Monday, August 31, 2009

What to do with more oil money in Brazil

After the America's biggest oil discovery in over 30 years, Brazil's President promises to put the money to good works. A discovery of oil just off of Brazil's coast could contain over 150 billion barrels.

From this article from the Guardian, Tom Phillips gives us the details on Brazil's hopes for the money.

Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva today vowed to pump billions of petrodollars into the war on poverty in the wake of one of the world's biggest oil discoveries this decade.

Speaking on his weekly radio show, president Lula said: "Monday, 31 August, represents a new independence day for Brazil.

"We are talking about a discovery of oil that is almost 6,000m [under the sea], huge reserves that place Brazil among the biggest oil producers in the world."

He claimed that new legislation he is planning would allow profits to be used to "take care of" education and poverty once and for all.

Brazil has been celebrating an unexpected oil boom since November 2007, when state-controlled energy company Petrobras discovered the Tupi oilfield off Brazil's southeast coast.

The discovery of the region led Brazil to suspend the auctioning of all offshore oil blocks pending new legislation, intended to give the government a larger slice of profits. Lula is expected to create a "social fund", designed to channel oil profits into poverty-reduction initiatives, and should hand greater control of "strategic" oilfields to the government.

The China-Africa Development Fund

China has been putting more and more money into Africa, in projects ranging from infrastructure improvements to profit businesses. That has caused some concern in the West, as some fear it will limit their interests in the continent.

One project that the Chinese government set up is a China-Africa Development Fund which has 5 billion dollars in the bank to fund joint businesses. An article that we found in All Africa explains some of the work the fund does and some frustration in finding good projects due to lack of infrastructure.

From this Business Day story, writer Hopewell Radebetells tells us more about the fund.

The fund established offices for the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) in Johannesburg in March . Since its establishment in June 2007, the fund has facilitated more than 20 investments in Africa, amounting to nearly 400m .

The fund was established by President Hu Jin tao after the 2006 Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation.

Wang says the fund is speaking to the embassies and trade officials of African states represented in China to encourage them to take the information to their respective countries.

The fund is finding it increasingly challenging to fund infrastructure programmes in most African states because of the lack of essential facilities, including sound telecommunications systems, says Wang.

"We find that they (prospective business partners) expect countries to have basic technology and sufficiently operational ports, airport and roads ...unfortunately these facilities are not necessarily available in some countries on the continent," he says.

Liu Xiaolei, the fund's Sadc head , says it is looking at supporting major regional infrastructure ventures such as the envisaged electricity transmission lines between SA and Mozambique, SA and Zambia, as well as Zambia and Botswana and Namibia and Zimbabwe.

TOMS gives away shoes in New Orleans

The company TOMS not only sells comfortable shoes, they also give them away. Last week, TOMS gave away thousands of pairs to children in New Orleans.

From this story that we found in the New Orleans Times Picayune, writer Susan Langenhennig tells us more about the unique company.

Two years ago, Blake Mycoskie came to New Orleans to sell some shoes. He came back last week to give some away.

You might not know his name, but you've probably seen his face. Mycoskie is the founder of TOMS, Shoes for Tomorrow, a company with an unusual business model: For every pair of shoes it sells, it gives away a pair to a child (or in some cases, adult) in need.

Mycoskie is the first to admit his mission is as compelling as his shoes -- a comfortable canvas slip-on modeled after the traditional Argentine alpargatas. His story is a good one: young, idealistic guy out to prove philanthropy can be fashionable and profitable. His business card lists his title as "chief shoe giver."

On Thursday, he arrived at Langston Hughes Elementary School in Gentilly with an entourage of 20 volunteers from around the country and one from Canada. A total of 33 volunteers paid their own travel expenses just to be part of the New Orleans TOMS "shoe drop."

In three days, the company gave away 2,000 pairs of shoes to students at Langston Hughes, Lafayette Academy, ARISE Elementary, Akili Academy and Martin Behrman Elementary schools. TOMS staff contacted local social workers and the KidSmart organization to identify schools with serious needs. ABC's "Good Morning America" was here to capture it all on camera.

Though he enjoyed joking around with the local kids on Thursday, Mycoskie remains committed to fighting poverty abroad, particularly in Ethiopia, where one of the company's factories is located.

"There's an illness there that people get that creates leg and foot swelling, and it's really awful and completely preventable," he said. "A doctor we're working with thinks we can eradicate this disease in 20 years."

The illness affects 15 percent of the population of southern Ethiopia. "I don't know who I'm going to marry or if I'll ever have kids," Mycoskie said. "But I do know that every year for the next 20 years, I'm going to Ethiopia."

Friday, August 28, 2009

Child puts on garage sale to benefit World Vision

We love these stories about children getting involved, we wish we were just as smart when we were young! Erin Gowin already spent her summer collecting food for the local pantry. Now, the fourth grader will have a garage sale to benefit World Vision. If you are in the Lincoln, Illinois area tomorrow stop by.

From this article in the Lincoln Daily News, reporter Candra Landers tells us about Erin.

Erin's efforts to save the world don't stop there. This weekend she's planned a special sale to benefit World Vision, a Christian organization that fights poverty and injustice in underdeveloped nations. "She's been asking to do it all summer, so I thought this would be the best time," said her mother, Suzanne Gowin. Erin's sale is scheduled to coincide with a garage sale her parents are having this weekend, Friday and Saturday.

The money raised by the family's garage sale will help fund their international adoption process, but Erin's funds are earmarked for World Vision. Erin's sale will feature handmade necklaces and children's books she wrote with stories and activities. She'll also offer homemade chocolate chip cookies and lemonade. As an added incentive, Erin's parents have promised to match whatever Erin raises to go to World Vision.

Erin first became interested in World Vision at Christmas. Michael and Suzanne Gowin, Erin's parents, both sponsored children through organizations before they met, and they made regular giving a priority in their marriage as well. This year they brought their three children in on the action by helping them use some of their Christmas money to buy gifts from the World Vision gift catalog.

"I bought seeds and Maura bought two chicks, but Liam had pneumonia then so he bought medicine," Erin said. All the Gowin kids' gifts were delivered to needy families by World Vision.

Erin's sale will take place at 220 Delavan in Lincoln on Friday afternoon from 3:30 to 7 and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m

Oxfam blames poor farming yields in Nepal on climate change

The charity Oxfam says extreme food shortages in Nepal are to due to climate change. Oxfam says that weather pattern changes has effected farmers yields in the country.

The poverty fighting charity calls on government and NGO's to provide assistance to rural farmers during the upcoming planting season by introducing new crop varieties and assistance with irrigation.

From this Associated Press story hosted at Google, writer Binaj Gurubacharya details Oxfam's statement.

Changing weather patterns have dramatically affected crop production in Nepal, leaving farmers unable to properly feed themselves and pushing them into debt, Oxfam International said in a report released in Katmandu.

The British aid agency described the situation as "deeply worrying."

"Communities told us crop production is roughly half that of previous years ... Last year many could only grow enough (food) for one month's consumption," said Oxfam's Wayne Gum, adding that less precipitation has been forecast this winter, which will make the situation worse.

More extreme temperatures, drier winters and delays in summer monsoons have all compounded the situation, the report said.

More than 3.4 million people in Nepal are estimated to require food assistance, and food stocks in farming communities will last only a few months, it warned.

Oxfam said Nepal will likely suffer more frequent droughts because of climate change. River levels will decline due to the reduced rainfall and glacial retreat, making it harder to irrigate crops and provide water for livestock.

"The predicted impacts of climate change will heighten existing vulnerabilities, inequalities and exposure to hazards," the report said.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

New tax might come up during G-20 meetings

Momentum is growing on establishing a new tax on global financial transactions. The pressure will be great with the upcoming G-20 meetings. Finance ministers for the 20 countries meet in London later this week, and the heads of the states meet in a few weeks in Pittsburgh.

From this Guardian story, writer Nick Mathiason tells us more about the tax and why the pressure is accumulating now.

G-20 Finance ministers meeting in London next Friday will face concerted pressure to introduce a tax on financial transactions as a coalition of anti-poverty campaigners aim to force the issue onto the agenda.

An unprecedented coalition of health charities and development campaigners will ratchet up pressure on the G20 in the wake of comments made todayby Financial Services Authority chairman, Lord Turner supporting a Tobin-style tax on foreign exchange transactions.

Pressure on the G20 grew as senior officials at the United Nations also threw their weight behind a currency transactions levy. Philippe Douste-Blazy, the former French foreign minister now the UN's secretary-general's special adviser on innovative financing for development, told the Guardian: "I hope one head of state will propose this tax. I don't know who it will be. I think it's a good idea for two reasons.

"Firstly, this economic crisis is going to have serious consequences on developing countries. The price of commodities will fall because investment from western countries will decrease and aid commitments will not come through. And second, this is a crisis of ethics, a problem of cynicism with the system. We can't continue like this. We have to redefine the system."

His intervention is crucial because he was the architect of a groundbreaking tax in France that skims a tiny sum from airline ticket sales to buy cheap medicines for those suffering from Aids, malaria or tuberculosis. The scheme now extends to 30 countries with more set to follow. In two years it has raised $1bn.

Next week's G20 finance meeting will be followed by a co-ordinated push by campaigners to persuade leaders of the world's 20 most powerful countries meeting at Pittsburgh in four weeks to adopt a currency transaction levy.

Nokia launches mobile phone banking services for the poor

Mobile phone banking has been another way to bring the poor the same economic access as those with more money. Many poor in the under-developed world may have phone, but not a bank account. So new mobile banking technologies have expanded to reach those people.

From this Reuters article, reporter Brett Young tells us about Nokia's latest foray into mobile banking.

The world's top mobile phone maker Nokia said on Wednesday it would launch a mobile financial service next year targeting consumers, mainly in emerging markets, with a phone but no banking account.

Nokia said its Nokia Money service was based on the mobile payment platform of Obopay, a privately-owned firm that Nokia invested in earlier this year, and it is now building up a network of agents.

Obopay, which uses text messaging and mobile internet access, charges users a fee to send money or to top up their accounts.

"Mobile-enabled financial services has tremendous growth opportunities," Nokia Chief Development Officer Mary McDowell said, noting there are 4 billion mobile phone users globally but only 1.6 billion bank accounts and 1 billion credit cards.

"There is pretty significant gap between people, especially in emerging markets, who have a mobile device yet don't have a bank account," she said.

Mobile money is one of the hottest topics in the wireless world, but so far take-up of services has been limited mostly to a few emerging markets, as in developed countries, the popularity of online banking has been a brake on mobile money.

The Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), a U.S.-based microfinance policy and research center, has said the market for mobile financial services to poor people in emerging markets will surge from nothing to $5 billion in 2012.

Senator Edward Kennedy's role in creating CHIP

In the myriad of articles and tributes to Senator Edward Kennedy we found one this morning that focused on his work to expand programs to help the poor. Kennedy was instrumental in creating CHIP, the federal program that brings universal health care to children in the U.S.

From this article from South Coast Today, writer Becky Evans tells us more about the creation of S-CHIP.

“I don't think you will see a U.S. senator anytime soon who will contribute as much to helping the poor and the working class, particularly in SouthCoast, but all over the country,” said Sen. Mark C. Montigny, D-New Bedford.

Montigny, who collaborated with Kennedy on numerous local projects throughout the years, said one of his most rewarding experiences was working with the senator during the 1990s to develop a universal health care program for uninsured children.

Kennedy, with his extensive health care knowledge, helped advise Montigny and former state Rep. John McDonough on legislation that created a state health insurance program for uninsured children. The Massachusetts program, which delivered health care to thousands of uninsured children in SouthCoast, later served as a model for a nationwide program, Montigny said.

The federal program, known today as the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, provides matching funds to states that offer health insurance to families with children.

“Here he was advising us on how to do it in Massachusetts and then soliciting advice from us on how to do it nationally,” Montigny said of Kennedy.

“There is no one who has done more to push health care expansion in this country,” he added.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bob Dylan to donate proceeds of new album to hunger relief

We are kinda surprised that Bob Dylan is doing an album of Christmas music, but once you see the cause it supports it makes sense. Dylan will donate all royalties from the upcoming album to Feeding America.

From this press release that we found at PR Newswire, we learn more about the arrangement.

Bob Dylan will release a brand new album of holiday songs, Christmas In The Heart, on Tuesday, October 13, it was announced today by Columbia Records. All of the artist's U.S. royalties from sales of these recordings will be donated to Feeding America (, guaranteeing that more than four million meals will be provided to more than 1.4 million people in need in this country during this year's holiday season. Bob Dylan is also donating all of his future U.S. royalties from this album to Feeding America in perpetuity.

Additionally, the artist is partnering with two international charities to provide meals during the holidays for millions in need in the United Kingdom and the developing world, and will be donating all of his future international royalties from Christmas In The Heart to those organizations in perpetuity. Details regarding the international partnerships will be announced next week.

"When we reached out to Bob Dylan about becoming involved with our organization, we could never have anticipated that he would so generously donate all royalties from his forthcoming album to our cause," said Vicki Escarra, president and CEO of Feeding America. "This major initiative from such a world renowned artist and cultural icon will directly benefit so many people and have a major impact on spreading awareness of the epidemic of hunger in this country and around the world."

Bob Dylan commented, "It's a tragedy that more than 35 million people in this country alone -- 12 million of those children -- often go to bed hungry and wake up each morning unsure of where their next meal is coming from. I join the good people of Feeding America in the hope that our efforts can bring some food security to people in need during this holiday season."

Christmas In The Heart will be the 47th album from Bob Dylan, and follows his worldwide chart-topping Together Through Life, released earlier this year. Songs performed by Dylan on this new album include, "Here Comes Santa Claus," "Winter Wonderland," "Little Drummer Boy" and "Must Be Santa."

Asian Development Bank releases it's 2009 "Key Indicators" report

The Asian Development Bank released the 2009 version of it's "Key Indicators" report. The report notes the many ways the global economic slowdown has hurt poverty reduction efforts in the continent.

The report pays special attention to small business and ways to help them fuel growth. The bank uses part of the report to focuses on small business because it says that a majority of Asians are employed in such companies.

From the Forbes article on the report, writer Teresa Cerojano details some of the economic indicators described within. You can download the full report from this link.

In 19 Asian economies, including the most populous China and India, more than 10 percent of people live on less than $1.25 a day and more than 10 percent are malnourished. This is despite the region's success over the last 15 years in cutting the number of poor from one in two to around one in four, the report said.

Nepal is the worst off with 55.1 percent of its population surviving on less than $1.25 a day. In China and India, 15.9 percent and 41.6 percent of the population live below the poverty line, respectively.

Income gap remains wide in many other countries.

More than 30 percent of Tajikistan's population suffers from hunger, as do 20-30 percent of the people in Armenia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Mongolia, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and East Timor, the ADB said.

Among the so-called U.N. Millennium Development Goals is cutting in half extreme poverty and hunger by 2015 and reducing maternal mortality by three-quarters over the same period.

The report said that Asia faces serious challenges in meeting goals linked to sanitation and maternal deaths, which remain unacceptably high in countries such as Afghanistan, Nepal and Laos.

About 1,800 out of every 100,000 Afghan women die in childbirth while more than a quarter of urban households in 13 countries still lack access to improved sanitation, the bank said.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

WFP ask for 230 million dollars for Kenya

The U.N.'s World Food Programme is asking for 230 million dollars to help drought stricken Kenya. The WFP says that will amount to 260,000MT of food, the WFP is already distributing 32,000MT a month to 2.6 million people.

From this IRIN article that we found at Reuters Alert Net, we learn more about the other moves taking place to help the people.

The government is also trucking water to drought-affected communities and buying livestock at a cost of KSh8,000 (about $105) per live cow, significantly above prevailing market prices.

A 2009 long rains assessment found that "3.8 million pastoralists, agro-pastoralists and marginal agricultural farm households require urgent humanitarian food assistance".

The assessment, conducted by the Kenya Food Security Steering Group (KFSSG) in May and July, covered 30 districts, including 27 drought-prone ones and three affected by the 2008 post-election violence.

Failure of the long rains in the marginal agricultural lowlands and some pastoral and agro-pastoral areas have caused a substantial decline in both crop and livestock production, according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net).

High cereal prices have further accentuated food insecurity. The average price of the main staple, maize, has doubled over the last year.

Expected long-rains maize production will be about 28 percent below normal because of insufficient rains - further tightening supply.

The spread of AIDS along aboriginals in Canada

Medical officials are warning of an AIDS epidemic amongst aboriginals in Canada. Some of them are comparing it to the AIDS epidemic in Africa. Some of the factors are certainly similar, stigmas against the victims, and a lack of education on the disease.

From this Reuters story that we found at ABC News, reporter Rod Nickel describes the spread of AIDS in Canada.

Many aboriginals, a broad term that includes Indians, Inuit and Metis, live in poverty and suffer poorer health than most other Canadians. They make up about 3.3 percent of the population, living mainly in western cities, the North and on rural reserves.

Despite their relatively small population, aboriginals accounted for almost one-quarter of Canada's reported AIDS cases in 2006 for which ethnicity was known, double the rate six years earlier, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Intravenous drug use, especially among women, is the cause of more than half the infections with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which leads to AIDS. Canadian non-aboriginal infections are mostly linked to unsafe sex.

Aboriginals with HIV infections also tend to be younger than other infected Canadians and more often women.

"(It's) partly because of the vulnerabilities of that group -- (especially) if they're addicted and dependent on the sex trade for their income," said Dr. Moira McKinnon, chief medical health officer for Saskatchewan.

The rate of HIV infection in Saskatchewan has risen rapidly among natives, McKinnon said. The province of 1 million people, had 174 new HIV cases last year, up 40 percent from 2007. Sixty-five percent of the new cases were aboriginals.

IT volunteers in the under-developed world

Yes, even geeks can volunteer, and they may be in just as high of demand in the volunteer world as they are in the professional world. A non-profit from the UK gives IT professionals a chance to teach their skills in the under-developed world. The NGO called Voluntary Services Overseas says the numbers of techs applying to volunteer is increasing.

From this article that we found at, writer Jo Best explains the work of VSO.

he international development organisation places volunteers in developing countries to share their skills and help local communities fight poverty.

Of the hundreds of people the VSO places abroad every year, 15 or 20 will be IT workers, leaving their comfort zone behind for a stint in the developing world.

Mostly, techies are needed in countries including Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia to help communities in sub-Saharan Africa learn about and deploy IT.

Repeat volunteer Don Carney, agrees: "I don't think technical skills matter so much as the willingness to pick up a tool and see how it can be made most effective."

Carney's placements include being a database specialist in the Philippines and working as an information communications specialist in Cambodia - experiences he describes as "challenging, and at the same time satisfying".

"I spent some years in commercial organisations back in the UK and although professionally challenging I couldn't help but feel that my life focused on the next paycheck and the personal satisfaction seemed to diminish over time. Volunteering in development gave me a refreshing new way to look at life and work, as well as feeling that I could do a lot more for others than I did in the commercial world," he added.,39024675,39497506,00.htm

Battles in Northern Yemen mean less help for refugees

This morning we found many stories and news releases about the armed conflict in Yemen. Battles there are making it difficult for aid groups to take care of the people who have fled due to the fighting.

U.N. agencies have pulled out almost all of their staff and are instead giving aid to those in calmer areas. The International Red Cross still has workers in the area and say they are attempting to take care of 16,000 people.

From this IRIN story that we found at Reuters Alert Net, we read more about the battle in Yemen.

Aid organizations are finding it increasingly difficult to help civilians in the northern Yemeni governorate of Saada after renewed clashes there between the army and the al-Houthi Shia rebels.
"Saada is an active, armed confrontation with a very volatile security situation, so the World Food Programme [WFP] has to carefully balance staff security on one side and its mandate to assist affected people [on the other]," Gian Carlo Cirri, WFP's Yemen representative, told IRIN.

Fighting in Saada flared up again on 12 August. Aerial bombardments of Houthi strongholds in Saada have forced many to flee into neighbouring governorates.

According to UN agencies, there are some 150,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Saada and the governorates of al-Jawf, Hajjah and Amran as a result of the conflict.

The Yemeni Red Crescent (YRC) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are the only two organizations running IDP camps in Saada Governorate, according to Abbas Zabarah, secretary-general of the YRC.

Other international NGOs are also working in the region, but with great difficulty because of the insecure roads in and out of Saada.

"The difficulties of travelling the main roads hinder access to the population, and especially the injured, [and] to health structures," said a recent statement by Médecins Sans Frontières.

$500 million loaned to the Philippines for economic stimulus

The Asian Development Bank is lending money to nations to help with their own economic stimulus programs, and the first such loan went the Philippines. $500 million dollars will be lent to the country. The ADB started the program because many governments were having trouble raising money as credit markets have been very tight during the global recession.

From the Peninsula On-Line, reporter Roel Landingin tells us more details about the loan program.

The bank said it had received applications for more than the $3bn available, with Bangladesh, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Vietnam also requesting help.

Bangladesh, like the Philippines, has asked for the maximum $500m. The International Monetary Fund is allocating special drawing rights worth $735m to Dhaka to strengthen its foreign exchange reserves amid the global downturn, a fund official told Reuters yesterday.

The Philippines is struggling to fund its stimulus measures, which include labour-intensive infrastructure projects and increased cash transfers, amid falling government revenues and a widening budget deficit. The economy shrank 2.3 percent quarter-on-quarter in the January-March period and the government sharply cut its full-year growth forecast in June to only just 0.8-1.8 percent, from the previous target of 3.1-4.1 percent. Manila warned of the budget deficit reaching as much as 250bn pesos ($5.2bn), equivalent to 3.5 percent of gross domestic product, because of revenue shortfalls.

Yesterday, the ADB said the new loan would “help close the government’s budget financing gap for this year”.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Jaquelene Novogratz of the Acumen Fund gives her background story

Jaquelene Novogratz was inspired by her father and by Catholic School Nuns to help children. So, after studying economics and working for Chase Bank, she began the Acumen Fund, which helps the lives of the poor through microcredit.

In this New York Times essay, Novogratz explains how her background helped her evolve into microcredit.

Chase trained me in finance and cash flow and how companies work, and I did work in 40 countries. It was a gift from the universe and the perfect beginning of a career.

I loved being a banker, but I felt that banks were missing an opportunity in not extending their services to more low-income people. I decided to leave Chase and move to Rwanda, where I helped build its first microfinance institution. I also helped start a bakery with six Rwandan women. Their stories became the starting point for “The Blue Sweater,” a book I wrote about how to assist developing countries in building organizations that help their citizens.

The key is giving access to affordable services like clean water, adequate health care and energy sources so they can make their own decisions and change their own lives. That’s where dignity starts.

I returned to the United States to attend Stanford for an M.B.A and heard the president of the Rockefeller Foundation give a speech about microfinance. We started talking and got to know each other. I worked for him for a year and helped start several programs.

In 2001, I started the Acumen Fund, a nonprofit global venture fund. We manage more than $40 million in investments in Africa and Asia. We raise charitable funds and invest in and loan money to enterprises that provide services to low-income people. We use any financial returns to invest in other innovative projects to help the poor.

For example, drip irrigation lets farmers raise production on drought-prone fields. In India, we invested in a company that reconfigured the technology for local farmers. To visit one, I flew from Mumbai to Aurangabad, took a three-hour bus ride, then walked a long time on dirt so dry it cracked. Finally I met a man growing lemon trees and eggplant. He was in his canvas house with his wife, who offered us a meal. Halfway through it, he said he wanted to show me something, and we walked to the concrete slab that was the foundation of the house they planned to build. He has dreams for the first time in his life.

Providing water to the driest area of Pakistan

The Tharparket district of Pakistan has many water problems. The area has no rivers, wells are controlled by an elite minority, there is a lot of nasty water, and it's one of the driest parts on the country. A local NGO is teaming up with the United Nations to try to solve the district's water issues.

From the IRIN, we read more of the water project to help the 900,00 people who live in the area.

However, an innovative project by local NGO Thardeep Rural Development Programme (TRDP) in conjunction with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Government of Sindh is helping alleviate Tharparker's drought problems.

Following a survey conducted jointly by the UN children's agency (UNICEF) and TRDP in 1998, which identified the potable water issues faced in Tharparker, the concept for the Rain Water Harvest Project (RWHP) was born.

The idea was to enable villagers to collect rainfall, which is generally limited to a short annual monsoon season, store it and use it throughout the year.

"Given decreasing levels of rainfall as well as depleting water tables, it is important that we focus on conservation. RWHP allows us to store drinking water as well as replenish the water table," Jhuman Lalchandani, a senior manager at TRDP's Community Physical Infrastructure Unit, said.

Keeping low cost intervention in mind, RWHP has provided some 1,350 villages and settlements out of 2,100 with underground water storage tanks since 2000.

"At the moment, we have three types of RWH projects, which include rain water harvesting at household levels, also known as cisterns or tankas; at hamlet level ponds are used for saving water for the community; and at the village level we have delay action dams. Also, in low-lying areas, flood protection walls not only save houses from getting flooded but also allow for water to pool up and be used for other purposes," said Lalchandani.

He said the average family of six to seven people in Tharparker needed around 10-12 litres of drinking water a day just for drinking and cooking. The cost of cement and materials to make a cistern with a capacity of about 2,000 litres is less than PKR 1,000 (US$12). Twenty percent of that cost is paid by the household receiving the cistern in the form of in-kind labour over the three to four days in takes to dig and construct a cistern.

"Each house is given a catchment area and from there the rain water is channeled to cisterns. As of June 2009, at the household level RWHP covers 92,415 homes with the number of beneficiaries being 406,833, with 219,896 of them being women," Lalchandani said.

Aid workers feel threats from both sides

Aid workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo hear it from both sides. The government accuses them of being spies from the West, and the rebels accuse them of being spies for the government.

From this AFP story that is hosted at Google News, reporter David Youant asks a humanitarian about the danger.

"Each side accuses us of being spies," said Kapuya, a Kinshasa-area lawyer in his forties who is also coordinator of the Congolese Group for Training and Development (RECOED).

"The militia suspect us of being government agents, and the government accuses us of being spies for Westerners," he said of the conflict in which government forces have been fighting Ugandan and Rwandan rebels for several years, mainly in the northeast.

"We're working between two fires."

With 30 or so members, his non-governmental organisation identifies vulnerable people -- notably women and children caught up in the warfare -- and steers them towards international aid groups for help.

It works out of Ituri, in Orientale province, the northeast corner of Congo -- one of the most unstable parts of the country, where several armed groups have been active for a decade.

Working under a blanket of suspicion "does not make our task easy, because we are obliged to work clandestinely in some areas, especially those areas in which there is great insecurity," Kapuya said.

"If you're suddenly found to be gathering information from local people, you risk getting shot," he added. "The slightest suspicion ... and anything can happen. You need a lot of willpower to go into those areas."

"What's more, there's the fact that you cannot tell a militia fighter from a mere villager. They have melted into the population and it can happen that you're unknowingly riding a taxi scooter driven by a militiaman."

Malawian Children exposed to tobacco plants suffer ill-health

An NGO that works in Malawi has completed an investigation of child laborers who work in the countries Tobacco fields. The study shows that the children suffer nicotine poisoning due to exposure of the plants. Plan International asks that the tobacco growers provide protective clothing to the children. Plan says that the exposure that is similar to smoking 50 packs a day.

From this summary of the report that we found at The Age, writer David Smith reveals more of the children's illnesses.

Plan International cites research showing that Malawi has the highest incidence of child labour in southern Africa, with 88.9 per cent of five-to-14-year-olds working in the agricultural sector.

It is estimated that more than 78,000 children work on tobacco estates - some up to 12 hours a day, many for less than two Australian cents an hour and without protective clothing.

Plan International's researchers invited 44 children from tobacco farms in three districts to take part in workshops. They revealed physical, sexual and emotional abuse and spoke about the need to work to support themselves and their families and pay school fees.

The children reported common symptoms of green tobacco sickness, or nicotine poisoning, including severe headaches, abdominal pain, muscle weakness, coughing and breathlessness.

''Sometimes it feels like you don't have enough breath, you don't have enough oxygen,'' one child said. ''You reach a point where you cannot breathe because of the pain in your chest. Then the blood comes when you vomit. At the end, most of this dies and then you remain with a headache.''

Green tobacco sickness is a common hazard of workers coming into contact with tobacco leaves and absorbing nicotine through their skin, particularly when harvesting.

Vultures of third world debt

A coalition of 50 advocacy groups are calling on the U.S. Congress to stop the practices of Vulture Funds. The funds buy countries debt at pennies on the dollar but charge them huge interest on the purchases. Once the payments are late, the funds sue the governments for what they feel is owed to them.

From, writer Muritala Bakare gives us a further description of the vulture funds practice.

According to the group of fifty advocacy institutions which discovered the “unscrupulous loan transfer” called VULTURE funds, Highly Indebted Countries’ debt are purchased at pennies to dollar and the financial firms "aggressively pursue their claims through the seizure of assets, litigation and political pressure, seeking repayments that are far in excess of the amount that they paid for the debt," the group say.

For instance, FG Hemisphere Fund based in the United States was successful in its court case against the Democratic Republic of Congo for US$105million for a US$30million loan borrowed in 1980 by the government of Mobutu Sese Seko. The DRC was ordered to pay nearly US$80,000 a week by a US judge.

"The DRC is being forced to siphon these desperately needed resources from initiatives like healthcare, education, combating HIV/AIDS, and access to clean water to its impoverished citizens to pay off wealthy corporations such as FG Hemisphere," said Melinda St. Louis, deputy director of the Jubilee USA Network.

"This runs totally counter to the progress made by the U.S. and the international community on debt cancellation, through the World Bank’s Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) effort," St. Louis added.

Renowned experts have been campaigning hard against financial aid to Africa and have argued it does more harm than good. Dembisa Moyo in her controvercial book: Dead Aid, warned that aid damages and impoverishes Africa’s economies.

Michael Stulman, associate director of policy and communications at Africa Action said: "Since 1996 donor countries - including the U.S. - have committed 90 billion dollars in bilateral and multilateral debt relief to over 30 countries. VULTURE funds profit from this debt relief.”

Kenya will spend 118 million dollars on more food

Kenya's government is freeing up more money in it's budget to buy more food. The country is in an emergency situation as the rains did not arrive during the recent monsoon season. The U.N.'s World Food Programme recently called on the world to bring in more donations to Kenya.

From Bloomberg, writer Eric Ombok tells us more about Kenya's move.

Kenya’s government allocated 9 billion shillings ($118.1 million) to buy more food imports, as up to 10 million people are at risk of “severe hunger” due to drought, said Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta.

The government will “reprioritize expenditure” to come up with the funds, Kenyatta told reporters today in the capital, Nairobi.

Drought reduced crops, lowered hydropower electricity production which led to power cuts, and caused widespread water shortages. Corn production may fall 65 percent below consumption this year, Prime Minister Raila Odinga said on Aug. 12. The United Nations’ World Food Program said on Aug. 21 an additional 1.3 million people in the East African nation are in need of food aid. The agency is currently distributing food to 2.5 million Kenyans and gives meals to more than one million schoolchildren.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A visit to a health care clinic in Kansas

The U.S. Congress is on vacation, not working on details on health care reform, but the health care debate has only gotten louder. Members are back in their districts and are trying to talk to the public, instead many times they talk to operatives of one side or the other, only making the public's true voice quieter.

For a story on health care, a reporter from the Guardian visited a poor area in Kansas. Soon, the area will have only one doctor serving it, as most medical services have moved to affluent areas. However, reporter Ed Pilkington does find a Health care clinic that operates via donations instead of insurance reimbursements. For many in this poor area of Kansas, it's the only place they can turn to for health care.

Lee's clinic, Family Health Care, is a refuge of last resort. It picks up the pieces of lives left shattered by a health system that has failed them, and tries to glue them back together. It exists largely outside the parameters of formal health provision, raising funds through donations and paying all its 50 staff – Lee included – a flat rate of just $12 an hour.

Lee has just opened an outpost of her clinic in the outlying neighbourhood of Quindaro, an area of boarded-up houses and deserted factories where work is hard to find and crack plentiful and a per capita income is $11,025. A third of the population is below the federally defined poverty line.

And yet the local health department has decided the only health centre in the area will be closed by the end of this year and moved 30 blocks west to a much more prosperous part of the city where income levels are five times higher. Before long, one of the poorest areas of Kansas – of America – will be left without a single doctor, with only Lee's voluntary services to fall back on.

Even that is academic. Many of the residents of Quindaro were unable to see a doctor in any case – because they were uninsured. In Kansas, anyone who is able-bodied but unemployed is not eligible for government-backed health insurance as is anyone earning more than 39% of federal poverty levels. That leaves a huge army of jobless and low-income working families who are left in limbo. "It's the working poor who are most at disadvantage," Lee says.

As a result, she sees the same pattern repeating itself over and over. People with no insurance avoid seeking medical help for fear of the bills that follow, until it is too late. "When people come in they are already very, very sick. They have avoided seeing the doctor thinking that something may clear up, hoping they may be getting better."

Beth Gabaree, who came in to see Lee for the first time this morning, has experiences that sound extreme but are in fact quite typical. She has diabetes and a heart condition. Until two years ago they were controlled through ongoing treatment paid for by her husband's work-based health insurance. But he was in a motorbike crash that pulverised his right leg and put him out of work.

That Catch 22 again: no work, no insurance, no treatment. Except in this case it was Beth who went without treatment, in order to put her husband's dire needs first. He receives ongoing specialist care that costs them $500 a go, leaving nothing for her. So she stopped seeing a doctor, and effectively began self-medicating. She cut down from two different insulin drugs to regulate her diabetes to one, and restricted her heart drugs. "I do what I think I need to do to keep four steps out of hospital. I know that's not the right thing, but I can't justify seeing the doctor when my family's already in money trouble."

The problem is that she hasn't kept herself four steps out of hospital. Her health deteriorated and earlier this year she became bedridden. Even then, it took her family several days to persuade her to go to the emergency room because she didn't want to incur the hospital costs. "It was hard enough without that," she says.

After an initial consultation, Lee has now booked Gabaree for a new round of tests for her diabetes and is arranging for free medication. "It's wonderful," Gabaree says. "I'm so blessed. I didn't know you could get this sort of help."

That she sees basic healthcare as a blessing, not as a right, speaks volumes about attitudes among the mass of the working poor. Also revealing is the fact that Gabaree has absolutely no idea about the debate raging across America. She hasn't even heard of Obama's push for health reform, nor the Republican efforts to prevent it. "I don't watch much television," she says.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Selling cows cheaply for food

Yes, another story on Kenya, but this describes a good description of the realities on the ground.

The price of cattle has severely dropped, due to the owners of the cows just wanting to sell them for a little food. In some areas of Kenya, cattle farming was very good thanks to the open grassy land. Now, due to a few years of poor rains, and almost none this year, even the cows don't have much to eat.

From this IRIN that we found at Reuters Alert Net, we read more about the price of Kenyan's cattle.

A few months ago, cattle traders in Kiserian livestock market in Kajiado District, southwest of Nairobi, could sell a cow for up to KSh15,000 [US$200], but that has drastically changed.

"There is a lot of hunger; most pastoralists are selling their cattle at the market to buy other foodstuffs," Jane Sayena from Magadi, another town in Kajiado, said.

Four years of consecutive poor rains, experts say, have pushed communities in Kenya's eastern, northern and southern pastoral zones to the limit, finally forcing them to hurriedly sell off their herds for a pittance.

"It hurts to see the pastoralists selling their cows for as little at KSh500 [$6.50]," Sayena told IRIN. "Sometimes [they] cry... but it is better than seeing animals dying at home."

Livestock accounts for 80 percent of household income in some pastoral areas. Since the drought, the pastoralists have tried to cope by feeding their goats wet paper and slaughtering new-born calves to save lactating animals, but most animals have ended up in poor health.

Others tried to migrate to other areas, but the situation has grown worse. In northern Marsabit and Samburu, up to 20 percent of cattle and sheep have died - and the figure could rise to 50 percent if the drought continues, according to the Kenya Food Security Steering Group (KFSSG).

"If I sell even one cow, the children can at least get food," said John Ole Kopito, a pastoralist from Kajiado, which borders Tanzania to the southwest.

Some stats on the Kenyan food shortage

A Kenyan government report gives some numbers to the shortfalls in food that could be experienced in the country. The report says that the food staple maize could be completely gone by September.

From this IRIN story that we found at Relief Web, we receive some quotes from the report.

"At the beginning of August 2009 the country had about 500,000MT of maize against a monthly requirement of 300,000MT, suggesting possibilities of serious shortfalls by the end of September," the Kenya Food Security Meeting (KFSM) said on 20 August in its 2009 Long Rains Assessment (LRA) Report.

According to the KFSM, 9.9 million Kenyans are food insecure: of whom 3.8 million are drought-affected, 1.5 million vulnerable school-children, 2.5 million urban food-insecure, 2.5 million affected by or living with HIV/AIDS and some 100,000 internally displaced (IDPs).

The LRA report was prepared by the Kenya Food Security Steering Group (KFSSG), which comprises representatives from various government ministries, some UN agencies, the Famine and Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net), Oxfam GB and World Vision.

The KFSSG conducted the long rains food security assessment in late May and July 2009, covering 30 districts, most in the drought-prone arid and semi-arid (ASAL) areas of northern and northeastern Kenya. It was a follow-up to its short rains food security assessment in February.

"Continued export bans in neighbouring countries of Tanzania and Uganda are likely to reduce cross-border maize inflows by 46 percent. The reduced levels of production and imports are likely to compound the tightening maize supply situation," the report stated.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

More on the emergency aid plea for Kenya

We did mention this same story a couple of days ago, but we wanted to do another post on the request for emergency assistance to Kenya. The U.N.'s World Food Programme is asking the world for donations and food for the country. Kenya is experiencing their worst drought in a decade. The usual rainy season through August and July did not have much any rain.

From this story from the BBC we read more about the request and a scandal that has made matters worse,

The World Food Programme (WFP) has described the crisis as a "very difficult situation" and appealed to donor countries to offer funds.

Currently some 2.5 million people are receiving emergency food aid in the country but the effect of the drought has meant that a further 1.3 million now also need help.

"People are saying it is the worst drought since 2000," said WFP spokeswoman Gabrielle Menezes.

The regions affected normally harvest their crops once a year, planting them in April and collecting in September after the rains. But this year those rains have failed to come.

The Kenyan government was supposed to have built up a sizeable stock of maize but, following allegations of a corruption scandal, it only has enough to last another six weeks, says the BBC's East Africa correspondent, Will Ross.

Many subsistence farmers are reported to be abandoning rural areas - where they rely on aid - and moving into already over-congested slums in the towns and cities.

A story and a video on the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis

Myanmar's government has decided to stop flights into the Ayeyarwady Delta for aid to the victims of Cyclone Nargis. The flights took only an hour, now it will take aid workers a lot longer to get supplies to the cyclone victims. Cyclone Nargis killed 140,000 in Myanmar.

From the IRIN, we read more about the impact this decision makes on aid.

"It is back to six-hour-long road trips or boat rides," grumbled an aid worker.

Chris Kaye, WFP country director, confirmed that the service had been discontinued. The agency had started off with a fleet of 10 helicopters after Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar on 2 and 3 May 2008. The service delivered 1,119MT of life-saving supplies, including food and shelter materials, and transported thousands of aid workers and people needing urgent assistance.

The operation was reduced to a single helicopter in recent months but continued to provide critical access to the delta not only for WFP but the entire humanitarian community as roads are often inaccessible after rains.

"The service was a great convenience also for government officials and donors conducting assessments of the various post-Nargis programmes," said Thierry Delbreuve, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Myanmar.

Last night PBS aired a program about the plight of the survivors of the cyclone. The show Wide Angle focused on orphans who now have to take care of themselves. The below video is an introduction to the show.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

U.S. poverty rate expected to increase

Census figures due to be released next month will show an increase in the U.S. poverty rate. The numbers are sure to throw a whole new spin on the health insurance debate in Washington, for both sides of the isle.

From this Associated Press article that we found at Oregon Live, writer Hope Yen interviews a government worker about the numbers.

Rebecca Blank, the Commerce Department's undersecretary of economic affairs, spoke to The Associated Press in advance of next month's closely watched release of 2008 census data. Noting the figures are not yet final, Blank said the numbers will likely show a "statistically significant" increase in the poverty rate, to at least 12.7 percent. That would represent a jump of more than 1.5 million poor people last year.

"There's no question that 2008 economically was a much worse year than 2007," she said Wednesday. "The question is how much and how bad."

The number of Americans without medical insurance is also expected to notably increase due largely to rising unemployment and the erosion of private coverage paid for by employers and individuals, but Blank declined to say by how much. In 2007, the number of uninsured fell by more than 1 million mostly because government programs such as Medicaid for the poor picked up the slack.

The census figures, set to be released Sept. 10, could have important ramifications as Congress returns from its August recess to debate health reform, its cost, and the ways to pay for it. Republicans also have traditionally pointed to the intractable poverty rate as a sign that government programs do not work, a claim likely to be repeated often in light of the federal economic stimulus package.

In a 30-minute interview, Blank said the census figures released next month could possibly understate the actual number of poor people, since the poverty rate is a lagging indicator that tends to accelerate over time. As a result, the 2008 data could prove to be the tip of the iceberg, with more significant declines reflected in 2009 figures released next year.

She estimated earlier this year that poverty could eventually hit roughly 14.8 percent or more if unemployment reaches 10 percent as some analysts predict-or nearly one out of every seven Americans.

The new Yunus Centre in Thailand

The new Yunus Centre at the Asian Institute of Technology will be a school that will experiment with ways of ending poverty. Nobel Piece Prize winner Muhammad Yunus has established the school in Thailand to help develop his ideas on non-profit/non-loss businesses that help the poor.

From Channel News Asia, reporter Anasuya Sanyal gives us more details on the new school.

In developing countries in Asia, 690 million people live off less than US$1 a day, and many earn their meagre living by subsistence farming. But the global economic crisis and volatile prices of staple foods have made it all the more difficult. Yet there is much that can be done.

Microcredit pioneer, Professor Yunus, who is also the founder of Grameen Foundation, maintains that targeted and sustainable assistance can be a vital key to lifting people out of poverty.

He said: "The whole idea of the Yunus Centre is to bring the ideas and the concepts that I have been promoting and the imagination of creating a new kind of world. The one description of the world I want to see is a world where nobody will be a poor person - because there is no reason why anybody, anywhere in the world, should go through the misery and indignity of being a poor person."

At the Yunus Centre at AIT, scholars will be able to research ways to improve the lives of the poor and apply what they have learnt in those communities.

A precursor to the new centre is a project which aims to train mid-level government officials in development issues. And in Laos, this approach has proved effective.

World Humanitarian Day: a study on the danger

One of the goals of World Humanitarian Day is to shed light on the danger that aid workers are in. Those who provide food and comfort to the poor are at high risk of being kidnapped for ransoms, or being killed by anti-government extremists.

A study from the the British Overseas Development Institute gives us some stats at the increased threat that aid workers face. We learned of the study from this Reuters article written by Patrick Worsnip

Last year, 260 aid workers were victims of violent attacks, according to the British-based Overseas Development Institute. Some 122 of them lost their lives against 36 deaths in 1998.

"The 2008 fatality rate for international aid workers exceeds that of U.N. peacekeeping troops," the group said in a recent report.

It said there had been a particular upswing in kidnapping of humanitarians, which jumped 350 percent in the past three years, with expatriates preferred to nationals as they brought higher ransoms and a "more visible political statement."

The three most violent countries for aid workers are Sudan, especially the Darfur region, Afghanistan and Somalia, it said. This year has already seen killings and other violent acts in Pakistan, Somalia, the Philippines and Sudan.

Somalia, scene of a two-year insurgency led by Islamist militants against the government, has one of the highest per capita incidents of aid worker attacks in the world, U.N. officials say. So far in 2009, eight aid workers have been killed and 13 remain in captivity since 2008.

China, Congo agreement severed to obtain debt relief

In order to get a chance to have 11 billion dollars of debt forgiven, the Democratic Republic of Congo had to sacrifice 3 billion dollars in infrastructure improvement financed by China.

An agreement that would have allowed China to build copper mines in Congo in exchange for 3 billion dollars in infrastructure had to be altered. The International Monetary Fund wouldn't grant debt forgiveness unless the deal was changed.

For a further explanation of the announcement, we go to this snippet from Financial Times reporter Barney Jopson.

Under the original deal, a consortium of state-owned Chinese companies agreed to build roads, railways, hospitals and universities in return for the right to develop a copper and cobalt mine.

But pressure to alter it had come from western donors that refused to offer Congo relief on historic debt of $11bn because of concerns over state financial guarantees the deal contained, which could threaten Congo’s ability to manage its debt.

“During our visit, the authorities … told us that the partners have accepted the amendments in the project of the Sino-Congolese agreement, including the removal of the government’s guarantee on the mining project,” Mr Ames said.

Congo is eager to take advantage of a debt relief scheme for poor countries and to access new forms of western development aid, but it cannot do so until the IMF approves a new programme for the country, which it had not been ready to do.

The $9bn financing was split into three tranches of $3bn: one for setting up the mining operation and two for nationwide infrastructure investments, including more than 3,500km of roads and nearly 3,000km of railways.

But Jean-Claude Masangu, governor of Congo’s central bank, told the same press conference that the second $3bn infrastructure part of the project, which had also raised IMF concerns, had been suspended.

The IMF and the Paris Club of creditors had led western opposition to the state guarantees in the overall deal, which earmarked government revenues and made China a privileged creditor.

Natalie Portman: microcredit spokesperson

Actress Natalie Portman works as an Ambassador for FINCA International, a microcredit program. Portman's role as ambassador as taken her to poverty stricken nations where FINCA makes loans. She was also the star of a documentary produced by FINCA that shows some of the success stories of their loans.

From MSNBC, Elizabeth Chang asked Portman about her work for the microcredit cause.

Question: Can you tell me about FINCA International and the Village Banking Campaign?

Portman: FINCA International provides microloans, small loans, to primarily women in developing countries to start their own businesses. It has an incredible effect on all aspects of their lives, obviously economically, but it also improves their children’s education, nutrition and health care … their shelter, and their general sense of pride and agency in themselves. The campaign is seeking to reach more and more individuals and trying to go into more remote places where you can reach really the poorest of the poor.

Q: Please describe your role as the "Ambassador of Hope" for FINCA International and co-chair of the Village Banking Campaign.

Portman: My role is primarily one as a communicator. The people who are really doing the work are the ones on the ground and the women themselves who are working so hard to create their own businesses. My job really, within the organization, is to communicate it to the public and help fundraise, occasionally talk to politicians about helping finance our programs and also how to improve them.

Q: How did you learn about microfinancing and what attracted you to the idea?

Portman: I originally got into the whole world of microfinance because I was looking into things I could do that would affect the Middle East, because I am from Israel originally. When I was looking into it, I had the great opportunity to meet Queen Rania of Jordan who is also the most, probably, high-profile Palestinian woman in the world right now, and she was the one who guided me into microfinance. She said microfinance is a way to even out the hope gap, which is what exists between the poor and the rich; this is a way to improve the status of so many people who are suffering and that’s what leads them to … that kind of despair. So, if we want to create a sort of social equilibrium, we have to create an economic equilibrium first.

Q: How can microloaning improve the lives of women, who make up a large percentage of the world’s poor?

Portman: You are very correct in saying that women and children make up 70 percent of the world’s poor, and microfinance is an incredible way to give women the tools and the access themselves to change their own destinies. That is exactly the best thing you can do, because you’re empowering women at the same time you are helping them. They really feel that they’re in control of their own futures. They don’t have to wait for someone to help them; they can create their own business, and send their children to school as opposed to having to have them work at home. The kids get better health care, they eat better, and you just see sort of all the side effects of poverty really improved by this one sort of assistance.

World Humanitarian Day: threat of being kidnapped in Afghanistan

Aid workers in Afghanistan have to keep their employment secret. Many tell friends or relatives that they work for private business instead of working to provide food. They do this because kidnapping is a constant threat, they fear putting themselves or their loved ones in danger if their true occupation is known.

For World Humanitarian Day, this commentary from the Times Online explains some of the threat in Afghanistan, the writer did not reveal their identity.

I’ve never programmed the numbers of my international colleagues into my mobile phone because I don’t want someone to find them there if I’m searched at a roadblock. I leave my work phone behind when I travel to the south to visit relatives and friends.

None of this is unusual. Many of my Afghan colleagues at WFP do the same things, and some take even more precautions against the risks we face just coming to work every day.

There are people here who believe that working with non-Muslims is forbidden. Some are willing to use violence to enforce this belief, and may not differentiate between someone working for a foreign military force and someone working for a humanitarian agency.

The gap between rich and poor is also an issue. Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries on Earth, and some people assume that those of us working for international agencies are wealthy — which could make us and our relatives targets for kidnappers seeking ransom.

There was a time, not so long ago, when a UN job was something people would be eager to show off. A position like mine would bring prestige and social status.

But for me and for so many of my colleagues, our motivation is something much deeper, and it inspires us to face the risks that now accompany the work we do.

World Humanitarian Day

Today is World Humanitarian Day, August 19th. It's a day to salute the aid workers throughout the world and to remember those who have died while trying to help.

From the Huffington Post, this commentary from Navi Pilay explains why we have such a day.

August 19 is a date that is etched deep in the consciousness of the United Nations and the memories of those involved in humanitarian and human rights work around the world: the day in 2003 when 22 people, mostly UN staff, were killed in cold blood by a single bomb at the Canal Hotel in Baghdad.

It was by no means the first time that humanitarian aid workers, human rights defenders, peacekeepers and others working to improve the lot of the disadvantaged had been deliberately targeted by ruthless forces determined to create instability or subvert the basic laws and norms on which civilized society depends. My own organization, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, experienced its first loss of staff on 4 February 1997, when five members of the Human Rights Field Operations were killed in Rwanda.

And sadly, since 19 August 2003, there have been numerous other assassinations of individuals and further bombs -- most notably the one in Algiers on 11 December 2007 which took the lives of a further 17 UN staff members -- targeting UN and NGO staff. And I have just learned that two more UN staff are among those killed on Tuesday by a suicide bomber in Kabul. I would like to offer my deepest condolences to their families and colleagues.

In the case of the Baghdad and Algiers bombs, the perpetrators of these crimes were terrorist organizations. However, in other cases, the killers have sometimes acted on behalf of a government, or for organs meant to be under the control of governments.

Killing those who are trying to help others is a particularly despicable crime, and one which all governments should join forces to prevent, and -- when prevention fails -- to punish. It is therefore appropriate -- as a first step -- that last December the global forum for all the world's governments, the UN General Assembly, agreed to designate 19 August as World Humanitarian Day.

Humanitarian aid workers are on the frontline, trying to provide at least a minimum of material support and protection for the displaced, and for populations affected by conflict, chronic poverty, food shortages, natural disasters and other crises.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Emergency food needed for Kenya

A drought is effecting 1 million Kenyans and the U.N.'s World Food Programme says they are not getting the food they need to survive. The WFP called on emergency donations of food aid to Kenya, who is experiencing their worst drought since 2000.

From this Associated Press article that we found at Google News, Tom Odula writes more about the emergency situation.

More than 1 million Kenyans affected by a prolonged drought are not getting the food aid they desperately need, the U.N.'s World Food Program said Tuesday.

The agency already is providing emergency food aid to some 2.5 million people in this East African nation, but another 1.3 million still need help, said Gabrielle Menezes, a spokeswoman for WFP.

The areas hardest hit by the drought are the semiarid southeastern regions and parts of central Kenya.

Those areas generally have only one harvest a year of maize — Kenya's staple — usually after autumn rainfall called the short rains. But the rains have largely failed this year

The Guatemalan angle on immigration

We find another angle on illegal immigration today with an article from Reuters India. The story concentrates on immigrants from Guatemala. Once immigrants are deported back, they find themselves with less money than before, and become easy recruits for street gangs.

Guatemala is ranked as the most violent country in Central America. Caused in part by Mexican gangs fleeing to Guatemala after being flushed out by the military.

For our snippet, reporter Sarah Grainger talks about immigration enforcement and gives the example of one deportee.

As successive U.S. governments have responded to pressure to crack down on undocumented immigrants, the size and frequency of deportations has risen steadily.

In 2008 the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency sent home nearly 30,000 Guatemalans, a rise of 21 percent on 2007, and the figure is on course to rise again in 2009.

Still scarred by a 36-year civil war which ended in 1996, Guatemala is ill-equipped to deal with the thousands of people returning, jobless, to a shaky economy.

Crime rates are sky-high, with more than 6,000 murders last year in the country of just 13 million people. Mexican drug gangs, under pressure at home from an army crackdown, have moved into Guatemala and are seeking recruits there.

Easy money from being a cartel lookout, driver or hitman is tempting in countries where wages are pitiful.

Carlos Aguilar, 26, recently swapped the neatly clipped lawns of the Royal Wood Golf and Country Club in Naples, Fla. where he made $600 a week as a groundsman, for back-breaking work on his uncle's coffee farm near the mountain village of El Bosque, where he is lucky to pocket $40 in a week.

Arrested after a decade in the United States and placed on a deportation flight with 90 other Guatemalans, he is finding it hard to adjust, especially having left his wife and children in Florida, where they are legal residents.

"Here there's no way out and you're worried about having enough money for food just to survive. But there it's very different because each week you get your paycheck from work and the banks even offer you credit," he said.

Follow up on the Chinese lead poisoning

Here is a follow up to a story we had a couple of days ago on the lead poisoning in China. A factory is said to have poisoned 300 children, so far only a fraction of those families have been moved away from the area. Also, people had to take to the streets and into the plant itself to get it shut down to prevent more poisoning.

From this Reuters story we see more about the slow response to the people's safety.

Protests against pollution are increasingly common in China, although the police normally try and nip them in the bud before they become violent. In other cases, officials show up and mollify residents with promises of financial or other aid.

So far only around a quarter of villagers have new homes in a settlement around 1.3 km (0.9 miles) from the factory, and even they may not be safe. Experts will test the site this week, the China Daily said on Tuesday.

Villagers who moved homes say tests on 30 children in the new area showed two-thirds had excessive lead levels in their blood, and at least one had been admitted to hospital.

"Its not safe here," parent Zhang Yongxiang told the paper. "Its not appropriate to move the rest of the families."

A child who swallows large amounts of lead may develop anaemia, muscle weakness and brain damage. Where poisoning occurs, it is usually gradual.

China's pollution and lax product safety standards have long been a source of tension and unrest, particularly when residents of pollution hotspots -- dubbed "cancer villages" because of high disease rates -- feel they are being ignored.

Eating pig feed to survive

People who live in the slums of Kenya have taken to pig feed to keep from starving. Giant sacks of the pig feed called "Pollard" can be had for very little money.

Slum dwellers will mix the pig feed with a little bit of grain to make a bread. Although it keeps the people from starving it does give them diarrhea and stomachaches, for the pig food... isn't really meant for humans.

From this Daily Nation article that we found at All Africa, reporter Muchiri Karanja describes the use of the pig feed. You can also click on the link to the article for pig feed cooking tips!

Pollard - the brand name for animal feed normally fed to cattle and pigs - is easily available in shops for Sh1,200 per 90-kilogramme bag, compared to Sh3,000 for maize and Sh4,000 for wheat flour.

Now the animal feed has become a staple food in Nyeri's poverty ravaged slum villages of Muringato, Chania, Mathari and Githuri, where relief food is rare.

"The last time they brought relief food here was a month ago. I got three tins of maize and two of beans. They ran out within a week," said 65-year-old Ziporah Wangari.

The slum dwellers say, that unlike the relief food that runs out quickly, the animal feed comes in larger quantities, and at a cheaper price.

"One sack of Pollard feeds six families for more than a week," says 35-year-old single mother, Jane Wanjiru. She does odd jobs in town to feed her four children.

"We contribute Sh200 each. Then we send someone to the animal feed shop," confessed Jane.

At the animal feed shop, no questions are asked. The shop owner, they say, has no idea that the pig food he sells actually goes to feed human beings.

Comment: the roots of microcredit

In his latest commentary, Sam Daley Harris touches on the Medal of Freedom that was awarded to Muhammad Yunus. Harris recounts the story of microcredit's beginnings, and how the same concept of non-profit/non-loss business is spreading into other ventures.

From The Daily Journal is this snippet of Harris' commentary. Harris is the founder of the Microcredit Summit and Results.

He was so shaken by the sight of people dying of starvation that when he set foot into Jobra, the village next to his campus, all he wanted to do was to see if he could be of use to one person for one day -- not 40 million -- just one.

It was in that village that he met a stool maker who horrified him when she explained she earned only 2 cents a day for her beautiful craftsmanship. With no money to buy the bamboo she needed, Sufia Khatun was forced to borrow from a moneylender who demanded that she sell her finished stools back to him at a price he set -- a price so low that she made only 2 cents a day profit.

When he asked whether she could earn more if she was freed from the moneylender, she told him, "Yes I can." Yunus had a student look for other villagers who were in the same dilemma. The student found 42 people who needed a grand total of $27 to pay off the moneylender, buy their raw materials and sell their wares to the highest bidder. That's right; all they needed was an average of 68 cents each. With her loan of less than $1 the stool-maker's profits soared from 2 cents a day to $1.25 a day.

Now, Yunus has set his sights on titans of business and industry with his social business concept, and the chairmen of Dannone, Intel and BASF are beating a "yes we can" path to his door to create new nonprofit/non-loss businesses that have as their sole goal improving people's lives. The corporations can recover their initial investments in the social businesses, but after that, all profits are plowed back into these new companies. They include a joint venture with Dannone producing nutritionally fortified yogurt for malnourished villagers, another with BASF producing chemically treated bed-nets to protect people from mosquitoes carrying malaria, and still another with Intel bringing information technology solutions to rural villages.

When the U.S. president shook the hand of the Bangladeshi micro-banker at the White House ceremony last week, Obama touched his own past and the microfinance work his mother did in Indonesia. And when Yunus opens the Microcredit Summit next April in Nairobi, Kenya, the micro-banker from Bangladesh will launch the next phase of microfinance in the birthplace of Obama's father and throughout the continent.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Hiding slums

Sure, economists praise India for the rapid growth that has brought hundreds of thousands out of poverty. However, a story about a sporting event reminds us that a lot of work needs to be done.

India will host the Commonwealth Games next year, and instead of moving the slums out of New Delhi, India will hide them from the games. As we find out from this Dean Nelson story from the Telegraph.

The Games was supposed to be India's moment to show off its rapidly rising wealth and banish memories of a country once synonymous with chronic poverty.

But with barely a year to go officials have conceded defeat. Vast supplies of bamboo poles have been ordered from the jungle states of Mizoram and Assam to keep the poor out of sight during the games.

New Delhi is littered with makeshift slums which house the millions of migrants who pour into the city searching for work to escape the poverty of rural life in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Their inhabitants are often seen naked at the roadsides washing at standpipes or defecating astride open sewers.

Officials had planned to shift their settlements to the outskirts of the city so the city that television viewers and visitors see is restricted to the capital's gleaming new Metro system and world-class airport, and its smart new roads, pavements and streetlights.

But yesterday they revealed they simply could not resettle enough slum-dwellers or street-sleepers, and that they had opted to hide the problem instead.

One ophthalmologist for eight million people

There is only one permanent ophthalmologist in all of Southern Sudan. So this poor eye doctor has to serve over eight million people. When a mobile ophthalmologist visits a village, hundreds of blind or sight limited people will show up, too many for the staff to care for.

From this IPS article that we found at All Africa, writer Skye Wheeler describes the eye diseases that are prevalent in South Sudan.

Dozens visit the eye clinic in the semi-autonomous region's capital every day from across the South trying to have their sight restored, mostly old and silent, waiting their turn with a helper. The Ethiopian doctor has performed hundreds of cataract operations - removing the protein build-up that covers the eye - that miraculously bring back sight.

Reversible cataract is probably responsible for half the cases of blindness in the South, but Mulugeta and government officials in the health sector know there are thousands who have no access to treatment. They also know - although no comprehensive studies have been done - that many thousands are at risk from two of the world's leading blindness-causing infectious diseases; river-blindness and trachoma.

"South Sudan looks to be the worst. Maybe two percent of the population is blind," Mulugeta, who works with the Christian Blind Mission, said. This estimate is an extrapolation of numbers from neighbouring Ethiopia where 1.6 percent of the population is visually impaired but where there are far more public health services and infrastructure.

The Director of Eye Health at South Sudan's health ministry, Ali Yousif Ngor, oversees the South Sudan part of an Africa-wide attempt to combat river blindness, also known as onchocerciasis (O.V). It is a disease spread by the black fly that carries larval forms of a worm parasite. These worms grow and breed, releasing thousands of larvae that move all over the body causing intense itching and blindness.

River blindness is prevented by widely dosing communities in affected areas with a drug called ivermectin. For the last two decades ivermectin has been provided free of charge by a U.S. pharmaceutical company in an attempt to eradicate the disease in endemic countries, mostly in Africa.

It was only at the end of the 22-year civil war in Sudan in 2005 that international health organisations and government officials were given a chance to reach many rural communities. "It is so hard to get everyone to take the drug at the same time, twice a year. That would really hit the transmission of the disease," Ngor said.

Part of the problem is that officials like Ngor simply do not know how widespread the disease is. Ngor said that the government does not even know if O.V is more or less common than trachoma, another major cause of blindness in the South. Trachoma occurs when untreated, repeated infections of the eye by bacteria eventually causes scarring so extensive the eyelid partially turns in on itself. The lashes scratch the cornea causing intense pain and often first reversible and then irreversible blindness.

Protesting the lack of water and power in India

Protests flare up often in India. Water and power shortages are prevalent in the country, so people will take to the streets and block traffic to demand more from their government.

An article from the Los Angeles Times provides an eyewitness view of one such protest. Reporter Mark Magnier was present at a protest that did bring out a government official.

The rage surged through the crowd, mixing with the heat, the sweat and the frustration to create a volatile stew, as several hundred locals incensed over power and water shortages blocked the main Alwar Road here Wednesday.

Most residents said they hadn't seen a lightbulb's worth of energy come through their wires in the last 60 hours, and this after suffering protracted cuts for the last month. With no power to pump well water, some said they had to walk miles to find a hand pump. Others said they were paying up to a third of their meager incomes to price-gouging drivers of water trucks.

Localized eruptions like this one, most unreported, occur hundreds of times each week across India, where this year the situation has been made worse by unusually light monsoon rains. The states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Bihar and Rajasthan are among the hardest-hit areas.

Experts say the shortages could be the result of global warming or natural cycles. That hasn't provided much solace to farmers like these in eastern Rajasthan as they watch their crops die, their livelihoods wither, their children go thirsty.

Rajasthan, which abuts Pakistan, is heavily dependent on hydroelectric power, as are many other drought-hit states. With water levels down, turbines aren't turning, taxing India's overextended infrastructure and fraying tempers.

Blocking roadways is a time-worn way to draw a response from officials, particularly for rural communities. A protest last year in Rajasthan over access to government jobs shut down the national highway for a month.

"No one ever listens to us unless we block the road," said Kishan Saini, 27 and unemployed, one of the leaders of the 2 1/2 -hour protest here Wednesday. "This is the worst shortage I've seen in my lifetime. We'll keep doing this for as long as it takes to get some action."

Population growth could also put MDGs out of reach

The Millennium Development Goals are facing another setback, population rates rising too fast. The MGDs already suffered a set back from the global economic recession, but experts fear population growth that is faster than expected could put the goals out of reach.

From this IPS story, reporter Thalif Deen examines what effect population has on the MGDs.

The goal of halving the number of people living in extreme poverty and hunger by 2015 could be jeopardised by soaring population growth, mostly in the developing world.

World population is expected to reach seven billion by 2011, a year earlier than expected, according to the latest figures released by the Population Research Bureau last week.

"The population will hit seven billion in the second half of 2011," predicts Jose Miguel Guzman, chief of the Population and Development Branch at the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA).

Since 1975, he said, world population has been increasing by about a billion every 12 years.

"Given that the six billion mark was reached in 1999, the attainment of seven billion seems to be more or less on track," Guzman told IPS.

Of the growth between 1999 and 2011, he said, 95 percent is in the developing world.

Asked how the rise in population growth will impact on developing nations reaching their MDGs by 2015, Guzman said that many developing, and particularly the least developed countries (LDCs), will face a continuous increase in the demand for services, specifically in education and health.

That means there will be an increasing need for social investment just to catch up with population growth, giving fewer opportunities to increase the quality of services, which is needed to generate the changes requested to attain the MDGs, he added.

The MDGs include a 50 percent reduction in extreme poverty and hunger; universal primary education; promotion of gender equality; reduction of child mortality by two-thirds; cutbacks in maternal mortality by three-quarters; combating the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and developing a North-South global partnership for development.

7.3 million orphans in Nigeria

A new report says that Nigeria has over 7.3 million orphans. In addition, the report says that another 8 million children are "vulnerable" meaning they have one parent, or have parents that are ill.

This All Africa article from the Daily Trust breaks down the survey.

This is contained in "The 2008 Situation Assessment and Analysis on Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) in Nigeria" released in Lagos on Tuesday.

The survey, conducted by the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development with the support of UNICEF and USAID, spanned from 2006 to 2008.

It revealed that "one tenth of Nigerian children are orphans translating to about 7.3 million orphans in Nigeria".

According to the report, studies by UNICEF and other agencies in Nigeria have projected population of different categories of OVC at different levels as street children, abandoned children, child beggars, street urchins and children orphans by AIDS.

It listed other vulnerable children to include those who have lost one or both parents, children living with terminally or chronically-ill parents, those living with aged grand parents, hawkers and married children.

It said that the OVC were more likely to be recruited to carry out anti-social activities in times of conflict.