Sunday, July 31, 2005

[John Edwards] focuses on fighting poverty in Plymouth speech

From Foster's Citizen Online

Staff Writer

PLYMOUTH — Former U.S. Senator and vice presidential candidate John Edwards gave a local Democratic group a boost on Saturday when he appeared at a barbecue.

The North Carolina politician focused his comments on poverty, calling the fight against it "one of the great moral causes" politicians and citizens must address.

He spoke to about 130 residents at the barbecue, which was located in Riverside Park and sponsored by the fledgling Plymouth Area Democrats.

Edwards, a trial lawyer, left his Senate seat after his failed run for the White House with Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry last year. He has been heading the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

Edwards discussed his work at the center and with One America Committee — a political action committee focused on working to curb poverty by electing Democratic candidates. Edwards said he has been traveling the nation and speaking with the economically disadvantaged to learn what can be done to help them.

He told Saturday's audience that too little attention is directed toward the roughly 36 million people in the country struggling to get by.

"I want to hear what people's struggles are ... it's been a great learning experience for me," Edwards said.

He told the crowd he's heard heartbreaking stories of good people who have little to no access to health care — a circumstance he described as a "disaster."

Countries like England have recently engaged in major programs to combat poverty, he said.

"When are we going to make that kind of commitment," he asked.

He also blasted Congress for failing to raise the minimum wage, calling it a "national embarrassment."

He said while Republicans tout themselves as the party that defends freedom and moral values, Democrats instead look out for people without a voice.

"Freedom does not belong to the Republican Party," he said.

Edwards urged the crowd to take action on a grass-roots level. He stressed the importance of engaging young people.

Also speaking at Saturday's event was Concord lawyer Paul Hodes, who announced he'll again challenge Charles Bass for the state's 2nd District U.S. House seat.

The Plymouth Area Democrats officially formed in January. The group has been meeting on the third Wednesday of each month at the Plymouth Senior Center. Between 30 and 50 people usually attend the monthly meetings.

Chairwoman Martha Richards said she was thrilled Edwards spoke at the event.

"We've had a great group, and it's wonderful to see Democrats come out of the closet and take a stand on the issues," she said.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

[India] People below poverty line must progress: Kalam

From The Hindu

Alappuzha, July 30 (UNI): President A P J Kalam on Friday suggested agriculture, information technology, education, infrastructure and space programme as the key areas to change the fortunes of 260 million people below poverty line.

"Unless they achieve progress in the sectors of education, health and ecomonic growth, there cannot be progress for the country. All children dream to live in a happy, safe and prosperous India, but for that these 260 million people should be uplifted," the President said.

He was speaking after laying the foundation stone for the centenary memorial building of the Sanathana Dharma Vidyalaya here where he reached two hours behind schedule due to inclement weather.

"Our present GDP growth is six per cent. If we can sustain the growth rate of 10 per cent for a decade, we can bring them above poverty line," he said while presenting his five-point agenda.

The agenda included strides in agriculture and food processing, education and health care, information technology, infrastructure development and self-reliance in critical technology.

Dr Kalam said the country had seen three revolutions to take it to the present status. They were Green revolution, the space programme and the recent success in information technology achieved through young entrepreneurs.

The President noted that there was vast scope for agriculture and food-processing sector. He called for achieving greater heights in education, specially that of women, and health care.

Hailing the Edusat programme he launched in Thiruvananthapuram as a most modern tool to disseminate education, he wanted more stress on tele-medicine, e-governance and tele-education.

Friday, July 29, 2005

[Comment] Good governance: Remedy to poverty and corruption in Bangladesh

From The New Nation

By Professor Md. Osman Ghani
Jul 29, 2005, 11:46

Governance’ nowadays not only occupies the central stage in the development discourse but it is also development strategy. In the conceptualisation, divergent views either represent governance as a narrowly defined phenomenon in the form of activities of the stage i.e. the government or as one where the state comprising the legislature, the executive and the judiciary are the parts that constitute a whole without the positive synergistic relation with the private sector and civil society.

The recent interpretation of governance introduces the private sector and the civil society including the local government system as participants in and promoter of good governance, through changes in their subsidiary roles and direct involvement in areas hitherto kept exclusively in the public domain. Very seldom, people of Bangladesh happened to be fortunate to enjoy good governance during about thirty-four years of independence.

By now, failing governance in Bangladesh has become a matter of debate at all points where even a two citizen get together. Every conscious citizen is found to be very unhappy and got disheartened at failing governance. From that discourse to debate it also comes out that no government, except the military rulers, can govern or function without necessary political support of opposition political parties. This is a convention of prime importance in respect of good governance for a government, before going for good governance. But unfortunately, this parliamentary convention has never been followed by the oppositions in the history of Parliamentary system of government in Bangladesh. Non-cooperation of the opposition political parties through continuous absence in the Parliament, when it is in session and the demand to unseat the elected government have been the usual practice. It definitely goes against the norms of politics and breaks the commitments of the political parties to their electorates. Thereby the common people get deprived of the benefits and services they deserve from their elected government.

Witnessing such situation, the international development partners of Bangladesh in and outside the country also express their dismay. Their comments like: ‘bad governance’, failed governance’ and ‘failed state’ dishearten the aspirants and actors of a prosperous Bangladesh. Their views about Bangladesh reflected in the headlines of national and international media saying. “Bangladesh has a bright future with its potentialities if poor governance could be replaced by good governance, massive corruption and poor management skill could be replaced by transparent and skilled management, ‘out of control’ low and order situation could be replaced by a controlled one.”

What the conscious people still see: politics and political practices are of wonder, deteriorating law and order situation, insecured public life, first in corruption for the last four years in row, politicised campus and distressful education situation, disappointing human rights and human development, incapability of economic policy and development infrastructure to alleviate mass poverty, unfreindly tax policy hindering industrialisation, indiscipline in the industrial sector has made the most of the industries sick or closed, neglected agricultural sector and slow trend of its modernisation, dilapidated situation in the land and sea ports, lack of investment friendly environment, massive bribery in the government offices, absence of a pro-poor health policy, arsenic contamination in ground water, frequent floods etc. etc.

I don’t know, how do our respected political leaders react to these matters! What happens to the advantaged people of this country, especially those who are able to help the situation improve and participate to bring about a change to get rid of the prevailing situation. Given this context of governance. I wrote a book titled. ‘ASRUSHIKTA MATRIBHUMI’ embodying the facts as examples.

In recent times, Bangladesh is engraved with two prime curses: poverty and corruption. Poverty is endemic and corruption is widespread in Bangladesh. Nowadays, the question that looms large is: how to overcome this crisis. It is widely believed that good governance is the panacea to these two social ills. Before discussing how good governance can act as a panacea of poverty and corruption, let us have a look at the present trend of poverty and corruption in Bangladesh.

Poverty has two dimensions income poverty and non-income/human poverty. Income dimension refers to a state of earnings that are too small to buy the basic necessities of life. Non-income/human dimension of poverty includes lack of access to education, health, lack of empowerment, participation etc. In Bangladesh, from both these two dimensions people are poor. Nearly 50% of the total population of Bangladesh lives below poverty line though income poverty rate has been declining modestly. According to Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) between 1991/92 to 2000 the incidence of national poverty has declined from 58.8% to 49.8% indicating a modest reduction rate of 1% per year.

In case of human poverty also Bangladesh has achieved impressive gains particularly in terms of mortality reduction, decline in child malnutrition, increased rate of literacy and school enrollment etc. Despite these achievements, the level of human development is still very low in Bangladesh. In Human Development, Bangladesh ranks 138 among 177 countries in 2002 (UNDP Report-2004), which was 139 among 175 countries in 2001 (UNDP report-2003): while that was 145 among 173 countries in the year 2000 (UNDP report-2002). Though with a little improvement Bangladesh ranked 132 among 150 countries in 2000 (UNDP report-2001) the total member of countries under survey was also smaller (150) . Previously too, the country ranked most lower, that is, 146 among 174 countries in 1999 (UNDP Report-2000) and 150 among 174 countries in 1997 (UNDP Report-1999) . There are also notable failures in some areas such as maternal health, child nutrition, access to safe water, sanitation and electricity and overall safety of the masses.

Corruption is widespread in Bangladesh. The concern of government officials is how best they can squeeze funds for their personal benefits and it has become institutionalised. Development projects with huge funds are undertaken every year but failing to achieve the goals. Officers are more concerned about their monetary gains form the projects than the greater benefit of the nation. Corruption is also manifested through bribery, loan default, evasion of taxes and customers duties, nepotism in appointments, negligence of duties, and politicisation of administration. The country has been ranked as the number one corrupt country in the world four times in row by the Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB). According to the report of TIB, in 2001, 4.7% of GDP got drained away through corruption.

Causes of such widespread corruption include low wages of public servants, centralised decision making, inefficient rule application, misuse of power by the political and administrative elites and non-transparent administration.

The term ‘Governance’ has three dimensions: form of political regime, the process by which authority is exercised to manage country’s economic and social resources and the capacity of government to formulate and implement the policies and to discharge government functions. Thus governance has three spheres politicals, economic and administrative. By saying ‘Good governance’ we mean a system for establishing and maintaining accountability, transparency and efficiency in all spheres of governmental and administrative machinery. Good governance is not something to be desired by the government delegating some of its powers and functions to the informal organs but a formal outcome of a new social configuration of institutions resulting in a new social contract (an ideology) and redefining the pluralistic state in the Constitution. It is believed that these features of good governance can most effectively address the social ills of poverty and corruption. Good governance doesn’t only aim to maintain economic stability and attaining higher economic growth rather it also means to taking measures to provide public safety, maintenance of law and order which would make it possible to stimulate the economy to raise output and employment. Three main features of good governance can be discussed here as the remedial of poverty and corruption.

Accountability and transparency are the pertinent features of good governance. Public officials should be held accountable for poor performance or delayed actions. Such accountability ensures better performance of the officials and also the appropriate use of public resources. Good governance also ensures transparency in government operation like how major political parties function, sources of their fund, the routes to leaders, the way in which the cabinet system works and the checks and balances containing the power of the Prime Minister.

It is argued that greater accountability and transparency of the public sector can make the state more responsive to the needs of the poor, it enables the poor to raise their ‘voice’ to influence service provision.

Lack of accountability and transparency also encourages corruption. Because corruption means ‘abuse of public power for private gains’. Corruption does have a long term impact on the poor. Due to corruption, access to public services gets limited as officials charge the poor for what should be a free service and political process is manipulated to favour the interests of dominant groups. Therefore, to eradicate poverty, combatting corruption is a pressing need, which can be achieved through making government accountable and transparent.

To make government transparent and accountable, ensuring free flow of information and strengthening certain public accountability institutions are necessary. Lack of free flow of information regarding the decision making process leaves the scope for the Civil Servants to be unaccountable and corrupt. On the other hand, public accountability institutions like Public accounts Committee of Parliament, the office of Comptroller and Auditor General C and AG), Anti-Corruption Commission lack structural strength, autonomy and authority to enforce their decisions. These institutions are either bypassed or diluted by the law-makers. To reduce corruption, and to ensure better access of people to public goods and services these institutions should be made transparent and more powerful and effective. Therefore, the following steps should be taken:

Anti-Corruption Commission should be made free from any influence to work effectively

The Office of Ombudsman should be established.

An Independent Human Rights Commission should be formed.

Weak, inconsistent and ineffective judicial system has led to weak law enforcement, which stands as a major obstacle to good governance. Rule of law is not only the first parameter of good governance but the most crucial too. Inefficient application of rules and regulations causes arbitrary exercise of bureaucratic and political power allowing administration to be corrupt. Money buys power, privileged access tot he administration, media access and eventually voters. Career advancement in Civil Service is linked to political identity and the extent of patronage by an office. Officials loyal to the ruling governments are eligible for promotion. In the same way the most loyal and trusted officers are posted as DCs, SPs, and UNOs so that they may be used for granting bail to the criminals and activities of the party in power and putting opposition activists behind the bars, manipulating election results etc.

All these happen due to weak enforcement of law. Separation of the lower judiciary from the executive is essential as the rule of law can’t be enforced impartially and promptly due to the interference of the executives over the lower judiciary. Besides, reinforcement of rule of low including fair and acessible legal and judicial system can enforce civil, social, political and economic rights without any discrimination. In this way, corruption as well as deprivation cuasing poverty will also be minimised to a great extent.

Efficiency in managing resources is another important criteria of good governance which can significantly reduce poverty. In Bangladesh, a huge amount of money is spent for maintaining a big size of government. At preset we have 37 ministries whereas the UK government runs with only 16 ministries, Japan and Thailand with 14 and Malaysia with 24. Number of ministries is increased to offer more ministerial positions to the political leaders. Not only the number of ministries, but also 50% of the existing directorates and other organizations can be reduced. Staff strength of public organisations can also be reduced. By cutting expenditure for these nonproductive sectors, priorities should be set in consistence with development needs, which eventually would result in proper allocation of resources. Misallocation of resources causes citizens poor access to basic services like housing, electricity, safe drinking water, education and health.

Decentralisation of financial and administrative powers to the local authorities makes public services as well as the elected representatives accountable and transparent. For example, if the Thana Health and Family Planning Officer is given autonomy in taking expenditure decisions or administrative decision regarding the thana level health officials and employees then automatically the officials working under him would be accountable to him and the quality of service would improve. On the other hand, if local bodies are headed by the people’s representatives, administration will be responsive to the needs of the people whereby the extent of poverty might be reduced.

(The writer is the Chairman and Executive Director of the Bangladesh Society for Bangladesh Development Strategy).

[December 26th Tsunami] Mercy Ships Update On Tsunami Response Efforts

From Mercy Ships

August, 2005 – Garden Valley, Texas: Mercy Ships responded quickly to the 26 December Asian Tsunami shipping almost $400,000 worth of donated relief supplies within days of the disaster. As the scope of the devastation became clearer in the weeks that followed, Mercy Ships made a long-term commitment to the region and developed a strategy for sustainable development.

Noting that more than 23,000 fishing boats had been lost to the tsunami in Sri Lanka alone, Mercy Ships determined to provide 77 “Mercy Boats” to idled fishermen in the devastated region. As a down payment on Mercy Ships long-term commitment to the area, the first 15 fishing boats were delivered within weeks of the disaster. Mercy Ships will eventually provide 65 fishing boats to Sri Lanka and 12 to Thailand. Partnering with a coalition of 10 interested churches and charities, Mercy Ships will provide 12 fishing boats to families in Thailand’s Khao Lak province.

In keeping with Mercy Ships strategy for sustainable development, the boats are being provided through a micro-enterprise project. Fishermen receiving a Mercy Boat will eventually repay 50% of the vessel’s cost to a Sri Lankan cooperative. Those proceeds will then be reinvested in future community development projects.

“The purpose of this loan repayment is to encourage greater sense of ownership and accountability among the beneficiaries to promote self-reliance rather than dependency,” said Soo-Jin Lee, Director of Mercy Ships Asia. Loan repayment funds will pay for educational tuition assistance and fish catch collection and distribution centers.

At a recent presentation ceremony, 12 new Mercy Boats were delivered to fishermen in the Trincomalee district of Sri Lanka. Lee addressed the recipients and others gathered at the boat presentation, saying “Through the generosity of many donors, Mercy Ships is honored to present these new fishing boats today. Three of these boats are made possible from the hard work of thousands of teenagers from the 4-H (Heads, Hearts, Hands and Health) Club in Texas who washed cars, sold cakes and bracelets to purchase these boats, engines and nets. Two boats were donated by the Rotary Club in South Wales (UK) and two by the Rotary Club of Australia. So, although you may be living in a small village in Sri Lanka, these donations demonstrate that we all live in the global village called planet earth. Above all, these new boats remind us that the sea is always a source of God’s faithful provision for you and your families.”

Another project Mercy Ships will facilitate in Sri Lanka is the ‘Hope Angel’ Mobile Clinic project for two years. It will be managed and staffed by Sri Lankan medical and administrative staff.

Mark Thompson, Director of Mercy Ships - Mercy Teams, just returned from an assessment trip to Sri Lanka and Thailand. In partnerships with relief agencies already at work in the area he arranged to deploy short-term, non-medical Mercy teams to the region in the next 18 months. Mercy Ships is now accepting team applications from churches and civic groups interested in sending construction teams to the disaster area.

In other news from the disaster area, Mercy Ships also donated funds to re-establish an English and Computer Center to benefit students in Indonesia. Donated funds were used to facilitate the purchase of computer hardware and software and the hiring of Indonesian training staff.

Partner/donors have responded so generously to the Asian Tsunami disaster, Mercy Ships anticipates having sufficient funds in hand to fund all planned development projects in the region by the end of 2005 and will not solicit further donations beyond that point.

[Louisiana] Education is key to breaking cycle of poverty, officials say

From the Shreveport Times

By James Ramage

People who help the needy in the Shreveport-Bossier City area aren't surprised to learn that Louisiana ranks second to last in a recent national survey on children's well-being.

And although many who daily work with children who live in poverty regard the findings of the latest Annie E. Cushy Foundation study as a challenge, they note that a child's education is the real key to breaking the cycle.

"Things have not gotten better in the last couple of years," said Simone Hennessee, president of Providence House, a transitional homeless shelter in Shreveport that provides emergency services and programs that help move families into apartments and find jobs. "I think the state's situation is pretty dire; the likeliness of children repeating what their parents did is great."

Between 2000 and 2003, Louisiana's numbers of high school dropouts rose to 12 percent, of children in poverty increased to 30 percent and of children in single-parent households rose to 41 percent, according to the Baltimore-based foundation. Nationally, those rates increased by 8 percent, 18 percent and 30 percent, respectively, over the same time period.

Louisiana also saw rises in its numbers of teens not in school and not working as well as children living in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment.

"The high school dropout rate is an indication of poverty," Hennessee said. "If people don't have the basics in life to survive successfully, then their ability to do well in school is greatly diminished. School districts are feeling the full impact of that."

Gov. Kathleen Blanco agrees with the assessment. That's why she put $20 million into pre-kindergarten programs throughout Louisiana that will serve about 92 percent of the state's at-risk children, according to her press secretary, Denise Bottcher, who also spoke for the state Social Services Department.

"(Blanco) believes the heart of the matter is education," Bottcher said. "Once one gets educated, they'll be able to get a good-paying job that will pull them out of poverty. And they'll develop a culture (in the family) where education is valued. But this will take a couple of years to show up on the survey."

Poverty levels are used as criteria for students to qualify for free or reduced price lunches. Last school year, almost 60 percent of Caddo public school students in kindergarten through 12th grade qualified for free or reduced price lunches, according to Jacqueline Solomon, child nutrition director for the system. Caddo consistently has 52 percent to 59 percent qualify for free or reduced price lunches, she said.

In Bossier Parish, of 19,050 students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, 7,260 of them -- or 38 percent -- qualified for free or reduced price lunches last school year, according to Pam Thrash, child nutrition field manager for Bossier public schools. That figure is consistent with others over the past few years, she said.

In June 2003, Sheila Carrigan looked into Section 8 housing for her and her two daughters but was told there was a two-year waiting list. Several months later, she chose to enter the Providence House program rather than wait.

Carrigan completed the program in March and she and daughters Rachel Balsinger, 7, and Rebecca Balsinger, 4, moved into an apartment in Shreveport's Ingleside neighborhood. Now Carrigan is a receptionist and saleswoman at Central Monument Co. on Mansfield Road.

Although educating her daughters is important, she said the state's efforts to assist single parents as they look for work play crucial roles as well for helping families loosen themselves from poverty's grip. To begin with, the state needs more Section 8 housing that's readily available, child-care facilities that include sick beds for children and a program that provides day care while single parents look for work, she said.

"In Louisiana, if your child is sick, you're staying at home. Period," Carrigan said. "I don't know what more (Social Services) could feasibly do with the money they have. I'd be willing to pay more in taxes if I truly knew where the money was going."

Shelley Lester works as a program development coordinator for Shreveport-Bossier Community Renewal, which builds relationships within and outside low-income neighborhoods. Its volunteers live in homes in the neighborhoods that act as focal points for the organization's efforts, she said.

Despite the study, Lester said, she's still seen a genuine desire for local cooperation over the years between educational institutions, churches, social services and community leaders. But for her, the study serves its purpose.

"To arrive at the right answers, we have to have the right information. (The study) challenges us to work together toward solutions."

Thursday, July 28, 2005

[Australia] Hawke says 1m still live in poverty

From ABC Australia

Former prime minister Bob Hawke is calling for a royal commission into the causes of poverty in Australia.

Mr Hawke says that in such an affluent country, Australia's poverty levels are a blight.

In Adelaide for a conference on poverty, Mr Hawke says there should be a bipartisan look at the factors that contribute to poverty.

"Surely it could be agreed by the Government and the Opposition that this is a real issue," he said.

"We're a very affluent country but there are, at least by the most conservative estimates, a million people living in poverty.

"Another reputable organisation has it at over 2 [million].

"Now, surely there must be agreement that this is not right - let's have a royal commission."

[Niger] Children suffering acute levels of malnutrition in Niger

From World Vision

By Karen Homer - Communications Manager, World Vision West Africa Region

Malnutrition and mortality rates are critically high among children under five in the regions of Maradi and Zinder in Niger, according to World Vision staff working in the country.

More than three children per 10,000 under age five are dying daily from malnutrition reports Sarah Carr, a Canadian nutritionist serving in Niger. According to international standards, under-five mortality rates of 2/10,000 children per day indicates an emergency; 4/10,000 indicates a severe situation.

“The situation is escalating and we aren’t even in the peak of the hungry season between harvests yet,” says Carr, adding that levels of wasting (acute malnutrition) among children in Maradi and Zinder have reached 13.4 and 13.5 respectively.

World Vision is operating an outpatient therapeutic feeding program in Zinder for up to 5,000 moderately malnourished children under-five without medical complications. Children receive packets of a high-energy peanut supplement called Plumpynut, as well as a ration of millet, cowpeas and oil to take home. Children who are identified as being severely malnourished with medical complications are evacuated to a hospital in Maradi - about four hours away by road.

Carr says some parents are reluctant to seek help for their children because “they just don’t have time for their kids to be sick right now” during the critical planting season.

“Mothers here have as many as nine children. Who’s going to look after the others if she takes one sick child to the hospital? Who will do the field work?” she says.

But Carr says “it’s a certain death sentence” if severely malnourished children don’t receive medical care. They are especially vulnerable to malaria which can reach a prevalence of 50 percent during the rainy season. World Vision is distributing treated mosquito nets in project communities.

The food security situation will probably worsen before crops are harvested in late October, says Carr. “Farmers are working hard planting right now and they’re expending a lot of energy but they have little food input.”

They don’t have enough food for themselves or their children. Prices for millet - a diet staple here - have more than tripled since last year. A 100 kg bag of millet now sells for US$60 - far beyond the reach of most Nigeriens who live on a dollar a day when times are good.

Almost one-quarter of Niger’s 12 million people are at risk, including 800,000 children.

World Vision Niger is responding to the crisis by stocking cereal banks, operating a nutritional program and addressing food security. The program has received about US$1.3 million through government grants and private funding, but an estimated US$4 million is still needed to expand nutrition programs, construct and stock cereal banks, and develop economic and agricultural recovery programs.

International governments are slowly responding to a UN appeal for US$16 million to aid Niger. However, getting food into Niger is a major challenge even if funding is available. Neighbouring countries (Mali, Nigeria) are experiencing their own food shortages and are reluctant to sell their stock. The World Food Programme plans to import 23,000 metric tons to be distributed from end of July to September. This offers little hope to children who are hungry right now.

“Young boys are banging on my door at night begging for food,” says Carr. “That’s something I’ve never seen in Africa, even here in Niger where people are so poor.”

{Kids Count Study] Kids' poverty rate rises in Alabama

From the Montgomery Advertiser

The Associated Press

BIRMINGHAM -- A national child advocacy group says Alabama has lost ground in bringing children out of poverty but has fewer teens giving birth or dropping out of high school.

Still, the Kids Count report released Wednesday ranked Alabama 48th for the well-being of children, ahead of only Louisiana and Mississippi.

The report, produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, tracks indicators of children's health, education and economic status. This year's report is based primarily on 2003 statistics.

For that year, 24 percent of Alabama children were poor, the same as in 1990. The number had improved to 21 percent in 2000, according to the report, but worsened during the next three years. Nationwide, child poverty nudged up slightly, from 17 percent in 2000 to 18 percent in 2003.

On the plus side, the report said the number of teens who quit high school dropped from 13 percent in 2000 to 10 percent in 2003. And the state's teen birth rate was down, from 61 births per 1,000 in 2000 to 55 in 2003.

"While we continue year to year to see that things do look stagnant, you have to look at it over the last decade, and we have made some major improvements," said Apreill Hartsfield of Voices for Alabama's Children, a Montgomery advocacy group. Hartsfield works on the state report.

Alabama is tied at 36 with California, Oregon and Washington for the percentage of children in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment. However, the lost ground on getting children out of poverty has broad ramifications.

"Children who grow up in poverty are the most likely to repeat that cycle and the least likely to escape it," Hartsfield said. "They're more likely to drop out of school and become disconnected with positive influences in society."

According to the report, 264,000 Alabama children were living below the federal poverty line, which was $18,660 in 2003 for two parents and two children.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

[Kids Count Study] Child poverty is lowest in N.H.

From Foster's Daily Democrat

Democrat Staff Writer

CONCORD — New Hampshire has been ranked the top state in America in the latest national survey dealing with child poverty and child well-being trends.

Although the study shows child poverty has increased in the Granite State and nationwide, the state ranks far better than the national average in more than a dozen categories ranging from teen birth rates to low birthweight babies.

The survey is part of the Kids Count study conducted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private charitable organization that works to foster public policies, human-service reforms and community supports that more effectively meet the needs of today's vulnerable children and families.

Maine finished seventh overall in the survey.

Despite an increase in the number of children in poverty by 33 percent between 2000 and 2003, New Hampshire still has smallest child-poverty rate in the country at 8 percent of the 304,000 children in the state, the survey said. The national rate is 18 percent.

Following New Hampshire was Vermont, Minnesota, New Jersey and North Dakota, rounding out the top-five. The worst state was Mississippi followed by Louisiana, Alabama, West Virginia and New Mexico. Massachusetts finished sixth.

New Hampshire also ranked best in the nation in child death rate, down 14 percent; teen death rate, down 38 percent and teen birth rate, down 13 percent. Results for these categories were reported between 2000 and 2002. The state finished fourth in the nation for its infant mortality rate, which decreased 12 percent from 2000 to 2002.

Only 6 percent of children in the state lack health insurance and 89 percent of young children receive immunizations.

In 2003, more than one in four children lived in families where no parent had full-time, year-round employment. Also, 7,000 children lived in households where no adult had worked in the prior 12 months and 21,280 children lived in homes where the head of the household did not finish high school. The number of children in single parent households decreased four percent between 2000 and 2003.

Educationally, the percentage of teens age 16-19 in New Hampshire who are high school dropouts fell 22 percent from nine to seven percent; however, the percent of teens ages 16-19 not attending school or working rose 20 percent from five to six percent.

In fourth grade testing, 40 percent of New Hampshire students scored at or above the proficient reading level and 43 percent scored at or above the proficient math level in 2003. The national averages was 30 percent and 31 percent respectively.

In eighth grade testing, 40 percent of students scored at or above the proficient reading level and 35 percent scored at or above proficient math level in 2003. The national averages were 30 percent and 27 percent.

In 2004, 74 percent of children in New Hampshire lived in married couple households, 19 percent in single-parent households and seven percent in cohabitating couple households.

New Hampshire has ranked in the top two for the past four years, said Ellen Shemitz, president of the Children's Alliance of New Hampshire, which conducts survey information and acts as the New Hampshire arm of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Despite New Hampshire ranking high, funding issues and financial security have contributed to the rise in poverty of children in New Hampshire, Shemitz said.

"The trend is going in the wrong direction," she said.

Shemitz said there is talk of taking federal money that goes toward lowering the birth rate and putting it towards abstinence programs.

In Maine

Maine finished first in the country for its infant mortality rate, which lowered by 10 percent between 2000 and 2002, according to the survey.

Educationally, the state showed the percentage high school dropouts among teens age 16-19 increased 40 percent from 5 to 7 percent between 2000 and 2003. The national average is 8 percent. The number of teens the same ages not attending school or working also rose 25 percent.

Testing in fourth grade showed, 36 percent of Maine students scored at or above the proficient reading level and 34 percent scored at or above the proficient math level in 2003. In eighth grade testing, 37 percent of students scored at or above the proficient reading level and 29 percent scored at or above proficient math level — 2 percent higher than the national average — in 2003.

The child death rate fell 5 percent, teen death rate fell eight percent, teen birth rate fell 14 percent, the number of children with both parents not holding full time jobs decreased 9 percent. The child poverty rate did increase though 8 percent.

Seven percent of children in the state lacked health insurance in 2002 and 84 percent of 2-year-olds were immunized in 2003. In 2001, Maine and New Hampshire each had 13,000 children with special health care needs that limited the employment of a family member.

In the United States

Nationally five of 10 indicators used to track a child's well-being worsened over the past few years. The nation experienced low-birthweight babies, infant mortality, teen deaths and child poverty, as well as a lower rate of children with securely employed parents.

[Michigan] Habitat for Humanity families take ownership month after Carter project

From Habitat for Humanity

BENTON HARBOR and DETROIT, Mich. (July 25, 2005) – Move-in day for families across Michigan will represent the reality of homeownership that former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, his wife, Rosalynn, and thousands of volunteers helped make possible in June during Habitat for Humanity International’s annual signature event.

Once mortgage agreements are signed, families who helped build their own home will move in and begin making no-profit payments. These payments will help build future Habitat homes with other families in need.

“We are proud of these families and their work and we know they have improved their lives’ circumstances,” said Paul Leonard, chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity International. “Habitat’s newest homeowners have also blessed the lives of the many volunteers and donors who worked beside them and had the joy of seeing their smiles and tears as the homes in the Jimmy Carter Work Project were dedicated and the keys presented.”

Between June 19-24, more than 230 Habitat homes were completed across Michigan and in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, with the Carters helping to build homes in Benton Harbor and Detroit. The Carters worked alongside volunteers who helped complete the homes from the ground up in just a week’s time. To build the homes, Habitat enlisted the help of volunteers from across the United States and around the world representing churches, corporations, community groups and schools. Lowe’s, Whirlpool, Dow, Masco, Great Lakes Capital Fund, DIY and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority left a lasting impact on these communities by providing leadership, sending volunteers and serving as event-wide sponsors.

“This year’s theme, ‘Bringing Vision to Life,’ captured the spirit of this year’s Habitat for Humanity Jimmy Carter Work Project,” said Ken Bensen, president of Habitat Michigan. “It is our hope that this event made people aware that substandard housing can be overcome as communities work to provide affordable homeownership opportunities for low-income families.”

Habitat Michigan is a member of Vision 2020, a statewide joint venture with community-based organizations whose work across the state seeks to eliminate substandard housing and build community vitality by assuring sustainable economic development and effective neighborhood governance. Vision 2020 works in Pontiac, Lansing, Kalamazoo, Antrim County, Alpena and Iron Mountain, with possible plans to expand into Detroit, Battle Creek and Benton Harbor. The organization’s goal is to expand into 20 communities by 2020 to help more neighborhoods eliminate substandard housing by using their holistic approach to improve economic and living conditions.

“As a group of community-based organizations, we help unite neighborhood leaders and give them the support to develop sustainable and healthy environments,” said Mark Jansen, executive director of Vision 2020. “As Vision 2020 grows, whole neighborhoods will be restored to create better places to live.”

President Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, will again join thousands of volunteers in October 2006 to help build homes in Mumbai, India (formally Bombay). The international building project will represent the 23rd year in a row the Carters have given a week of their time to help build simple, decent Habitat homes in partnership with families in need.

About Habitat for Humanity International
Habitat for Humanity International, based in Americus, Ga., is an ecumenical Christian ministry dedicated to eliminating poverty housing. By the end of 2005, Habitat will have built its 200,000th house and more than one million people will be living in Habitat homes they helped build and are buying through no-profit, zero-interest mortgages.

[Washington] State's child poverty rate falls

From The Seattle Post Intelligencer

But 'disconnected youths' struggling


Washington kids are faring better than many of their peers around the country when it comes to health, with teen death rates falling and teen pregnancies down, according to a long-running national study. But economically, they are struggling.

Among the state's 1.5 million children, about a third live in low-income households, where no adult has full-time, year-round employment, according to figures released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in its national Kids Count data book.

Among the more troubling findings is new data on so-called "disconnected" youths -- teenagers and young adults who were neither in school nor employed. Between 2000 and 2003, the report says, Washington saw a 25 percent increase in that population.

"It's a huge concern," said Eric Anderson, manager for youth development at the city of Seattle's Health and Human Services. "How far you go in school has more to do with your future earnings than any other indicator."

Despite the grim statistics, Washington ranked 14th for overall child well-being and appears a comparative bright spot in at least one measure.

"It's one of the few places where the child poverty rate actually went down while the rest of the country's went up," said William O'Hare, director of the Kids Count program, which is based in Baltimore. "So Washington is moving in the right direction while the rest of the country is not."

Kids Count, now in its 16th year of publication, analyzes Census Bureau and state information to help guide public policy. While the report's sponsor, the Casey Foundation, has an avowed mission to strengthen services for young people, the data are generally viewed as credible, said state Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle.

In the Washington analysis, Pettigrew's district, which includes portions of South Seattle, was flagged as a hot spot for several high-risk factors affecting children, including high rates of unemployment and persistent poverty.

"It's not a surprise, but it is disappointing," the legislator said. "People in these communities are struggling. They're getting further and further behind."

Among them are teenagers such as Justin West, 18, one of about 46,000 young people who are out of school, out of work and uncertain about their plans for the future, according to the report.

At 17, the Skyway teen dropped out, thinking he would get a GED and save himself some desk time. He said school had devolved into little more than a fighting arena.

"I just wanted to get away from all the problems -- the arguing and fighting with kids over stupid stuff," West said. "I just thought I'd get it over with."

His mother was not pleased with her son's decision. When West sought admission to a GED tutoring program through the YMCA, he discovered there was no room -- it was filled with other floundering teens who had also drifted away from school.

Eventually, a slot opened up (one of the dropouts had dropped out), and West grabbed it. But he's not sure what he'll do once he has an equivalency diploma.

"Probably construction," he said. "Something I can do with my hands."

Richard Brandon, a University of Washington researcher who crunched the Casey numbers to pinpoint Washington's highest-risk neighborhoods, does not offer much encouragement. He said the recession that hit nationally in 2001 dealt a harder blow here, and the effects have lingered, with young people feeling the brunt.

"Teens are the most sensitive barometer of unemployment," Brandon said. "They're the last to get hired, the first to get fired."

For children of color, the picture is even worse.

Lori Pfingst, a researcher who works with Brandon, found that one in 10 Washington youth is at risk. Among black, Latinos, American Indians and Asians, she said, the figure is one in five.

"That, I think, is the most striking thing coming out of our analysis," Pfingst said. "Kids are struggling, but kids of color are really struggling."

P-I reporter Claudia Rowe can be reached at 206-448-8320 or

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

[East Timor] Democracy In Danger As Graft And Poverty Spread: World Bank

From Noticias

In a report dated July 25 and titled The International Development Association: Country Assistance Strategy for the Democratic Republic of Timor Leste, the World Bank says that East Timor is in danger of imploding into civil conflict, with corruption likely to erode the benefits of the billions of dollars that will flow to the fledgling nation from the development of gas fields in the Timor Sea, reports The Australian.

Emerging from the ashes of the bloody 1999 independence referendum, the half-island state of East Timor was a country in ruins. Under six years of UN stewardship and assistance from international donors, the tiny state of almost one million people has taken huge steps to rebuild. The World Bank report, obtained by The Australian, says East Timor has performed "considerably better than that of other post-conflict countries."

However, the report warns of emerging high-level corruption and of a Government increasingly out of touch with the people. The report also says East Timor is at a "crossroad" and the establishment of a functioning democracy will probably take decades. Among the World Bank’s biggest concerns is the re-emergence of corruption, endemic during the harsh quarter-century rule of Indonesian occupiers. "Governance and corruption problems are beginning to emerge," the report says. "Communication between the Government and the population is inadequate and often ineffective, resulting in limited mutual understanding. Timor Leste is at a juncture where it can consolidate gains and create conditions for sustained growth and poverty reduction, or descend down a path of poor governance, continuously increasing poverty and inequality and possibly renewed conflict."

The report says that the current danger is not posed by armed anti-independence militias but by what the Bank called "internal fault lines.” “More significant than external factors are internal fault lines contributing to the risk of renewed violence, including declining income, increased poverty, high unemployment and emerging corruption," the report says, noting an ominous increase in the prevalence of youthful martial arts groups. Areas tainted by corruption include customs, the justice system and the private sector.

The reports also warns that over-reliance on earnings from Timor Sea gas and oil could lead to a resource curse the bank calls "Dutch Disease" -- a failure to properly manage the exploitation of natural resources. A UN study three years ago -- before the oil price spike -- estimated East Timor stood to earn up to $30billion from the oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea.

The Australian Associated Press meanwhile reports that Jose Ramos-Horta, East Timor's foreign minister, on Tuesday countered claims that his tiny country was riddled with graft and burdened by poverty that could one day lead to civil conflict. Ramos-Horta downplayed some concerns raised in the World Bank report. "If you read it thoroughly, the World Bank report is very optimistic about Timor," said Ramos-Horta, a Nobel peace prize winner. He admitted Timor had problems, but he remained optimistic about the future. "Overall the situation is fragile because we are new, three-years-old. The institutions are fragile," he said. Ramos-Horta said an April meeting of international donors had ticked off on East Timor's political and economic direction. "Every single one of them, including World Bank, including the International Monetary Fund, praise my government's performance," said Ramos-Horta, who is Laos for an ASEAN meeting. "Now we have a surplus, we (are) increasing the budget by 30 percent because of the windfall from oil and gas."

[John Edwards] ...visits Maine to highlight problems of poverty

From the Lexington Dispatch
The Associated Press

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards met with people living in poverty during a visit to Maine on Tuesday to draw attention to the plight of the poor and to raise money for Democrats.

In his first stop in Maine since last year's presidential campaign, Edwards called poverty the "great moral issue in America today." Edwards was the Democratic nominee for vice president in John Kerry's run for president last year.

Edwards now leads the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he graduated from the law school in 1977. In his role, he has traveled to more than 20 states meeting with poor people and looking at programs that help the poor with the aim of learning how best to address the problem.

"I'm doing everything I can to bring this issue back to the American people," Edwards said.

Edwards also has been leading rallies in various states in favor of raising the minimum wage in those states. The federal minimum wage level is now $5.15 an hour, but the rate in Maine is $6.35 an hour.

Edwards also attended fund-raisers to benefit Maine House Democrats at the home of Victoria Murphy, the former chairwoman of the Maine Democratic Party, and at the offices of Bernstein Shur Sawyer and Nelson law firm.

Edwards has said it's too early to think about running for president in 2008, citing his current work and the health of his wife, who recently completed treatment for breast cancer.

But he is still making speeches to Democratic groups in key primary states and cultivating grass-roots support through his One America Committee Web site.

For now, he said, his campaign is about poverty, not the presidency.

"There's no way for me to know where that's going to lead. It's unpredictable," he said.

[World Relief] First Lady Meets with an AIDS Orphan

From World Relief

The Rwandan genocide of 1994 took her father. The AIDS epidemic took her mother. Her older brother sold the family home and abandoned his four younger siblings. Twelve-year-old Tatu Mukeshimana now finds herself heading a household of children. Her story is becoming increasingly common in a country where the number of AIDS orphans is surging.

First Lady Laura Bush, on a three country tour of Africa, visited privately with Tatu, asking her questions and offering encouragement. Tatu benefits from the funding that the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief provides to World Relief and the Mobilizing for Life program.

“When my relatives kicked me out, the church brought me in,” Tatu said.

“Not long ago many church leaders across Africa thought AIDS was a curse. Today we are witnesses to dramatic change. Today we see faith in action.” Debbie Dortzbach said to those gathered for the day's activities, “we have a charge to bring transformation to lives limited by a virus but revived by antiretrovirals, shattered by condemning attitudes of some but loved by simple touch and presence of many.”

When Mrs. Bush and her daughter Jenna arrived, a group of teenagers presented a skit used in clubs and school programs showing children learn to embrace a classmate with AIDS. Erasing the stigma associated with the disease and encouraging care by friends and family is a primary goal of the Mobilizing for Life program.

During her visit, the First Lady learned how World Relief empowers and equips churches and their communities to provide compassionate care, orphan support and AIDS education in the face of the AIDS pandemic.

She met local women empowered by World Relief’s Urwego microenterprise program and heard how World Relief’s Mobilizing for Life program enables churches and schools to teach youth about AIDS, fight harmful stigmas, and promote abstinence and marital fidelity.

Debbie Dortzbach, World Relief’s International Director for HIV/AIDS programs referred to one of President Bush’s favorite hymns, “A Charge I Have to Keep,” as a rallying cry.

“[The church] is the place of hope—the place for new beginnings. The place where we make promises as we do at weddings or baptisms and where we confess breaking those promises and seek forgiveness in meditation and prayer. This is the place where behavior changes. Not because we are here--but because God is here. We have a charge to keep.”

World Relief strives to keep that charge, working for, with and from local churches in Rwanda to provide hope to the poor and suffering, to empower those living with HIV/AIDS, and to embody Christ in the midst of pain.

Monday, July 25, 2005

[Comment] Fuel poverty is 'new social evil'

In 1942, five great social evils were identified in a seminal report into poverty.

The evils were want, squalor, idleness, ignorance and disease.

It was powerfull stuff: the report, which was written by the economist William Beveridge, helped bring about the post-war welfare state.

But it did little to eradicate fuel poverty.

Frozen plight

Looking at modern Britain you could legitimately add fuel poverty to the original list.

The rough and ready definition of fuel poverty is of someone who spends more than 10% of their income on keeping themselves warm.

However, fuel poverty is not just about low incomes.

It is part of a complex picture, linked to multiple deprivation, unaffordable fuel prices and poor housing stock characterised by inadequate insulation and inefficient heating systems.


While fuel poverty has of course always been around, it emerged as a serious social concern in the mid-1970s, born out of the oil crisis.

By 1986, household gas and electricity disconnections due to debt ran at a peak of 160,000 a year.

The latest figures suggest there are currently over two million households across the UK that cannot afford to keep adequately warm at a reasonable cost.

As energy prices rise, this number will go up.

Yet, 34% of people would not ask for financial assistance if they could not afford to heat their home throughout the winter, according to a recent survey.

The consequences are enormous.

Fuel poverty can and does kill.

Britain has the highest number of avoidable deaths due to winter cold in Western Europe.

It is estimated that 24,000 older people will perish this winter because they often can't afford to heat or from ill health linked to cold, damp living conditions.

As for children, fuel poverty can lead to educational under-achievement, social exclusion, physical and psychological ill health.

Liberal markets

Unlike being ill, people who are fuel poor do not necessarily know that they are. As such, they are not a group that is easily identifiable.

Yet it is clear that since 1996, the liberalised energy markets has helped bring energy prices down and with it the number of fuel poor.

In 1991 there were 7.3 million households that were either fuel poor or were considered vulnerable to suffering fuel poverty. By 2002 this figure had fallen to just over two million.

But double-digit hikes in energy prices in the past 18 months - 21% in gas and 18% in electricity - put this progress at risk.

The government's target of eradicating fuel poverty by 2016 will be in serious jeopardy if energy price continue to rise.

Back into poverty

The government-sponsored Fuel Poverty Advisory Group has suggested that a 10% price rise across the board will condemn as many as 400,000 consumers back to living in fuel poverty.

For many of those already paying more than 10% of their income on energy, the impact will be more than they can bear.

The situation can be most acute for those who pay for their energy through a pre-payment meter.

While having a pre-payment meter imposed by a supplier is preferable to being without heating or hot water, these consumers have to pay more for their energy, sometimes up to double, than those paying by direct debit.

Pre-payment meters increase the chances of living in fuel poverty.

Decrepit housing

Tackling fuel poverty is not just about reducing the price of energy, it is also about improving energy efficiency.

Fighting fuel poverty now has to go hand in hand with being more energy efficient.

Too much of Britain's housing stock is decrepit and close to being unfit to live in.

The government and the power firms have invested about £400m a year in insulating the homes of the fuel poor, and some suppliers have introduced special tariffs and trust funds for vulnerable groups, such as the elderly.

The Energy Smart campaign, which is sponsored by community groups, public bodies and Energywatch, aims to encourage consumers to save on their bills by switching supplier, changing payment method and being energy efficient.

All in all, though, the welfare state's universal approach to fighting social evils 60 years ago has levelled up society.

But universalism is no longer the weapon for fighting fuel poverty in the 21st Century.

The challenge now is to dispense the tailor-made help to those who really need it - from benefit maximisation to energy efficiency grants and making bills more manageable.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by the BBC unless specifically stated.

[Liberia] World vision Anti-AIDS campaign targets schools

From World Vision

By Macaulay Paykue - Communications Officer

World Vision Liberia is increasing its efforts to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS in the country, reaching out to the educational sector as its new target.

The organisation has produced a set of health education teachers' manuals, as well as brochures and posters for school students, to promote awareness of the disease. The materials have been distributed in 221 schools in Grand Cape Mount and Montserrado Counties.

Topics covered in the instruction manuals include hygiene promotion, sexually transmitted infections, reproductive health, nutrition, counseling and gender issues.

With funding from the Government of Switzerland and World Vision Switzerland, the manuals were produced with expertise from the Ministries of Health and Education, Mother Parttern College of Health Sciences, and the Christian Health Association of Liberia.

Before distributing the resources, World Vision ran four three-day intensive workshops for teachers and students in the target schools. These focused on appropriate ways to distribute the materials, as well as promoting the creation of health clubs in the schools to ensure the messages continue to be passed on.

“The importance of these resource materials cannot be overstated,” said A. Jadee Seyon, a Montserrado County school principal, speaking on behalf of fellow participants at one of the workshops.

“They could not have come at a better time than these days, when the HIV/AIDS scourge is spreading throughout our country. We will do our best to make proper use of the materials for the benefit of ourselves, our students and our communities,” he said.

HIV/AIDS education is an integral component of World Vision's primary healthcare activities in Liberia. Currently, World Vision runs nine primary health clinics in the country, five in Bomi County and the rest in Montserrado County.

[New Jersey] Family fights to escape poverty

From the Courier Post Online

Young program provides valuable help
Courier-Post Staff

Milagros Mendez wanted to work for the sake of her children.

"When I look at those three kids who belong to me, those are my courage, those my strength, those my energy," said Mendez.

But time and time again, the 28-year-old found insurmountable obstacles:

She has no car, making getting to and from work by way of public transportation a challenge.

She's a single parent who, because of a tumultuous relationship with her own family, has no one she can rely on for child care.

And she doesn't have a high school diploma.
She wanted to do better for her own children:MariaLisa Rentas, 9, smart and outgoing; sweet-tempered Santa Mendez, 8; and her one son, Coron Rush, 7, a fireball of energy.

"I will fight and struggle until I see them all graduate from college," she said.
But Mendez's challenges in overcoming the basic logistics of the working world were compounded by a daughter who needed special attention.

Mendez had a number of jobs she couldn't keep because MariaLisa is bipolar and has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. She has hurt herself and others, and been a disturbance in class, Mendez said.

The problems at school often pulled Mendez out of the workplace and, inevitably, out of jobs.

"My daughter's medical condition, every minute of the day they were calling me to get her," Mendez recalled.

So for most of her adult life she survived by bouncing on and off welfare, until time ran out.

Based on 1997 federal legislation, welfare recipients are entitled to 60 months of support. After that, they're on their own.

New assistance

Mendez was nearing that deadline a year-and-a-half ago when she became involved in Supportive Assistance to Individuals and Families, a state-sponsored program available through nonprofits statewide. The program, which began in December 2003, is designed to provide intensive assistance to people who have become welfare regulars.

The state is judging the effectiveness of the program and, though the SAIF contracts expire at the end of this year, plans to sustain it into 2008.

"We don't want anyone to fall through the cracks," said James Davy, commissioner at the state Department of Human Services.

The program also provides more personal assistance than the county boards of social services. In Camden County alone, the board provides welfare funds, Medicaid, child support, food stamps and myriad other programs to about 74,000 people, officials have said.

Caseworkers with the SAIF program spend more time than their county-employed counterparts helping the people assigned to them, officials said.

"I'm out in the world all day long," said one case manager, Emelinda Deboulet. "I put 3,000 miles on my car in one month."

New Jersey spends about $4.5 million for the eight SAIF vendors statewide, Davy said.

In South Jersey, the state contracted with Catholic Charities - a part of the Diocese of Camden - which serves six southern New Jersey counties, including Camden and Gloucester counties.

Of the 413 people who have gone through the program, 273 weren't able to work, usually because of disabilities. Those with disabilities were referred to Social Security. Others quickly found work.

The remaining 140 became Catholic Charities' SAIF clients. Of those, all but 28 are from Camden County, staff there said. And most of those are from Camden, they said.

Though the program is giving the welfare system's most difficult cases a chance they might never have had, it's hardly a bootstrap with which people can lift themselves into economic security. Even after job training, most SAIF participants will qualify for jobs with salaries that are below the poverty level. And the program's regimen, with its focus on employment, is considered finished when a client gets work.

That measure for success ignores the root problems that can cause sustained, crippling poverty.

"We have to move on because there's someone else in line," said another Catholic Charities case manager, Faye R. Clark, who adds she continues to informally help clients after they leave SAIF.

Hands on

Deboulet is one of five case managers at Catholic Charities working with SAIF clients. She handled Mendez's case. She found treatment for MariaLisa. Now that the 9-year-old is receiving counseling and medication, disruptions at school are less frequent and she's getting good grades, Deboulet said.

Counseling for Mendez herself calmed too hot a temper, she said.

Deboulet also arranged a job for Mendez in the cafeteria at Wiggins School, the elementary school Mendez's children attend. That took some doing, since the school wasn't a participating employer with SAIF.

Now, if there are problems at school, Mendez is there to deal with them.

"If it wasn't for Emelinda stepping in, I would have been lost," Mendez said.

In her 18 months on Mendez's case, Deboulet went to parent-teacher conferences, doctor appointments and therapy sessions with Mendez's family. She aided them in a move from a roach- and rat-infested home to a place near the school. She gave Mendez more attention than board of social services' caseworkers, who handle up to 200 cases concurrently, could have spared.

Often, welfare recipients find choices made early in life have left them struggling, even when they have every intention to work.

The most common obstacles to employment are bad health, an incomplete education, no work experience and no job skills, said Davy. Substance abuse and mental health problems also can play a part and often coincide, he said. The program will give clients help with child care, transportation or addictions - whatever it takes to get someone back to work.

Problems persist

Those who acknowledge SAIF's positive impact worry about its long-term effectiveness. Employment is the program's goal. But there are concerns that getting a job doesn't resolve to the underlying problems welfare recipients fight.

Case managers also noted the SAIF program would be more effective if it was open to new welfare recipients, rather than those who are facing a deadline on their state assistance. State official Davy agreed more effort needed to be expended at the beginning of the welfare process, but said there were other programs in existence and in development that he hoped would address that.

Once people get jobs, state programs provide cash assistance but the amount decreases as the recipient's salary rises, making it difficult to build financial security. And without the breaks state assistance offers, some may find it hard to sustain themselves, caseworkers said.

"They're barely getting by right now," Deboulet said. "At $7 or $8 an hour, they'll barely make it."

The average salary of a person who has finished SAIF is between $12,000 and $16,000 a year, said Vincent Ajuk, Catholic Charities director of faith and families.

"It's not much," he said. "It's still under the poverty level."

Even after getting off welfare, people would have their income supplemented with Medicaid and food stamps, he said.

But the program is limited in what it can provide, state officials said.

"People are chained to their abilities, and these are the jobs that are available, unfortunately," said Suzanne Esterman, Department of Human Affairs spokeswoman. "That's a huge, huge obstacle. There aren't a whole lot of jobs available for the amount of training they have."

Mendez has had some luck. By working in a school near her home, she minimized the need for child care and a car.

Not everyone in Mendez's position has been able to find so many conveniences, Deboulet said.

Mendez's job holds the possibility of advancement. In the next two years, she'll train as a secretary for the school. Mendez has been given a good foundation for her future, but her margin of error is thin. She has weak family ties and after July won't be eligible for welfare.

"I've been a fighter since I was young," Mendez said. "This is not a dream. This is reality, and you have to fight your way to what you want to get."

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Microfinancing Eases Bangladesh Poverty

From Forbes

Small-loan programs are slowly but surely helping reduce Bangladesh's severe rural poverty, officials from an international aid agency said Sunday.

"Our evaluation says once poor people are given a chance, they can fight," said Luciano Lavizzari, director of evaluation for the Rome-based International Fund for Agricultural Development, or IFAD.

IFAD's program in this country of 140 million is a successful example of how aid programs like small loans to farmers and rural-based entrepreneurs can help raise a country's living standards, Lavizzari said on the sidelines of a poverty alleviation workshop for government agencies and independent groups that offer "microfinancing" loans.

IFAD is now helping about 3.7 million of the country's 54 million rural poor, Lavizzari said. Roughly half of Bangladesh's people live on less than US$1 (euro0.82) a day.

"Bangladesh is successfully progressing to reduce rural poverty," Lavizzari said, adding that his group's microloans have helped rural entrepreneurs start businesses that employ others, and made it possible for others to buy land for farms.

IFAD has allocated about US$393 million (euro324 million) to programs in Bangladesh since it started working here in 1979, Lavizzari said.

He said most of the people IFAD helps are women entrepreneurs and farmers who can't afford to buy their own land, he said.

"It's nice to see that almost half of our beneficiaries are women. It's encouraging," he said.

IFAD Assistant President Jim Carruthers said Bangladesh was becoming a showcase for the group's microfinancing strategy.

"In the future Bangladesh will be our leading program, and we want to take co-financing opportunities for our future programs involving bigger agencies."

A typical microloan in Bangladesh is usually about 5,000 takas (US$84; euro69).

[Louisiana] Black mayors target poverty

From the Advocate

Conference urges action by Blanco

Special to The Advocate

OPELOUSAS -- President Joe Fuller of the Police Jury Association of Louisiana said Saturday that Gov. Kathleen Blanco needs to demonstrate strong action during her administration to help eliminate statewide poverty.
"I'll say this to the governor. You have four years, and you need to listen to us," said Fuller, a member of the Rapides Parish Police Jury. "Then you need to show us what you've done about (poverty), not that you've talked about it."

Fuller served as a panelist during a discussion of poverty that ended the 17th annual state conference of the Louisiana chapter of the National Conference of Black Mayors Inc.

A report generated from Saturday's poverty workshop will be sent to the Governor's Office, said Paulette Bailey, executive director of the Louisiana chapter.

Bailey said mayors want input at a future series of community-level meetings on shaping Blanco's strategies to solve the problem of poverty in the state.

She told the panelists that Louisiana has surpassed Mississippi in the number of citizens who live in poverty.

On Friday afternoon, Blanco addressed the convention, calling poverty "the state's greatest problem."

She said it's a misconception to think that poverty doesn't affect everyone and promised to develop programs to help eradicate what she called the "scourge" of poverty.

Baton Rouge Mayor Melvin "Kip" Holden told the gathering on Saturday that the state's 54 black mayors face a difficult task.

"It's quite amazing the pressures that are put upon mayors who are African-American," Holden said.

Holden said mayors who are black are expected to prove themselves faster and more efficiently than their predecessors.

He urged the other mayors in the audience to live up to the high standards he said are being set for them.

"You will be challenged on every hand to deal with the problems of government, but you need to use the work ethic of your forefathers and keep on climbing," Holden said.

"Don't drop the baton. Think about your parents and all they went through. They sometimes could not go to school because of harvesting season," Holden said.

During the panel discussion, Fuller said mayors need to develop strategies that attract companies.

"Number one, you've got to have a decent educational system," Fuller said. "When you deal with these companies, they all have a checklist that includes things like having theaters, (municipal) golf courses, museums and cultural recreation."

St. Gabriel Mayor George Grace said he wondered why more city administrations don't seek federal grants to spur economic development, create new small businesses and provide loans for low-income housing.

Grace said St. Gabriel, for instance, used $13 million in U.S. Agriculture Department funding for a sewer system and annual grants to start businesses.

Baton Rouge lawyer Robin Nesbitt, executive director of the state's Municipal Black Caucus, said poverty has become a mentality all too often accepted in black communities.

Nesbitt said it has become acceptable to display what he called a "thug mentality."

He said the inclination of some youths to sport tattoos and pants that hang low is "a poverty mentality that's become accepted in the black community."

William Blount, who works with the Baton Rouge Recreation Department's outreach program, said the poor need recreational outlets.

Blount said community centers are necessary to provide social needs unavailable in some homes.

Adrian Wilson, assistant secretary of the Louisiana Department of Social Services, said his agency already has established several ways to break the poverty cycle.

Wilson said state and federal lawmakers will be asked for input and that programs for saving and developing money will begin.

Community coalitions for fighting poverty will be developed in each parish and provide state officials with input.

Larry Ferdinand, who works with the Governor's Office in addressing poverty issues, said community plans to alleviate poverty are the "king, queen and the key" to Blanco's effort.

Brace Godfrey, chairman of the Baton Rouge Downtown Development District, said Louisiana's community college system is making a difference in attracting students who otherwise may not seek higher education.

Godfrey also said statistics do not support the notion that Baton Rouge's community colleges have hurt student attendance at Southern University and LSU.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

[Comment] Accountants are figuring out ways to fight poverty

From The Scotsman


THE leaders of the G8 meeting in Gleneagles have the problems of the poorest nations, especially the people of Africa, higher on their agenda than they have ever been before.

Here in Edinburgh this week we have seen nearly a quarter of million people marching peacefully to "make poverty history". Have accountants got anything to do with the search for a solution to Africa's problems? Actually, the answer is yes, and for a number of reasons.

One of the key planks of the Make Poverty History programme is "fair trade". Economic growth is essential to tackle poverty in the long term, and one of the factors underpinning growth and investment is a sound financial infrastructure. Without this, both aid and growth will be seriously compromised.

A combination of accountants from donor countries and a strengthened accounting profession in the developing nations can help to underpin the validity of the "audit trail" and ensure that it's clear that the money is going where it should.

A strong accountancy profession and financial reporting that is widely trusted are also vital in order to attract investment from overseas. The world is moving towards internationally accepted accounting standards, and accountants in developing countries need the appropriate training in order to make use of the opportunities that offers.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland has been involved in helping to build and develop financial skills and institutions around the world for many years now. Many of these projects have taken place in former Soviet countries, such as Russia, Kazakhstan and Armenia, but also in Bangladesh, Tanzania and Uganda.

In Uganda, for example, ICAS worked on a major project funded by the World Bank, helping the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Uganda to develop its student education curriculum, examination system and continuing professional development for members.

Individual accountants also give their time, often freely, to help developing countries. CA Kathleen McGarva, for example, provided a diary for CA Magazine of her time as a volunteer with the Voluntary Service Overseas organisation. Kathleen took a sabbatical from her job with GlaxoSmithKline to work with VSO in South Africa. After a short "in-country" induction at the township of Alexandria, she worked first in rural Limpopo province at a project set up to aid refugees, mainly from Mozambique and Zimbabwe, and then at an urban project focusing on human rights and the media.

Kathleen wrote that the highs outnumbered the lows.

She said: "One of the really good things was seeing how positive people are given their circumstances. Despite real hardships they do not complain - they make the best of what there is."

ICAS has sponsored another CA, Caroline Macleod, for her first year working with VSO in Namibia. Meanwhile a third CA, Nicola Beattie, signed up to work with the Merlin charity in Sri Lanka, supporting their response to the tsunami disaster. Nicola found her placement through the charity Mango - Management Accounting for Non-Governmental Organisations - which is supported by a number of corporate donors including large accountancy firms.

Nicola said: "I've never been the sort of accountant who is happy staring at spreadsheets all day, but this was rewarding in ways I couldn't have imagined before I started."

Research by Mango shows the importance of financial reporting to the beneficiaries of aid as well as to donors. For example, a newspaper campaign in Uganda explaining to the community how primary schools are funded reduced the "leakage" of central government funds.

In their own way, the likes of Kathleen, Caroline and Nicola are as important to the developing world as the efforts of Live 8's celebrities. But in the long term, the aim of both individual volunteers and the accountancy bodies working on overseas projects must be to share their skills and knowledge so that local people are better equipped to tackle the challenges they face.

• Rob Outram is editor of CA Magazine. The views expressed are his own.

[G-8] Countries move closer to accord on aid

From the International Herald Tribune

GLENEAGLES, Scotland In the first full day of talks at the summit of industrialized countries here - a session abruptly rocked by explosions in London - the two most prominent leaders in the Group of 8 appeared to edge closer to agreement on the question of increased aid to Africa, while failing to bridge differences over how the G-8 should address the problem of global warming.

Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, who is the host of the three-day session, has made assistance to Africa and measures to counter global climate change the priorities at this year's G-8 session.

With President George W. Bush supporting him, Blair said Thursday that he believed the G-8 summit would meet the "reasonable expectations" of millions of people across the world regarding fighting poverty in Africa. Blair is calling for free trade, debt relief and increased aid for the poverty-stricken continent.

"We are in a position where I hope very much we can meet the reasonable expectations of many millions of people outside," Blair said after a breakfast meeting with Bush.

Bush, in turn, said he thought it would be a successful summit, and said he was proud of his country's contribution on the African agenda.

"The prime minister set very important goals for the industrialized world to make, which is to help impoverished people in Africa," Bush said. "I am proud of my nation's contribution toward making that goal. All of us are living up to the admonition that much is given, much is required."

Blair left the summit Thursday afternoon as word of the explosions in London reached Gleneagles, while his counterparts continued their meetings.

Blair's Africa Commission report calls for debt relief, fair trade and an extra $25 billion a year in international aid for the continent by 2010, and then a further $25 billion annually up to 2015.

At the same time, Blair said Thursday that differences between the United States and the other industrialized countries at the summit over the Kyoto Protocol on climate change would not be resolved, but that he hoped to build consensus on the way to tackle global warming in the future.

"We are not going to resolve every single issue at the G-8 summit in relation to this. What we can do is narrow the issues down," Blair said.

Seeking to emphasize areas of agreement, Bush praised Blair for inviting China, India and other developing countries to the summit. But there was no masking the deep divide between the United States and its allies on the climate question.

The U.S. president has long asserted that said the Kyoto treaty, aside from being bad for the U.S. economy, is seriously flawed because it does not include developing countries like China and India. Well aware of the impasse with the United States over global warming, Blair has tried to shift the debate toward increasing support for emissions controls in China.

"You made a wise move, Mr. Prime Minister," Bush said.

Bush said he would stick to what he has previously supported - a reduction in U.S. emissions by about 18 percent. "Now is the time to get beyond the Kyoto Protocol and develop a strategy forward," Bush said. "The goal of the United States is to neutralize and then reduce greenhouse gases."

Blair, appearing resigned to failure on achieving specific emissions targets, as set out in the Kyoto treaty, said he hoped to get back on a path to consensus by the time Kyoto expires in 2012. All the G-8 members except the United States have signed the treaty.

"Everybody has got their positions on the existing Kyoto and that is not going to change," Blair said.

Bush also said the United States intended to provide help to impoverished countries by pushing for the elimination of the export subsidies that rich countries provide to their farmers, but which depress the farm exports of poor countries. He proposed a deadline of 2010 - a timetable the European Commission said was unrealistic.

"We would welcome this U.S. proposal with interest," said Claude Véron-Réville, a spokeswoman for the EU trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson.

"Any agreement will have to take place in a negotiated framework at the appropriate time within the World Trade Organization," she said. "We have said that 2010 was not credible."

Under the formula proposed by Blair, the United States would have to donate about $14 billion in aid to Africa for the G-8 to reach its goal of doubling aid from $25 billion, the current level, to $50 billion a year.

On the question of aid increases, knowledgeable insiders said the key to the summit will be talks about the actual figures.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

[Comment] Aid community cannot make poverty history

From The London Times

By Kurt Hoffman
Business plans - not millions of crossed fingers - are needed to solve the Africa aid debacle

TOMORROW, Tony Blair will announce pledges on behalf of the other G8 leaders that will amount to the doubling of annual aid flows and the total cancellation of debt owed by the poorest countries.

Now, this might prove eventually to be good news for the world’s poor, but it’s even better news for the aid agencies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), consultants and academics who constitute the international community’s development supply chain. If the billions of dollars are forthcoming, chief executives around the globe will look on in awe at the ability of the aid industry to almost double its $50 billion (£27 billion) annual budget overnight. Which other industry can boast such impressive growth stats? As this newspaper put it on Monday, “a tsunami of fresh money is in the aid pipeline” and the aid business is “waiting with open arms”.

Yet this massive infusion of funds is difficult to justify on the basis of performance. Since the 1980s, the development community has presided over a $600 billion spending spree that has left its principal clients — the world’s poorest countries — considerably worse off.

The International Labour Organisation pointed out last year that between 1985 and 2002 the poorest third of developing countries saw their share of world trade fall by a quarter — 3.6 per cent to 2.7 per cent — their share of world GDP more than halve — 4.5 per cent to 2 per cent — and their share of global foreign direct investment collapse by two thirds — 3.3 per cent to 1.1 per cent.

If the private sector, or for that matter a state-owned enterprise, succeeded in securing a multibillion-dollar handout against this backdrop of absolute and relative failure, it would justifiably attract howls of protest.

Not so with the aid business. And it gets better. Of late, the development community has been producing a good deal of high-quality analysis of what causes poverty, especially in Africa. These analyses go on to make many, many recommendations on how to spend the increased aid to reduce poverty. The United Nations Millennium Commission report alone makes nearly 500 recommendations There are two curious things about this fusillade of magic bullets designed to shoot down poverty. First, the relatively few and modest reforms sought over how the aid agencies operate have not been spelt out, let alone implemented. At best, we’re assured that the aid community has learnt from its mistakes. No question of paying for them, of course.

Nobody has been fired in any aid agency or NGO for the debacle of development assistance since 1980. In fact, it’s a growth industry — many more aid actors have sprung up.

Secondly, the aid agencies’ lists of recommendations don’t even remotely resemble the sort of business plan that a small enterprise would have to produce to borrow $100,000 from a local bank.

There is simply no detail about what the aid community plans to do with the extra funding, how it will manage this spend, who will be accountable for it and how precisely it will achieve the hopelessly imprecise Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

So there you go: underpinning the aid community’s requests for more cash is a poor track record, zero restructuring of underperforming delivery organisations and sparse details of how the MDGs are going to be attained.

What there is, of course, is a huge amount of good intention and millions of crossed fingers. But all in all, one would have to rate the extra $50 billion a year or so being asked for as a pretty risky investment — if helping the poor to escape poverty is the real objective of the exercise.

There is, however, some comfort to be extracted from the growing engagement of the business community. This week, Business Action for Africa — a group of multinationals active in the compilation of the Commission for Africa’s March report, met to influence the G8 Summit.

At the very least, this group’s engagement will inject some badly needed realism into the aid community’s understanding of what is required to deliver on an investment plan.

More critically, this engagement should highlight just how important a role business thinking and the private sector have to play in overcoming poverty going forward.

This is as important as it is unsung. First, there is simply not enough donor money on the planet to raise the incomes of two billion people living on a buck a day. So whatever deal is hatched at this week’s summit, making poverty history will always be about private capital before public funds.

Secondly — and more importantly — divorcing enterprise from the debate about poverty sentences us to repeat the past failures of the development community.
That is because, fundamentally and unequivocally, poverty is a lack of cash. Virtually everyone, including the poor in Africa, lives in a cash economy. With cash you can access food, clothing, shelter, healthcare and education. Therefore creating millions of new jobs should be at the heart of the efforts of the international community’s endeavours because this is the only thing that offers poor people a chance to escape poverty permanently.

Yet although it is experienced in many things, the development community does not know how to start-up and grow businesses. It is not in its make-up — it has no business DNA to draw upon.

So it is time that Africa’s wealth creators were asked to take the lead in providing the real development insight and expertise that the development community so patently lacks. That means anybody from the biggest inward investors to the smallest African enterprises. Both will tell how to dismantle the obstacles to growth.

More to the point, they would be able to give a fully budgeted plan on how to do it and what returns on investment — in terms of pro-poor jobs and businesses — that this is likely to generate. And finally, they’ll tell you how much of their own money they’re prepared to risk.

Perhaps it is time to ask the aid community to do the same — before we hand over yet more of our money.

Kurt Hoffman is the director of the Shell Foundation, an independent, grant-making charitable organisation that is separated from Shell’s commercial interests

[G-8] ...feels heat to end African poverty

From the Tucson Citizen

The Associated Press

EDINBURGH, Scotland - Activists kept up pressure on leaders of the world's richest nations yesterday to lift Africa out of poverty, but Britain's Treasury chief said those who believe human misery can be eliminated "with the stroke of a pen" may be disappointed by the results of this week's G-8 summit.
The Make Poverty History campaign launched around the summit has been endorsed by the Dalai Lama, Pope Benedict XVI and Nelson Mandela, along with scores of others around the world.

They have something of an ally in British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who holds the G-8 presidency and hosts the three-day summit opening today at nearby Gleneagles. He has made Africa and climate change the central themes of Britain's G8 presidency, and he describes global warming as "probably the most serious threat we face."

Although the leaders appear ready to wipe out $40 billion worth of debt owed by 18 of the world's poorest countries, President Bush has not accepted Blair's call for a massive increase in aid to Africa and seems unlikely to back British ideas about urgent action on climate control.

An additional complication for the summit is the lingering bad blood between Britain and European Union heavyweights France and Germany over a ferocious dispute about spending at last month's EU summit.

In addition to the proposal to double aid for Africa by 2010, Blair's Commission for Africa has also recommended a second $25 billion increase in aid to Africa, to $75 billion annually, by 2015.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

[G8] African leaders urge debt action

From the BBC

African leaders have called on G8 nations to "fully embrace" a raft of anti-poverty measures including total debt relief for Africa.
Meeting in Libya, African Union heads of state said G8 leaders must act quickly to cancel debt at their summit in Scotland, which starts on Wednesday.

The summit will be dominated by issues of global trade, aid for Africa, debt relief and climate change.

Anti-poverty protests continued on Tuesday but passed off peacefully.

AU leaders - headed by Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo - called on Tuesday for the G8 group of nations to endorse the recommendations of the UK-backed Commission for Africa - which include 100% debt relief for all African countries - and "to act expeditiously on them".

In other key developments:

Police have said they will deal robustly with further protests expected on Wednesday near the summit venue.
Up to 100 protesters arrested on Monday have appeared in court in Edinburgh
Live8 organiser Bob Geldof has called violent protesters "idiots" and said Monday's clashes were a side issue
South African Finance Minister Trevor Manuel questioned G8 leaders' commitment to Africa as the continent does not pose a threat to their future or security.
Breakthroughs have been reached on debt cancellation and aid ahead of the meeting, but progress has yet to be made on fair trade and climate change.
Protester anger

Police have set out their plans to ensure a peaceful protest in the town of Auchterarder, near the summit venue, on Wednesday.

Tayside chief constable John Vine said months of preparation had taken place for the march, which will be licensed for only 5,000 people. He said the police would take "robust action" if they encounter people who are prepared to break the law.

In Edinburgh, three anti-poverty activists chained themselves to the top of a crane to highlight their objections to Mr Brown's promotion of free-market solutions for Africa.

About 150 environmental activists staged a peaceful protest at an oil refinery in Grangemouth, about 30 kilometres from Edinburgh.

One world?

For many, the meeting is a defining moment in current world politics, as an upswell of popular support is calling on the G8 leaders to make fundamental changes to the way rich countries deal with poorer nations.

Some breakthroughs have been made, with G8 nations agreeing to double aid for poor countries and offer 100% debt relief.

Other key topics are fair trade and climate change and leaders are also likely to talk about the impact of high oil prices and exchange rates on economic stability.

President George W Bush downplayed expectations over trade deals and climate change in an interview with ITV on Monday.

Mr Bush said a deal on dropping its farm subsidies - which African states say is vital for fair trade - would only happen if the EU ditched its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).