Monday, September 20, 2010

One troubled Millennium village in Kenya

A project that the United Nations has spearheaded in an effort to meet the Millennium Development Goals is the Millennium Villages. Selected villages in Africa receive a lot of aid and effort, as the UN brings in technology and specialists to try to bring the entire village out of poverty.

The project has obtained some success as village residents are healthier and the children receive education. However, critics call it a waste of money and say it is impossible to replicate any success through the whole continent.

From this Associated Press article that we found at Google News, authors Jason Straziuso and Malkhadir Muhumed tell us more about one of the villages in Kenya.

About 70 percent of Dertu's people earn less than $1 a day, and most depend on food aid. The two-room hotel charges $1.25 a night. Generators and solar energy provide some basic needs, like charging cell phones, but the school's nine donated computers aren't yet connected to the Internet.

Not surprisingly, the advent of Millennium Village status four years ago generated exaggerated expectations, and now some villagers feel disappointed. There is also sharp debate between supporters and detractors about whether the idea can be "scaled up" into sweeping solutions for the world's poorest region.

Yet improvements can be seen in Dertu: four new health care workers, free medicines and vaccines, a birthing center and laboratory under construction, bed nets to ward of mosquitoes. In 2006, 49 percent of 916 individuals tested had malaria. That rate has dropped to 8 percent.

School attendance has doubled for boys and tripled for girls, there are high school scholarships and a dorm for boys. Each village gets $120 in spending per person per year, half from the villages project, the rest from the government or aid groups.

As a result, Dertu, which barely existed until UNICEF dug a well here 13 years ago, has become a magnet for surrounding villages.

"A lot has to be done still to meet the Millennium Development Goals. A lot has been done and for that we are thankful," said Ibrahim Ali Hassan, a 60-year-old village elder with dyed red hair who waves a cell phone in his hand as he talks.

Of the complainers, he remarks: "They think now that we are a Millennium Village they will be built a house with an ocean view."

Mohamed Ahmed Abdi, 58, heads the Millennium Village Committee, liaison between the project and the villagers. He gripes that there are too few teachers, and that the well water is salty and unhealthy.

"There is a difference between what we have been told and what really exists. We have been told that 'Your village is the Millennium Village.' We have been told that 'You will get roads, electricity, water and education,'" he said.

The Millennium Villages are the brainchild of Jeffrey Sachs, the Columbia University economist who is special adviser to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the Millennium Development Goals.

Sachs readily acknowledges that Dertu hasn't made a breakthrough, calling it "one of the most difficult venues on the whole planet." But he points to other advances in lifting villages out of extreme poverty.

"I think on the whole they've been a tremendous success, not only in what they are accomplishing on the ground but also opening eyes to what can be accomplished more generally," Sachs told The Associated Press. "They're a proving ground of how to create effective systems in health, education, local infrastructure, business development and agriculture."

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