Friday, May 29, 2009

AIDS fighting funds slashed across African continent

The global recession has had bad effects on funding the fight against AIDS. Governments across the African continent are slashing their budgets to fight the disease. Meanwhile, NGO's are in the same trouble with cash. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria recently announced a 4 billion dollar shortfall.

From Black Star News, writer Sifelani Tsiko gives this round up of some of the cutbacks.

Tanzania was the first sub-Saharan country to announce a 25% slash of its annual HIV/Aids budget. Health experts say this will have a significant impact on human resources in the sector and on health service delivery in this East African country.

They further say that long-term health planning will become completely unpredictable as funding dwindles for most HIV/Aids programs on the continent.

The global financial crisis has forced commodity prices to nose-dive dealing major blow to agriculture and mining-based African economies which had registered some positive growth in export revenue over the last few years. Mining companies in mineral dependent economies in Africa are scaling down operations resulting in massive retrenchments and lay–offs.

Botswana, South Africa, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe were some of the hardest hit countries in the southern Africa region. These countries have registered significant cuts in their export receipts severely affecting revenue flows for the governments and expenditure on HIV/Aids programs.

Even the large mining companies are scaling down expenditure on HIV prevention programs, affecting thousands of employees and their families. The Botswana government announced recently that it will not be able to include new patients in its free antiretroviral (ARV) treatment program from 2016 onwards, because it doesn't have sufficient funds to expand the program.

In Zambia, the situation is dire with the large copper mining companies making massive cuts on HIV spending as the companies lay off thousands of workers due to the global financial turmoil engulfing Western countries which are the main drivers of commodity prices since they are the substantial consumers.

Zimbabwe’s economic problems in the past few years have led to the deterioration of the country’s health care systems. Most HIV patients are still having problems in accessing HIV drugs; if when drugs become available, purchasing choices are stark: medication or food?

One in five of Scotland's children in poverty

A new report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reveals that 1 in 5 of Scotland's children live in poverty. The report says that translates to 210,000 children or 21% percent. The number has actually increased from years before.

From the East Lothian News, we learn more of the reports conclusions.

Levels of child deprivation have fallen faster in Scotland than other parts of the UK in the last decade but have stalled since 2004/05, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report.

And it suggests that the UK Government's target of eradicating child poverty by 2020 will not be met if progress continues at the current rate.

Measures to reduce deprivation in Scotland are now fairly similar to the rest of the UK, according to the report.

It called on the Scottish and UK governments to do more to reduce child poverty north of the border and suggested a wide range of policy measures.

Immunization effort against Polio begins in Nigeria tomorrow

The government of Nigeria will begin a new immunization program to help eradicate polio in the country.

Last time a similar effort was made, the government could only reach 60 percent of the children with the shot. They hope to reach at least 90 percent this time.

From the Guardian of Nigeria, writer Chukwuma Muanya offers more details on the immunization project.

Fresh efforts to reach the un-immunised Nigerian child with Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) begin tomorrow in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

The Federal Government and its development partners plan to use the immunisation campaign to deliver a broad range of child survival interventions in the race against the reduction of under-five mortality rate in the country.

Nigeria and the rest of the world are expected to meet the health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 4 and 5 of reducing significantly child and maternal deaths by 2015.

The MDGs were developed out of the eight chapters of the United Nations Millennium Declaration, signed in September 2000.

Already, Federal Government has deployed 57 million doses of trivalent OPV (OPV-3) for the four day campaign. The vaccines are target at the three type of the Wild Polio Virus (WPV), that WPV-1, WPV-2 and WPV-3 whch are said to be prevalent in the country.. The government plans to administer the vaccines using 180,000 health workers, 140,000 vaccinators, 3,400 supervisors in 33,000 posts. She also plans sub-national campaigns for July, August and October 2009.

The government has also adopted new strategies which include: engagement of political and religious leadership, and civil societies; publishing the coverage, successes and failures of States; revision of guidelines for the conduct of immunisation campaign; and creation of special teams to capture children on the street.

Latest figures on polio eradication in Nigeria from the FMOH, indicate that the progress with immunisation activities reported during the first quarter of 2009 has not been uniform in all states and local councils.

According to government sources about 19 per cent of all local councils failed to achieve the target of 90 per cent coverage during the last campaign held in March 2009.

ECLA writes a letter to the U.S.Congress

Faith groups of all sorts are urging members of the U.S. Congress to co-sponsor a bill that will try to streamline international aid.

The latest faith group to contact Congress are the bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. In a signed letter sent to all members of Congress, the bishops urge the co-sponsorship of the bill.

From Ekklesia, we learn more of the bill, and the faith groups mobilization.

They want members of Congress to co-sponsor the Initiating Foreign Assistance Reform Act of 2009 (HR 2139). The bipartisan bill is intended to refocus the US government’s global development policies and programmes to make them more effective in addressing poverty and security.

In the letter distributed to the 465-member House of Representatives last week, the bishops said “comprehensive reform is critical in order to more effectively meet the growing needs of those living in extreme poverty while ensuring global security.”

The ELCA is one of a range of faith groups calling on millions of their constituents to urge their U.S. representatives to co-sponsor the bill. Nearly 50 Christian, Jewish and Muslim organizations are working together to issue statements on US international assistance reform.

“Lutheran leaders understand the importance of US foreign [sic] aid because we have seen firsthand how it affects our brothers and sisters in partner churches throughout the world,” said the Rev Peter Rogness, bishop, ELCA St. Paul (Minnesota) Area Synod, and one of the signatories.

The bill would direct President Barack Obama to develop and implement a comprehensive national strategy for global development, establish new guidelines for monitoring and evaluating US international assistance and increase its transparency.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Indian textile workers slide back into poverty

What was formerly a booming piece of the economy for India, has become another victim in the global recession.

The textile industry in India employed many people, so many that the factories bussed people in. But as soon as the U.S. economy slowed down the workers found themselves without jobs. The people then could only find other work that payed half of what they made before.

From this Associated Press article that we found at Oregon Live, writer Erika Kinetz describes the bust of India's textile industry.

Many in the textile belt of south India's Tamil Nadu state have seen their incomes roughly halved, to about $1.50 a day, as factories hit by declining exports and tight credit cut production, are forced to reduce payrolls and eventually close down. Distribution of government subsidized food in the area has shot up, and people are taking out loans and hocking jewelry to meet expenses.

India's public schools are notoriously poor, and many parents work hard to send their children to low-cost private schools that teach English. Now they are pulling them out, cutting off the next generation from what has been the surest ticket to a better life in India: the English language.

During the boom years, textile factories in Tamil Nadu's Coimbatore region could not get enough workers. They sent buses to nearby villages, picking up workers for thrice-daily shifts. In 2005, mills began holding recruitment fairs hundreds of kilometers (miles) away, in Tamil Nadu's impoverished south. Laborers poured in from poor states like Bihar and Orissa. Even on $3 or $4 a day, many built houses and put their children in private English-language schools.

Today many of the factory buses have stopped running, and migrants have gone home.

Things started to go bad in 2007, when the rupee appreciated sharply. Next, due to severe power shortages, blackouts began sweeping Tamil Nadu. Factory owners say they still don't get power for up to 8 hours a day.

From 2004 to 2007, textile production in India grew an average of 9.4 percent a year, according to the Confederation of Indian Textile Industry, a trade group. Growth then slipped to 4.9 percent, and in the year ended March, production actually contracted by 0.3 percent.

The biggest blow was the global financial crisis, which dried up credit and forced Americans to cut back on their shopping. Half of India's textile production is for export, and the U.S. is India's largest market, accounting for over 20 percent of exports. In the first two months of this year, textile imports from India were 11.9 percent lower than they were last year, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Declining demand has tightened an already competitive market. Indian companies complain they are at a disadvantage to poorer nations like Bangladesh, which get preferential trade treatment from developed countries.

Africa Bags visits Malawi

An U.S. non profit Africa Bags is planning a trip to Africa to visit the people it helps. Africa Bags employs people in Malawi to make the reusable shopping bags. U. S. volunteers from the non-profit will make a trip to Malawi to bring school supplies and to volunteer at a village school and health clinic.

From The Reporter Herald, writer Sarah Bultema gives us more details about the trip.

This Friday, about 17 members of the community — from families to college students — will meet in Malawi to volunteer in the villages, train more people to make the bags and drop off supplies for schools.

“We wanted to include volunteers who’ve helped us sell bags, to get them over to Malawi and see the problems of poverty and also to see how the project’s been helping,” Petitt said.

During their two weeks in Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world, the volunteers will help wherever they’re needed, including at a nursery and a crisis care center.

They also will drop off the 1,000 pounds of supplies that were collected in Loveland, including supplies to improve the schools.

And along with lending a hand, the volunteers will see the progress the nonprofit is helping make for the citizens.

In the five villages that participate with the program, many have used the proceeds from the bags to create community funds that help sustain the village. Some of these projects include raising chickens and selling the eggs, starting a garden to feed orphans and offering micro-loans so others can start businesses.

Amnesty International says the rights of the poor have eroded

Amnesty International released their annual report on the state of human rights today. The report claims that the global economic recession has further eroded human rights.

Amnesty points to a couple of ways where the recession has eroded rights. First, in the protests over food prices where governments turned violent on their own people. Second, through the governments spending packages that have helped businesses and banks but not the poor.

From IPS, writer Sanjay Suri gathers some quotes from the Amnesty report.

"The economic crisis is aggravating pre-existing human rights problems such as marginalisation of indigenous peoples, the situation of forced evictions of slum dwellers, and the issue of refugees and migrants," she told IPS in an interview.

"The economic crisis is also throwing up new problems," she said. "We have seen over the last year people turning out on the streets to protest in 17 countries, and when that happened, governments, particularly those of an authoritarian bent, turned on those demonstrations in very harsh ways.

"We have seen people killed in Tunisia, in Cameroon, we have seen the police use excessive force in other places like Egypt, Mali, Senegal. We are seeing more repression coming out of the recession."

Apart from the crackdown on people hit by the recession, Khan said, "some very important human rights problems are not getting the attention and the resources they need. I'm talking about issues like violence against women, and also talking about issues like armed conflicts in Darfur or Somalia or the Congo or Afghanistan or Pakistan."

Governments, she said, "are investing in putting the market straight again. But the market is not going to address human rights problems. When you are going in with an economic recovery package, if you only focus on putting businesses back on their feet, and in putting banks straight, then you miss out on the poor people, and if you don't tackle poverty, then you are not going to have a sustainable economic recovery plan."

The World Bank, she said, had talked about 53 million people being pushed back into poverty as a result of the recession. "Last year the food crisis affected 150 million or so people. That means that all the progress that has been made over the past decade has been wiped away."

Mudflows and floods in Tajikistan

The country of Tajikistan is especially prone to natural disasters. But the people there say the month of May has been especially difficult.

Floods and mudslides have destroyed a good part of the Tajikistan's crops. The weather could put food security at risk if the crops are unable to be replanted.

From the IRIN, we learn more of the costs from the weather in Tajikistan.

Farmers in Tajikistan will have to replant their crops after floods and mudflows damaged up to 40,000 hectares of agricultural land, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

Tajikistan, which has 860,000 hectares of agricultural land according to the World Resources Institute, is prone to seasonal floods and mudslides. However, local people say the weather this May has been exceptional.

Some 3,000 livestock have perished and many pastures in foothill areas have been flooded, according to the most recent situation report published on 21 May by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

"It's too late for farmers to claim [compensation] for what has been lost and they have been advised by the government to replant," Gabriella Waaijman, an OCHA regional disaster response adviser in Almaty (Kazakhstan), told IRIN.

The government is planning to help farmers replant with original or substitute crops before 1 June. However, the Agriculture Ministry said there was a shortage of fuel and seeds.

According to government estimates, over 2,000 buildings have been destroyed; 40 of the country’s 58 districts (many of which have little agricultural land) have been affected. Khuroson District in Khatlon Province is the worst hit area.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Gleaning from America's farm fields to provide for food banks

A lot of produce is left to sit in the farm fields of America. The marketplace only wants perfect produce, so the fruits and vegetables that have been attacked by a few bugs or are over ripe are left to sit in the fields and are used as compost for next year. But instead of leaving the food there, many food banks have volunteer pickers who salvage the food for the needy.

From this Associated Press story that we found at the Capital Press, reporter
Raquel Maria Dillon spent some time in the fields.

The local gleaning program was started by Salvation Army staffer Maddy Graham to supplement food boxes given to needy families who too often rely on fast food and discount retailers for high-fat, high-sugar foods that can lead to health problems.

The volunteer pickers get financial assistance and a box of oranges in exchange for working once a week.

Negrete said his kids devour the oranges.

"When they're sweet like this, they're better than candy. And better for their teeth," he said in Spanish, wiping sweat from his forehead.

Elsewhere, the Society of St. Andrew, a national gleaning organization, recruits volunteers from churches, scout troops and schools to pick sweet corn in Florida, collards in South Carolina, potatoes in Colorado and apples in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

"Fresh produce is expensive and it spoils quickly," spokeswoman Carol Breitinger said. "But fresh fruits and vegetables are essential to people's diets."

The pantries of many food giveaway programs are stocked with packaged goods and caloric filler foods such as pasta because those products are cheap and easy to ship and store, she said.

Meanwhile, perfectly good produce that could balance those offerings sometimes rots in fields because of cosmetic flaws or high shipping costs.

"I can remember going into a cabbage field on the eastern shore of Virginia to pick after the harvest," Breitinger recalled. "There were thousands and thousands of pounds of perfectly good cabbage."

Gleaners step in when community-minded farmers give them the run of their fields after crews of paid pickers have already passed through, or when cosmetic damage caused by pests or weather makes harvesting and shipping the produce a money-losing proposition.

In exchange, farmers get a tax credit and the satisfaction of knowing their hard work didn't go to waste.

Not your usual story about a conference

The 36th International Conference on Global Health started today in Washington, but one of the presenters today had a very unique perspective.

Winston Zulu is a tuberculosis survivor who is also HIV-positive. Zulu's talk was about eradicating tuberculosis to sustain the lives of those who are HIV-positive in Africa. Zulu makes the case that TB damages the immune system and brings those with HIV into AIDS creating a double jeopardy across the continent.

From the Voice of America, reporter Howard Lesser was at the conference to make note of Zulu's remarks.

Zambian-born Winstone Zulu became HIV-positive in 1990 and seven years later contracted tuberculosis. Four of his brothers died from TB, but with careful diagnosis and medication, Zulu survived TB and keeps his HIV in check with a regimen of first-line anti-retroviral drugs (ARV’s). A participant in the Washington conference, he explains that the links between HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis are alarmingly high and require greater international attention.

“It’s very, very important, especially in Africa, where the leading killer of people with HIV is tuberculosis. And basically what that means is that if you see all the statistics that talk about the number of people that have died in Africa from AIDS, and then you factor in TB and say, look, if we would have treated TB, then that would have changed the picture completely. And this is why it doesn’t make any sense to me for anybody in Africa to do AIDS work without putting in TB,” he says.

A growing body of evidence from sub-Saharan Africa points out that coming down with TB severely weakens immune systems and puts the lives of people living with HIV-positive conditions in great jeopardy. Describing himself as a global TB/HIV prescient advocate, Winstone Zulu notes that the unsettling experience of losing four brothers to the same disease is not as uncommon as it may seem in Zambia, where illness frequently claims the lives of multiple siblings within the same family.

Zulu claims it is urgent for healthcare providers to step up treatment and diagnosis of TB.

“I always challenge people and say, look, you can keep people living with HIV alive by treating tuberculosis. And because it’s the leading killer of people living with HIV in Africa, that’s a big achievement,” he observes.

Zulu cites poverty and HIV as the main factors that account for two-thirds of HIV-positive Zambians also suffering from tuberculosis, which readily spreads among people who infect others within a community. Some of the main stumbling blocks in treating TB patients and stopping transmission are inadequate diagnosis and improper medication.

“TB is the only disease that if left untreated, someone can infect 15 others within a year. So treating it also works as a prevention so that others won’t catch it,”

International Red Cross annual report shows increased needs throughout the world

Living amidst a war is unimaginably difficult, but the International Red Cross says that many people living in wars also suffer from natural disasters and high food prices, while the combat is around them.

The International Red Cross released their annual report today. The report says that in 2008 the Red Cross gave out double the amount of food of 2007. Also, the number of refugees that they have helped has increased by six percent.

From the International Red Cross press release that we found at Reuters Alert Net, the Red Cross president makes his point about the effects of war.

Presenting the ICRC's annual report for 2008, the organization's president, Jakob Kellenberger, said: "Afghanistan, Somalia and Pakistan are three examples of countries where natural disasters and high food prices have made life even harder for poor people already struggling to cope with the effects of war." The report shows that ICRC spending hit an all-time high in 2008, rising to over 1 billion Swiss francs.

Africa accounted for 47% of field expenditure, while 20% went to the Middle East.

The increase in expenditure is due to the deteriorating humanitarian situation in many countries, such as Sri Lanka, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Pakistan, but it also reflects improved ICRC access to people affected by wars.

"2008 clearly showed that the ICRC's neutral and independent humanitarian action does bring significant benefits for victims of armed conflicts," said Mr Kellenberger.

"It allows the ICRC to have access to and help people in places others often can't reach.

Notable examples include Iraq, the Sahel region, Somalia and Georgia." The ICRC president deplored the fact that in 2008 untold numbers of civilians continued to suffer either because they were deliberately targeted or because conflict parties failed to distinguish sufficiently between civilians and civilian objects on the one hand, and combatants and military objectives on the other: "Much of this suffering could have been avoided if conflict parties had improved their compliance with international humanitarian law." Looking ahead, the ICRC president said it was hard to predict the exact impact of the global economic crisis on people already made vulnerable by war.

However, he expressed concern that the increase in the number of people living in extreme poverty, rising unemployment worldwide and a significant drop in remittances from migrant workers to their families in conflict areas could have a particularly severe effect on the poorest victims of armed conflicts.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The many struggles of opening an orphanage in Malawi

Instead of settling down to a comfortable retirement, Charamine Paliwoda sold everything and built an orphanage in Malawi. In her efforts to build the orphanage, she encountered many struggles with bureaucratic red tape, and challenges raising money for the children.

From this Edmonton Journal story that we found at, reporter Karen Kleiss details some of the difficulty. But the challenges are many more than our small snippet contains, so he encourage you to read the full inspirational story.

After her husband Benny died in 1999, leaving her alone for the first time in her life, she was lost in a house filled with the remains of their 35 years together.

During those decades, dozens of children had lived in their Edmonton home — five of their own, and more than 60 foster kids. She once found Benny watching a World Vision special, and he said if he could have one wish, it would be for every child in the world to have a home, people to love them, food and an education.

After his death, she bought a cabin outside the city, adopted an old dog and took up working in her daughter's convenience store. The neighbourhood kids started calling her grandma.

Then in the summer of 2003, she met a woman at a friend's house and shared a few conversations with her about the possibility of starting an orphanage in Africa.

"We didn't get into any real great lengths about it," she says. "When I decided to go, I thought, that's exactly what Ben wished for. You can't give every child everything, but certainly you can improve the lives of some, and I think he would like that.

Every day was a struggle to navigate mind-boggling bureaucracy.

When the school opened in a rented room in March 2005, nearly 600 children wanted to register. They had room for 60.

After the school opened, Paliwoda returned to Canada with empty pockets. She'd run up her credit cards, called in debts, tapped her savings to the tune of $80,000, taken money from her retirement fund.

Over the next two years Benny's Hope consumed Paliwoda's days, and both she and Britner travelled back and forth between Edmonton and Njewa to keep the school going.

In Canada, Paliwoda sold her house and put much of the proceeds into Benny's Hope. Paliwoda's older sister, Marilyn Summersgill, became chairwoman of the board, and a small group of volunteers coalesced around her to raise money.

On July 27, 2007, they started building. Chief Njewa gave them land, and village men and women came to clear the brush. Volunteers made bricks. Paliwoda hauled cement bags with the car, two at a time. They had no electricity and few tools; the cement was mixed by hand in holes dug in the ground. From the pile of bricks emerged a three-room schoolhouse with bright white windows and space for a garden in front.

In September 2007, twenty-four women and one man came from Ontario to put the roof on the school, build desks and put up the finishing touches.

The grand opening was held on March 7, 2008.

Video: teens living in the war of Eastern Congo

Medecins Sans Frontieres presents this first installment in a video series called "Suirvive." The series features the voices of teens who are living in the war going on in the Eastern Congo. The first installment introduces us to 14 year old Bahati.

Muhammad Yunus visits a Californian University

A new school for social business is about to open at a Californian State University. Social Business is a concept that Muhammad Yunus began to popularize through his idea of microcredit. Social Business strives to provide benefits to the people to fix social ills instead of maximizing profit.

From the Ventura County Star, reporter Jean Cowden Moore recorded Yunus' visit.

Muhammad Yunus, an economist who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, spoke at CSU Channel Islands in Camarillo, which is planning to form an Institute for Social Business. The institute, which could open this winter, would teach and research social business — an increasingly popular business model that promotes social responsibility along with profit.

“It’s a new idea of business,” Yunus said in an interview Monday afternoon. “It’s something they should understand — that business can be done for maximizing social impact.”

Yunus shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Grameen Bank, which he founded in Bangladesh in 1983 to provide small loans to impoverished people, mostly women, so they could start their own businesses. The bank now operates in Bangladesh, Kosovo, Turkey, China, Costa Rica, Guatemala and the United States, among other countries.

The idea behind the CSUCI institute is that business can be motivated not just by profit, but also by corporate responsibility — whether it’s providing services in impoverished rural communities, empowering women or offering on-site day care, said Ashish Vaidya, dean of faculty.

“These ideas are becoming more popular, more discussed around the world,” Vaidya said. “We’re asking, ‘How do we make an impact in the region, as well as from a global perspective?’ ”

Similar institutes, often called the Grameen Creative Lab, have been formed at universities around the world, including Rikkyo University in Tokyo, Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland and the Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok, Yunus said. He is not directly involved in CSUCI’s institute but came to answer questions from faculty.

Greater political freedom means less poverty according to Afrobarometer

A research project called Afrobarometer has found that the African countries with the greatest political freedom have less poverty.

Afrobarometer uses a set of questions to gauge social, political and economic trends throughout the continent. The research project will go to 12 to 15 different countries every few years to take their samples.

From Joy Online, Afrobarometer releases what their latest round of samples discovered.

In the latest findings from the surveys, conducted in 18 African countries between 2001 and 2008, the Afrobarometer Network found that those countries in Africa with more political freedom displayed lower levels of poverty.

The survey clearly showed that the more a country expanded political liberties and political rights over a given period, the more it reduced poverty during the same period. Countries like Zambia and Ghana, that have undergone a process of democratisation, have experienced steady poverty reduction, while in Zimbabwe, Senegal and Madagascar, as political freedom has decreased, poverty has steadily increased.

The survey set out to measure what it called "lived poverty", a tool developed by the Afrobarometer Network, an international consortium of researchers who between them interviewed more than 105,000 Africans in four rounds of surveys between 1999 and 2008.

The Lived Poverty Index (LPI) is determined according to how frequently people go without five basic necessities (enough food to eat, clean water, medicines or medical treatment, cooking fuel and a cash income).

From public attitude surveys conducted last year, Afrobarometer found that on the whole lived poverty has declined between 2000 and 2008 in Ghana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Cape Verde, Kenya, Mozambique and Zambia. It has remained essentially unchanged in Mali, Benin, Madagascar, Senegal and Tanzania, and has shown sharp increases in Botswana, Nigeria and (up to 2005 when the last survey could be conducted) in Zimbabwe.

In every country, the most commonly reported shortage was a cash income, followed by shortages of medical care, food, clean water and cooking fuel, in that order. The typical African citizen went without a cash income "several times" a year and experienced "just one or two" shortages in food and medical care. The average African "never" went without clean water or home cooking fuel (though just barely).

However the experience of a typical African citizen masks substantial variation across countries. For example, while just over half of all South Africans experienced at least one shortage of cash in the previous 12 months, the figure is as high as nine of every ten Malians, Zimbabweans, Basotho, Burkinabe, Beninois and Senegalese.

Fighting intensifies in Southern Philippines

The Philippine army has stepped up an offensive against a rebel Islamic group in the southern marshlands of the country. The fighting has caused thousands of people to flee their homes and creates an aid and refugee emergency.

From Reuters Alert Net, writer Manny Mogato focuses on the refugee situation as well as effect the fighting has on investment in the region.

The offensive and the refugee problem have further pushed back prospects of peace in the oil and gas-rich marshlands of central Mindanao, leaving it mired in poverty. Officials say the social indicators of the six provinces in the region are the lowest in the Philippines.

Last year, a U.N. report said at least 600,000 people fled their homes in the area, the largest number of internally displaced people anywhere in the world.

The numbers dropped subsequently but have crept back to about 500,000 since early May, local officials say. People are crammed into mosques, schools, public gymnasiums and in makeshift houses.

"We didn't expect the sudden rise in the number of displaced families in the last two weeks," said Mishael Argonza of the U.N. World Food Programme, pointing to lists of families fleeing from their homes and farms in Maguindanao, one of the six provinces.

"We were actually expecting the numbers to come down from about 36,000 families to only about 20,000 families by next month. But, we're seeing more people flocking to our camps and many of them from villages not affected by conflict before."

Ishak Mastura, an economic adviser to the governor of the Muslim Mindanao region, said the nine-month conflict has not only destroyed the local economy but pushed back any prospect of major investments in the southern Philippines.

"Because of the conflict situation, no investment will come in, no matter how attractive the strategic resources are in the area," he told Reuters.

The 45,000-hectare wetlands in central Mindanao are believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas, while copper and gold are abundant in Mindanao's mountain regions.

"No investor in his right mind will be prepared to deal with the risks, such as the issue of conflict and (the region) being difficult to govern," Mastura said. "The risks are too many and the returns may not be as high."

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Dambisa Moyo's argument gains attention and opposition

Dambisa Moyo, the author of "Dead Aid" has been all over the world promoting her book, and her ideas are beginning to gain some attention. In "Dead Aid" she claims that international aid and assistance has hurt Africa more than helped it. Moyo's position is that aid has led to corrupt governments and has kept the African people from finding solutions to their own problems or be self sustaining.

From the Financial Times, writer William Wallis details some of the opposisition to her book.

It has been easy for critics to poke holes in both her analysis and her solutions. The book does not establish in any scientific way the link between the hundreds of billions of dollars poured into Africa over decades and the poor performance of economies. It also studiously ignores evidence of development assistance working. Kevin Watkins, director of the United Nations' human development report office, says it is the equivalent of "blaming the fire engine because it is near the fire".

International capital markets have meanwhile become punitively expensive places for poor countries to borrow - hardly the solution now.

But the book is only part of the challenge Ms Moyo poses for an industry accustomed to having all the most vocal campaigners on its side. Her ideas are now proliferating across the internet on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube and on countless blogs. She has been interviewed or reviewed by practically every mainstream western media organisation.

Nor is she popular only among aid critics and cash-strapped governments in the west. She has energised many fellow Africans to join in the debate.

Panicked at the prospect that her ideas are gaining traction, Jeffrey Sachs, the US academic and aid advocate, accused her of endangering lives. Ms Moyo's ideas, he said, were "absolutely pernicious, and could lead to the deaths of millions of people".

Rock star Bob Geldof's aid advocacy organisation, One, has also been mobilising opp-osition to her message. However, an e-mail campaign by a One activist encouraging African NGOs to stand up to her arguments at least partially backfired.

"If Africans feel strongly against her ideas then they should not need to be 'mobilised' by your organisation. More effective would be to open fora for debate where differences of opinion are welcome," responded Iris Mwanza of the Centre for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia.

A story about Vietnamese school children

Oxfam activist Izzy Bensaad had a chance to write an opinion piece for the U.K. Newspaper the Edinburgh Evening News. In his commentary, Bensaad appeals to the British government for more funding for international aid and development. As an example on how international aid can help, Bensaad relates this story told to him from an Oxfam worker in Vietnam.

I had a timely reminder of that this week, just before yesterday's Department for International Development's white paper consultation. I met Trang, a Vietnamese programme officer working with Oxfam in his country.

Trang told me about the school in the area where he works and what children have to do to get any sort of education.

For a child to go to school they must set off on their journey in the early morning to begin a minimum trek of two hours.

There are no cafeterias so no-one can complain about sloppy school dinners; children take a bag of rice to sustain them during the long day of staring at the poorly qualified teacher dictating words at the packed rows of desks, in a dialect which is foreign to them.

Trang told me of the poverty that disables his community every day.

What struck me most was the perpetual cycle of need caused by the lack of education: 72 million children in developing countries have no education, more than two in every three of them girls.

These children may never learn the skills that represent their best chance of escaping poverty.

We have the power to change this. With Oxfam's support the school Trang told me about has changed. It has a kitchen, local assistant teachers that can help overcome language barriers, a better learning environment and they are working with the DFID to improve the methodology of teaching practice.

Friday, May 22, 2009

CEO of Heifer Foundation resigns

The CEO for the Heifer Foundation has resigned due to an investigation of plagiarism and copyright infringement. Janet Ginn submitted her resignation to Heifer's board of trustees.

Ginn wrote a book called "Circle of Giving" in 2006 which was published by the now defunct Eudora Press.

From North West Arkansas News, Samantha Friedman gathers together what little details are being released on this story.

"As a leading global philanthropic organization, Heifer Foundation must conduct itself with the utmost integrity," board chairman Ronald McLean said in the statement. "Whether true or not, we cannot allow allegations of improper conduct to distract from the life-changing work of the Heifer organization, our people and our generous donors."

McLean, of Chesapeake, Va., declined to comment further.

Ginn didn't return a message left on her home phone seeking comment about the board's decision.

Greg Spradlin, foundation spokesman, wouldn't describe the details of the allegations or of an investigation into the allegations.

The board of Heifer International, a hunger-relief charity based in Little Rock, established the foundation in 1990. The entities are legally separate and each conducts its own fundraising, said Heifer International spokesman Tina Hall.

"The purpose was to build an endowment, and the endowment would provide ongoing support for Heifer's work," Hall said. "The purpose of our fundraising [at Heifer International] is to support our projects in our country-program offices and to help lift people out of poverty. We provide the livestock training and related services to smallscale farmers and communities worldwide."

Because of the foundation's independent nature, Hall said, the reasons for Ginn's departure shouldn't affect Heifer's work or donors' loyalty, a point echoed by Spradlin.

"I think that the donors will understand because they're really supportive of the overall mission of Heifer International and their work around the world, and that's really their commitment," Spradlin said. "We've reached out to several of our donors to give them courtesy calls to let them know."

Ginn was named chief executive in 2001. In 1998, she began working at the foundation as vice president of marketing.

Canada again chooses not to give 0.7% GNP to development aid

The Canadian government announced yesterday that they will keep funding levels the same for international development aid. Despite receiving much criticism for not increasing the amount of aid, Canada says they will work to make their aid dollars more effective.

Activists wanted Canada to increase spending of aid to 0.7% of it's gross domestic product, which is the amount they say is needed from the developed world to effectively remove poverty.

From Canada's Financial Post, writer Mike Blanchfield attended the press conference that made the announcement.

International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda announced Wednesday a new set of foreign aid spending priorities — but no new money — as she took a swipe at celebrity activists such as U2's Bono and fellow rock singer Bob Geldof, the organizer of Live Aid African poverty relief concerts.

"What I will talk about is not something that aims to please Irish rock stars," Oda said off the top of a major policy speech at the University of Toronto.

Oda appeared determined to head off criticism of the absence of any increase in foreign aid spending or a commitment to increase Canada's approximately $4 billion in foreign aid to meet the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent of GDP.

Canada's rate stands at about 0.35 per cent of GDP, and that shortfall has put both the ruling Conservatives and their Liberal predecessors in the crosshairs of high-profile, anti-poverty celebrity activists such as Bono and Geldof.

Oda said the Conservative government's focus would be to make Canada's aid spending more accountable at a time of great economic hardship across the globe.

The Canadian International Development Agency will now focus on three core policy priorities: increasing food security, stimulating sustainable growth and alleviating problems that affect children and youth.

A new feature will require CIDA to table an annual Development for Results report in Parliament "that will show Canadians how their tax dollars are making a difference."

World Vision president Rich Stearns on working with the U.S President

The head of the world's largest Christian charitable organization is now a part of the Faith Based Initiative in the White House. Rich Stearns of World Vision was asked by Barack Obama to join a council to advise him on the Faith Based program.

In this interview that we found at the Federal Way Mirror, reporter Andy Hobbs asked Rich Stearns about his work for the President.

Mirror: How do you see your role on the advisory council, and how do you see World Vision's role changing or growing?

Rich Stearns: A lot of this remains to be seen. What President Obama has said is that he wants this council, which is very diverse, to dig into four issues. Those four issues are making abortions less frequent in America; number two is assisting in the economic recovery — how can faith-based and neighborhood organizations assist in the economic recovery because in a time like this, more people are homeless, the food banks need more food, the soup kitchens need to serve more meals. Even things like drug addiction programs become more important as people are driven into economic dire straits.

Number three is responsible fatherhood, which includes things like how do we reduce teenage pregnancies and how do we strengthen families, especially for the poor. President Obama's got a particular penchant for that, I think because he sees the problem with intact families and fathers in the African American community in particular.

The fourth is a kind of a broad international religious cooperation and understanding.

What do you mean?

To say it a different way, how can faith-based organizations better promote international religious harmony? There's one task force of the council that will be focused on interfaith religious dialogue. There's another task force that will be focused on international development in the world of faith-based organizations in what we do, relief and development.

How will Obama's approach to faith-based partnerships and initiatives compare to George W. Bush's along those lines? Do you see any differences or similarities?

I think in some ways it's continuing. When President Bush announced his faith-based initiative, one of his goals was to — he called it leveling the playing field, so that faith-based organizations could compete for government grants on a level playing field with non-faith-based organizations. In many places in government, faith-based organizations were either not welcome, or the red tape was such that it was really too difficult for faith-based organizations to get their act together to apply for grants because they required quite a bit of administrative red tape — difficult for small organizations in particular to fill out all the forms and comply with all the reporting requirements.

Initially it was to look at every department of the government and say: Are you friendly to faith-based organizations, and do they have a legitimate opportunity to partner with the government and receive government grants?

So I think President Obama wants to continue that part of it. When we met with him in the Oval Office, he said something like this: I was a community organizer in Chicago in the neighborhoods, and he said, I saw the effectiveness of local and faith-based organizations. And he said, you were the folks who always took care of folks who fell through the cracks. And he said, you didn't care whether they were Muslim, Christian, Atheist, Jewish — if they needed help, you were there to help them. And he said that's what makes America strong, the vitality of our faith communities, the vitality of our neighborhood organizations. He said, I want to support that, I want to help that, I don't want to hinder it. Because it's kind of the safety net below the safety net.

So I think he's sincere about how we help faith-based organizations be more successful in the delivery of social services. How can the government facilitate that? It's not always monetary. There are probably other ways the government could facilitate partnerships. It might be something like allowing access to some of the public schools or the prisons. There are things for the government to facilitate partnerships that don't involve money, maybe just lowering barriers and giving access to faith-based and neighborhood organizations.

The Family Independence Initiative of San Francisco

Despite a tight budget, San Francisco's mayor Gavin Newsom plans on expanding a cash transfer program that helps families in poverty. The Family Independence Initiative gives money to families who improve their lives through education, health or savings.

From this KGO story, reporter Carolyn Tyler describes how the program works.

The child slaves who were once used in camel races

Even though they now use robots, the United Arab Emirates trafficked in children to use in camel races. The children were used as jockeys because of their light weight and were in slavery to the camel owners.

The UAE is paying reparations to the children formerly used in the races. Some 879 children from Bangladesh, Sudan and Pakistan will receive a share of 1.45 million dollars.

From Al Jazerra, writer Nicolas Haque profiles one of the former jockeys, Shameen Miah

Shameem was just three years old when he travelled to the Gulf state of Dubai.

Lured by the promise of a better life, his family says they sold all of their land and belongings, even going into debt, in order to pay for the move.

His father says he paid $4,500 dollars to migrant traffickers who had promised him gainful employment in the UAE. The traffickers had arranged for the children to work as well.

On arrival in Dubai, Shameem and his two brothers - then aged five and six - were separated from their parents to take part in camel races.

A toddler, Shameem had only just learnt to walk when he was first sat upon a camel's back.

"I used to be so scared of the camels, at the beginning I would fall off the camels all the time," Shameem says.

His brother Muna says that Shameem was so small that he had to be strapped on to the camel.

'Deliberately starved'

Their terrified screams allegedly drove the camels to race even faster, much to the satisfaction of the camel owners.

Prized for their light weight, child jockeys tell of being deliberately starved, often going days without food, in order to keep them below 20 kilos.

"The camel owners would weigh us, if we ate too much, they would give us electrical shocks. I was so scared of them, I remember, if I would lose a race they would beat us," Shameem says.

To this day, Shameem still bears the scars of five years of abuse by his employer, and countless falls. Many other child jockeys, however, have suffered much worse, sustaining life long injuries from being trampled under the charging camels.

Some are known to have died.

Creating Chalk Art for World Vision

As a fundraiser for World Vision, students from Mariner High School in Everett, Washington created art to show faces of poverty. The students created chalk drawings that shows to fellow students the plight of children in the under developed world.

From the Herald, writer Eric Stevick watched the students create the artwork.

The images of children from Third World countries stare up from the concrete sidewalks in front of Mariner High School.

Drawn in chalk in bright shades of yellow, red and blue, they will fade with the next rainfall.

In some ways, the fleeting dust portraits are an apt medium to tell stories of children from Sudan, Rwanda, Cambodia and other countries ravaged by conflict, hunger and subsistence living. Chances are they, too, will have short lives.

"We are trying to get through to them that poverty exists well beyond the U.S. borders," said Clayte Huber, a Mariner social studies teacher.

The project, which has been done over one day each spring for the last three years, teams up senior social studies students who do research with fine arts students who craft the drawings on their hands and knees. Mariner also is collecting money this week that will be donated to World Vision, an international relief organization.

Armed with blueprints and grids, Tana McKenna, Lia Sagun, Liliya Leonchyk and Brittaney Rizzo re-created a photo of a 6-year-old Cambodian girl who helps her family scavenge for food.

Minutes of reflection turned to hours hunched over their portraits.

McKenna, a senior, said she hopes it will make her schoolmates pause.

"When you look down, it's a good opportunity to think about others," she said.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A good bee sting analogy

At a conference in Alberta writer Charles Karelis gave a pretty good analogy for living poor. From the Calgary Herald reporter Jason Markusoff made note of the analogy and Karelis idea of tax credits.

Charles Karelis likens poverty to getting one bee sting on your hand and five on your torso.

If somebody offered to sell you a dab of salve for the hand sting, would you bother buying it?

"Getting rid of the sting on your hand would be like quieting a shout in a riot. It won't make much difference," the U. S. philosopher and author on poverty said Wednesday.

The troubles of poverty, like stings, add up, and make small relief efforts not worthwhile, Karelis explained to the Canadian Social Forum.

"Just as it is rational to pay very little for one dab when you have six stings, it may be rational for the poor person to work very little to relieve one of her troubles when she still has much more."

The three-day forum, the first of its kind in Canada, brought together several hundred social-agency workers, provincial and local government officials, academics, business figures and advocates from towns and cities throughout Canada to share strategies on reducing poverty.

Karelis recommended government tax credits or supplements that would add to low-income workers' wages, a tactic he suggested is a better incentive than ordinary strings-attached welfare policies.

"It raises work motivation by making non-work more expensive,"said the author of The Persistence of Poverty:Why the Economics of the Well-Off Can't Help the Poor.

A wrap-up of the World Agriculture Forum

The World Agricultural Forum took place in St. Louis, Missouri this week. The topics at the forum had a lot to do with Africa, ranging from famine deaths, to the amount of agricultural aid to biotech seeds.

From this Reuters article that we found at Vision, author Christine Stebbins tells us how the forum addressed the need for political stability in sub-Saharan Africa.

"Investment is not going to flow into unstable areas. It is not going to flow into poorly governed areas no matter what the natural resource space is -- it's just not going to happen," J.B. Penn, chief economist with equipment maker John Deere and former USDA economist, told a round-table at the World Agricultural Forum here this week.

"First and foremost, we've got to get the political system right. Then investment will follow. With the investment comes the technology," Penn said.

Africa, as it has for decades in the post-World War Two independence era, continues to be the leading destination for world food aid shipments but also for deaths from famine.

Political chaos in Zimbabwe that turned the nation from a grain exporter to a hunger crisis is often cited by investors.

"Particularly at risk of widespread famine are over a dozen so-called "left-behind" countries, almost all in sub-Saharan Africa, that feature severe and increasing natural resources constraints coupled with high population growth and limited nonagricultural income possibilities," the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said on May 4.

With the recession in rich countries, there are few fresh infusions of investment capital flowing into Africa, with much of the recent investment coming from private foundations funded by Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffett and the Rockefellers, experts say.

Gary Blumenthal, chief executive of agricultural consultancy World Perspectives, told the forum: "Only 10 percent of all foreign direct investment around the world went into the food category. If you look at agricultural production, it was 0.006 percent."

Investment to transport grains and livestock and improve water and irrigation are key to Africa progress, experts said.

How to truly fight al-Qaeda

In his latest commentary, Jeffrey Sachs explains how a peaceful foreign policy is preferable to a violent one. Especially in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where development could do a lot more to defeat al-Qaeda than doubling military force.

We found the commentary in Today's Zaman from Turkey. Although it's not included in our snippet, Sachs also has stats on military spending compared to other areas of spending in the U.S. budget.

American foreign policy has failed in recent years mainly because the United States relied on military force to address problems that demand development assistance and diplomacy.

Young men become fighters in places like Sudan, Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan because they lack gainful employment. Extreme ideologies influence people when they can't feed their families and when lack of access to family planning leads to an unwanted population explosion. US President Barack Obama has raised hopes for a new strategy, but so far the forces of continuity in US policy are dominating the forces of change.

Both Afghanistan and the neighboring provinces of Pakistan are impoverished regions, with vast unemployment, bulging youth populations, prolonged droughts, widespread hunger and pervasive economic deprivation. It is easy for the Taliban and al-Qaeda to mobilize fighters under such conditions.

The problem is that a US military response is essentially useless under these conditions and can easily inflame the situation rather than resolve it. Among other problems, the US relies heavily on drones and bombers, leading to a high civilian death toll, which is inflaming public attitudes against the US. After one recent disaster, in which more than 100 civilians died, the Pentagon immediately insisted that such bombing operations would continue. A recent survey showed overwhelming Pakistani opposition to US military incursions into their country.

Obama is doubling down in Afghanistan, by raising the number of US troops from 38,000 to 68,000 and perhaps more later. There are also risks that the US will get involved much more heavily in the fighting in Pakistan. The new US commanding general in Afghanistan is reportedly a specialist in “counter-insurgency,” which could well involve surreptitious engagement by US operatives in Pakistan. If so, the results could prove catastrophic, leading to a spreading war in an unstable country of 180 million people.

What is disconcerting, however, is not only the relentless financing and spread of war, but also the lack of an alternative US strategy. Obama and his top advisers have spoken regularly about the need to address the underlying sources of conflict, including poverty and unemployment. A few billion dollars has been recommended to fund economic aid for Afghanistan and Pakistan. But this remains a small amount compared to military outlays, and an overarching framework to support economic development is missing.

Before investing hundreds of billions of dollars more in failing military operations, the Obama administration should rethink its policy and lay out a viable strategy to US citizens and the world. It's high time for a strategy of peace through sustainable development -- including investments in health, education, livelihoods, water and sanitation and irrigation -- in today's hotspots, starting with Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Such a strategy cannot simply emerge as a byproduct of US military campaigns. Rather, it will have to be developed proactively, with a sense of urgency and in close partnership with the affected countries and the communities within them. A shift in focus to economic development will save a vast number of lives and convert the unthinkably large economic costs of war into economic benefits through development. Obama must act before today's crisis explodes into an even larger disaster.

Creating human trafficking laws in South Africa

South Africa has never had any laws on human trafficking. Now the government has created a commission to form new laws to combat this social ill.

From the Independent On Line, we read how the absence of a law made the policing of human trafficking in South Africa difficult.

Until now, human traffickers could only be charged with kidnapping, or, when relevant, assault and murder.

Women and children are most vulnerable, most often being used in prostitution rackets.

South Africa is party, however, to the UN's protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children, and is therefore required to enact appropriate legislation.

A human rights activist and executive board member of the Southern Africa Network against Trafficking and the Abuse of Children (Santac), Vusi Ndukuya, welcomed the bill.

"It is often very difficult to prosecute traffickers because trafficking in persons itself is a very complex issue involving different actions and the involvement of different people," Ndukuya said.

Ndukuya said that one example of the complexity of the issue was the recent case of three children from Mozambique who were transported from Mozambique to South Africa while lying drugged on the back seat of a car.

"Would this be considered a case of trafficking or kidnapping?" asked Ndukuya.

The children were taken through the border illegally, but managed to escape once they had reached South Africa.

The poor in the U.S. give more than the rich

It has been discovered that the poor in the U.S. give more of their money to charity than the rich. A new study from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' has found that the poor give a greater percentage of their money than any other income bracket. This study also confirms that women give more than men, and older Americans give more than the young.

From this McClatchy Newspapers story, writer Frank Greve profiles on such poor giver.

When Jody Richards saw a homeless man begging outside a downtown McDonald's recently, he bought the man a cheeseburger. There's nothing unusual about that, except that Richards is homeless, too, and the 99-cent cheeseburger was an outsized chunk of the $9.50 he'd earned that day from panhandling.

The generosity of poor people isn't so much rare as rarely noticed, however. In fact, America's poor donate more, in percentage terms, than higher-income groups do, surveys of charitable giving show. What's more, their generosity declines less in hard times than the generosity of richer givers does.

"The lowest-income fifth (of the population) always give at more than their capacity," said Virginia Hodgkinson, former vice president for research at Independent Sector, a Washington-based association of major nonprofit agencies. "The next two-fifths give at capacity, and those above that are capable of giving two or three times more than they give."

Indeed, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' latest survey of consumer expenditure found that the poorest fifth of America's households contributed an average of 4.3 percent of their incomes to charitable organizations in 2007. The richest fifth gave at less than half that rate, 2.1 percent.

The figures probably undercount remittances by legal and illegal immigrants to family and friends back home, a multibillion-dollar outlay to which the poor contribute disproportionally.

None of the middle fifths of America's households, in contrast, gave away as much as 3 percent of their incomes.

"As a rule, people who have money don't know people in need," saId Tanya Davis, 40, a laid-off security guard and single mother.

Certainly, better-off people aren't hit up by friends and kin as often as Davis said she was, having earned a reputation for generosity while she was working.

Now getting by on $110 a week in unemployment insurance and $314 a month in welfare, Davis still fields two or three appeals a week, she said, and lays out $5 or $10 weekly.

To explain her giving, Davis offered the two reasons most commonly heard in three days of conversations with low-income donors:

"I believe that the more I give, the more I receive, and that God loves a cheerful giver," Davis said. "Plus I've been in their position, and someday I might be again."

Mass rapes continue in Liberia

Despite ending over five years ago, one ugly thing from the civil war in Liberia remains; mass rapes. Occurring regularly during the war, the men who were desensitized to it, continue to rape young women during peace time.

From this op-ed piece in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof visited Liberia to explore the problem.

In modern times, we’ve seen mass rape as an element of warfare in Congo, Darfur, Bosnia, Rwanda, Liberia — but the lesson here in Liberia in West Africa is that even when the fighting ends, the rape continues. And that brings us to Jackie, a lovely 7-year-old with tight braids and watchful eyes.

Jackie is too young to remember the 14-year civil war in Liberia, from 1989 to 2003, when as many as three-fourths of women were raped. Jackie’s world is one of a bustling, recovering Liberia with a free press and democratically elected leaders.

Yet somehow mass rape survived the end of the war; it has been easier to get men to relinquish their guns than their sense of sexual entitlement. So the security guard at Jackie’s school, a man in his 50s, took the little girl to the beach where, she said, he stripped her and raped her. Finally, he ran off as she lay bleeding and sobbing on the sand.

“I couldn’t walk well, so they took me to hospital,” Jackie told me. It was worse than that: She was hemorrhaging, and the hospital couldn’t stop it. So Jackie was rushed in critical condition to Monrovia’s largest hospital, where she spent weeks recovering.

Jackie is now in a shelter for survivors of sexual violence — and what staggered me is that so many of the girls are pre-teens. A 3-year-old survivor has just moved out, but Jackie jumps rope with girls aged 8 to 11.

Of course, children are raped everywhere, but what is happening in Liberia is different. The war seems to have shattered norms and trained some men to think that when they want sex, they need simply to overpower a girl. Or at school, girls sometimes find that to get good grades, they must have sex with their teachers.

“Rape is a scar that the war left behind,” said Dixon Jlateh, an officer in the national police unit dealing with sexual violence. “Sexual violence is a direct product of the war.”

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Mochileros of Peru, transporting drugs to escape poverty

In the mountains of Peru, 92 percent of the people live in poverty. With no legal work available young boys often take to transporting coca to the city of Lima. The trek takes the young men through the mountains, where danger and bandits await them.

As found in the Taiwan News, writer Hugo Nedd from Agence France-Press tells us the mochileros story.

They are called "mochileros," or backpackers, many of them mere children, but in the dense jungles of southeast Peru they play a vital role, ferrying drugs on their backs to the outside world.

Traveling the most remote trails at night, this virtually invisible army is recruited from youths with no other way out of the poverty and neglect of the country's coca producing lowlands, experts say.

In the valley between the Apurimac and Ene Rivers, mochileros carry out coca - which is used to produce cocaine - by foot to the Andean highlands and from there to Lima in arduous, danger-filled treks aimed at satisfying the world's demand for the drug.

They travel armed and in groups, sometimes under the protection of Shining Path guerrillas, members of the Maoist group that waged a brutal insurgency in the country.

They can make up to US$150 apiece per trip, but the risks are enormous, with the army on the prowl or bandits laying in wait.

Peru's army chief General Otto Guivobich says "the mochileros don't travel alone but in groups, with the protection that the Shining Path gives them," and acknowledges they are hard to find.

In 2008, the commander of a military operation "encountered a column of mochileros of some 15 armed men, and there was a clash," he said. Seven mochileros were killed and seven firearms were captured, he said.

"Youths who have no secondary school education, seeing that their only option for continuing to study is in Ayacucho or Lima and what that costs, turn to the coca trade and end up as mochileros," said Edgar Licra, governor of the municipality of Llochegua.

In Andean communities, the mochileros are referred to as "the people who walk in the heights," a description also used to refer to the Shining Path.

"You travel at night on the paths that climb the sierra. Sometimes 30 or 40 mochileros will go. For security reasons, the minimum number is ten, with an armed guide and one who guards the rear," a former mochilero said.

The man, who would not give his name or say how he made a living, said he was 24 but had the weather-beaten look of an older man.

"In the group I knew each mochilero was allowed to carry no more than 10 kg for long trips of two or three days. Some asked to carry more to make more money, but they would not let them because they needed to walk quickly," he said.

Why you can't afford to be poor

The poor have to deal with more wastes of time, wastes of their own money, stress and exhaustion than those who are well off. A really good Washington Post story that we found at the Seattle Times, illustrates many of the ways that the poor 'pay' more than the comfortable.

In our snippet, writer DeNeen L. Brown shows us the added costs of laundry and establishing credit.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 37 million people live below the poverty line. The poor know these facts of life. These facts become their lives.

Time is money, they say, and the poor pay more in time, too.

If you are poor, you don't have the luxury of throwing a load into the washer and then taking your morning jog. You wait until Monday, when the laundromat is most likely to be empty, and you load a cart with laundry from four children and drag it to the corner.

"If I had my choice, I would have a washer and a dryer," Nya Oti, 37, said at a Washington, D.C., laundromat. The four loads will take the food-service worker about two hours.

The poor also pay more in hassle: calls from bill collectors, the landlord, the utility company. So they spend money on caller identification because it gives them peace of mind.

The rich have direct deposit for their paychecks. The poor have check-cashing and payday-loan joints, which cost time and money. Payday-loan companies say they are providing an essential service. Critics say these companies prey on people who are the most "economically vulnerable."

"As you've seen with the financial-services industry, if people can cut a profit, they do it," Blumenauer said. "The poor pay more for financial services. A lot of people who are 'unbanked' pay $3 for a money order to pay their electric bill. They pay a 2 percent check-cashing fee because they don't have bank services. The reasons? Part of it is lack of education. But part of it is because people target them. There is evidence that credit-card mills have recently started trolling for the poor. They are targeting the recently bankrupt."

An angry Lenwood Brooks walks out of a check-cashing place in Washington, D.C. "They charged me $15 to cash a $300 check," he says.

Why didn't he go to a bank? He says he lost his driver's license and now his regular bank "won't recognize me as a human. That's why I had to come here. It's a rip-off, but it's like a convenience store. You pay for the convenience."

Then there's credit. The poor don't have it. What they had was a place like First Cash Advance in Washington. Through bulletproof glass, a cashier explained what you needed to get an advance on your paycheck — a pay stub, a legitimate ID, a checkbook. This meant you're doing well enough to have a checking account, but you're still poor.

If you qualify, the fee for borrowing $300 is $46.50.

That was not for a year — it's for seven days, although terms can vary. In effect, the annual percentage rate on your $300 payday loan is 806 percent.

IMF asks for more help for Africa

The economy throughout Africa was growing at six percent a year, that is until the global recession started. Now, the International Monetary Fund fears that Africa may see no growth at all until well after the recession is over.

From the BBC, we hear more of the IMF plea to the international community.

The IMF said that Africa would need at least the doubling of aid promised at the Gleneagles summit in 2005.

"Without additional support, poverty reduction and economic development in Africa could be set back several years and political stability might be endangered in some countries," it said.

In addition, the IMF is planning to lend an additional $6bn (£4bn) to African countries at low interest rates over the next two to three years, after the G20 increased its resources at the London summit in April.

The IMF said it was also making its lending programmes more flexible, streamlining its programmes and making the conditions for lending less tough.

"Fiscal targets have been loosened in 80% of African countries," it said, "giving them more breathing space to deal with the crisis."

The IMF is now providing emergency support to a growing number of African countries, but it warned that more help was needed.

"The IMF cannot stand alone. To help countries weather this storm, all development partners need to follow through," Mr Strauss-Kahn said.

Human trafficking in the United States

A long time human trafficking activist worked throughout the world to battle the problem. But recently Pam Strickland was surprised to find that the problem exists in the US as well.

From the Daily Advance, reporter Kim Grizzard writes more about this modern day slavery that is taking place right here in the US

A year ago, a Farmville woman set out to tell people here that human trafficking exists in the world. On Tuesday, she said that what has been recognized as a global problem also may be a local one.

Pam Strickland told dozens of people meeting as part of a newly formed community action group to combat human trafficking that the local area may now be affected by the world’s fastest-growing criminal enterprise. Described by the U.S. Department of State as a present-day form of slavery, human trafficking exploits people — mostly women and children — forcing them into prostitution or slave labor.

“This is not just an international problem,” said Strickland, community ambassador for Eastern North Carolina Stop Human Trafficking Now. “It exists in the United States and North Carolina.

“We don’t know the scope of the problem in Pitt County because there’s been no one attempting to assess it.”

That is changing, largely due to recent efforts by the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office. Through a U.S. Department of Justice grant, local law enforcement has received nearly half a million dollars to determine the extent of trafficking and how to stop it. The local law enforcement taskforce is one of about a dozen nationwide dedicated to human trafficking.

Leading the effort is Detective Chauncey Congleton, a 15-year law enforcement veteran. Congleton is in charge of a task force that is working to not only enforce the law but to educate r law enforcement officials about human trafficking.

“It’s the fastest growing crime in the world,” Congleton said. “It’s the biggest civil rights violation there is. It’s modern-day slavery.”

Congleton, who spent a decade as a narcotics investigator, said his recent training with the San Jose, Calif., police department’s human trafficking division has helped make him more sensitive to the signs of human trafficking.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Care International vs the Ugandan government in microcredit services

The government of Uganda operates a microcredit program called the Savings and Credit Cooperative Organisations or SCCO's. The government lends money to each local SCCO at 9%, while the local lends out money to the people of Uganda at either 9 or 13 percent interest.

However, another service is operated by Care International which uses a savings and loan style to serve Ugandans. The service from Care has become more popular in some villages do to charges of corruption within the SCCO's. Also, some politicians are using the program as a political tool.

In the latest entry from The Guardian's Katine project, Joseph Malinga tells us about the problem with the SCCO's and why people are using Care International's service instead.

In Uganda, the success of the SACCO programme has been mixed. While the scheme appears to have been successful in western and central Uganda, it has faired less well in the east and north. And the programme has been tainted by corruption, with people's savings being embezzled with impunity.

Each sub-county is expected to have at least one SACCO that would be supported by government through the Uganda Cooperatives Savings and Credit Cooperative Union (UCSUC), the body mandated to oversee the success of the programme.

There is a SACCO in Katine, with a membership of 336, but any benefit of the programme, introduced two years ago, has yet to be fully realised in the sub-county.

It has been claimed that sub-county officials have failed to mobilise residents to benefit from the programme.

The chairman of Katine's SACCO, Sam Emolu, says: "We have a membership fee of Shs 2m, but without savings or anyone coming to borrow, our money is just redundant in the bank."

But Katine residents have embraced the village savings and loans associations (VSLAs) that have been introduced in sub-county as part of the Katine project, supervised by the NGO Care International.

The VSLAs are more affordable and residents have more control over their contributions. While SACCOs charge a registration fee of Shs 2,000 ($0.90) and Shs 5,000 for membership, VSLAs charge Shs 200 as a "disaster fee" (the money goes into a fund that can be accessed for emergencies) and Shs 500 for shares. A resident can buy as many shares as they want. Interest rates are high, at 10%.

Cornelius Onaba, the chairman of Emorikikons VSLA, in Olochoi village in Katine parish, says SACCOs are not suitable for the poor.

He says SACCOs exclude of the very needy who cannot afford to pay the fees. He said his VSLA group of 30 members has so far collected Shs 1.2m and all members are responsible for the security of their money.

"The keys to our safe [where money is kept] are with three people, while the box itself is with another person - so by the time you think of stealing, you really need to convince many people. Even then, we do not encourage money to be redundant. We try as much as possible to see that members borrow money and use it for development," he said.

Book Review: comparing two different microcredit programs

The Grameen Bank set the model for microlending. As microcredit banks began in other countries, some have changed the model as they see fit, or to better fit the values of the country the bank will operate in.

Oxford University Press has published a book that compares the models between the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh to the Kashf Bank in Pakistan. Padmini Swaminathan of The Hindu writes this review of Nabiha Syed's work Replicating Dreams.

The book begins on a very promising note by mapping the contours and elements of what constitutes the famed Grameen Solidarity Group Lending Model and its adaptation by Pakistan’s Kashf Foundation. Following the Grameen model, Kashf requires five women to form a peer group in order to obtain a loan. These groups are entirely self-selected, as in the Grameen system, and all five women must live in close proximity to one another and must not be blood relations.

In a notable deviation from the Grameen example, all Kashf borrowers must be married. “The rationale is that unmarried women are prone to moving out of a geographical location after marriage, and moving implicitly indicates loan default.” But, as the author notes, the exclusion of unmarried women means denial of opportunity for single women to build up enough capital and acquire self-sufficiency that could give them a certain amount of economic bargaining power while entering into a marriage contract.

Further, given the conditions within which a bulk of the women in Pakistan have to function, Kashf specifically permits women to obtain loans on behalf of their husbands. “This approach was designed to overcome possible objections to the economic activities and advancement of potential participants.” A little later, the author explicates this point in a different way: “… a chauvinistic society will not tolerate a programme promoting financial independence of women on any other terms but its own.”

Kashf claims that in allowing women to borrow on behalf of men the entire family unit is enabled to get strengthened because the process entails joint family decision-making. Moreover, and this is a striking observation, micro-credit programmes require significant time commitments on a weekly basis and that, in turn, impinge on time that can be accorded to household labour. If the ‘double-bottom’ line of micro-credit, namely women’s empowerment and financial advancement, is to be ensured then, according to Kashf, men need to be included in the process to allay apprehensions of female takeover of hitherto male-dominated space.

Kashf’s own internal audit of its lending programme in 2001 revealed high attrition rates,with much of the attrition resulting from “client expulsion for poor performance rather than from them opting to leave”. An examination of the reasons for differential performance of the programme in Bangladesh and Pakistan brought out, among other things, the fact that institutional differences accounted for much of the disparity in success levels. For example, the author notes, the areas in which Kashf operates are still heavily under feudal control, which militates against any attempt (such as individual entrepreneurship or financial independence) that is even remotely perceived as a threat to its system of organised subordination and hierarchy. “The entry of an institution which encourages individual economic growth, self-empowerment and self-employment and at the same time denies landlords income derived from informal credit offerings would obviously not be welcomed by the feudals.”

The human trafficking trade along the North East Indian border

The border along North East India is largely open and unmanned, so a human trafficking trade exists there without much enforcement against it. Young women are taken across the border to work in brothels for forced sex labor. While boys can be taken to work in coal mines for slave labor. Sex labor victims can be sold for as much as 600 US dollars.

Hasina Kharbhih works for Impulse NGO Network and has done some study into the human trafficking along the border. An summary of an interview with Kharbhih was printed in The Mouring Express. In our snippet, we read an explanation from Kharbhih on why the border is a popular place for taking children.

On the reason the North East remains a hot-spot for human trafficking, Hasina points out that the region shared many international borders, most of which are open and unmanned and these points provided an easy passage in and out of India for organized human trafficking syndicates to operate undetected. She also informed that Nepalese girls have long been in demand, owing to their fair complexion and oriental features. However, greater awareness and networking among Nepalese communities has forced traffickers to turn to alternative sources. Hasina disclosed that the solution has been to target north-eastern girls as there are close physical similarities and the greater socio-political climates are conducive.

Hasina also pointed out that the situation for each of the eight north-eastern states varies. For example, she states that Meghalaya is a major destination due to its coal industry. Estimates suggest that 40,000 children from Nepal and Bangladesh have been trafficked into the coal mines by landowners and exporters for the purpose of slave labor. Furthermore, the highway networks in the north east connect many national and international destinations. In the state of Assam, truckers have used the highway routes to transport drugs and traffic girls. “We have seen truck drivers from all over India deceiving young north eastern children into fake marriages, child labor and sex work”, Hasina says. Another contributing factor is the female sex ratio-decline in northern India.

Resulting from the cultural male child preference, this imbalance has sadly led to many girls being trafficked for marriage.
On the main source, transit and destination points for these victims, Hasina states that from her experience the destinations are usually New Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Goa, Kolkata and extend as far as Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. “There are likely to be many more locations throughout India and across the globe, we just haven’t learned of them yet”, she maintains. According to her, Siliguri is the main transit point as it connects many train lines and bus services. It has long been a convenient way to smuggle women and children across the Indo-Nepali border without detection, Hasina discloses in her interview.

While it was generally accepted that people below the poverty line with limited employment opportunities are the most vulnerable to being targeted by human traffickers, Hasina gave an interesting insight into the recent trend whereby young, educated girls seeking employment outside their local area have also been caught up in trafficking. These girls are generally duped / coerced into the commercial sex trade by ill-intentioned employers, she points out. Women and children are also commonly deceived by offers of fake marriages. There have been cases where non-Indian residents (NRIs) have married women as a cheaper alternative to paying domestic staff. Highly educated girls have been exploited and abused in these marriages.

3 out of 4 Arab children in Jerusalem live in poverty

A Civic rights group has concluded a new study that finds that 3 out of 4 Arab children that live in Jerusalem do so in poverty. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel blames the Israeli government for causing this. The ACRI says the governments policy of creating a Jewish majority in Jerusalem and forcing out Arabs is dropping the Arabs into poverty.

From the AFP News via Google, we read more findings of the study.

A total of 74 percent of Arab children in Jerusalem live below the poverty line, as compared with 47.7 percent of the Jewish children in the city, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) said.

It said 66.8 percent of families in predominantly Arab east Jerusalem live in poverty as compared with 23.3 percent of the city's Jewish families, but that only 22 percent of the population receives social services.

In its "State of Human Rights in East Jerusalem" report, the group said residents of annexed east Jerusalem faced discrimination in planning and building, expropriation of lands, minimal investment in physical infrastructure, government and municipal services.

"These are concrete expressions of an Israeli policy designed to secure a Jewish majority in Jerusalem and push Palestinian residents outside the city's borders," it said.

"Life in Jerusalem can be described as a continuing cycle of neglect, discrimination, poverty and shortages.

"These, compounded by construction of the separation barrier cutting Jerusalem off from the West Bank, have led to the social and economic collapse of this part of the city.

"A large majority of east Jerusalem residents do not receive, and cannot afford to buy, the most basic services. The primary victims are the vulnerable populations, the aged, the disabled and children."

The Israeli group also reported a shortage of 1,700 classrooms in east Jerusalem and a school dropout rate of about 50 percent.