Saturday, October 31, 2009

City council members of Boulder meet with the homeless

A forum at a homeless shelter invited city council members of Boulder, Colorado to hear their concerns. Only four of the 13 council members showed up.

Homeless people in Boulder and many parts of the U.S. don't have enough shelter beds available to them. So when they have to sleep outside instead, they often get ticketed or arrested for "camping".

From the Boulder Daily Camera, writer Erica Meltzer details the meeting.

Four of the 13 Boulder City Council candidates -- businessman and endurance athlete Barry Siff, artist and former university professor Jyotsna Raj, Landmarks Board chairman and attorney Tim Plass, and care provider and activist Rob Smoke -- attended the forum at the Carriage House Community Table. Carriage House provides a case manager, access to showers, laundry and computers, and a daytime shelter in downtown Boulder.

Homeless people and their advocates expressed frustration and, at times, flashes of anger over what they see as ignorance, indifference and even hostility from other segments of Boulder society.

On the one hand, there aren't enough shelter beds to accommodate all the homeless in Boulder. On the other hand, sleeping outside is illegal, and homeless people can be ticketed, fined and sentenced to community service for camping.

One man told of being issued a ticket for "camping" because he was sitting on a bench under a tree. Another woman told of being made to wait outside in the snow for over an hour, while other bus passengers without the large backpack that marked her as homeless got to wait inside the bus station.

Case manager Heather Pauze has seen 26 deaths among her clients over the last 18 months. A homeless man was found dead near Walnut and Ninth streets on Wednesday morning. Though the cause of death has not been determined, police believe the weather may have been a factor.

The homeless people at the meeting urged the city to place a moratorium on enforcement of the no-camping rules while changes to the law are considered; provide a central place for people to store belongings, shower and change clothes; and allow the construction of cheap, single-resident housing.

Another typhoon hits the Philippines

Another typhoon has hit the Philippines, the fourth one in a month. The latest named Typhoon Mirinae has killed five people and swept away hundreds of homes. This typhoon strikes just when people who were displaced earlier were considering returning home.

From Relief Web, this Deutsche Presse Agentur story gives us the details of the latest storm.

Hundreds of houses in shore areas were swept away by huge waves when Typhoon Mirinae hit land late Friday in Quezon province, 120 kilometres south-east of Manila.

An 8-year-old girl and a 78-year-old woman drowned before dawn on Saturday when a river suddenly rose in Pagsanjan town in Laguna province, 55 kilometres south of Manila, according to town Mayor Emilio Ramon Ejercito III.

He blamed the sudden rise of the river on a release by a nearby dam of a hydroelectric power plant.

Two more people were killed in Daet town in Camarines Norte province, while one drowned in Pililia town in Rizal province.

Four people were missing, including a man and his 3-year-old son whose car fell into a river after a bridge collapsed in Batangas City.

Lieutenant Colonel Ernesto Torres, spokesman of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), said several roads in the eastern provinces of Laguna, Rizal, Quezon and Camarines Norte were impassable due to landslides.

He added that several bridges collapsed or were swept away by floodwaters.

Torres said Mirinae caused widespread power outages in the eastern provinces of Camarines Norte, Quezon, Rizal, Cavite, Batangas and the suburbs of Manila.

A photographer returns to help Myanmar refugees

A former resident of Ashland, Oregon spends his days helping the refugees of the Thailand-Myanmar border. Fred Stockwell is a professional photographer and once took photos of the refugee camp for a non-governmental organization. Stockwell was so touched by the people's predicament that he left America to spend time helping them.

From the Ashland Daily Tidings, writer Chris Honoré tells Stockell's story.

It was in 2007 that Stockwell sold everything, left Ashland, and returned to Mae Sot, a city he had discovered by chance while on a photographic assignment for a non-governmental organization years earlier. And it was on that initial trip that he discovered the people of the Mae Sot dump. He vowed to return and do what he could.

But where and how to begin? He knew he was a stranger in a strange land, could not speak Thai or Burmese, and had only limited resources. It was an impulse of generosity, tempered by years of world travel.

"My first trips there (to the dump) were physically and emotionally overwhelming," Stockwell wrote in an e-mail. "The stench, poverty, and general living conditions had more impact on me than anything I had previously experienced.

"I wanted to do something, but didn't know what to do. I was faced with the common dilemma: Do I give a fish so they can eat for a day? Or do I teach them to fish, so they can live forever?"

Stockwell soon noticed that the children were walking barefooted among rats and snakes and shards of glass and metal, their feet cut, the wounds infected, open sores weeping.

"They know how to fish," he realized. "They just don't have the right equipment."

And so he decided that what the children needed were shoes, more specifically rubber boots which he found at a local store. He began making frequent trips to the dump with as many boots as he could carry. He realized he needed help and found people willing to assist, some from as far away as Ashland.

Rubber boots evolved into health care. Not only was the dump hazardous — a petri dish of hepatitis, cholera, typhoid fever, skin diseases and asthma — but the people there also suffered from malaria and dengue fever and intestinal parasites, all causing chronic illnesses and death. Malaria can be prevented by something as simple and effective as mosquito netting. Stockwell found the nets and as the weather turned cool, he located blankets as well.

Women grow 80% of the food in Africa

Usually, the image of a farmer in Africa is of a male. However, women are responsible for 80% of Africa's food production.

From All Africa we read this interview with Annina Lubbock of the International Fund for Agricultural Development. Lubbuck is asked about gender integration efforts in developing Africa's agriculture.

Can you describe what Ifad's gender mainstreaming efforts entail?

I would say our approach to gender has two prongs. We use gender mainstreaming but we consider that gender mainstreaming is an instrument towards an end; it is not an end unto itself. So that means giving attention to how gender is addressed in all aspects of project design, from the identification of the activities, to monitoring and evaluation of them, to the management arrangements. It also means designing and implementing specific actions that will actually empower women, especially rural women. Our main entry point for improving the status of women is their economic empowerment. We think that's a precondition to all the rest.

It's also improving women's decision-making and to improve their overall wellbeing. Their labor load continues to be so high and services so poor in rural areas they will actually be constrained from engaging in more productive activities and income generating activities.

To what extent has gender mainstreaming been successful so far?

We did a survey of the performance of projects on gender and what we found is where the projects are having greatest is success is in building women's capacity and knowledge. After that definitely the improvement of women's income earning capacity. [It has been] less successful in improving women's decision making role at the community level because here you have a whole series of cultural restraints to deal with, which is stronger in some areas than others. Of course there are some [communities] which are very conservative where it's not really recognized that women can have a public role. The public space is supposed to be a man's space.

Interestingly, what we found is projects really need to do more to reduce women's workload. Very often women have been given more opportunities, they're earning more income, they're producing more, they're participating more, but their workload has increased. Sometimes they accept that because in exchange for that they have a higher status, they're more listened to in the communities and they've got more income to spend for their families.

What are the greatest obstacles to achieving household food security in Africa?

The obstacles are multiple - from environmental degradation, climate change, population pressure, governance, international food prices and so on. But I would say one of the key elements is precisely the lack of recognition of the role that women have in producing food, but also in generating the income with which they buy food. There is so much evidence that women use their income differently than men. They tend to use it for the family and they are the ones who buy the food. Not recognizing this means that women have not received targeted support, because women have specific roles and constraints so the types of services they get have to be differentiated. This is a major stumbling block, especially in Africa.

Just how important women are to food production in Africa?

Women's labor is behind 80 percent of the food production in Africa, which is extremely high. It's higher than in any other region in the world and yet women are doing all of this with a hand tied behind their back. They have the same problems that all smallholder farmers have in terms of access to markets, to inputs, to credit, but then on top of that they have their own specific constraints as women.

[This] means they have little time to juggle between their productive and reproductive roles, they have less income to finance except microfinance, they don't have access to banks because of lack of collateral, less access to land, less access to services. Extension contacts are very limited and according to the [Food and Agriculture Organization] only five percent of extension contacts worldwide are with women farmers. Only 15 percent of extension workers are women, and in some contexts this is a determining factor in actually reaching women.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Aid workers under increased risk

In the past year, 122 aid workers have died worldwide. The people at the front lines of giving food and comfort are often at great danger, and that danger has only increased in recent years.

From the Voice of America, writer Rachel Smalley gives us this examination on why aid workers are targeted.

Aid workers around the world often find themselves at risk, despite their efforts to remain above the conflict. Last year some 260 humanitarian workers suffered attacks -- 122 died. Taliban militants killed nine people, including at least six U.N. workers, in an attack on an international guesthouse in Kabul October 28.

Heavily armed militants stormed this Kabul guest-house used by several international organizations, including the United Nations. And the Taliban warned of more bloodshed in the lead up to the second round of voting in the Afghan elections.
UN High Commission for Refugees spokesman Peter Kessler says there is great concern about the increasing number of attacks on aid workers. "They often realize that there's the U.N., there's the aid community, they are symbols of what 'I feel is wrong with this situation," he states, "They are symbols of western involvement. I'll target them.'"

UNHCR has lost three aid workers in Pakistan this year -- including a Serbian national who died in the bombing of a luxury hotel in Peshawar in June.

The attack on the guest house in Kabul contributes to a grim year in the region for the UN. Five aid workers died in Pakistan in early October in a bombing of the World Food Program's offices in Islamabad.

World Food Program senior spokeswoman Caroline Hurford states, "We've lost staff in Somalia, we've now lost staff in Pakistan, we've had injuries elsewhere, so we're very much aware of this dilemma, because our mandate is to try to get out to some of the most remote and dangerous regions where people really need our help," she said.

Some charities are replacing international aid workers with local nationals in an effort to reduce attacks. Heather Hughes is a security adviser with the charity group, Oxfam. "Our ability to be out in the countryside and be outside of Kabul has significantly decreased. We are much less able to travel freely than we were even two years ago," Hughes said.

UNHCR officials say their mandate is unchanged, but how the agency operates in conflict zones is evolving.

"Clearly we have to ensure that while we don't scale back the aid effort, in situations that are tenuous only the most vitally needed staff -- the staff doing the most important work -- are exposed to threats," Kessler asserts.

Aid officials say they their agencies are impartial, operating independently of any military force. But some agencies do work in partnership with armed forces -- the Netherlands and NATO provided naval escorts to secure the World Food Program's route into Somalia late last year.

Caroline Hurford says it was a matter of life or death for millions of Somalis, "Of course it's not necessarily a good thing to be accompanied by the military but if it's a question or getting food there or not, and helping out the hungry -- or not -- then I think it's worthwhile," she adds.

Once on dry land, the risk to humanitarians is great. Reaching the displaced and the desperate in Somalia means travelling through hostile, unstable regions.

But even when an aid agency operates in a low visibility capacity, Oxfam's Heather Hughes says the nature of humanitarian work means safety can never be guaranteed.

"We like to be able to identify what the risks are," Hughes says, "and then manage them to an extent that that's possible, but in any location where we work, we can't exclude risk altogether."

Whether it's in Afghanistan, Somalia or Sudan where terrorists often target aid workers, or more recently in Pakistan.

Zambia government disbands anti-corruption task force

The government of Zambia has disbanded an anti-corruption task force saying it's was too expensive to maintain.

Experts say that scrapping the anti-corruption efforts will cost the country in aid. Already, 33 million dollars have been withheld from donors. The withholding stems from charges of 5 million dollars being stolen from the health department by government officials.

From Reuters, we read more about the strange decision from Zambia.

Vice President George Kunda said late on Thursday the government would consolidate operations of the main Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) after disbanding the task force, which had become expensive to finance.

"The cabinet agreed on Wednesday that the task force on corruption would be transformed into a department in the ACC and all its cases will be taken over by the commission," Kunda said.

Some Western donors have withheld $33 million in aid to the Health Ministry after prosecutors said some senior officials had stolen $5 million from the health budget.

Lusaka professor of economics Oliver Saasa said the move would hurt Zambia's chances for getting more aid.

"It is a double edged sword with long-term effects of how much money donors will give Zambia, if we are seen to backtrack in the fight against corruption," Saasa told Reuters.

The anti-corruption task force was formed by the late president Levy Mwanawasa to investigate graft during the administration of former president Frederick Chiluba, which ended in 2001 after he served two five-year terms.

Many critics of the China-Congo deal

China and Congo recently inked a deal that will allow China to mine copper out of the country. In exchange, China agrees to pay for and build 4,000 kilometers of roadway and 2,000 kilometers of railway.

The agreement has many critics, most of all the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, also many anti-corruption advocates are opposed to the deal.

To hear more of the critics side, we go to this analysis from reporter Stephanie Nieuwoudt of the IPS.

As part of the Sicomines deal, China will build a road network stretching for 4,000 km and a railway system spanning 3,200 km. This is a much needed development in a country the size of Western Europe and the second largest in Africa but with only 200 km of tarred road.

The building of a transport network is of strategic importance to the Chinese. It will make it easy to transport the copper (China has a concession to extract 10,6 million tons) and cobalt (626,619 tons) from mines in the Katanga region. Katanga province is part of the so-called Copperbelt and reaches from Angola through the DRC to Zambia.

The Sicomines agreement pulls in three Chinese companies: the China Railway Group, Sinohydro Corporation and the Metallurgical Group Corporation. These companies will have a controlling interest of 68 percent. The Congolese parastatal Gecamines has a 32 percent interest.

"It remains to be seen to what extent the agreement will bear fruit," Johanna Jansson, a researcher at the Centre for Chinese Studies at the University of Stellenbosch near Cape Town, told IPS in an interview. "Very few of the projects agreed upon have as yet been implemented."

The deal has not gone down well amongst critics. Jansson pointed out that one of the major contentious issues was the demand by the Chinese that the Congolese state guarantee the repayment of infrastructure investments, should the profits from the mining project not be sufficient.

Jansson said that this issue was resolved in August this year. This happened only because the International Monetary Fund indicated that it was not willing to continue a three year poverty reduction and growth programme in the DRC if the latter's government was potentially beholden to China in terms of debt.

There has also been criticism from those who fear that the government has, through this deal, found a way to line the pockets of government officials. In general, "African governments have to be careful of bilateral agreements which are only beneficial to a small number of people in the short term," Dr Rita Cooma, CEO of a New York-based management consulting firm, told IPS at the recent China-Africa Business Summit.

Jansson also raised the issue of Congolese negotiators having the necessary capacity to take on the Chinese negotiators, a perennial problem besetting African countries in all trade and economic talks.

Another call to reform US Food aid

In the midst of the drought still effecting Ethiopia, Oxfam is calling on the US government to reform food aid.

Oxfam and many other advocates say that US food aid would be more efficient if it would buy food locally to the aid recipients. Instead, US law requires the food aid to be bought in America, then having to ship the food half way across the world. This errent law both makes for expensive transportation costs and less benefit to the economies of the developing world.

From this ABC News piece, reporter Dana Hugees illistrates the problem further.

A hungry Ethiopia gets 70 percent of its aid from the U.S., but according to a new report by the aid organization Oxfam International, that help comes at a cost.

U.S. law requires that food aid money be spent on food grown in the U.S., at least half of it must be packed in the U.S. and most of it must be transported in U.S. ships. The Oxfam report, "Band Aids and Beyond," claims that is far more expensive and time consuming than buying food in the region.

"For roughly $1 spent on aid, the U.S. taxpayer is paying $2 to get it here," said Carolyn Gluck, an Oxfam spokeswoman.

American aid policies also undermine long-term development strategies that could break the cycle of drought and starvation in Ethiopia.

"It's like having a health service that's running on emergency ambulances to deal with the sick all the time," said Gluck. "You can't just deal with the problem. You need to treat the underlying causes, otherwise you'll be locked into this endless cycle of foreign food donors."

"It is a clumsy resource," Chris Barnett, a development economics professor at Cornell University, told ABC News. Barrett, the former editor of the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, said the current food aid system is not only expensive, but counter-productive to the idea of helping a country in an emergency.

There is a major push by international aid groups and analysts for reform in the laws, something that Barnett says members of Congress who have agricultural constituent interests are resistant to adopt.

"Not many congressmen like giving up domain," said Barrett. "Congressional committees that are dealing with agriculture and shipping don't have the same interests or backgrounds as the foreign affairs and foreign relations committees do. They're viewing it in the broader context of farming, not in terms of development."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Flash flooding in Kenya

After going months without a single drop, Kenya is now receiving too much rain. Heavy downpours are causing flash floods and is forcing people to flee their homes.

From IRIN, we read more about the next humanitarian situation in Kenya.

After days of heavy rain, flash floods in Kenya's coastal Magarini district have displaced at least 500 families, sweeping away houses and livestock, officials said.

Most of the affected families were from Kurawa and Kanagoni villages in Magarini. Many have already sought alternative shelter, with some heading to a camp for the displaced along the Malindi-Garissa highway.

John Manasseh, a local leader, told IRIN on 28 October: "We had assumed that since the rains were delayed at the beginning of the year, we would not experience any flooding. We even started cultivating our farms in readiness for the rain, but it seems we were all wrong."

Most of the coastal region has been dry, having not had rains since early 2009. In August, the Kenya Meteorological Department warned that the country could soon experience El Niño-related enhanced rainfall. Already, heavy rains have been reported in many parts of the country, with Coast Province being the latest to experience flooding.

The Magarini flash floods occurred a day after two people reportedly died in Kolongoni village in neighbouring Kilifi district, after a house in which they were sleeping collapsed after a downpour, crushing them.

Jillo Galgalo, one of those displaced by the floods in Magarini, said they lacked clean water for domestic use and were at risk of infection from waterborne diseases.

"Most pit latrines have been washed away because nobody expected any floods to occur this soon," Galgalo said. "We are in dire need of clean water because most water points are now filled with all sorts of waste, including human waste and cow dung."

Along with the neighbouring Tana River district - where roads connecting the towns of Mombasa, Garissa and Lamu have been cut off due to the rains - roads in Kilifi have not been spared, with most roads connecting local trading centres impassable.

Security issues

At least 100 trucks and passenger vehicles plying several routes along the north coast region have either become stuck in mud or were parked by the roadside. Most of the drivers, especially those on the Malindi-Garissa route, have expressed concern over possible bandit attacks.

"Our main concern is security, keeping in mind the number of times we've had cases of fellow drivers being attacked by armed bandits in recent times," Abdalla Musa, a truck driver, said.

However, the Tana Delta district commissioner, Ireri Ngatia, said the government would provide security for all drivers using the route.

Ngatia and his Magarini counterpart, Richard Kananu, have also appealed to residents living in low-lying areas to move to higher ground.

Meanwhile, the Kenya Red Cross Society and other humanitarian organizations are assessing the situation and preparing to start providing the necessary assistance.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Putting caps on what you pay for health care

Putting a cap on how much one pays in out-of-pocket expenses for health care is a big debate now in Washington D.C. As a part of the US health care bill package, both the house and senate have established different price caps on what people would pay per year for health care.

To sift through some of the plans and debate, we go to this McClatchy Newspapers story written by David Lightman,

According to the American Journal of Medicine study, out-of-pocket medical costs averaged $17,943 for all medically bankrupt families in 2007 -- $26,971 for uninsured families and $17,749 for those who had private insurance at the outset.

The House bill would cap annual out-of-pocket medical expenses at $5,000 per individual and $10,000 per family starting in 2013. New plans offered through new employers, as well as policies sold through the proposed health insurance exchange, a marketplace where consumers can compare plans and prices, would be subject to limits.

Most employers today offer policies with limits on out-of-pocket expenses. Under Senate proposals, existing employer plans would be exempt from the limits, but the House would require employer plans to have caps in place by 2019.

The Senate legislation would tie the annual out-of-pocket limits to those that exist under current law for health savings accounts, which will be $5,950 and $11,900 in 2010 but should increase by the time new rules would go into effect in 2013 under the proposed legislation.

Out-of-pocket expenses are expected to include co-payments for medical services and prescription drugs, deductibles and co-insurance, though premium payments wouldn't count toward the out-of-pocket maximum.

Once a consumer reached the limit, his or her plan would pay 100 percent of further expenses.

"This is a pretty significant improvement," said Linda Blumberg, an economist at the Urban Institute, a center-left Washington research group.

The health insurance industry disagrees.

"We don't believe a cap is the best way to control rising health care costs," said Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans, the industry trade group.

Mr. and Mrs. Gates goes to Washington

Bill and Melinda Gates are beginning to do some lobbying on behalf of the world's poor. They are urging Washington's policymakers to continue funding US aid programs.

In a speech made at the capitol today, the Gateses were armed with charts, PowerPoint slides, and videos that show what US aid has accomplished in recent years, and what it could continue to accomplish.

From CNET, writer Ina Fried watched the web cast of the presentation.

"When it comes to global health, Bill and I are optimists--but we're impatient optimists," Melinda Gates said in a statement ahead of a speech on Tuesday. "The world is getting better, but it's not getting better for everyone, and it's not getting better fast enough."

Melinda Gates pointed to a program in South Africa where antiviral treatments are helping those living with HIV, but she said that for every two getting the treatment, there are five others that are missing out.

"That's the kind of thing that makes us impatient optimists," she said.

In his speech, Bill Gates noted that the U.S. government has increased its spending on global health each of the last 10 years and said that the investment is paying off.

"We're here to say two words you don't often hear about government programs," Bill Gates said. "Thank you."

He pointed to what he called the most beautiful picture he had ever seen--a chart of childhood deaths worldwide that shows death falling by more than half since 1960, when 20 million kids a year died annually.

But, he said, even the current level of 9 million childhood deaths a year is too many. Gates called on policymakers to commit to reducing by nearly half the number of children that die each year, from the present level of 9 million per year to less than 5 million by 2025.

"U.S. support has already helped to reduce deaths of young children by more than 50 percent in the past 50 years," Bill Gates said in a statement ahead of the speech. "If we keep up our commitment, it's possible to cut child mortality in half again--just 15 years from now. What's more, we can do it with proven interventions that already exist."

Poverty is growing, and so is the sex slavery of children

1.8 million children worldwide are caught in commercial sex exploitation, and the business is booming. Those with perverse appetites have easier access to children through technology such as the internet. Also, children in poverty are easily lured into the sex slavery through promises of money food or candy.

From the Global Post, writer Deena Duzder sheds light on this disturbing trend.

"The recent economic downturn is set to drive more vulnerable children and young people to be exploited by the global sex trade," says Carmen Madrinan, executive director of ECPAT International, the organization that authored the August 2009 report. "The indifference that sustains the criminality, greed and perverse demands of adults for sex with children and young people needs to end."

Increasing poverty in children’s countries of origin and smaller budgets for social services are two of the factors heightening children’s vulnerability. Deterioration of living conditions often compels young people to abandon school in order to contribute to the family income, putting them at risk of seeking livelihood options that lead to their being exploited, according to ECPAT International.

As a result of the current global downturn, hundreds of factories have closed in Thailand, leaving thousands of both Thai and non-Thai workers unemployed. Unemployment is rising at a rate of about 100,000 workers a month and may climb to 1.5 million by the end of the year.

“If you ask me, the government is not correcting the source of the problem,” says Asipong. “It’s just treating the symptoms. Poverty is a big contribution to the problem in Thailand, especially in the countryside. Whether parents or children, both have to struggle to survive.”

Street children and stateless children are extremely vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation, says Amanda Bissex, UNICEF Thailand's Chief of Child Protection. "We need to improve law enforcement and the economic welfare of children," she says, "but we also need to address people's attitudes and create an environment where there is zero tolerance for abuse of children, whether in their home country or overseas."

Earlier this year, the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crimes stated in its Global Report on Trafficking in Persons that 79 percent of all global trafficking is for sexual exploitation, one of the world's fastest-growing crimes. The report stated that the proportion of minors involved in the various forms of human-trafficking increased from about 15 percent to nearly 22 percent between 2003 and 2007. This past June, the Obama Administration expanded the U.S. watch list of countries suspected of not doing enough to combat human-trafficking, putting more than four dozen nations on notice that they might face sanctions if their records don’t improve.

A new World Bank report on food prices

A new report issued by the World Bank examines food prices across the globe. The bank says that food prices are rising and are close to returning to the high prices seen in 2008 that triggered riots around the globe.

From this monitor article that we found at All Africa, writer Martin Luther Oketch describes the report's details.

"Future prices are expected to remain higher than in the 1990s and are likely to be more volatile. Higher price volatility may dampen supply response to higher average prices, negatively impacting both poor producers and consumers. In addition, the financial crisis has slowed down both growth and trade," the World Bank report reads in part.

The World Bank explains that global food prices more than doubled from 2006 to mid-2008, and then declined by 30 - 40 per cent through to the end of May 2009 before beginning to rise again.

In Uganda, for instance, food prices have been rising since the first quarter of 2008 to-date. Last Month, Uganda Bureau of Statistics said the annual food crops inflation rate for the year ending September 2009 went up to 49.5 per cent from 31.9 per cent in August, placing the blame on reduced supply and high demand for Uganda's food stuffs from the neighbouring countries thus pushing Uganda's inflation to 14.5 per cent.

The changing global context adds new urgency. Sudden increases in food prices in 2008 drove an estimated 100 million more people into poverty. Some 800 million people in the world were malnourished even before the food and economic crisis hit.

The World Bank points out that the seasonal nature of agriculture resulted in a lagged production response. Other than seasonal nature, the World Bank also singles out lower remittances and migration back to rural areas which have lowered purchasing power and pressured household budgets. "Resultant declines in government revenue have curbed the ability of governments to respond," the report reads in part.

Global poverty and hunger were steadily declining prior to the onset of the food crisis in 2007. The number of people suffering from hunger and poverty is now estimated by the United Nation's Food and Agricultural Organization to exceed one billion.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Food prices and hunger in Pakistan

Despite subsidies to keep costs in control for buyers, food prices in Pakistan are rising again. The price for a bag of flour is above what most people earn in a day. The International Food Policy Research Institute say this is one of the reasons why hunger rates in Pakistan are alarming.

From the IRIN, we read more about food prices and hunger in Pakistan.

Razia, a widow from Lahore, looks after three daughters under 15 on a monthly income of Rs 5,000 (about US$60) earned by washing clothes, and like many others she is finding it increasingly difficult to feed her family.

Last month, during Ramadan, she could buy a subsidized 10kg sack of flour at Rs 175 ($2), but prices have now returned to their pre-Ramadan level of Rs 550 ($6.6) per 20kg bag. Other items sold at subsidized rates for Ramadan are also up, she said.

"I bought sugar at Rs 50 [60 US cents] a kilogram from government utility stores last month. Now I pay Rs 60 or more," Razia told IRIN. Like most families, sugar is an essential item for her household. "We use it for tea, and without sweet tea it is hard to get through the day," she said.

Taking note of the hardship caused by soaring sugar prices, Pakistan’s Supreme Court, has ordered sugar to be sold at Rs 40 [48 US cents] a kilogram pending a decision on the matter by a special commission.

“This is a good move by the court. It may offer some relief. Already, because flour is so expensive, we eat less,” said Nazeer Ahmed, 60, a rickshaw driver, adding: "All of us, including my three children, sometimes go to bed with just a mouthful of bread and pickles."

“Food items are costlier, so people are buying less. For example, a dozen eggs which cost around Rs 35 last year, cost Rs 60 this year,” Manzoor Abbas, a shopkeeper at a Lahore market, told IRIN.


According to the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute, levels of hunger in Pakistan are “alarming”.

A recent incident in Karachi is illustrative of people’s desperation: Twenty women and girls, who had gone with hundreds of others to take advantage of free flour being distributed by a shopkeeper, died in a stampede.

The government’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) showed prices in July and August were up 10.93 percent on the same period last year. Annual food inflation at the end of August was 10.59 percent, according to the CPI, and perishable items had gone up 17.27 percent.


There is also a debate about how many people benefited from subsidized food schemes during Ramadan. “Hardly 25-30 percent of the targeted population in Sindh Province was able to benefit from the cheap flour scheme, because there was a lot of corruption and mismanagement,” Muhammad Yousuf, chairman of the Pakistan Flour Mills Association in the southern province, told the media in Karachi.

“Measures to provide relief to the poor by supplying food items… free or at concessional rates, are good as responses to unforeseen disasters… [but] they cannot be recommended as a solution to permanent problems such as poverty,” said I. A. Rehman, secretary-general of the autonomous Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. New policies were needed to eradicate poverty, avoid anarchy and offer permanent solutions, he said.

Another celebrity, another girl's school

Much like what Oprah did in South Africa, Madonna is now building a girl's school in Malawi. Madonna she was inspired by the strength of Malawian woman, so she wanted to do something for them. Social barriers in the country keep girls from learning math and science, so this new school will concentrate on those subjects.

From the Mercury, Associated Press writer Raphael Tenthani attended the school's dedication.

Madonna marked the start of construction of her school for girls in Malawi by planting a tree at the planned site of the $15 million school. The 51-year-old celebrity arrived in the impoverished southern African country on Sunday accompanied by her four children — daughters Lourdes and Mercy, and sons Rocco and David.

Madonna adopted Mercy from Malawi earlier this year and adopted David from the country in 2008.

The singer was dressed in a dark summer dress and a colorful shawl during Monday's ceremony in the town of Chinkhota, some six miles (10 kilometers) from the capital, Lilongwe. Together with eldest daughter Lourdes she planted a Moringa tree, a hardy tree with edible leaves.

"If this school is a success — with God-willing it will be — we will replicate it not only in Malawi but in other parts of the world as well," she said.

The new school will be called the Raising Malawi Academy for Girls and will open by 2011 and educate 500 students, said its future principal, Anjimile Mtila-Opponyo. It will be similar to the school built by TV talk show host Oprah Winfrey in South Africa.

Mtila-Opponyo said the curriculum will emphasize science and mathematics.

Video: Life in Kenya's largest slum, Kibera

This video from Amnesty International introduces us to a few women living in Kenya's largest slum, Kibera. Life can be very hard for the women of the slums, this video shows the poverty there as well as human rights violations.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Starting a new non-profit to help new mothers and babies in Tanzania

Nursing graduate student Michelle Kowalczyk has a heart for Tanzania. The desire to help the people there began with a trip to Africa with the aid group CARE. The trip inspired Kowalczyk to start her own non profit to help new mothers and babies.

From the Omaha World Herald we read more about Kowalczyk's work.

“It’s sad and really poor, but when you see them smile, it just warms up your heart,” said Kowalczyk, who is enrolled at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Everything she experienced in Africa influenced her decision to take another step: co-founding a nonprofit organization. It “works in the developing world to better the lives of those in need,” Kowalczyk said.

The idea for a foundation came after she crossed paths with Kim Krowne, another volunteer, in Tanzania. Together they formed Knock Foundation in 2008.

Not only does Kowalczyk help manage a growing non-profit foundation, but she also devotes much of what she earns to help people in Africa.

Kowalczyk started her acute-care adult health graduate program at UNMC in 2008, and plans to graduate in May.

“At the College of Nursing, we are enormously proud of Michelle,” said Janet Cuddigan, chair of College of Nursing’s adult health and illness department. “She truly exemplifies the ‘best and brightest’ in the nursing profession.”

A view of microcredit from a Princess

After a career in banking, Princess Maxima of the Netherlands now works as an United Nations special adviser on Inclusive Finance for Development. She was the opening speaker at a conference of microcredit that is underway in New Delhi.

From this interview from the Business Standard, Sreelatha Menon asks Princess Maxima how she got interested in microcredit, and poses some questions on interest rates charged to the poor.

How did you get interested in the subject of microcredit and financial inclusion?
I am an economist and worked as a banker in New York and Argentina where I was drawn into the area of microcredit. After my marriage, I was invited to the United Nations group on financial inclusion and was later asked to contribute as special advisor.

What are your major worries about financial inclusion?
It is not about microcredit. It is about an array of services such as deposits, insurance products. My core work is to advocate the importance of financial inclusion and I have many agencies such as the International Monetary Fund and International Finance Corporation which are helping me.

How do you help the cause in countries such as India? Do you provide aid to small institutions?
I know people in the sector and I can put people in touch with the right groups.

The growth of microfinance in India is supposed to bridge the gap in financial inclusion. Is it happening?
The growth here is phenomenal at 95 per cent a year. About 20 million Indians now have access to microcredit, compared to less than one million five years ago. This is an impressive growth by any standard. It is also very innovative. The type of services MFIs are bringing to their clients is amazing. But what still has not happened here is MFIs offering deposit services. But it is understood that regulators are concerned about the safety of the money of the poor. When savings products are accessible, they are widely used. For example, in countries such as Kenya and Uganda, when appropriate products are available, savings level has tripled, so has the number of savers.

Health experts want less funding for AIDS

It's not often that you hear someone asking for less funding, but health experts say that the great amount of funding for AIDS have left other diseases in Africa ignored.

Hundreds of thousands of people die of malaria or from pregnancy complications on the continent, yet those illnesses receive only a fraction of the funding that AIDS does. In fact, AIDS health aid has more money than many government health budgets.

From the Guardian, writer Alex Duval Smith expands upon the controversial overhaul request.

Top scientists are demanding a controversial overhaul of health spending in Africa, arguing that the billions of pounds targeted at HIV during the past 20 years have led to a neglect of other killer diseases and basic health problems such as diarrhoea.

Developed countries poured $13.2bn (£8.2bn) last year into efforts to combat HIV, chiefly for Africa, up from $480m in 1996. But only eight countries, all in southern Africa, remain in the grip of a severe Aids crisis, while World Health Organisation data show that five of the biggest killers in Africa are illnesses that affect children under the age of five.

Childhood diarrhoea kills an estimated 1.5 million children under five each year worldwide – at least half of them in Africa – although it is easily treatable with zinc tablets that cost little more than $2 each. Diarrhoea received less than 5% of worldwide research and treatment funding last year.

Daniel Halperin, an HIV epidemiology researcher at the Harvard Medical School of Public Health, said: "There has generally been a misalignment from the donors. It is time for a rethink. Many people in the west believe all Africans are impoverished and infected with HIV. Yet the reality is that most countries have stable HIV prevalence of less than 3%. What most people really need are things such as clean water and family planning. Even tuberculosis and malaria get far less money than HIV. In some cases these sectors have inadvertently been hurt by the focus on HIV."

One of Africa's leading health economists, Alan Whiteside, who is director of the Health Economics and HIV/Aids Research Division at the University of KwaZulu Natal, said the flood of donations towards the battle against Aids had also created the conditions for widespread misuse of the funds. Whiteside played a prominent role in bringing the southern African Aids epidemic to the world's attention in the 1990s. He has also advised the United Nations and Aids2031 – an international expert group set up to chart the best route to tackle Aids in advance of the 50th anniversary of the first report of the illness.

"The lure of Aids money has led in some African countries to large-scale corruption," he said, "and the establishment of non-government organisations as an industry. The achievement of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals by 2015 depends on us getting our focus on Aids right.

Wanted: bailouts for the poor

The global recession was unique that it started in the rich nations but hurt the poor nations the most. The recession dropped millions of people below the poverty line throughout the world.

So, in all the bailout and emergency aid money that have been proposed since the crisis began, how much of that got to the poorest people of the world? According to a couple of aid organizations, not much at all.

From the IPS, writer Francis Kokutse interviews people at Action Aid and CONCORD on bailouts and aid.

The developed world has not acted in good faith towards with Africa and other developing regions in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. Much of the stimulus packages promised have gone to benefit banks in those countries, rather than to help those who have become victims of a problem they did not cause, argued Josef Berger, policy officer at CONCORD, the European Non-governmental (NGO) Confederation for Relief Aid and Development.

IPS interviewed him in Stockholm on the fringe of the European Development Days conference (Oct 22-24), an event held by the European Union Presidency and Commission to "showcase the European Union’s continuing and enduring commitment to development".

Berger pointed out that when the global financial crisis erupted, leaders in the West promised significant assistance. Unfortunately, "these promises are yet to be rolled out. The response has so far not been helpful.

"What we have seen, in general, is the provision of huge sums of money to bail out banks in their respective countries, rather than protect countries that have been made to suffer because of what these banks have done," he added. CONCORD represents more than 1,600 developmental NGOs across Europe and seeks to enhance their influence vis-a-vis European institutions.

Berger believes that civil society organisations in the developing world need to be strengthened to hold their governments accountable so that they would be able to speak out on behalf of their citizenries on issues like this.

Otive Igbuzor, ActionAid’s head of campaigns, told the plenary during the session on the global response to the economic downturn that whilst Group of 20 (G20) countries "were stuttering back to life, millions of people in the developing world are sinking deeper into poverty, reeling from a global crisis they did not cause." ActionAid is a progressive international non-governmental organisation fighting poverty.

Poverty simulation for future social workers

Future social workers had a chance to experience the lives of people they will soon help through a poverty simulation.The Michigan based Poverty Reduction Initiative held the simulation for students at Western Michigan University.

From the Kalamazoo Gazette, writer Rebecca Bakken attended the simulation.

Five Western Michigan University social-work students were put in the shoes of the fictional poverty-stricken Aber family on Oct. 19.

With one unemployed parent, a pregnant 16-year-old daughter and a nearly drained bank account, the family members had to figure out how to pay their bills, get to work and feed their other two small children, an 8-year-old and a 10-year-old, with their limited resources.

The students, along with about 40 other social-work students, were taking part in the Poverty Reduction Initiative’s Poverty Simulation Workshop to see what it is like to be an average family living in poverty.

The students were given packets of information about their new identities and had to make their way through a month of dealing with banks, social services and the police, among other agencies. The students dealt with volunteers playing the roles of people working at such sites.

The students posing as the Abers budgeted as they could with the information given to them. They went to a loan center where they had to take out a $50 loan with a 30 percent interest rate.

When Mrs. Aber was late getting to work because she was getting a transportation pass, her employer put her on probation. Meanwhile, Mr. Aber could get only $25 for a $100 stereo at a pawnshop and was given a notice that he had $500 in outstanding loans from a bank. The Aber children all came home from school that day with school-supply needs, and the family received a malnutrition warning because it had failed to get groceries.

“At the end, some are left in the hole and some maintain,” said Barbara Barton, assistant professor of social work at WMU.

Teens make a documentary on poverty

A group of teens are working on a documentary that exposes poverty in Lafayette Indiana. Making the video is a service project for an after school club the kids belong to. The teens say making the film really opened their eyes to the problem in their home town.

From the Journal and Courier, writer Taya Flores talked to the teens.

A group of local teenagers wanted to bring awareness to this issue. Members of the Keystone Club, a leadership development group at the Lyn Treece Boys and Girls Club of Tippecanoe County, are working on a documentary about poverty in Lafayette.

"The goal is to create an awareness (about) poverty and the issues surrounding poverty," said Dustin Bankhead, program director at the Boys and Girls Club on Beck Lane.

The documentary will be screened Nov. 19 at the Lyn Treece Boys and Girls Club in Lafayette. The documentary is the group's National Keystone Project, an annual project designed to challenge teens to address social issues in their community.

The teens questioned their subjects about how they defined poverty and if they thought poverty existed in Lafayette.

Working on the documentary was a learning experience for the teens as well.

Before beginning the project, many believed poverty did not exist in Lafayette because it hasn't manifested itself on the streets in the form of urban blight.

"If (you) walk around town, you don't see people on the streets sitting there asking for money," said 14-year-old Cheyenne Russell.

However, after working on the documentary, they realized that poverty is right at home in Lafayette.

"My family receives Medicaid and we have had food stamps in the past," said 15-year-old Selina Gaeta. "Most of us are in poverty and just don't realize it."

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Ker-Splats Splat Attack

Our friends at Send A Cow have created a new website video game to help drum up donations for a compost called "magic muck". The "magic muck" is a special type of organic compost fortified with extra nutrients. Send A Cow has been working for over 20 years on perfecting the recipe. Send A Cow helps farmers develop their own compost pile of magic muck from plant parts, animal waste and top soil.

The game is called Ker-Splats Splat Attack. In the game, you throw the "magic muck" at animals, the more animals you splat the higher your score, and the more time you get to play. However, splatting animals can be draining on your supply, so every so often you have to retrieve fresh supplies from the bubbling vat of magic muck. From the game, there is a link to raise funds to help develop and teach farmers to make the magic muck themselves.

For some background on the organization, Send A Cow began in 1988 when a group of farmers sent female cows to poverty stricken families in Africa. The families agrees to send the first female calf to another family in need. The gift of 25 cows multiplied into many more.

As Send A Cow grew, they began to teach African farmers techniques to increase their yields. They also began to adapt sending livestock to helping families with the water and feed needed to maintain the cows. Send A Cow also began to give smaller livestock such a goats.

The game is actually a good teaching moment for children. During the writing of this post we had our two and half year old play a few rounds while explaining the concept to him. Most of it probably goes over his head, but at least it's a start. We have our own compost pile in back, but it's mostly coffee grounds so I doubt it's as nutrient filled as the "magic muck". Anyway, we invite you to give the game a try this weekend.

African Bishops to corrupt government leaders: "repent or leave office"

The African Bishops of the Catholic Church are calling on corrupt African Leaders to "repent and leave office". The message came from a meeting of the African bishops at the Vatican.

From this Associated Press article that we found at the Philadelphia Daily News, writer Nichole Winfield relays the bishops statement.

While praising some Catholic leaders who are doing their public service well, they accused others of having "fallen woefully short in their performance in office."

"The synod calls on such people to repent, or quit the public arena and stop causing havoc to the people and giving the Catholic Church a bad name," the bishops wrote at the end of their monthlong synod.

The bishops didn't name names, but Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, who has been blamed for presiding over a politically repressive regime that led to the economic collapse of the country, and Angolan President Eduardo dos Santos, whose party swept elections last year that critics say were marred by fraud and corruption, are two well-known Catholic leaders.

The prelates, about 300 from Africa and around the world, also condemned non-Catholic leaders and outside foreign interests for allowing African countries to fall into such devastation, saying "in most cases we are dealing with greed for power and wealth at the expense of the people and nation."

In particular, they cited areas of conflict such as Somalia, the Great Lakes region, Sudan and Guinea.

"Whatever may be the responsibility of foreign interests, there is always the shameful and tragic collusion of the local leaders: politicians who betray and sell out their nations; dirty business people who collude with rapacious multinationals; African arms dealers and traffickers who thrive on small arms that cause great havoc on human lives, and local agents of some international organizations who get paid for peddling toxic ideologies that they don't believe in" - a reference to nongovernment organizations and humanitarian groups that promote abortion rights.

A documentary on the Grameen Foundation

Here is a 16 minute documentary on the work of the Grameen Foundation. While not a microcredit bank itself, the foundation helps other banks to expand microcredit services across the globe.

Wife selling in India

The practice of selling off family members to help pay debts is still prevalent in India. Many times rural farmers will need loans if their crops fail. Rural farmers go to crooked money lenders who charge very high interest rates. Once the interest comes due, the money lenders often ask for the wives of farmers as payment. The low social status of women in India helps to continue this social ill to this day.

From CNN, reporter Sara Sidner touches on the status of women in the country and details on once such incident.

Ranjana Kumari with India's Center for Social Research says the exploitation of women is common in the region. And, she says, there is little support for women in India who have the courage to file a case with authorities.

"Nobody's going to support or help them," Kumari says. "If a family decides not to help them, the system is already not so sensitized towards them, whether it is police, judiciary, whether the legal system. So the women themselves tend to withdraw these cases."

In another village, another story involving another farmer, and money lender.

"I sold my water engine and land and gave back his 30,000 rupees," the farmer says, describing his $600 loan payment.

The farmer, whom CNN is not identifying to protect his wife and children, says the lender then asked him to send his wife to help with chores while the lender's wife was sick. The farmer says he complied, and his children -- including his daughter -- went too.

But the mother never returned. The farmer says he believes she was stolen from him. The daughter says the lender sold her mother to another man.

State authorities say they have investigated the matter and found that the mother denies she was sold and has simply gone to live with a lover.

The daughter says that's not true, and claims that she and her father were told to keep quiet by some of the village leaders. During CNN's interview with the family, officials with the state magistrate's office barged into the farmer's home and began videotaping.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The second Green Revolution in India

Anti-poverty fighters world wide have put an increased emphasis on agriculture in recent years. It was once thought that putting a farmer into a job at a factory was the ideal way to get the world's poor out of poverty. But that strategy proved to be a failure when the need for food and the numbers of hungry increased.

From Time magazine we have this look at a second Green Revolution taking place in India. The Indian government has been using money from the growth it has experienced in recent years to improve farming in the country. Reporter Michael Schuman explains some of the programs going on in India.

When the indian national congress took power in 2004, Singh changed course and began an intensive effort to improve the lot of the nation's farmers. Between the 2003-04 and 2008-09 fiscal years, the central government's budget for agriculture quadrupled. Government schemes built rural roads to help farmers get their produce to market, forgave some of their debts and raised minimum purchase prices on cotton, rice and other crops. In 2005, policymakers launched the Bharat Nirman program, aimed at providing electricity, housing and irrigation systems to the country's farmers, and, a year later, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, which promised at least 100 days of work each year for poor farming households, often on public-works projects to develop infrastructure in the countryside. In the latest federal budget, announced in July, funds allocated for the rural jobs scheme jumped 144% from the previous year to more than $8 billion — making it the largest social-welfare program in the budget — while funding for Bharat Nirman was boosted by 45%. "It was very clear to us that if you want inclusive growth, it is going to require a significant increase in the productivity of land," says Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of India's Planning Commission in New Delhi.

Perhaps no single region of India's vast hinterland has received more concentrated government attention than Vidarbha. One of India's more distressed farming regions, Vidarbha became infamous for its high rate of farmer suicides. The problem became so severe in 2006, when more than 1,250 took their lives, that Singh toured Vidarbha and announced a special $780 million development program for the area, which the locals refer to simply as "the package."

Three years later, K.S. Mulay, a state agricultural officer based in the Vidarbha town of Amravati, proudly reads off a long list of the progress the government has made so far. Nearly $39 million has been spent subsidizing high-yield seeds, Mulay says, plus $24 million on developing fruit orchards and other pricey produce, and another $24 million on building micro-irrigation projects. As Mulay drives down narrow roads through Vidarbha's cotton fields, he stops his jeep every few miles to show off the government's handiwork. First, he marches up a muddy hillside to a small dam the government built to help farmers preserve monsoon rainwater — one of more than 9,000 constructed in the region over the past three years. Next he visits the farm of Bhiamrao Mahore, who received free orange-tree saplings from a state-funded nursery. Mahore hopes his oranges will bring more money than the cotton he had planted before. Next stop is a state-sponsored training session where scores of local farmers collect for a PowerPoint presentation on how best to protect crops during a drought. "We are trying to increase the income and productivity of the farmers," Mulay says. "All the work cannot be done in three years. But it is a beginning."

And, for now, just that. Some Indian economists criticize the government for spending too much on welfare programs, such as the job-guarantee scheme, and not enough on irrigation systems and other investments that could make farms more productive. "Giving a cow won't help a farmer long-term," says Paurnima Sawai, 42, a farmer in Takarakhede Shambhu village. "But money to build a dam is a long-term investment. For years, you get benefits from it." With only 40% of its farmland irrigated, India's entire economic boom is held hostage by the unpredictable monsoon. With much of India's farming areas suffering from drought this year, the government will have a tough time meeting its economic-growth targets. In an August report, Goldman Sachs predicted that this year's weak rains could cause agriculture to contract 2% this fiscal year, making the government's 7% GDP-growth target look "a bit rich." Even Thakare, with his pond, may not have enough water to plant his extra crops this year. Abusaleh Shariff, a senior fellow at IFPRI's New Delhi office, argues that allocating money is only part of the government's task. The farmers also need better training, technology and marketing opportunities. "Do we have any of these? Almost none," Shariff says. "The government program needs to be improved, and we need to devote a lot more resources."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The winner of the 2009 World Food Prize: Gabisa Ejeta

One of the problems of only doing this blog in our spare time is that we miss a lot of important stories. We realized this morning that we forgot to make mention of the 2009 winner of the World Food Prize awarded last week. The World Food Prize is similar to the Nobel Peace Prize, but this prize is given to scientists who make new innovations to help feed the world.

This years winner is Gebisa Ejeta, a professor of agronomy at Purdue University. Ejeta hails from Ethiopia and remembers from his time there the use of the grain sorghum as a staple of the East African diet. His innovations have multiplied sorghum yields many, many times over.

From USA Today, writer Elizabeth Weise details Ejeta's work.

"A lot of people who grew up it the Midwest in the '40s and '50s would remember the old syrup for pancakes, made of milo," as sorghum is sometimes called there, he says.

It's also used to make gluten-free beers for people with celiac disease. But in Africa and Asia, it's a major grain, used in porridge and bread, in making beer and popping like popcorn.

Sorghum feeds 500 million to 700 million people worldwide, Ejeta says. "It's a huge crop in Africa; it's a very important crop in India. In China it's used for making their national alcoholic beverage," baijiu, or white liquor.

Ejeta, born in a one-room thatched hut in west-central Ethiopia, walked 12 miles to attend a nearby school, returning home only on the weekends. After graduating from Alemaya College in eastern Ethiopia, he received a Ph.D. in plant breeding and genetics from Purdue in 1978.

His then began to work on new sorghum varieties as a researcher at the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in Sudan. Ejeta's hybrid, released in 1983, had yields 150% greater than local sorghum. By 1999, 1 million acres were being harvested by Sudanese farmers, feeding millions in that country. Ejeta also developed a drought-tolerant sorghum hybrid that fit conditions in Niger, which yielded four to five times the national sorghum average for that country.

Next, Ejeta turned his focus to a hugely harmful weed called striga, commonly known as witchweed. This parasite lives off corn, rice, millet, sugar cane and sorghum in much the way that mistletoe lives off trees. The United Nations estimates that it infests up to 40% of the arable savannah land in Africa.

"There was a small area in North and South Carolina that had striga in the 1950s," Ejeta says. "It took the USDA nearly 30 years to eradicate it."

Working with colleagues at Purdue, Ejeta bred a sorghum variety that is resistant to witchweed. Various aid groups have distributed the seed in numerous African countries. Yields have increased as much as four times over local varieties, even in times of severe drought.

"Stand Up" breaks a Guinness world record

To follow-up on the "Stand Up, Take Action" events of the past weekend, more people stood up this year than any year before. In fact, so many people stood up to be counted that it broke a Guinness World Record. 173 million people participated in "Stand Up" events around the world.

From Business Day, re read more about the epic participation in this event.

``Over 3,000 events were held in more than 120 countries in the fourth year of the `Stand Up, Take Action, End Poverty Now!' campaign, last weekend,'' a UN statement made available to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) said.

It said nearly 60 million more people took part in the festivities this year.

It said UN Secretary General Ban Ki moon was joined by 1,500 school children at the UN International School (UNIS) in New York, last Friday in calling for an end to hunger, which currently afflicts one billion people worldwide.

``At least 100 million people in Asia took part in the campaign, while Africa saw the participation of almost 40 million, the Arab region over 30 million, Europe more than 2 million, Latin America and North America some 200,000 each, and Oceania more than 170,000,'' the statement said.

The statement further said that, in spite of the deadly typhoons which recently slammed into the Philippines, more than 35 million people took a stand in that country.

The challenges of a water NGO

Some of the remote villages that are hard to reach are often the last to receive basic services such as sanitation or clean water. A story in All Africa today profiles one such village in Mozambique that has been drinking from a river for generations. The question is, why has this gone on for so long?

From this IPS story that we found at All Africa, writer Jessie Boylan asks some water NGOs why this goes on so long.

WaterAid is an international NGO that works with communities to insall wells, water pumps, and composting latrines. They have a range of basic hand pumps which are cheap enough for communities to afford, and quick and easy to fix.

The NGO claims to have helped 270,000 people gain access to water across Mozambique, and has been working in Niassa Province since 1995.

There are several factors which contribute to water, hygiene and sanitation problems in the province, says Heike Gloeckner, WaterAid's Southern Africa regional programme officer.

"Broadly I would say that the issues we are facing are: water tables are decreasing, population is increasing (in some areas) and topography is making it very hard for our partners to access the aquifer for drilling a borehole," she says.

WaterAid's technical support manager, Erik Harvey, says the sinking water table means communities are forced to rely on outside support to reach deeper more reliable water reserves.

"Most communities have existing survival strategies that can simply be reinforced. Most have basic wells that, with very little effort, can be protected, (lined with bricks, raised above ground level, closed with a lid, used with a single bucket and rope as opposed to many)," he adds.

"In the absence of this, basic filters can be made with layered cloth, or drinking water, particularly for babies, elderly and the ill, can be boiled."

When asked why no one has yet reached villages like Mcondece, Mtepwe and Magachi, Harvey responded, "The process of prioritisation and community selection is normally undertaken by the government with some assistance from WaterAid staff.

"WaterAid's funding is limited," says Harvey, "and we have, where possible, focused on choosing districts that have historically had the lowest coverage levels.

"The key here is to get government to take up our learning, to combine the efforts of all role-players and funds in the sector to reach the unreached villages. WaterAid alone just does not have the resources to reach everywhere."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The refugee camps of Kenya

In the dry areas of the Kenya, people find a place to sleep within refugee camps set up for people who had to flee their home. Not all of the people in these camps are "bums". Some people are ending up in these camps through natural disasters, which seem to be increasing in number. Some people end up in these cities because of war, taking away their safety and their livelihood.

NBC News reporter Martin Fletcher, one of the last of the good TV News journalists, provides this tour of signs posted around one such camp.

They shuffle aimlessly in the dust: 50,000 refugees crammed into thousands of huts made from branches, leaves, mud and plastic in the Kakuma camp in Northern Kenya.

Natives of Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, the refugees have fled wars aggravated by drought, yet even here the supply of water is sporadic. They eat once a day from supplies provided by aid agencies. Kakuma is one of the oldest and largest refugee camps in the world and some people have been here since 1991 when it was established.

They don’t like to talk to strangers about their problems, but the roads are lined by placards, erected by aid agencies, with slogans and exhortations that are like windows into the refugees’ pain.

The most graphic reads: "STOP FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION – IT IS A HEALTH HAZARD (RISK)." The signs are in English, Kenya’s official language, but since the camp’s residents speak a wide variety of regional and native languages, the words are incomprehensible to most refugees.

However anyone can get the message from the disturbing illustration of a woman kneeling with a razor while a mother offers up her infant girl. Female genital mutilation is almost universal in Somalia and common in neighboring countries.

Another exhorts people to "STOP WIFE INHERITANCE" – the practice of giving a widow to the dead man’s brother. Originally this was done to protect the widow, who may not otherwise find another husband, but aid workers say it reduces women to the level of chattel. It is one of the key issues they raise when trying to educate women about their rights, but there is a major problem: men are the leaders here and they must agree to end the practice.

The tent camps of America

In the warmer areas of the US, people find a place to sleep within tent cities set up for the homeless. Not all of the people in these cities are "bums". Some people are ending up in these camps through job losses, and those have accelerated during the recession. Some people end up in these cities because of illness, taking away all of their money and their livelihood.

From this Al Jazerra story that we found at IPS, Rob Reynolds reporter interviewed a couple who lives in one such city.

They call it Tortilla Flats - a haphazard cluster of tents and tarps sprawling across a sidewalk and a vacant lot smack in the middle of Fresno, a city of 500,000 in California's Central Valley.

The tent city, reminiscent of the Depression-era "Hoovervilles" depicted by author John Steinbeck in his classic novel "The Grapes of Wrath", is home to a shifting population of about 70 homeless people.

That's where I met a couple named Kerry and John. They asked me not to use their last names. They live in a cramped two-person tent strewn with blankets and clothes. Both are native to the Valley. And both are now homeless for the first time in their lives.

Kerry was a preschool teacher until a year ago, when her world caved in. "I got sick," she told me. "Ulcerative colitis. Ended up losing my job, and ended up here. Ran out of health insurance and money and this is what happened."

John, a shy young man who used to work as a barber, told a rambling story about bad breaks, crooked employers and jobs that didn't pan out. Now he passes the time playing with two pigeons he rescued and tamed as pets.

"Gets to the point where time does not mean much anymore," he said. "Time is just time. We're just waiting for the big break - a chance to rebuild our lives."

Homeless camps like this one have formed in several places around California. People here have formed a kind of community, complete with a "town council" of elders who meet nightly.

Many of those living in the camps are chronically homeless men with mental health issues or drug and alcohol problems. But many others are former members of the working or middle classes who have fallen off the economic ladder.

"It's a real shock when you come down here," Kerry said. "You don't know whether people will befriend you or not. People have, luckily. But there are a lot of dangers out here - everywhere you look. Especially at night."

Survey: US sees an increase in child deaths due to abuse and neglect

A new national study says that children dying from abuse and neglect has seen a 35 percent increase since 2001. 1760 children died of abuse or neglect in 2007.

The report from the Every Child Matters Education Fund says that states that have a strong child safety net see less deaths from abuse and neglect.

From the Every Child Matters website, we find out more about the study from this press release.

A report released today shows that 10,440 children in the U.S. are known to have died from abuse and neglect between 2001 and 2007, but experts say the real number may be as much as 50 percent higher. The difference is due to varying definitions of abuse and neglect in the states, as well as inconsistent record-keeping and data collection methodologies. Child protection leaders say the situation makes it impossible to provide an accurate assessment of abuse and neglect of children in America.

The report from the Every Child Matters Education Fund shows that more than 1,760 U.S. children are documented to have died from abuse or neglect in 2007 – a 35 percent increase since 2001. It says that the combination of millions of vulnerable children and inadequate resources leaves states stretched too thin to protect all children who need it.

“It’s heart-wrenching that each day in America, five children will die from abuse and neglect, but what’s worse is that the real number is even larger,” said Michael Petit, president of Every Child Matters Education Fund. “Child abuse and neglect are national problems that require national solutions. That means federal lawmakers must work with states to address what causes it, be more consistent in how data about it are shared, and increase support for the agencies that work to stop it.”

Today’s report serves as a wake-up call for federal lawmakers. National leaders in child protection, law enforcement, educators, policy makers and others are gathering in Washington, DC, today to kick off two days of intensive discussions among diverse organizations to identify the policies and resources needed to reduce deaths from child abuse and neglect. Congress must soon take up work to reauthorize the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, or CAPTA, which provides federal funding to states to address child abuse and neglect.

The report looks at the most recent state data made available by the federal government. It includes information collected through the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, which is supported by the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families. It also includes data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. Highlights show:

Child deaths attributed to abuse or neglect vary significantly by state.
Kentucky had the highest rate of death due to child abuse and neglect in 2007 – 41 deaths, or a rate of 4.09 per 100,000 children in the state. Other states topping the list include South Dakota (4.08), Florida (3.79), Nebraska (3.59) and Missouri (3.51). States with the lowest rate of child death from abuse or neglect in 2007 are Delaware Rhode Island, Idaho, Maine and Montana.

“About half of all children who die from abuse and neglect were previously brought to the attention of authorities – either by another family member, a teacher, physician, neighbor or someone else who cared about their safety and well-being,” said Teresa Huizar, executive director, National Children’s Alliance. “But case workers are routinely stretched too thin, and funding levels are too low. The result is often too little action that is taken too late, and kids die as a result.”

There is nearly a 13-fold difference in the amount that states spend per person to address abuse and neglect.
While there is no funding level or formula that guarantees a reduction in child deaths, states that invest in a strong social safety net for children – including health, social services, education, plus child protection – experience fewer child abuse/neglect deaths, on average. Experts suggest that this is because fewer families experience difficulties in the first place, and that if child abuse does occur, case workers can investigate more cases more thoroughly, thus protecting more children from potential harm.

The report finds that Rhode Island spends the most per capita – spending $181.34 per person to protect children. Other states that make significant investments in comparison with their counterparts include Pennsylvania ($137.89), Alaska ($129.02), Vermont ($126.31), and California ($121.16). The five states spending the lowest amount on child protection per person include South Carolina ($14.72), Mississippi ($28.82), Maine ($31.88), Nevada ($34.02) and Arkansas ($35.99).

“We need a bigger investment in case workers, whether it is number of staff or additional training,” said Rebecca Myers, L.S.W., director, external relations at the National Association of Social Workers. “Child protection workers are often the first line of defense in protecting children living in high-risk situations, but caseloads in some jurisdictions are as high as 60 or more, even though national standards recommend 12 or fewer cases per worker.”

Poverty is closely associated with child abuse and neglect.
Experts say stopping deaths due to child abuse and neglect requires addressing poverty, particularly during challenging economic times. While no level of household income or educational level makes a family immune to this issue, a child living in poverty is 22 times more likely to be abused than children living in families with an annual income of $30,000 or more.

Recent Census figures show that states with the highest levels of children living in poverty are Arizona (26%), New Mexico (26%), Kentucky (24%), Alabama (24%) and Mississippi (24%). States with the lowest levels of child poverty are New Hampshire (9%), Utah (9%), Alaska (10%), Vermont (10%), Maryland (10%) and Connecticut (10%).

Celebrities and others join in support.
Stars from Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, took to Capitol Hill today to help raise awareness. The popular television show chronicles the New York Police Department team that investigates sexually based crimes, including those committed against children. Actors Tamara Tunie (medical examiner Melinda Warner) and B.D. Wong (psychiatrist George Huang) joined in speaking out on the importance of investing in the protection of children.

Organizations supporting the summit this week include the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs, Every Child Matters Education Fund, National Association of Social Workers, National Center on Child Death Review and National Children’s Alliance.

The discussion of children’s issues in Washington this week comes exactly 100 years after President Theodore Roosevelt held the first-ever White House summit on children’s issues.

“A century after the first White House summit on children’s issues in America, we are faced with more children dying from abuse and neglect in the United States than in any other industrialized nation,” said Michael Fraser, Ph.D., chief executive officer, Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs. “The U.S. child abuse death rate is among the highest in the world – three times higher than that of Canada, and 11 times higher than that of Italy. We need leaders who will step up for children and make concerted efforts to turn these numbers around with our nation’s state and local maternal and child health professionals.”

Read the full report, learn more about the issue or send an email to elected officials here


The Every Child Matters Education Fund is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, non-partisan organization working to make children, youth and families a national political priority. We promote the adoption of smart policies for children and youth, including: ensuring that children have access to affordable, comprehensive health care services; expanding early-care and learning opportunities and after-school programs; preventing violence against children in their homes and communities; alleviating child poverty; and addressing the special needs of children with parents in prison.

What will it take to reach a global trade deal by 2010?

The latest deadline for the Doha round of world trade talks is set at 2010. The problem is, many deadlines in this round of talks have come and gone.

The head of the World Trade Organization tried to put some heat on world leaders to start talking and making concessions in remarks made today. However, hopes are dim unless world leaders especially those in Washington are serious in compromising.

From Reuters, writer Jonathan Lynn gives us this round up of opinions.

WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy said countries were making some progress in the latest intensive negotiations in Geneva in areas such as facilitating trade and the technical work necessary to implement an eventual deal in agriculture.

"But I also believe it will be difficult to get to 2010 without a serious acceleration of the pace," Lamy said.

"We need to see real negotiations emerge, not only informal consultations and discussions, but real exchanges among members," the Frenchman told the WTO's General Council.

Leaders of the G20 rich and emerging countries called at their summit in Pittsburgh last month for the Doha round, now in its eighth year, to be completed in 2010.

That was the latest in a series of calls to finish the longest running trade round, launched in late 2001 to open markets and help developing countries prosper through trade.

But the high-level political exhortations have not been matched by compromise and movement in the Geneva talks, leading many to question whether the leaders are sincere in their call for real negotiations.

"Technically the work is almost done. What we are missing now is political will," said Egypt's trade minister, Rachid Mohamed Rachid.

Rachid, echoing a view held by many emerging nations and rich countries alike, said the problem was that Washington -- the key to any deal -- was not engaging fully in the talks.

"The United States has not made their position clear yet vis-a-vis trade," he told a meeting of the Arab-Swiss Chamber of Commerce in response to a question from Reuters.

Bacterial disease outbreak in Philippines flooded waters

Three weeks after it's most recent typhoon, there are still many flooded areas in the Philippines. The flooding has helped to spread a bacterial disease that has killed more than 130 people. The Philippines are asking for additional aid to help fight the outbreak.

From Reuters Alert Net, reporter Manny Mogato tells us more about the outbreak.

More than 130 people had died and nearly 2,000 remained in government hospitals due to leptospirosis, a bacterial infection caused by exposure to animal urine. The bacteria are common in tropical countries with heavy rainfall and frequent flooding.

"We have already sent an SOS to the international community because this is one of the biggest outbreak of leptospirosis not just in the Philippines, but in the world," Tayag told lawmakers at a public hearing in Manila.

He said about 680 cases of leptospirosis were reported every year. From Oct. 1-15, a total of 1,887 cases have been reported in 15 hospitals in Manila region, Tayag said, adding the health department needed about $1 million worth of medicines to contain the disease.

Health authorities said 1.7 million people in Manila and two nearby provinces are at risk because flood waters in these areas are expected to remain until December 2009. The Philippines is bracing for another powerful typhoon in the northern regions on the main island of Luzon, evacuating thousands to avoid death and destruction.

Typhoon Lupit, which means "fierce" in Filipino, was expected to make landfall around the far northern tip of the Luzon region by Thursday and dump more rain on typhoon-weary provinces, said the weather bureau.

Ketsana and Parma damaged or destroyed more than 27 billion pesos ($580 million) in crops and infrastructure.

1 in 6 suffers with poverty in Japan

A new survey shows that Japan has one of the highest rates of poverty amongst developed nations. One of every six Japanese lives in poverty.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says that Japan's poverty rate is the fourth highest amongst developed nations. Only the countries of Mexico, Turkey, the United States and Luxembourg were poorer.

From The Straits Times, we read more statistics from Japan.

In Japan's first official calculation of its relative poverty rate, the ministry said 15.7 per cent of Japanese people lived on less than half the median disposable income in 2006.

The figure, based on national statistics of income in 2006, was up from a figure of 14.6 per cent for 1997 according to the newly released ministry data.

The ratio could be worse by now as Japanese workers' salaries have fallen amid the economic slump following the 2008 global financial crisis.