Saturday, November 29, 2008

Kenyan returns home to help a village hospital

A Kenyan nurse who came to the United States to get an education is planning on returning to her homeland. Debra Akello is planning a medical mission along with 10 coworkers from a Southern California hospital. They plan on bringing equipment and knowledge to a village hospital.

The Los Angeles Daily News introduces us to Akello, and tells us about the inspiration for her mission.

Akello, 34, left Kenya in 1996 to get her nursing degree at the University of California, Los Angeles, and graduated four years later. One of her brothers lived in Southern California, so she stayed and brought her daughter from Kenya.

She began looking for a way to help her native land four years ago when her youngest sister died in Kenya of a cerebral aneurysm, a weak spot on a blood vessel that balloons out and fills with blood. Her sister suffered from massive headaches, Akello said, but each time she consulted doctors, they sent her home with over-the-counter headache medicine.

If a local hospital had been equipped to perform a brain scan, the problem might have been detected before the aneurysm burst and killed her sister, Akello said.

Last December, when Akello saw CNN video of Kenyans fighting and killing each other after the disputed general election, she knew she had to act.

The wounded couldn't get medical attention because hospitals were overloaded and lacked necessary equipment to deal with all the trauma cases, she said.

"It was so overwhelming. I was sad. Out of the sadness I had, I felt a need to do something about it," she said.

She called her friend Joy Burton, and they decided to create a nonprofit organization to fight poverty worldwide. They called it the Helping Hands International Foundation. The first destination: Africa.

UN aid conference opens with only half of the people showing up

In the recent meetings of the G-20, leaders expressed a desire to help underdeveloped nations even during the credit crisis. So in response, the United Nations called a new round of meetings to come up with concrete solutions. That meet opened today with only half of the participants showing up.

As we find in this article from the AFP, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is disappointed.

"The financial crisis is not the only crisis we face. We also confront a development emergency and accelerating climate change," UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said at the opening of a four-day conference on Financing for Development in Doha.

"These threats are inextricably linked. They must be dealt with as one," he told journalists. "We need a truly global stimulus plan that meets the needs of emerging economies and developing countries."

Ban hosted a "retreat" for world leaders on Friday with the aim of converting intentions expressed at a Group of 20 summit in Washington this month into "concrete recommendations" ahead of the next G-20 meeting in London in April.

However, he admitted that only 10 national leaders were among the 34 or 35 high-level delegates who turned up, and no conclusions were announced.

Ban said he still hopes the Doha conference can come up with concrete plans as well as updating a 2002 Monterrey Consensus on aid to developing countries.

" Global crises call for global solutions," European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso told the conference.

"A global answer requires the presence of all regions in the world, representing the voice of the rich, the emerging and the poorest."

Friday, November 28, 2008

Western leaders will not attend next Doha aid meeting

Is it a stretch for me to say that this is another broken promise? Many western leaders including the heads of the IMF and World Bank have said they would not ignore the undeveloped world during the financial credit crisis.

Yet, an upcoming meeting on aid led by the United Nations will not have the heads of western countries there. As Reuters Amran Abocar reports that their absence means that not much is going to get accomplished.

The financial crisis, which has prompted vast government bailouts in Europe and the United States and raised the spectre of a deep global recession, seems to have dampened appetite for providing aid, angering developing countries and aid agencies.

"The lack of presence from heads of state does show that there's a lack of interest in rich countries to actually deal with this," said Sasja Bokkerink, head of Oxfam's delegation.

"All we can do this weekend is to give a loud cry to the world to say 'you should be here and you should be dealing with the problem of finding resources for development'," she said.

The meeting runs from Nov. 29 to Dec. 2 in Qatar's capital and is unrelated to the World Trade Organization's Doha round.

The only Western leader expected to attend is French President Nicolas Sarkozy. International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn and World Bank President Robert Zoellick cited scheduling conflicts.

The U.N. aid groups fear the financial crisis will curb political will to deliver development dollars while providing a reason for some states to renege on previous commitments as they fight economic downturn and rising unemployment at home.

Rwanda needs 1.7 billion dollars to meet Millennium Development Goals

The government of Rwanda says it needs another 1.7 billion dollars in aid to meet the Millennium Development Goals. As The New Times' Eddie Mukaaya reports that would mean per capita aid for the nation would be $190 for the nation of 9 million people.

This mean that the country need an Official Development Aid (ODA) from donors of $190 (Rwf104,899) per capita (for each person) for an estimated population of 9 million people.

According to information availed at the on-going, 2008 Government of Rwanda and Development partners' meeting, at the Serena Hotel, Kigali some MDGs targets may not be attained by 2015 unless the financing gap of $1.1b (Rwf611b) for the entire population is closed.

Figures that are to be presented today by John Rwangombwa, the Permanent Secretary and Secretary to the Treasury on the progress and challenges on the implementation and monitoring of MDGs in Rwanda about $123 (Rwf67,908) is needed for every person to spped up the attainment of MDGs.

MDGs refer to eight international development goals that 189 United Nations (UN) member states and at least 23 international organisations ratified in order to steer economic development and fight poverty. They also aim to spur development by improving social and economic conditions in the world's poorest countries.

Some include eradicating extreme poverty, ensuring environmental sustainability, fighting disease epidemics such as AIDS and reducing child mortality rates. According to Rwangobwa's document, reducing extreme poverty and fighting disease epidemics is still a challenge in Rwanda.

The document reads that these targets may not be attained by 2015 unless the financing gap of $1.1b (Rwf611b) for the entire population is closed. Other MDGs targets in Rwanda according to government have registered progress estimated at 50 percent.

According to information availed there is a decline in the rate of malnutrition in children under five years from 24 percent in 2000 to 18 percent today. The infant mortality rate also dropped from 107 babies per 1000 in 2000 to 62 babies per 1000 in 2008. This is against the MDG target of 35 babies per 1000.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Poverty stats for Trinidad, but method questioned

A researcher in Trinidad says that a quarter of the nation's people live in poverty. But many of her peers question her methodology.

The Trinidad and Tobago Express' Aabida Allaham details the controversy over the statistics.

Dr Sandra Sookram, a lecturer and Research Fellow at the University of the West Indies's Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (Salises), said yesterday the current poverty level stands at 27.32 per cent.

"Although Trinidad and Tobago was classified recently as a high-income country by the World Bank, it has pockets of extreme poverty," Sookram said while delivering her findings on Poverty and Household Welfare in Trinidad and Tobago, Evidence from the Survey of Living Conditions (SLC) 2005 in the Salises Conference Centre at UWI's campus at St Augustine.

Speaking to a handful of apprehensive economists and economic graduate students, Sookram said in order to obtain the figure, she adopted a poverty line of $665 per individual per month, which was the same data that economist Dr Ralph Henry, from Kairi Consultants, used to calculate the 16.5 per cent poverty level in 2005, and an international food scale from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The official current poverty level is 16.5 per cent.

Administered to 3,621 households, Sookram's questionnaire collected information on numerous data, including their characteristics of household members, education and their socio-demographic situation.

Sookram said her results showed that when a man was the head of a working household, their poverty level was lower compared to when a female headed one.

She also indicated that age, education and the household size had an important role to play when it comes to generating an income.

But no matter what Sookram's findings showed, Henry said he did not believe her scales were accurate, considering that she used the same data.

Exasperated, Henry said Sookram's use of an international scale that was not adjusted for the Caribbean explained why she had a higher rate.

On the use of the WHO scale, he said the people who produced the scale would have taken into account countries like Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and the United States of America to broaden the gap.

Opinion on the Cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe

One of our favorite blogs, This is Zimbabwe has a post on the cholera outbreak in the country.

The opinion of the writer of this blog post, is that the populace is being mislead on how severe the outbreak is. They blame the government for withholding information on the spread of the disease.

An acquaintance of mine in Mabvuku, one of the areas were a potential outbreak will cause disaster due to a collapse of the sewer system and unavailability of water, told me that its life as usual for residents as they go about their day to day business with no particular care being taken to avert an impending outbreak of the deadly cholera disease.

If residents had an understanding of the dire circumstance we all face then preventative action like practicing thorough hygiene would be taken. But information on the number of actual dead is not being shared as the magnitude of the outbreak continues to be downplayed, despite the fact that hundreds of people have already died and millions more are at risk.

The water crisis has worsened conditions, with most suburbs going without water for months on end, ripening conditions for the spread of the deadly disease.

That blog is run by the Zimbabwe Civic Action Support Group. The group campaigns for freedom in the country.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Nigeria's efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals

An opening of a health care center in Nigeria gave officials a chance to speak on how the country is striving to meet the Millennium Development Goals. The Nigerian newspaper This Day Online was at the occasion.

In Nigeria, a comprehensive strategy was adopted to achieve the set targets, with the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President coordinating the strategy. Virtually all the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in the country have adopted the MDGs document with a view to help in realising its objectives. Of the leading states in the implementation of the objectives is Zamfara, where so far, a total of 59 projects have been executed whose impacts are being felt by the people in all parts of the state. The projects include construction of 27 new primary healthcare centres (PHC) and renovation of nine existing ones, purchase of hospital equipment and construction of 22 solar electrification plants in strategic locations across the state.

Speaking at the commissioning of a primary health care centre in Zurmi local government area of the state recently, the Zamfara State MDGs Coordinator Alhaji Sanusi Hashim said as at December 2007, the state government had received just over N1.2b under the conditional grant scheme of the programme in Nigeria. He said 10 per cent of this amount was contributed by the seven participating local government councils, thereby bringing the total funds for the project in the state to over N1.3b.

“With these funds at our disposal, we were able to execute projects that have touched the lives of the benefiting communities in many ways. The projects were executed at a total cost of N1, 335, 520,000.00 within the specified implementation period of five months,” he said.

Speaking in the same vein, Governor Mahmud Aliyu Shinkafi described the MDGs as a representing a collective aspiration of the entire global community to address the vicious challenges facing development efforts most especially in the developing world. He said the widening gap between the industrialised economies and the Least Developed Countries, most of which are in the sub-Saharan Africa is alarming.
According to him, the goals are not only timely, but a necessary framework to rescue one of the largest proportions of humanity from the abyss of poverty and other problems associated with economic backwardness. He added that Zamfara State, like other communities across the world, strongly believe that the Millennium Development Goals must be pursued with vigour and determination.

“Our administration has rearticulated all the existing policies and development agenda being pursued prior to the Millennium Summit in order for them to conform to these universal objectives within the defined time frame. It is our conviction that these objectives are attainable between now and 2015, if we sustain efforts at combating corruption and public service reforms which would reposition the service to become more productive, visionary and proactive. It is this conviction that informs our decision to strengthen our anti-corruption stand, direct all ministries, directorates and agencies to comply strictly with budgetary provisions as well as due process in all their dealings.”

Growth slowing for the Gates Foundation

The economic conditions will slow the growth of the Gates Foundation. The charitable foundation started by Microsoft founder Bill Gates funds many poverty fighting initiatives around the world.

As we learn from the Associated Press article that we found at the Malaysian Star, the foundation has had to adjust the amount it will pay out in the next year due to the slow economy.

The foundation said payouts will grow by about 10 percent in 2009, a smaller growth than previously planned.

"The financial crisis is affecting everyone, from our foundation to our partners,'' Chief Executive Officer Jeff Raikes wrote in a letter dated last week that was posted on the foundation's Web site.

Started by the Microsoft Corp. co-founder and his wife in 1994, the foundation has the international goals of overcoming hunger, poverty and disease. In the United States, its focus is on education.

The foundation had an endowment valued at $35.1 billion as of Oct. 1, down $800 million from June, according to The Seattle Times.

As the foundation explores its options, Raikes said employees have been asked to cut expenses. But he said the foundation will remain focused on education initiatives in the United States and fighting extreme poverty in developing countries.

"Within these areas, we'll continue to follow the evidence. We will make grants in the areas where the data tell us we have the best chance to make the greatest impact,'' Raikes said.

Monday, November 24, 2008

No need to cut aid, just consolidate

A group of food aid organizations released a statement on development aid from the United States. The group says our government could be a lot more efficient with aid if they overhauled their system.

As the Guardian's own Roberta Hampton reports the food aid groups say changes should be made now. The many crisis that the world face with the credit crunch and the inflation of food could undo decades of development aid.

The $15 billion spent by the United States on aid would go further if there was a single agency held accountable for the efforts, said David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, a coalition of U.S. Christian aid groups.

"When the government is debating what to do about trade or diplomacy, we need somebody at the table in the highest councils of the U.S. government to speak for poor people," Beckmann said in an interview.

Right now, 12 departments, 25 agencies and almost 60 different government offices have a role in developing U.S. aid policy and delivering programs, he said.

Prices for food staples have more than doubled around the world, leaving more people impoverished and malnourished at a time when the United States and other major aid donors are fixated on stabilizing their own domestic economies.

But Beckmann said he is optimistic the incoming Barack Obama administration will see aid spending as an investment in both global security and future markets for U.S. exports.

The new administration will be led by people who have strong track records on global development issues, he said, specifically naming Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner as well as New York Sen. Hillary Clinton who has reportedly been tapped to become U.S. secretary of state.

Several transition policy advisors to the president-elect have been advocates of foreign aid reform, Beckmann said, noting Obama himself has worked on global poverty issues.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Progress report on meeting MDG's in Bhutan

The country of Bhutan has released a progress report on meeting the Millennium Development Goals. The landlocked nation in Southeast Asia has already met three of the goals, and are on track to meet three others by the 2015.

The report says that more attention is needed in rural poverty, and the rising number of AIDS cases.

The Kuensel's Online Phuntsho Choden reports on the major challenges the country faces in meeting the MDG's.

The report provides information on the current state of progress, after the adoption of MDGs in 2000, on the eight specific goals of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, universal primary education, promoting gender equality, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability and developing a global partnership for development.

Several targets, such as reducing malnutrition among children and halving the numbers of those without access to safe drinking water and safe sanitation, have been achieved, according to the report. From 19 percent in 2000, the rate of child malnutrition has dropped to 9.8 percent in 2007.

Bhutan has also achieved significant poverty reduction with the rate of people living under the poverty line decreased from 36.3 percent in 2000 to 23.2 percent in 2007. But rural poverty remains a key challenge to the country, complicated by the inaccessibility and geographical remoteness of the poorest areas, according to the UN assistant secretary general and UNDP regional director, Mr Ajay Chhiber.

He said that the MDG report and other studies point out that the development achievements are unequal across districts and there are pockets of socially and economically disadvantaged communities across the country. “Tracking MDGs at local levels reveals stark contrasts across districts and regions on a number of MDG target areas, such as poverty incidence, child malnutrition, food security, net primary enrolment and access to safe drinking water,” said Mr Ajay Chhiber, while launching Bhutan’s midway progress report. “The focused targeting should thus involve delivering development benefits directly to the poor, enhancing their human capabilities and addressing root causes of their impoverishment.”

The youth unemployment rate has quadrupled from 2.2 percent in 1998 to 9.9 percent in 2007. The rapidly rising rates of youth unemployment and underemployment are a major challenge, that could decelerate progress in reducing poverty levels in the country, according to the report.

In terms of primary education enrolment, the report states that about 16,500 children in the primary school-going age are currently out of the school system. Bhutan’s challenge lies in enhancing accessibility of primary education to the furthest reaches and remotest areas of the country, where much of the poor and vulnerable reside. In addition, the female to male ratio in the tertiary level education was only 54:100 in 2007.

A shopping spree for fellow students who are less fortunate

A high school in Oregon has a great way to help during the holidays. They conduct a yearly shopping spree to help those less fortunate in their school.

Students a Bend High in Oregon shop for a project called Thankful Families. Funds are raised by the student council, and are spent by buying Thanksgiving groceries for poor families in their area.

The Bulletin's Shelia Miller notes that Eight families each received $110 worth of food.

Allison Tash, 17, has been participating in the Thankful Families project for three years.

“It’s just great to know you’re helping your community, kids at Bend High,” said Tash, who partnered with Allison Lake, 15.

Erickson’s Thriftway in Bend provides free turkeys for the families. But the rest is up to the students. On Friday, students paired up, then moved through the store filling a grocery cart. Most pairs had a calculator, which they used to make sure they weren’t spending too much on any one item.

The challenge for the kids was to provide as much food as possible, not only for Thanksgiving dinner but also for the week. The pair who got closest to $110 without going over budget will be treated to lunch with activities coordinator Jan McKnight.

Bend-La Pine Schools has no classes next week, and McKnight noted most of the Bend High students who will benefit from the program receive free or reduced lunch.

The families who receive the food are anonymous. McKnight delivers the food; the high school students doing the shopping just know how many people are in the family, different foods the family would like to have, and whether they have any food allergies.

Friday, November 21, 2008

What to cut? Emergency aid or development aid?

With the threat of cutting aid to underdeveloped nations the debate has sprung up about which type of aid will be cut. The kind of aid for natural disasters or for long term development projects for infrastructure and agriculture.

The United Nations says it need seven billion dollars for crisis aid, but will rich nations into the middle of the credit crisis only fund this instead of giving money for development, which will help more in the long term.

The IRIN looks this question in an article today.

The issue was addressed at the 15 November G20 meeting in Washington. The summit recognised “the impact of the current crisis on developing countries, particularly the most vulnerable” and reaffirmed the importance of the Millennium Development Goals, urging both developed and emerging economies “to undertake commitments consistent with their capacities and roles in the global economy”.

But, as Lurma Rackley, public relations director of CARE, told IRIN: “Meeting emergency needs often means taking money, time and staff away from long-term sustainable development programmes.

“Yet such programmes, related to agriculture, economic development, civil society, gender empowerment, healthcare and other areas have the potential for lifting communities out of poverty,” she told IRIN. “These are the very programmes that could help avoid the vicious cycle of dependence.”

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is primarily concerned with complex emergencies and natural disasters, and immediate-response funding is a major concern.

“I would only hope that they [donors] would be able to differentiate the urgent life-saving aid and make sure that that was protected,” OCHA spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker told IRIN.

However, “We are concerned that if there’s a global economic downturn it could dampen the prospects for development assistance, which would be really bad, and for agricultural investment which, given the nature of the global food crisis, is part of the solution.”

Sorry for the lack of posting lately. Just before Thanksgiving is my busiest time of the year, and the blog usually takes a back seat. Also, my home computer was in repair yesterday, on top of a winter storm in Michigan. We will try to catch up between now and the weekend.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Lack of money can still prevent Kenyans from free education

Kenya has a free education system, but not everyone in enrolled. A new study released today shows that lack of money or interest keeps children away from education in the country.

According to the study, the costs of school uniforms or school lunches are too much for some parents, so they keep them at home instead.

In the Kenyan paper the Daily Nation, Sammy Cheboi gives the numbers cited in the report.

Some 16 per cent of children reported that their parents did not let them go to primary school, while five per cent said they had to work or help at home.

About two per cent of children of school-going age had never attended school because of ill-health, either involving the child or a member of the family.

At the secondary school level, the same pattern prevails, the report established.

The cost of uniforms, supplies and transport are beyond the means of some households, especially when they have several children of school-going age.

“This means that choices have to be made, and the choice is often to drop out of school or, worse still, to deny schooling to girls while enrolling boys, thereby contributing directly to maintaining the inferior status of women,” says the report.

As poor children who are enrolled grow older, the opportunity cost (foregoing work and the income it may entail) becomes greater, thus increasing the likelihood of abandoning school, adds the report.

Furthermore, dropping out of school because of poverty virtually guarantees perpetuation of the poverty cycle.

Almost a third of Namibians are poor

28 percent of Namibian people are poor, according to a new report of state released by the countries Central Bureau of Statistics.

Denver Isaacs reports in this story from The Namibian, that the country is one of the most unequal countries in the world.

The most telling result of the new report is its identification of education as a critical factor in addressing poverty.

Among Namibians with no formal education, 50 per cent were found to be poor and 26,7 per cent severely poor.

The situation shows improvement as education levels rise, with 12.6 per cent of those who finished high school classified as poor and 5.1 per cent as severely poor.

"Poverty among those who hold a tertiary degree is virtually non-existent," the report reads, noting that of all poor households identified countrywide, 83,5 per cent have a head of household that has either no formal education or has only completed primary school.

The guest speaker at the launch, United Nations Resident Co-ordinator Simon Nhongo, said the new report shows a threefold increase in the number of severely poor households compared to the previous year.

Indiana TV station doing a series on Poverty

The TV station WNDU is running a series on poverty in Indiana. It's a special series that they are running during the 11 o'clock news.

Here is the link to the video on last night's story.

A reporter for the station, Alana Greenfogel profiled a homeless single mother in her story.

Rebecca Roberts is 22 years old with four children, and home for her is the Center for the Homeless.

“This was my... kinda only choice,” says Roberts, who explains the choice came when she left an abusive relationship.

“Homeless people are not guys with shaggy beards living under bridges; they’re like my parents, or like me,” she says.

Jacqueline Kronk, with the Center for the Homeless, says, “We’re seeing families and we’re seeing children and we’re seeing younger and younger children.”

Men and women in this very community who, before these times, never considered poverty a piece in their puzzles are now finding it fits.

“We’ve had dentists, we’ve had doctors. Whether it be generational poverty or situational poverty, they’ve walked through our doors,” says Kronk.

Today is World Toilet Day

Don't Laugh! It really is. Designated by the World Toilet Organization to highlight the sanitation needs in under developed nations.

In Liberia, 3.5 million people share 1,600 toilets. Many people just use the nearest bush or beach, when millions of people do it, it creates quite the problem.

We look at sanitation in Liberia in this story from IRIN. It shows the difficulty buying water for sanitation, and how the problem can accumulate in Liberia's slums.

While rural water and sanitation facilities usually fare worse than urban ones in West Africa, partly due to government expenditure patterns and relatively higher poverty levels, the capital Monrovia’s “dire sanitation facilities” bucks this trend, according to WASH consortium advocacy manager Muyatwa Sitali.

Congested housing, no requirement that landlords provide working toilets, and virtually no urban planning have combined to create lethal sanitation conditions in the capital, Sitali said. Monrovia’s population has almost tripled since the end of the war in 2003, straining the capacity of the city’s outdated water-pipe network.

“Most of our pipes and other facilities are obsolete and need to be upgraded to improve water supply,” the Water and Sewer Corporation’s Tulay said. But many of the facilities were looted during the war.

In the Monrovia neighbourhood of West Point up to 70,000 people share 32 public washrooms which have four functioning toilets among them. “And this is one of the better managed water and sanitation areas in the capital,” Sitali said.

Cannot afford to flush

The decrepit infrastructure means toilet-users may have to use up to four gallons of water each time they flush, according to civil servant Florence Nimely, who lives in the city-centre.

“At US 25 cents a gallon, for some it is a choice between flushing and affording to buy food at the end of the day,” Nimely said. Per capita income in Liberia was US 40 cents per day in 2007, according to the World Bank.

Most Liberians are forced to buy all their water – for drinking and other uses – from street vendors at inflated prices.

“When some of my neighbours defecate they cannot get enough water to flush their toilets, so they sometimes throw the faeces around the place, exposing us all to health hazards,” Monrovia shopkeeper Samuel Tweh told IRIN.

Without regular running water, waste flushed into the system often backs up, causing sewage to spill out of manholes into the streets, according to inhabitants who rated sanitation as their top development priority in a series of assessments undertaken by the NGO Water Aid in 2008.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Heavy rains in Uganda beginning to subside

Better weather is predicted to come soon, but heavy rains have done heavy damage in Uganda. Thousands of crops have been destroyed, and hundreds of people have fled flooding in eastern and northern Uganda.

From this article by the IRIN, aid workers in the country think that the flooding may not be as bad as last year.

"Some people have been affected by heavy rains with some displaced, but this does not mean that we shall see an emergency because the meteorological department has already told us that the rains are at their end," Musa Ecweru, state minister for disaster preparedness and refugees, said.

Crops in most affected areas, the minister said, had been destroyed, while roads had been degraded. "We think this flood situation will pass without causing the same destruction as last year," he told IRIN on 18 November.

For example, sections of the Lira–Kitgum and Pader–Puranga roads had drastically deteriorated, rendering them virtually impassable.

In Gulu and Amuru districts, food aid trucks have been stuck at several locations, while in Lotukei sub-county of Karamoja, some 4,500 people could not be reached for immunisation due to flooding.

Ugandan media quoted local leaders in the eastern Katakwi District as saying recent floods had cut off the Katakwi-Amuria road, affecting 6,222 households.

The district disaster management committee leader Kenneth Onyait said huts had collapsed, while crops such as sim-sim, cassava, sweet potatoes, groundnuts, maize and cowpeas had been destroyed. Roads had also been washed away and water sources contaminated, while some pit-latrines had collapsed.

Other reports said at least 15,000 people had been displaced across the region, with several districts affected, including Moroto, where 12,000 people have been forced to leave their homes this month.

Photo: Vincent Mayanja/IRIN
The rains have cut off dome communities in northeastern Uganda

In August, the government issued a flood alert, warning people in low-lying areas and on mountain slopes to prepare for heavy rains that could cause landslides.

International Red Cross asks for $420 million

Making it's annual appeal for money in South Africa today, the International Red Cross says it must raise $420 million dollars.

But just like many other organizations, they worry that the credit crisis effecting money supplies thought the world will get in the way of meeting that goal.

From this Associated Press article that we found in the International Herald Tribune, the Red Cross says the money is needed to better prepare for it's disaster work.

"We must not allow the looming financial and economic crisis to dampen our resolve to address the humanitarian needs of those who do not make the international headlines," Bekele Geleta, secretary-general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said in a statement.

The agency's southern African operations director, Francoise Le Goff, said a special effort had been made to limit the request to the most essential projects.

Kelly David, head of U.N. aid efforts in southern Africa, joined Le Goff Tuesday to underline humanitarian workers' fears.

"We are probably going to have to do more with less," David said. Budgets for 2009 were likely safe, she said, but "we will begin to feel the crunch" in 2010.

Le Goff said Western leaders were quick to devise bailout plans for their economies, but said humanitarian needs rarely got such attention.

"It's an enormous frustration," she said. "It's revolting."

Le Goff said southern Africa is particularly vulnerable because AIDS, poverty and weak governance have combined to create an ongoing emergency, with malnutrition and diseases like cholera chronically at levels seen elsewhere only when disaster strikes.

How the credit crisis effects microfinance

Credit is tightening up, it will be harder for people to get loans in the aftermath of the credit crisis. But this could be devastating for microcredit in the developing world.

Microcredit gives small loans to small business and farmers, a large portion were women. The movement helped to pave a way out of poverty for thousands, especially in Asia.

Now with less money being lent out, it will be harder for microcredit lenders to find money to lend.

In this Reuters article that we found in the International Herald tribune, reporter Rina Chandran has some quotes from people who are worried.

"A liquidity crisis is the very worst-case scenario for microfinance institutions," said Roy Jacobowitz, managing director of development and communications at ACCION International in Boston, which backs microfinance institutions. "The demise of microfinance will be devastating. It will leave people that depend on it in a very, very bad situation. They could go from a level of success back to poverty."

South Asia accounts for the most microfinance borrowers, making up more than half of global demand, according to Sa-Dhan, an association of community development finance institutions.

While ACCION has not seen a "catastrophic impact" on microfinance institutions there yet, Kashf Foundation, one such institution in Pakistan, is now seeking international lines of credit, he said.


Kulsum Bibi, a 45-year-old mother of three, set up a nursery with a loan of 3,000 taka, or $44, from Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, or BRAC, after her husband left her and their children.

"I felt as if I was sinking in a deep sea," said Kulsum, who also enrolled in a BRAC school for adults, and can now read and write and maintain the accounts of her small but profitable business selling plants and saplings. It employs 10 people.

BRAC is one of the largest providers of financial services to the poor in Bangladesh, having disbursed more than $5 billion to nearly seven million people since 1972, mostly women.

"If commercial banks are affected, then the expansion of the microfinance program will be affected," said Mahabub Hossain, an executive director at BRAC, adding that its donor-dependent efforts in education, health care and family planning are at risk.

"I am deeply worried," said the village health worker Hosne Ara, who works on programs for tuberculosis and family planning. "I have been working on this program for many years now, and if it stops, my family will be deprived of a regular income."

In neighboring India, microfinance programs were serving 10.5 million clients at the end of 2007, according to Sa-Dhan. The market is forecast to expand to 50 million clients by 2012, with the outstanding loan portfolio rising to $6 billion from about $769 million now.

Rising Insurance costs keeping Habitat houses locked in Mississippi

After Hurricane Katrina, Habitat for Humanity built 100s of houses in the Gulf area. But for one state, many of the houses built still haven't been occupied.

In Mississippi, the rising insurance coasts have kept the people out. Only 6 out of the 30 houses have been filled. The people have been having trouble saving for the first year taxes and insurance that Habitat requires.

In this Associated Press story found in the Desoto Times, the prospective homeowners have had to apply for other grants to raise the money.

"It is a struggle. That is not unique to Habitat families. It's a struggle to most first-time buyers," Monforton said.

But Hurricane Katrina, which hit in 2005, has exacerbated the average challenges homebuyers face.

The storm nearly wiped out Mississippi's coast, taking with it affordable housing. That is compounded by some insurance companies, scared off by the hurricane risks, greatly increasing their rates and others pulling out of the region altogether.

Since Katrina, rates along the Gulf Coast have increased about 33 percent in some areas, depending on how close a property is to the water, said Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney.


All of the Mississippi homes have been assigned. Some of the families are turning to outside grant programs for assistance with varying degrees of success. Families who qualify for up to a $48,000 grant through the state's Katrina work force housing program were waiting to receive that money before closing. But Monforton said the grant can't be used for taxes and insurance.

Tracey Robinson, 40, just moved into her Habitat home after receiving a grant from the city of Pascagoula to help cover her insurance costs. The Federal Emergency Management Agency recently stopped paying Robinson's rent at a house she moved into after she left a FEMA trailer.

"My kids and I were at the point where we really didn't have anywhere to go," said Robinson.

March to the Phoenix City Hall to fight hunger

Yesterday, a public demonstration to draw attention to hunger and homelessness took place in Phoenix, Arizona. The demonstration only had 100 marchers, but it did collect 350 pounds of food for area food banks.

Eugene Scott from the Arizona Republic says the march caught the attention of at least on city councilman.

Phoenix Councilman Greg Stanton, chairman of a regional committee on homelessness, encouraged the marchers to remind the community that homelessness is everybody's issue regardless of socioeconomic status.

"When we look at the face of homelessness, we're not looking at 'those people,' " he said. "We're looking in the mirror . . . but for the grace of God go any of us."

Jacki Taylor, executive director of the Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness, expressed disappointment that while much has changed, many things have remained the same.

"It was the mid-1980s that the whole issue of homelessness came to the national forefront," she said. "That was over 25 years ago, and we're still struggling with the same issues."

Taylor said the percentage of homeless Arizonans has increased significantly over the past year.

"Have we made strides? Yes," she said. "We're beginning to focus more on affordable housing, but we're not there."

Monday, November 17, 2008

The uneven development in China

In scanning over the weekend stories, we found this one from the Guardian about China. The United Nations Development Programme reports a large gap between the rich and poor. Some areas of China as as developed as Europe, while others are as underdeveloped as Africa.

Tania Branigan, a reporter for the Guardian who is station in Bejing, reported on the issuance of the study.

The gulf between rich and poor in China is affecting growth by deterring consumption and holding down productivity, according to a report released by the United Nations Development Programme.

It tracks the vast and increasing gaps between rural and urban areas and regions of China - warning that differences in income are matched by disparities in social welfare, education and elderly care.

While Beijing and Shanghai have reached the development level of countries such as Cyprus and Portugal, provinces such as south-western Guizhou are comparable to Namibia or Botswana.

The Human Development Report argues that pressing ahead in providing basic healthcare, education and welfare to all Chinese citizens will boost the country's economy in the face of the global slowdown.


According to the UN human development index - which measures health, knowledge and income - China has made dramatic gains for its citizens, climbing from 101st to 81st in the global rankings between 1990 and 2005.

But life expectancy in Guizhou is a decade shorter than in Beijing; child mortality in Qinghai is seven times as high as in the capital; and illiteracy in Gansu five times more common. Spending also varies widely: the average public funding rate per student for primary and junior middle schools in Shanghai was about 10 times that of central Henan province.

Quote from aid worker amongst Congo's displaced people

The cease fire in Congo collapsed last week. As Congo's rebels advance, more people flee the country. Already 250,000 people have been displaced. The numbers are too many for aid agency's to help them all

ABC news obtained comments from George Graham, who works for Save the Children. He says the conditions are already horrible for the refuges.

I was in Kibati camp Sunday; it's about 12 miles outside Goma. It's a squalid place; the conditions for living there are very tough. The number of people living there has shot up by fourfold in the last few weeks. ...[At the] Save the Children center for unaccompanied children there are dozens and dozens of kids hanging there ... being registered by our staff and waiting to see if there is any chance of seeing their parents again ...

[There are] many, many children who ... don't know who their parents are, who fled from their villages in terror, often in the middle of the night, who somehow got separated from their parents and they are now living in a camp. [They are] very, very vulnerable without the support they need from their parents.

There was one little boy [9 years old] who really very vividly explained to me what had happened to him. He'd been asleep in his village with his family in his hut in a village that was attacked. ... It was 4 in the morning, we think, and his whole family just got up and they ran. And he heard his parents shouting at him, "Come follow us, follow us, follow us," and he tried but couldn't find them. There was shooting all around and he found himself on his own. Now his parents, I'm sure, looked for him there in the village but they couldn't find him. He was there on his own and, in the end, he had to walk on his own for a whole day so he found the camp where he was at least given some shelter and some food but he still hasn't found his parents.

We have managed to reunite people and that's what makes this job worth doing. By advertising our centers, by making people know we were there; families have come, children have come and they've reunited with each other. What we've [found] is that you need to act quickly, so it's best to get there on the roads as they are moving and to provide an opportunity for separated, unaccompanied children to unite around a central point and then the parents are able to come and find them. The problems come if we are not able to react that quickly and then children move to the camps and their parents may be in a completely different locality; they may be in a different camp, they [may] be living somewhere miles and miles apart and in those circumstances it's certainly becomes very, very hard to reunite these children with their parents.

More seeking aid from food pantries

Here is the view from Indiana on how the economic depression in the US is effecting people there. Many more people are turning to food pantries to help put food on the table. The number using food pantries are sure to increase as all the recently announced job layoffs begin to occur.

A reporter for the Muncie Star Press, Ivy Farguheson details what is happening in the state of Indiana.

"If you talk to anybody that runs a food pantry, they will tell you that the demand this year has almost doubled, if not more, than this time last year," says Major Douglas Rick of The Salvation Army of Delaware County. "A lot of people were just making it last year, just getting by. This year, if they didn't come into the food pantry, they wouldn't be making it at all."

On a statewide level, 28 percent of Indiana's working families, or more than one in four, earned less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, according to the most recent Working Poor Families Project report, released in late October. That threshold was $41,228 in 2006.

That number of families was an increase of 2 percent, or 17,000 families, from a 2004 study.

And there's more bad news: the number of working families considered low income likely will grow during the current economic downturn.

"We're seeing working class people that try to work and try to make a home for themselves and pay their bills, but they can't make it with the cost of everything going up," said Kay Walker, the Center Township Trustee. "It's growing every day."

Local non-profits can offer anecdotal evidence of the change. Many of the people seeking help from their pantries are new, including some who might have donated to the pantries just last year.

"There are just more people who aren't able to make it on their limited incomes. The working poor ... times are more challenging for them," said Becki Clock of Christian Ministries. "They're just getting behind and then further behind and then further behind."

It doesn't help that 25 percent of the state's jobs are in occupations that generate an income below the federal poverty level for a family of four. Indiana ranks 25th in the nation for the percentage of low-income working families, a drop of five places in the national ranking since the 2004 report.

Comment on the new USDA Hunger Report

The United States Agriculture Department released it's annual hunger report today. We'll actually it's not a hunger report anymore, because out government doesn't use the term "hungry" to describe people without food anymore.

The report does show that the numbers of people without food has increased in recent years. We are now up to 12 percent of Americans who have trouble putting food on their tables.

As Elisabeth Williamson reports in this Washington Post article, our government doesn't think "hunger" is scientifically sound term.

Less vexing has been the effort to fix the way hunger is described. Three years ago, the USDA asked the Committee on National Statistics of the National Academies "to ensure that the measurement methods USDA uses to assess households' access -- or lack of access -- to adequate food and the language used to describe those conditions are conceptually and operationally sound."

Among several recommendations, the panel suggested that the USDA scrap the word hunger, which "should refer to a potential consequence of food insecurity that, because of prolonged, involuntary lack of food, results in discomfort, illness, weakness, or pain that goes beyond the usual uneasy sensation."

To measure hunger, the USDA determined, the government would have to ask individual people whether "lack of eating led to these more severe conditions," as opposed to asking who can afford to keep food in the house, Nord said.

It is not likely that USDA economists will tackle measuring individual hunger. "Hunger is clearly an important issue," Nord said. "But lacking a widespread consensus on what the word 'hunger' should refer to, it's difficult for research to shed meaningful light on it."

Anti-hunger advocates say the new words sugarcoat a national shame. "The proposal to remove the word 'hunger' from our official reports is a huge disservice to the millions of Americans who struggle daily to feed themselves and their families," said David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, an anti-hunger advocacy group. "We . . . cannot hide the reality of hunger among our citizens."

In assembling its report, the USDA divides Americans into groups with "food security" and those with "food insecurity," who cannot always afford to keep food on the table. Under the old lexicon, that group -- 11 percent of American households last year -- was categorized into "food insecurity without hunger," meaning people who ate, though sometimes not well, and "food insecurity with hunger," for those who sometimes had no food.

Our favorite think tank, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities highlighted what they thought were key findings in the USDA's report.

Even before the current economic downturn, some 13 million households, containing 36.2 million people, lacked access to adequate food at some point in 2007 because they didn’t have enough money for groceries, according to today’s release. These figures are a slight increase over the findings for 2006, but given the dramatic weakening of the economy in recent months, the number of “food insecure” households has likely grown considerably in 2008.

Food stamp caseloads — an indicator of those struggling to afford a basic diet — grew by nearly 2 million people between January and August 2008 (the most recent month for which we have data). The economic downturn also has coincided with a sharp increase in food prices, both of which have undoubtedly exacerbated hardship for many low-income families.

The report included three noteworthy findings.

* About 4.7 million of the 13 million food insecure households in 2007 had very low food security, with household members skipping meals or taking other steps to reduce the amount they ate because of a lack of resources. The size of this group and its share of the overall population have risen steadily over the past decade.

* The number of children with very low food security rose by over 60 percent, to 691,000.

* The number of food insecure seniors living alone rose by 26 percent, to 783,000.

Over the 2005-2007 period, food insecurity was greatest in Mississippi, New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, and Maine. In addition, the new data likely understate food insecurity because they don’t include homeless individuals or families.

Congress can take action to help struggling families by increasing food stamp benefits temporarily as part of a new round of economic stimulus. Not only would this help hard-pressed families put nutritious food on the table, it would also boost the overall economy by providing added business for food retailers and their suppliers. Each $1 spent on food stamps generates $1.84 in economic activity, according to USDA.

More broadly, the next President and Congress should consider setting a national goal to reduce poverty and acting upon it, as former Prime Minister Tony Blair did in the United Kingdom. That would significantly shrink the number of households that can’t afford a decent diet. A number of charitable organizations and poverty experts have called for a national effort to cut poverty in half over the coming decade. At the same time, steps could be taken to enhance the federal food assistance programs to address hunger.

A film on Rwanda is traveling across Canada

A couple is traveling across Canada to show off a film they made about Rwanda. The film focuses on the country's path to meeting the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, which they are on target for.

Alex and Meghan Nicholls are showing their film to churches and youth groups across Canada. The Lethbridge Herald profiled the couple when they made a stop in Lethbridge, Ontario.

“A lot of the films I was seeing in school were very gritty and real. They tended to focus on the negative. I really felt to the need to make a film that was real, but hopeful. There’s a huge message of hope,” he continued, adding the gist of the story was the people themselves — how they are adjusting, their personal stories and what sort of programs they are running to address the Millennium Development goals of eradicating extreme poverty; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality among women; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health and combating HIV/AIDS.

The most touching aspect of the couple’s three-and-a-half-week journey was not only visiting a camp of Congolese refugees who had been there for 10 years to escape their county’s turmoil and have no hope of leaving, but appreciating their positive attitudes towards life.

“They say their lives are good, they aren’t easy, but they’re good,” Alex said.
Meghan was surprised some of their subjects’ message to Canadians was to look at the needs in our own communities and address them first.

“They are seeing the needs in their communities and dealing with them. I was really surprised. If we could bring some of these people with us on the speaking tour, we would have,” Meghan added, noting they met a lot of widows who had set up their own shops in the camps to sell essentials such as rice, sugar and pens.

Now the film is completed, the couple plan on speaking with 5,000 people by the end of their February contract. They have already reached 1,000 people since beginning the tour in October. While they would like to raise awareness about Rwanda, they are more interested in inspiring youths 15-35 to follow their passions and make a difference.


They are online at, plus they have an active Facebook group which can be found under Just Us.

Fair trade scarfs for sale in Scranton

A lot of fair trade stores relieve profiles in the newspapers. But we came across a unique one in the Scranton, Pennsylvania's The Times Tribune.

This store is co-owned by a very idealistic 15 year old. Amanda Fox, along with her mother Kathy, sell fair trade products from their store Fanciful Fox. Amanda says her social consciousness began to develop from a missions trip to Central America.

Her interest in fair trade took a little longer to materialize. It began when she was 11 years old and decided she would become a vegetarian. That decision, according to Amanda, more or less came to her in a dream.

“I know how weird that sounds and how much of a ditzy hippie I might sound like,” Amanda said. “But, I woke up one morning and I kind of had one of those light bulb moments where I was like ‘Oh, I don’t want to eat animals anymore.’”

Four years later, not only does Amanda not eat animals, she adheres to a strict vegan diet that she convinced her mother to adopt as well. Her father, who eats most of the same food Mrs. Fox prepares for Amanda and herself, is known by his family as the “90 percent Vegetarian.”

But Amanda’s lifestyle doesn’t stop with her eating habits, her entire mindset is tuned to the needs of the poverty-stricken and the Earth they live on.

Last summer, Amanda went to South America with 15 other students, her mother and a faculty supervisor. The trip, which took her to Panama for eight days and Costa Rica for eight days, was more a matter of education than anything else. She learned about the rain forest and the people who live in it, as a means of understanding the importance of preserving it.

It was no trip for the faint of heart, either. The group stayed in a hut with no walls, no running water and no electricity and, according to Amanda, it was the most “fantastic experience” of her life.


Fair trade is a process by which those in poverty worldwide can earn a fair wage for the products they produce. Fanciful Fox’s fair-trade offerings can be traced to locations in India, Central America and countries in Africa. Most of the fair-trade products available at Fanciful Fox are scarves, bags, jewelry or even tapestries, all of which are, of course, handmade.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Video: Muhammad Yunus "Doing Well by Doing Good"

Availability of malaria drugs in Uganda

Availability of anti-malaria drugs is often spotty in Uganda. Drugs are available free through the government, but many times there are none in stock. When the drugs are out of stock, it forces people to buy them, but the prices are often more than they afford.

As Evelyn Lirri reports in this story in the Daily Monitor, different drugs have to be used to treat malaria, as resistance has been built up for others.

Despite a decision by many countries including Uganda to switch to artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) to treat malaria, stock-outs and high costs of the drugs are still prohibitive for many Ugandans.

ACTs are widely recommended by the government and the World Health Organisation and have been found to be effective. But as a new report, “Understanding the Antimalarials Market: Uganda 2007,” jointly published by the Ministry of Health and Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), a public-private partnership venture to develop effective and affordable anti malarial drugs finds that the drug is widely unavailable in the rural areas, especially outside government health facilities.

Though they are supposed to be free in government health facilities, because of the stock outs, patients are forced to turn to the private health facilities to access these drugs. But even in the private sector, they are either not available or too expensive.

ACTs like Coertem typically cost between Shs12,000 for children and Shs18,000 for adults a doze at private clinics. This is far beyond the reach of the 31 percent - about 8.4 million people who live below the poverty line or on less than a dollar a day.

In the accompanying press statement issued on the same the report was released on November 6, State Minister for Health, Dr Emmanuel Otaala said that plans are underway, to increase availability of ACTs by reducing their costs through subsidies to Shs200 and Shs400 a doze for children and adults, respectively, in private health facilities. This, he said, is because most people prefer seeking treatment from private health facilities.

Indeed the report found that 71% of outlets providing antimalarial medicines are private sector facilities.
“ACTs can cost up to 60 times the price of ineffective medicines like chloroquine,” the report reveals.

Up until recently, monotherapy drugs like chloroquine and fansidar were used to treat malaria but have over the years developed resistance. Now, health experts say drug combinations, rather than monotherapy are the best solution with artemisinin-based drug combinations such as Coartem recording cure rates similar to that of chloroquine 30 years ago.

In Uganda, malaria is a leading cause of death; killing close to 320 people everyday -mostly pregnant women and children under the age of five.

Friday, November 14, 2008

G20 meeting begins in Washington tomorrow

Tomorrow, leaders of the 20 wealthiest nations will meet in Washington. The purpose of the meeting is to talk about how to combat the credit crisis. Many poverty activists hope the G20 won't forget about the poor nations through this crisis. The fear is that the G20 will cut aid to poor nations and use that money instead to prop up the finance industry.

OXFAM issued a statement on what they hope to see from the meetings. The Voice of America has reprinted a portion of the segment.

On the eve of the summit, the humanitarian agency OXFAM is calling on world leaders to remember the poor, who it says are carrying most of the burden. Gawain Kripke, policy director for OXFAM-America, told VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua that leaders must address three major challenges in the short term.

"First and most urgently is the fact that tens of millions of people around the world are facing urgent needs because of the economic downturn and also because of a year of very high food prices and very high energy prices. As many as 100 million people have been thrust into poverty just in the last year. And so there's a need to respond, both with emergency assistance and long-term assistance for development," he says.

He adds, "A second challenge is to make sure that new institutions are put into place to regulate financial flows and make sure that the investments and transactions are better regulated overall.… And lastly, many of the institutions we have, including the UN and IMF, aren't quite fit to the task. And so we need to think of refurbishing our existing institutions so that we have a proper way to regulate and manage problems like this."

In a statement Kripke writes, "There is a risk that recessions in rich countries will lead politicians to take the short-sighted approach of cutting aid."

He tells VOA "any economic downturn usually means less revenues and more expenses for governments. And that's true in both rich countries and poor countries. There'll be pressure in the coming years to cut government budgets in developed countries and also in developing countries. And we're very concerned that the poorest countries, who get significant assistance from rich countries, will be the first thing cut in budgets in countries like the United States and Europe. And we're calling on governments to make a commitment that they won't make budget cuts that affect the poorest people first. And that they'll try and hold the line on support for poverty-oriented aid."

Cleaning up the trash in a Guatemalan town

A great story details one family's work in aGuatemalan village. The entire Rose family from Georgetown, Massachusetts travels to the village of San Juan Comalapa to help the people. They previously built a park/community center for soccer and a nursery, they also help to teach English and have helped refurbish the community hospital.

The latest project is to build a school out of recycled materials. To help raise funds for the construction, an art show is being held in Massachusetts.

We found more details of the project and it's fundraiser in the Newbury Port Daily News.

Rose and her family have decided to help with a solution. They have joined an initiative through the community development organization Long Way Home, which is finding beneficial ways to put trash to work.

The group's latest project involves building a school out of recycled trash in San Juan Comalapa, Guatemala, for students in kindergarten through grade 12.

"We're trying to clean up the environment and recycle trash into another form that's usable," said Rose, the new president of Long Way Home's board of directors.

The new school comes at the request of Tecnico Maya, the smallest and poorest school in Comalapa, a community of close to 40,000 residents. It is being constructed with recycled materials, such as tires and used soda bottles filled with paper and plastic trash.

"This is part of Long Way Home's huge recycling effort," Rose said.

Although the new school, which will include a vocational program, is being built primarily with volunteer help and recycled materials that come at no cost, Rose said it will need windows, doors, desks and school supplies.

To raise funds for the school, Long Way Home is touring North America to increase awareness about the organization and its efforts. A representative will be in Georgetown this weekend to make a presentation during an art show fundraiser being organized by Rose.

What: Art show and sale to benefit Long Way Home

When: Tomorrow and Sunday, 3 to 7 p.m.

Where: 90 Pond St., Georgetown

How: Call 978-352-6804 or e-mail

"Baby Farms" more extensive than once thought

A police raid of a "baby farm" in Nigeria has uncovered how widespread the social ill is.

Some human trafficking sites pose as maternity homes or foster clinics to lure young girls in. Once inside they are drugged, and raped, then some months later the baby is sold on the black market.

A recent raid in Nigeria rescued 20 teenage girls from the baby farm. The News Australia details how the farm operated, and talks to one on the girls. Our snippet is a bit bigger than usual due to the gravity of the story.

The doctor in charge, who is now on trial, reportedly lured teenagers with unwanted pregnancies by offering to help with abortion.

They would be locked up there until they gave birth, whereupon they would be forced to give up their babies for a token fee of around 20,000 naira ($170).

The babies would then be sold to buyers for anything between 300,000 and 450,000 naira ($2500-$3800) each, according to a state agency fighting human trafficking in Nigeria, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP).

But luck ran out for the gynaecologist, said to be in his 50s, when a woman to whom he had sold a day-old infant was caught by Nigeria's Security and Civil Defence Service (NSCDS) while trying to smuggle the child to Lagos, the security agency said.

Statistics on the prevalence of baby breeding are hard to come by, but anti-trafficking campaigners say it is widespread and run by well-organised criminal syndicates.

"We believe the scope is much wider than we know," said Ijeoma Okoronkwo, head of NAPTIP.
But one brave victim, an 18-year-old, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal, recounted her week-long ordeal when she was trapped inside one of the clinics days before it was raided by police.

"The moment I stepped in there, I was given an injection, I passed out and next thing I woke up and realised I had been raped," said the girl, who was five months pregnant at the time of her ordeal.

When she asked if she could telephone her family to let them know of her whereabouts, the doctor slapped her on the face.

She was shoved into a room where 19 other girls were kept; all had been through a similar experience. She said the doctor raped her again the following day. A week later police swooped on the clinic.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A mini development goal

Much like the Millennium Development Goals, a county in Virginia has made a goal to cut poverty in half.

The Board of Supervisors of Loudoun County passed a resolution to support the goal of cutting poverty in half by 2017.

The story only received a brief mention in the Washington Post. To see more details of the plan, you can go to the county's website, which has an eight step plan that was developed last year.

More proof for the link of poor and obesity

The Colorado Health Foundation released a new study today that further establishes the link between obesity and being poor.

Low income children in Colorado are three times as likely to be obese than those of well off parents.

The foundation tells the Rocky Mountain News that the link is especially troublesome with more children slipping into poverty.

The "Income, Education and Obesity" study by the Colorado Health Foundation found that while Colorado remains one of the leanest states in the nation, its obesity rates are climbing dramatically. If current trends continue, two out of three adult Coloradans will be overweight or obese by 2017, the study's authors said.

Eating better and exercising more are the essential keys, but among low-income Coloradans with little education, getting there is complex, they say.

About a quarter of the Colorado kids living in households that earn less than $25,000 a year are obese, compared with just 8 percent of those living in households with $75,000 or more in income.

What is causing the disparity?

Fresh fruit and other nutritious foods are expensive. Grapes, at $3.99 a pound, are an extravagance to low-income parents who can feed the entire family at a fast-food restaurant.

Low-income families often turn to inexpensive food that is high in fat and high in empty calories.

Gaza aid being stalled by border closings

Israel has closed border crossings into Gaza for the past nine days. The closings are in response to motor fire from Palestinians that were launched into Israeli territory.

But the United Nations fears that the closings will prevent food aid from reaching the people of Gaza. Israel has agreed to let truckloads of food into Gaza today, but will then shut the boarders down again, leaving future shipments in doubt. Supplies are already empty in the Gaza strip.

The Associated Press, via the International Herald Tribune, does a good job on explaining how food aid is distributed in Gaza.

Among the items UNRWA has not been able to get into Gaza are fire extinguishers for its facilities, tires for its vehicles, toner for the photocopiers in its schools and clinics and materials for a blind children's center, said UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness.

More than half of Gaza residents are refugees and their descendants from the 1948-49 war over Israel's creation and many still live in squalid shantytowns.

The Israeli blockade has plunged the crowded territory even further into poverty, while keeping construction materials out and Gazans locked in. About 80 percent of Gaza's 1.4 million residents depend on food aid, according to U.N. figures.

Israeli military spokesman Peter Lerner said the crossing was closed in response to rocket fire into Israel from Gaza. No decision had yet been made about when to reopen the crossings but the government was considering the U.N.'s position, Lerner said.

Besides providing food aid in Gaza, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency runs more than 220 schools and provides health care to more than 1 million Palestinians.

The U.N. distributes food aid to Gazans in cycles. Families are categorized by size and each group has a window every two or three months when it can pick up its food.

When the U.N. is forced to stop distribution, the tens of thousands of people eligible to get their food during that period will get nothing, said U.N. officials. This will delay the cycle, meaning that all food recipients will have to wait longer for their next installment.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Microcredit in Canada

A microcredit agency in Canada just received a new infusion of cash. The Ottawa Community Loan Fund received a $100,000 grant from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

With that news worthy event, the Ottawa Citizen did a story that filled in the background on microcredit and how it works in Canada. The leader of the fund George Brown, says the numbers of people asking for loans have greatly increased in recent months.

"Microfinancing and microcredit is huge in other countries and is a very key part of the economic infrastructure in a lot of developing nations and a lot of developed nations," says Stephen Daze, executive director of OCRI (Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation)'s Entrepreneurship Centre.

"It's relatively new here in Ottawa and Canada, (but) it's absolutely necessary and it absolutely fills a void that is important."

Mr. Brown agrees, adding he now gets three or four calls a week asking for financial support as well as budgetary counselling. It's a problem that's worsened in recent weeks, he adds.

"(Experts) talk about the 'trickle-down' theory of economics: we make lots of wealth at the top, and it trickles down. That probably works," he says. "But likewise, it seems when things go to crap, there's also a trickle-down effect.

"Things really do tighten up."

Entraide budgetaire and Desjardins caisses popularies in Ottawa last month created Fonds d'entraide Ottawa, which they say is the first microloan fund in the province. It's got a $20,000 nest egg for the fund to draw upon and – with any luck – get back as people pay down their loans.

Clients will not only receive money, but also financial services such as budget counselling to decrease the likelihood of ending up in the same situation again.

"If we talk financial skills we feel it should start with budgeting, because it's at the heart of any financial goal that you might have," says Francois Leblanc, a budget counsellor with Entraide budgetaire for eight years.

Bumper crop of rice expected, but can the poor buy it?

A bumper crop of rice is expected in Asia this year. Not only rice, but other staples of the diet are expected to have great harvests. But will the poor have enough money to buy this food?

In a conference on food security of Asia, an United Nations official urged governments to create jobs and food stamp programs to make sure that the poor get some of the surplus.

The Associated Press reports that the good harvest is expected to ease food prices. Our snippet of the story comes from the International Herald Tribune.

U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization official Purushottam Mudbhary said buffer stocks of rice, corn and wheat, along with recent sharp drops in oil prices, should further ease food prices that rose alarmingly earlier this year.

But if the poor, who will be hit hard by the global financial crisis, are not able to buy them, Southeast Asian nations still risk facing malnutrition and social unrest, he warned.

He urged countries to develop job-creating projects, food stamp programs and other livelihood initiatives to help the poor gain better access to food. Most Southeast Asian countries lack adequate support for the unemployed and the poor.

"We expect to have very good harvests in Southeast Asia," Mudbhary told a news conference Wednesday at the end of a two-day meeting on food security hosted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Rice has the brightest harvest prospects in Thailand, the world's largest rice exporter. The country is expected to have a surplus of 6 million tons. Vietnam, the world's third largest rice exporter, also expects a robust harvest while Indonesia and Cambodia should be able to produce enough for domestic consumption, Mudbhary said.

The Philippines, the world's top rice importer, has contracted enough rice to fill a 10 percent domestic production gap, officials said.

The soaring food prices of the past year triggered riots around the world.

Conference cuts funding for ACORN

I must admit, some of this ACORN stuff during the election went over my head. But now it looks as though the organization is going to be hurt financially from the controversy.

A group of Catholic Bishops have decided to cut funding to ACORN, because of the embezzlement and fraud charges against them. ACORN does a lot anti-poverty work in communities around the nation and provides advocacy for the poor.

As Michael Paulson of the Boston Globe reports, the cuts in funding amount to a million a year.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops is permanently cutting off all funding for ACORN in the wake of an embezzlement scandal and allegations of voter registration fraud and political partisanship.

The national nonprofit, with more than 1,200 local affiliates, attempts to organize low-income people to advocate for improvement in their communities.

Bishop Roger P. Morin of New Orleans said yesterday that the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, an antipoverty program run by the bishops' conference, decided that it could no longer be certain of ACORN's integrity or accountability. The bishops had been giving $1.1 million a year to 41 ACORN affiliates.

"We simply had too many continuing questions and concerns about these serious matters to permit any further funding of ACORN groups," Morin said.

Steve Kest, the executive director of ACORN, said last night that he would wait until he hears from the bishops before making any comment.

Right now ACORN is on the top of our list on the "Get Involved Links" only because it's alphabetical. What do you think? Are these charges serious? Serious enough that we should remove the link? Or is it all hysteria?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Child soldiers of Congo

In the Congo's decade long war, many children have been stolen from their homes and forced to fight. Over five million people have died in the war in eastern Congo.

OXFAM's press service has a story about some of the boys who are being rehabilitated. A Congolese NGO and UNICEF operate a transition center for the boys. The center helps to heal them from what they saw or did, and to get them back into real life.

The story from OXFAM begins with a story of how Fidel got caught by soldiers then later escaped.

Fidel sits in front of me in an orange and brown striped T-shirt. It has a roller-skating motif and is emblazoned with the word 'freestyle'. He's shy. His glowing eyes often look down and he occasionally bites his lip. He looks younger than his 14 years -about eight years old. It's difficult to match his face with the horrible story he tells me. Fidel is a former child soldier, but looks like any other kid.

Fidel had an 18 year-old brother who deserted the Mai-Mai, one of the eastern Congo's multitude of armed factions. Men from the group came looking for his brother at family home, but he wasn't there. Fidel was. They decided to take him instead.

"My mother begged and cried," he says, "The rebels said they'd spare me if my mum paid them $100. But we were poor and didn't have the money."

As he was snatched away, his mother screamed. The soldiers said that they would kill her if she didn't shut up.

He finds it difficult to play still, he says. Even though he is now in a safe place, he still has the memories.

"I used to carry ammunition for the soldiers as they fought on the frontline. One day I saw 60 bodies dead in the battlefield. I knew then I needed to escape or I'd end up dead myself."

After six months of enduring beatings with sticks, Fidel managed to escape one night when the soldiers were sleeping. He ran for two miles in darkness of the night until he reached the base of MONUC, the UN peacekeeping mission for Congo.

The stories of children like Fidel and Michel painfully underscore why we need to find an end to horrific violence that has plagued the eastern Congo for too long. Child protection agencies have reported that Mai Mai militia in the town of Rutshuru recruited 37 children into military service the week before last. An estimated 150 children have been forcibly recruited since heavy fighting resumed in August.

Giving to charity is much like investing

A great article today in the New York Times about charitable giving. It talks about George Soros $50 million gift to the Millennium Project. Some quotes are taken from Soros about his gift to the charity.

The article also provides some guidance to would be givers on how to choose a charity. Explaining that some research is needed much like you would research an investment. It reminded us that we should have one of these charity oversight groups on our "get Involved Links" so we will add Charity Navigator later today.

Our snippet from the Times article includes Soros explanation on why he thought the Millennium villages was a worthy charity.

Mr. Soros’s gift was for Millennium Villages, a project of Millennium Promise affecting a half-million people in Africa, where more than 80 villages are operating or are planned in 10 countries: Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda. Professor Sachs described the project as community-based development using a three-pronged approach — agriculture, health and education.

Asked why he had chosen Millennium Promise, Mr. Soros, a graduate of the London School of Economics, said, “Watching the Millennium efforts, I thought it was worth taking a risk.”

“My calculation in supporting this is as follows: $500 will move a family out of poverty,” he said. “As a pilot program, it will make a big difference in the pilot villages.” That is the first level of risk, he said, and it alone would justify the expenditure.

The second level of risk is leverage, or the hope that the villages will succeed in setting an example. “It can be a model for bringing about systemic change,” Mr. Soros said, and “if it can be scaled up, it will make a very big difference.”

Often pilot programs do not succeed on a larger scale, he added, but in this case he is hopeful. The government of Mali is very supportive, he said, so it could be expanded there.

Asked how he would advise prospective donors, Mr. Soros said they should “do as much research as possible. Looking at the expense issue is relevant but not decisive.” The humanitarian factor is vital. “There is no substitute for firsthand engagement,” he said.

Monday, November 10, 2008

How copper prices could hurt the poor in Zambia

Zambia produces 600,000 tons of copper per year. Being the counties largest export, the high prices of copper have helped to improve the economy and improve services to the poor.

But now, the price of copper is slipping and it's drop is causing concern in the country. The IRIN explains how dropping copper prices could effect social services.

Copper accounts for 80 percent of Zambia's foreign earnings, and has helped drive healthy economic growth of five percent over the last six years. The government had projected additional revenue of $415 million in 2009 after raising the mineral royalty tax from 0.6 percent to the global norm of 3 percent, and the introduction of a windfall tax on mining companies as a result of record copper prices.

Oliver Saasa, a consultant economics professor at the University of Zambia, said falling copper prices would affect the delivery of social services. "It's putting a lot of pressure on the new government. As it is now, there is a reduction in government revenue, and also no windfall profit because of the low prices; the windfall tax is only applicable where prices are high," he commented.

Newly elected President Rupiah Banda is keen to make a positive impression after narrowly winning the 30 October presidential election, in which urban voters in the capital, Lusaka, and the central Copperbelt region, Zambia's economic heartland, voted overwhelmingly for opposition leader Michael Sata. In his inaugural speech Banda pledged to fight poverty and improve social spending.

"Because of the reduced resource base, government will face problems in social investments for such critical sectors as education and health," Saasa said. "Already, even before the fall in copper prices became an issue, we had overshot our national budget because of the [October 30] elections."

The International Monetary Fund's (IMF) October survey projected that growth in sub-Saharan Africa was likely to slow to 6 percent in 2008 and 2009, down from 6.5 percent in 2007, but the deceleration in oil imports could be sharper, dropping to 5 percent.

Food and fuel prices are likely to remain substantially above their 2007 levels, the IMF said. This means deeper poverty for households in sub-Saharan Africa, which typically spend about half their income on food. The World Bank has estimated that 44 million people worldwide will fall into poverty in 2008 as a result of price increases.

The Philadelphia Field Project

We came across an innovative education program in our news searching today.

The Philadelphia Field Project is operated by Penn State University. The program has students live in the inner city of Philadelphia to learn about the effects of poverty in that city. The program tries to work on solutions that poor households have problems with nutrition, housing, transport, health care, and others.

The Philadelphia Field Project received an award from NASULGC, a Public University Association. The award recognizes university programs that reach out to the local community.

The Penn State Live has more details on the poverty study project.

The project, an outreach program of Penn State, is a unique service-learning course that has generated more than 60 student-run projects addressing critical needs in areas as diverse as credit cooperatives, transportation and nutrition.

Since 1998, Penn State students involved in the Rethinking Urban Poverty project lived and worked in a low-income neighborhood of Philadelphia. By engaging in dialogue and creating partnerships with local community organizations, students identified the links between poverty and community development, and, through their research, became a resource for the community. Students moved away from the standard poverty discourse and focused instead on quality of life by employing the three community-identified needs health, dignity and community. Through the project, they undertook research activities to improve health though diet, nutrition, exercise, urban gardens, community-supported agriculture and education for preventive health care, targeting specific challenges such as Type II diabetes, atherosclerosis and hypertension.

A video explaining the project can be found here.

Half of South Korea's elderly in poverty

In scanning over some of the stories from over the weekend, we wanted to be sure to include this one from South Korea.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says that 45 percent of the elderly in South Korea are below the poverty line. The average for a nation in this organization is 13 percent.

The United Press International reports that societal changes may be to blame.

Experts say the change in South Korean society -- from traditional households in which several generations lived together -- is responsible for the large number of elderly poor. Yoo Kyung-joon, a researcher at the Korea Development Institute, said more elderly now live on their own with little help from their children or the government.

"There still aren't many people benefiting from the national pension system as the program is still in its early stages," he said.