Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Recession pushing millions into poverty says the World Bank

The World Bank released revised economic indicators ahead of the G-20 meetings in London. They say that in 2009 the world's economy will grow by 1.7 percent, but if you removed China and India from the world there would be no growth at all.

The stats and figures related to poverty are included in this snippet that comes from AFP via the Google News.

World Bank president Robert Zoellick said the recession was expected to trap 53 million more people in poverty this year, defined as subsistence living on less than 1.25 dollars a day.

"This comes after soaring food and fuel prices of recent years, which pushed 130 to 155 million people into extreme poverty, many of whom have still not recovered," Zoellick said in a speech in London.

Poor people in developing countries have little buffer to protect them against the effects of the crisis.

"In London, Washington, and Paris people talk of bonuses or no bonuses. In parts of Africa, South Asia, and Latin America, the struggle is for food or no food," he said.

Zoellick called on the Group of 20 industrialized and developing countries and the European Union, whose leaders are holding a crisis meeting in London Thursday, to support measures to help developing countries, such as the bank's appeal to developed countries to donate 0.7 percent of their stimulus spending to its Vulnerability Fund.

"Unlike economic crises in the past sixty years, this is a global crisis. It will require a global solution," the former US trade envoy said.

"These events could next become a social and human crisis, with political implications," he added.

How the aid expulsions are effecting other areas of Sudan

The Sudan kicking out aid organizations has hurt the people of Darfur, but it also effects many other areas of the country too. The expulsions may have kicked out the only aid group for a certain area. The Overseas Development Institute says that areas in Eastern and Southern Sudan may have no aid groups working there at all.

From this IRIN article that we found at All Africa, we learn how the expulsions hurt other battleground areas destroyed by the Sudan war.

NGO expulsions have left humanitarian gaps not only in Darfur, but also in eastern Sudan and the so-called Three Areas bordering on Southern Sudan, Abyei, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile - volatile regions key to the success of a 2005 peace accord.

"The expulsions have left large parts of the Three Areas and eastern Sudan without humanitarian assistance or recovery and reintegration support," writes Sara Pantuliano, research fellow with the Humanitarian Policy Group of the Overseas Development Institute. "Unlike in Darfur, there is very little additional capacity beyond the expelled agencies to even attempt to fill these gaps."

Before its expulsion, Oxfam GB was working in Red Sea State, eastern Sudan. "We have been working with very remote, marginalised communities who have very little support from anywhere else," Alun McDonald, Oxfam GB regional media and communications officer for Horn, East and Central Africa, told IRIN. The region, which has high rates of poverty, malnutrition and illiteracy, often suffers regular floods and droughts.

"Last time the floods hit, many villages were submerged and thousands of people lost their homes, animals and farms... if the floods strike again this year, with nearly all the aid agencies expelled, communities will be extremely vulnerable," McDonald said. "The decision to expel us from eastern Sudan will affect the poorest people in the state."

Children at risk

Kassala and Red Sea states have the highest malnutrition rates in Sudan, according to ODI. The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates that the expulsions will leave more than 100,000 vulnerable children in northern Sudan without support.

Access to health services has also been reduced in Southern Kordofan. According to the UN World Health Organization (WHO), at least 30 percent of the state's health facilities remain without direct implementing partner support, and may suspend services in routine immunisation, nutrition and feeding programmes following the expulsions.

"...The expulsion means we can no longer support 56 health clinics that we've helped to build or rehabilitate since the peace agreement in 2005. We can no longer provide these clinics with essential medicines, staff training or support for community health education initiatives," Kurt Tjossem, International Rescue Committee (IRC) regional director for the Horn and East Africa region, told IRIN.

Before its expulsion, the IRC was working in Kassala, Red Sea, Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan "... supporting... lifesaving medical care, water, sanitation and livelihoods for around 1.1 million people".

Now, the IRC has been forced to stop its water and sanitation programmes in these areas. Fewer than 40 percent of the population of Kassala and Red Sea states have access to safe drinking water.

"In former SPLM [Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement, which governs Southern Sudan and is a partner in the national unity government, GNU] areas of both Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, particularly Kaoda and Kurmuk, NGOs deliver most essential services," according to the ODI.

350 African migrants feared drowned

More than 300 African migrants are feared drowned in the seas between Libya and Europe as illegal trafficking has increased in recent days.

The boats that carry Africans to Europe usually do not have any safety equipment. Smugglers try to cram as many people as they can into the boats to maximize their profits.

From this Reuters story that we found at WNED, Ali Shuaib tells us the findings of security officials fighting the traffcking.

At least 23 bodies of drowned migrants were recovered by Libyan coastguards near the wreckage of three rickety boats which sailed from the coastal village of Sidi Belal near Tripoli, Libya's most influential daily, Oea, said Tuesday, quoting security officials.

One of the boats was carrying 365 people although it was only supposed to hold 75, Libyan officials said. It was one of four migrant ships which sailed from Libya between Saturday and Sunday, apparently heading for Italy.

"After more than two days of searching, we have found no more bodies or survivors or the boat," a Libyan official said.

Among those missing were people from Somalia, Nigeria, Eritrea, Kurdish areas of Syria, Algeria, Morocco, the Palestinian territories and Tunisia, officials said.

A Libyan security official quoted a Tunisian survivor as saying: "I was on board the boat with 13 other Tunisians among the 365 migrants. I'm the only survivor. All my fellow Tunisians drowned."

A fourth ship crammed with more than 350 migrants broke down near Libya's offshore Buri oilfield but Libyan coastguards towed the vessel to the port of Tripoli and rescued all the migrants, including women and children.

Another voice being heard before G-20: The Archbishop of Canterbury

The Rev. Rowan Williams was interviewed for his thoughts on the eve of the G-20 meetings. The Archbishop told BBC Radio that he wanted the needs of poorer nations put on the top of the agenda.

Rev. Williams wants to see the Millennium Development Goals promoted more by the leaders of the rich world, and he praised British Prime Minister Gordon Brown for doing so.

This Press Association story that we found in the Guardian relates the interview.

But he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "This is no time to think of alibis for that because there is no economic problem that is just local in our world.

"We have already seen growth rates slowing down in Africa. It is estimated that perhaps as many as over 50 million people could be in absolute poverty in the next few years.

"So I think that has to be at the top of the list this week."

The archbishop was among the signatories to a statement issued by Britain's religious leaders this week ahead of the G20, urging the politicians to remember the poor and vulnerable.

"To forget their needs would be to compound regrettable past failures with needless future injustices," they said.

Dr Williams said the economic crisis had raised a fundamental question about whether the practices of recent years were "a sensible way to run a human race".

"I'm certainly not saying this is just a wake-up call and we ought to be glad of the bracing message. People really are suffering and that's a major problem," he said.

"But if we can at least take the opportunity of saying: how did we get here? Is this a sensible way to run an economy? Is this a sensible way to run a human race, you might almost say.

"That is the fundamental question. And that is why … we can't lose sight of the connection with the environmental issue as well."

Video: The Millennium Villages

This is a story from ABC News that aired in January.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Russia enters the global recession

The latest report from the World Bank deals with Russia and forecasts how it's economy will fare in the near future. The World Bank says that the Russian economy will recede on 2009. The news of the report sent the stock markets in Russia falling as well as a drop in the value of the ruble.

From the story in the New York Times writer Ellen Barry tells us how this will impact the poor in Russia.

The World Bank released a grim report on Russia on Monday, projecting a 4.5 percent contraction in the economy in 2009 and warning that the financial crisis would push 5.8 million Russians into poverty unless the government shifted more spending to poor families.

The report was a sharp revision of the World Bank’s November forecast, which predicted an increase of 3 percent in gross domestic product in 2009. World Bank analysts also took a more pessimistic view than the Russian government, whose experts are predicting a 2.2 percent contraction.

The World Bank report addresses a particular worry of Russian authorities: that unemployment will translate into civil unrest. Already, nearly 6.4 million Russians are unemployed and 1.1 million are on forced leave or working part-time schedules.

By the end of 2009, unemployment will probably reach 12 percent, the World Bank predicts. The poverty rate will climb to 15.5 percent, erasing some of the gains made in the last decade, when poverty fell to 10 percent from about 20 percent, the report said.

The report recommends a package of payments, including increases of 70 percent in unemployment subsidies and 220 percent in child welfare payments, which Mr. Bogetic said “could alleviate some of this social pain.”

“These instruments are better than all the others in reaching the poor,” he said. “You need to jack them up sufficiently.”

It's time to shake up the financial system

I know, I know whenever the man opens his mouth you will read about it here. But, I largely agree with Muhammad Yunus, and we are currently reading his latest book "Creating a World Without Poverty"

So here are the latest thoughts from Yunus from the Bangladeshi paper the Daily Star, the Nobel laureate spoke at a conference about women.

Asked if the financial downturn has not exposed the fragility of the conventional banking system, Yunus said: “The crisis is not going to disappear. If anything, it is going to intensify.”

The crisis originated in one country due to a few individuals and engulfed the entire world.

"This shows the fragile structure of a country," he said.

“We cannot continue with the same framework of financial institutions which insist on collateral for giving credit. They have to be redesigned as two thirds of the world does not accept the present system," Yunus said.

"We have to create a new financial structure.”

The new financial system, he suggested, should be more inclusive.

Microcredit should not be relegated as a footnote but integrated into the main system, said the Nobel laureate, whose Grameen Bank has pulled millions out of poverty in Bangladesh.

Yunus said the financial meltdown offered a “great great opportunity to shake out old ideas about banking and bring in new ideas and a new system”.

“We cannot go back to the old system. We will have to go to a new system and come up with new ideas about banking," Yunus said.

He suggested the right to credit should be made a law like the right to food, education and health.

How tight credit could hurt food production

The leader of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization is warning how tighter credit could effect food supply. Jacques Diouf says that small farmers will be unable to get credit to expand production.

Diouf comments are one of many were seeing before the G-20 meeting in London. As every interest or politician is making their voices heard in hopes of swaying what comes of the G-20 meeting. Diouf is calling on the G-20 to make more investments in agriculture to keep food supply growing and to prevent another increase in food prices.

From the Wall Street Journal, writer Patrick Barta explains the FAO's stance.

In 2007 and 2008, prices of corn, rice, and other grains rocketed higher amid a perfect storm of tight supplies, market speculation, and rising demand for crops in developing countries and for use in biofuels. The price spikes made it harder for people to afford basic foodstuffs, triggering violent protests in some developing countries and leading many economists to call for substantial new spending on farm production.

Prices have fallen by a third or more since then, and some analysts have warned of a possible glut of rice or other commodities as economic growth slows.

But grains prices are still 27% higher than in 2005, Mr. Diouf said, and global stocks remain low. Moreover, the number of people with insufficient food continues to climb. He said it's possible the tally of undernourished people in the world will surpass one billion, from 963 million in 2007, as the full brunt of higher food prices filters through.

A number of countries have stepped up rural spending over the past year, including China, which is making agricultural investments a key element of its economic stimulus initiatives.

But food-policy specialists fear any gains from such stimulus efforts could be offset by reduced credit from the private sector, making it harder for farmers to maintain output. The FAO is projecting global cereals production to decline this year due to smaller plantings and adverse weather, leaving 32 countries -- including Bangladesh, Haiti and Zimbabwe -- in need of foreign assistance.

Although governments are spending more, the global credit crunch "will constrain expansion of agriculture in the developing world this year," said Joachim von Braun, director of the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, in a recent interview. "We consider this to be a very precarious situation."

Mr. Diouf said the credit crunch hurts food-challenged countries in at least two ways: by making it harder for them to raise money to buy imported crops and by raising the cost of loans to small farmers.

With less credit available, farmers could be forced to hold back on planting or borrow from black-market lenders, saddling them with high-interest debts that could constrain their output for years.

Human Rights Watch says that Kenyan police abuse Somali refugees

Human Rights Watch has issued a new report that details abuse of Somali refugees at the hands of Kenyan police.

Somalis flee their country due to the war between an Islamic led insurgency against the Somalian government. A large refugee camp holds 250,000 people just inside the Kenya's boarder, with thousands more trying to arrive every day.

Instead of safety, Human Rights Watch says that Kenyan police forcibly deport the people seeking asylum.

The website for Human Rights Watch has the full report available for download, as well as a slideshow with photos of the refugee camps.

From his Reuters article, writer Richard Lough details some of the claims in the report.

Human Rights Watch spoke to dozens of refugees and documented cases of corrupt police officials routinely demanding cash from Somalis as they arrived or left the camps for other parts of Kenya.

The Kenyan government closed its porous desert frontier with Somalia in January 2007 after the United States helped push the Islamic Courts group out of power. The United Nations and aid agencies denounced the move at the time as a violation of human rights.

HRW said in its report that it recognized Kenya's legitimate security concerns. But it said the closure had failed to stem the influx of tens of thousands of refugees and instead had given rise to the proliferation of people-smuggling groups.

Although asylum seekers are paying smugglers up to $500 to ensure they reached Dadaab safely, police corruption was so endemic that the fee did not guarantee safe passage, it added.

"Emboldened by the power over refugees that the border closure has given them, Kenyan police detain the new arrivals, seek bribes -- sometimes using threats and violence including sexual violence -- and deport back to Somalia those unable to pay," the report said.

HRW accused the Kenyan authorities of forcibly returning hundreds, perhaps thousands, of asylum seekers and refugees across the border in a direct breach of international law.

Development aid at highest level ever: OECD

A 30 country group that monitors development aid says giving to the under-developed world is at the highest levels ever.

Poverty fighting advocates are applauding the following figures, but urge that the poor nations must receive the money immediately.

Our snippet of the release comes from the Straits Times.

DEVELOPMENT aid given by OECD member states rose by 10.2 per cent in 2008 to a record US$119.8 billion (S$182 billion), despite the global financial downturn, the organisation said on Monday.

The total marks the highest dollar figure ever recorded, the 30-country Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development said, three days before the G20 summit to tackle the financial crisis is held in London.

The figures refer to the OECD's aid agency, its 22-member Development Assistance Committee (DAC) which includes the world's most advanced economies.

Aid to Africa totalled $26 billion in 2008, of which $22.5 billion went to sub-Saharan countries.

The largest donors by volume in 2008 were the United States, Germany, Britain, France and Japan.

Five countries exceeded the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent of gross national income: Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.

Africa's hopes for the G-20 meeting

Writer Edward Harris does a great job in describing the impact of the global economic recession on Africa. In his Associated Press story, Harris describes how the recession effects underdeveloped nations differently, and what they hope to see from the upcoming G-20 meeting.

As leaders of the Group of 20 industrialized nations prepare for an April 2 summit in London to hash out a coordinated economic plan, Africans and international activists are hoping that rich country leaders turn their attention to poor nations, too. Unlike the narrower Group of Eight forum, Africa has a seat at the G-20 in South Africa.

Africa's exposure to the global meltdown is fundamentally different to that in developed countries: its economies are mostly based on hard cash, so lack of bank liquidity that translates into lower lending isn't the main problem in Africa. And few Africans hold mortgages, so there's no subprime mess.

Most African countries are instead suffering from depressed global demand for the natural resources that provide the lion's share of their incomes.

Also hurting the continent:

— The drying up of crucial direct investment from overseas.

— A drop in remittances sent back home from African emigres.

— A stampede of foreign money out of fragile local stock exchanges as overseas investors seek safer waters.

— An expected drop in direct aid from richer nations now preoccupied with their own people.

While Africa is projected by the International Monetary Fund to squeeze out economic growth of about 3 percent in 2009 even as the global economy recedes for the first time in years, that's only about half of what Africa has seen recently, and it's too little to halt the spread of poverty.

ActionAid, a South African charity, says the global economic downturn translates into about a $50 billion — or 10 percent — drop in income for Africa by the end of the year.

"Although developing countries didn't make this crisis, it has become all too clear that they are in the firing line when it comes to suffering its worst effects," says Claire Melamed of ActionAid.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Promoting health insurance for poor children in South Carolina

South Carolina has 130,000 uninsured children. The state does run an insurance program that could cover them. So state legislators are looking at improving efforts to get the word out about the program.

From the Post and Courier writer Yvonne Wenger details the State's effort to promote the program.

"This is a message to all the parents in South Carolina: If your children do not have medical insurance coverage, we want you to know that you may qualify," said Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg.

The state Legislature has set aside money since 2007 for an estimated 70,000 children to receive coverage for checkups, hospital stays, dental care, eye exams, prescriptions and other services through the S.C. Healthy Connections Kids. So far, only 12,000 children have signed up.

Legislative budget writers are still drafting the state's spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1, and money for the State Children's Health Insurance Program was included in the House-passed version.

On Thursday, Sue Berkowitz, director of S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center, and Frank Knapp, president of the state Small Business Chamber of Commerce, announced an effort to get 650,000 fliers in the hands of parents whose children could benefit.

Rep. David Mack, D-North Charleston, is among legislators who will be distributing fliers to local school districts as a way to get the word out.

"This is not only the morally right thing to do, it is the fiscally responsible thing to do," Mack said. If a child gets the proper preventive care, then expensive health problems can be avoided, he said.

Thousands protest the upcoming G-20 meeting

London was full of tens of thousands of protesters to begin the fun around the G-20 meetings. The protesters ranged in interests from environmentalists, trade unions, and anti-capitalists.

From Australian paper The Age, reporter Guy Jackson explains the protests.

Police estimated the crowd at up to 35,000 but there was no sign of the feared violence as the placard-waving crowd snaked along the six-kilometre (four-mile) route to Hyde Park.

An alliance of more than 150 unions, charities and environment groups joined the march to demand action to save jobs, create a low-carbon economy and impose stricter controls on the finance sector.

World leaders, including US President Barack Obama on his first visit to Europe since he took office, will meet in London on Thursday for the Group of 20 summit amid the deepest global recession since the 1930s.

Organisers of the Put People First march for "jobs, justice and climate" had rejected as "smears" claims in police briefings that the march could be hijacked by anarchists bent on violence.

The general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Brendan Barber, said the demonstration had a clear message for the presidents and prime ministers heading to London.

"Never before has such a wide coalition come together with such a clear message for world leaders," he said.

"The old ideas of unregulated free markets do not work, and have brought the world's economy to near-collapse, failed to fight poverty and have done far too little to move to a low-carbon economy."

Friday, March 27, 2009

A lifetime in poverty increases heart disease risk

A new study finds that lifelong poverty increases one's chances of having heart disease. The researchers behind the study says it shows how important it is to provide medical help and prevention for the poor.

From this story in Reuters, writer Amy Norton tells us how the study was conducted.

In this latest study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers found that lifelong disadvantage may translate into an "accumulation of risk" for heart disease.

They found that among more than 1,800 U.S. adults in a long-term heart- health study, greater lifetime exposure to poverty was related to increasing heart disease risks. Those who were disadvantaged as children and adults were 82 percent more likely to develop heart disease than those who were comparatively well off in childhood and adulthood.

Much of the disparity seemed to be explained by higher rates of "classic" heart disease risk factors, said lead researcher Dr. Eric B. Loucks, who was at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, at the time of the study.

People who were disadvantaged throughout life were, for example, more likely to smoke or be obese, explained Loucks, who is now an assistant professor at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

The study included 1,835 men and women who were followed between 1971 and 2003. During that time, 144 developed heart-artery blockages, suffered a heart attack or died from heart disease.

The researchers gave each participant a "score" for lifelong socioeconomic status -- using fathers' education as an indicator of childhood status, and participants' own education and job as a measure of adulthood status.

Overall, the researchers found, men and women with the greatest lifelong exposure to poverty faced the greatest heart risks.

Video: Food prices double in Sierra Leone

The above video accompanies an article written about Fatu's struggle to provide food in Sierra Leone. Telegraph writer Jessica Salter gives us some background on the conditions of the country.

Sierra Leone is officially the worst place in the world for a child to be born. One in four children die before their fifth birthday and one in three children under five are moderately or severely underweight.

The country was devastated by the civil war which wracked the country from 1991-2002. Tens of thousands of people died in the conflict and more than one-third of the 6m population was displaced.

Kroo Bay, where more than 5,000 people live crammed together in flimsy tin-roofed huts, is built on mounds of rubbish and the area is regularly flooded bringing in deadly diseases.

US Senate hearing on food security

Here is a look at what took place on Tuesday's hearing on food prices and food security. The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee called the hearing to see what impact hunger has on national security, and it has a large one.

Deborah Tate from the Voice of America tells us why committee chair Senator John Kerry called the hearing.

The chairman of the committee, Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts, says hunger is one of the greatest diplomatic and moral challenges the world faces.

Kerry says the problem affects some 850 million people and is particularly acute in Africa.

"One in three people are malnourished, and food security today is worse than it was in 1970. Conflict, poor governance and HIV/AIDS have all reduced basic access to food. Now drought, aggravated by climate change, makes the situation even more desperate," he said.

The hearing comes as the Obama administration reviews U.S. development aid. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton submitted a letter to the Foreign Relations Committee, saying she hopes to make food security a priority for U.S. development programs.

The top Republican on the committee, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, has reintroduced legislation, the Global Food Security Act, that would make long-range agricultural productivity a major goal of U.S. development programs.

"I believe the food security challenge is an opportunity for the United States. We are the undisputed leader in agricultural technology. And a more focused effort on our part to join with other nations to increase [crop] yields, create economic opportunities for the rural poor and broaden agricultural knowledge could strengthen relations around the world and open a new era of United States diplomacy," he said.

Political scientist Robert Paarlberg of Wellesley College in Massachusetts expressed concern that the United States has reduced its agricultural development aid to Africa during the past quarter century, as agricultural production on the content declined.

"The per capita production of maize has actually dropped by 14 percent since 1980. The average income of these farmers is less than $1 per day and one-third are chronically malnourished. But to make things worse, over the last 25 years, the United States government has essentially walked away from this problem. Since the 1980s, the United States government has cut its official development assistance to agriculture in Africa by roughly 85 percent. The staff at USAID [the United States Agency for International Development] that handle agriculture has been cut by nearly 90 percent. So as things have been getting steadily worse in Africa, the United States government has curiously been doing steadily less," he said.

Paarlberg says that because African farmers do not have access to fertilizer, irrigation or powered machinery, agricultural production in Africa has lagged behind population growth for most of the last three decades.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

How much money a family in Zimbabwe needs

Zimbabwe has suffered hyper inflation for some time now. It got so bad that Zimbabwe had to dump it's own currency, and now conducts commerce with the South African or American dollars.

The government recently conducted a survey that shows how much a family now needs for basic goods such as food, housing and transportation. The Zimbabwe Herald tells us how much a family needs for basics.

A FAMILY in Zimbabwe required as much as US$552 for basics in January according to latest official poverty assessment report.

The Central Statistical Office, a national statistics agency which also calculates inflation said on Tuesday of the US$552, US$177 was needed for food.

This average family will need to spend US$375 on basics such as accommodation, transport to get to and from work, school fees and clothes, among other basics.

There is no provision for luxuries.

According to CSO, PDL represents the cost of a given standard of living that must be attained if a person should not be considered as poor.

Going by the CSO definition of PDL, the majority of workers in Zimbabwe will be found in the poor category. Government is paying civil servants US$100 per month.

World Bank grants Rwanda $80 million

The World Bank has granted $80 million dollars to the country of Rwanda. The money is used to fund government run poverty fighting projects.

The World Bank has been supporting Rwanda's budget with direct grants since 2001, the size of last year's grant was $70 million.

For a run down on some of the projects the money will be used for, we go to All Africa and reporter Sam Ruburika.

According to James Musoni, the minister of finance, the fifth PRSG will be utilized in human capital and infrastructure development especially in specific areas that are still an impediment to the country's social economic development.

The Minister mentioned areas such as education, where the fund is expected to help increase the number of teachers and the development of science and technology in schools.

The agriculture sector, for its part, is to benefit from important infrastructure works such as distribution of electricity into rural areas, construction of roads to ease access to the markets and also facilitate the growth of Rwanda's exports.

Furthermore, the grant will be used to deepen and broaden the financial sector thus facilitating the private sector in accessing credit.

US$ 10 million of PRSG V will be earmarked for rural agriculture development which according to Victoria Kakwa, the World Bank country manager, has been improving over the years.

She hailed the progress of Rwanda's economy which registered an impressive growth of 11% in 2008.

The agenda for the G-20

The BBC has a really good breakdown of the issues that are ahead for the G-20 meeting. The one-day summit is taking place in London on April 2nd.

Of course, the big topic will be the world economic recession. The leaders of the world's wealthiest countries will talk about what they can do to get the economy growing again.

The BBC has the agenda divided into 5 categories, reviving the world economy, restoring lending, tougher rules for banks, a bigger role for International Monetary Fund, and more help for developing countries. It is that last heading that we will focus on in our snippet, but we encourage you to give the full article a look at.

The world's poorest countries are likely to be hard-hit by the downturn.

The World Bank estimates that an extra 50 million people will fall into poverty because of the global recession.

But there is concern that many countries are now likely to cut their development aid.

Gordon Brown would like world leaders to pledge to maintain that aid, and if possible to increase it in line with targets agreed at the Gleneagles summit in 2005.

However, development groups such as the Overseas Development Institute say that at least $50bn more is needed for sub-Saharan Africa to escape the worst effects of the crisis.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Swaziland Supreme court rules for free education

The Supreme Court of Swaziland has ordered the government to provide free education as ruled in the Nation's Constitution. Swaziland started to charge tuition fees to students citing budget constraints for doing so.

With access to education being one of the Millennium Development Goals, we go to IRIN for more details, and an English lesson from the Swaziland Supreme Court.

"I make a declaration that every Swazi child of whatever grade attending primary school is entitled to education free of charge, at no cost and no requirement of any contribution of any such child regarding tuition, supply of textbooks and all inputs that ensure access to education," High Court Judge Mabel Agyemang ruled.

The labour support group, Swaziland National Ex-Miners Workers Union (SNEWA), brought the lawsuit to compel the government to honour the 2005 constitution, promulgated by sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, King Mswati III.

In February 2009, Mswati said at the opening of parliament that free education was desirable, however, it was not feasible due to budgetary constraints.

Parliamentarians pointed out that free education was already offered to children in the form of government-purchased textbooks and the payment of tuition fees for orphans and vulnerable children (OVC), an argument used by lawyers acting on behalf of government.

Judge Agyemang rejected this argument, saying: "I reiterate that the context in which the world 'free' appears in Section 29 (6) [of the constitution] as an adjective to describe the word 'education' leaves no ambiguity to the reader.

"It seems to me that the respondents [the government] are seeking to have the court give the words 'free education' an interpretation which will only do violence to the language, will at best be artificial and in reality be absurd," she said.

A government spokesperson declined to comment, but said lawyers were reviewing the decision and had not ruled out appealing it.

The Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civil Organisations, an umbrella group of human rights groupings, labour organizations and humanitarian aid societies, said they hoped government would abide by the ruling rather than appealing it.

The Times of Swaziland, a local newspaper, said in an editorial after the judge’s decision that the government could afford free education if it shelved unnecessary and expensive "luxury" projects, such as a new national airport.

A former cabinet minister, in office when the constitution was adopted, told IRIN that free education could have been financed by the government, with grant assistance from the European Union, but was put on hold to address the issue of OVC education.

Using the seeds of a horseradish tree to purify water

A scientific study going on in Zimbabwe is testing the use of a certain seed to purify water.

The study couldn't have been done at a better place, as Zimbabwe's water system is a catastrophe. The contaminated drinking water in the country caused a large cholera outbreak, which claimed the lives of over 3.000 people. Less than a third of the people in Southern Africa have access to clean water, the number is even less in Zimbabwe.

From the IPS, reporters Busani Bafana and Zahira Kharsany tell us about the research.

Water and sanitation experts are currently investigating if a powder made from the seeds of the Moringa Oleifera, commonly known as the drumstick or horseradish tree, can be used as a filter to purify water.

"Water quality is a problem in Zimbabwe, and this is not only confined to urban areas but happens in rural areas too," explained NUST civil engineer Ellen Mangore.

She told IPS the research project is modelled on water treatment practices in Sudan, where the seed is used pounded or whole to purify water. Moringa Oleifera is a small tree whose leaves are popularly used to make salad, while its elongated fruit is eaten as a vegetable.

Researchers place their hopes in the Moringa tree seed for water purification, as the tree is widely found in Zimbabwe. In addition, it is drought tolerant and grows in locations with as little as 500 millimetres of annual rainfall.

In addition, NUST investigates other simple water treatment methods, such as purification with household bleach and sand filtration columns.

So far, the treatment of water with Moringa seed powder has proven to be an effective method of reducing water-borne diseases and correct pH, said Mangore, as have the other tested methods.

"Our test results also showed that household bleach is a very strong disinfectant and raised the levels of free and total chlorine in the water, while the simple filtration columns resulted in almost 85 percent reduction in total suspended solids," she explained.

US aid group kicked out of North Korea

Once again a government puts politics over the good of it's people. North Korea has kicked out the aid group Mercy Corps, who have provided food the the North Korean people.

North Korea has been messing with nuclear weapons again. Many feel that the expulsion of Mercy Corps is in response to US criticism of the nuclear program. North Korea has also detained two US journalists accused of spying.

From the Reuters article written by Paul Eckert, we hear from Mercy Corps and their hopes to return to North Korea soon.

Amid tensions over North Korea's nuclear program and an expected missile launch next month, its reclusive government informed Washington last week of its decision not to accept more U.S. assistance, the State Department said.

North Korea said a 2008 protocol, which would have provided 500,000 metric tons of U.S. food aid over a 12-month period, was "no longer in effect," said Paul Majarowitz, director of Mercy Corps NGO Food Assistance Program in North Korea.

"We were given a letter by the North Korean government that asked us to close our field offices by March 20, and our main office by March 31, and have all of our staff and equipment out of the country by March 31," he said.

The expulsion covered only the food aid program, not the private aid agencies themselves, Majarowitz added.

"We're complying with that request and, at the same time, we're negotiating with them, trying to see if there is an avenue to restart or to resume the program," he said in remarks at the Korea Economic Institute in Washington.

U.N. investigator Vitit Muntarbhorn told the world body's Human Rights Council last week the situation in North Korea was "dire and desperate". Authorities were moving to close all markets on which many people rely for food, he said.

North Korean authorities were also apparently planning to ban small-lot, or "kitchen" farming, which had been vital for the survival of much of the population, while army personnel were forcing farmers to provide them food, Muntarbhorn said.

Video: Darfur aid crisis story from Al Jazeera

A dire prediction: Climate change effects on food security

One of the top advisers to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is warning of famines in 30 years. Nina Fedoroff says that a billion people will face famine in this mid-century. Fedoroff says the effects of climate change and rising temperatures will hurt food production and cause a real challenge for us in years ahead.

From the Times Online reporter Lewis Smith interviewed Fedoroff, who pointed at a heatwave from 2003 as evidence.

During the 2003 European heatwave, she said, crop yields fell by 20 to 25 per cent in France and this is a pattern likely to be repeated on a much wider scale in the future.

Some years will see worldwide heatwaves which will put a great strain on food supplies and, if they take place two years in a row, they could damage crop yields so drastically that they leave a billion people in danger of starvation.

Even wealthy countries like Britain and the United States, said Dr Fedoroff, will struggle to feed many of their citizens, with the poorest in society likely to suffer the most. “I think that’s what we are facing,” she told The Times on a brief visit to London before heading to a OECD conference in Paris later this week, where she will call on governments to do more to guard against food shortages in the coming decades.

“Everybody knows the summer 2003 heatwave killed 30,000 to 50,000 people but do you know it decreased crop productions by 20 to 25 per cent? That’s huge. That summer was an anomoly but the projections are that’s going to be a typical summer. It could be by the mid century, it could be by the end of the century.”

Crop production has already been affected by an increase in drought frequency in parts of Africa but temperature rises forecast as a result of climate change mean that large areas of Europe, the US and central America, Australia and Asia are likely to be similarly affected in the future.

Like Professor Beddington and Bob Watson, the chief scientist at the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Dr Fedoroff believes genetic engineering must be expanded if the world is going to be able to feed itself.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

UN warns on the growing humanitarian crisis in Darfur

The United Nations is issuing a warning on the growing humanitarian crisis in Darfur. The government of Sudan expelled many aid organizations from the country and prevented them from giving aid to the people of Darfur. On top of that, rebel leaders are refusing are help from the Sudanese government.

From the Guardian, Xan Rice tells us about the warning from the UN.

Some of the most vulnerable people in Darfur face a high risk of "increased morbidity and mortality" since the expulsion of 16 aid agencies three weeks ago, the UN's humanitarian co-ordinator for Sudan warned today.

Ameerah Haq said that while the immediate needs of the 4.7 million people reliant on relief in Darfur were mostly being met through stopgap measures, up to 650,000 people were without access to full healthcare. Feeding programmes for malnourished children and pregnant women also remained disrupted.

Many clinics remain closed, while others are being run by local staff at a basic level. One agency today expressed concern at reports that "non-health professionals" in displaced persons' camps were using the medical equipment it had been forced to leave behind.

Some 13 foreign agencies and three local organisations responsible for at least half the aid provision in Darfur were kicked out on 4 March, minutes after the international criminal court issued an arrest warrant for the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir. Humanitarian officials have warned that Sudan's pledge to fill the aid gap is unlikely to succeed while supplies of food, medicine and water are all under threat. Darfur's main rebel group has urged people to reject all government assistance.

The World Food Programme (WFP) is distributing a two-month ration to 1.1 million displaced people who were served by Care, Solidarités, Action Against Hunger and Save the Children, which have all been expelled. But Rachid Jafaar, a WFP official, warned this was "unsustainable", and the organisation could not guarantee that all the people affected, at 140 sites, would receive food.

The situation has been exacerbated by a surge in attacks on aid workers, which has severely restricted the activities of some of the agencies left on the ground. Three foreign Médecins Sans Frontières workers were kidnapped for several days by a militia supportive of Bashir, and a local employee of a Canadian aid agency was shot dead on Monday night.

NGO officials say Sudan's national security service has been overruling the state humanitarian affairs commission on issues of which aid groups are allowed to work, and where. Haq said Bashir's government, which worked with the UN on the needs assessment mission and is supplying services through the health ministry and water department, needed to take urgent action to improve aid provision.

Creating opportunity for youths in Sierra Leone's slums

A new program in Sierra Leone is creating opportunity for youths who live in slums.

YES or Youth Employment Secretariat has been formed by the countries government with support from the United Nations. The program develops jobs and businesses for the youth who live in the slums of Freetown.

The jobs range from tie-dying to soap-making. The youths can then spin off from the program to create their own money making businesses or non-profits.

The story from IRIN, gives us a clean water non-profit as an example.

Home to 13,000 people, Kroo bay slum in central Freetown had just two running water taps before Sidiki Mansark formed the “West Sie Boys” youth cooperative and set up public showers for slum residents.

“We saw the people lacking, and we decided to do something about it,” Mansark told IRIN. “Now everyone comes to us when they want a shower. We are not rich yet, but water is life and we want to bring it to the people.”

Youth unemployment programmes must move beyond post-conflict skills-training, such as tie-dying, tailoring and soap-making, to identify market opportunities in emerging industries in order to lower the 1.2 million-strong youth unemployment statistics, say youth employment experts in Sierra Leone.

“We need electricians, mobile phone repairers, air conditioning cleaners -- and this requires us to research emerging markets, to attract private sector investment and get more support for apprenticeship schemes,” said Helga Gibbons, International Monitoring and Evaluation Advisor at the government’s newly formed Youth Employment Secretariat (YES).

With 60 percent of the country’s youth population unemployed and many fearful that unemployment compounded by chronic poverty could derail fragile stability, donors and partners are looking for new solutions.

Shifting mentalities

Set up in 2008, YES, supported by the UN Development Programme, has established a fund of US$700,000 to distribute grants and micro-finance loans to youth groups that present viable applications for business start-ups, public works projects or agricultural initiatives.

Hundreds of youth groups who have applied for funding are awaiting approval, among them the Water Sie Boys who requested US$9,000 to open a new community shower.

Gibbons said youths need better business-management training to use this money profitably. “Many youth groups still see themselves as non-profits rather than money-making enterprises…this mentality has to shift,” she told IRIN. Ultimately all business plans will be dependent both on their own merits and on the vagaries of the wider economy, she said.

YES’s partner, the NGO International Rescue Committee (IRC), is trying to match urban youths with existing businesses, such as pharmacies, and asking them to open a new branch. Youth development coordinator Annalisa Busati told IRIN that this way, “they [youths] get the backing of the firm’s name, branding and supply chain, and they can avoid common business start-up mistakes.”

Hearing on global food crisis today in Washington

A hearing on food prices around the world is taking place on Capitol Hill today. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee chaired by Senator John Kerry will conduct the hearing.

Last year, food prices generally soared up over 60 percent, pushing millions of people into hunger. Although the prices have since recovered from these record highs, they are still higher than in previous years.

From the Political Intelligence blog at the Boston Globe, Foon Rhee details the hearing.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, under the gavel of chairman John F. Kerry, is holding a hearing today on what the United States can do to help alleviate the global food crisis.

“We’re faced with two disasters—soaring food prices leaving millions hungry every year and an ailing economy. The challenges are overwhelming, but we have to do much more than send emergency food aid to countries facing scarcity,” Kerry said in a statement.

“We live in a world where nearly one billion people suffer from chronic food insecurity,” Senator Richard Lugar, the panel's ranking Republican, added,. “Hungry people are desperate people, and desperation often sows the seeds of conflict and extremism."

He is a cosponsor of a bill designed to improve US and global efforts to increase crop yields, create rural economic opportunities, broaden trade relations, and improve scientific cooperation.

The scheduled witnesses are: Daniel R. Glickman, former Secretary of Agriculture during the Clinton administration; Catherine Bertini, former executive director of the World Food Program; David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World; Robert Paarlberg, professor of political science at Wellesley College; Edwin C. Price, associate vice chancellor and director of Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture; and Gebisa Ejeta, professor of agronomy at Purdue University.

Sudanese aid worker shot dead in Darfur

A Sudanese man who works for a Canadian aid organization serving Darfur was shot dead yesterday, for his cell phone.

It's the latest act of violence against the those who provide aid for the people in Darfur. In March, a group from Medecins Sans Frontieres were kidnapped, but they have since been returned.

From this AFP article that we found at Yahoo News, see learn more about the tragedy.

"He was ambushed on Saturday by men who wanted his Thuraya satellite telephone," Mark Simmons, country director for the Fellowship for African Relief, told AFP.

"They came to his home on Monday evening to take the phone, but it wasn't there. The armed men then opened fire on him."

Simmons said the attack took place in west Darfur, near the border with Chad.

"We've been in Sudan for 24 years and this is the first time that one of our workers is killed," he said.

The killing came after Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir, accused by the International Criminal Court of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, expelled 13 foreign relief agencies earlier this month.

Beshir has stepped up his defiance of the West since the ICC issued an arrest warrant for him on March 4, vowing to expel foreign aid groups and to replace them with Sudanese organisations.

Monday, March 23, 2009

An early start to volunteering; college student spends six months in India

A young woman is spending a half a year in India helping poor children. While there, she continues her college studies via the internet. That is part of the story of Brooke McCall, who stated volunteering and making a difference in high school. She has created a web site about her current effort at Only Today org.

The Daily Press from Orange County California tells us more about the young world traveler, with this story from Greg Hardesty.

In India, her mission is twofold: Teaching English and geography to kids from the slums and refugee camps, and trying to raise $15,000 to send 50 of those students to college.

Her uncle, Chris White, who works at the Irvine office of Cisco Systems, the giant networking supplier, set up McCall to live at the India home of Lea King, a Cisco marketing executive in Bangalore, who connected McCall to several nonprofit organizations.

McCall works six days a week for the nonprofits.

Most of that time is spent at the Indira Gandhi International Academy, which educates about 230 kids from Sri Lanka who are transported each day from a refugee camp.

Outside class, she's raising money for an 8-year- old boy with a severe leg infection. The goal is to keep him in school.

McCall's other miniproject has a similar theme. She's convinced the parents of a 17-year-old girl not to marry off their daughter so that she, too, can stay in school.

Book Review "The Life You Can Save" by Peter Singer

You might remember Peter Singer from the 1970's when he declared that animals have equal rights to humans. Singer continues to try to sway opinions with his latest book "The Life You Can Save." In it, he suggests how Americans can change their charitable giving to help combat world poverty.

We found a review of the work in the Boston Globe, from freelance writer and book critic Bill Williams.

Peter Singer is on a crusade to convince Americans that they can play a vital role in ending world poverty, without undue sacrifice.

The Princeton bioethics professor's latest book, "The Life You Can Save," offers a stark indictment of extreme economic disparity in a world where 10 million children under the age of 5 die each year from starvation and treatable illnesses.

Americans are generous with their time and money, but little of it is directed at helping those outside US borders. Among industrialized nations, the United States ranks near the bottom in the proportion of national income given as foreign aid.

Like a veteran debater, Singer weighs the reasons why people do not give more, cites examples of noble generosity, and offers a voluntary plan that could raise $510 billion to combat poverty.

One of Singer's favorite examples of American excess is bottled water, which has become a staple in many households. Meanwhile, millions of people do not have access to clean water, sanitation, medical care, and enough food to maintain health.

Some people balk because they think the scale of extreme poverty is so great that small donations would not make a difference, or they are more likely to help the needy closer to home, or they wonder what happens to their donations.

The slowing textile industry in Cambodia

Foreign investors invaded Cambodia with cash to establish a thriving textile industry in the 1990's. The jobs in the clothing factories helped to bring many Cambodians over the poverty level.

Now with the global recession slowing down demand for clothes, many jobs in Cambodia are being lost. Some factories are shutting down while owing their workers back pay.

From this exaustive Reuters story on textiles in Cambodia, writer Ek Madra shows us the impact on the nations poverty line.

The sector represents about 16 percent of Cambodia's GDP, so the factory closures will hurt, with a ripple effect in the countryside as the money sent home by garment workers dries up.

The International Monetary Fund says the economy could shrink 0.5 percent in 2009 and the garment trade slump is a big factor.

But Kang Chandararot, director of the Cambodian Institute of Development Study (CIDS), said even if the double-digit growth of recent years was out of reach, 4 or 5 percent may be possible thanks to a bountiful rice crop in 2008/09 and the record $950 million in aid pledged by international donors for 2009.

"Cambodia could use the aid of nearly $1 billon to invest in infrastructures to stimulate its economy," Chandararot said.

People surviving on less than $1 a day are deemed to be living in poverty. Garment workers earn on average $2.7 a day so the loss of these jobs will hurt.

"More people will be pushed into poverty," said Huot Chea of the World Bank in Cambodia.

Historical data is lacking in Cambodia, but the World Bank says 45 to 50 percent of the people lived in poverty in 1994. Prime Minister Hun Sen says that was cut to 30 percent by 2008 thanks to the garment sector, tourism and agriculture.

Numbers of people in poverty in New York state increasing

A report for areas of upstate New York show increasing poverty in the region. The State's Community Action Association compiled the report using US Census Bureau data and numbers from area aid agencies.

The details show what anti-poverty workers already now, the number of people in poverty in New York state are increasing. From the Schenectady Daily Gazette, reporter Sara Foss gets some reaction.

“This confirmed what we see,” said Deb Schimpf, executive director of the Schenectady Community Action Program.

“It’s what we expected, but it’s still hard to meet the need,” said Mike Saccocio, executive director of the City Mission of Schenectady.

The New York State Community Action Association, which wrote the report, hopes that it will serve as a resource for community-based organizations, elected officials and the public. It was put together using 2005, 2006 and 2007 data from the United States Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, and provides poverty rates for every county in the state, as well as upstate cities.

“Policy makers need good poverty information,” said Denise Harlow, CEO of the New York State Community Action Association. The report, she said, “elevates the issues of poverty.” According to the 2009 New York State Poverty Report, the statewide poverty rate is 14 percent, compared to a national poverty rate of 13.3 percent. More than 2.6 million New Yorkers live in households with incomes below the poverty line — $18,310 for a family of three. Statewide, the median income is $52,944.

In Albany County, the poverty rate is 12.4 percent, in Fulton County 16.4 percent, in Montgomery County 13.1 percent, in Rensselaer County 11.5 percent, in Saratoga County 6.6 percent, in Schenectady County 11.4 percent and in Schoharie County 11.7 percent.

The rates are much higher in area cities. In Albany, the poverty rate is 26.7 percent; approximately 39.2 percent of children live in poverty. In Saratoga Springs, the poverty rate is 8.4 percent; approximately 25.4 percent of children live in poverty. In Schenectady, the poverty rate is 21.1 percent; approximately 28.7 percent of children live in poverty.

A Sari designing NGO to empower the women of India

We learned of the work of a non governmental Organization that works in India that helps to improve the lives of women. The NGO called "Hosur Development Foundation" helps women to design sari clothing so they can go on to form their own sari crafting businesses.

The story from Andhra News gives us more details on the NGO.

A self-help group has been training rural women in sari designing in Tamil Nadu to make them self-reliant.

Under patronage of the Tamil Nadu Government and the Central Government, a non- government organization 'Hosur Development Foundation' is running the self-help group for the socio-economic development of women and their empowerment.

A group of 140 women are working in this self-help group for making designs on the saris.

"We are making designs on saris and tailoring it. The Central and the State Government have provided their assistance to us. Earlier, we faced quite a lot of difficulties, but now we are earning 2000 rupees per month. We are hoping to earn more," said Seetha, member of the self-help group.

With the help of government subsidies the women are successfully engaged in the jobs.We are providing the State and the Central Government subsidies for the members.

They can use it for their economic growth, cultural development and economic status," said Arumugam, Assistant Project Officer, self-help group, Krishnakiri District.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Comment on the aid expulsions from Darfur

A very under-reported story that has been going on in recent weeks are the expulsions of aid grounds and NGO's who provide much need food and support to the people of Darfur. The government of Sudan has been kicking out the aid groups and leaving a vacuum of need for the refugees of Darfur.

We normally don't leave commentaries up through the weekend, but Jim Wallis wrote a piece for God's Politics that has been weighing on our minds lately. Again, our blog's goal is to shed light on a very under-reported subject in the American press. The actions of the government of Sudan seem to have been forgotten in all the news of the global recession, so we felt led to give this commentary some attention through the weekend.

Here we are again, and again, and again. It is not a new message or a new concern. People have been suffering, starving, raped, beaten and killed year in and year out. There are those who have committed years, entire lives, to the cause. They have preached, they have marched, they have sung, they have divested, and they have been arrested to make their voices heard. Politicians, celebrities, faith leaders, and activists have joined together to stand up and speak out. The campaigns have gone on so long and the education so effective that 58 percent of Americans can now locate this remote country on a map. But, “never again” has turned into “once again,” and history repeats itself with genocide in Darfur.

Over the past few weeks, 13 international humanitarian organizations have been expelled from Sudan at the dictate of Omar al-Bashir, president of Sudan. These actions came soon after the International Criminal Court handed down an indictment of al-Bashir and issued a warrant for his arrest for crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Darfur. As a result, 1.1 million Darfuris are without food, 1.5 million without health care, and more than 1 million without access to clean drinking water. If there was any doubt as to whether or not he was truly acting in the best interest of his people, his use of food and water as weapons of war show that he just does not care about the people of Darfur.

Over the past month, officials have spoken to me about invoking Article 16 of the Court’s statutes which would allow the U.N. Security Council to defer proceedings for a year or even more. They argue that this would allow the Khartoum government to take positive steps forward in taking care of its people and moving toward peace. With the expulsion of these humanitarian organizations, al-Bashir has shown that he has no interest in the well-being of the people of Darfur or in bringing piece. These actions show that once again there comes a time when a political leader has so violated standards of international law and morality that he should no longer be treated as a sovereign, even in his own country, but as a criminal. Actions like this show that he should no longer be president, but prosecuted and brought to justice like the international fugitive of the law he now is. If he was serious about peace and progress, the first thing he should do is welcome the aid organizations back into his country, and without that he has ensured that this warrant will be pursued.

Again, and again, and again. The unacceptable has been accepted, atrocities have been ignored. When the dust clears and the bodies are buried, burned, or left to rot in forsaken camps, the whole world will mourn for what has been done. But, what Sudan needs is not apologies in the future, but hope today. Until the killing has stopped and peace restored, Sudan needs people of conscience across the world who will stand in solidarity today, tomorrow, and the day after that – again, and again, and again.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Extending credit to farmers without collateral established in Uganda

A new credit program will begin to extend credit to farmers in Africa who are without collateral. The hope is that small farmers will be able to borrow money for improved seeds and fertilizer. The improved tools should be able to provide the farmers enough food to live on for a full year, and maybe a little extra to sell.

The lending program will operate in Uganda, Ghana, Mozambique and Tanzania.

The Standard Bank of South Africa put up the money for the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa who will conduct the program. $100 million dollars will be put into the fund over the next three years.

Kofi Annan is a chair person for the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. He spoke at the unveiling ceremony which was attended by reporter Hellen Mukiibi of New Vision.

"Inflation, food shortages, and trade imbalances all pose huge social, economic, and political risks. But while credit is frozen worldwide, Africa cannot wait for a thaw," Annan said at the unveiling event in Accra on Wednesday.

"Programmes such as this, which increase the productivity of smallholder farmers and help catalyse an African Green Revolution, will ultimately enable Africa to achieve food security and stability, and thus improve the entire global outlook."

Standard Bank Group boss Jacko Maree said "as a leading emerging markets bank, our goal is to perform a transformative role in the continent's agricultural sector in partnership with other organisations.

Transforming small scale farmers into medium-sized enterprises is essential to address the food security and to stimulate economic growth." Similar to farmers in developing countries, the Uganda small land holders lack access to finance.

This been the worldwide major obstacle preventing farmers from investing in basic inputs, such as good seeds, fertilisers and small-scale irrigation needed to raise farm productivity and generate profit.

As a result, their yields poor, estimated at one-quarter of the global average leading to pervasive hunger and poverty across Africa.

Food giveaway has to turn people away

A food giveaway in Georgia saw such a huge demand that people had to be turned away.

The giveaway is part of an USDA Emergency Food Assistance Program. The program distributes food through community action agencies and food banks. The recent food bill and economic stimulus packages increased the number of giveaways the USDA conducts.

From the Athens Banner Hearld, writer Merritt Melanco shows us how great the need is.

More than 200 people gathered at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2872 at dawn Thursday to pick up bags to free groceries from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and several dozen were turned away after food ran out.

"The last couple of these, we had to go out to the corner and hold up signs, flag people down just to get them in here to get the groceries," said Gwen Maxey, community services coordinator for ACTION Inc., the agency that handles the USDA's local commodities distribution. "So this, to me, is just a sign of the times."

As the line snaked around the VFW parking lot, volunteers handed out numbered tickets representing one household's allotment of groceries. It was clear by 8:15 a.m. that there weren't enough tickets to go around. The scene was similar at a Oconee County grocery pick-up location, where volunteers ran out of groceries by 10 a.m. - a first in Oconee County, said Elaine Whitmire, ACTION Inc.'s community services coordinator for the county.

With more and more companies laying off employees and the state reaching an all-time high of 9.2 percent unemployment, Maxey isn't surprised to see new faces in the line, she said.

They are all sorts of people: Construction workers who haven't found a job in months; people who were laid off and are trying to make their savings last as long as they can; grandparents who need the extra food because their children and grandchildren have moved back home.

"It's just really bad out there right now," said Billie Riley, who retired after 22 years working at a local hospital. "My daughter lost her job, so she had to move in with me. We're all in the same house now, which is fine. But I've only got Social Security coming in."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Afghan women taking desparate measures

A gruesome story in the BBC today really shows the plight of women in Afghanistan. The story describes women burning themselves or self-immolation to escape their lives.

Even though the nations constitution makes equal rights a priority, it doesn't match the reality in the lives of the countries women. Many women are in poverty, illiterate or are victims of domestic abuse. A large number of the women who burn themselves are ones who are about to be married. Many take to burning because they dont see a way out or any way to improve their lives.

From the BBC, Martin Patience looks at the work of a burn center practitioner, Dr Mohammed Jalili.

At the hospital, Dr Jalili was treating two women. He had operated on 20-year-old Anargol three times, including a skin graft operation on her badly scarred neck.

Anargol says she had committed self-immolation after arguing with her husband.

When asked whether she had a message for other women, she had a shocking response.

"Don't burn yourself," she said, lying on her hospital bed. "If you want a way out, use a gun: it's less painful."

It was an absolute cry of despair, and something rarely heard from women in this deeply conservative society.

But according to Soraya Balaigh, director of the provincial department for women's affairs, it is an emotion that many women relate to.

"Pressure is often put on these women by their husbands or the mothers-in-law," she says.

"Violence is common and many women are desperate. I had a woman in this office who begged me to kill her here rather than send her back."

Surveying hunger in the states

A new survey is being taken nationwide to examine hunger in America. People who ask for food assistance at food pantries across the nation will be surveyed to see the extent of hunger in the states.

From the Gazette Extra in Janesville Wisconsin, reporter Shelly Birkelo tells us more.

People seeking help at ECHO on Tuesday might have helped others.

Clients looking for food or emergency lodging were asked to take the 82-question Hunger in America survey.

The nationwide survey is taken every four years to measure how much food assistance available to low-income people, said Gina Wilson, director of agency relations at Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin.

The information will be used “by advocates, legislators and people who are trying to secure more funding for assistance for people who need help with food,’’ she said.

“We learn a good bit in the client interviews about what client circumstances are,’’ she said.

The information is kept confidential.

“We will not share information about you with anybody else, including this agency, and the information you give will not be used to determine your eligibility for benefits from any program,’’ according to a copy of the survey.

A food bank profile: Sparrow Serivces in Lake Oswgo, Oregon

A profile on a food bank caught our eye this morning. The Oregon newspaper Lake Oswego Review profiled Sparrow Services which is based out of Hope Community Church.

The story echoed what we are hearing from many food bank leaders, that there is a new face of hunger in America due to the recession. People who were once well off now have to receive donations to feed themselves, some do it in secret.

Reporter for the Lake Oswego Review Cliff Newell, interviewed Sparrow Services leader Keith Dickerson for the story.

Certainly, Sparrow Services is doing great work by feeding the hungry. Yet perhaps what is most unique about it is who these hungry people are.

“We don’t get many transients any more,” Keith Dickerson said, “where we just give them some popup cans of Vienna sausage or some chili.”

Instead, Sparrow Services receives people who live in Lake Oswego. Not down-and-outers, but people who not long ago were well off and who often still live in fine homes. But in these times they are going hungry.

“There’s a big demand in Lake Oswego,” Keith Dickerson said. “I’ve pastored in Illinois, Minnesota, and Georgia, and our food ministry in Lake Oswego is different from anywhere else. Hungry people here are in the stealth mode. They want to be anonymous, and we often find out about them from a neighbor or co-worker.

“Sometimes people who need food the worse are the last ones to let you know. They’re meek and quiet and appreciative. They come in softly and leave gratefully. They are people in great need.

“Approaching them is an art, it’s a different dance. You can’t do it brazenly but quietly. The art is giving them the permission to take what the community has for them.

“Some live in nice homes, but they’re tax assessment poor. Sometimes they short themselves on things they need.

“These are people now having to say to themselves ‘I could go hungry.’ That’s been an awakening for us.”

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Stimulus in the Philippines

In our searches today, we found part of the plan the Philippines has to keep their economy thriving during the global recession.

A cash transfer program in the Philippines will give mothers and their children money if the parents promise to keep their kids in school.

From Business World Onlne, Maria Eloisa I. Calderon fills us in on the program, as well as gives us the latest poverty stats for the country.

The program involves handing out cash — P500 for healthcare and P300 per child for education (a maximum of P1,400 per family) — to mothers on condition that their children are sent to school.

"We have identified 320,00 households this year but the President [Gloria Macapagal Arroyo] gave an order for us to double it to P700,000," Ms. Pablo told BusinessWorld, adding the additional budget will be drawn from the President’s social fund.

The DSWD, which has drawn up a five-year plan to 2012 for the conditional cash transfer program, will need an estimated P10 billion every year for every 700,000 families, she said.

In its latest MDG progress report, the National Economic and Development Authority said the proportion of people living in extreme poverty had fallen to 13.5% in 2003 from 24.3% in 1991.

The UNDP is currently conducting a survey to get an estimate of how many people in the Asia-Pacific region have fallen back to poverty as a result of the crisis. Mr. Chhibber pointed out that a "significant part" of the roughly 400 million people who have risen out of poverty in recent years on the back of buoyant economic growth would be adversely affected.

"A global recovery from this crisis is going to take much longer ... and therefore, much more Asian solutions to this crisis must be found," he said.

The bloody transition of power in Madagascar

We have been watching for a few days now a bloody transition of power in Madagascar.

Madagascar's new president Andry Rajoelina has been installed by the military's actions. The nations military stormed the former President's palace where he was forced to resign.

From the International Herald Tribune, we get details of the overthrow, and reaction from the international community.

The nation's worst unrest in years killed at least 135 people, devastated a $390 million-a-year tourism sector and worried multinational firms with investments in its mining and oil industries.

The outcome was also a slap against the African Union, which has censured recent violent transfers of power that have damaged the continent's reputation with investors. Experts said Western donors could consider cutting aid to the world's fourth-largest island, but only in the short term.

"With so many people below the poverty line, I can't see the international community abandoning Madagascar in the long run, and he knows this," said Lydie Boka, of the Paris-based risk group StrategieCo, referring to Mr. Rajoelina.

While the military was crucial in installing the opposition leader, analysts said he also had the backing of Didier Ratsiraka, the exiled former president, and his allies. Some analysts said that France, the former colonial ruler, had also given him tacit support.

Mr. Ravalomanana's whereabouts on Wednesday were unclear. The opposition had accused him of corruption and of losing touch with the majority of the population who eke out a living on less than $2 a day.

There was a heavy military presence at the palace where Mr. Ravalomanana capitulated. A Reuters TV witness saw broken windows and furniture, as well as a crowbar lodged in the door of a safe. It was not clear whether departing presidential guards, the army or the public had ransacked the building.

For the new president's first speech, Rajoelina said that he would make poverty reduction a top priority. Corruption in the face of poverty is a factor in the whole transition to begin with.

From the paper Easy Bourse, this AFP story tells us Rajoelina's comments.

Madagascar's acting president, Andry Rajoelina, said Wednesday in his first speech since being swept to power by the army that fighting poverty on the island would be his priority.

"I will do everything I can to ensure that Madagascans are lifted out of poverty," Rajoelina told around 15,000 supporters during a rally in the capital Antananarivo.
"We will do everything we can to ensure that the standard of living of Madagascans starts improving as soon as possible," he added.

The 34-year-old leader, who was confirmed as acting president by the constitutional court earlier Wednesday, vowed to bring food prices down, notably rice.

One of the most symbolic measures he announced during his speech was his decision to sell outgoing president Marc Ravalomanana's plane.

"For the good of the Madagascan people, I will sell Force One," he said, adding that the money would be used "to establish a hospital for the people's health, which is a higher priority."

Force One is a Boeing 737 that Ravalomanana recently purchased from Disney World for $60 million.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tuberculosis amongst the homeless in America

Most often the disease tuberculosis is associated with poverty in the under-developed world. But it does exist in America, and our homeless population is often at risk.

From the Stockton Record, writer Jennifer Torres details a new tuberculosis scanning program that is ongoing in California homeless shelters.
Tuberculosis affects far fewer Americans than it does residents of developing countries. Still, the United States has experienced somewhat recent epidemics; the number of tuberculosis cases reported nationally rose sharply in the late 1980s and early 1990s, an increase linked in part to the spread of HIV as well as increased immigration, poverty and homelessness.

Rates of tuberculosis - a contagious disease caused by bacteria, which typically affects the lungs - have dropped in the years since, but progress, at least in California, has slowed.

Now, as poverty continues to spread and funding for prevention programs is threatened, some public health advocates warn that gains in fighting the treatable disease could be lost.

San Joaquin County has the fourth-highest tuberculosis rate in California, according to the most recent data available from the state Public Health Department. It is one of 10 counties with a tuberculosis rate higher than the statewide average of 7.2 cases per 100,000 residents. (That rate, meanwhile, is much higher than the U.S. average of 4.4.)

"I think it's good that they check us for tuberculosis," Carlos Salazar said as he put his public health card back into his wallet and carried his backpack to a bed at the homeless shelter. Salazar, originally from Guatemala, has lived in the United States for 19 years and at the homeless shelter for about two months. "If they find out you have it, you can get the right treatment."

Since fall 2007, single men at the Stockton shelter have been required to be tested for tuberculosis through the county public health office within three days of checking in. If their test comes back negative, they receive a clearance with their photo on it.

How the global recession will impact Asia

The Asian Development Bank has released a study that examines the effect the global recession will have in Asia. The bad news is, that it will increase the already high level of poverty in the region. The good news is, that many economies in Asia are isolated enough from the global financial system that their economies will continue to grow.

From IPS, reporter Prime Sarmiento unpacks the report for us.

The AsDB study, presented at a forum here earlier this month, expects a 6.7 percent growth for South Asia in 2009. This may be modest compared to the 8.6 percent growth posted in 2007, but still implies that the AsDB does not expect the sub-region to fall into recession anytime soon.

Participants at the forum were agreed that the poor, especially in countries like Nepal and Bangladesh, whose economies depend heavily on remittances from its nationals working abroad, were likely to be worst hit.

"While some countries in South Asia have had relatively less exposure to the crisis from the adverse impacts of capital flows, more than half of the 900 million people in developing Asia who survive on 1.25 US dollars a day live in the sub-region, so any tempering of growth is a serious cause for concern," AsDB president Haruhiko Kuroda said at the forum

In a speech delivered at the forum, Arun Shourie, member of India's parliament and former minister of public sector divestment, noted that behind all the macroeconomic data are people who will lose their livelihoods or cannot send their children to school.

South Asia may be home to some of the world's growing economies but positive fundamentals have not done much to improve the plight of the sub-continent's poor.

India, one of Asia's economic powerhouses, has posted an impressive eight to nine percent growth in the past few years. But 30 percent of India's one billion populace subsists on less than two dollars a day.

The situation is worse in poorer economies like Nepal and Bangladesh where nearly 40 percent of the population live below the poverty level, experts at the forum said. The crisis will further intensify inequities with the wealthy remaining unscathed and the poor suffering more.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Mental Health in Africa

It's tough enough to receive care for a physical illness in Africa. A story from the Associated Press shows just how difficult care is for mental illness.

Several factors stand in the way of the mentally ill receiving care. Poverty of course is a factor, either the ill are too poor to purchase care, or governments are too poor to provide it to the public.

Social stigmas against the mentally ill still exist in some areas. The ill may be treated less than humanely, being accused of being cursed or possessed. In some cases a mentally ill person will seek a witch doctor, only to suffer abuse from the witch doctors treatment.

In this AP article that we found in the International Herald Tribune we learn of some of the funding available for the mentally ill in Africa, and even catch glimpses of the abuse. Please be advised that our snippet is graphic.

In Kenya and many other African countries, poverty, lack of access and the stigma of mental disease prevent many patients from getting the help they desperately need. Despite some recent progress, just 0.01 percent of Kenya's health budget is spent on mental health, compared to around 6 percent in the U.S., for example.

Yet about a quarter of Kenyans seeking medical help have problems with mental health, says Dr. David Kiima, director of mental health. He estimates that about 10 percent of Kenya's people have mental health issues, and about 1 percent have disorders serious enough to warrant inpatient treatment.

The problem is worse in some other African countries such as Liberia, which suffered 15 years of brutal civil war and had numerous child soldiers. The World Health Organization says up to 85 percent of mentally ill people in the developing world never get treatment.

"The community does not see these people as human beings. They do not see their suffering," says Edah Maina, who heads the Kenya Society for the Mentally Handicapped.

Over the last seven years, the organization has forcefully taken more than 3,000 children and adults with mental disabilities from homes where they were abused. The organization tries to educate families to accept their mentally ill relatives back and treat them well. But some refuse, and the mentally ill may then end up in a government hospital for the rest of their lives.

The bland beige binders lining the walls in Maina's busy Nairobi office hide a litany of nightmares. In one photo, a 16-year-old autistic girl is led from a dark shed into the sun but can no longer see the light that warms her. After being locked up by her mother for 12 years, she has gone blind.

A grainy video shows a man with mental disabilities chained in a dog's kennel by his parents for a decade. In another incident, rescue workers open a corrugated iron door to reveal a chained, emaciated man with schizophrenia. His legs dangle uselessly after 15 years of malnutrition and confinement.

Countless other files show insects feeding on tied-up, swollen limbs and open sores festering under plastic bags used as diapers.

"Sometimes we can't sleep for days after an intervention," Maina admits.