Friday, February 27, 2009

Kenyan coalition government and it's progress after a year

The Kenyan coalition government is only a year old, and already their public is feeling let down by it's leaders actions.

When created, the government of Kenya promised to fight poverty and bring justice. Instead, many cabinet positions have been created with high salaries. Violence that occurred over contested election results in 2007 have yet to see any justice for 1000 who died in the violence.

From this Associated Press article that we found in the Lexington Herald Leader, reporter Katharine Houreld touches on the corruption that prevents anti-poverty efforts.

Instead, the government has created a record number of cabinet posts, refused to release a probe into the controversial sale of a luxury government-owned hotel and has asked for $400 million in donations to help avert a possible famine for more than 10 million Kenyans.

"This government is robbing the people blind with one hand and holding out the begging bowl with the other," said Gladwell Otieno, head of the Nairobi-based Africa Society for Open Governance.

Her group has organize protests over the size of the Cabinet - 93 ministers and assistant ministers - and the salaries of parliament members. Kenyan lawmakers earn about $132,000 annually, of which nearly four-fifths is untaxable benefits.

Politicians argue that they spend much of their salaries assisting impoverished constituents: Nearly 60 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day.

The perks are particularly galling when food prices are rocketing and the government is investigating a grain scandal. The head of the country's tourism board was also mired in scandal and nearly $100 million worth of gasoline disappeared from government storage last year.

Mutua said the government was investigating those scandals and would prosecute where necessary. More than 150 officials have been charged with corruption in the past five years, although a congested judiciary had secured only a handful of convictions.

Sign 'o the times

So many stores and businesses are closing during this world economic recession, and even the charity stores are closing. An Oxfam store in the UK is closing tomorrow. The store would be similar to Goodwill or St Vincent de Paul in the US, as sales from items in the stores go to anti-poverty efforts.

In this article from the Halesowen News, writer Matt Maher documents the store's closing and the impact it will have in the area.

Oxfam, which has been based on High Street for the past 38 years, will shut its doors for the final time this Saturday, February 28.

The organisation was the first to open a charity shop in Halesowen but bosses have reluctantly decided to leave the town, blaming a fall in sales over the past two years and the end of the current lease agreement.

Kit Humpage, a volunteer who managed the store for 16 years until last August, said it was a sad day for everyone connected with the shop.

Kit, aged 87, said: “We are exceedingly sad.

“Many of us have been here a long time – we are all feeling down at the moment.

“We had hoped they might change their minds but once a decision has been made that’s it.”

Oxfam area manager Lisa Milner said the shop has seen a sharp drop in donations and sales since work began on the town’s regeneration two years ago – with only a minor improvement since it’s completion last November.

Individual Development Accounts

The latest issue of World Magazine examines wealth and poverty in America. The article we found the most interesting is on a saving scheme that we are big fans of.

The concept of Individual Development Accounts encourage the poor to save by matching the funds they put into it. The concept has been a success in Houston, Texas.

In the story from writer Mindy Belz, a successful account holder is profiled. Delores McGruder is now a home owner thanks the IDA, after struggling with being poor all her life.

McGruder bought her home by opening an Individual Development Account (IDA). IDAs match monthly family savings with public-private funds toward purchase of a home, a small business, or education—all asset-building pursuits typically reserved for those in wealthier tax brackets who typically receive thousands of dollars in tax benefits for such investments. IDAs are increasingly touted by groups such as the Poverty Forum as a way to build responsible home ownership—and at far less cost than the $75 billion housing bailout announced by President Barack Obama on Feb. 18.

In McGruder's case, two years of saving in an IDA under a program supervised by Houston's Covenant Community Capital Corporation (CCCC) led to a matching grant that allowed her to put a $7,000 down payment on a $40,000 used home in the city's Fifth Ward. McGruder, who's held jobs like Medicaid and public health counselor, herself spent years as a homeless child in this enclave of 40,000 residents northeast of downtown—raised by family friends and getting along by washing dishes and doing other odd jobs.

Covenant requires IDA participants to attend classes on financial planning where they learn how to pay an electric bill, to budget income, and to request a credit rating. Six years later, by making monthly payments plus continuing to save via her IDA, McGruder paid off the home loan balance of $21,000 last month.

"All my adult life I have lived in apartments. When you live in an apartment you have no say-so, not even about who walks onto the porch," said McGruder. "And renters aren't always counted properly in the census. Now I can be counted. And I have something to leave my children."

In Houston over 700 low-income residents are actively enrolled with IDAs through Covenant, and the average home purchase price for IDA "graduates" is $97,105. Since Covenant began the program in 2001, a dozen Fifth Ward residents have purchased homes and 33 more are currently saving money. Three Fifth Ward participants qualified for matching funds just last week.

"No one is so poor that they cannot save," is the radical premise of Stephan Fairfield, who started CCCC in 1998 as a faith-based organization combating urban decline with "long-term solutions." In addition to the IDA program, Fairfield also has developed two senior housing communities as well as new housing for low-income families. In 2000 his organization opened a call center that has grown to employ over 700 people from the community and is now run by the for-profit outsourcing customer service firm Interactive Response Technologies (IRT). This year Covenant is launching Bank on Houston, a cooperative effort with the FDIC, the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, and 19 local banks and credit unions, to help "the unbanked" open starter checking accounts.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

India is atop the world hunger chart

The World Food Programme provides a ranking of which countries are the hungriest, and India tops this list for this year. The WFP says that 230 million people in the country are malnourished.

The Financial Times of India further breaks down the numbers.

According to the latest report on the state of food insecurity in rural India, more than 1.5 million children are at risk of becoming malnourished because of rising global food prices.

The report said that while general inflation declined from a 13-year high exceeding 12% in July 2008 to less than 5% by the end of January 2009, the inflation for food articles doubled from 5% to over 11% during the same period.

Foodgrain harvest during 2008-09 is estimated to be a record 228 million tonnes. However, the requirement for the national population would exceed 250 million tonnes by 2015.

India ranks 94th in the Global Hunger Index of 119 countries, the report said.

Brought out by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the report points to some staggering figures. More than 27% of the world's undernourished population lives in India while 43% of children (under 5 years) in the country are underweight. The figure is among the highest in the world and is much higher than the global average of 25% and also higher than sub-Saharan Africa's figure of 28%.

More than 70% of children (under-5) suffer from anaemia and 80% of them don't get vitamin supplements. According to the report, the proportion of anaemic children has actually increased by 6% in the past six years with 11 out of 19 states having more than 80% of its children suffering from anaemia.

An on-line photo exhibit on hunger

A news story introduced us to a unique photo website that captures images of hunger in America. The website Witness to Hunger has a gallery of pictures of women who struggle to provide for their families, most of the families live in the Philadelphia. The women are provided with the digital cameras to take their own snapshots of what their like is like.

Witness to Hunger has received some press and we learned of it from this story in the Daily American from Illinois.

‘‘Where is one of my favorite photos?’’ Chilton scans a wall of frames inside an exhibit hall at Drexel University. She stops at one, brushing the glass as if to caress the child herself. ‘‘Let me tell you about this kid.’’

The little girl, 15-16 months old, wears a striped top that swallows her tiny arms. Her nose is runny, her eyes empty.

Hers is not the picture of hunger that Americans are accustomed to seeing. She isn’t emaciated, like those living in squalid conditions in famine-stricken countries, but she is underweight and malnourished, often fed chips and sugary drinks instead of milk and formula.

The very word, hunger, means something different in 2009 in America. It manifests itself in poor diets lacking in fruits and vegetables, in children who are fed fatty, cheap foods like hot-dogs or ramen noodles and may be overweight but also hungry. It shows in a child’s health, and in the everyday hard choices of mothers and fathers: Buy Pampers or formula? Pay the heating bill or fill the fridge?

Even before the economy tanked, some 36 million adults and children struggled with hunger in 2007, including 12 million the government considers to have ‘‘very low food security’’ — meaning they suffered a substantial disruption to their food supply at some point during the year.

The number of Americans receiving food stamps reached an all-time high last year, topping 30 million in September, October and November, even though the maximum benefit for a family of four — $588 — still falls $78 short of the cheapest possible government-established plan to feed a family that size.

President Barack Obama, whose own mother once received food stamps, has pledged to end childhood hunger; the administration’s stimulus package raises food stamp benefits by 14 percent.

Related Video

Video: the Cholera crisis from Zimbabwe

This video on the cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe comes from the Guardian.

New affordable car program in Minnesota

One of the problems with being poor in the states is having reliable transportation. You need a car to get a job, but if you don't have a job you can't afford a car. Most who are poor can only afford a cheap car that runs poorly or is about to quit running, those may last for only a month or two.

This Associated Press story, introduces us to a new program in Minnesota that helps the poor get reliable transportation to take them to work, it's called Jump Start Duluth.

It gives low-income people the chance to qualify for a low-interest five-year loan. The applicants have to show they have enough money to afford payments, typically between $100 and $200 monthly. If they qualify, they can choose a car from a nonprofit dealership in Glenwood City, Wis., that buys auction cars with low miles.

Denise Lewis of Duluth remembers scraping together $500 two years ago to buy a 1996 Dodge Neon with 200,000 miles. It looked great but quickly wound up in the repair shop for a broken transmission, and Lewis went without the car for six months until she could afford the repair bill.

Lewis says she nearly cried when she learned this week that she had qualified for the Jump Start program.

A film on Women in poverty to be shown nationwide March 4th

"A Powerful Noise" a new documentary from Unify Films and director Tom Cappello will be shown nationwide on March 4th. The charity CARE is sponsoring the nationwide event.

The movie focuses on three women from different parts of the world. The women from Vietnam, Mali and Bosnia, not only struggle with poverty themselves, but strive to make lives easier for others.

In this story that we found in the Chicago area's Pioneer Local, writer Myrna Petlicki gives us more details on the women featured in the film.

Hanh, a Vietnamese woman with HIV who lost her husband and child to the disease, works to prevent AIDS and destigmatize its sufferers. In a town whose population and buildings were decimated by the Bosnian war, single mother Nada creates an agricultural co-op run by Serbs and Bosniaks united to rebuild their home. And in one of the world's poorest countries, matriarch Madame Urbain educates and represents exploited migrant girls in the slums of Bamako, Mali.

"These women are making a powerful noise. They're instigating change up against all odds," said ABC 7 Entertainment reporter Janet Davies, the local ambassador for international humanitarian organization CARE. "It makes a difference in their world, and eventually it makes a difference in our world."

"A Powerful Noise" will be shown in dozens of local movie theaters on one night only, March 5, in conjunction with hundreds of cinemas around the nation. The event is sponsored by CARE and an impressive coalition of international aid groups, and concludes with a live town hall meeting held in New York City but simulcast to the local theaters.

During the post-film discussion, Chicago-area audiences will be able text their questions to panelists -- including former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, activist/model Christy Turlington Burns and actress Natalie Portman -- as they discuss the role of women in the fight against global poverty.

"CARE has evolved over its 64 years into being an organization that targets women and children, because they are most marginalized in this world," Davies said. "It's the women and children who, when given the tools, thrive and survive."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The downturn in aid from a British perspective

The world economic downturn has really hurt international aid, but for the UK the drop in value of the British Pound has also had a bad impact. The drop in value of the pound has decreased the effectiveness of aid, and how much the pounds can buy or help.

From this story in Reuters, writer Megan Rowling examines the effects of currency value and the credit crunch on aid. The article contains a ton of information that I could not fit into our snippet, so I would really encourage clicking on the above link.

British-based charities are suffering additionally from the pound's decline, making their money worth less abroad.

The squeeze has come as the needs of many crisis-hit communities, such as those in Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and Sudan's war-torn Darfur region, are rising.

"The problems in Darfur haven't changed one iota because of Western bank failures. If anything, it's just gone off the agenda," said John Low, chief executive of the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), which helps charities manage money.

A CAF survey in January of 322 British charities -- including groups working on overseas aid -- found half expected their income to fall in the next year and 41 percent had seen their income drop in the previous three months.

British charities working overseas say the most harmful effect of the crisis so far has been the weakness of the pound. The CAFOD agency estimates the dollar value of British government aid may fall by as much as $41 billion between 2008 and 2014.

Groups funded by CAFOD in developing countries have already seen the dollar value of their sterling grants drop 25 to 30 percent compared with the middle of last year. "We're basically passing on the pain to our partners with profound apologies," said policy adviser George Gelber.

Forcing future government to form an anti-poverty plan

Here is a look into politics in the province of Ontario and how it relates to poverty.

The government of Ontario promised to cut poverty by 25 percent in the next five years. The current leaders wants to force future governments to also have an anti-poverty plan in place.

From the Toronto Sun writer Jonathan Jenkins receives quotes from Premier Dalton McGuinty and some reaction from the opposition.

But Premier Dalton McGuinty says the law won't include guarantees or penalties for missing the target.

"We'll certainly be held to account on our progress or lack thereof when it comes to meeting our targets," McGuinty said. "We stand by that and we'll work as hard as we can to achieve that."

The government has promised to cut child poverty by 25% in five years and the new law will require any future government to lay out its own plan for further improvements.

"The legislation itself does not require a government to adopt our 25 in five target," McGuinty said. "What it does mandate is that every government have in place a poverty strategy.

"It hardens up our collective commitment to address poverty."

Critics said the strategy itself is an empty promise and the only firm commitment is to force future governments to make even more similarly empty promises.

"It's another fluffy McGuinty bill that will ultimately deliver nothing," Progressive Conservative Tim Hudak said.

Coffee Kids; helping the coffee growers of Latin America

We were introduced to a fair trade coffee shop that takes things one step further. Not only so they give the farmers a fair price, they also provide health care, school improvements and gardens by partnering with other non-profits. So not only do the growers get more cash but their entire community receives more benefits to help lift the entire village out of poverty.

The on-line coffee shop is called Coffee Kids. An entire list of the projects meeting the other needs of coffee growers can be found on the project page of their website.

We learned of the fair trade concern by coming across an interview with Coffee Kids director Carolyn Fairman. In a story for newspaper the The Santa Fe Reporter, writer Charlotte Jusinski talks to Fairman about the nature of the coffee business.

Coffee farmers only earn 3 to 4 cents per pound. Why so little?
Coffee is one of those commodities that, even though it’s the second highest-traded legal commodity after oil, coffee farmers are about the only people who don’t get to say what the price is for their coffee. It’s a world-market price. The coffee cherry will rot in 24 to 36 hours if it’s not processed, so it’s a take-it-or-leave-it price.

So what does the world market mean for coffee?
Here’s an example—it depends largely upon what happens in Brazil. If Brazil has a frost or any kind of trauma to their coffee crop, the prices can go up, and the rest of the world’s farmers are happy. If not, there’s a glut of coffee, and the farmers don’t know what else to do besides grow more coffee to try and make more money. But that doesn’t really solve anything. That’s why Coffee Kids is about alternatives to coffee so that farmers can continue to harvest their coffee, even when prices are low. Because coffee farming is what they do—it’s their culture; it’s their passion.

What is it about coffee that is so unsustainable?
Coffee is harvested three to five months out of the year. Farmers are supposed to make enough money in those three to five months to feed themselves for a year, but they barely make enough to feed themselves through the harvest. So when Coffee Kids can provide alternative projects like microcredit [for funding gardens or small non-coffee businesses], people who haven’t had access to the local economy are contributing when there is no money from coffee. People like to talk about sustainable coffee, but there is no such thing as sustainable coffee. It’s sustainable communities.

What’s it like to visit the farmers?
They often live in wooden shacks. They give you the one chair that they have in the house to sit in. And I learn so much from the coffee farmers when I visit. One woman, a member of a microcredit group in Veracruz, Mexico, in a very rural area, said to me, ‘You know, some days we have meat, and some days we don’t. We’re doing pretty good.’ And I still get teary right now saying it. Why is that OK? You really get a perspective on what poverty is.

Calling on Cambodia to use oil revenue for anti-poverty efforts

An anti-corruption awareness group Global Witness is calling on Cambodia to be more transparent on oil revenues. The group says the amount of money that is generated from oil is only known by a few people, and is kept secret at the expense of the country. Global Witness calls on the government of Cambodia to use the money for anti-poverty efforts instead of keeping the money hidden.

The Global Witness report on Cambodia was covered by IRIN, in their story IRIN relates the oil corruption to what occurred to Cambodia's timber industry in the 1990's.

The long-term effects could fuel corruption and contribute to a "resource curse", whereby a tiny elite soaks up the profits instead of using oil and mining revenues to alleviate poverty, London-based Global Witness states in Country for Sale.

Cambodia is Southeast Asia’s second-poorest country after East Timor, with 35 percent of its population living on less than US$1 a day, according to government statistics.

Revenues from the 2005 oil find, which could total more than $1.5 billion annually, according to some estimates, should be directed to achieving its 2015 Millennium Development Goals, say critics.

"I see the rise of Cambodia's mining and oil sectors as just one part of the wholesale diversification of natural resource and state asset exploitation in Cambodia," Eleanor Nichols, a campaigner for Global Witness, told IRIN.

"Historically, the revenue generated by their misappropriation has reinforced the position and impunity of elites, further strengthening their hold on the levers of power," she said.

Global Witness has had a rocky relationship with the government, having closed its office in Phnom Penh in 2005 after threats over a report implicating top officials of illegal logging.

The Nobel-prize nominated group first monitored the country's forestry resources in the 1990s when international donors urged logging reform.

You can download the full report on Cambodia's corruption from the Global Witness website. The page explaining the report includes the press release, also hi and lo resolution versions of the document are available to download.

Cycling for change

The charity Global Agents for Change is organizing two cycling fund raisers. A team of cyclists will raise money and awareness this summer along two different trips along the West coast of North America and another in Europe.

We learned of the trips through a UK newspaper called the Matlock Mercury. The paper profiled one of the cyclists who was selected to raise money for the groups anti-poverty work. Polly Veazey-French is one of 25 cyclists selected for the North American trip, only three spots remain.

Polly Veazey-French, 23, from Matlock, will be cycling from Vancouver in Canada to San Diego and into Mexico with other volunteers to raise money for Global Agents for Change.

The charity helps young developing world entrepreneurs and supports sustainable solutions to global poverty.

Polly said: "I'm looking in to doing social work and along the way we will be doing community work with children, which is what I'm interested in.

"Raising money for a developing country is important to me."

Polly will be setting off on May 31 and will be cycling for seven weeks. She hopes to raise 3,000 US dollars.

To learn more about the trips and the organization Global Agents of Change here is a link to the website. The page devoted to the cycling trips has applications to be a part of the event and video highlights from last year.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

100,000 in need of food due to Kenyan famine

100,000 people are in urgent need of food in a district of Kenya. The Laikipia district of Kenya has been hit hard by a drought. The number people there who face famine has doubled in the last two months.

A governmental meeting that discussed the emergency was covered by the Daily News. Writer Mwangi Ndirangu details the meeting and the emergency aid that is arriving to the district.

During a meeting attended by various government departmental heads, it emerged that 97,618 people need relief food compared to 42,706 during a similar survey conducted in December.

For the last two months, a Catholic relief agency, Caritas, has been distributing food to those affected.

However, due to crop failure the number of people in need of food continues to rise and Friday’s meeting had been convened to review the situation.

The meeting, held in Nanyuki town, was chaired by senior district officer Denis Ogola. It heard that all divisions in the three districts were affected except Nyahururu and Ng’arua. Laikipia North District, which is home to pastoralists, is the worst hit, with over 50 per cent of the residents facing hunger.

Food Aid groups call on US goverment to fight hunger

Former US Senator George McGovern and a coalition of food aid groups are calling on the US government to renew it's fight against world hunger.

A series of proposals were sent to the Obama administration from the Senator and groups like Feed the Children, Oxfam America, the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. In addition to increased funding for world hunger, the group proposes starting a new cabinet position for food aid.

In her Reuters piece, Roberta Rampton obtained an interview with George McGovern where he explained the plans.

The pressing need to feed the nearly 1 billion people around the world who are chronically hungry has faded from public attention, McGovern said.

"It's back on the back-burner right now, but there's still a flame there. It's a focus now on our own domestic economic problems that transcends the focus on anything else in government," he said.

Food prices soared last year, causing riots and hoarding in some countries. But commodity prices have since plunged, and the economic crisis has preoccupied policy makers.

McGovern said the groups want Obama to create a White House Office on Global Hunger and appoint a coordinator for U.S. efforts, which have been criticized as fragmented.

The organizations are also set to recommend a shift in the type of food aid provided, balancing traditional donations of U.S.-grown commodities for emergencies with longer-term aid to help countries develop agriculture and food security.

The plan will call for more flexibility to allow emergency aid to be bought locally rather than spending extra money and time to ship it from the United States.

The idea could face strong opposition from farm groups and shipping companies who prefer food for aid is bought in the United States and transported via American carriers overseas.

McGovern, the Democratic presidential nominee in 1972, has been part of U.S. efforts to decrease hunger abroad and at home since the early 1960s when he was appointed by the Kennedy administration to coordinate food aid.

He said he first resolved to try to help tackle the problem after he was stationed in Italy during World War Two, and witnessed people on the brink of starvation.

"I saw women, young housewives, selling themselves on the street to get a few dollars to get their children fed. I saw them pawing through our garbage dump at the air base ... to get scraps of food," he said.

An interview about the sanitation crisis in Asia and Africa

40 percent of the world's population still lack basic sanitation. A majority of that percentage are in Africa and Asia. It remains one of the Millennium Development Goals that the world if far behind on achieving.

From the IPS we find an interview with the leader of a group that has been building public toilets in many countries. The World Toilet Association says the most difficult thing about building sanitation worldwide is changing people's behavior.

Thalif Deen of the IPS interviewed WTA secretary general, Song Young-Gon.

IPS: What are the regions urgently in need of help to meet their sanitation goals? Africa? Asia? Latin America? According to the U.N., 62 percent of Africans do not have access to improved sanitation. If so, why are they lagging far behind other regions?

SY: About 40 percent of the world population lives without proper toilets. They primarily reside in Africa and Asia, two regions that are most urgently in need of toilets and sanitation aid. Residents live under the constant threat of contracting typhoid [enteric] fever, cholera, enteritis, and malaria.

For example, a lack of toilets makes it impossible to separate drinking water from waste water. As a result, drinking water becomes polluted. People must either buy water or drink polluted water. Yet, the average income of a slum resident in Africa is less than a dollar per day; when they are forced to buy drinking water they use more than 30 percent of their income. This contributes to the never-ending cycle of poverty.

In addition, polluted water and an inadequate water supply for people to wash their hands cause waterborne diseases, which ultimately prevents people from working. Unemployment then increases the poverty level. In extreme cases, these diseases result in death, since people cannot afford medical treatment. It is clear that the lack of toilets is intricately related to poverty and sickness.

The improvement of sanitation, therefore, can advance the improvement of other social problems. Without proper sanitation, poverty aid is but a temporary expedient.

IPS: What are the major shortcomings in meeting the sanitation needs of developing nations? Funding? Lack of support from governments? Absence of political will?

SY: The most urgent is changing people's mindset and behaviour. People must recognise the importance of defecating in toilets instead of open spaces. In order for this to happen, there needs to be proper education programmes. National and local governments must assume this responsibility.

There must also be adequate funding, political will, and popular support in place. These factors are crucial. People must first become aware of the importance of toilets and sanitation to motivate central and local governments to implement such programmes.

Teaching language to the street children of Ethiopia

Ethiopia has a unique problem with language effecting economic mobility. Many people in remote villages learn their own tongue, there are over 80 such languages in Ethiopia. The problem comes when these people begin to do commerce in the country, for Amhara is the official language for business.

A story from Reuters today details the efforts to teach Amhara to the street children in the Ethiopian city of Addis Ababa. According to writer Jasleen Kaur Sethi computer programs developed in the US are used to help the children learn the language.

Ethiopia, one of Africa's biggest and poorest countries, has more than 80 languages. Experts say a quarter of those are on the verge of extinction, and the government faces a tricky balance between protecting its linguistic heritage and training workers to compete in a globalised world.

As a result, the five-year-olds at Medhamiyalus Church's tiny primary school have to tackle three different tongues: their local language, Amharic -- the official language of Ethiopian business and politics -- and English.

"English is most important for our students, otherwise they cannot cope, they cannot get the proper education intended for them," school principal Fikre Teferra told Reuters TV.

"If these children succeed in getting to high school, and colleges, what else can they do? It is English that everything is given in."

The pupils are playing various interactive computer games that teach them the notoriously difficult 256 characters and variations of the Amharic alphabet.

Like the majority of the estimated 150,000 street children in the Ethiopian capital -- most of whom are from families that migrated to the city from rural areas -- it is not their first language.

After the brutal Derg government was overthrown in 1991, the constitution was changed to safeguard the country's scores of local languages by giving ethnic groups the right to set up "mother tongue" primary education systems.

A new survey finds more poor Californian senior that previously thought

A new survey conducted by UCLA finds more poor seniors in California than many had realized. Almost half of California seniors are poor, according to the research.

The University used a different methodology in measuring which seniors struggle to make ends meet in the state. Now, some California congressmen want to use the same methods in determining who is eligible for benefits.

From her story in the Silcon Valley Mercury News, Karen de Sa tells us more about the research.

The UCLA Center for Health Policy Research report measured economic stability by the real costs to eat, travel and pay for medical costs and housing in each of California's 58 counties.

Its findings reveal 47 percent of state residents 65 and older are unable to pay for their basic needs. That's 864,000 seniors, more than half of whom struggle at home alone.

The new data reveal far deeper poverty rates among seniors than was previously known. According to the decades-old standard of measuring poverty, only 9 to 10 percent of California seniors were considered poor, that is, earning less than $10,000 a year. Researchers note that amount is peanuts in high-cost California, failing to reflect the true cost of survival.

"For us, what's striking is that these numbers are not even taking into account the latest economic crisis," said co-author Susie Smith, a program director at the nonprofit Insight Center for Community Economic Development. She noted the report used 2007 census data. "We can only imagine when we update this information next year, what the numbers are going to look like."

One additional hardship is already known: The recently passed state budget cuts aid to thousands of seniors.

In Silicon Valley, more than 48 percent of seniors fell below the survival standard. In Santa Clara County — where homeownership for many has shifted from a poverty-buffer to a neck yoke — there are signs that homeowners face particularly dire trade-offs as nonhousing costs grow making mortgages more difficult to meet.

Monday, February 23, 2009

HIV infections among pregnant rises in Swaziland

In a country where nearly 40 percent of the population has HIV infection, the problem appears to be increasing with those who are pregnant.

After dipping a few years ago, the number of pregnant women with HIV in Swaziland has climbed back to 42 percent.

The statistic comes from an annual government report. After releasing the figure, government spokesmen expressed frustration as to what to do about the problem.

From the AFP story that we found from TV station WINK, we learn more about the AIDS problem in Swaziland.

"The figures were alarmingly high, such that we do not know what is the real cause because we have employed every strategy to combat the spread of the epidemic," Health Minister Benedict Xaba told state radio.

The ante-natal study conducted every two years has been on the rise since the first survey in 1992, when the rate was 3.9 percent.

Xaba said that infection rates appeared to be stabilising among teenage mothers.

"However, the age group 25-39 still shows a steady increase over the years and this is a cause for concern as this is the productive age group," he added.

AIDS activists have criticised government's inadequate distribution of medications in a country where close to 40 percent of the adult population is infected with the disease.

King Mswati III exerts absolute rule over the tiny mountainous kingdom, with a lavish lifestyle in a country mired in poverty.

Medical condition of the Robingya refugees

We have posted a lot lately about the Robingya refugees in Thailand and Bangladesh. The Muslim Robingya flee the Buddhist country of Myanmar for freedom, as they are not recognized as a minority people in that country.

Today, we get a glimpse into the conditions for the Robingya people who are detained in Thailand. Medecins sans Frontieres has a story today about their condition. The organization says that the Rohingya's detention is a growing humanitarian crisis.

MSF has been granted access to groups of Rohingya detained by the Thai authorities on a number of occasions during recent years. “On arrival their medical condition speaks volumes about the experience that they have undergone at sea. We generally treat people for dehydration, skin disease and bruising, varying in severity - depending on the length of their journey,” explains MSF head of mission in Thailand, Richard Veerman, “Last year we found out that one immigration detention centre was holding six hundred Rohingya, many had been detained for around three months and were showing signs of stress. Some appeared to be suffering from severe psychological trauma”. Over the past two years, the number of Rohingya arriving in Thailand has reached an all time high. “This is a clear indication that more needs to be done, not only to ensure adequate assistance on the spot, but to address the root cause of the problem back in Myanmar”, concludes Richard.

Cox’s Bazaar, on the eastern shores of Bangladesh has seen countless Rohingya come and go over the years; those who have fled from Myanmar and those who pile into overcrowded boats headed for Thailand and beyond. For those who stay, living can be extremely tough. MSF began providing health services for the Rohingya in Bangladesh in 1998, most recently assisting about 7,500 people who struggled to survive, otherwise unaided, in atrocious living conditions in Tal Makeshift Camp. “The overcrowded, unhygienic living conditions were a breeding ground for respiratory tract infections and skin diseases; diarrhoea was rife and many of the children were malnourished. Mental health problems added to the burden and an MSF programme was started to support those struggling with the psychological impact of life in the camp”, tells MSF medical coordinator in Bangladesh, Gabi Popescu.

“Over the years I have heard many reasons for people fleeing Myanmar. A woman and her three children left following her husband’s arrest, in fear for her family. Another couple left, the woman some months pregnant, out of fear of the repercussions they would face for being unable to afford the official marriage license, not to mention the child birth license”, Gabi continues. The Rohingya living in Northern Rakhine State Myanmar, are legally obliged to purchase expensive marriage permits, unlike the rest of the population. Children being born out of marriage often results in high informal fines or imprisonment and a two child only policy applies.

I could use a cup of Ugandan fairtrade coffee!

A great description of how life can be improved through fair trade cooperatives is found in the Guardian today.

The UK has an event that begins today called Fairtrade Fortnight. The event hopes to build awareness of fair trade goods that are available. As a part of the event, the Guardian had Harriet Lamb write a commentary. Lamb is executive director of the Fairtrade Foundation in the UK. Her piece begins by describing an Ugandan coffee co-op that has dramatically improved it's village.

Last week I saw this in action in Rwanda. Just 15 years ago, the country was utterly devastated. They are now rebuilding their economy, with organised smallholders at its heart. Just 15 years ago, Maraba village was one of the country's poorest, their low-quality coffee was sold straight off the bushes for passing prices to passing middlemen.

Today, the Maraba farmers have organised themselves into a Fairtrade-certified cooperative, have four washing stations – the first stage in processing coffee – have trained the first generation of cuppers, or tasters, who are constantly improving quality, and are commanding record premiums for their prize-winning beans. They are roasting and selling their coffee all over Rwanda as well as exporting it through Union Handroasted to UK shop shelves.

These are the most innovative farmers I have ever met – constantly researching new ways to improve productivity, such as making organic compost, or to add value, such as roasting at a village level using traditional techniques. And they have sparked an economic revival that sees Maraba now as among the more prosperous villages in Rwanda, as evidenced by the bustling bank and choice of hairdressing salons, while the farmers are now building and running a nursery school.

It is an economic revival that, with the right support, smallholders could lead worldwide. Some 450 million smallholder farming households cultivate two hectares or less, and with their families they make up a third of all humanity. Increasing their incomes will therefore be vital to improving the incomes of the poor. Indeed, because smallholders tend to spend more income on local goods and services, they could be the impetus that stimulates virtuous economic circles in local economies.

Organised groups of smallholders can also play a catalytic role in stimulating wider progress – on the environment and on social issues.

And smallholders hold the key to increasing food production. Small farms produce the bulk of many developing countries' food: up to 80% of Zambia's, for example. Much evidence points to their productivity – if given the right support.

That support is needed now more than ever. In Uganda, some tea-growers today spend more than 50% of income on food, up from 30% in the past. Some estimate the price of maize will rise by 27% over the next 10 years.

Another view of life in India's slums

Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail took a different view of India's slums this morning. While many other web sites or newspapers are ablaze with the news on 'Slumdog Millionaire' and the movie's Oscar wins.

The Canadian newspaper has a profile of a Canadian charity that is involved in India's slums. YUVA India provides food and employs those who live in the slums to cook the food.

Writer Diana Coulter tells us about the growing problem of India's slums and about YUVA India's work.

A United Nations Development Program report released two weeks ago says India's slums are likely to get even bigger. Currently, 42 million people, a number roughly equal to the population of Spain, are struggling in India's slums. By 2030, the report predicts, almost half the country's population will be living in cities that are already crowded.

Meanwhile, India is grappling with the world's largest number of malnourished children under the age of five – an estimated 57 million.

It's a harsh situation that has been developing for decades. But it seems that the success of Slumdog Millionaire has shone a fresh light on these issues. In particular, the film has prompted more international offers of assistance, including some from Canada.

“I think what is shown in the movie is reality,” says local relief worker Deepashree Medar. “But personally, I don't like the title. It's true this is a slum but these people don't deserve to be called dogs. They struggle too much and must work very hard.”

YUVA India gets assistance from the Canadian International Development Agency and its partner Rooftops Canada.

Bharti Bagde is a widow who struggled to support her two children on less than a dollar a day by scavenging for paper to fold and sell as bags before she began cooking for YUVA.

“I haven't seen this Slumdog movie,” Ms. Bagde says. “But this is a good place to live. In the rainy season, the gutters do overflow and that affects our health, but we help each other.”

Here is a link to a story about the celebration Mumbai after 'Slumdog Millionaire' Oscar win.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

New report on Zimbabwe's cholera outbreak from MSF

Medecins Sans Frontiers has an extensive report on the cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe. The organization has so far treated 45,000 people, but with only 500 workers in the country it's not enough to treat all of them. Our snippet of the report comes from the introduction explaining the growing humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe.

“It is a constant challenge to keep up with increasing
patient numbers. We are running out of ward space
and beds for the patients.” - MSF staff

The cholera epidemic, which started in August 2008
has been unprecedented in scale for Zimbabwe and
still continues today. MSF has treated more than
45,000 cholera patients during this time – which
represents approximately 75% of all cholera cases
since the outbreak began. The level of MSF’s
response has been necessitated by the scale of the
epidemic and the inability of local health structures to

Cases have been found in all provinces. More than
500 MSF staff members are presently working to
identify new cases and to treat patients in need of
care. As of early February 2009, the focus of the
outbreak had shifted from the cities to rural areas,
where access to health care is particularly limited,
but the number of cases in some urban areas are still
significant. The epidemic is far from under control. In
the first week of February 2009, 4,000 new cases
were treated in MSF supported structures alone.

The reasons for the outbreak are clear: lack of
access to clean water, burst and blocked sewage
systems, and uncollected refuse overflowing in the
streets, all clear symptoms of the breakdown in
infrastructure resulting from Zimbabwe's political and
economic meltdown.

Although MSF has been able to respond to the
outbreak on a massive scale – delays and restrictions
have been encountered. In December, when the
number of cholera patients in Harare had reached a
peak with close to 2,000 admissions a week, it took
weeks to get permission to open a second empty
ward in Harare’s Infectious Disease Hospital to
increase the capacity for cholera treatment.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Annan and Geldof meet Italy's Premier

We love the quotes that come from Sir Bob Geldof, they have a real "punk rock" quality to them.

We found some more quotes from Bob Geldof today, as he and former UN secretary Kofi Annan met with Italy's Premier Silvio Berlusconi. Italy holds the chair of the G8 this year, so the two activists pressed the Premier to keep Africa poverty a focus as he leads the group of the wealthiest nations.

This Associated Press article that we found in the International Herald Tribune covered the meeting, and gave us the quotes from Sir Geldof.

"In richer countries this crisis is resulting in bankruptcy, unemployment, personal misery and fear for the future," the former U.N. chief said. "But for many in Africa, the effects are life-threatening."

Annan, who is chairman of the Africa Progress Panel, a group devoted to promoting development, warned that lives and progress were at risk in Africa because of the financial downturn. And he urged rich nations to keep up their commitments in the face of the crisis.

"The impact is profound, and deepening," said Annan, citing decreasing trade and foreign investment, drying up credit and slumping revenues. He said hunger will likely increase, school attendance will drop, and women and children will be the hard hit.

The IMF has revised downward its estimate for growth in Africa in 2009, Annan told a meeting organized by the Italian chapter of the Aspen Institute.

Geldof challenged Berlusconi to prove his leadership and be at the forefront of efforts to halve extreme poverty around the world by 2015.

"Don't talk to me about the financial crisis," Geldof told reporters. "Whatever financial crisis we meet, it is life or death" for people in Africa.

"This money does not go into some black hole, it goes into an empty stomach," Geldof said

WFP blames food shortages and poverty for Rohingya flight

In recent months, a Muslim minority of Burma has been fleeing the country to find opportunity elsewhere. Instead the Rohingya Muslims have been captured and put in refugee camps or forced to turn back. Thailand has recently come into controversy for their treatment of the Rohingya.

The World Food Programme is now on record for blaming food shortages and poverty as the reasons for the Rohingya fleeing Bangladesh and Burma. Ron Cohen of the Voice of America received the reasons why from an WFP spokesman.

Paul Risley, WFP's regional communications advisor, says the levels of food shortages and malnutrition is adding to a sense of desperation among the Rohingya community.

"Poverty is still the greatest challenge," he said. "The people in Rakhine State are often found to be without food between harvests. There is a growing sense of desperation that's measured by the very high malnutrition rates we found in the recent assessment."

Recent WFP briefing papers say one third of Burma's children under five are underweight, with over 100,000 of them dying each year.

Currently the WFP plans to provide some 1.6 million people across northern Rakhine state, Shan state and the Magway Division - covering Chin and Kachin states - with food assistance.

The WFP is already providing food relief for over one million people in the Irrawaddy Delta region devastated by cyclone Nargis in May last year. The cyclone claimed thousands of lives.

Risley called on Burma's authorities to ease restrictions on the movement of goods and food from elsewhere in the country where the WFP and other non-government organizations are currently operating.

Nigerian president says the IMF and World Bank are "impoverishing" Africa

Nothing like some controversy to start the morning with. But, these are comments that need to heard.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo says the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank has played a part in "impoverishing" millions of Africans. He claims that the organizations are doing this by not putting enough attention into debt forgiveness for African countries.

The story comes from All Africa as writer Judith Achieng attended a summit where Obasanjo made the comments.

"The question is begged:" Has the World Bank and IMF perhaps unwittingly made Africa poorer through unwholesome policies? "wondered Obasanjo.

He told the plenary session of the Social Summit that it was pointless for developed nations and international financial institutions to demand eradication of poverty and promotion of social justice if they failed to address the issue of external debt, and protectionism in the north, which are marginalising the world's poor .

"Developed countries must commit themselves to debt remission for developing countries, so as to provide these countries with the basis of economic renewal and social advancement," Obasanjo said .

Citing the latest World Bank report, which indicates that the heavy flow of aid to developing countries has done little to improve social development in the countries, Obasanjo, who also is president of the Group of 77 said, as a result of the discriminatory policies, some 48 African countries have a collective economic output that does not surpass that of Belgium .

The report, 'New Paths to Social Development : Community and Global Networks in Action' the World Bank notes that rich countries collectively spent $300 billion to subsidise and protect their markets against foreign competition, a figure which equals Africa's total annual output.

He said poor governments are constrained by policies of fiscal and budgetary austerity which were imposed on them by the international financial institutions, leaving them without resources to initiate job creating programmes that will lead to gainful employment for their youths," he said .

Sub-Saharan Africa whose population of 700 million people is most affected, he said, is suffering double jeopardy, first from the burden of debt which leaves them no resources for social renewal, and secondly, from the protectionist policies of the advanced countries against imports from developing countries .

'The world has a capacity to eradicate poverty, and this summit should give us the opportunity to reaffirm the commitments to give our peoples hope and assurance of enhanced quality of life," he said .

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Money donated for Cocoa and Cashews

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is investing money in cocoa and cashew farming and have others pitching in as well. The donations will help African farmers growing those crops to work themselves out of poverty.

$42 million dollars will be donated from food companies such as Hershey, Mars Starbucks and others. The Gates Foundation will also donate $48 million dollars.

Oregon's Statesman Journal has more information on the particulars of the donations, and what parts of Africa will receive them. Writer Donna Gordon Blankenship filed the story.

Among the companies giving cash and in-kind contributions to help with the cocoa and cashew project are The Hershey Co., Kraft Foods, Mars, Inc., Archer Daniels Midland Co., Cargill, Armajaro, Olam International Ltd., and Starbucks Coffee Co.

Cocoa is West Africa’s largest agricultural export and accounts for 70 percent of the world’s supply.

The Gates Foundation has committed $23 million to the World Cocoa Foundation to administer the cocoa project. It will hire local scientists, agriculture outreach workers and educators to help the farm households.

The cocoa project hopes to increase farmers’ income by improving their knowledge and productivity, cocoa quality, crop diversification and supply chain efficiency.

Improving their growing and processing technology, including getting access to fertilizer and how to use it, could significantly impact cocoa farm production in West Africa, Shah said.

The new grants are aimed at helping about 200,000 cocoa farmers in Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia and Nigeria in West Africa over the next five years, Shah said. The foundation hopes to help those farmers double their income by 2013.

A grant of $25 million to the German development organization Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit will support the cashew project, which aims to help 150,000 small cashew farmers in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Mozambique increase their incomes by 50 percent by 2012.

Book Review on "A Crime So Monstrous"

Slavery still persists thought much of the world. From Europe to Haiti to India people still work without freedom. A new book from former Newsweek reporter E. Benjamin Skinner sheds light on the problem. Mary H. Meier of the Boston Globe writes this review of "A Crime So Monstrous"

Of all the unhappy women and men whose paths cross author E. Benjamin Skinner's in his book on present-day slavery, the saddest is undoubtedly the nameless Romanian girl with Down syndrome in a Bucharest brothel. "Mascara ran from pools of tears around deep-set eyes," Skinner writes. "Below her right bicep were no less than ten deep, angry red slashes, raised, some freshly scabbed."

Her image pervades "A Crime So Monstrous," a devastating exposé of the millions of suffering enslaved human beings around the world, including children.

Under threat of brutality, they toil in wealthy Haitian households, European brothels, and Indian quarries. Skinner encountered many such cases as he traveled to these sites with John Miller, the former head of the US State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Field action to halt slavery is carried out through private groups funded from the office's annual budget of $375 million.

To document more of the stark horror of slavery in other countries, he traveled widely, from Haiti, to the former communist countries of Eastern Europe, where severe poverty was endemic, to the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, and to India, where peasants and quarry workers who amass even small amounts of debt can remain in virtual slavery to their creditors for generations. In Moldova (part of which was once known as Moldavia and belonged to the former Soviet Union), some 400,000 women have disappeared since independence into slave prostitution.

The problem of winning emancipation in so many countries is huge, but there are isolated bright lights. In Moldova, psychologist Dr. Lidia Gorceag operates a shelter for former sex slaves, funded by the International Organization for Migration in the United States. Many of these women come to her with physical injuries; their emotional scars are even deeper. Gorceag and the IOM help them to start their own small businesses such as selling sunflower oil or working in hair salons to gain economic independence. And in Washington, D.C., Kevin Bales runs Free the Slaves, an umbrella organization working to halt trafficking.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Food Banks organize at the Ohio statehouse

Food Bank advocates are asking for more money from Ohio's state government to keep up with the demand for food.

Food Banks in the state saw a 25 percent increase in people asking for food during the end of 2008, that amounts to 1.8 million people.

The Ohio government has allocated 8.5 million dollars for food banks, but that is the same amount of money as prior years.

From the Columbus Dispatch, reporter Catherine Candisky was at the food bank event.

"The $8.5 million isn't going to do it," said Evelyn Behm, vice president of Mid-Ohio FoodBank, which serves central Ohio. "The demand will continue to grow as the economy continues to dive. We get calls every day asking how to access food pantries from people coming to us for the first time."

Gov. Ted Strickland's budget proposal would provide $8.5 million a year to the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks, which distributes food and groceries to pantries across the state. The allocation is the same Second Harvest received from the state this year and last.

The money is used to purchase canned goods and grocery items and to buy surplus produce and meats from Ohio farmers at discounted prices.

Budget hearings set to begin this week in the House were postponed because of uncertainty over the federal stimulus package and lack of a bill detailing the governor's proposal.

"We are hopeful that any federal economic stimulus package will provide opportunities for additional funding for Ohio's emergency food programs," Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, Second Harvest's executive director, wrote in a letter delivered to Strickland yesterday.

She said of the 1.8 million Ohioans served between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, one in three households had at least one adult working. Nearly 705,000 of those served were children and more than 232,000 were senior citizens.

The threat of being poor while disabled

The treat of being poor in North America looms even larger when you are disabled. Not only do you have to battle your handicap, but the battle often means you can not work and earn money.

The North Star News from Perry Sound, Ontario profiles an organization called Friends that helps the disabled stay away from being poor.

“When you have people in Parry Sound who can barely keep their homes heated, multiply the issues when they have a disability because they’re already on a low income,” said Marliese Gause from the Friends, a care centre that supports people with long-term health needs.

“That doesn’t even take into account the things that you and I take for granted.

Some entertainment. Socialization. A little bit of money so you don’t always feel like the poorest kid on the block. In times when we … worry about cutting and slashing and all the rest of it, the problem is these individuals have been living with this all along.”

Those with disabilities encounter problems that able-bodied people couldn’t imagine.

Jo-Anne Demick, executive director of Community Living Parry Sound, works with people with developmental or intellectual disabilities and says they are among the poorest groups in Ontario.

According to statistics from Community Living Ontario, people with developmental disabilities experience rates of poverty that are 13 per cent higher than others.

Community Living is a provincially-funded organization that provides a range of support services such as day support, education, respite, employment and housing services.

Demick says the reason people with disabilities live in poverty is because they don’t have the same access to support systems, education and employment.

It’s a vicious cycle because they rely on support — whether it’s an educational assistant in school or a support worker as an adult – to get education and employment to escape poverty.

Even worse, families that have a family member with a disability have a greater likelihood of living in poverty, says Demick.

Often that’s because a parent has to give up or will lose their job in order to provide support for their child.

UK needs to spend billions to halve child poverty

A new report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation says the UK government needs to spend billions of dollars to halve child poverty by it's target of 2010. A new report from the foundation says that 4.2 billion dollars in tax credits is needed per year. With current funding levels the UK will miss their target by 600,000 children.

The Guardian newspaper details the report in this Press Association story.

The research predicts that the number of children in poverty will fall to 2.3 million by 2010, missing the target of 1.7 million set by former prime minister Tony Blair in 1999.

The recession may not increase the number of children living in poverty, the report suggests, but many will find themselves further below the poverty line as a result of increased unemployment.

The report said: "Overall, it is possible that recession will bring a net increase in children's hardship even though it does not raise the child poverty total. This is likely to raise the cost of tackling child poverty, since it is more difficult to lift children out of severe poverty."

Research carried out for the report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) said it would cost £4.2 billion a year to tackle the problem by raising the child element of child tax credit by £12.50 a week more than currently planned.

Failing to meet the 2010 target will make it more difficult to reach the 2020 goal of eradicating child poverty.

Report author Donald Hirsch said: "The challenge in a recession will be to build on the progress already made in reducing child poverty.

Banking services via cell phone to the bottom billion

The use of cell phones is even spreading rapidly in Africa. Not only do Africans make phone calls but they also send money to relatives and employees. City workers can wire money to their relatives in small country villages. Likewise, small business people can easily send money to their employees.

The story that we found in The News Tribune focuses a lot on the businesses providing the service, who can do the money transfers for smaller fees than banks can. Writer Shashank Bengali gives us an example of the cell phones use.

Before, when Malit Kuronoi needed to pay the cowherd who watched over his cattle in faraway northern Kenya, he made the 500-mile round trip himself. For four days, Kuronoi rode ramshackle buses across roads patrolled by bandits and bribe-seeking cops, sometimes sleeping by the roadside when a bus broke down, just to deliver the money.

Now he sends it by cell phone.

The Kenyan farmer is among millions who are at the forefront of a pocket-sized financial revolution that's sweeping Africa. Mobile banking, powered by cell phones, is allowing people who could never afford traditional bank accounts to send, receive and save money, often just by writing text messages.

Cheap and efficient m-banking services are cropping up from South Africa to Senegal. They're the latest example of how the cell phone has transformed life in sub-Saharan Africa, where over the past decade mass-market mobile networks have stitched together countries and families long separated by distance, poverty and shoddy infrastructure.

Less than one-fifth of Africans have bank accounts, and far fewer access the Internet. The continent, however, recently surpassed the United States and Canada with 340 million cell phone users and is adding another 70 million each year, according to Wireless Intelligence, a market research group.

Cell phone companies are racing to capitalize by offering banking tools that make it easier for city dwellers to send money to rural relatives, small businesses to pay their employees and parents to deposit their children's school fees. The amounts are relatively small, and the commissions are a fraction of those that major banks and wire services such as Western Union charge.

"It's absolutely changed lives," said Aly Khan Satchu, a Kenyan financial analyst. "This is bringing banking services to the 'un-banked' and the poor. It's very empowering."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Faith based Bipartisanship

Yes, there is a Christian left here in the states. And they are starting to join with the more well known Christian right to fight poverty in the US.

A meeting of many Christian leaders called the Poverty Forum was held to find proposals to fight poverty that both sides can agree on. They plan on meeting with President Barack Obama to present their ideas to him. The Poverty Forum hopes to hear Obama say some of their ideas during his State of the Union speech.

From the Christian Science Monitor, writer Jane Lampman tells us more about the meeting. After the clipping, is some of the specific proposals that were agreed upon.

On Tuesday, a new bipartisan group called the Poverty Forum released a series of specific proposals aimed at reducing domestic poverty and keeping Americans hit by the economic crisis from joining the ranks of the poor. The group of 18 leaders – headed by the Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, and Michael Gerson, President Bush's former speechwriter and policy adviser – has worked since November to develop concrete antipoverty policies they hope will gain widespread support.

"We wanted to transcend political differences and find 'what's right and what works,' as opposed to what's left or right, or what's liberal or conservative," says Mr. Wallis, a progressive Evangelical.

At the same time, Christian Churches Together (CCT), the most inclusive ecumenical organization ever formed in the US, reached agreement on a poverty initiative last month, which it presented to members of President Obama's Domestic Policy Council. "For a group as diverse as ours – left, right, middle – to reach a consensus on on-the-ground strategies is significant," says Richard Hamm, CCT's executive administrator.

Both groups aim to make poverty a national priority. More than 37 million Americans lived in poverty in 2007, and from 7.5 million to 10 million more could slip into poverty in the next year or two due to rising unemployment, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

"The reality of people on the margins pushed deeper in the current economic situation obligates us to work together in unprecedented ways on poverty," says forum member Mark Rodgers, who was chief of staff to former Sen. Rick Santorum, a conservative Republican.

In a bid to break down partisan barriers and offer a new model for political engagement, the forum involved antipoverty experts from such diverse groups as the Family Research Council, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, and Morehouse College in Atlanta.

* Federal incentives for individual savings accounts

• Business partnerships to link young adults not employed or in school to work experiences

• Financial education and planning for low- and middle-income households

• Creation of 2 million "opportunity" housing vouchers

• Increase in the federal minimum wage

• Expansion of proven prisoner-reentry initiatives to combat recidivism and crime

• Promotion of responsible fatherhood and healthy marriage

Where are they now? The children of 'Slumdog Millionare'

An Associated Press story in many papers today catches readers up on what has become of the stars of the movie 'Slumdog Millionare' The producers of the movie have paid the children for their appearances, and have started a fund for them. But the star of the movie still lives in a shed in the Mumbai slum.

Our snippet of the story comes from the Wichita Eagle. It shows what effects the movie's popularity has had on the children Azharuddin Mohammed and Rubina Ali.

As the movie's popularity swelled, the filmmakers' plan began to fray.

Journalists swarmed the school, forcing Rubina and Azhar to stay home. The families started demanding more, asking for cash and new houses, Colson said.

When the city razed Azhar's neighborhood, Colson wired the family money for a new home. He doesn't know what happened to the money, but the family remains camped out in a lean-to.

Most troubling, he said, the parents' commitment to seeing their kids through school has waned.

So the filmmakers have agreed to buy apartments and allow the families to move in. But they won't transfer ownership to the parents until Rubina and Azhar finish school at age 18.

The filmmakers have also faced criticism that they didn't fairly compensate the children, but have declined to reveal how much they paid, again citing fear of exploitation.

"It's becoming a full-time job dealing with the daily hassle," Boyle said. Still, he added, "I'm glad we did it, even with all the headache."

Micro Credit in the US increasing during the recession

A story in today's International Herald Tribune looks at microcredit in the US. Micro lenders in the states are seeing an increase in their lending during this depression. Many microcredit leaders hope to see some money come from the latest stimulus package that President Obama is about to sign into law.

From This Associated Press story that we found in the International Herald Tribune, we hear from a couple who used microcredit to begin a business.

When Amy Sokoloff and John Powell were trying to start their art restoration business in New York City, they needed some working capital. But banks weren't willing to take a chance on them.

Sokoloff and Powell ended up on the doorstep of ACCION USA, a not-for-profit group patterned after the Third World microfinance institutions best known for providing money to Moroccan farmers for breeding chickens or to Bangladeshi women for weaving supplies.

The $15,000 loan they got in 2005_ which they paid back in two years — got them the sunlit studio where their Chelsea Restoration Associates brings aged, damaged oil paintings back to life. Last fall, after the U.S. recession began to cut into their business, they went back to ACCION USA for a $25,000 loan, "a tremendous help for cash flow" with an affordable 10.9 percent interest rate, Sokoloff said.

Sokoloff and Powell are among thousands of Americans using microcredit, a financing system originated in the Third World, to help open small businesses or get through rough spots. While the dollar amounts are much bigger in the U.S. than the tiny loans in developing countries — some for less than $10 — the principle is the same: a financial stake that lets people in need better their lives.

Now, with the recession deepening, U.S.-based microlenders say they are seeing an increase in inquiries from would-be borrowers, including startup entrepreneurs seen as too risky by banks and other traditional lenders.

And the still-small U.S. microcredit sector hopes for a boost from the new administration of President Barack Obama.

Obama's secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, is a big supporter of microfinance, praising it during her confirmation hearing for its ability to "raise standards of living and transform local economies" overseas. Obama also has a personal link to the industry because his late mother, Ann Dunham, was involved in microfinance in Indonesia.

These connections gave raised hopes among microloan advocates that some money from the administration's $787 billion economic rescue package will filter into their programs. U.S. microlenders already get support from the Small Business Administration and a Treasury community development fund.

"We're hoping for more funding" from government, said Wendy K. Baumann, vice chairman of the Association for Enterprise Opportunity, an advocacy group for microfinance based in Arlington, Virginia.

Microloans have been made in developing countries for more than 30 years. Bangladeshi economist Mohammed Yunis made the first one of about $27 from his own pocket to 42 women hoping to buy bamboo to make furniture. He later formed the Grameen Bank, which is now one of the world's largest microlenders and shared the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize with the founder.

Climate change effects on food production

The United Nations released a new report today that examines future food production. They say a quarter of food production will be lost due to climate change and water scarcity. Less food could be grown, but there will be over 2 million people added to the global population.

From this Reuters article explaining the report, Daniel Wallis details how the changes food production will effect the poor.

In a new report, it said a 100-year trend of falling food costs could be at an end and that last year's sharp price rises had driven 110 million people into poverty.

Prices may have eased from those peaks in many areas, but experts say volatility -- combined with the impact of the global economic downturn -- has meant little respite for the poor.

"We need to deal with not only the way the world produces food but the way it is distributed, sold and consumed, and we need a revolution that boosts yields by working with rather than against nature," said UNEP executive director Achim Steiner.

More than half the food produced worldwide today was either lost, wasted or thrown away due to inefficiencies, he told a news conference at a major U.N. environment meeting in Kenya.

"There is evidence within the report that the world could feed the entire projected population growth alone by becoming more efficient while also ensuring the survival of wild animals, birds and fish on this planet," Steiner said.

The UNEP's "Rapid Response Assessment," released on Tuesday, said world food prices were estimated to rise by 30-50 percent over the coming decades -- while the global population is seen climbing to more than 9 billion from nearly 7 billion.

Poverty blamed for insecure Indonesian borders

Poverty was blamed for insecure borders in Indonesia, according to participants at a conference on border security. Statistics show that most people along the border of Indonesia live in poverty. Being poor makes them vulnerable to being lured across the border to commit crimes.

The Jakarta Post covered the conference on border security, and writer Adianto P. Simamora received quotes from some of the presenters.

State Minister for the Development of Disadvantaged Regions Muhammad Lukman Edy said Monday the long-standing poverty problems had also worsened security relations with neighboring countries, which could make unilateral claims to Indonesian territory along the borders.

"The economic hardship along border areas can push people to engage in illegal activities and can degrade our people's sense of nationhood," he said Monday at a seminar on the development of border areas.

At present, 199 regencies are categorized as disadvantaged regions, with economic growth of less than 3 percent. Twenty-six of them lie in border areas.

The minister said residents of Belo regency on the border with Timor Leste, for instance, had a per capita income of Rp 1 million in 2005, compared with the national average of Rp 11 million.

Some 60,456 families live in poverty in Belo - 80 percent of its population.

In Kalimantan's border regions, per capita income of local residents is about US$300, far lower than that of their Malaysian counterparts just over the border, who make between $4,000 and $7,000.

Green Bay area children in poverty

An Wisconsin organization called Start Smart has released some statistics on the needs of children in Brown County, near Green Bay.

Start Smart hosts an annual breakfast called the "State of Brown County's Children." They gather people and groups who work with children's education and care at the breakfast.

The Green Bay Gazettes Tony Walter included the following stats released at the breakfast in his piece about the event.

# Between 2000 and 2007, the percentage of county children and youths living below the poverty level grew from 8 percent to 15 percent. The poverty level, set by the federal government, is a $10,400 income for a household with just one person, $21,200 for a household with four residents, and $35,600 for a household with eight residents.

# The percentage of families with children younger than the age of 5 living in poverty grew from 10 percent to 20 percent.

# During the 2007-08 school year, there were more than 600 homeless children in the Green Bay School District.

# The number of reported abuse and neglect cases involving county children increased from 597 in 1999 to 1,324 in 2006.

# An average of 34 percent of children enrolled in Brown County schools are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.

"It's an issue that should concern us all because there's a cost down the road," said Sue Vincent, executive director of Start Smart. "The nation hasn't come forward with the times. There's still the mindset that this (raising a child) is a mother's issue. But if we invest early, there are results down the road."

Monday, February 16, 2009

Sending animals overseas

The charity that comes to the top of the mind when talking about providing animals for the poor is Heifer International. A story from a Californian newspaper tells us of a smaller group that does the same thing.

The Redlands branch of the American Association of University Women have sent animals to Kosovo and Tanzania. The Redlands Daily Facts tells us about the organizations latest contribution.

The International Affairs group meets once a month for a meal based on the cuisine of various countries. Meetings also include speakers such as Carla Berlington, who recently talked about Burma, also known as Myanmar, where she rescues children as young as 5 who she said would be trained as soldiers for radical groups.

Berlington's group gives food, shelter, clothing and a safe haven to those children. She said she is in constant danger there, many times under live fire.

Members of the International Affairs group not only listen to stories about people in other countries, but also try to help those people.

This year the group has contributed to Berlington's program and to Heifer International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to relieving hunger and poverty through gifts of livestock and plants.

Through their contributions to Heifer International, members of the International Affairs group sent a goat to a family in the village of Muribe in northwest Tanzania. The goat will provide protein and income from milk and other dairy products that people can use to pay for medicine, housing and school for their children.

The group also sent 20 chickens to a family in Kosovo. The chickens will provide the family with a steady supply of protein-rich eggs and meat and a natural way of controlling disease-bearing insects.

Attack victims still head back to Kenya

An impressive story in the Edmonton Sun tells of a couple of missionaries who are heading back to Kenya. It's the fact that they are heading back after being beaten and left for dead which is impressive.

John and Eloise Bergen are expanding efforts to help widows and orphans in Kenya. The story by the Sun's Dave Dormer describes the attack, and what the missionaries are doing with their return trip.

Four months after arriving to help build orphanages near the town of Kitale, in March 2008, the couple was attacked by a group of nine men -including two guards assigned to protect them.

John was beaten with machetes and left in a bush - suffering several broken bones and dozens of serious cuts - while Eloise was attacked inside their home.

After several surgeries and months spent recuperating with family in Canada and the U.S., the couple began fundraising once again in August and returned to Kitale in January, not only to testify against the men who attacked them, but to continue helping people they say desperately need it.

"We've been able to move on purchasing two properties of land for the purpose of orphanages, schools, wells and gardens," said John.

"One of the parcels is a five-acre piece close to the seven-acre farm (where) we already have a number of boys off the streets."

And on that parcel, workers recently completed digging irrigational channels, which John said will be instrumental in lifting people living in the area out of poverty and despair.

An African economist says aid "feeds corruption"

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation featured an African economist turned author who is very critical of international aid. Dambisa Moyo has written the book 'Dead Aid', in it she says that aid to Africa does not work but only feeds corruption and hurts innovation within African economies.

The book surveys the last 60 years of aid and Moyo attempts to point out failures. When Moyo was interviewed by the ABC, host Mark Colvin tried to draw a parralel to Europe.

MARK COLVIN: You say for the last 60 years that makes me think of say the Marshall Plan, which essentially reconstructed Europe; is aid itself a bad thing?

DAMBISA MOYO: From my perspective aid has not worked. Sixty years ago the architects of the aid model were essentially coming out of the Marshall Plan and there was this general euphoria that this type of large capital intervention could work. And in particular, could deliver long-term economic growth and reduce poverty.

And on those two metrics is basically how I'm judging aid in the past 60 years; has it increased growth? Has it reduced poverty? And on those two measures the answers are resoundingly no.

MARK COLVIN: So why would it have worked in Europe and not in say Africa?

DAMBISA MOYO: Europe was being reconstructed, it wasn't being constructed and in that sense there was already some semblance of infrastructure both political and economic infrastructure that was just simply being rebuilt. It had worked previously and all that interventionists were trying to do was rebuild and restructure a system that was already built, which is very different from the system or the situation in Africa.

The second thing, which I think is perhaps more important is that the Marshall Plan was short and sharp, it was five years, it was about $13 billion, in dollars at that time which is about equivalent to $100 billion now. It was very directed and targeted and it was finite.

I mean, if you compare that to the aid that goes to Africa now, essentially the money that goes to Africa's an open-ended commitment. There is no plan to reduce aid or to actively from the policy-makers perspective to try and wean these countries off of aid into a different, better model.

MARK COLVIN: All right; but is it possible to move abruptly from aid to no aid without at the very least a transition period of people having severe hardship and even starvation?

DAMBISA MOYO: First of all hardship and starvation is pretty much par for the course in Africa; I think we've seen enough pictures of that. It's not clear to me, in fact I argue in the book that most average people in Africa do not even see these aid revenues and so for us to worry as an international community to be concerned and to worry that Africans may suffer because the aid is cut off to me seems foolhardy.

I believe that most Africans would actually potentially see an improvement in their lives because they would start to be able to have their government's held accountable.

I don't think we should have another 60 years of aid. In my book I recommend sort of a five-year phasing out period. Ultimately, as an African I would like to see my continent participate on the world stage as an equal partner, not a drag on society.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Nursing in Uganda

A nurse from the UK is about to return to Uganda to help give health care training. Pam LLewellyn works with Voluntary Service Overseas, an UK charity that sends people to the under-developed world to help out. Mrs. LLewellyn spent 10 months of last year in Uganda, and is returning for six months more.

In a story for the UK newspaper the Malvern Gazette, Mrs. LLewellyn explains the differences in nursing and her work in Uganda. More on Voluntary Service Overseas can be found at this website.

“It is very different over there,” said Mrs Llewellyn. “I went out as a community nurse to try and improve the health in the villages, specifically tackling malaria and HIV.

“It is a very poor area, and it was quite an adjustment when I got out there. The contrast with back home could not be greater. We have everything and they have nothing.

“There is no transport, there are often no nurses in the hospitals and all the little things that we take for granted are just not there.”

A large part of Mrs Llewellyn’s work in Uganda was to give healthcare training to almost 100 local volunteers.

“The whole idea of VSO is that you go and set up a project and leave behind something that is workable and can carry on without you,” she explained.

Ahead of her return Mrs Llewellyn is trying to raise £10,000 to subsidise the purchase of mosquito nets for every household in the area she has been working.