Thursday, April 30, 2009

A year after the cyclone, Myanmar still needs a lot

A year after the cyclone that tore Myanmar apart, hundreds of thousands of it's people are still without jobs and stuck in poverty. Humanitarian groups released the status of Myanmar's people on the anniversary of the cyclone.

The storm destroyed 450,000 homes and damaged just about as many. Some of those homes are yet to be rebuilt leaving the people exposed to the upcoming monsoon season.

From Salon.com we find this Associated Press story on the condition of Myanmar. Writer Micheal Casey begins by giving some history.

Foreign governments and charities provided $315 million for food aid and emergency assistance in the months after the tropical storm hit the country May 2-3, 2008, leaving 138,000 people dead or missing and another 800,000 homeless.

But international charities and U.N. agencies like the World Food Program say hundreds of millions of dollars are still needed over the next several years to rebuild the delta's decimated infrastructure and provide farmers and fishermen with the cash they need to regain their livelihoods.

Many noted the funds raised so far are about 40 times less than $12 billion raised for the 2004 tsunami, even though Nargis was the worst natural disaster in Myanmar's modern history and the world's fifth deadliest in the past 40 years.

"We can provide a farmer and his family with food in a weekly ration, but that same farmer will need cash to purchase seeds, to restore fields and replace the plows and livestock they lost," WFP spokesman Paul Risley told reporters at a news conference in Bangkok.
A year after the cyclone, Myanmar still needs a lot
Risley said his agency expects to provide food rations through the year for 350,000 people while the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said 100,000 people are still living in tents and in need of permanent shelter.

"Tens of thousands more live in temporary, substandard shelters, which will not be able to withstand another storm," said Bernd Schell, the head of the IFRC's country office in Yangon.

Buffalo's mayor launches poverty reduction plan

The third poorest city in the nation is beginning a poverty reduction plan. Buffalo's Mayor Byron W. Brown unveiled a document that will guide the cities attempt to reduce poverty.

The report calls on four new task forces and expanding already existing services. But the guidelines are already receiving criticism for having no new strategies.

From the Buffalo News, reporters Brian Meyer and Mark Sommer tell us about what the plan contains and some of the reaction.

The centerpiece of the “Buffalo Poverty Reduction Blueprint” unveiled Wednesday in City Hall by Brown and Deputy Mayor Donna M. Brown is the establishment of a task force with four work groups, each charged with developing a five-year strategy for reducing poverty in the areas of jobs, education, neighborhoods and social environment.

Rather than laying out a policy agenda, the 77-page plan largely focuses on expanding or improving many of the 129 programs the city runs to help low-income residents, with “collaboration” and “partnerships” the buzzwords to improve coordination between groups.
...

The mayor has drawn heat for not having a poverty plan more than three years into his administration, 1z years since the city was named by the Census Bureau the second poorest (it’s now No. 3) and 15 months since Donna Brown was appointed deputy mayor and charged with making an antipoverty plan a top priority.

But on Tuesday, Mayor Brown stressed poverty has been a sustained problem in the city before he was mayor, and that neither of his two predecessors, Anthony Masiello or Jimmy Griffin, had put into action a plan to combat poverty as he was now doing.

Brown also stressed that poverty is a countywide problem, pointing out Erie County’s poverty rate –not including city residents — has also been on the rise. He said there are currently more than 123,800 Erie County residents living outside Buffalo below the poverty limit.

Two of the four task force recommendations call for county participation, but notably no county government representatives participated in the plan’s unveiling.

L. Nathan Hare, executive director of the Community Action Organization of Erie County, said any anti-poverty plan hatched by the city must take into consideration the broader challenges facing the region. Hare is co-chairman of the new task force with Sister Denise A. Roche, president of D’Youville College.

Asian Development Bank to boost lending

Another one of the big banks has made an announcement to boost lending to fight off the global recession. The Asian Development Bank says they will boost lending by $165 billion dollars, that triples their normal efforts.

From this Associated Press article that we found in Newsday, we find more details on the decision from the banks board of directors.

The Manila-based bank's board of governors said an overwhelming majority of the ADB's 67 member countries voted to endorse the 200 percent increase to ADB's current $55 billion of capital.

"This substantial increase is a resounding vote of confidence from our shareholders for what we can achieve as a premier development partner in the region," ADB President Haruhiko Kuroda said. "We must do all we can to prevent the reversal of hard-won gains for our region in social and economic development, and in poverty reduction."

The decision comes just before the ADB's annual meeting in Bali, Indonesia, on May 2-5.

The capital boost allows the ADB to substantially increase its support to countries affected by the global downturn and to provide an additional $10 billion over the next few years for crisis-related assistance.

ADB estimates the financial crisis will add 60 million people this year in developing Asia to those already trapped in extreme poverty and another 100 million in 2010. Those are in addition to 903 million Asians already living on $1.25 or less a day.

Numbers of poor spreading in Illinois

A new report that gauges poverty in Illinois shows big increases in the unemployed and those seeing assistance from food banks. The increases are such that more counties in the state are joining a "poverty watch list" to indicate troubled economic areas.

From the Suburban Chicago News reporters Dave Gathman and Christine Moyer give us the report's details.

Unemployment and poverty rates are so high in Kane County, the county has been placed on a "poverty watch list" by the Heartland Alliance MidAmerica Institute on Poverty.

The alliance, which released its annual report today, offers a snapshot of poverty in Illinois.

Relying largely on 2007 data, the report revealed unemployment rates more than double those reported last year, a significant rise in local food pantry visits and a precipitous drop in median household incomes since 2000.

And, Senior Research Analyst Amy Terpstra said, a lot has changed since 2007 -- for the worse.

Before the recession even started, about 1.5 million people in Illinois were poor, according to Terpstra.

Since then, she said, Heartland Alliance estimates that up to 400,000 more Illinoisans have become poor. The research analyst spoke with service agencies in suburban communities about the growing need for assistance and she said that "they're just floored, not only by the amount of people coming in their doors, but by the type of people..."

"People," Terpstra said, "who have never before needed assistance."

Kane County had the Chicago-area counties' highest unemployment rate in March, at 10.3 percent. The report also found Kane to have the Chicago area's second-greatest number of severely rent-burdened households -- 24.6 percent -- in 2007, behind Chicago.

"We go week to week not knowing whether we'll have enough food on our shelves," Major Ken Nicolai at the Elgin Salvation Army corps said. "The need is tremendous. We're out of rental assistance and out of electric-bill assistance. We had 1,900 grocery orders in March, and so far in April, we've had 2,600."

Women feed themselves last, if ever

60 percent of thew world's malnourished are women. When food is hard to find or afford, most mothers give what they can to their children first, then eat whatever is left over, if there is any at all. But doing this could have dire consequences for their children in the long run. The lack of food could make their mother's ill and unable to provide for their families.

From The Monterey Herald we find this Associated Press story that profiles one such woman, writer Donna Bryson introduces us.

Phetsile Ndwandwe, short, skinny and 23 years old, accepts an apple from a development worker and nibbles at it, stripping the peel with her teeth before handing the fruit to Siphokazi, her baby daughter.

Siphokazi manages a bite of the apple, the first fruit she has had in months, then thanks her mother with a kiss.

Ndwandwe allows herself only the peel.

The mother's sacrifice, say health authorities, is typical, and creates a problem across the developing world. In hard times, these women tend to think of themselves last. This puts their families at risk, experts say, because malnourished mothers become malfunctioning mothers.

Ndandwe lost her sugar cane plot after falling behind in payments to a village cooperative. So she supports 15-month-old Siphokazi and her 4-year-old daughter, Setsebile, by working in a neighbor's garden in this village in southern Swaziland, taking her payments in vegetables.

Ancient traditions and modern circumstances often combine to place the burden on women to feed their poor families. Researchers say women do as much as 80 percent of the farm work in poor countries. And, with food and fertilizer prices rising, and AIDS and the global financial meltdown taking their toll, women like Ndwandwe are straining under growing responsibilities.

"We eat whatever we can get," said Ndwandwe, after describing a breakfast of corn meal porridge. She said her husband had gotten sick and died but wouldn't say what illness he had. When asked what the family would have for lunch, she said she had no idea.

She has seen the price of an apple rise 50 percent in recent months to the equivalent of about 15 cents. She used to take the bus to town to buy a bag of apples to sell to her neighbors, the small profits supplementing her garden work.

Now, she can't afford the bus fare — and few of her neighbors can afford fruit.
...
But in the face of adversity, solemn-faced Ndwandwe shows resilience.

A development group recently offered her a small plot of land, and she plans to grow vegetables that she hopes to sell to a hotel being built for visitors at a nearby game reserve.

"The vegetables will bring money," said Ndwandwe, who learned simple farming techniques during her elementary school education. "I am a good farmer."

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Calling for price controls in Kenya

Charities in the UK are calling the public's attention to the food price crisis in Kenya. The charities say that food shortages are especially great in urban areas of the country.

From Ekklesia, reporter Julia Collings presents the charities warning.

Oxfam, Care International and Concern Worldwide reported on Tuesday 28 April 2009 that rising food prices in the country had created a major food crisis for the urban poor.

Whereas in some more rural areas of Kenya there are food shortages, in the slums, people are starving because they cannot afford to buy food.

A joint study by the charities in Nairobi’s shantytown, Kibera – the largest slum in sub-Saharan Africa - showed that 4,000 children under the age of five were malnourished.

“The urban poor rely on the markets for 90 per cent of their food and other products,” said Bud Carnall, director of Care International. “This has made them the hardest hit by the recent commodity price increases.”

The news came a day after the Catholic Church urged the Kenyan government to enforce price controls on basic commodities.

Cardinal Njue issued a statement on behalf of the 25 bishops at the Kenya Episcopal Conference, urging that price controls should stay in place for at least 12 months.
Whereas in some more rural areas of Kenya there are food shortages, in the slums, people are starving because they cannot afford to buy food.

A joint study by the charities in Nairobi’s shantytown, Kibera – the largest slum in sub-Saharan Africa - showed that 4,000 children under the age of five were malnourished.

“The urban poor rely on the markets for 90 per cent of their food and other products,” said Bud Carnall, director of Care International. “This has made them the hardest hit by the recent commodity price increases.”

The news came a day after the Catholic Church urged the Kenyan government to enforce price controls on basic commodities.

Cardinal Njue issued a statement on behalf of the 25 bishops at the Kenya Episcopal Conference, urging that price controls should stay in place for at least 12 months.

Lobbying for the poor

The Mobilization to End Poverty event is going on now in Washington D.C. The coalition of 60 faith based anti-poverty groups are storming our government with prayer vigils and demonstrations. In addition, they are sending lobbyists to meet with members of Congress to tell them to keep the needs of the poor in mind with budget issues.

From World Magazine, writer Edward Lee Pitts tells us what the lobbyists are asking Congress for.

The group is calling for all hands on deck to address poverty and to them that includes a larger role for government. Organizers, led by Sojourners, marked the day by sending the activists to meetings in the offices of 82 senators and 215 House members.

Noting that with the nation’s poverty rolls growing by as many as 10 million this year in the face of the ongoing global economic crisis, those lobbying Congress Tuesday stressed the urgency of action: “This is a new experience for a lot of us,” said Jonathan Bettle, 24, of Akron, Ohio, soon after emerging from a meeting with the staff of Republican Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio. “We are not lobbyists. But the Gospel calls us to look out for the least of these.”

For Bettle that translates into calling on government to improve education, access to health care, and the quality of life of its citizens. He said those in the nation who are better off have a moral obligation to welcome tax increases if it means greater support for the nation’s poor.

Beyond this call for increased federal funding and the general rallying cry for cutting the nation’s poverty numbers in half, activists had trouble articulating specific legislative steps that could be taken.

The effort’s printed call to action includes a broad declaration to “protect and defend budget priorities that will reduce poverty” and to “support passage of health care reform protecting the most vulnerable.”

Specifically rally organizers hope to: Expand child tax credits as well as spend at least $4.2 billion to expand access to early childhood education such as Head Start. The Mobilization to End Poverty also wants lawmakers to protect budget priorities that increase federal spending in low-income housing, education, job training, and veterans services.

Comment on making African governments more transparent

With the effects of the global recession hitting the commodity prices of goods from Africa. A Vice President of the World Bank is calling for increased transparency from African governments, to make sure that money from commodities get to the people. Obiageli Katryn Ezekwesili commentary comes from the Ugandan paper The Independent.

In times of high commodity prices, good management of oil and mining revenues had the potential to be a springboard for development. With a far less hospitable global environment, it becomes even more urgent for governments to make judicious use of their available resources, and to take the structural and institutional measures that will ensure that future booms – which will undoubtedly occur again – are harnessed to fight poverty and improve the lives of citizens.

How can governments make sure that resource revenues are well used?

Some 28 African governments have adopted the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), with the aim of improving governance through the verification and full publication of company payments and government revenues from oil, gas and mining. In addition, 37 oil, gas and mining companies have agreed to support the initiative, as have institutional investors managing assets amounting, before the financial crisis, to more than $14 trillion.

Joining the EITI is a first step, and one that sends a strong signal of government’s commitment to transparency. Going further, if citizens are to reap the benefits from mining revenues, transparency is needed throughout the entire resource stream, from how contracts are awarded and monitored, to how taxes and royalties are collected, to how investment choices are made and executed. This is referred to as the “EITI ++” approach, which focuses on the better management of the entire resource chain that links commodity revenues to results for citizens. The international community, including the World Bank, can support countries in improving management of the commodity resource stream, and civil society will have a key role in this endeavor.

Several countries are now focusing on that resource chain. Niger and Liberia have approached their partners for technical legal assistance on awarding contracts. In Mozambique and Tanzania, analytical work is helping to foster a dialogue on public expenditure management and financial accountability in the context of rising revenues from mineral extraction. Some countries request support in such areas as auctioning of licenses and contract negotiations with major investors, management of volatile commodity-related revenues, or in improving the composition and quality of public investments.

As the crisis illustrates, commodity rich countries also need to prepare for a time when oil and mining resources might be depleted, by diversifying their sources of growth. Diversification is not a simple task; it requires major policy shifts and significant investments of resources in institutions, human capacities, health, education and infrastructure. For example, many countries with mining resources have untapped agriculture potential. The agriculture sector has accounted for one-third of Africa’s GDP growth over the last 15 years, and with the right kinds of support, including improved water and land management, rural roads and a better policy environment, productivity and value added could increase significantly, making the sector a much stronger contributor to economic growth and poverty reduction, mitigating risk of over-dependency on mineral resources.

The Gold Mines of the Amazon

Brazil's Amazon basin contains a cycle of poverty that promises riches of gold. But many who work in the gold mines of the Amazon basin never reach the dream of getting rich from finding gold. Instead, they find a life of poverty, malaria and crime.

From the Khaleej Times, we find this AFP story on the "garimpo" or gold mines.

“The garimpo, socially, is one of the great open wounds of this region,” said Minister for Strategic Affairs Roberto Mangabeira Unger who is in charge of drafting a government plan for developing the impoverished Amazon.

In the 1980s, tens of thousands of miners, or “garimpeiros”, worked the pits, which became an economic motor of the area for a decade until most were considered depleted.

Rising gold prices helped trigger a new mini-rush in 2008, when local authorities say the rudimentary mines produced 3.5 tonnes of gold. Hundreds, including de Brito, have flocked to Garimpo Bom Jesus since late last year after news spread of a new motherlode there.

De Brito’s words rose over the incessant chugging of the machine used to sift rocks that—if chance smiles on him—could yield shiny particles of gold.

The mine sits at a muddy clearing framed by jungle, in the west of the state of Para in Brazil’s north.

As a “garimpo”—one of the thousands makeshift excavation areas created by informal gold hunters across Brazil’s vast territory—there is nothing industrial about it.

It resembles more an ant farm with holes everywhere leading to subterranean galleries. On the surface, the gold miners fix hammocks to wooden structures to sleep.

The scene owes more to the early images of the gold rush in the US Wild West than to modern mineral extraction: the process here is basic and done by hand. The chemicals used, like mercury, pollute the environment.

Like the Wild West, too, Bom Jesus is a lawless land, built half on myth and half on misery.

Drugs, prostitution, malaria and undrinkable water make the place a hell on earth. Prospectors shoulder their dream alongside guns for hire and shopkeepers.

“I’ve been working the garimpos since I was 20. And now I’m old and washed-up. I’ve got malaria and I can’t get any more medicine. But without the mine, there’d be no money coming into the region,” said Mario Borges, a 43-year-old miner. Like many, he sees his family only when he finds enough gold to pay the overpriced passage by boat or small plane, every four or five months.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Agriculture dying in Iraq

Iraq is suffering a triple threat to it's farming. Too much salt in the soil, water shortages and drought, and land turning into desert are all putting great pains on the countries efforts to provide it's own food. Those three factors have caused many winter crops in Iraq to fail.

From the IRIN, we read a further explanation on the effects of Iraqi farming.

“We are suffering from a real and serious water crisis,” Mahdi al-Qaisi, undersecretary in the Agriculture Ministry, told IRIN in Baghdad. “We are not expecting winter season crops to meet local demand, and summer crops will probably be affected as well,” al-Qaisi said.

Precipitation levels this past winter were only half the normal average, he said, adding that the situation was made worse by a reduction in the amount of water flowing into the Tigris and Euphrates from Turkey and Iran.

“We are counting on the Ministry of Trade to fill the gaps… by importing wheat and barley and distributing them through its food programme [state-run food rations scheme],” he added.

The winter harvest data are not yet available.

“Very scary”

Decades of war, UN sanctions, underinvestment, military operations, and the cutting down of trees for firewood have paralysed Iraq’s agricultural sector and increased salinity and desertification to “very scary levels”, al-Qaisi said.

According to the Agriculture Ministry, salinity is affecting at least 40 percent of agricultural land, mainly in central and southern Iraq, while 40-50 percent of what was agricultural land in the 1970s has been affected by desertification.

According to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), desertification is the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas. It is caused primarily by human activities and climatic variations. Desertification does not refer to the expansion of existing deserts. It occurs because dryland ecosystems, which cover over one third of the world‘s land area, are extremely vulnerable to over-exploitation and inappropriate land use. Poverty, political instability, deforestation, overgrazing and bad irrigation practices can all undermine the productivity of the land.

The problems with getting AIDS treatment drugs

African's with AIDS have many problems when trying to get drugs to treat their disease. Many drugs are available only in town, so the travel for the poor may be more than they can afford.

If the drugs are available in their village, there are social stigmas still associated with AIDS. The people with the disease may not want to get the drugs near their neighbors, preferring the secrecy of going elsewhere.

As a part of the newspaper's Katine series of stories, Joseph Malinga of the Guardian profiles one villager who faces these obstacles.

James Akadi knows the dangers associated with failing to follow his treatment schedule. A single day without taking his drugs would make his situation complex and, worse still, could endanger his life.

Akadi, a resident of Abia village, in Ojama parish, Katine, is one of more than 200 people living with HIV/Aids in the sub-county who have openly declared their status, but are struggling to cope with life amid abject poverty.

Lack of food, unsafe drinking water, difficulty in accessing drugs, a lack of income generating activities and the stigma of having the virus are some of the problems Akadi faces as he strives to prolong his life.

But of all these challenges, problems accessing drugs is proving the biggest challenge. Twice a month, Akadi has to travel to Uganda Care, an NGO supporting the HIV/Aids patients, in Soroti town, 28km from Katine, to receive antiretroviral (ARVs) drugs. At times, he lacks transport to travel, meaning he will not be able to get his drugs and adhere to his treatment schedule.

"I'm facing a serious challenge of transport. Every month I travel to Uganda Care offices in Soroti to access drugs but most times I find it hard because I'm a very poor man with a family that I have to take care of. So saving money for travelling twice every month to Soroti town is a challenge," he said.

Although The Aids Support Organisation (TASO) has introduced community drug distribution centres in Katine, the stigma still attached to having the virus means some people still prefer to get their drugs in town.

A comment on Kiva

Columnist Chris Noseworthy of the Western Star from Newfoundland, Canada used his latest column to talk about Kiva.org. For his wife's birthday this year, he chose to give gift certificates to the microcredit website.

This year I actually had a good idea. I got her gift certificates, among a couple of other lame things I won't mention. The gift certificates are ones she needs to spend on somebody else. How is that better than a breadbox?

Well, the gift certificates are from Kiva.org and translates into micro-loans to someone in the developing world. You may have seen Kiva featured on Oprah a couple of years ago. It's a charitable organization that has field partners in various countries who work with entrepreneurs in order to get loans.

The money comes from generous people around the world who fund these projects in $25 increments. Each entrepreneur's loan will be supplied by a variety of different people.

It is still a novel approach to sharing the riches of the Western world. To my mind it cuts through partisan boundaries as well.

Anything that helps the poor, works with lefties and the loan has to seem better than a "handout" to the right-wing contingent.

According to their site, the mandate is "Kiva's mission is to connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty. Kiva is the world's first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend directly to unique entrepreneurs around the globe."

You might wonder how these people can afford to repay the loans but they do. Kiva is upfront about the fact that there is no guaranteed return on your investments.

According to Kiva, "Of the $31,143,760 of loans with completed loan terms, the default rate is 1.8%. However, past repayment performance does not guarantee future results. When you lend money, you may lose all or some of your principal. You should be aware of the different types of risk and find the right loan option for you, with respect to repayment risk and social return."

Less than two per cent is pretty good. You can visit the site to find out more of the details on the risk associated with lending through Kiva.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Roll Back Malaria Campaign

It takes more than just passing out mosquito nets to prevent malaria. Education is also needed to tell people why using the nets is important, and it is very important, as malaria kills one million people a year.

From the South Korean newspaper The Chosun Llibo, we find this Voice of America story about The Roll Back Malaria Campaign.

Sackie Williams is a local health worker in Liberia. As part of the Ministry of Health's Door-to-Door Campaign, he goes to people's homes to teach them about malaria and how to protect themselves from the disease. "Actually what we noticed is that more people are not using the mosquito nets. Some people say the mosquito nets have heat, and we are actually explaining to them the importance of the mosquito net," he said.

As part of the "Hang it up and Keep it Up" campaign, the volunteers not only hang up the nets in the homes but also do follow-up visits to make sure they are being used correctly. "The only way we can get rid of it is to tell the people how to prevent themselves and how to get rid of the disease," he said. The Roll-Back Malaria Campaign is a global initiative aimed at providing preventative methods to everyone in at-risk countries by 2010. They estimate that 700 million insecticide-treated mosquito nets are needed worldwide, half of those in Africa.

Though high rates of infection are still plaguing countries like Nigeria, other countries including Senegal, Gambia and Rwanda have seen significant progress thanks to awareness campaigns and improved treatment.

Dr. Claude-Emile Rwagacondo is West Africa coordinator for the Roll-Back Malaria Campaign. He says speedy access to effective treatment is crucial. Yet, health clinics can be difficult to get to in rural areas and people are more likely to go to a traditional healer first. By the time they go to a clinic for malaria treatment, Dr. Rwagacondo says it is often too late. He says insuring the quality and affordability of the medicines can be difficult. Sometimes, when people get sick, they go to a small pharmacy, boutique or street corner, where vendors sell medicines that aren't effective. He says many don't even have the active ingredients in them.

There is a tendency to treat all fevers as malaria in West Africa, and resistance to otherwise effective treatments, like cloroquine, has become a problem. But there are rays of hope, and thanks to the introduction of rapid diagnostic tests and combination treatments, Senegal has seen large drops in both reported cases and mortality rates. Still, malaria impedes economic development and is one of the major contributors to poverty in Africa. The World Health Organization estimates that malaria costs Africa an estimated US$12 billion a year in health expenditures and lost productivity.

Dr. Rwagacondo says if children get sick, they don't go to school and fall behind scholastically. That affects the economy. In rural communities, if the population is always sick, they can't work in the fields and production suffers. Sampson Kollie has malaria. He's being treated at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Liberia's capital. "Malaria is so bad. I'm a victim of malaria. Malaria is a kind of sickness that makes you very weak. You vomit, and it drains you down. I hope the government of Liberia can do a lot for this sickness because malaria's getting a lot of us in this country," he said.

US Treasury Secretary on increasing lending to the poor nations

The US Treasury Secretary was asked his opinions on what the World Bank and IMF must do during the global recession. Timothy Geithner's comments were recorded by Associated Press reporter Harry Dunphy.

The global economic crisis threatens to reverse gains in fighting poverty, so banks that provide aid to poor nations must embrace changes in their operations, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said Sunday.

Those development banks are at the forefront of efforts to eradicate poverty and promote sustainable growth, he said the World Bank's policy-setting board.

"We cannot afford to lose time or lose ground," Geithner said.

At the same time, he said it was important for the banks to conduct their aid business in the open.

They must face reviews to ensure they have enough money and are promoting fundamental changes, Geithner said. He added that their resources must be used to "achieve the maximum impact on long-term development objectives, including addressing the needs of the poorest."

As the weekend meetings of the bank and the International Monetary Fund wrapped up, finance ministers said they are seeing signs the economy is stabilizing. But they said it will take until the middle of next year for the world to emerge from the worst recession in decades.

Video: The challenges of the mega-city Lagos

With over 15 million people the Nigerian city of Lagos has mega-problems dealing with the numbers of residents. The infrastructure has gone without upkeep due to corrupt governments, or simply due to lack of money. Even if it did have maintenance, the current infrastructure would not be enough for all of the people.

From the website Global Post comes this unique look at the struggle of getting by in Lagos. Writer Sarah Simpson provides the narration on this video.


G7 finance ministers promise more loans to poor nations

The finance ministers of the 7 wealthiest nations promised more money available for loans from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The finance ministers meet with the leaders of the two banks twice a year to revise policies going forward. The representatives are vowing to keep the global recession from spreading further to the world's more vulnerable economies.

From Canada's Globe and Mail, reporter Kevin Carmichael files this summary of the meetings.
While hardly oblivious to the plight of the poor, economic leaders from the United States, Britain, Japan and other industrial nations have devoted most of their energy over the past year to cleaning up their financial messes at home.

But the risks facing emerging economies in Africa, Asia, South America and Eastern Europe have become so severe that they were impossible to ignore at meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

The economies of emerging and developing countries will expand a mere 1.6 per cent in 2009, compared with 6.1 per cent last year, according to the IMF. Already, 50 million people have been thrust into extreme poverty as a result of the crisis, according to the World Bank.

"The financial and economic turmoil that began in advanced economies is now truly a global crisis that is spilling over into developing countries, and with serious repercussions," Canada's Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said in a written submission to a meeting yesterday of the officials who guide the World Bank.

These biannual gatherings of G7 finance chiefs have become slightly uncomfortable for Mr. Flaherty and his counterparts. For decades, they and their predecessors cajoled and coerced developing nations into following an economic path of free markets, light regulation and private ownership.

The crisis, rooted in the rampant trading of exotic financial assets by American and European banks, exposed the weaknesses of unfettered capitalism as a panacea for global poverty.

"The crisis didn't come from us," said Charles Koffi Diby, Ivory Coast's Finance Minister. "We are the victims here."

Robert Zoellick calls on rich nations to "accelerate aid"

To end the World Bank's spring meeting Robert Zoellick used his speech to demand more from the rich nations to help the poor during the global recession. The head of the World Bank warned of a "human catastrophe" unless the rich nations do more. Zoellick also admitted that the Millennium Development Goals are likely will not be met because of the recession.

From the BBC, are some quotes from the Zoellick's speech.

"There is a widespread recognition that the world faces an unprecedented economic crisis, poor people could suffer the most and that we must continue to act in real time to prevent a human catastrophe," said Mr Zoellick.

He added that no-one yet knew how long the global recession would last.

In a joint statement, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) said they had urged "all donors to accelerate delivery of commitments to increase aid, and for us all to consider going beyond existing commitments".

World Bank managing director, and former Nigerian Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said there was now a real crisis in Africa as a result of the worldwide recession.

She said that as a result of falling demand for commodities and other exports, government budgets were falling short across the continent.

"This means that [governments] cannot pay teachers or health workers, and we are hearing of people who can't eat three square meals a day," she said.


Related Video

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Saturday Missions: Ag Against Hunger

A great charity in California grabs unharvested food from area farming fields to feed the hungry. Ag Against Hunger from California gather volunteers to grab the food that was missed by harvesters before it gets turned over into the soil.

From the Californian, Rusten Hogness gets dirty with the volunteers.

This Saturday will mark the start of Ag Against Hunger's new gleaning season, in a field near San Juan Bautista. No word on what the crop will be, but volunteers can be sure of harvesting satisfaction, knowing they are helping to feed hungry families.

Gleaners salvage lettuce, broccoli, onions, celery - whatever is left in the field after the harvest before the tractors roll in to till it all back into the soil.

Whatever is gathered will go back to the Ag Against Hunger coolers in Salinas. Within a couple of days, it will be on trucks going to food banks as far away as Sacramento, though most of it will stay here in Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties.

Last year, according to Ananda Jimenez, who coordinates the

gleaning for Ag Against Hunger, gleaners picked and gathered more than 120,000 pounds of fresh produce that went to food banks instead of getting tilled into the soil.

"We really need to give more to the food community that supplies food for the needy because I know there's an increasing need," said Schapper, who will soon be a supervising nurse at Salinas Valley State Prison after working at Natividad Medical Center for 27 years as a nurse manager.

"Lots of employees I see are really hurting. They have to hit the food banks to make ends meet."

It would be hard not to see the need, she said. "It's in the media, it's in my workplace, it's in the neighborhood, it's everywhere."

Friday, April 24, 2009

World Malaria Day

Today marks the second World Malaria Day. A summit on malaria is going on to mark the occasion and the US is making a pledge to end the 1 million deaths a year from malaria. The US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice is saying today that the US wants to completely stop malaria by 2015.

From the Associated Press via Google, reporter Edith Lederer recieved a transcript of Rice's speech.

"Malaria, simply put, is something we can end. And today I am here to say that malaria is a scourge we can end," she said.

Rice is the keynote speaker at the summit on the eve of the second World Malaria Day that will bring together global leaders in the fight against malaria and African and American faith leaders. They will launch a campaign to mobilize resources to help interfaith institutions in Africa fight malaria more effectively through increased mosquito net distribution and local community education.

On the first World Malaria Day a year ago, the U.N. secretary-general announced a new global initiative to provide mosquito nets and insecticide spraying for everyone at risk of malaria, diagnosis and treatment for those with the disease, and training for community health workers to deal with malaria. He said the initiative would also encourage research into the control, elimination and eradication of malaria.

Ban said the aim of his "bold but achievable vision ... is to put a stop to malaria deaths by ensuring universal coverage by the end of 2010."

The timetable that Rice gives is five years longer.

"President Obama is committed to making the United States a global leader in ending deaths from malaria by 2015," she said. "If we continue to work in the spirit of unity and shared purpose that has already led to substantial progress, this is a target we can hit."

The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 250 million people get malaria every year, and it kills almost 1 million, the vast majority young children. Many drugs have lost their effectiveness against the parasite, and there is no vaccine, although advanced testing of an experimental candidate that promises partial protection is under way.

School children raise money for water

Children in San Mateo, California are raising money for Water Partners International, a charity that develops safe drinking water and sanitation for the underdeveloped world. Not only are the children raising money for safe water, but they are also learning about the importance of water especially for other parts of the world.

From the San Mateo Daily Journal, Heather Murtagh details the fund raising effort.

Looking for a class project, eighth grade students at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Day School found clean water to be an interesting topic — and, as it turns out, an enlightening one.

A person can get clean water for life for $25, according to WaterPartners International, a U.S. nonprofit committed to providing safe drinking water and sanitation to people in developing countries. The St. Matthew’s community set a goal of raising $10,000 — enough to provide clean water for a village in India. Efforts kicked off in March on World Water Day and ended yesterday, Earth Day. Through a change drive, an Indian dinner feast and other activities students raised cash for the cause. Money raised will be tallied today.

Students needed a class project and learned about the need in other countries for clean water, explained 13-year-old Nate Mooi.

A St. Matthew’s parent, Tony Stayner, is on the board for WaterPartners and had taken his two eighth-grade children to India to see the work in November. The trip provided a firsthand experience with poverty and effects of not having clean water.

“I didn’t think about how much we have and other’s don’t,” said seventh grade student Nicole Crisci.

Thirteen-year-old Nicki Williams agreed, adding how often water is used daily without a thought. Brushing your teeth or taking a shower are routine here.

“It’s a luxury if you put yourselves in their shoes,” she said.

Fifth grade student Polly Finch takes a shower in the morning and evening. She thought the idea of a shower must be amazing to those in impoverished countries.

Through the project, students began to learn about the effects of water. For example, a five-gallon water jug weighs about 40 pounds. In areas without clean water, children often must carry these jugs three to four miles. As a result, the children end up missing opportunities for education.

World Bank issues latest World Monitoring Report

Reports on the state of the world's economy are being released ahead of a World Bank - International Monetary Fund meeting coming to Washington next week. The World Bank released its "Global Monitoring Report" for 2009, the title for it is sobering "A Development Emergency".

The report says that the recession had drastically hurt efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals. The bank calls on the world's governments to increase funding on programs for the poor, especially for health concerns.

From the Associated Press via Google, writer Deb Riechmann gives us more details from the new report. The World Bank has set up a full website with the Global Development Report available to download.

A report released in conjunction with this week's meeting of the bank and International Monetary Fund in Washington said the financial meltdown is impeding efforts to achieve most of the eight U.N. millennium development goals. Although it still may be possible to reach the first goal — halving extreme poverty by 2015 from its 1990 level — it will be an uphill battle, according to "The Global Monitoring Report 2009: A Development Emergency."

"With simultaneous recessions striking all major regions, the likelihood of painfully slow recoveries in many countries is very real, making the fight against poverty more challenging and more urgent," said John Lipsky, deputy managing director of the IMF.

New estimates show that more than half of all developing countries could experience a rise in the number of extremely poor people this year. The report said it's estimated that 55 million to 90 million more people will be trapped in extreme poverty this year due to the worldwide recession. The number of chronically hungry people is expected to climb to more than 1 billion this year, reversing gains made in fighting malnutrition and making it even more urgent to invest in agriculture.

"Worldwide, we have an enormous loss of wealth and financial stability," said Justin Yifu Lin, an economist at the World Bank. "Millions more people will lose their jobs in 2009, and urgent funding must be provided for social safety nets, infrastructure and small businesses in poor countries, for a sustainable recovery."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Somalia receives new pledges of aid

Somalia has received pledges of 250 million dollars in aid from International donors. A conference on Somalian aid has just completed in Brussels where the new Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed made a plea for money.

The leaders making the pledges hope that the money will be used to control the lawlessness and poverty in the country, which has led to the infamous Somali pirates.

This snippet from AFP includes more background on the country.

Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, who took office in January, made a personal plea for funds at the conference, also attended by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.

Somalia has had no effective central authority since former president Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991, setting off a bloody cycle of clashes between rival factions.

Islamist fighters including the hardline Shebab militia have waged battles against the transitional government, its predecessor cabinet and their allies, vowing to fight until all foreign forces withdraw and sharia law is imposed.

More than one million people have fled their homes. Fewer than one in three Somalis, whose life expectancy is 46 years, have access to clean water.

While the conference was not focused on piracy, the high media profile of the growing number of cases of daring raids on freighters on the seas of the Gulf of Aden has become synonymous with Somalia's woes.

"Piracy is not a water-borne disease. It is a symptom of anarchy and insecurity on the ground," Ban said. "Dealing with it requires an integrated strategy that addresses the fundamental issue of lawlessness in Somalia."

Despite international naval missions -- including from NATO and the European Union -- piracy has spiralled over the last year, as ransom-hunting Somalis tackle ever-bigger and more distant prizes.

More than 130 merchant ships were attacked in the region last year, an increase of more than 200 percent on 2007, the International Maritime Bureau said. A tenfold increase was noted in the first three months of 2009.

"If we only treat the symptoms, piracy at sea, but not its root causes -- the decay of the state and poverty -- we will fail," Barroso said.

Non-governmental organisation Oxfam said the conference was being held at a critical moment for 3.2 million Somalis desperately in need of aid, more than a million of whom have fled their homes to avoid fighting in the last two years.

Video: Nuru's BH2O campaign


380,000 Colombians forced to flee due to armed conflict

380,000 Colombians have had to flee their homes due to the continuing armed conflict in the country. Since, 1997 the numbers have reached 2.9 million people. These numbers are disputed by the government of Colombia, but aid workers and reporters say that the displacement continues in Colombia's rural areas.

From the BBC, reporter we learn more of a survey of the displacement from a human rights organization.

The Centre for Human Rights and the Displaced, Codhes, says this is a 25% rise on 2008 and brings the total displaced since 1985 to 4.6 million.

Government officials say the number registered as displaced has risen.

But they say the Codhes total includes figures from previous years and those falsely claiming compensation.

In its annual report, Codhes says 2008 saw the rate of displacement rising to levels last seen in 2002, the worst year on record when 410,000 people were forced to flee.

According to its study, 380,863 people had to leave their homes or places of work as a result of the armed conflict between guerrillas, paramilitary groups and the security forces.

Codhes says that between 1985 and 2008, 4.6 million Colombians have been uprooted.

"The great majority live in severe conditions of poverty," the Codhes report said, while their own land and property had fallen into the hands of others in a "de facto expropriation".

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

UK improves a little in child well being

Instead of being right at the bottom, the UK is now near the bottom in child well being for European countries. The University of York conducts the survey to gauge how well European countries are doing in helping poor children.

The report says that the UK is taking many good steps to improve children's well being, but need to give those programs more funding and resources.

From The Press, writer Jennifer Bell tells us where the UK ranks.

In a report commission by The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), university researchers found that high numbers of youngsters in workless families, poor local environments and the low numbers in education or training left the UK trailing 24th out of 29 countries listed.

That was well below the performance of countries such as Germany, which came eighth, and France ranked 15th, and a long way behind the continent’s best-off children, in Holland and Scandinavia.

Only Romania, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and Malta fared worse, according to the research, which was based on data from 2006.

Among other factors which resulted in a low score for the UK were poor immunisation rates, children more likely to report poor or fair health and a relatively poor ability to communicate with parents.

The Child Poverty Action Group said the Government was using the right kinds of policy but had failed to back them with sufficient resources.

The group is one of 150 organisations which have joined forces to call on Chancellor Alistair Darling to announce a £3 billion-plus boost to benefits and tax credits for low income families in today’s Budget.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A good primer on Tuberculosis

Today's Guardian has a good article that answers some basic questions about Tuberculosis. Our snippet contains the first few questions, but we encourage you to follow the link to the full article for more. Reporter Ruth McNerney compiled the Q and A.

What is TB?

Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease caused by a small bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The most common form of the disease is when it damages the lungs, but it can affect many parts of the body, when it is called extra-pulmonary disease. TB is highly infectious and is usually caught by breathing in bacteria from the air. People with untreated disease in their lungs or throat expel the bacteria as small droplets when they cough, sneeze or even during talking. These tiny droplets can remain suspended in the air for long enough to be inhaled by other people in the vicinity. The bacteria have tough waxy coats and can survive this process. Once inside the lung the bacteria can transfer to other parts of the body. Most people are able to control the infection and do not develop the tuberculosis disease, but between one and two in every 10 infected people will get sick and require treatment. Sometimes it takes years for symptoms to emerge, a condition known as latent TB. It is not understood why some people stay well while others become ill. People with damaged immune systems have a much higher risk of developing tuberculosis disease.
What are the symptoms?

The classic symptom of TB is a cough that gets worse over a period of weeks or months. Other symptoms include fever and weight loss. Coughing blood is a strong indicator of lung damage caused by TB. Tuberculosis can affect many parts of the body and symptoms are non-specific. When it affects the central nervous system, a form of the disease that is often fatal in children, the symptoms include fevers and headaches.
How many people are affected worldwide?

It has been suggested that one third of the world's population has at some time been infected by the TB bacteria. During 2007 there were an estimated 13.7 million people with tuberculosis disease and 1.75 million deaths worldwide. It is a disease of poverty, with less than 10% of cases occurring in the wealthy industrialised countries. The countries hardest hit by the epidemic are those of sub-Saharan Africa, where high rates of co-infection with HIV and weak public health systems have contributed to a dramatic rise in the number of cases.
How big is the problem in Uganda?

It is estimated that during 2007 there were 132,000 people in Uganda with active TB and 29,000 deaths from the disease. The amount of drug-resistant disease is not known. In a recent study undertaken at Mulago hospital in Kampala, of 409 "re-treatment" patients who had not been cured by previous attempts at treatment, 52 were found to have multi drug-resistant TB (MDR-TB).

Asian and European leaders confirm sticking with MDG's

A two day conference between Asian and European leaders resulted in a declaration that the continents will still strive to meet the Millenium Development Goals, despite the global recession. Many countries are far behind on meeting the goals, and the recession has only made them fall further.

From ABS-CBN News, reporter Michelle Orosa attended the conference.

Thirteen Asian countries, 16 European countries, the European Comission, eight international organizations and 10 civil society organizations attended the two-day conference.

Of these 13 countries, Richelle said 5 to 7 were having more difficulty than the rest in following through with the MDG goals.

"Thanks to efforts from India and China, development has progressed significantly in the region. But this has not spread to the whole of Asia," he noted.

Richelle declined to name the countries, but according to a background study submitted for the 2009 ASEM entitled, "Development Challenges and Opportunities," cited as lagging behind other countries in fulfilling several aspects of the MDGs are Cambodia, India, Mongolia, Pakistan, Myanmar Laos, Indonesia and the Philippines.

The Philippines, in particular, was cited for lagging in the goals of halving the number of people living under $1 a day, improving quality of teaching and learning conditions, and improving access to health services.

Rolando Tungpalan, Deputy Director General for the National Economic Development Authority admitted that there was much to improve in the areas cited, but he maintains the government is committed to keeping the country on track to meet its MDG goals by 2015.

Richelle added there are currently 3 factors the ASEM is watching out for in achieving the MDG goals: Volatility in the prices of commodities, slowdown in remittance volumes as the crisis affect job prospects of migrant labor, and the amount of money available for official development assistance.

A shortfall in food aid in Uganda

Last Year, the UN's World Food Programme announced that because of lack of funding, they had to make some cutbacks on food aid in Uganda. One of the cuts the WFP made was providing food aid to HIV-positive people.

From IRIN, we see the effects of the cuts in food aid, especially among those who have been displaced by the countries civil war that is currently in cease fire.

"We shall only be providing food support to those HIV-positive IDPs who are extremely sick or those whose health condition has relapsed, based on advice from health workers," Bai Mankay Sankoh, head of WFP's Gulu office, told IRIN/PlusNews.

Aceng's family eats one meal a day, usually boiled sorghum with salt, or cassava and beans. "You feel like eating but the food we have can't make you feel satisfied; we have to persevere, knowing that there is nothing or little for tomorrow," she said. "With this kind of life, anytime you can die because the drugs I am taking [antiretrovirals] require good feeding."

Pamela Ayaa, 21, Aceng's oldest child, makes less than US$1 a day at a local construction site. "The needs are too much, my mother is weak and our relatives can't provide much because they are also starting a new life home after 20 years living in an IDP camp," she said.

Primary and secondary school education are free in Uganda, but none of her siblings are in school because they do not have the money to pay for uniforms, exercise books or transport to and from school.

A protracted conflict between the rebel Lord's Resistance Army and the government kept over one million people in often dangerously congested camps, sometimes for more than 20 years, but after a two-year lapse in hostilities and an ongoing peace process, IDPs are being encouraged to leave. According to local officials, about 40 percent have moved to resettlement camps closer to their original villages.

Many returnees have been able to resettle on their farms and resume productive agriculture, and WFP is phasing out general food distribution in the north, but government officials have urged the agency to maintain food aid to the most vulnerable.

Monday, April 20, 2009

G-8 recommends stockpiling food to prevent price shocks

When food prices went through the roof last year, many people in the under developed world began to riot, because they could no longer afford food. Since then, world leaders have been looking for ways to prevent such unrest from happening again. They have a lot of work to do, as many countries are far behind meeting the Millennium Development Goal of of halving poverty by 2015.

The agricultural leaders of the eight wealthiest nations have concluded meetings to improve food security. They recommend that countries stockpile food. But Oxfam has called on the G-8 to do a lot more.

From the AFP via Google, we see what was announced at the G8 meetings recently concluded in Italy.

The G8 agriculture ministers called for a study into setting up a global system to stockpile essential foodstuffs after three days of talks in northeastern Italy joined by key emerging and developing countries.

"We call upon the relevant international institutions to examine whether a system of stockholding could be effective in dealing with humanitarian emergencies or as a means to limit price volatility," the ministers said in a final declaration.

"It's an important first step," said the head of the UN food agency, Jacques Diouf. "Now we hope that ... we can broach structural problems and come (to negotiations) with concrete solutions," notably at the G8 summit in Sardinia in July, he told a news conference.

The head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said he was "pleased by the fact that so many top agriculture officials of the world had met ... to draw international attention to the fact that we have not resolved the food crisis."

While recession has cooled soaring prices, officials say it offers only a temporary respite, while activists complain that only a fraction of the 22 billion dollars (17 billion euros) in aid announced at a UN food agency summit in Rome last June has been disbursed.

The British-based charity Oxfam immediately slammed Monday's declaration, which also lamented that the world is "very far" from attaining the UN goal on malnutrition.

"The G8 has failed the world's one billion hungry people," it said in a statement.

The ministers "have made an extraordinary admission of collective failure."

More fall into poverty in South Korea

Joblessness in Seoul, South Korea is up by 18 percent compared to last year. This is sending thousands more below the poverty line in the city. The local government says over 1000 people have filed for assistance.

From the Korea Tribune, we see more of the stats and figures.

The number of people signing up for basic living subsidies rose by about 1,000 each month this year to 117,933 so far, according to the officials.

Those earning less than the minimum monthly living cost of 1.32 million won ($985) for a family of four are eligible to apply for basic living subsidies.

"An increasing number of households tumbled into poverty under worsening economic conditions," a city official said.

"The city government will support families in crisis through its special relief programs."

The city recently discovered that some 76,000 families are getting along with less than the minimum cost of living but do not meet certain requirements to receive state subsidies.

These low-income families will be covered by the city's special assistance programs, the metropolitan government said.

The city plans to provide up to 5 million won in cash, for example, to households whose main income earners lost jobs or went out of business.

Educating villagers about malaria

One of the biggest obstacles to overcome in fighting malaria is lack of education. Many people who are affected by the disease don't know how it is spread and how to treat it.

From All Africa we find this story about malaria education. Students from Makerere University in Uganda encountered a lot of misconceptions when they worked to a small village.

In June and July 2007, medical students spent six weeks in Mifumi village in Tororo, eastern Uganda, listening to what villagers knew about malaria after which they designed an educational programme to fill gaps in the people's knowledge.

The students, who presented their findings in a video conference with the U.S National Library of Medicine (NLM) and Fogarty International Centre, learned that the villagers' ideas about malaria are neither correct nor incorrect.

Responses like; "Mangoes cause malaria in this village, "When I eat mangoes I get sick," were very common.

This was an indication that people had not received correct information on how malaria spreads. However, the researchers learnt that the villagers were not far from the

truth, because during the rainy season when mangoes are in plenty, malaria cases increase because mosquitoes breed around the bushes, in broken bottles, containers and swamps.

"When people in these places get bitten by mosquitoes, they attribute the attack of malaria to mangoes," said William Lubega, one of the researchers.

Lack of medical advice

Researchers were stunned to learn that locals think malaria is caused by witchcraft or bad spirits. Similarly, most villagers do not seek medical advice due to ignorance.

"When one is suffering from malaria in that village, the pain may subside for some time even when they have not visited a health centre.

But the malaria germ (plasmodium) remains in the body, causing the victim to succumb to the disease again," Lubega said.

They also discovered that there was a link between malaria and diarrhoea in Mifumi village due to absence of a protected water source in the area.

The people share wells with animals and lack basic knowledge about personal hygiene. Another problem encountered was misuse of anti-malaria drugs.

According to Brian Sseruyombya, a pharmacy student, the people had tried various drugs and had given up visiting health centres because it made no difference.

"The majority of the people had not completed their doses while others used over-the-counter drugs and practiced self medication, especially taking Panadol, a pain killer," he said.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A new search engine that helps to fight hunger

Using a certain search engine can now help provide meals to the hungry. "Hoongle" is similar to FreeRice.com, in that each time you use it, a few grains of rice goes to the United Nations Food Programme.

We found out about "Hoongle" though a write up in the New York Times Blogs, writer Jenna Wortham tells us all about the new search engine.

A search engine can pull up results, but can it also dish out three meals a day?

That’s what Vladimir Hruda, David Whitehead and Salmaan Ayaz, undergraduate students at the University of Richmond, are hoping. The trio of students built Hoongle.org, a custom Google search engine that promises to donate 20 grains of rice per search to schools in the developing world.

Since the search engine rolled out in September, the site has generated more than 8.5 million grains of rice, or the equivalent of 4,000 meals, Mr. Hruda said. “We’re adding tremendous value to everyday searches,” Mr. Whitehead said.

To finance their food fund, the creators donate the revenue generated by each search, which is enough to pay for the equivalent of 20 grains of rice. A small portion of the proceeds toward server maintenance charges, said Mr. Hruda. The search engine works through Fill the Cup, a campaign of the United National World Food Program that delivers food to schools around the world.

“Typically charity requires donation,” said Mr. Ayaz. “But we’re creating the value that we’re donating. There’s no cost to us, or anyone for doing this.”

Saturday Missions: starting a new food pantry

Inspired by a trip to South Africa, Carole Romine decided to start a food pantry at her church. It couldn't have come at a better time, with demand for food assistance greater than it has even been due to the global recession.

From this Associated Press story that we found at the Daily Southerner, we learn of how the food pantry got it's start.

“This couple that I saw just came in (the church) and were looking for food,” Romine said. “My first inclination was to try to find some money.”

But before she could find some cash, the couple disappeared.

“This is something that stuck with me,” Romine said. “It really stirred something inside, that we should never let them leave empty handed because we are a church.”

Another churchgoer, Lois Pryor, had also seen people come to the church asking for help.

And since the start of the year, the two women have been helping working to do something about what they saw.

They have worked to open a food pantry at the church to serve north Henderson and south Buncombe counties.

“We had several people come in asking for help, and I had mentioned that I felt it was something we should do,” Pryor said. “We’re starting out small, and we’re going to see how it grows.”

The new food pantry, which is set up inside a small room at the church, will open April 25 and will be open 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.

Already, 35 people have volunteered to help. And the church has been collecting food donations with the help of some area businesses.

Friday, April 17, 2009

New 'open access' journal on poverty and public policy

A new journal that examines poverty and public policy hopes to go the 'open access' route to get the information to as many people as possible. The Poverty and Public Policy Journal has several articles up now for anyone to read. You just need to fill out a short form with your name and where you are from.

One article that caught our eye was an examination of an anti-poverty program in Chile. Writer Silvia Borzutzky introduces us to the Chile Solidario program.

Chile Solidario, designed in 2002, is Chile’s most important anti-poverty program and it is coordinated by the Minister of Planning.8 The program’s aim is to incorporate indigent families into the State’s Social Protection Network which, in turn, will facilitate access to benefits and services that for the most part are already provided by the state, but that the very poor do not know how to access.

Thus, its objective is to coordinate monetary benefits, subsidies, services and
programs that are already available, and to facilitate access to those programs. In
the words of one analyst, “The innovative approach involves a two-pronged
strategy, working on both the demand and the supply side of public services.”9 On
the demand side, the program allows the indigent to become aware of the
existence of benefits and services. On the supply side, the program requires
coordination of services at the municipal level since it guarantees preferential
access to the services provided by the municipality. Here it is important to note
that the program is grounded in each municipality through a Family Intervention
Unit, headed by a municipal employee who acts as a case worker.

Chile Solidario works with the family, and specifically with
women/mothers, providing psychosocial support, subsidies, and mechanisms to
access existing services. The program is operating in 332 municipalities, and by
the end of 2005 it incorporated 225,000 families.10 It is important to note that the
program largely ignores husbands and fathers. Chile Solidario is considered to
have fulfilled its mission when the family is able to overcome its indigence and
can sustain a set of minimum pre-established conditions. The right to participate
in the Chile Solidario program is determined through a poverty score, which in
turn is a summary index of unsatisfied basic needs. The score is posted in a card
(CAS ficha) that serves as a means to identify program recipients. Households are
invited to participate on the basis of their score, starting with the poorest
families.

The families incorporated into the program receive a set of small subsidies,
some training, and the provision of identity cards to families that had never had
one. It facilitates registration in the local clinics so families can obtain primary
care in their respective neighborhood. The program also makes sure that children
are sent to school, facilitates access to education for illiterate adults, and it
attempts to reduce intra-family violence which appears to be a chronic problem
among indigent families in Chile. The program also aims at facilitating
employment opportunities, the right to get a welfare pension, and to improved
housing conditions.

Entrance into the program is facilitated through the so called Puente or
“bridge program” that actually opens the door into the benefits provided by Chile
Solidario, or “builds a bridge between them [the indigents] and their rights in
order to defeat the condition of extreme poverty.”12 It is interesting to note that
the Puente Program places emphasis on the provision of psychological support to
the families. In practice, the program is implemented by “the case worker” who is
in charge of visiting the family on a regular basis, providing support, and dealing
with both the emotional and the economic problems of the family. This person,who often is a recent college graduate with some background either in health,
education, or the social sciences, is expected to develop a personal relationship
with the mother and to work with her during the life of the program. Thus, the
mother is both the central economic, social, and psychological actor in the project
since she sustains the relationship with the case worker, and receives the family
protection subsidy. She should attempt to improve intra-family relations, and is in
charge of taking the children to school and to the local health clinic.

It is important to note that Chile Solidario provides an array of very small
cash benefits, including a Solidario benefit (which ranges from about US$ 19.5
the first semester to US$ 6 the fourth semester),13 a family subsidy to children
under 18 years of age, an old age assistance and/or invalidity pension, and a
subsidy that pays the family’s water bill. Moreover, the cash benefits provided by
Chile Solidario are just part of a larger set of small cash transfers provided by the
government which also include a family subsidy given to pregnant women, to
parents of children between 6-18 years of age, and to parents of persons with
physical disabilities. To be eligible the parents must take the children for regular
medical check-ups, and must send children to school. The benefit amounts to
about US$8 per month. There is also an unemployment benefit that fluctuates
between approximately $20-30, and is conditioned upon having been employed
for at least 52 weeks during the previous two years. Assistance pensions are given
to those over 65 and to physically and mentally-disabled adults regardless of age.
The pension amounts to about $95 per month and it also includes free medical
care. Households also receive a Water and Sewage subsidy which fluctuates
between $4-$7 monthly, and the solidarity subsidy which is received by 1.1
percent of all households.14 In brief, if all the subsidies are added a poor family in Chile receives on average about $40 monthly in cash transfers,15 and up to about
$275 through the life of the program, which equals 2 percent of the median
income of the participating households.

Taking up fighting in a war to escape poverty

For some desperate for a way out, going to war could seem like a good option instead of suffering from poverty. Similar to in the states where a homeless person will commit a crime in order to get into jail, for a warm bed and three meals a day.

In Columbia, children a preyed upon to enter a rebel fighting force. The child soldiers join to escape poverty, parental abuse or for revenge.

In this Bloomberg story, we read of a former child soldier named Juan, who surrendered to the Colombian army after fearing for his life. Writer Helen Murphy also gathers statistics from Human Rights Watch for her story.

“I couldn’t take the fear and hunger any more,” recalls Juan, a physically and emotionally scarred former child soldier who turned himself in to Colombia’s military in 2008 after escaping from two years with the drug-funded rebels. “The army bombed us every night and I was afraid.”

As the world seeks to prevent the use of minors in armed conflict, thousands -- some as young as 11 -- bear arms in Colombia’s illegal forces, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch. The global financial crisis may increase the pool of willing recruits: With more rural Colombians facing poverty, it may be easier for the rebels to replace members killed or captured in President Alvaro Uribe’s attacks against them.

Young prospects “come from poor and brutal backgrounds, where even armed combat seems a better option, and the FARC is happy to take them in,” says Philippe Houdard, whose Developing Minds Foundation in Miami Beach, Florida, helps fund a home in Colombia for former child combatants, some of whom were forced into service.

‘Appalling’ Abuses

While the scope of the problem worldwide is impossible to gauge, Lucia Withers, acting director of the London-based Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, says youngsters are always involved in wars in some way. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Feb. 12 said the use of child soldiers is “one of the most appalling human-rights abuses in the world today.”

Once the killing starts, “they are thrown into extreme stress,” says Maggie Mauer, a Coral Gables, Florida, psychologist who has studied Colombia’s former young fighters. “Some told me they lost control of their bowels in combat. But they are not allowed to be afraid; they would be ridiculed by those they depend on for survival.”

Juan, who bears a deep gouge down his left cheek, joined the FARC, Colombia’s largest illegal armed group, when he was 14. Like most young recruits, he came voluntarily with the promise of adventure and a better life away from destitution. He also wanted revenge on the army for killing his older brother, another child soldier.

A childhood spent surviving genocide

Eric Karita gives us an outstanding first person account of the Rwandan genocide from the 1990's. Karita spent a good portion of his childhood on the run and hiding from Hutus who would kill him just because he was Tutsi. Karita is now getting an education in the US.

The student newspaper at the University Karita attends asked for the story of his experience. From the Undercurrent from Buena Vista UIniversity in Iowa, is an excerpt from Karita's story.

It all started on April 6, 1994. Over the next hundred days that followed, many people lost their lives. It was a war in which two ethnic groups began fighting for ultimate power. Rwanda's genocide was a situation of two tribes: Tutsi and Hutu, where the Hutu began killing the Tutsi. Rwanda has experienced what other countries have never experienced. Rwanda's genocide has come to define the country.

Living through a transition massacre to a free market society, I have personally experienced poverty and national wars that most Americans could never dream about in their worst nightmares. Living through war and poverty has made me find my true existence; they have integrated my life and personality. In 1994 after the crash of the plane of former president of Rwanda, Habyarimana, the Hutus started slaughtering the Tutsis using machetes, axes, guns, and clubs. I was in the village with my grandma. Many Tutsis started packing their stuff so that they could find a safe place and became survivors. Friends, relatives, and families were turning against each other because they were from different ethnic groups. Those who were the Hutus had no mercy on the Tutsis. It did not matter whether you were friends or relatives or family you were still going to be killed. My eyes were full of terrors. I would hear people screaming and gunshots. Many of the Tutsis were begging for forgiveness from the Hutus not to kill them, but the Hutus had no forgiveness. The Hutus would just shoot them or chop them like they were chopping meat not human beings. I have seen so many dead bodies. I had spent many days running away from the Hutus and without having shelter to rest my head nor even food and water to drink. I would eat whatever I would get and drink whatever I could find to drink. I owned many goats and I depended on them. Unfortunately, one day I had to leave them behind.

Eventually, my grandma and I managed to cross the border of Rwanda into Tanzania. We became refugees in Tanzania and life was a struggle there. The Office of the United Nations Commission for Refugees could not afford to feed all of the people. However, I still felt relief because I could not hear gunshots anymore.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Video CBS News story on MicroPlace

MicroPlace is a microcredit website started by ebay that gives loaners a little of the interest back. CBS News recently did a story about the website. But please, don't forget about Kiva.


Book Review: Daniel Jaffee’s Brewing Justice: Fair Trade Coffee, Sustainability, and Survival

A book on fair trade coffee is very critical of the practice and questions the claims that it improves life for coffee growers. Writer Daniel Jaffee is very critical of the corporations that purchase the coffee and stick a fair trade label on it, saying it's just a way to make a profit that may make a few people feel good.

From the Mother Nature Network, reviewer Nathalie Jordi explains the book's views in this article that was originally published in the magazine Plenty.

If you find your morning java fix at Starbucks expensive but justifiable because, you trust, at least your money will be ethically spent, think again. Sociologist Daniel Jaffee’s Brewing Justice: Fair Trade Coffee, Sustainability, and Survival explores the benefits, limits, advances, and contradictions of fair trade—and finds it wanting. Hopscotching among alternative coffee shops, rural Oaxaca, nonprofit offices, and corporate headquarters, Jaffee’s work of ‘multi-sited ethnography’ is impassioned, systematic, and profoundly researched.

Is fair trade a challenge to the capitalist system, or just a lucrative niche market with good image-enhancement potential? Is it a market breaker, reformer, or simply a market access mechanism?

And, in a question similar to the Big Organic vs. Beyond Organic discussion led by Michael Pollan, who will determine the future of fair trade? The idealistic founders of the once-alternative movement, the pragmatists willing to sacrifice certain standards for what they believe is a greater good, or powerful corporations for which, Jaffee notes sarcastically, “fairness is merely one flavor” in a carefully considered lineup of niche products?

So far, the corporations seem to be fiercely maintaining their hold on the upper hand, even though the ‘Big Five’ coffee corporations that control 69 percent of the world’s coffee buy less than 1 percent through fair trade channels. This figure mirrors the proportion of fair trade to regular coffee in the world market, and is shockingly low when one considers that coffee is the world’s most successful fair trade product.

Consider that farmers reached rock bottom during the coffee crisis of 2001, while Starbucks posted a 41-percent jump in first-quarter profits and NestlĂ©’s profits increased by 20 percent. Consider that between 1975 and 1993, despite the 18 percent drop in wholesale coffee prices, the retail price of coffee increased by 240 percent. Consider that according to Oxfam Canada, when one takes inflation into account, families are earning less for their beans than their ancestors did a hundred years ago.

Over two years of interviews, observation, surveys, and statistical analysis in rural Oaxaca—Jaffee is nothing if not thorough—he
finds that fair trade has made a tangible difference in producer livelihoods. Fair trade coffee farmers spent more on education and showed a greater proportion of beds per family member and cooking stoves, for example.

But their overall economic bottom line was only marginally better. Although production costs have increased, the price for fair trade coffee hasn’t changed in 10 years, and most farmers’ profits are redistributed in the form of wages they have to pay the laborers they hire to cope with the additional work involved in growing organic beans, or even certification expenses (incredibly, farmers have to pay for their own organic certification; one of Jaffee’s recommendations is to provide subsidies).

Fair trade farmers made about 10 percent more than conventional producers, but had to work so much harder for the privilege that Jaffee concludes, “[fair trade] does not currently provide a sufficiently compelling alternative for many households, let alone constitute a solution to rural poverty, economic crisis, or ecological degradation.” In other words, fair trade does deliver many social, economic, and environmental benefits to participants, but nonetheless still falls far short of pulling the majority out of poverty, its avowed goal.

This book would be painfully long and technical were its reflections not as carefully considered. It’s worth glossing over the more evidential chapters in order to arrive at Jaffee’s distillations and recommendations: Adjust the base price of fair trade coffee; revisit the allocation of benefits; reduce entry barriers to trade; subsidize organic certification for deserving producers; address the balance of power within the fair trade supply chain; and protect fair trade against the threat of dilution and co-optation with which it is constantly barraged.

'Slumdog Millionaire' producers make another donation to Mumbai

'Slumdog Millionaire' director Danny Boyle has announced another donation to benefit Mumbai. 500,000 pounds will go to the charity Plan, to help the children of India's slums.

From the BBC, we find a statement from Boyle as well as more details on the donation.

Child actors Rubina Ali and Azharuddin Ismail, who played young versions of two main characters, were moved to new homes by the Indian authorities.

"Having benefited so much from the hospitality of the people of Mumbai it is only right that some of the success of the movie be ploughed back into the city in areas where it is needed most and where it can make a real difference to some lives," Boyle said of the charitable donation.

"Despite intimidating odds, extraordinary work is going on to help people break the cycle of poverty through education. We're delighted that this initiative will add to that ongoing work," he added.

The cash will fund a five-year project to help poor children in the city, which will be run by the organisation Plan.

It is thought the charity, which works in nearly 50 countries, will train people in good hygiene and set up education schemes.

Plan's Marie Staunton said: "Around one billion of the world's population live in slums and there are 100,000 new slum dwellers every day.

Number of heroin addicts in Afghanistan doubles

A survey conducted to gauge drug abuse in Afghanistan is showing that heroin and opium abuse has doubled in the country. The United Nations conducted the surveys, with the last one taking place four years ago.

From NPR, reporter Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson tells us some of the factors that have contributed to the increase. The link also includes the audio story that aired on NPR, as well as some graphic actualities from addicts and their children.

Experts say that the alarming trend is not being addressed by the Afghan government and its international partners, even though most officials acknowledge that the drug scourge threatens lasting stability in Afghanistan.
...

The soaring rates of drug abuse are driven in part by Afghanistan's widespread unemployment and social upheaval under the Taliban and the U.S.-led war, begun in 2001. Another factor is the flood of returning Afghan refugees from Iran, many of whom became heroin addicts there.

And fueling it all is an overabundance of opium and heroin in Afghanistan, the world's largest cultivator of poppies in the world.

The addicts say that heroin is a cheap way to forget their miserable existence.
...

The U.N.'s Jean-Luc Lemahieu calls it the "Coca-Cola effect." The widespread abundance and affordability of the drugs have made them as ubiquitous and available as soft drinks.

"What people always forget is that not only demand creates supply, but supply creates demand," said Lemahieu, the representative in Kabul for the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.