand, men and women move back and forth between the wells and water storage tanks and the crops they’re watering: carrots, onions, tomatoes, cabbage, and potatoes, as well as fruit trees like palm, coconut, papaya and banana trees. Growers like Ahmadou Sene are working tirelessly to produce vegetables in and around the Senegalese capital.
Sene, in his forties, has a one-hectare plot. For three months of the year, he has a dozen young people to hoe and weed the garden, and for four months a group of 20 women work to harvest and sell his produce.
“Vegetables make up more than 80 percent of my crops,” he said, gesturing towards his garden. He cultivates his field year round, and harvests nearly 12 tonnes of vegetables each quarter.

But while urban farming is growing, farmers are facing difficulties linked to access to land, the marketing of vegetables, the recycling of water for irrigation, and access to financing.
Even as the cultivated area is growing, some farmers are struggling to find land to expand their operations.
“In 2010, I had an 800 square metre field. I was able to turn a profit of 600,000 CFA (about 1,200 dollars). But this year, I’ve only got 350 square metres to farm, because the government has taken over a large portion of my land for a dam to hold water,” said Cheikh Mor Ndiaye, a grower at Cambérène, one of the sprawling suburbs on the outskirts of the capital.
The president of the administrative council of the Federated Cooperative of Horticulturalists of Senegal (CFAHS), Cheikh Ngane, told IPS that while garden farming provides livelihoods for a good number of Senegalese, it is undermined by the recurring problem of access to land.
“Most horticulturalists are working with land that belongs to the state. To develop horticulture, it’s important to resolve the problem of land,” he said, adding that the problem is aggravated by competing claims from developers working on residential housing developments.
The issue of land ownership can also lead to problems obtaining credit. “For example, if someone has their own plot, assigned to them by the rural community, bankers are not confident when they ask for a loan,” said Cheikh Ngane.

Big Business, meet small farmer

 For most small farmers in the under-developed world the only maket they had access to was local. The fair trade movement began a process that helped small farmers gain access to worldwide markets. When it works right, it is supposed to be a win-win for the farmer and the market. The farmer should be able to sell more, and the world has another source for food.

What many are wondering is what this relationship would look like when big agri-businees begins to invest in the small farms of the under-developed world. Would the small farmer impove financailly, or would they be exploited? From the Guardian, writer Matthew Newsome attended a conference that covered this subject.
This month more than 500 private-sector representatives, government officials, donors, civil society representatives, farmer organisations and academics met in Ethiopia for a conference organised by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Co-operation. They discussed the role of the private sector in upgrading smallholder agriculture to meet demand from foreign and emerging markets in developing countries. Investment interest is underscored by the IMF's forecast of 5.7% economic growth in 2013 for sub-Saharan Africa, which is being driven by rising commodity prices.
Rising food prices suggest global demand is still outpacing farmers' productivity, and resource-constrained smallholders need greater market access, training and technology to increase their agricultural production, according to the experts at the meeting in Ethiopia.
Development organisations are promoting the merits of a mutual partnership between large corporations and small farmers. John Moffett, director of policy and strategy for Self Help Africa, has been working with small-scale cashew nut farmers and those who commodify the nut in Benin, with support from PepsiCo, to supply Europe's markets. "Strengthening smallholder value chains is really about helping farmers to move from being subsistence based to enabling them to make a better profit," says Moffett.
Moffett says the role of NGOs is starting to change: he sees them playing more of a temporary role in facilitating trade between small-scale producers and the private sector. Once the supply chain links are in place he says, "the NGO will shift to being a watchdog".
"Development is now really focused on the economic development of Africa through trade," Moffat adds. "It is moving away from the constant injection of aid funding into Africa and focusing on something which, over time, should be more sustainable." Africa's population is expected to reach 2 billion by 2050, so some argue it cannot afford to be short-sighted when dealing with investors.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The western world is on both sides of the corruption battle

The west talks a good game in wanting the corruption in poorer countries to  stop. Our leaders often use their pulpits to bully the poorer nations into cleaning up their act. The leaders of the poor nations that score some victories gain our respect and aid money. Still there are many systems in the western world that support the corruption.

Paul Collier's latest opinion piece for the Guardian points out that those perpetrators of corruption often turn to the western world for help. The thieves hire lawyers and public relations firms from New York, Paris or London. Their dirty money often flows thru the western world without anyone stopping it. Collier is calling on western leaders to do more to stop helping the thieves. In this snippet, he mentions Guinea leader Aissatou Boiro who was gunned down last Friday by supporters of the very thieves he was trying to catch.

With the US election out of the way, it is time for American companies to face this reality. To date, their response to the Cardin-Lugar amendment requiring transparency in their transactions has been to mount a legal challenge. Rather than this doomed and demeaning strategy of pushing back, they would be well advised to push forward. Cardin-Lugar is being imitated: this month the European parliament is likely to adopt it across Europe. Canada, home to the world's main financial market for second-tier resource extraction companies, is about to become an aberrant laggard that is surely not beyond the reach of influence.
The success of decent African governments in their struggle against corruption is not only in our interest, it is partly our responsibility. Inadvertently, we are currently providing much of the capacity needed for corruption to fight back. We are not, of course, complicit in the murder of Boiro, though her blood should remind us that brave people are putting their lives on the line. But the sharp lawyers and slick public relations consultants who counter the effort for clean governance are not based in countries such as Guinea: they are in London, Paris and New York.
Similarly, the clandestine flows of dirty money essential for corruption, which Boiro was trying to trace, depend on an army of facilitating lawyers, accountants and bankers. They are the people who establish shell companies and nominee bank accounts to conceal true beneficial ownership, and whip money across borders far faster than the lumbering process of inter-governmental legal co-operation. Governments such as Guinea's bear the brunt of these ethically wretched activities, but they are beyond their capacities to address.
They are not, however, beyond our own capacities. We could turn the system of mutual legal assistance, whereby governments are supposed to co-operate to prise information out of suspected criminals and witnesses, from a sham into a reality. We could require the documents that establish shell companies and bank accounts to carry the names of the lawyers and bankers who executed them. These people could then face legal liability to ensure that the authorities could readily establish beneficial ownership. Our governments and our associations have an obligation to rein in the unscrupulous tail of our professions.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ebola continues to spread in Uganda

A month ago, Uganda declared itself free of their latest Ebola outbreak. Since then, three people have died of Ebola virus. Two of the three were from the same family. All of these new fatalities occurred near the capital of Kampala.

From Reuters Alert Net, we find out more about the continued spread of the virus.
The first case involved a driver of a Boda Boda - motorcycle taxis common in Uganda - who died on Oct. 25 while the second victim, a 25-year old woman who nursed the driver, died on Nov. 10. Lab tests have not yet been completed on the third case.
Ebola and Marbug are both highly infectious, spread mostly through contact with body fluids, and have high case fatalities.
Symptoms include bleeding, diarrhoea and vomiting and while there is no cure for both diseases, some patients survive through treatment of symptoms.
A total of 16 people died from the last Ebola outbreak and the frequency of infections has been rising in recent years.
Uganda has managed to avoid a repeat of its worst episode of Ebola, in 2000, when 425 people were infected and more than half died.