Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Safety fears force last major British charity to quit Iraq

from The Guardian

Sara Gaines

The last major British charity working in Iraq is pulling out today as the worsening security situation makes it impossible to safeguard staff.

Save the Children UK has announced that - after 15 years in the country - it is to shut its office because it can no longer reach the Iraqi children it wants to help.

"It was not an easy decision but it became more and more difficult for staff to get around all parts of the country," said Paul Roberts, the charity's Iraq programme director.

"It's been hard to keep track of local partners' day to day work and their safety has been jeopardised. In practical terms it just became impossible."

Mr Roberts is based in Jordan along with the charity's other international staff but has made monthly trips to Iraq to try to monitor work with Save the Children's local partners. He said the security situation was getting worse, which made the decision to quit all the harder.

"The main focus in Iraq is around conflict and 'terrorism' but sadly that masks a huge humanitarian issue that's arising. Children can't go to school, there are problems accessing clean water..."

Children in Iraq form nearly 50% of the population and around 8% are estimated to suffer from acute malnutrition. Although their needs are desperate, Mr Roberts said the charity was unable to ensure help reached them or to maintain organisational standards.

The charity repaired and re-equipped schools and hospitals in the aftermath of the war and successfully lobbied for children's rights to be included in the new Iraqi constitution. Mr Roberts said they were proud of that legacy and would continue to support work by local partners to form a Iraq-wide children's rights network.

Many other British charities have already pulled out of the country, though some smaller groups remain. Three years ago Oxfam stopped direct aid and switched to arms-length work through local partners in Iraq. Care International closed its operations there in 2005 after the abduction and murder of Margaret Hassan, its director in Iraq.

The Swiss-based International Committee of the Red Cross is still active in the country, providing medical aid and visiting detainees to check on their welfare.

Govt land should be given to the poor: Musharraf

from The Pakistan Link

President Gen Pervez Musharraf said on Tuesday the vision and policies of the government were directed towards poverty alleviation and control on unemployment.

Speaking as the chief guest at the balloting of 4,962 plots, in Taisar Town Housing Project of the Malir Development Authority, he emphasised Sindh should have industrial estates on the pattern of the Punjab.

Due to effective economic policies, the poverty ratio has registered a 10 per cent decline, while unemployment has reduced by 1.5 to two per cent and with continuity of policies, these will register further decline in the coming years, the president said.

On the occasion, the president was given a briefing about the development of New Malir Housing Project (NMHP). “I give credit of these two projects — Taisar Town and New Malir Housing Project — to Governor Ishratul Ebad,” Musharraf said.

Musharraf said it is his firm belief that the government land should either be given to the poor through low-cost housing schemes or be brought in the use of industry. He said this would help alleviate poverty and also reduce unemployment.

He referred to the inauguration of three industrial estates in the Punjab, including Sundar, Faisalabad and M-3 value-added city industrial estates. He said the land for these estates was acquired, handed over to the private sector and a board formed for their management.

Musharraf said Sundar has emerged as a really “Sundar” (beautiful) estate with most modern infrastructure facilities. He said all the 700 plots there have been sold out and by law the allottees have to construct units in two years. Similarly, the Faisalabad Industrial Estate has 6,000 plots.

The president said that industries are now being set up there and so far 60 to 70 units have come up. He said when these units will come out of Faisalabad city, it would help improve the existing infrastructure inside the city.

He suggested that this example should also be followed in Sindh, where if land will be given to the poor, they will be benefited and this would help reduce poverty and when given to industries it would help reduce unemployment through jobs made available in new units.

He emphasised upon infrastructure development as much as possible but mainly on BOT basis. He said the money thus saved could be invested in other schemes. “Let the investors construct roads, bridges and flyovers on BOT basis and the money so saved be used on other projects of public importance, he said.

Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ebad Khan, Chief Minister Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim, State Minister Dr Aamir Liaquat Hussain, provincial ministers and advisers, Nazim Karachi Syed Mustafa Kamal, Naib Nazim Nasreen Jalil, DG Nadra and senior officials of Sindh government were present.

Budget benefits poor, agency claims

from The Irish Times

Families living in poverty benefited financially in this year's budget, according to a leading poverty group.

Analysing Budget 2007, Combat Poverty Agency found it delivered gains of up to three times the average for low-income groups.

Director Helen Johnston said the main driver for the rise was increases in social welfare payments — of €20 per week — and in child income support payments, including child dependant allowance, family income support, and clothing and footwear allowance.

She said the positive state of the public finances enabled an increased in the tax and welfare package of €2,748 million, up €362 million on the previous year.

However, with inflation raising annually households across Ireland are still struggling to meet basic needs. Around 7 per cent of the population are currently living in poverty, surviving on incomes of just €10,000 a year, while a further 18 per cent of low-income families live in constant risk of being in deprivation.

"Our key point is that the budget was favourable towards low income households," said Ms Johnston. "The average gain for all households was a 1.5 per cent — around €9.40 a week — but for lower income families that increase was 4-5 per cent.

"But one factor we haven't analysed is the increase in welfare payments against the increases in the cost of living. "Rises in energy, fuel and food prices can all take away from the benefit increases. "People living on the lowest levels of income can't afford essential necessities like being able to put food on the table every day, shoes, overcoats."

Ms Johnston said households need to be protected against fuel increases by being supported to properly insulate their homes to conserve energy. More also needs to be done to tackle poverty by focusing on health, education, childcare service and employment opportunities, she said. Combat Poverty is a state advisory agency developing and promoting evidence-based proposals and measures to combat poverty in Ireland. It said tax and welfare policy has a key role to play in redistributing resources and reducing relative income poverty.

"Budget 2007 has a positive effect on relative income poverty, especially at the lowest threshold," added Ms Johnston. "The engine of poverty reduction is the big increases in welfare rates, augmented by a targeted allocation on child income support.

Simple Solutions to World Poverty

from The New West

By Richard Martin, 2-27-07

Twenty years ago, while working at a mental health clinic in Denver, psychiatrist Paul Polak asked himself a question that has crossed the mind of most of us at one point or another: Why are the poor so poor?

Unlike most of us, who answer that question with a shrug and a fatalistic “The poor are always with us.” Polak decided, first of all, to seek a more useful answer, and second, to do something to change the situation.

His answer might seem obvious: The poor have no way of making a living. The solution was equally simple: give them a way to make money by selling their crops (three-quarters of the world’s 1.1 billion people living in abject poverty are small-scale farmers). The result is the Lakewood-based organization International Development Enterprises, now in its 25th year of providing rural farmers with affordable irrigation technologies and access to markets.

Last week the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recognized IDE’s work with a $13.4 million grant to boost its development of low-cost irrigation methods for rural farmers in the Third World. The grant, the largest in IDE’s history, “will allow us to take our approach a step further by creating the very best and lowest cost irrigation systems and making them available to people who need them most,” Polak said.

IDE is among the largest of the Boulder-Denver area’s NGOs, with almost 700 full-time staffers based in Bangladesh, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, and six other countries where some of the poorest people in the world live.

Polak, who escaped Czechoslovakia in 1939 with his family as a small boy and emigrated to Canada, anticipated the primary trend in philanthropy and Third World development by bringing the skills of his primary profession, psychiatry, and his business acumen to the work of helping the poorest climb out of destitution. One of his slogans is, “We treat poverty alleviation as a business,” and IDE specifically avoids giving away food and money.

“We treat the poor as customers,” says Zenia Tata, IDE’s executive director. “We do not believe that handouts work—we believe in the entrepreneurial spirit of the poor.”

One of the organization’s primary achievements is to develop and disseminate affordable, low-tech ways to water their fields, specifically the “Easy Drip” irrigation system and a human-powered treadle pump. Resembling a health-club Stairmaster, the pump has two pedals (made of locally available materials—bamboo, metal, or plastic) that work a pair of pistons that in turn creates lift in a tube well to bring water to the surface. The pump costs less than $50 in the countries where IDE is active.

In Myanmar, for example, IDE sells treadle pumps for $17. Tata says a group of grad students at Stanford is working to design a $5 version.

Because for the world’s truly poor (defined as people who live on the equivalent of less than a dollar a day), even $17 is a huge sum, IDE also works to provide micro-finance to “smallholders,” as the rural farmers are known. And because these farmers have seldom had excess produce to sell, IDE works to locate and provide access to markets where the farmers can make a profit.

What happens when we go into an area is we do an extensive study to determine where the local markets are and what they will bear in terms of local produce,” Tata explains. “In Asia, which is densely populated, there are lots of local markets; Africa is sparsely populated, so there’s more of a problem in getting to market.”

To meet that challenge in Africa, IDE has worked to connect local growers with supermarket chains and with the tourism industry, to provide First-World travelers with locally grown food. In all, IDE has improved the lives of 17 million people and created more than 10,000 micro enterprises—including 9000 or so local entrepreneurs who sell treadle pumps and other irrigation devices.

Simple solutions to a vastly complicated problem. That’s what the Gates Foundation has recognized in rewarding the work of IDE. And it’s what how all of us should be thinking as we face the looming challenges of the 21st century.

Overseas aid scheme 'worthwhile'

from The BBC

The first minister has said Scotland will not be diverted from its overseas aid programme by criticism that it is too little to make a difference.

It comes after BBC Scotland revealed that nearly a third of the £2m spent on the Scottish Executive's Malawi programme has gone on running costs.

Jack McConnell was speaking at a reception in the Scottish Parliament for the charity Oxfam.

Oxfam warned much more needed to be done to address endemic poverty.

Mr McConnell said: "Devolved Scotland should never become insular. Throughout our history we have looked beyond our borders.

"I am determined that we will continue to support Scots helping those elsewhere in the world who are in desperate need."

He added that the executive's International Development Fund had backed 58 projects providing education, health services and other assistance - with Oxfam's work to help the victims of HIV and Aids victims in Malawi among the programmes supported.

The Scottish Executive set up an international development policy in 2005 - the year Scotland hosted the G8 summit - pledging up to £12m, with a particular focus on Malawi.

But despite the aid Scotland gives the southern African nation, 65% of its people still live below the poverty line and 40% try to survive on an income of less than 15p a day.

Aids orphans

Life expectancy has been dropping in Malawi, from 43 in 1996 to 39 in 2000 and some 70,000 people there die every year from Aids-related diseases, with 65,000 children becoming Aids orphans every year.

Judith Robertson, head of Oxfam in Scotland, said: "Sadly, the depth of poverty in Malawi demands a much greater financial commitment from Scotland to really make a difference to the lives of ordinary Malawians."

And speaking from the African country, the aid agency's Sanjay Awasthi said: "The financial support for Malawi from Scotland is very welcome but we are asking Scottish politicians to raise their game as much, much more needs to be done to truly reverse the endemic poverty here."

Minister Dismisses Senate's Idea Aid Agency Be Axed

from The Embassy

By Lee Berthiaume

An Ethiopian diplomat, an NGO head and some MPs agree with a Senate report that CIDA might have to change the way it works in Africa.

While the government is still studying a Senate report on Canada's Africa policy, International Co-operation Minister Josée Verner says Canada's International Development Agency is making a difference on the continent.

"When I visited Mali, I saw projects and I saw results and I saw progress," Ms. Verner told Embassy in an interview Monday. "We have made progress in Africa."

The Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade sparked an apparent furor two weeks ago when it said Canada has made no notable or lasting impact in Africa after 40 years and $12 billion of aid efforts.

The report made 44 recommendations, including a call for a complete review of CIDA's operations and the development of a comprehensive Africa policy that combines aid efforts with economic development, security and diplomatic direction.

Days later, Conservative Senator Hugh Segal reluctantly tendered his resignation as chairman of the committee in a move that fellow committee members believe was forced upon him by the Conservative leadership.

While Ms. Verner said she didn't know the details of Mr. Segal's resignation, she noted that two committee members, one Liberal and the other Conservative, had not endorsed the report.

In addition, she described some of the recommendations as contradictory, and dismissed suggestions that Canada's aid agency be dissolved.

"We cannot just decide to put away 40 years of existence of an organization," Ms. Verner said. "Do we have to change things? Maybe. We always have to adjust the way we work in those countries."

Ms. Verner said she was surprised the senators took a hard line with CIDA.

"When I appeared before [the Senate committee], nobody told me that it was about the CIDA structure," she said. "They invited me to go there to talk about Africa."

The minister said that since she took over CIDA, there has been a push for efficiency and accountability within the agency.

"We will have to make sure that that money is well-spent and make sure we have clear results and make sure we focus our aid," she said. "We have been working in that way since we've been here.

"Our government was elected on a transparency agenda and an accountability agenda and I will manage CIDA in that way," Ms. Verner added. "This is what I'm committed to doing."

'Senators Did Not Invent This'

Abdurahim Mohammed Ali, counsellor at the Embassy of Ethiopia in Ottawa, said there are ways in which CIDA can improve its development efforts in his country.

Not only is more money and technical support needed–a common complaint from African governments–but CIDA could also work more closely with the Ethiopian government more as opposed to civil society and other organizations.

"Working with civil society, sometimes, especially after the last election, sometimes they are undermining the government," Mr. Mohammed Ali said. "You have to stick with the policies and avoid external forces."

Mr. Mohammed Ali also said that Canada could provide more direct budget support to the government.

However, he said CIDA is making a difference in Ethiopia, and, in fact, is a key player in the country.

"We believe the contribution of CIDA in Ethiopia is not wasted," he said. "It helps us a lot."

Two years ago, the Canadian Council on Africa, a non-profit group that receives funding from the government and the private sector with the aim of promoting trade between Canada and Africa, made a number of recommendations that, in many cases, were repeated by the Senate committee.

"The senators did not invent this," said CCAfrica president Lucien Bradet. "They have uncovered a certain number of issues and malaise that has to be addressed."

While Mr. Bradet said the wording of the report, and its focus on CIDA, was "unfortunate," there are problems in Canada's Africa policy that the government must address.

"A lot of the recommendations make a lot of sense," he said. "Unfortunately, a lot of distraction came out because of one specific area, which is CIDA's fate."

Mr. Bradet said Canadians are becoming increasingly interested in Africa and the government will have to do something.

"You have to have a coherent policy, which we don't have," he said. "We need a statement from the government that we are serious about this."

Segal's Resignation 'Odd'

Last week, a private member's bill put forward by Liberal MP John McKay was debated in the House. The purpose of the bill is to focus CIDA on poverty alleviation efforts, a move that its proponents say will bring more direction and accountability to the aid agency.

"It is an effort to bring accountability to our aid projects," Mr. McKay told the House after presenting the bill for third reading last week.

"This is about better aid. It is not about more aid," he said before referencing the Senate committee's report. "I think that this particular bill...addresses in some small measure the concerns of the senators as they expressed them in their report."

While the opposition parties all expressed support for the proposed legislation, Conservative MPs described the proposed bill as flawed.

Ted Menzies, the parliamentary secretary for international trade and international co-operation, described the bill that "is so laden with unproductive restrictions and unnecessary criteria that it would do nothing more than overload the aid program with an administrative and bureaucratic complexity."

Deepak Obhrai, the parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs, said the government "takes a bigger picture into account" when doling out aid, and by focusing it specifically on poverty alleviation, "this bill restricts all those things and creates another level of bureaucracy."

Mark Eyking, the Liberal's CIDA critic, said much of the Senate committee report "made sense" and the proposed bill is "all part of us parliamentarians looking at CIDA and that it needs an overhaul."

Canada needs to work with countries where democracy is evolving, he added, "where we're going to get a good bang for our buck."

"We have to change the way we do things," Mr. Eyking said.

Liberal Senator Dennis Dawson, who presented the Senate committee report with Mr. Segal on Feb. 15, said the proposed bill addresses a narrow part of the problems identified in the report, but much more needs to be done if Canada wants to make a difference in Africa.

But Mr. Dawson believes Mr. Segal's resignation, the timing of which he described as "odd," will make it more difficult for the committee to sell the report to government.

"It certainly weakens a lot of the effort that went into this," he said. "But we will continue to fight for it."

Shoppers Urged to Back Fair Trade Fortnight

from from the Melton Today

MELTON'S shoppers are bring urged to lend their support to Fair Trade Fortnight.
As part of the fortnight, which kicked off yesterday, Fair Trade champion Sue Gowans and former Mayor of Melton, councillor Pat Cumbers, are distributing promotional stickers which local retailers can display in their windows – if they stock or serve Fair Trade goods.

Mrs Gowans, of The Fair Trading Post in Burton Street, said: "Even though Fair Trade is starting to become big business, we're not stopping here. There are more people and more products that could change people's lives.

"Fair Trade is helping a million farmers and their families, yet 25 million people are still suffering from poverty.

"We've come a long way from one Fair Trade product in a few shops in 1995, but there's a lot more we can do to ensure that Fair Trade is on every shelf and every cupboard in the county and around Britain."

Since Fair Trade started with Green and Blacks Maya Gold Chocolate, the market has grown to 1,500 products including clothing and footballs as well as food and was worth £195million in 2005.

Across Leicestershire, five towns, boroughs and a city have already achieved Fair Trade status, and Melton will join them later this year.

This means a minimum number of shops, cafes and restaurants serve or sell Fair Trade products, Melton Council supports and promotes Fair Trade and there is a Fair Trade group to promote products.

A week on Friday, Melton will be doing its bit to promote the products by taking part in The Big Brew, organised locally by Lynn Marriott, a director of The Fair Trading Post. The event will take place at Melton Baptist Church in Leicester Road from 10am until noon.

A list of coffee mornings and activities across the borough is available from The Fair Trading Post.

Midlands Co-op was one of the first supermarkets to stock Fair Trade goods and shoppers at the store can now carry their Fair Trade goods in a Fair Trade bag.

The chain has become the first in the UK to launch a cotton Bag For Life, as part of its support for this year's Fairtrade Fortnight.

The bag is the first to be made using Fair Trade certified cotton. Normally 99p, it will cost 79p during the fortnight, when Melton and other Midlands Co-op stores will be reducing the price of all Fair Trade products by 20 per cent to encourage more customers to sample and switch.

The chain has also opted to stock Fair Trade bananas.

Friends-and-family loans jeopardize microcredit scheme

from The Jakarta Post

Adisti Sukma Sawitri,

After Governor Sutiyoso secured a second five-year term in 2002, he initiated structured bottom-up development in the form of the Subdistrict Residents Empowerment Program (PPMK).

The program ensures the availability of funds to meet the obligations of the revolving loan scheme, which gives each subdistrict the opportunity to improve public infrastructure and community welfare through access to microcredit.

The program, however, has had little success in the way of ending poverty in the city.

Between 2002 and 2006, the number of people said to be earning less than the minimum provincial wage -- of Rp 800,000 on average in that period -- doubled to 675,700, or 7 percent of the population, while nearly 31 percent of the Rp 470.5 billion (US$51 million) disbursed under the revolving loan scheme was unpaid by the borrowers and, therefore, could not be relent.

Consequently, the administration has decided to delay the disbursement of funds this year and to reduce the amount to Rp 200 million for each subdistrict, or one fifth of last year's fund.

"In the early years of its implementation, people only knew the PPMK as the Jakarta administration's 'money distribution' program in which they didn't need to repay the principal," Abdul Gozali, the newly elected head of the subdistrict council of Palmerah, West Jakarta, told The Jakarta Post recently.

Councillors are chosen through community elections. They are responsible for managing the fund and selecting recipients, though many of them are either unduly pressured or out of their depth in terms of making such decisions.

It is not unusual for the loans to go to the councillors' friends.

Solihin -- an ojek (motorcycle taxi) driver living in Kemanggisan subdistrict who is looking for financial backing to open his own store -- said he had never heard of the loan scheme, though he lives near the council office.

"They (councillors and the local authorities) never told us about the loan, though they've had every opportunity to do so," he said.

The often close ties between the councillors and the borrowers -- who may be friends or relatives -- has created some "awkward conversations" between the giver and the getter and a high default rate.

Instead of using the money to start their own business, the borrower might have gone ahead and bought a motorcycle or renovated their house instead, for example.

The administration found that more than half the cases of default were caused by low awareness of the need to pay interest and repay the principal on the part of the borrowers and lack of competence in the field on the part of the lenders. The loan's interest rate is 1 percent a month, lower than the rate charged by banks

A study carried out by a team from the University of Indonesia revealed that about 16 percent of the 96,000 loans granted under the scheme went to "family and friends" who had no intention of going into business.

Often the borrowers were not required to make a proposal or even enclose a copy of their identity card due to the informal handshake nature of the loans.

Weak financial accountability also contributed to the high default rate. It was three years before the Jakarta administration requested audit reports from all 272 subdistricts in the city.

Edi Supama, who manages the program in Palmerah subdistrict, said the long audit period had made the councillors less "eager" to remind the borrowers of their obligations since many of them had either moved out of the subdistrict or gone bankrupt.

Each subdistrict council has its own accounting team to ensure all loan transactions are fully documented. Team members' salaries come out of the interest payments made by borrowers.

"We were struggling to make the report last year. So many records were inaccurate or illegible," he said.

Edi, a retired soldier, said he had learned accounting principles through experience only.

The governor's assistant for public welfare, Rohana Manggala, conceded there was room for improvement in the program.

He said the disbursement process had been delayed this year to give the administration time to improve technical guidelines to avoid loans going unpaid in the future.

For instance, the accounting teams will be required to submit an annual report and external parties will be involved in managing the funds, he said.

Rohana said the administration was "still learning" when it initiated the program four years ago.

It took a long time for the administration to ask for the reports because it was told by the consultants it hired for the program it would take more than three years to see its affects on the community, he said.

"It's OK to make those mistakes since we learn a lot from them."

Rural jobs key to UN's poverty feight

from The Hindustan Times

Kumkum Chadha

In 2006 the rate of economic growth in the Asia Pacific region rose to over seven per cent but performance was poor in the areas of infant mortality, HIV prevalence and access to basic glitation in urban areas.

• The same year Latin America and the Caribbean showed positive economic performance yet 60 percent of the rural population lives below the poverty line. The region also shows a high-level of income disparity.

• Although a third of the countries in eastern and southern Africa have projected economic growth rates of over five percent, the number of people living on less than $1 a day continues to increase.

The solution: To stem the flow of people from the countryside to cities and halt the erosion of rural economies, the focus must be on empowerment.

And the emphasis must shift from maintaining people to helping them prosper To achieve this a two-pronged strategy should be adopted: promote development and fight poverty.

This was the work plan hammered out at the UN's International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) meeting held here.

Underlining the need for partnership, delegates from 165 member countries converged to discuss rural employment and livelihoods at the Palazzo dei Congressi.

They included Mozambique's Prime Minister Luisa Dias Diogo and Italy's Finance Minister Tommaso Padoa Schioppa, among others.

IFAD hosted three round table meets, which debated rural employment in all its aspects, including migration and generating livelihood opportunities for rural youth.

While the consequences of rural migration to urban areas were explored, the need for a development policy to support rural youth was underlined.

Discussions centered around how young people were neglected by policymakers and development practitioners in poverty reduction programmes: "Development policies in the past 30 years have been urban biased.

They have failed to benefit rural areas from the growth generated by market economies because of lack of infrastructure and lack of investment in agriculture in rural areas" said Samir Radwan, an expert on the Near East and North African region.

Professor Aziz Khan from the Columbia University said lack of productivity in agriculture results in high rural out-migration: "Poor rural people need to be able to make a living from agriculture or we need to help them find alternative sources of income" Khan said.

Kenya Suffers Increased Poverty

from OHMY News

Report reveals disparities in wealth, education, and life expectancy

Zachary Ochieng

Despite an economic growth rate of 5.8 percent, 50 percent of Kenyans are living below the poverty line. This is according to a new United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report on Kenya.

"Compared to the year 2004, human poverty has increased marginally in all provinces except Nyanza, Western and Coast," says the Kenya National Human Development Report 2006 released in Nairobi yesterday. The highest increase in poverty levels, according to the report, was recorded in the arid North-Eastern province, whose human poverty index rose from 43 to 50.5 percent. The report notes that one in every two Kenyans live below the poverty line, with the number of those living in abject poverty having gone up. They include Kenyans with no access to healthcare, water and proper nutrition and sanitation.

According to the report, the gap between the rich and the poor also continues to widen. It notes that 10 percent of the richest households control more than 42 percent of the incomes, while the poorest 10 percent control only 0.76 percent. Accordingly, poorer people have little or no hope of bringing up a child to the age where they can benefit from the free primary education introduced by the government in 2003, let alone take them to a secondary school.

According to the report a person born in Nyanza province can expect to live 16 years less than his counterpart in Central. Life expectancy in the coastal city of Mombasa is only 33.1 years! Central province, which has had two presidents since independence, is also well covered healthwise. Whereas it has 20,000 people to every one doctor, North-Eastern province has 120,000 people for one doctor. Again, every child in Central province attends primary school as opposed to one out of three in North-Eastern province. Ironically, life expectancy is highest in North-Eastern province at 62.2 years.

High quality life is generally found in urban centers, high potential agricultural areas and industrial concentrations. These include, Mt Elgon in Western province, Tharaka Nithi in Eastern province, Nyeri in Central province, Embu in Eastern, Moyale in Eastern and Koibatek in Rift Valley province. On the other hand, chronic poverty is to be found in North-Eastern, Coast, Western and Nyanza provinces.

According to the report, the proportion of households with piped water in their homes in urban areas is five times higher than in rural areas. The report therefore calls for fairer distribution of resources, equal opportunities, improved security and greater investment in technology. "The country has to institutionalize income protective mechanisms, among them the minimum wage, wage indexation and progressive taxation," the report recommends.

The report blames the high incidence of insecurity on the small number of police officers. Security has thus continued to deteriorate in the areas including international borders and pastoral regions, as well as slums and urban dwellings. "The low number of officers makes it difficult to respond to expanding police needs," says the report.

It does not help matters that a number of police officers continue to die as a result of HIV/AIDS. "Seventy-five per cent of all the deaths in 1999 were attributed to HIV/AIDS," notes the report. The report also blames insecurity on politicians, who have used militia to carry out violent attacks on rivals.

The report also notes that Kenya must change its style of managing natural resources if it is to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). According to UNDP's Assistant Country Representative, Elly Oduol, who spoke during the launch, the management remains poor. "That is why it is difficult to solve the problem of flooding which is a result of increased surface runoff," observed Oduol.

Since 1990, UNDP has published the annual global Human Development Report (HDR), which focuses on the human dimensions of development and present new approaches, definitions and methods of its measurement. On a regular basis, the UNDP office in Kenya, as an offshoot to the global report, has been producing the National Human Development Report.

The 2006 National Human Development Report, whose theme is "Human Security and Human Development," clusters human security into seven factors. These include economic security, food security, health security and personal security. Others are community security, environmental security and political security. It says security concerns in Kenya are a resultant effect of poverty and poor economic growth, and links the upsurge of crime to the quest for livelihood. Poverty and human insecurity are connected in a circular manner and each leads to the other. To address this situation, the report says that Kenya needs effective interventions, adequate institutional cooperation and committed inclusive partnerships. The document gives an interesting analogy of the relationship between poverty in Kenya and insecurity. It acknowledges the growth of the Kenyan economy in the last two years, but says more needs to be done to alleviate poverty.

United Way will focus more on poverty

from The Long Beach Press-Telegram

Citing growing income gap, group shifts its priorities.
By Tony Castro, Staff writer

Poverty in Los Angeles County, where the income gap is widening and the plight of the poor has intensified, will be targeted by a 10-year, multimillion-dollar campaign being announced today by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles.

The nonprofit organization announced it will concentrate its discretionary funding on charities that serve impoverished residents, including charities in Long Beach, said Taulene Ayoub, director of communications of United Way of Greater Los Angeles.

"One of four kids is living in poverty in Los Angeles, and that is unacceptable to me in one of the wealthiest regions of the country," said Elise Buik, president and chief executive officer of the organization.

Any anti-poverty agency in Los Angeles County can apply for the funds, Ayoub said.

Last year, the United Way received $47 million in donations, of which roughly two-thirds was earmarked by donors for specific programs and charities, Buik said. The United Way will continue to honor those requests.

However, the $16.5 million a year available for general disbursement will be spent only on anti-poverty programs. United Way officials said funding applications will be accepted beginning Thursday.

"Some agencies that have been funded in the past may not get funded, some agencies that have been funded in the past will continue to be funded and some agencies that have never been funded will get funds," said United Way spokeswoman Darcy Cobb.

Buik said her organization has been working more closely with city and county officials.

"Obviously, we're not going to increase graduation rates by ourselves, so we do hope to partner with other groups," Buik said. "But our new tool in our arsenal kit is addressing policies and seeking policy changes.

Buik said United Way also will be working to help the estimated 88,000 homeless people who sleep on the streets of Los Angeles every night.

"We must treat the root causes of poverty," Buik said. "The best way to help children out of poverty is to first help their parents get out of poverty. Everyone deserves a fair shot at a good education, a decent-paying job and a home, and we intend to do our part in providing the paths to get there."

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Outlook remains bleak for the Malawi poor

from The Financial Express

Pilirani Semu-Banda from Bangkok

Grace Kafere is tired. She has been on her feet for close to five hours, bending over as she moves up and down in a forest gathering twigs and branches to sell as firewood. The 45-year-old single mother of five children lost her job as an administrative assistant three years ago. The firm where she was working went through a restructuring process. She has been unable to secure another job since then.

To survive she has had to sell most of her household goods, including a small electrical stove, to raise money for school fees. Her eldest child is 16 years old and in secondary school.

''I have sold all the valuables I have ever owned and am trying small-scale business in order to keep my children in school. I sell everything I can lay my hands on-including wood which I sell to my neighbours who are also struggling to make a living,'' says Kafere.

She can no longer afford basic food items such as bread and sugar on a regular basis. Most times, her family only has one meal a day as opposed to the three a day which they used to have before she was declared redundant at her workplace.

Kafere and her family also had to move from the three-bedroom house she was renting in a low density area to a one-bedroom shack in the densely populated outskirts of Malawi's commercial capital Blantyre. She shares the bedroom with her three daughters and, at night, her sons turn the living room into a bedroom.

As if their living conditions were not bad enough, the Kafere family shares an outdoor kitchen, a toilet and one bathroom with seven other families who stay in similar shacks.

Kafere's neighbour, Jackson Malire, also decries the poor standards of living. It is becoming worse as the years go by, he says. His family of six people survives on the proceeds from his job as a night-watchman where the pay is only about 20 US dollars per month.

''I had a bicycle which I bought five years but I had to sell it a year ago because I needed money to pay for hospital bills for my wife. I cannot afford to replace that bicycle. It seems life is getting tougher,'' says Malire.

Without the bicycle he has to walk to and from his workplace which is 25 km away from where he stays.

The dismal experiences of Karefe and Malire are not confined to their neighbourhood. Most Malawians are struggling in similar ways as poverty has worsened in Malawi, according to the most recent Human Development Report released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Between 2005 and 2006 Malawi dropped one position from number 10 to number 11 on the list of the world's 30 poorest countries. The country is ranked 166th out of 177 countries on the UNDP's Human Development Index.

In 1997, Malawi was ranked at number 161 which means it has slipped five places in the last decade. The HDI, according to the UNDP, measures countries' performance with regard to human development and includes the measurement of standard of living.

Over 65 percent of Malawi's 12 million people live below the poverty line of less than 1 US dollar a day while 22 percent of the population is categorised as ultra-poor.

Some of the more distressing indicators include a maternal mortality rate which is over 1,100 per 100,000 live births and the deterioration of child mortality rates and access to sanitation and clean water.

A poverty and vulnerability assessment on Malawi released last year by the Malawi government and the World Bank also shows that people's standard of living has not improved in the last 10 years. The assessment report shows that there has been little or no progress in reducing poverty and inequality.

Over a third of Malawi's population does not have access to safe water. As a result people are ill or dying from diarrhoea, cholera and other water-borne diseases. HIV/AIDS is also among the major challenges that the country is facing as one in every 10 people is infected.

At an average of 39 years, Malawi has one of the lowest life expectancy rates in the world, UNDP resident representative Michael Keating points out. The crises in livelihoods are derailing the country's progress towards achieving the first UN Millennium Development Goal.

MDG 1 requires that countries halve the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day and also halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015.
While acknowledging that the country is failing to achieve prosperity, government officials contend that Malawi is better off in other areas than other African countries. These include the immunization of children against measles and tuberculosis and primary school enrolment.

The Malawian government is positive that the economy will improve since the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund cancelled most of Malawi's external debt of about 2.97 billion US dollars in September 2006. The country had completed economic reforms in adherence with these institutions' conditionalities.

Malawians are also placing their hope in a promise by the country's main donor, the British government. The British pledged 560 million US dollars in aid to Malawi over four years.

Experiencing a state of poverty

from Small Town Papers News Service

By Jeanne Visser
for Sioux County Index

HULL, Iowa --
Do you know what it’s like to be poor….to wonder how you’ll feed your children, pay the rent, look for a job or wade through piles of forms at a welfare office? The faculty of Boyden-Hull was given a small taste of that dilemma at an in-service program last Tuesday.

‘The State of Poverty Welfare Simulation’ from Iowa State University Extension is designed to educate people about what it is like to struggle against poverty. Each teacher was assigned to a ‘family’ and given a role to play.

In the simulation, each family was facing poverty. Some were newly unemployed, some were recently deserted by the ‘breadwinner’ and others were recipients of AFDD (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) – either with or without additional earned income. Still others were disabled or senior citizens receiving social security.

For example, one family was made up of a mother, age 30, recently deserted by the father of her two children. She dropped out of high school after 9th grade and worked as a salesclerk until her first pregnancy. At home she had a 17 year-old daughter and a son who is 14. She had to learn the processes of applying for AFDC and food stamps, keeping a viable means of transportation and making sure her delinquent children stayed in school.

The task of each ‘family’ was to provide for basic necessities and shelter during the course of a month.

To make the experience a little more realistic, volunteers from the community played the roles of community resources and services for families, such as the banker, employment officer, food pantry worker, grocer, pawnbroker, police officer, utility collector and welfare caseworkers.

The family units were crowded together in one space to add to the sense of confusion and frustration. During the exercise, 15 minutes represented one week, and during that short time, families were required to take care of basic necessities.

But standing in line, dealing with mistakes, language barriers and uncooperative agencies ate up too much time and after one month, none of the families were able to secure the basic necessities and shelter.

Afterwards, teachers evaluated the experience and reported the frustration they felt trying to complete all the tasks in short time, while maneuvering the roadblocks through the ‘system’.

“We were cheated, stolen from and not treated well by some people that we hoped would help us,” one teacher reported. “It was very frustrating.”

Even teachers who played the role of ‘children’ in the families, and went to school every day, reported being very concerned about their parents and wondering how they could help the family.

Those reactions are what the creators of the simulation hope for, reported Rhonda Rosenboom, Field Specialist with ISU Extension. “Each family was in a different situation, but they all come up short financially. We hope this experience opens people’s eyes to what it’s like to be poor and make them aware of some of their struggles.”

“We ask a lot of families in our society,” she added. “Sometimes we don’t realize the burden we put on them. Now, we hope teachers will think about being sensitive to those living in poverty and maybe come up with ideas to make their struggle a little easier.”

Boyden-Hull Superintendent Steve Grond agreed. “This was just a short simulation for us, and fortunately we can walk away from it and go back to our lives. But I hope we all have a keener sense that sometimes when kids come into our classroom, they may have far bigger issues on their minds than what a verb is.”

‘Growth benefits upper class only’

from The News International

By our correspondent

ISLAMABAD: The gap between the rich and poor has widened in Pakistan during the rule of the incumbent regime, as the higher growth trajectory provides benefits only to the upper class compared to the poorest segments.

This was the crux of the discussion held during a workshop organised by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in collaboration with PRSP Secretariat, Finance Ministry on “Structural Issues in Poverty Reduction” here on Monday.

Minister of State for Economic Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar told the participants in the concluding session that the higher growth was not enough condition to bring the chronic poor out of poverty line.

Dr Talat Anwar who is currently working in the State Bank of Pakistan as Joint Director and previously affiliated with Centre for Poverty Reduction and Income Distribution (CPRID) of the Planning Commission, said that during the period from 1998-99 to 2004-05, the growth effects remained dominant, the redistribution seems to have benefited only in urban areas. On the other hand, redistribution seems to have adversely affected the poor in rural areas. The growth strategy is important for poverty reduction in Pakistan but the redistribution in favour of poor should not be ignored if the government intends to enhance the effect of growth on poverty reduction.

“There are some studies which show that there is an increase of one per cent amongst the poorest population of the country between 2001-02 to 2004-05. This growth strategy is resulting into exclusion of poorest from the whole thinking of the government and there is need to adopt targeted approach to protect the poorest segments of the society,” he added.

Dr GM Arif from Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) said that the unemployed educated youth was a matter of concern especially in NWFP and Balochistan. He said the tackling of chronic poor would be the main issue for the government in years ahead.

Dr Sarfraz Qureshi said on the occasion that there is lack of Independent research institutions in Pakistan. He said the nature of prevailing poverty does not know by anyone in the country and without having in-depth analysis it will not be easy to tackle this complex problem.

The chronic poverty, he said, will remain there as the government in last seven years have done all easier things but the difficult decisions are lying ahead. He said all safety nets have lowest coverage and funding and there are also problems of leakages.

Mohammad Saleem said in his presentation that there are 52 million illiterate people in the country. The government, he said, is planning to bring changes in the definition of literate population as currently all those are literate who can read and write. He said the government will change this definition and all those will be considered literate who can read a paragraph of English with understanding and be able to do simple calculations.

With the existing definition of literate persons, he said the literacy ratio stood at 54 per cent at the moment. The economists also recommended the government to adopt targeted cash transfers for alleviating poverty.

An independent economist Dr Kaisar Bengali said on the occasion in most of the presentation the data and analysis was done on the districts of Punjab, which cannot be replicated for whole Pakistan.

He also criticised the term community participation in development strategy is continuously misused in the context of Pakistan as during the Social Action Program the feudal prevailed on the name of community participation resulting into failure of that scheme.

Research Looks at Ways To Protect Vulnerable Elderly From Social Security Changes

from The Urban Institute

Stu Kantor

With Social Security's trust funds facing depletion by 2040, many observers suggest partly addressing the projected deficit by raising the age at which workers can first receive retirement benefits. While a higher retirement age would bolster the system by reducing benefits and encouraging people to work longer, would it disproportionately hurt vulnerable populations, who generally do not live as long as other retirees and typically depend more on Social Security?

New research from the Urban Institute's Retirement Policy Project says lifetime benefits for all groups would be lower, but less so for those with lower lifetime earnings and less education. The policy change would not disproportionately hit lower-income groups because the Social Security disability program provides some protection. High school dropouts, African Americans, and workers in the lowest fifth of earners are more likely to get disability payments than are college graduates, whites, and workers in the top fifth. Changes in the retirement age do not affect when disabled workers can apply for benefits or the amounts they can receive.

In "Would Raising the Social Security Retirement Age Harm Low-Income Groups?" Gordon B. T. Mermin and C. Eugene Steuerle look at what happens if the normal retirement age is increased to 69 years and 8 months (it is currently 66 years and scheduled to go to 67 for workers who reach age 62 by 2022). Lifetime benefits for today's young workers, they found, would decline to 90 percent of the levels scheduled under current rules. High school dropouts would experience an 8 percent drop, compared with 11 percent for college graduates. Workers in the bottom fifth of earners would see a 6 percent drop, compared with 13 percent for those in the top fifth.

While boosting the retirement age would not hit lower-income groups harder than others, it would push more retirees into poverty. Raising the age would increase the share of retirees with incomes below the wage-indexed poverty level in 2050 from 14.4 percent under the current system to 16.2 percent, an increase of 1.5 million people.

Adding a floor to Social Security could mitigate the impact on vulnerable groups of an older retirement age. Under one scenario Mermin and Steuerle examined, a minimum benefit in conjunction with a higher age would minimize the new policy's effect on poverty compared with current law, raising lifetime benefits for workers in the bottom fifth of earners by 6 percent. The cost of the minimum could be paid for by raising the normal retirement age by another six months (to 70 years and 2 months).

"These findings demonstrate the importance of evaluating policies as part of larger packages rather than in isolation," said Mermin. "A policy that, in one form, achieves certain desirable goals yet harms at-risk groups can be made more acceptable and effective when combined with other reforms."
Minimum Retirement Benefits

The Mermin-Steuerle report is one of five research briefs released today that assess the impact of raising the retirement age, ways to ameliorate its fallout for vulnerable populations, and boomers' plans to work beyond age 65.

"Minimum Benefits in Social Security: Design Details Matter," by Melissa M. Favreault, Gordon Mermin, and Eugene Steuerle, analyzes five minimum-benefit designs and shows how they could help reduce elderly poverty. They found

* Many minimum-benefit arrangements would lose value if not tied to wage growth.
* Approaches that best alleviate poverty tend to reward work less.
* Designs that do not take into account the truncated work histories of disabled workers will have less success at reducing poverty.
* Different approaches to cutting Social Security benefits—such as across-the-board reductions versus changes to cost-of-living adjustments—have distinct implications, both on their own and when combined with a minimum.

Almost 8 percent of Social Security beneficiaries 65 and older had incomes below the poverty line in 2004, according to the Social Security Administration. That figure jumps to 17 percent among unmarried older women, 24 percent for African Americans, and 19 percent for Hispanics.

"Minimum Benefits in Social Security Could Reduce Aged Poverty," by Melissa Favreault, Gordon Mermin, Eugene Steuerle, and Dan Murphy, looks at two scenarios involving minimum benefits funded with across-the-board benefit cuts to address Social Security's long-term financing problem. A generous minimum that increases over time with average wages would see poverty among elderly African Americans in 2050 decline to 2.9 percent, compared with 6.2 percent under current-law scheduled benefits. Such a minimum would cut poverty rates nearly in half for older Hispanics and unmarried women.
Retirement Plans

The solvency of the U.S. retirement system partially hinges on how long baby boomers stay in the workforce. If they retire as early as their parents, the number of workers per retiree will soon plummet, reducing the tax base and squeezing budgets for Social Security and all other government programs.

But "How Long Do Boomers Plan to Work?" by Gordon Mermin, Richard W. Johnson, and Dan Murphy, offers some encouraging signs. Using data from the Health and Retirement Study, a national survey of older Americans funded by the National Institute on Aging, the researchers found that as boomers approach retirement, they intend to work longer than people born a dozen years earlier did, a shift that will help promote economic growth and partly offset the economic pressures created by an aging population.

Among workers ages 51 to 56 in 2004, 51 percent said they expect to work past age 62, up from 47 percent among comparable workers in 1992. The probability of working full-time past age 65 increased faster, growing from 27 to 33 percent. The declining availability of retiree health benefits, increasing levels of educational attainment, and falling traditional pension coverage accounted for most of the increase in work expectations.

Although 50-something African Americans plan to work longer than they did a decade ago, they lag behind other racial and ethnic groups, Dan Murphy, Richard Johnson, and Gordon Mermin indicate in "Racial Differences in Baby Boomers' Retirement Expectations." Twenty-eight percent of African-American boomers said they expect to work full-time past age 65, as opposed to 33 percent for all other racial groups.

While education, health status, wages, and wealth generally affect retirement plans—less-educated racial groups, for example, are more likely to be in physically demanding jobs that become difficult for older workers—racial differences in these factors do not explain African Americans' early retirement plans. Labor market discrimination, family care responsibilities, and cultural differences may play a more important role in their later-life work decisions.
Reading the Reports

* "Would Raising the Social Security Retirement Age Harm Low-Income Groups?" is available at
* "Minimum Benefits in Social Security: Design Details Matter" can be found at
* "Minimum Benefits in Social Security Could Reduce Aged Poverty" can be accessed at
* "How Long Do Boomers Plan to Work?" can be read at
* "Racial Differences in Baby Boomers' Retirement Expectations" is available at

[Press Release] WFP welcoms US$20.8 million from Japan

from Reuters Alert Net

The Government of Japan announced today a major contribution of US$20.8 million (JPY2.52 billion) to WFP which will assist millions of vulnerable and chronically food insecure people in 13 countries spread throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The funds will be used to buy food including cereals, pulses, fortified blended food and canned tuna.

This significant contribution from Japan gives special attention to Africa, with two-thirds of the package (US$13.9 million; JPY1.68 billion) allocated to WFP’s social protection programmes in nine African countries.

Generous support

“We sincerely appreciate this most generous support from Japan,” said Eri Kudo, Officer-in-Charge of WFP Office in Japan. “Many households in these countries are persistently unable to meet their daily requirements due to chronic poverty driven by conflict, natural disasters and HIV/AIDS. Japan’s partnership with WFP is vital to achieving social protection and sustainable development in Africa.”

In Lesotho, for example, WFP is currently working with the national government to develop food security and disaster mitigation capacities which will address recurrent natural disasters and HIV/AIDS.

Protecting livelihoods

Japan’s contribution will be used to provide food aid to the most vulnerable populations, including 137,000 school children, pregnant and nursing mothers and patients with HIV/AIDS or tuberculosis. Food will help protect their livelihoods and enhance their resilience to crises.

At the fourth Annual Consultation held in Tokyo last month, WFP and the Government of Japan reconfirmed the importance of aid to Africa, ahead of the Fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD IV) and G-8 Summit to be hosted by Japan next year.

“The contribution announced today reaffirms Japan’s commitment to Africa. Together Japan and WFP will assist African countries to strengthen their capacity to combat hunger,” Kudo said.

Chronic poverty

Beyond Africa, Japan is allocating US$6 million (JPY720 million) to Asia in support of vulnerable people affected by natural disasters and chronic poverty.

Through WFP, Japan will assist Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Timor-Leste with donations of US$3.3 million (JPY400 million), US$1.7 million (JPY210 million) and US$0.9 million (JPY110 million) respectively.

Cambodia has the one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS and TB prevalence in Asia, and 35 percent of its population lives below the poverty line.

WFP’s food aid is essential to optimising the benefits of treatment and care for HIV/AIDS and TB patients by improving their nutrition and food security.

Crucial timing

Japan’s aid comes at a crucial moment, as a funding shortage forced WFP to progressively reduce rations to beneficiaries since October 2006.

The temporary suspension of food aid to students, HIV/AIDS- and TB-affected beneficiaries has led to a reduction of WFP assistance to over 70 percent of its usual beneficiaries since February.

In Latin America, US$1 million (JPY120 million) will go to WFP operations in Nicaragua, where recurrent natural hazards such as earthquakes, floods, and droughts have resulted in food shortages.

Empowering women

WFP Deputy Executive Director, Sheila Sisulu, will visit Japan from 4 to 8 March to attend the International Women’s Day 2007 Public Forum.

She will deliver a statement on WFP’s role in promoting the empowerment of women and girls, and will take the opportunity to personally thank the Government of Japan for their generous contributions.

Web update: Harper announces $200 million more for Afghan aid

from The Winnipeg Free Press

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, faced with growing pressure to shift Canada's mission in Afghanistan more toward good works than military might, has committed another $200 million to reconstruction and humanitarian aid.

The new 10-year funding commitment is in addition to $1 billion Canada has already pledged to Afghanistan through 2011.

"Afghanistan is a long way from home, but the issues we are addressing here — building democracy, reducing poverty, fighting terrorism, celebrating pluralism — matter for the entire world," Harper said Monday.

"Global security hinges on success in Afghanistan. . . . Afghanistan is on the frontline of the international security challenge of the modern post-war world. We must build a successful alternative there in order to defeat extremism and terrorism everywhere."

That success depends on a concerted international effort over years, the prime minister said.

The new money will help pay the salaries of teachers, police officers and health workers. It will also finance de-mining efforts, road construction to promote cross-border trade, a micro-credit program for Afghan businesses, and efforts to counter the country's heroin poppy industry.
Click here to find out more!
Harper said the funds will go toward proven national programs, most of which are also supported by NATO allies.

Harper's announcement came as Foreign Minister Peter MacKay prepared to table a major report Monday on Canada's overall progress in Afghanistan.

Canada's sixth Afghan winter is drawing to a close and Canadian soldiers are preparing to combat another spring offensive by pro-Taliban fighters crossing the border from Pakistan.

Harper said Canadians based in Kandahar have helped secure a "fragile peace" that now extends over large parts of the country's volatile south.

"Now it's time to consolidate those security gains on the ground and use them to advance reconstruction because the long-suffering Afghan people desperately need hope for a better future for their families and communities," he said.

"That's what our announcement today is all about."

The battle to win the hearts and minds of Afghans has suffered while Canadian and other NATO troops have been preoccupied with the war to stop those who would stop aid efforts.

NATO's former commander in Afghanistan, British Gen. David Richards, has warned that Afghans could rebel en masse against foreign troops unless they see a tangible difference in their lives soon.
Liberal Leader Stephane Dion said last week that the military needs to work more closely with Canada's development workers and diplomats to make tangible progress in the Kandahar region.

Dion bemoaned that Canadian military spending in the south has outpaced its aid contribution by nine times, and that four-fifths of those aid dollars are being spent outside the Kandahar region.

He also announced that his Liberals would, if elected, withdraw Canadian troops at the end of the current mission in February 2009. The NDP wants Canada's 2,500 soldiers pulled out of Kandahar immediately.

The Conservative government says it has made no decision about what happens after 2009, but the Tories ridicule the notion that reconstruction is possible without a robust military presence.

Student teams vie to reduce poverty, pollution

from The Seattle Times

By Kristi Heim

For a growing number of young entrepreneurs, the best way to make money is by improving society. And for many socially minded students, the best way to promote change is through business.

Those ideas are coming together in a global competition at the University of Washington Business School this week.

The UW's Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition invites teams from around the world to submit business plans aimed at reducing poverty and pollution in the developing world. But the plans must also make sound financial sense.

Eleven teams of students from as far away as Ghana, India, Morocco and Kazakhstan are participating. Their plans include technology to enhance seed growth in China, develop small-scale wind turbines in Kazakhstan, and create an online marketplace for businesses in Ghana.

Unlike other business-plan competitions, the UW's Global Business Center focuses its program on solutions for developing countries. Students come to Seattle for the weeklong competition hoping for guidance, recognition and a grand prize of $5,000 that could help get their business off the ground. The second-place team wins $2,500, and some of the participants also get travel scholarships.

Students are judged on three factors: the impact on quality of life, feasibility of implementation and financial sustainability.

"Just going into business for a profit motive doesn't really excite me," said Manas Mondal, an MBA student from Hyderabad, India, whose plan involves helping farmers in India develop new income sources.

Interest has grown in the past several years in learning about how business can do more social good, mirroring a similar interest in the nonprofit world in borrowing business strategies to be more effective.

Cortilia Lin, 25, worked in several nonprofit organizations in Taiwan before starting her MBA program at UW.

"In nonprofits, we have some theories to change the world, but we don't know how to do it effectively," she said. "Maybe I can adopt business practices to change the system."

For the competition, Lin and her UW team members built a kind of online trade show for small and medium-sized businesses in Ghana.

Increasing access to basic market information could complement microcredit programs in one of Africa's most stable countries, she said.

The event illustrates how business schools are changing their focus to include strategy around corporate social responsibility and environmental sustainability, said James Jiambalvo, dean of the UW Business School.

At least a quarter of incoming business students express an interest in learning about those areas, he said. The Business School recently offered a class together with the School of Social Work, attracting students from both disciplines.

"The business students come in thinking companies are all about profit," Jiambalvo said. "Social-work students might think profit is not all that important. What they learned is there is an important middle ground."

Seattle is fertile ground for both. He pointed to examples at Costco and Starbucks.

"Ask yourself why is it that Costco beats Sam's Club in terms of profitability. It has a better benefits package and still outperforms them financially," he said.

"They are addressing needs and demands of the consumer market," he said. "We're also seeing companies like Toyota building hybrid cars, attracting consumers to a product that is profitable, and it's building their brand and saving fossil fuel."

Jane George-Falvy, a UW management lecturer who is faculty director of the competition, said the model for successful social entrepreneurship is microcredit, the system of very small loans pioneered by Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus.

"That is our current glowing example of businesses that return value back to their stakeholders and are doing amazing things to address issues of poverty, " George-Falvy said. "It's no longer the generosity of somebody with their leftover money or part of their PR program."

The weakness in many of the social-entrepreneur projects lies in implementation, she said. That involves questions about how to organize capital, deliver the product and work with government regulators.

The winner of last year's competition, a plan to build hand-cranked radios in Mongolia, is still looking for funding for his project, she said.

Chris Meyer, a former Peace Corps volunteer now studying at Johns Hopkins University, is working on a project to invest in hardwood timber production in Panama. The business offers an economic incentive for the local population not to deforest the land. Meyer said he thinks a profit motive is the most successful means to get people out of poverty.

The five-member team has raised about $20,000 from friends, family and their own pockets, incorporated the company in Panama and arranged appointments at Weyerhaeuser to seek advice. In May, they will start planting trees.

"Ideally, this is my job when I graduate," he said.

'Intervene in poverty, joblessness'

from Business I Africa

While the South African economy — the 27th largest in the world — is generally doing well, concerted intervention is necessary to reduce poverty and unemployment, the National Assembly's finance committee heard on Tuesday.

Industrial Development Corporation research and information head Jorge Maia told the committee during hearings on the Budget that the improvement of overall economic activity in South Africa since 1994 had yet to be translated into a generalised improvement in human development.

A vicious cycle of poverty was evident in concentrated segments of the population, typically reinforced by low education levels, location, access to healthcare, and lack of access to economic opportunities.

Wealth creation "This presents major challenges which require concerted intervention aimed primarily at wealth creation and redistribution and access to basic services, etc," he said.

Skills shortages were developing in a variety of sectors, due to a mismatch between supply and demand, posing a major constraint on development and growth potential.

"The importance of efforts to resolve the problem cannot be over-emphasised."

The extent and nature of criminal activity was also a major concern, with the impact felt among households and businesses alike.

"It is affecting confidence levels and raising costs to society at large. The allocation of additional resources to combating crime is highly welcomed," Maia said.

Resolving the unemployment crisis was key to alleviating many of South Africa's ills.

Despite a reasonably good overall economic performance since 1994, the labour absorption capacity of the economy had not lived up to expectations.

Challenging labour market

While global competitive forces had played a role in this regard, domestic factors should not be downplayed.

These included the capital-intensive bias of the South African economy and further capital deepening over time in response to challenging labour market conditions, such as productivity versus labour costs, skills, and industrial relations.

Maia said it was essential that opportunities arising from the state-owned enterprises capital expenditure programmes, such as Eskom and Transnet's R178-billion spending plans over the next five years, and the 2010 Soccer World Cup, be secured by South Africa at large, to maximise and sustain economic benefits.

The SOEs themselves had an intrinsic interest in local supplier development, the benefits of which included improved supplier responsiveness due to proximity, improved competitiveness of the supply base, and lower foreign exchange risks.

An SOE supplier development process should be adopted timeously with appropriate support mechanisms, and without compromising the SOE procurement capability, or the roll-out of the capex programmes.

'Big bang'

The focus of the strategy should be on long-term local supplier industry development and upgrading, thus requiring continuity of procurement.

Hence the approach to infrastructure upgrading, maintenance, and construction should be continuous and sustained, rather than a "big-bang" once-off intervention, he said.

This would promote investment in internationally competitive capabilities in supplier sectors, leading to reduced costs through increased efficiencies, reduced dependence on imports and forex exposure, and developing niche export competencies.

Maia said the country was currently enjoying the longest period of economic growth since World War Two, with the upswing in the business cycle already in its seventh year.

General economic stability and sound macro-economic management and fundamentals were widely acknowledged, as reflected in the sovereign ratings.

Inflation was under control and at levels last seen in the 1960s, and business and consumer confidence levels were at all-time highs.

However, the increasingly competitive environment due to globalisation called for productivity growth, lower production costs, and technological innovation.

MP says rent rise plan is poverty trap

from IC South London

RENTS for council tenants could rocket under radical Government proposals published this week.

The report, commissioned by Communities and Local Government Secretary MP Ruth Kelly, suggests social housing tenants could pay nearly as much as their private-sector counterparts.

It says this would reduce the need for Government subsidy. Children's rights to take over their parents' properties could also end if suggestions in the report are taken up. Report author Professor John Hills, of London School of Economics, wrote: "Some of the options could involve huge financial and physical upheaval for millions of households. "However, thinking through what might change at the most radical end may give insights into both the disadvantages and advantages of directions of change that might be pursued more modestly."

Liberal Democrat North Southwark and Bermondsey MP Simon Hughes, pictured left, urged the Government not to rush into any decisions.

He said: "I think this is a challenging report and we must be very careful about following the suggestions that social housing should go up to market rent. "The danger of that is you trap people into poverty. "I think we need to have a wide debate and I'm going to start that in Parliament in March."

Launching the report, Mrs Kelly said: "Social housing has made a vital contribution to our society for generations. "There are tough decisions to be made and we can't expect reforms to make a difference overnight."

Blair launches new drive to tackle poverty

from 24 Dash

Ian Morgan

Tony Blair will insist today that Labour has reduced the gap between rich and poor since 1997 as he launches a fresh drive to lift the most deprived out of poverty.

The Prime Minister will use a Downing Street press conference to reject recent suggestions that society is breaking down.

His comments follow a report by Unicef suggesting that Britain is one of the worst developed countries for children to grow up in and a recent spate of shootings of teenagers in south London.

Tory leader David Cameron suggested that family breakdown was behind many of the incidents as he warned that society was in "deep trouble".

But Mr Blair will hit back today, arguing that his decade in Downing Street has seen wealth inequalities decline after a report by the Cabinet Office's Social Exclusion Task Force.

The Prime Minister's introductory remarks to his monthly joust with Westminster journalists will be seen as an attempt to underline his achievements during his final months in office.

It will also divert reporters' attentions, momentarily, from more controversial issues such as Britain's military commitments and the long-running cash-for-honours inquiry.

The social exclusion report will say that the poorest 20% have seen their incomes increase faster than the wealthiest 20% since Labour came to power.

But he will say that the Government must now redouble its efforts in targeting support at the poorest 2.5%.

His comments will follow the publication of a report, which will say the incomes of the poorest fifth of society have increased by 2.6% since Labour came to power.

The richest fifth have seen their incomes rise by only 2.1% in the same period, the report will say.

It will also suggest that 1.6 million children have been saved from poverty by Government tax and benefits initiatives.

Some 800,000 children have been lifted out of "relative poverty" in the last decade, while another 800,000 would have slid into poverty without Labour's support, the report will say.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "Under this Government the poorest 20% have seen their incomes grow faster than the richest 20%.

"This is in stark contrast to the Government's record from 1979 to 1997 which saw the income of the wealthiest groups grow at three times the rate of the poorest.

"This remarkable progress is the untold story of this Government."

Mr Blair's preamble is likely to be followed by questions about Britain's role in Iraq and Afghanistan following significant changes to deployments in both war-ravaged countries.

The Prime Minister announced last week that Britain is to withdraw about 1,600 troops from Iraq, leading to speculation of a rift with Washington after the US recently increased troop numbers in Baghdad.

Yesterday Defence Secretary Des Browne announced a move to increase numbers in Afghanistan by about 1,400 - effectively maintaining the pressure on the military.

Mr Blair will also be questioned about his strategy for tackling Iran, whose stand-off with the West has intensified in recent days as it has refused to stop enriching uranium.

There are concerns that the US is gearing up for a military strike against the Islamic republic although the Prime Minister has committed himself to diplomatic measures.

Mr Blair is also likely to be questioned about Scotland Yard's long-running cash-for-honours inquiry.

It emerged last week that his close aide Ruth Turner had been interviewed by Metropolitan Police detectives for a third time.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Singles, men and elderly the new poor

from The Sydney Morning Herald

Adele Horin

MORE Australians were poor in 2003 than in 1990 despite generous family payments and a booming economy, new research shows.

The results reveal that 12.9 per cent of Australians were poor in 2003, compared with 11.6 per cent in 1990.

But the face of poverty is changing. Single people, men, and the elderly were more likely to be poor than in the past, and children were better off.

The analysis, showing a major change in the composition of the poor, has been provided to the Herald by Roger Wilkins, a senior research fellow at the Melbourne institute of applied economic and social research at the University of Melbourne.

"The spoils of the boom are not being shared equally," Dr Wilkins said. "There is no reason for anyone to be in poverty."

The research shows the Howard Government's family payments have improved the position of all families with children, but the big fall in sole parent poverty occurred in the early 1990s. The proportion of children under 15 in poverty fell from 24.7 per cent in 1990 to 18 per cent in 2003.

A failure to increase payments to other groups meant they had fallen behind the community, Dr Wilkins said. The Newstart Allowance, Youth Allowance and Austudy, for example, were indexed to Consumer Price Index increases, not wages.

Single people have been hard hit, the data shows. At the start of the 1980s, less than 18 per cent of single people were poor. The proportion rose to 21.4 per cent in 1990 and 25.7 per cent in 2003. Now singles comprise 46 per cent of Australians in poverty, compared with 39 per cent in 1990.

At the same time, couples with children made up a smaller proportion of the poor - falling from 30 per cent in 1990 to 24 per cent.

An increasing proportion of men have fallen on hard times. Almost 12 per cent of men were poor compared with 9.7 per cent in 1990. Women were still more likely to be poor - at 13.9 per cent - about the same proportion as 13 years ago.

Couples without children also made up a higher proportion of the poor, and the elderly were at greater risk. Australians over 65 comprised 16 per cent of those in poverty compared with 12 per cent in 1990 - probably there were more of them, and most were on the pension.

The analysis, based on Australian Bureau of Statistics income data, defines poverty as less than half the median income (adjusted for family size). While this is the definition used by the OECD, and is widely accepted, Dr Wilkins said that "measuring poverty is a task fraught with controversy".

Corzine fighting cuts in health aid for poor

from North Jersey Com


New Jersey's generous health insurance subsidies for low- and moderate-income families put Governor Corzine on the defensive Sunday at a gathering of the nation's governors in Washington.

Tight federal funding has some states and the Bush administration questioning whether more generous states should get the same amount of federal support as those that are more stringent.

But advocates for universal health care such as Corzine see the joint state-federal subsidy program as a vehicle to cover more of the uninsured, and they want the states to have maximum flexibility in setting the rules.

"The cost of living is significantly different in Bergen County than other states around the country," Corzine told reporters at the annual winter meeting of the National Governors Association. "It's clear 200 percent of the poverty level in Mississippi is different than what 200 percent of the poverty level will buy you in New Jersey."

Corzine's comments came after he and the Republican governor of Georgia, Sonny Perdue, led a news conference at which a broad bipartisan coalition of governors called on Congress to provide $765 million in additional funding this year for the insurance subsidy program, known in Washington as S-Chip and in New Jersey as FamilyCare or KidCare.

Perdue said he faces the prospect of dropping children from the program next month unless he receives more funding. Corzine has said as many as 30,000 children in New Jersey could be dropped by May if he does not receive another $47 million this year.

But unanimity among the states about needing more short-term funding dissolved when it came to the long-term question of whether to insure children from families that make more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level -- about $26,000 for a family of three -- and whether to insure adults.

New Jersey covers children from families making up to 350 percent of the poverty level -- about $60,000 for a family of three. It also covers parents from families making up to $20,000. Corzine said covering parents increases the likelihood that children would be enrolled. He also said that not providing coverage would lead to more people seeking care at emergency rooms, where treatment is more expensive and partly subsidized by taxpayers and people with private health insurance.

"It's a pay me now or pay me later situation," he said. He criticized President Bush for seeking to trim the program to justify making tax cuts permanent.

Congress must renew the insurance subsidy program this year, and Bush's five-year budget plan delivered last month called for focusing funds solely on children from families making 200 percent of the poverty level or less. States that already meet those standards believe such a focus would mean more money for them.

"Don't get the idea this is about expansion," Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said at the news conference calling for the supplemental funding this year. "Those that do the basic program do not have enough money to do it."

But Corzine said Congress should give states the flexibility to serve the needs they see in their populations. He argued that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan for universal health care relies heavily on S-Chip, and that New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer is considering raising his state's eligibility limit to 400 percent of the poverty limit.

Corzine will get a chance to press the issue today, when he chairs a governors association committee at which the Bush administration's top health official, Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, is one of the main guests.

Report finds drop in welfare rolls offset by other programs

from The Bryan College Station Eagle

Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The welfare state is bigger than ever despite a decade of policies designed to wean poor people from public aid.

The number of families receiving cash benefits from welfare has plummeted since the government imposed time limits on the payments a decade ago. But other programs for the poor, including Medicaid, food stamps and disability benefits, are bursting with new enrollees.

The result, according to an Associated Press analysis: Nearly one in six people rely on some form of public assistance, a larger share than at any time since the government started measuring two decades ago.

Critics of the welfare overhaul say the numbers offer fresh evidence that few former recipients have become self-sufficient, even though millions have moved from welfare to work. They say the vast majority have been forced into low-paying jobs without benefits and few opportunities to advance.

"If the goal of welfare reform was to get people off the welfare rolls, bravo," said Vivyan Adair, a former welfare recipient who is now an assistant professor of women's studies at Hamilton College in upstate New York. "If the goal was to reduce poverty and give people economic and job stability, it was not a success."

Proponents of the changes in welfare say programs that once discouraged work now offer support to people in low-paying jobs. They point to expanded eligibility rules for food stamps and Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor, that enable people to keep getting benefits even after they start working.

"I don't have any problems with those programs growing, and indeed, they were intended to grow," said Ron Haskins, a former adviser to President Bush on welfare policy.

"We've taken the step of getting way more people into the labor force and they have taken a huge step toward self-sufficiency. What is the other choice?" he asked.

In the early 1990s, critics contended the welfare system encouraged unemployment and promoted single-parent families. Welfare recipients, mostly single mothers, could lose benefits if they earned too much money or if they lived with the father of their children.

Major changes in welfare were enacted in 1996, requiring most recipients to work but allowing them to continue some benefits after they started jobs. The law imposed a five-year limit on cash payments for most people in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, or TANF. Some states have shorter time limits.

Nia Foster fits the pattern of dependence on government programs. She stopped getting cash welfare payments in the late 1990s and has moved from one clerical job to another. None provided medical benefits.

The 32-year-old mother of two from Cincinnati said she supports her family with help from food stamps and Medicaid.

Foster said she did not get any job training when she left welfare. She earned her high-school equivalency last year at a community college.

"If you want to get educated or want to succeed, the welfare office don't care," Foster said. "I don't think they really care what you do once the benefits are gone."

Foster now works in a tax office, a seasonal job that will end after April 15. She hopes to enroll at the University of Cincinnati this spring and would like to study accounting. She is waiting to find out if she qualifies for enough financial aid to cover tuition.

"I like data processing, something where it's a bunch of invoices and you have to key them in," Foster said. "I want to be an accountant so bad."

Shannon Stanfield took a different, less-traveled path from welfare, thanks to a generous program that offered her a chance to get a college education.

Stanfield, 36, was cleaning houses to support her two young children four years ago when she learned about a program for welfare recipients at nearby Hamilton College, a private liberal arts school in Clinton, N.Y.

"At the time I was living in a pretty run-down apartment," said Stanfield, who was getting welfare payments, Medicaid and food stamps. "It wasn't healthy."

The program, called the Access Project, accepts about 25 welfare-eligible parents a year. Hamilton waives tuition for first-year students and the program supplements financial aid in later years. Students get a host of social and career services, including help finding internships and jobs and financial assistance in times of crisis.

About 140 former welfare recipients have completed the program and none still relies on government programs for the poor, said Adair, the Hamilton professor who started the Access Project in 2001.

Stanfield, who still gets Medicaid and food stamps, plans to graduate in May with a bachelor's degree in theater. She wants to be a teacher.

"I slowly built up my confidence through education," Stanfield said. "I can't honestly tell you how much it has changed my life."

Programs such as the Access Project are not cheap, which is one reason they are rare. Tuition and fees run about $35,000 a year at Hamilton, and the program's annual budget is between $250,000 and $500,000, Adair said.

In 2005, about 5.1 million people received monthly welfare payments from TANF and similar state programs, a 60 percent drop from a decade before.

But other government programs grew, offsetting the declines.

About 44 million people - nearly one in six in the country - relied on government services for the poor in 2003, according to the most recent statistics compiled by the Census Bureau. That compares with about 39 million in 1996.

Also, the number of people getting government aid continues to increase, according to more recent enrollment figures from individual programs.

Medicaid rolls alone topped 45 million people in 2005, pushed up in part by rising health care costs and fewer employers offering benefits. Nearly 26 million people a month received food stamps that year.

Cash welfare recipients, by comparison, peaked at 14.2 million people in 1994.

There is much debate over whether those leaving welfare for work should be offered more opportunities for training and education, so they do not have to settle for low-paying jobs that keep them dependent on government programs.

"We said get a job, any job," said Rep. Jim McDermott, chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees welfare issues. "And now we expect them to be making it on these minimum-wage jobs."

McDermott, D-Wash., said stricter work requirements enacted last year, when Congress renewed the welfare overhaul law, will make it even more difficult for welfare recipients to get sufficient training to land good-paying jobs.

But people who support the welfare changes say former recipients often fare better economically if they start working, even in low-paying jobs, before entering education programs.

"What many people on TANF need first is the confidence that they can succeed in the workplace and to develop the habits of work," said Wade Horn, the Bush administration's point man on welfare overhaul.

"Also, many TANF recipients didn't have a lot of success in the classroom," Horn said. "If you want to improve the confidence of a TANF recipient, putting them in the classroom, where they failed in the past, that is not likely to increase their confidence."

Horn noted that employment among poor single mothers is up and child poverty rates are down since the welfare changes in 1996, though the numbers have worsened since the start of the decade.

Horn, however, said he would like to see local welfare agencies provide more education and training to people who have already moved from welfare to work.

"I think more attention has to be paid to helping those families move up the income scale, increasing their independence of other government welfare programs," Horn said.

"The true goal of welfare to work programs should be self-sufficiency."

Poverty link to student failure

from EDP24

by Steve Downes

Thousands of children across East Anglia are falling short at school - and where they live could be a key factor, new figures showed last night.

The statistics reveal big differences in exam and test results for seven, 11 and 16-year-olds across the region.

They add weight to the argument that it is not just who you are but where you are brought up that dictates whether you will fulfil your potential in life.

The figures, published by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), show that youngsters in more affluent areas like South Norfolk and Broadland are soaring ahead of the national and Norfolk averages.

But those living in areas with higher levels of social deprivation, like Norwich and Yarmouth, are trailing some way behind.

The figures give an insight into the challenges that schools face in trying to boost results in areas long associated with poor performance, low ambition and social and economic deprivation.

For example, at GCSE the percentage of Norfolk children getting the benchmark five or more A*-C grades including English and maths is 44.2pc. In South Norfolk, it rises to 55.9pc, but in Norwich it is as low as 33.9pc.

And while 90pc of seven-year-olds in South Norfolk are reaching the target level two in writing tests, across the county in Yarmouth the figure drops to 77pc.

The statistics back up research reported in the EDP two years ago, which showed that where you live is a compelling factor in whether you will go on to university and into well-paid, skilled careers.

In Yarmouth and Norwich North parliamentary constituencies, one in six young people go on to higher education - compared to almost one in two in some of the more affluent areas.

Fred Corbett, Norfolk County Council's deputy director of children's services, said: “The biggest explanation of differing educational performance across most of the world is social deprivation.

“But it sometimes helps to look even more deeply at particular areas within the districts. On average, Norwich is quite socially deprived, but it also has significant numbers from affluent homes.”

He added that while Norwich's results were generally the lowest in Norfolk, the schools in the city had made “great progress, at a faster rate than other schools” in recent years.

He said factors that affected performance included high levels of low income families, young people from multi-ethnic backgrounds, large families, single parents and poor quality or cramped housing.

But he added: “We don't want any of these factors to be seen as an excuse for poor performance. The worst thing would be for people to be working in a school and saying 'what do you expect?'”

Mr Corbett said it was crucial to ensure that some of the county's best schools were situated in the most challenging areas. He cited plans for academy schools in north Norwich and King's Lynn as examples of this strategy.

And he wanted to see an increasing emphasis on making courses “more relevant” to young people from all backgrounds to keep them interested and engaged in their schooling.

The DfES figures show performances in reading, writing, maths and science tests at age seven, English, maths and science at age 111 and GCSE at age 16.

There are also some eye-catching disparities in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.

The percentage of pupils getting five or more A*-C GCSE including English and maths is as high as 59.7pc in South Cambridgeshire and dips to 36.9pc in Fenland.

By the same measure, 53.7pc of youngsters in Mid Suffolk reach the benchmark - compared with a low of 37.4pc in Waveney.

# To see the figures in full, visit