Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tsunami hits Samoan islands

An aid situation is developing in the islands of Samoa, where a tsunami hit the islands earlier today. 99 people are dead and hundreds are missing, feared swept out to sea, from the earthquake triggered tsunami.

From this Associated Press story that we found at the Star Press online, reporters Keni Lesa And Fili Sagapolutele tell us what happened.

Survivors fled the waves of water for higher ground on the South Pacific islands after the magnitude 8.0 quake struck at 6:48 a.m. local time (1:48 p.m. EDT; 1748 GMT) Tuesday. The quake was centered about 120 miles south of the islands of Samoa, which has about 180,000 people, and American Samoa, a U.S. territory of 65,000.

Four tsunami waves 15 to 20 feet (4 to 6 meters) high roared ashore on American Samoa about 15 minutes after the quake, reaching up to a mile (1.5 kilometers) inland, Mike Reynolds, superintendent of the National Park of American Samoa, was quoted as saying by a parks service spokeswoman.

Less than 24 hours later, another strong underwater earthquake rocked western Indonesia on Wednesday, briefly triggering a tsunami alert for countries along the Indian Ocean. The 7.6-magnitude quake toppled buildings, cut power and triggered a landslide on Sumatra island, and at least 75 people were reported killed. Experts said the seismic events were not related.

The Samoan capital, Apia, was virtually deserted by afternoon, with schools and businesses closed. Hours after the waves struck, sirens rang out with another tsunami alert and panicked residents headed for higher ground again, although there was no indication of a new quake.

In American Samoa’s capital of Pago Pago, the streets and fields were filled with ocean debris, mud, overturned cars and several boats as a massive cleanup effort stretched into the night. Several buildings in the city – just a few feet above sea level – were flattened. Power was expected to be out in some areas for up to a month.

In Washington, President Obama has declared a major disaster for American Samoa. Obama said in a statement early Wednesday that he and his wife, Michelle, “will keep those who have lost so much in our thoughts and prayers.”

Hampered by power and communications outages, officials in the South Pacific islands struggled to determine damage and casualties.

Samoan police commissioner Lilo Maiava told The Associated Press that police had confirmed 63 deaths but devastated areas were still being searched.

Poverty in Marion County Ohio at 18 percent

A county just north Columbus, Ohio has 18 percent poverty according the US Census Bureau. The numbers continue to climb for Marion County, who has suffered even more job losses since the US Census recorded this data from 2008.

From the Columbus Dispatch writers Catherine Candisky and Alan Johnson take a look at the numbers and their devastating consequences on Ohio. The newspaper also has graphics that show the concentrations of poverty in Ohio and throught the US.

Marion County's 2008 poverty rate of 19.4 percent represents a jump of more than half in only two years for the county of 66,396 people about an hour north of Columbus.

New statewide figures from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey show that 13.4 percent of Ohioans were living in poverty in 2008, up slightly from the previous year and just above the national average of 13.2 percent.

Still, poverty holds a fierce grip on Ohio, particularly in the state's urban centers.

Of America's top 10 poorest cities, three are in Ohio -- Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo. No other state had more than one.

Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks, said the poverty level is almost certainly worse than the numbers indicate because the statistics are for 2008, and things have gotten only worse this year.

"Ohioans are getting poorer every day," she said. "We know, from our food pantries, it has gotten worse day after day, week after week."

Ohio is in "a race to the bottom," Hamler-Fugitt said.

According to the census report, 19.4 percent of Marion County residents were living in poverty in 2008, up from 15.7 percent in 2007 and 11.9 percent in 2006. The poverty threshold is about $18,000 a year for a family of three and $22,000 for a family of four.

The survey measures counties with at least 65,000 population, meaning virtually all of Ohio's Appalachian counties are not included.

Poverty in Franklin County actually dropped to 15 percent from 16.3 percent in both 2007 and 2006.

Robert Zoellick says world recession changing currency forces

World Bank head Robert Zoellick had a recent speaking engagement at Johns Hopkins University in Washington. In his comments, he told the audience not to expect the US dollar to continue to be the world's major currency.

From the Voice of America, Mil Arcega attended the speech.

World Bank president Robert Zoellick says the U.S. dollar's role as the world's reserve currency may be diminishing as a result of the financial crisis. Although he says the dollar will remain a major economic force, Zoellick says the balance of power is shifting. And as the global financial system evolves, Zoellick says other currencies, including the Euro and the Chinese Yuan could become increasingly attractive alternatives.

In the aftermath of the global economic meltdown, the head of the World Bank says the U.S. should not assume the dollar will always be the world's business currency. Speaking at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, Robert Zoellick says world finances are undergoing a seismic shift.

"The United States would be mistaken to take for granted the dollar's place as the world's predominant reserve currency," he said. "Looking forward, there will increasingly be other options to the dollar."

Among the options, Zoellick says the 16-nation Euro and China's Yuan --also called the Renminbi -- are quickly gaining acceptance.

Zoellick cites China's recent move to list foreign companies in its stock exchange as a step towards making the communist country a global financial powerhouse.

"China is making it easier for trading partners to do business in Renminbi, for example, through currency swaps. We are likely to see this shift in the world of investment as well," he said.

Zoellick also questioned the role central banks played in the economic crisis. And he injected himself into the Congressional debate over how much power the U.S. Federal Reserve should have -- saying the Treasury Department may be better suited to regulate the U.S. financial system.

"In the United States, it will be difficult to vest the independent and powerful technocrats at the Federal Reserve with more authority. My reading of recent crisis management is that the Treasury Department needed greater authority to pull together a bevy of different regulators. Moreover, the Treasury Department is an executive department and therefore Congress and the public can directly oversee how it uses any added authority," Zoellick explained.

Regarding the Pittsburgh summit last week for the world's biggest economies, Zoellick applauded the resolution making the G20 the premier forum for global financial cooperation. But to maintain legitimacy, Zoellick says the major developed and developing nations who make up the G20 must recognize the voices of the 160 countries left outside.

"It needs to help offer a hand to the poorest and weakest countries, the 1.6 billion people still without electricity and the 'bottom billion' trapped in poverty because of conflict and broken governance," he said.

Zoellick's comments come as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund prepare to hold meetings in Istanbul next week.

I'm sure Zoellick's bosses at the US government have a entirely different opinion on currencies.

Less donations, more demand for charities

Charities in America have suffered in two different ways during this recession. First, through a decrease in giving; second, through an increase in demand for their services.

The double effect has been too much for some charities to bear. The effects of the economy have caused some non-profits to close and stop taking care of those in need.

From the Janesville, Wisconsin Gazette Extra, this Associated Press article written by David Crary talks to some charity leaders on the effects of the recession.

The casualties so far include countless needy clients losing assistance and thousands of nonprofit workers who've been laid off. Some local charities have shut down; even many of the largest nationwide operations have made painful cutbacks in staff, spending and programs.

"Nonprofits are generally at the whim of the economy ... but we've never seen anything like this," says the Rev. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA. "Increasing numbers of our own volunteers and employees have been forced to become clients of our services."

The cutbacks are forcing charities to rethink how they operate and make changes that are likely to outlive the recession. Nonprofits, like regular businesses, are learning to do more with less. Those that survive will emerge more efficient.

"It gives you a mindset to be more creative," American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown says. "We're thinking even better and more innovatively than we were 10 months ago."

Numbers help illustrate the magnitude of the challenges.

Giving to social-service charities fell by 12.7 percent in 2008, according to the Giving USA Foundation, and there's been little evidence of a resurgence so far this year. Simultaneously, many state and local governments are cutting back on funding for nonprofits or delaying payments as they struggle to assemble their budgets.

That double hit to charities' revenue comes at a time when the national poverty rate has reached an 11-year high of 13.2 percent.

Jacqueline Novogratz on lessons learned outside of the classroom

The Acumen Fund's Jacqueline Novogratz arrived in Africa as a young woman with dreams to change the world. After some success and some failures, she returned to the states to receive more education. But it was lessons learned from her experiences in Africa and her childhood that led her to create the Acumen Fund, a large venture fund that gives capital to start up businesses in Africa and Asia.

From Success Magazine, writer John Ostdick interviews Novogratz on what she learned outside of the classroom.

Her March 2009 book, The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World (Rodale Books), chronicles her passionate journey to the creation of the 8-year-old Acumen Fund, a nonprofit global venture fund using entrepreneurial approaches to solve the problems of global poverty. “As our world becomes increasingly interconnected, we need to find better solutions that will include everyone in today’s opportunities,” she writes. “Monsters will always exist. There’s one inside each of us. But an angel lives there, too. There is no more important agenda than figuring out how to slay one and nurture the other.”

Acumen Fund manages more than $40 million in investments in South Asia and East Africa, all focused on delivering affordable basic services to the poor (her immediate goal is to increase that to $100 million).

Novogratz’s change-the-world passion began early. “I grew up very disciplined, with nuns, a military family of seven, all the rest boys,” she says during a break from a frantic day of meetings in Acumen’s New York offices just before leaving on another far-flung trip. “I was very tough, and hard on myself, and had high expectations for myself.”

The compassion of the West Point, N.Y., nuns who taught her—particularly a first-grade teacher, Sister Mary Theophane, whom Novogratz recalls with special affection—helped hone her lofty determination.

“It was from her that I first heard that ‘to whom much is given, much is expected,’ ” Novogratz says. “I wanted desperately to be one of those kids who delivered. I wanted to commit to do something big.”

In a way, she took her own set of vows in those formative years. She would later embrace the writing of Thoreau and Shaw, extracting from the poets what it meant to live a full life. “When I would read Thoreau talk about people living lives of quiet discontent, I would say, ‘That is not going to be me. I am going to live out loud,’ ” she says.

Her education and her early efforts in philanthropy, banking and microfi nance would eventually contribute to her innovative Acumen Fund vision. The bottom line, she concluded, is that charity alone cannot end poverty. Rather than handing out grants, Acumen invests in fl edgling companies and organizations that bring critical—and often life-altering—products and services to the world’s poor.

“Early on, it was all about developing the confidence and earning respect to be effective,” she says. “One of my favorite Martin Luther King Jr. lines is: ‘Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.’ When I fi rst went to Africa, I felt this great sense of compassion and was making excuses for people…. Once I let go of the idea of being Mother Superior trying to save the masses and instead found the joy of building systems that really do allow people to change their own lives, then I could be much more myself and challenge people to reach higher. What I learned is people live up and down to the expectations others place on them. That was incredibly liberating to me.”

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Who is to blame for high infant death rate in Sierra Leone

The country of Sierra Leone has the second highest child mortality rate in the world. The medical professionals in the country blame the high death rate on midwifes or traditional birth attendants.

The health professionals say that midwifes do not have the proper training if pregnancies get complicated. However, the midwifes way that they are needed to reach remote villages where there is no access to medicine.

From the Voice of America, writer Chinedu Offor frames the debate in this story.

Sierra Leone has the second highest child mortality rate in the world, according to a recent survey by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO). The report found that more than one out of four children die before their fifth birthday.

The death rate among newborns in Sierra Leone is above the average for Africa, at 56 per 1,000 live births, says the WHO.

Doctors in government hospitals blame traditional birth attendants (TBAs) for the high death rate. They’re blamed for not being able to handle problem births, including hemorrhaging.

But the attendants say they have a major role to play, especially in a country where poverty, poor transportation and cultural practices keep many women from going to the hospital.

Dr. Ibrahim Thorlie is the chief medical officer of the Princess Christian Maternity and Child Health clinic in East End, Freetown. .

“In my own opinion, the TBAs have no role to play in the reduction of maternal mortality because they deal with the normal case that does not cause maternal mortality. Therefore, we should stop training them.”

A traditional birth attendant supervisor, Mohammed Masere, disagrees. He says Dr. Thorlie’s views are extreme.

“At (the) primary healthcare level, TBAs have a role to play because they are closer to the people in the community. They do deliveries, cases that are unable to reach the health facilities on time.”

Television personality Woteh Camera was delivered by a TBA, and she agrees. With most of the population living in rural areas and unable to access hospital services, she says, traditional birth attendants remain relevant. But they should be trained in modern methods of delivery, she adds.

“Though they are not well trained, I think they are doing a good job, as most people will say, [in view of the fact] that we don’t have qualified people in our rural areas, most especially the remote villages where…the roads are bad and it (the clinic or hospital) is far.”

Oklahoma saw a decline in poverty in 2008

One area that saw improvement in poverty levels before the recession was Tulsa, Oklahoma. In fact, the poverty level dropped for the entire state in 2008, except for the senior population.

From the Tulsa World, Curtis Kilman breaks down the US Census Bureau numbers, and the fears for 2009.

Tulsa County residents whose income in 2008 was below the poverty level declined from 16.2 percent of the population in 2006 to 13.8 percent in 2008, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

Statewide, an estimated 15.9 percent of the population was living in poverty in 2008, compared to a 17 percent poverty rate in 2006.

The latest census figures indicate "some progress" was made in terms of fewer families in poverty, said David Blatt, policy director for the Oklahoma Policy Institute.

"Clearly you still see a substantial segment of the population that is living in dire circumstances," Blatt said.

The poverty threshold in 2008 was an annual income of about $22,000 for a four-person family.

In the city of Tulsa, an estimated 18.3 percent of the population was living in poverty in 2008, census data indicates. In 2006, 20.3 percent, or one in five city residents lived in poverty.

A greater percentage of the population lived in poverty in Tulsa than in Oklahoma City, where 16.4 percent of the residents were poor in 2008.

OXFAM's appeal for emergency aid to East Africa

With millions hungry in East Africa, OXFAM is now calling on emergency donations of aid to the drought stricken region. OXFAM says that the drought is really in it's fifth year.

Rains are due to come next month, if that does happen the next harvest for the region is in early 2010. Until then, the millions of people in East Africa will have to depend on donations of food to survive.

From the New York Times, this Reuters piece relays OXFAM's statement on the emergency.

Launching a $9.5 million (6 million pounds) appeal, it said the situation was being worsened by high food prices and conflict. The most badly hit nations are Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Uganda.

Malnutrition is now above emergency levels in some areas and hundreds of thousands of valuable cattle are dying.

"This is the worst humanitarian crisis Oxfam has seen in east Africa for over ten years," Paul Smith Lomas, Oxfam's East Africa Director, said in a statement.

He said failed and unpredictable rains were ever more common in the region, and that broader climate change meant wet seasons were becoming shorter. Droughts have increased from once a decade to every two or three years.

"In Wajir, northern Kenya, almost 200 dead animals were recently found around one dried-up water source," Lomas said.

"People are surviving on two litres of water a day in some places -- less water than a toilet flush. The conditions have never been so harsh or so inhospitable, and people desperately need our help to survive."

Some 3.8 million Kenyans, a tenth of the population, need emergency aid, Oxfam said, partly because food prices have risen to 180 percent above average.

Angola's fight to restore life after decades of war

Just coming off of a three decade long civil war, Angola has a lot of work to do to improve life in the country. Once ranked the worst for child well being in the world, there has been a little improvement since the war ended in 2002.

From the IPS, reporter Louise Redvers fills us in on the slow progress to restore services in Angola.

Angola is ranked 16th in the world for child mortality. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), one in six children here die before they reach their fifth birthday - the main causes of death being malaria, respiratory infections, diarrhoea and other infections.

The ranking, although dire, is at least some improvement from the 2001 count of one in four - which had Angola ranked worst in the world - but there is still some way to go if the country is to reach the 2015 Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of reducing child mortality by two thirds.

Angola’s high child mortality rates are a direct hangover from the country’s three-decade-long civil war, which ended in 2002.

The few health services which existed for Angolans before they gained independence from Portugal in 1975 when the conflict began were soon decimated, and despite its enormous oil and diamond wealth, the country was wracked by poverty.

Millions fled the countryside, where landmines rendered agricultural land useless, and moved to Luanda, now home to an estimated seven million people. The majority lives in shantytowns, known in Angola as musseques, with little access to running water or sanitation.

Since the end of the war, government has undergone a programme of national reconstruction, literally rebuilding or building from scratch all public services.

In addition to building new hospitals and clinics, there has been a focus on training community health workers to promote basic household health, such as hand-washing, water treatment and sleeping under a mosquito net.

New statistics from UNICEF, Angola’s Ministry of Health and the World Bank are due to be published jointly later this year and will be the litmus test to see if government spending has been making a difference.

It will also help government hone in on the worst problem areas and target its spending.

Koen Vanormelingen, UNICEF representative in Angola, believes there has been tremendous progress: "The government is really committed, and it is putting its money where its mouth is. There is of course a time laps between the moment interventions are implemented and when you see the results in terms of lower mortality."

"We are strong believers that Angola will be able to meet their MDGs for reducing child mortality," he said optimistically.

The everyday reality of poverty in Angola's musseques, where children play among piles of litter and stagnant water breeds diseases, seems a long way off Vanormelingen’s colourful statistical bulletins, however.

Acknowledging this, he said: "There is so much to be done at the same time that it gives the impression of anarchy and inefficiencies, but I do believe there is a sense of strategy and direction."

Recession increases US income gap

We talk often of how the global recession has hurt the poorest countries the hardest, but an article we found today examines how the recession has hurt the poorest Americans the hardest. The many job layoffs that took place throughout the recession has hurt low to middle income Americans, while the wealthiest Americans only had reductions in pay or benefits.

The US Census Bureau says that the income gap between the poorest and richest Americans is now at it's widest ever. Income gap from country to country is important to consider because the wider a gap is, the harder it is for the poorest to climb up the income ladder.

From this Associated Press article that we found at the Sun News, writer Hope Yen takes another angle at the Census Bureau numbers.

The wealthiest 10 percent of Americans - those making more than $138,000 each year - earned 11.4 times the roughly $12,000 made by those living near or below the poverty line in 2008, according to newly released census figures. That ratio was an increase from 11.2 in 2007 and the previous high of 11.22 in 2003.

Household income declined across all groups, but at sharper percentage levels for middle-income and poor Americans. Median income fell last year from $52,163 to $50,303, wiping out a decade's worth of gains to hit the lowest level since 1997.

Poverty jumped sharply to 13.2 percent, an 11-year high.

"No one should be surprised at the increased disparity," said Richard Freeman, an economist at Harvard University. "Unemployment hurts normal workers who do not have the golden parachutes the folks at the top have."

Analysts attributed the widening gap to the wave of layoffs in the economic downturn that have devastated household budgets. They said while the richest Americans may be seeing reductions in executive pay, those at the bottom of the income ladder are often unemployed and struggling to get by.

Large cities such as Atlanta, Washington, New York, San Francisco, Miami and Chicago had the most inequality, due largely to years of middle-class flight to the suburbs. Declining industrial cities with pockets of well-off neighborhoods, such as Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Buffalo, N.Y., also had sharp disparities.

Monday, September 28, 2009

VIDEO: Illegal migrants caught in poverty-trap

Reuters Helen Long reports on African migrants who travel to Europe in the hopes of good jobs. However, the migrants instead get caught in a poverty trap.

A summary of the G-20

Here is a look back as to what the G-20 agreed upon in regards to poverty at the meetings completed last week in Pittsburgh. Anti-poverty advocates like that the G-20 continued on the pledges to poor nations made earlier this year in London. However, the same advocates say the G-20 could have done more.

From the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, writer Karamagi Rujumba tells us what happened.

The leaders of the world's largest economies at the G-20 summit yesterday took great steps to address some of the issues that affect the world's poorest.

They started from the moral and pragmatic premise that there can be no sustainable global economic recovery without strengthening the support systems of the most vulnerable.

But even as they commended the G-20 for its proclamation that "all parts of the globe participate in the [economic] recovery," the international advocates who lobbied the summit on behalf of the poor said the challenge of developing impoverished countries, particularly in Africa, remains the same.

Key among the challenges, they said, remains a need to infuse short-term capital and development aid toward agriculture and food security, access to clean and affordable energy and steps to slow the devastation caused by climate change.

"We were very encouraged that they reiterated their commitments from [the April G-20 summit in] London," said Tom Hart, director of U.S. government relations for the advocacy group ONE Campaign, which is committed to fighting extreme global poverty and disease.

The commitments include agreement on the need to help poor countries weather the tumultuous financial climate; reform the membership of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to include more of the poorest countries; carry forward the framework of the G-8 agreement on food security in Italy; and to deliver on the $100 billion the G-8 promised to loan developing countries.

In addition, the Canadian government also committed to provide $2.6 billion in capital to the African Development Bank to help it increase its lending by 75 percent.

Read more:

Jordon receives 411 million dollars in US aid

The United States has given 411 million dollars in aid money to it's ally Jordan. The US says this money will be used for reform efforts in the tiny kingdom.

From this AFP story hosted at Google News, we read more of what the aid money will be used for.

The grants included 261.4 million dollars in regular assistance and 150 million dollars in supplemental aid, bringing the total US economic aid to Jordan in 2009 to 513.5 million dollars, the US embassy said in a statement.

The money will help Jordan, which got similar funds last year, increase investment, create jobs, improve water management, boost political development and alleviate poverty.

Jordan is a major beneficiary of US aid having received around six billion dollars since 1952, the embassy said.

Washington state's Kids Count says 40,000 children slip into poverty

The annual Kids Count survey for Washington state says that 40,000 children will into poverty by 2010. The numbers will wipe out any gains the state has made in fighting poverty since 1975.

From The Spokesman Review, writer Shawn Vestal talks to a Kids Count director and also cites an additional survey.

When Lori Pfingst considers the statistics that will tell the tale of this recession, she isn’t thinking about GDP or unemployment.

She’s thinking about teen pregnancy. Low birthweight babies. WASL scores and college enrollments.

As the recession swells the ranks of the impoverished, it takes a particular, long-term toll on children, experts say. In Washington state alone, nearly 40,000 children are expected to slip into poverty by 2010; nationwide, an additional 800,000 kids entered poverty between 2007 and 2008, before the recession really hit.

And however quickly the economy begins its official recovery, the consequences for kids living in poverty are wide-ranging. Children who grow up in poor households tend to do worse in school and end up in trouble with the law. They’re less likely to go to college and more likely to get pregnant at a young age. They’re more likely to commit crimes or become victims of crimes, and more likely to grow up and live in poverty themselves.

“The impact of this really can’t be overstated,” said Pfingst, assistant director of Washington KidsCount, an annual statistical survey of children’s well-being. “When children are born into poverty, it affects every single outcome of their lives.”

A new report from Duke University asserts that the recession will undo decades of progress for children and families. Duke’s Child and Youth Well-Being Index measures a range of categories; it estimates that all progress made in “family economic well-being” since 1975 will be wiped out by this recession.

The Duke index predicts that families will suffer from the expected kinds of effects, such as joblessness, lower incomes or homelessness. But it also suggests that children will pay other prices, in greater obesity and health problems, because families will be more likely to rely on low-cost fast food; on social relationships and stability, as families are forced to move; and on increased behavioral problems and crime, with young people as both victims and perpetrators.

“The impact of the current recession on children will be dramatic,” the Duke report concludes.

Sharecropping keeps millions in poverty in Pakistan

A type of slavery exists in Pakistan that forces people into indebtedness to landowners. Millions of people in the country either rent or sharecrop land from wealthy landowners. These people are stuck doing this for generation after generation. Activists say that land reform needs to take place in the country to get themselves out of this practice that keeps millions form getting out of poverty.

From the IRIN, we read more about what the Anti-Slavery International is calling Pakistan to reform.
Dotted around Pakistan are vast estates run by feudal landlords who command enormous economic and political power, condemning their tenants to poverty, reform activists charge.

On some of these estates, debt bondage has forced 1.8 million people to work the land for no pay, generation after generation, according to the campaigning group Anti-Slavery International. On others, sharecropping systems are practised, under which landless tenants hand over between two-thirds and half of the crops they produce to the landowner.

"Without distributing land among tenants and landless peasants, there is no possibility of progress. The end of feudalism is a must for modernizing society. Until effective land reforms are carried out, poverty can never be eliminated," Farooq Tariq, secretary-general of the Kissan Rabita Committee, an alliance of 22 peasant organizations, told IRIN.

Unlike other countries in the region, including India, Pakistan did not carry out land reforms after 1947, and attempts in the 1950s and 1970s to reduce the size of land holdings had limited impact.

"Land reform has not taken place because the lawmakers in many cases themselves have large land holdings and will never want to transfer ownership to tenants. There will be no land reform until [the] people are in control of governance," Mubashir Hasan, a former finance minister and social activist, told IRIN.

About 2 percent of households control more than 45 percent of the land area. Powerful farmers have also taken advantage of government subsidies in water and agriculture, and benefited from technological improvements which have boosted yields, according to the World Bank.

Little progress

By 1977 the biggest estates had only surrendered about 520,000 hectares, and nearly 285,000 hectares had been redistributed among some 71,000 farmers. Around 3,529 landowners have 513,114 holdings of more than 40.5 hectares in irrigated areas, and 332,273 holdings of more than 40.5 hectares in non-irrigated areas, according to the government's annual Economic Survey.

"We manage to earn a little for ourselves by selling the surplus corn and wheat that we take from the land. It is hard work, but despite this we have not been able to escape poverty. None of my four sons is educated beyond the eighth grade. We needed their labour on the land," said Kareem Muhammad, a landless tenant on a farm near the town of Okara, about 110km south of Lahore.

In Punjab, both sharecropping and fixed-rent contracts - where a rent per acre farmed is paid to the landowner by tenants - are practised. In Sindh, about one third of the land falls under fixed-rent contracts and about two thirds of the land is sharecropped, government surveys show.


The sense of injustice created by the continued hold of feudal landlords and the poverty this gives rise to has been a key factor in rising social discontent - aided and abetted by militant groups.

"I am a landless farmer. Last year my teenage son was persuaded by members of an organization engaged in jihad [holy war] to come away with them. They told him it is better to wield a gun and learn to use it than eke out a miserable existence tilling land," Riazuddin Ahmed, from Vehari in southern Punjab, told IRIN.

"My son is only 17. He saw no hope ahead of him, and therefore went away with these people. His mother and I are distraught. But we believe he has gone to the northern areas and we have no means of finding him," he said.

Former finance minister Hassan blamed this on oppression and misery. "Today, governance has collapsed. Extremism has grown and weapons have proliferated," he said.

According to the World Bank, 33 percent of Pakistan's 162 million people live below the poverty line.

Farming contributes 21 percent to gross domestic product (GDP) and employs 44 percent of the workforce, according to the government's annual Economic Survey. Of the total land area of 80.4 million hectares, about 22 million are cultivated, according to official data. Nearly 65 percent of this cultivated area is in Punjab, about 25 percent in Sindh and 10 percent in the North West Frontier Province and Balochistan.

Pre-school education in Malawi

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in Africa. One of the greatest contributing factors to this is the lack of free education in the country. Even tougher is finding pre-school for children as it is something only the elite of the country can afford.

From this IPS article we see how school for children is considered a luxury in the country. Writer Claire Ngozo tells us just how few pre-schools there are in the country.

Less than a third of Malawi's children attend pre-school; the others will lag behind their peers for their entire school careers.

For most Malawian children, school only starts at the age of six - or sometimes even later - when they enter primary school. Pre-schools are mainly privately-owned and regarded as a luxury since most families cannot afford to pay the fees.

In Malawi, up to 60 percent of the population lives below the poverty line of $1 a day, according to United Nations statistics, while pre-school fees, for the few Malawians who earn a good income, range from $50 to $800 per term.

Not attending a pre-school means that most of the country’s children miss out on early learning and stimulation, according to the country’s secretary for gender, children and community development, Olive Chikankheni.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) indicates that early childhood development is critical for the formation of intelligence, personality and social behavior. The effects of neglect in these formative years can be cumulative and lasting.

"Most nursery schools are in urban areas and demand very high school fees, which most people cannot afford," confirmed Chikankheni. About 60 percent of Malawi's population live in the country’s rural areas, however, where poverty is rife.

Chikankheni says children who do not attend pre-school find it difficult to socialise with their peers and teachers when they start primary school. "These children take long to adapt to the school environment because they find that they are suddenly surrounded by strangers. As such, they fail to concentrate on their studies," said Chikankheni.

She says such children lag behind in their studies, and some perform below their potential throughout their school-life. 2008 government statistics indicate that not even a third of Malawi's children have access to pre-school education.

Limited access to pre-school is apparent even in urban areas, and within the country’s capital Lilongwe. Small children are seen playing unattended in township and suburb streets during the day instead of being in school. Many families rather spend the little money they have on food and other basic necessities, than on nursery school fees.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The film "The End of Poverty"

A new film opens in theaters November 13th that asks the question if the world has so much, why is there so much poverty? The film "The End of Poverty" is produced by Cinema Libre Studios. You can learn more about the film through it's very own blog. What follows in this post is a press release about the film, as well as the film's trailer.

After premiering at Critics’ Week during the Cannes Film Festival and subsequently screening at twenty-five international film festivals, a powerful new feature length documentary that has been impressing critics and economic justice activists worldwide, will be released nationwide starting in New York (at Village East Cinema) on November 13, 2009, followed by Los Angeles on November 25, 2009 (at Laemmle’s Sunset 5) with a platform release to follow.

Award-winning actor and activist, Martin Sheen, provides the narration for THE END OF POVERTY?, directed by Philippe Diaz, which connects the dots from colonialism to modern times in an indictment of the creation of the free market system, the system now blamed for the worst global recession in decades.  The film was produced in association with the New York based non-profit, Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, and will be distributed by Cinema Libre Studio.

“Most of the experts interviewed in the film had predicted the current economic crisis more than two years ago, when we started to film, explaining that a system based on a neoliberal policies and the fraudulent trickle-down theory can only collapse one day or another.” says filmmaker Diaz. “It is great that Michael Moore is attacking the bankers and the financial establishment in his new film, but the end of greed on Wall Street will not end poverty in the world. The problem is much deeper than that: it is centuries old. Our economic system since colonial times requires cheap labor and cheap resources from the global South to succeed and to finance our lifestyle in the North. Without changing that we will never alleviate poverty. “

Filmed in the slums of Africa to the barrios of Latin America, THE END OF POVERTY? explores how the true causes of poverty stem from actions taken during and since colonial times to perpetuate exploitation:  first by forcing people from their land and their access to natural resources, then through unfair trade, debt repayment and unjust taxes on labor and consumption.  This system was carefully built and maintained by free market policies, resource monopolies and structural adjustment programs by the World Bank, the IMF and other international financial institutions.

The documentary features:  Nobel prize winners in economics Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz; expert authors Susan George (“Another World Is Possible If”), Eric Toussaint (“The World Bank: A Never Ending Coup d’Etat”), John Perkins (“Confessions of an Economic Hit Man”), Chalmers Johnson (“Nemesis: The Last Days of the America Republic”), Brookings Institute fellow and author, William Easterly (“White Man’s Burden”); government ministers such as Bolivia’s Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera, and leaders of social movements in Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela, Kenya and Tanzania.

The film has since been embraced by activists and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) worldwide for its ‘direct talk’ about the role of debt, free trade, and neo-liberal policies and poverty.  Groups including: Amnesty UK, ATTAC (Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions to Aid Citizens), CADTM (Committee for the Abolition of the Third World Debt), Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP), InterAction, Jubilee Debt Campaign, Make Poverty History, Tax Justice Network, Transnational Institute, and the UN Millennium Campaign, shared the film with thousands of activists, educators and politicians during the “Week of Action Against Poverty” and during the Stand Up Take Action events this past October.


The End of Poverty? is a daring, thought-provoking and very timely documentary by award-winning filmmaker, Philippe Diaz, revealing that poverty is not an accident. It began with military conquest, slavery and colonization that resulted in the seizure of land, minerals and forced labor. Today, global poverty has reached new levels because of unfair debt, trade and tax policies -- in other words, wealthy countries exploiting the weaknesses of poor, developing countries such that today 20% of the planet's population uses 80% of its resources and consumes 30% more than the planet can regenerate.

Produced by Cinema Libre Studio with the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, 104mins, 2008, USA, documentary in English, Spanish, and French with English Subtitles.

More information as well as trailer, clips and images for download are available at

About Cinema Libre Studio:
Cinema Libre Studio has been a leader in the distribution social issue films that tackle timely issues.  The company is a haven for independent filmmakers offering one-stop shopping for production and distribution. Headquartered in Los Angeles, the company is best known for distributing social-issue documementaires that include: Outfoxed, Uncovered, WMD: Weapon’s of Mass Deception, Darfur Diaries, The Future of Food, A River of Waste, and Desert Bayou and The Beautiful Truth.  The company has recently released the films of French auteur Jean-Jacques Beineix and has partnered with Iranian director Masoud Jafari Jozani to bring the first film crew to shoot in US since the Iranian revolution. For more information, please visit
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Media Contact:                                                                                                                         
Cinema Libre Studio
8328 De Soto Avenue
Canoga Park, CA  91304                              
Ph: (818) 349-8822

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Tourists guided through the slums of Kenya

Some call exploitative, some say is inspires compassion. Despite the wide ranging opinions poverty tourism is a thriving business in Kenya.

A story in today's Guardian profiles a couple of the outfits that charge tourist to walk through the slums. Writer Xan Rice tagged along with one such tour.

The Dutch tourists came well prepared for the walking safari: strong shoes and sunscreen, backpacks and bottled water. Ahead lay an afternoon visiting one of Kenya's most recognisable sights – but one that rarely features in tourist brochures.

"It might seem a bit strange to come here," said Eric Schlangen, as the guide led him towards the sea of tin-roofed shacks that constitute Kibera, often described as one of the world's largest slums. "But I wanted to see how people live in this country, not just the animals."

Slum tourism is taking off in Kenya. Several local organisations have started selling guided trips through Kibera, a short drive from the luxury hotels that serve most foreign visitors in Nairobi.

For about £20, tourists are promised a glimpse into the lives of the hundreds of thousands of people crammed into tiny rooms along dirt paths littered with excrement-filled plastic bags known as "flying toilets", as one tour agency explains on its website.

While Kibera has long been an obligatory stop for foreign dignitaries and film crews shooting movies such as The Constant Gardener, its addition to the tourist circuit has stirred debate.

Critics say that unlike township tours in South Africa, which help tell the story of the apartheid struggle, Kibera's sole attraction is its open-sewer poverty – with residents on parade like animals in a zoo.

"You might argue that it is good for business and that might be truly so, but it smells," wrote one critic when one of the first tours began in 2007.

Unpleasant whiff aside, the tours have proved popular and at least two new operators have started up in recent months.

Martin Oduor guided the Dutch group for Kibera Tours, which promises that its profits will stay in the local community. He said that the aim was to humanise residents, not degrade them. "We want to demystify this place, that it is so dangerous and sad," said Oduor as he walked through the slum where he was born and still lives. "People are poor, but they have normal lives."

Friday, September 25, 2009

A new microcredit program in Malaysia

A commentator for the Malaysian website Sun2Surf introduces us to a new microcredit scheme. The new lending is a joint effort between the countries government and a University.

Commentator Himanshu Bhatt first tells the story of a poor single mother who may benefit from the program.

IN the course of my many field trips, I once found a destitute washerwoman living in a wooden shack in George Town while struggling to support her family on a meagre income of RM300 a month. At 42, the woman was gritty enough to try and surmount her problems, managing to make other paltry earnings by cleaning toilets and doing household chores for people.

I still remember how deeply, when I spoke to her, she expressed a yearning to be self-reliant with a job or business that could alleviate her painful situation, for the sake of her children.

People like this washerwoman now have an opportunity to work towards a more dignified life with the help of a microcredit aid scheme recently initiated in Penang. Dubbed the "People’s equality bridging project", the scheme was announced last month as a joint effort between the Penang Development Corporation (PDC) and Universiti Sains Malaysia.

Backed by a revolving fund, the scheme, which involves the issuance of very small loans, is for those at the bottom rungs of the income pyramid. These include people like single mothers and the disabled who rely on welfare aid, as well as petty traders scraping on an income of less than RM400 a month each for their families.

In Penang, the state government and PDC have each allocated RM1.5 million for the fund for a period of three years. The maximum loan allowed by a single applicant is RM5,000. The loans are scheduled to be distributed from Oct 1.

But it should be noted that the microcredit scheme is only meant to kick-start the improvement of the poor. Financial critics have warned of the danger of societies becoming over-dependent on such aid from the authorities. Another factor to be addressed is the importance of a monitoring mechanism to ensure that money that is given out is genuinely used for the purposes stated by the borrowers and their families.

At the heart of the matter, however, the microcredit scheme is still regarded as a practical and proven instrument for socio-economic growth. It provides a family with a springboard to have sustainable sources of household incomes, leading to fulfilment of basic needs like improvements in food and nutrition, and better quality housing.

For the hundreds of impoverished people, like the struggling washerwoman, it may be the most opportune avenue provided by the state that they can now resort to, in order to stand on their own feet, with the dignity they have long craved.

Malawi denies farm subsides to people who don't have voter cards

Malawi has denied farm subsidies to those who do not have voter registration cards. The government claims that it will help prevent fraud in the system. But advocates for the poor and small farmers says it hurt those who need the subsides the most.

From the IPS, writer Claire Ngozo gives us the details.

Gina Champiti, a widowed mother of eight children aged between three and 12 did not register to vote in the May presidential and parliamentary elections. This is going to cost her her livelihood.

Because she does not have a voter identity card, she will no longer be allowed to benefit from the country’s agricultural subsidy.

The fertiliser and seed subsidy programme, introduced in Malawi in 2004, has turned the country into a bread basket for the Southern African Development Community (SADC). The programme focuses on smallholder farmers who cannot afford production needs such as seed and fertiliser at normal market prices.

In the past people who were poor and vulnerable were identified by chiefs and district assemblies to benefit from the subsidy. But most beneficiaries were selling the coupons to the "not-so-poor", who would collect the subsidised products for use in their own gardens.

And now, post election, Andrew Daudi, principal secretary in Malawi's Ministry of Agriculture, announced that the 1.6 million farmers to benefit from this year's subsidy will be only those who registered to vote in the presidential elections this year.

"The decision is discriminatory and will make many people suffer. I do not see a connection between registering for elections and agricultural subsidies," said Champiti, whose eight children are aged between three and 12.

Malawi suffered serious food shortages in 2005, and up to five million people were hungry, but just three years later the country produced a bumper harvest attributed to the agricultural subsidy system.

The beneficiaries of the system receive two coupons – one allowing them to buy seed and the other fertiliser at a subsidised rate. Champiti was one of the 1.2 million farmers who benefited from the subsidy.

Champiti told IPS she was too poor to afford fertiliser. "I couldn’t take time out to go and register. I am always busy working to ensure that my children have food," Champiti said.

Daudi said the decision had been made to make sure the government stamped out the fraud that had rocked the programme in the past four years. "The voter identity cards are backed by appropriate data. The number and the name on the card will be used to verify the intended beneficiary," said Daudi. He said this process would help the government in ensure that the coupon was used by the targeted beneficiary only.

Some civil servants administering the programme would also sell the coupons to people not on the list of beneficiaries. Some politicians – especially those within the government – were abusing the system by acquiring coupons and distributing them to family and friends.

Malawi has no national identity card, so the voter registration card fills the gap, and helps stop the ghost beneficiaries, Daudi says.

Adoptions from Haiti slow to a trickle

A very good story this morning talks about the delays and challenges in seeking adoption. The story focuses on Haiti, where the adoption process has slowed to taking up to 2 years. Many factors are blamed for the delays, including political unrest in the nation, the food riots of last year, and some are even blaming UNICEF.

From the News Journal writer Kelly Cuculiansky writes about expectant adopter Robin Garland who has been waiting to adopt Jennifer Casanave from Haiti. If you really want your heart strings pulled click on link to the entire story.

Garland left the orphanage that day bound for home, not knowing what troubles would lie ahead for the girl’s country. Within three weeks of her visit, she opened an e-mail from the adoption agency, detailing the beginnings of food riots that broke out earlier this month.

Youngsters normally receive snacks and three meals a day, consisting of goat or beef, black beans and rice. During the riots, Cayo said the orphanage experienced a food shortage, but “managed.” Rice was up to $80 for a 100-pound bag, while a gallon of gasoline was selling for $6.

“Last week was the first time we have seen something like that happen (in Petionville),” Cayo said.

The town, considered a wealthy suburb where most of Haiti’s political and economic elite live, is in the hills east of the nation’s capital, Port-au-Prince. During the riots, Cayo said storefronts and car windows were smashed, tires were set ablaze and there were some roadblocks, “but not much damage.”


With the protests now mostly over, Lori Jones, executive director of the orphanage’s parent organization, A New Arrival Adoption Agency, hopes the recent ousting of the country’s prime minister will make a difference in the adoption system’s red tape.

“We’ve never had a failed adoption in Haiti,” she said from agency headquarters in Twin Bridges, Mont. “But about three years ago, the adoptions were processing in six to nine months.”

Now, it could take 16 to 24 months. According to the U.S. Department of State immigrant visa statistics, Haitian adoptions to U.S. families have been on a decline. In 2004, about 356 were adopted from Haiti. Last year, there were only 190.

“Haiti, by far, is one of the most difficult countries we’ve ever had to work in,” said Jones, whose agency has worked in 13 other countries.

It’s especially upsetting because nearly all the children in the orphanage have new moms and dads waiting for them in America, she said. The most recent adoption occurred in November.

Jones said most of the delays have to do with the nation’s political instability. The changes in government staff and officials tend to slow the processing of applications.

But Jones also said UNICEF could be affecting the pace of adoptions. She said UNICEF is expressing concern to government officials about the possibility of child trafficking and a high number of adoptions.

“I do believe that they have met and have tried to influence one side of a very complicated process,” Jones said.

Geoffrey Keele, a UNICEF spokesman, said while the agency makes it a priority to reunite children with their families in their country of origin, it has never opposed international adoptions.

“Our viewpoint is that families need to be supported so they can remain together as much as possible,” he said. “We just want to make sure that there is always a need for appropriate safeguards and transparency in these adoption processes.”

For Elizabeth Bartholet, a Harvard Law School professor who has written extensively about adoption, there is a disturbing trend among the declining inter-country adoptions over the last three years. She also blames UNICEF, saying the organization is “vigorously” opposing international adoption by encouraging countries to be more restrictive.

“They basically do not seem to see it as one of the appropriate solutions for children in need,” she said.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Some of the topics to come up during the G-20

From this NPR story, we find out some of the topics that will be discussed during the G-20 meetings today and tomorrow in Pittsburgh. Meetings begin tonight with a "working dinner" at the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.

The president is expected to tell fellow leaders that the old economic model of massive Chinese exports being snatched up by borrow-and-spend consumers in America and elsewhere is unsustainable. In a preview of that message at the United Nations on Wednesday, Obama said, "Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges."

The leaders of the Group of 20 nations are meeting for the third time since the financial crisis threw growth into reverse a year ago. When the body last met in April, many economies, including the United States, were under severe strain, and world leaders largely agreed on common remedies such as dramatically increased government spending to provide some stimulus.

With the crisis calming, summit leaders are set to discuss how to redirect their focus on reinvigorating their economies without repeating past mistakes.

European leaders are pressing for a deal on financial regulation reforms, but Obama's agenda is pressing for policies to even out the trade imbalances between China and the United States.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told reporters in New York on Thursday that Britain and the U.S. "would like to see China importing more from our countries."

Japan's new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, said his nation wants to be part of the discussion to "rein in the issues of poverty and economic disparity, which are difficult to coordinate by simply leaving them to market mechanisms."

A move to bring supermarkets to the inner-city

New York City has relaxed some regulations in the hopes of bringing more grocery stores that sell fresh food to the urban areas of the city. New York's planning commission passed the proposal that would give tax breaks and ease zoning rules.

From the New York Times, writer Diane Cardwell details the plan to bring fresh food to the inner-city.

Under a proposal the City Planning Commission unanimously approved on Wednesday, the city would offer zoning and tax incentives to spur the development of full-service grocery stores that devote a certain amount of space to fresh produce, meats, dairy and other perishables.

The plan — which has broad support among food policy experts, supermarket executives and City Council members, whose approval is needed — would permit developers to construct larger buildings than existing zoning would ordinarily allow, and give tax abatements and exemptions for approved stores in large swaths of northern Manhattan, central Brooklyn and the South Bronx, as well as downtown Jamaica in Queens.

“This is about being able to walk to get your groceries in those areas that are really, really underserved and basically have no place to buy fresh produce,” said Amanda M. Burden, the city planning commissioner. Residents in such areas, she said, have been spending “their grocery dollars at Duane Reade and CVS on chips and soda.”

The move comes as governments across the nation struggle to solve what public health advocates call an epidemic of obesity and diabetes. Schools have banned sugary drinks; lawmakers have helped urban farms spread like crabgrass on undeveloped lots; and cities like Los Angeles and Berkeley, Calif., have limited the concentration of fast-food restaurants in low-income areas.

But the New York proposal, adapted from a Pennsylvania program that provides grants and loans for supermarket construction, is unusual because it employs a mix of zoning and financial incentives to attract, rather than repel, a narrowly defined type of commercial enterprise.

“It is exciting to see that City Planning is taking an initiative to address food because the planning profession has really ignored the food system for the past 100 years,” said Nevin Cohen, an assistant professor of urban studies at the New School, pointing out that the Bloomberg administration’s elaborate blueprint to guide future development, PlaNYC 2030, barely mentions food.

The new zoning would break down some barriers that grocery stores face, said Ben Thomases, the city’s food policy coordinator, including competition from drugstores and other retailers that have higher profit margins than supermarkets do and can pay higher rents.

Under the proposed rules, a residential building with a fresh-food store could be up to 20,000 square feet larger than would normally be allowed, enabling developers to make more money by building more apartments.

Smaller stores in certain commercial and manufacturing districts would be exempt from a requirement that they provide customer parking. And in manufacturing districts, developers could build stores of up to 30,000 square feet — the current limit is 10,000 — without going through the city’s laborious and expensive land-use review process.

Festival food for prisoners in Cambodia

An annual festival in Cambodia will no longer have it's food go to waste thanks to the efforts of young woman.Thanks to the efforts of Sek Sarom, leftover rice cakes from the Pchum Ben festival will go to the prisoners of Battambang, Cambodia. Sarom determined the need for after seeing many malnourished prisoners through her volunteer work in the prisons.

From the Phnom Penh Post, writer Roth Meas tells us how Sarom got the effort started.

The morning sunshine splays over Pok Chhma primary school in Battambang, giving the orange robes of the monks who work there an especially vivid sheen. The festival of Pchum Ben has only just finished, but there will be no rest for these holy men.

The monks, along with many other volunteers, tend giant grills set up to dry thousands of rice cakes left over from the festival of the dead. These savoury treats will ultimately be distributed to prisons all over Battambang, where they will feed famished inmates.

Battambang’s Dhammayietra centre runs the initiative, which is the brainchild of one of its workers, 30-year-old Sek Sarom. She conceived the idea in 2000, while working as a volunteer language tutor in Battambang’s prisons.

“We taught languages to the prisoners, and in that time I observed that people did not have enough food in the prison. I know that after every Bonn Pchum Ben, there is a great deal of waste in terms of food at the pagodas, so we decided to begin collecting rice cakes for prisoners,” she said.
Sek Sarom felt there was not enough understanding from the wider community when it came to the inmates. This manifested itself in a great deal of hostility when she first floated the idea almost a decade ago – something for which she was not prepared.

A labour of empathy
“When I first sent letters to ask for rice cakes, even some monks complained and asked why we should help them. Prisoners are the bad guys; they attack, rape and even kill people, they said. Some monks even cursed me before handing over the rice cakes,” she said.
Yet Sek Sarom was determined to get her idea off the ground, with much of her resolve emanating from an empathy she was able to build for the inmates while teaching them.

“I think prisoners are human beings, just like me. I noticed that most of the prisoners are from poor backgrounds, and many of them fell into crime because of poverty and a lack of education,” she said.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The conditional cash transfers of Latin America

Conditional cash transfers have been applauded by many as a great way to help people in poverty. Instead of just giving people money because they are poor, the governments set conditions on receiving the money. For Mexico and Brazil, parents have to keep their children in school to receive the money. The idea has recently been tried in New York City.

From McClatchy Newspapers, writer Tyler Bridges introduces us to one of the program recipients in Brazil, Denise de Oliveira.

Unlike traditional government handouts, however, this popular anti-poverty program, which has spread throughout Latin America and even to New York City, requires that de Oliveira's children stay in school. The children also must have twice-a-year health exams and be vaccinated against diseases.

The program goes by different names — Bolsa Familia (Family Fund) in Brazil and Oportunidades (Opportunities) in Mexico, the most populous countries it's in — and has slightly different rules depending on the country. Analysts say it's become the most successful anti-poverty program in years because it requires the poor to do something meaningful and measurable in exchange for government charity.

"I have worked in this field for 30 years in every region of the world," said Helena Uribe, a senior anti-poverty specialist at the World Bank in Washington. "This is the one (program) that works. It has showed that you can reach poor people today and position them to improve opportunities over a lifetime."

"The programs are popular because they have quick impacts that are measurable," said Amanda Glassman, a specialist in the program at the Inter-American Development Bank. "Well-child visits go up. Vaccination rates go up. School attendance goes up. Kids are taller for their age, even if they've been in the program for only a year."

Fears that the program would encourage families to have more children, stay at home rather than work to collect benefits or become playthings of patronage-happy politicians have proved to be unfounded, Glassman added.

(Sergei) Soares, who calls the program a huge success, said it had done little to reduce poverty in Brazil because its greatest impact had been keeping the poorest of the poor alive and making their lives somewhat more bearable. In other words, they've moved up from the bottom rung, but remain poor.

The program also has yet to lift classroom test scores in Mexico, the one country where data are available. It's barely raised school enrollment in urban areas throughout the region because most children already were in school.

Comment: G-20 still in crisis mode

Even though the economies of the developed world beginning to recover from the global recession, the G-20 however will still be in crisis mode. The G-20 meetings are about to begin in Pittsburgh, and the focus should be on the poor of the under-developed world still suffering from the global recession.

From Global Post, commentator Thomas Mucha desctibes some of the effects that the poor are still feeling from the increasingly connected world economy.

The question now is who will suffer the most from a crisis that swept from the casino canyons of Wall Street, to the smoke-choked factories of Guangdong, to the snowy peaks of the Andes. And, more importantly, what can be done about it?

We heard one troubling hint last week from World Bank president Robert Zoellick: the poor. The World Bank predicts an additional 89 million people will be thrown into extreme poverty by the end of next year, defined as those subsisting on less than $1.25 a day. “The poor and most vulnerable are at greatest risk from economic shocks — families are pushed into poverty, health conditions deteriorate, school attendance declines and progress in other critical areas is stalled or reversed," Zoelick said upon release of the Sept. 16 report, which focused on the world's 43 poorest nations.

So why does this matter, you ask?

While low-income countries contribute less in terms of output than G20 nations, they play an increasingly important role in the global economy. And most have been severely damaged by the darkness of the past 12 months, as GlobalPost coverage of the meltdown has consistently shown.

For starters, a drop in global trade is very bad news for countries that supply the raw materials and relatively cheap labor that go into making stuff. The World Bank says global export demand will drop as much as 10 percent this year. That's a staggering amount that has already triggered nightmarish consequences, from the 20 million Chinese migrant workers who lost their jobs last year, to the thousands of Mexican and Canadian auto workers laid off amid Detroit's collapse, to the army of South African and Zambian miners thrown out of work when global demand for copper, platinum and other industrial metals dried up.

Beyond trade there's private investment — money that goes to finance schools, hospitals, roads and other infrastructure projects critical to developing economies. This too, is way down amid the crisis: the World Bank estimates that net private capital flows to the world's poorest countries will drop to $13 billion this year, or less than half the amount in 2007 as private investors keep more money in their pockets.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A real doom and gloom report on population growth

The Green Revolution of the 1960s started by Dr. Norman Bourlag stopped any talk of population growth. But the prospect of climate change has many scholars thinking about population again.

A conference of experts conclude that the world's population could grow to 11 billion by 2050, and that would make life unsustainable on Earth. The conference warns that it could doom entire nations to poverty, and there would be no way to feed everyone. The experts say that family planning and contraceptive programs need to be put in place.

From Yahoo News, this AFP story from Marlowe Hood gives us more on what is contained in the report.

The researchers said that with one and a half million more humans climbing aboard the planet every week, a recipe is looming for ecological overload, famine and broken states.

"Continued rapid population growth in many of the least developed countries could lead to hunger, a failure of education and conflict," said Malcolm Potts at the University of California in Berkeley, which hosted the conference in February.

The papers, authored by 42 specialists in environmental science, economics and demography, are published by the Royal Society, Britain's de-facto academy of sciences.

"There is no doubt that the current rate of human population growth is unsustainable," summarised Roger Short, a professor at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

"The inexorable increase in human numbers is exhausting conventional energy supplies, accelerating environmental pollution and global warming and providing an increasing number of failed states where civil unrest prevails."

Ninety-eight percent of the expected population growth will occur in developing countries, especially in Africa, where numbers are set to double to almost two billion by 2050.

"How Niger is going to feed a population growing from 11 million today to 50 million in 2050 in a semi-arid country that may be facing adverse climate (change) is unclear," said Adair Turner, a member of Britain's House of Lords.

Yohannes nominated for Millennium Challenge Corp

The Obama administration has announced the next head of the Millennium Challenge Corp. Denver area banker Daniel Yohannes has been tapped to head the federal agency that works with poor nations.

From the Denver Business Journal, writer Mark Harden gives us more of Yohannes' background.

The MCC works with developing countries to promote economic growth and reduce poverty. If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Yohannes will succeed John Danilovich, who resigned as the agency's CEO; Darius Mans has been acting CEO.

Yohannes is president and CEO of M&R Investments, a private investment firm that focuses on the clean-energy sector.

He was an executive of Colorado National Bank and its successor, U.S. Bank, from 1992 to 2003, including a stint as CEO of U.S. Bank's Colorado division. Previously he was an executive for Security Pacific Bank, now part of Bank of America.

Yohannes, a native of Ethiopia, was a key organizer of local efforts to host the 1997 "Summit of the Eight" conference of world leaders in Denver.

He served as co-leader of Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter's transition team in the months before Ritter took office in 2007 and has since been a member of the governor's Jobs Cabinet.

Allan Jury of the World Food Programme on H.R. 2817

Bill H. R. 2817 is a measure being considered in Congress to give more money and support to the World Food Programme. Recently the WFP has had to make some cutbacks in the emergency feeding programs and school feeding programs for children in the under-developed world.

The WFP has been asking for mory money from governments around the world, but support has been slow due to the global recession. The WFP hopes that the passage of H.R. 2817 will bring in more from the US.

We found this interview with Alan Jury of the WFP in the American Chronicle that asks him about the bill and why the WFP needs more from the US.

U.S. leadership is needed to rally the world in the struggle to defeat hunger. There is legislation in Congress titled the Roadmap to End Global Hunger (H.R. 2817) that would craft the U.S. response to the crisis. Allan Jury, director of WFP US relations, recently discussed the Roadmap to End Global Hunger legislation.

More than 1 billion people now suffer from chronic hunger worldwide. How important is it for the U.S. Congress to act on the Roadmap to End Global Hunger legislation?

The world has made great strides against hunger and poverty in recent decades: starting in the 1960s, the percentage of chronically hungry people declined from 37 percent of the world's population to about 13 percent today. Tragically, the twin catastrophes of the global food and financial crises are starting to reverse these hard-won gains, producing an unprecedented rise in absolute numbers of the hungry.

Much of the progress the world has made is due in no small part to US foreign assistance and the generosity of American citizens. The Roadmap builds on this legacy of US leadership in helping the world's hungry poor to construct a broad framework of legislative actions that encompasses the spectrum of anti-hunger efforts - from food and interventions to agricultural programs that help small-scale farmers. The Roadmap legislation has bipartisan sponsorship from two of the leading Congressional voices in the fight against hunger - Rep. James McGovern and Rep. Jo Ann Emerson. The legislation is based on a report authored by six of the leading U.S. international humanitarian organizations which has been endorsed by more than 30 aid agencies.

We believe that this vision of invigorated US global leadership on hunger is vital not only for moral and humanitarian reasons, but for social, economic and political security in the longer term.

How would the Roadmap legislation change the way the international community works with the United States Government on fighting global hunger?

The legislation would require a comprehensive US strategy to fighting hunger that would increase investments in four areas - emergency food assistance, food safety nets, nutrition and agricultural development.

Increased investments in all four of these areas is essential to making a significant impact in reducing hunger. The roadmap highlights the need to broaden the range of activities supported by the US Government to support hunger reduction to complement essential existing food aid and agricultural development programs. More use of cash for emergency responses such as local and regional purchase and food vouchers; expansion of national food safety nets; focused interventions on prenatal and children under 2 nutritional needs, and innovative technical assistance programs to increase agricultural development are supported by the roadmap.

The Roadmap would also establish a US government coordination structure that would support effective implementation of a comprehensive US strategy on international hunger reduction. This would provide the policy, institutional, and program framework to secure the US role as the global leader in building an international coalition to fight hunger.

MIT studies poke holes in microcredit theory

Two new studies from MIT's Jameel Poverty Action Lab have evidence that calls into doubt microcredit's effectiveness in easing poverty.

The authors of the two studies say that microcredit does help the profit margins of micro-businesses that receives the loans, but that does not translate into better quality of life for the borrowers. The studies say that the borrowers do not enjoy greater health, income or more education.

Microcredit's defenders say that the studies have too short of time frame to prove anything. The studies were conducted over a two year period. Microcredit apologists say that the true effects of the loans are over a longer period of time.

From the Boston Globe, reporter Drake Bennett tells us how the studies were conducted.

At least one author of each of the papers is affiliated with MIT’s Poverty Action Lab, a research center that brings together economists with a determinedly experimental bent. In particular, its researchers all share a belief in randomized controlled trials - the same sort of test that new drugs have to undergo - as a tool for evaluating poverty alleviation measures.

Karlan and his co-author, Jonathan Zinman, an associate economics professor at Dartmouth, looked at a bank in the Philippines that offered microloans. They created their controlled experiment by altering the algorithm the bank used to evaluate creditworthiness so that some borderline applicants were randomly denied loans while other otherwise identical applicants had loans approved. The researchers then followed up with the borrowers and nonborrowers to see what difference the loan had made.

The answer was not much. Neither household income nor spending rose for those who got microloans. And borrowers who did put the money into their businesses - instead of using it, as many did, for household expenses - actually shrank rather than grew their businesses. Karlan and Zinman suggest that this might be because the business owners were taking advantage of the loan to fire unproductive workers to whom they owed financial favors, and those firings seemed to explain the very small gains in profit Karlan and Zinman found. In addition, the gains accrued only to male entrepreneurs, not the women usually targeted by microcredit programs.

The second study, co-authored by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, economics professors at MIT, along with Rachel Glennerster, executive director of the Poverty Action Lab, and an MIT economics doctoral student named Cynthia Kinnan, found a slightly larger impact, though a selective one. Working with a microcredit bank in India that was looking to expand in the city of Hyderabad, the researchers did find some small positive effects. Borrowers who already had a business did see some increase in profit. Households without businesses that the researchers judged more predisposed to start one were found to cut back on spending, suggesting they were saving to augment their loan for a capital business expense like a pushcart or a sewing machine. The researchers also found small but encouraging shifts in household spending across the board, with less money spent on “temptation goods” like alcohol, tobacco, and gambling.

Still, overall household spending - a key indicator of financial well-being - stayed about the same. And the researchers found no effect on children’s health or education levels, and the women in the borrower homes were no more likely to play a role in household decisions than those in the control group.

To Duflo, this only seems disappointing because expectations for microcredit are so high.

“I don’t see this as a negative finding,” she says. When asked why she thinks microcredit didn’t boost health and education outcomes, she says, “I would really ask the question, ‘Why did we expect all these things to happen?’ If you give people access to a financial instrument, it’s like any other instrument. It’s useful, but it’s not like the miracle drug to end poverty.”

We take the side of microcredit in this debate. Microcredit can help the people who receive the loans and it's effects only will accumulate for the next generation and the next. The loan reciepient will be able to make enough margin from their micro-business to keep their children in school. The children will in turn receive a better education and will be able to earn more money.

Besides, the continued growth of microcredit through the global recession is proof enough.

Ending poverty by investing in girls

Women are more likely than men to spend their money on their families. A new study from Australia puts some facts behind this statement.

The report says investing in girls is the best way to lift families out of poverty. The study from Plan International is urging Australian companies with interests overseas to make sure they have equal hiring practices for women.

From the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, we read more about the study of selfless women. you can download an mp3 of the radio story from here.

The report by Plan International Australia shows young women are the first to lose their jobs or have their education stopped so they can be placed in domestic work during an economic crisis.

Plan has been studying 140 girls since birth. The girls come from nine countries across the developing world.

Plan chief executive Ian Wishart says the report, called Because I am a Girl, shows many countries still have the attitude that girls are not as important as boys.

"The situation for girls starts pretty bleak. At least 100 million girls are missing from the world population statistics because of female foeticide," he said.

"In other words, gender-biased abortions are taking place when people learn that it's a girl. Then when a girl is born, many girls already get stripped of what we call economic assets. They won't inherit anything from their family just simply because they're a girl."

Mr Wishart says recent research by the World Bank shows economic growth is boosted by the number of girls who complete their secondary education and go on to earn higher wages.

"The stats show that the extra year of study of school results in 10 to 20 per cent higher income," he said.

"If you start multiplying that through five or six years of high school, it has a dramatic effect.

"And the other thing that happens is a young women who gets a fair job with a decent wage will invest 90 per cent of that in her family and children, compared to just 30 or 40 per cent for men, I'm afraid.

"What that results in is her children will almost certainly be well educated and live outside of poverty."

But Mr Wishart says it is hard for girls and women in developing countries to get an education and then employment.

"The difficulty is the pathway for girls through life is littered with what I call trapdoors to fall down; entry to primary school denied; pulled out of high school for an early marriage and perhaps an early pregnancy; the dangers of HIV/AIDS," he said.

"And even if you got through all of that maze, discrimination in actually the awarding of jobs. A lot of this needs to be changed for the potential of young women to be released and realised by national economies.

"Unfortunately there's still 20 per cent of girls who are not entering primary school. So it's not about discriminating against boys or neglecting boys, it's about bringing girls up to the same level, giving them an equal chance to participate in the national and global economy."

Another state with higher poverty; Rhode Island

After the US Census Bureau released the poverty figures last week, we are see stories for individual states that further break down the numbers.

In an area of the US that has very little poverty, the state of Rhode Island has seen the biggest increase in the past year. The tiny state now has more poverty than any other in the New England region. The increase is blamed on the global recession and the cuts in the number of jobs.

From the Providence Journal, writer Paul Edward Parker has this look at the census numbers.

From 2007 to 2008, Rhode Island displaced Massachusetts as the New England state with the highest poverty rate. The state also leap-frogged past Maine and Vermont in the process, going from fourth highest to highest in the six-state region.

Even so, Rhode Island didn't fare too badly compared to the national average because the New England had some of the lowest poverty rates in the country. New Hampshire had the lowest rate nationally, at 7.0 percent.

Connecticut was third, with 8.1 percent, and Vermont sixth, with 9.0 percent. Rhode Island's 12.7 percent rate tied it with Kansas for 26th lowest in the nation, and the state had less poverty than the country as a whole, which measured 13.2 percent.

"So many people have lost their jobs," said Linda Katz, policy director, the Poverty Institute at the Rhode Island College School of Social Work. " The increase in poverty is related to the fact that people have lost their jobs and their source of income."

Katz noted that Rhode Island's unemployment rate jumped more than two percentage points from July 2007 to July 2008. Revised numbers from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics show the rate increased during that period from 5.2 percent to 7.9 percent.

"Our concern, of course, is going forward," she said. "We're very concerned about what the data in 2009 is going to show because we've fallen much deeper into economic hardship."

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Quarter of West Virginians in poverty

A new report by a state budget think tank says that quarter of West Virginians live in poverty. The study says that the effects of poverty are even worse on the state's children. Every time that state's poverty percentage climbs just one percent, it puts another 8,000 children in poverty.

From The Charleston Gazette, Alison Knezevich has this analysis of the report.

The recession could increase the number of children living below the poverty line by more than a third, to 34 percent, say analysts at the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy. Economists define the poverty line as a household income of $21,910 or less for a family of four.

On Thursday, the U.S. Census Bureau released data showing that 13.2 percent of Americans lived in poverty in 2008 -- the most since 1997. State and local figures are set to come out Sept. 22.

But "this data that's coming out ... is not going to really reflect the reality of West Virginia today," said Paul Miller, a policy analyst at the center. "The worst is still on the horizon for West Virginia's children."

That's because West Virginia entered the recession later than most states, he said. The U.S. Census poverty rates are based on data from last year -- when only 4.5 percent of West Virginians were unemployed. This July, the state's unemployment rate was 8.6 percent, according to Workforce West Virginia's latest data.

The state's poverty rates were high even before the recession hit. About one in five West Virginians lived below the poverty line, and one in four children did, Miller said.

Applications for public assistance are also growing at a staggering rate as more West Virginians turn to programs like the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps.

Between November 2008 and June 2009, food-stamp caseloads grew 20 percent, according to data the state Department of Health and Human Resources gave to Miller. In the 22 months before that, cases had grown only 6 percent.

Helping the world's poor to save money

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has issued a new grant that will help develop savings for the world's poor. The grant is 35 million dollars, and will go to help develop saving systems in the third world.

Those who are in poverty in the under-developed world have never had safe places to save their money. While microcredit has done a good job in extending credit to the poorest, savings services has been lagging.

From ABC News, this Associated Press story talks to an organization who will receive some of the grant to spur new ideas for extending savings accounts to the world's poor.

The Gates Foundation is providing an infusion of cash to facilitate the sharing of ideas among the innovators and to make sure the new systems offer a wide range of financial services.

Alfred Hannig, executive director of the Alliance for Financial Inclusion, said banking innovation is happening in developing countries without the foundation's help, but the money will help speed implementation.

The alliance has a goal of reaching 50 million of the world's "unbanked" by 2012.

In a phone call from Nairobi, Kenya, where the alliance was hosting a meeting for representatives of 42 countries, Hannig said that plans are being made for a delegation from Kenya to go to Brazil to learn about that country's efforts to bring banking services to small villages along the Amazon River.

"People were waiting for this," said Hannig, who works for the German Technical Corporation and is based in Thailand. "This was very timely. They have been waiting for such a mechanism for such a long time."

Hannig said 60 percent of the money from the Gates Foundation will be redistributed in smaller grants to groups like the delegation from Kenya to Brazil, and the Bank of Thailand, which wants to measure banking access around the world through a survey.