Saturday, January 30, 2010

Video: Giving technology to the slums of Brazil

This video profiles the work of social entrepreneur Rodrigo Baggio. His project is create computer schools for the poor children of Brazil. We found the video at the social business site Take Part.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Comment on the biggest opponent in Afghanistan

If you haven't seen the movie or read the book The Kite Runner (wiki) yet, we highly recommend it. The story shows a great contrast in quality of life over the years in Afghanistan.

The setting for the start of The Kite Runner is Afghanistan before the Russian war, what you see is relative freedom, some commerce and standing buildings. When the main character returns to Taliban controlled Afghanistan at the end of the movie, you see destroyed buildings, closed shops and religious oppression.

We bring all this up because we ran across a commentary from the writer of the book that was based on the film. Khaled Hosseini maintains that the biggest opponent in Afghanistan is not the Taliban or al Qaeda, but it is poverty. We found the comment from Hosseini at the London Evening Standard.

Poverty is not new in Afghanistan. The country was one of the world's poorest even before it was ravaged by 30 years of war. Today, more than 25,000 Afghan women die each year during pregnancy, childbirth or after delivery. Average life expectancy is 44. One in four children will die before age five. Seventy per cent of the country does not have access to clean water, and half live on less than $1 a day.

Combating this is no modest undertaking. But is a fight against poverty in Afghanistan worth taking on even as the military fight intensifies?

The Afghans themselves make a moral argument. They point to the huge sacrifices that they made during the Soviet war. They believe the final chapter of the Cold War was inked in Afghan blood. The West, they say, bears a moral responsibility to help them rebuild their country.

This argument might not find much traction in Washington. But consider this: poverty helps the insurgency. While it is true that some young Afghans join the insurgency because of grievances against the Kabul regime, or religious fervour, or because they see foreign troops as occupiers, many more join because of a shortage of options and a lack of opportunity. The insurgents benefit from the deplorable economic conditions in Afghanistan.

When people have a roof over their head, food on the table and a school for their children, they are not as vulnerable to exploitation by extremists. Young Afghans deserve a better option than being fighters, and it would serve us well to give it to them.

Gates Foundation pledges 10 billion for vaccine development

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced yesterday that they will double their commitment vaccines. The Foundation will put $10 billion dollars in the next decade to the development and distribution of vaccines to under-developed countries. The Foundation previously allocated $4.5 billion dollars for vaccines development for such diseases as tuberculosis, diarrhea, and others.

From this Associated Press article that we found at NPR, we read more about reaction to the Gates Foundation statement.

Gates said the commitment more than doubles the $4.5 billion the foundation has given to vaccine research over the years.

The foundation said up to 7.6 million children under 5 could be saved through 2019 as a result of the donation. It also estimates that an additional 1.1 million kids would be saved if a malaria vaccine can be introduced by 2014. A tuberculosis vaccine would prevent even more deaths.

"Vaccines are a miracle," said Melinda Gates. "With just a few doses, they can prevent deadly diseases for a lifetime."

Margaret Chan, head of the World Health Organization, called the Gates contribution unprecedented and urged governments and private donors to add to the initiative.

"An additional two million deaths in children under five years could be prevented by 2015 through widespread use of new vaccines and a 10 percent increase in global vaccination coverage," said Chan.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Uneven growth in India; UN study

A new United Nations study finds that India's recent economic growth has been an uneven one. Uneven meaning that some states in India have had poverty numbers reduced while others have increased.

From Headlines India, we find out more of the study's conclusions.

"In recent years, economic growth has been relatively high in three largest countries in the region, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, which recorded annual growth per capita above 5 percent in 2000-2006," according to "Rethinking Poverty" report of the UN's Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

"As a result, the sub-region saw the proportion of those living in extreme poverty decline in relative terms, from a high of 59 percent in 1981 to 40 percent in 2005," it said.

"However, such growth has not been sufficiently inclusive and pro-poor to reduce the absolute numbers of people living in poverty. Income inequalities have grown steadily in India since the 1980s, in borh urban and rural areas."

Giving some examples, the report says the levels of poverty varied significantly within India where Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu saw the share of poor decline from 18 percent in 1993-94 to 15 percent in 1999-2000.

At the same time, the share of the total number of poor in Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal jumped from 57 percent to 63 percent during the same period.

"Therefore, although there has been a steady decline in the incidence of poverty in India, the efforts of the government have not resulted in a uniform impact across regions. There remain regions where poverty is still deep and severe and hence require greater attention."

Clinton's plea for Haiti at the World Economic Forum

Former US President Bill Clinton appealed to over 1,400 business CEOs to help invest in Haiti. During the World Economic Forum, Clinton asked business leaders to not only provide aid but to make think of the long term investment opportunities possible in the earthquake stricken country. Clinton now serves as the US envoy to Haiti.

From CBS Marketwatch, writer William L. Watts attended the Forum.

"There are serious, unmet food and water needs and part of it is that a distribution system just does not exist," Clinton said in a session added after to the annual meeting agenda after the Jan. 12 earthquake that's feared to have left more than 150,000 dead.

With around 1,400 CEOs attending the annual gathering of business leaders, politicians, and heads of non-governmental organizations, Clinton, the U.N. special envoy for Haiti, called for help in meeting urgent distribution needs. See full coverage of the World Economic Forum.

"If there's anybody here who knows where I can get some big trucks ... I need 100 yesterday," he said.

The forum dedicated three sessions to Haiti and also set up a Haiti desk in the middle of the Congress Center, which is hosting the annual meeting, where participants can receive information on how to help.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Breakdown of the US aid to Haiti

The Associated press has analyzed the US government spending on Haiti earthquake relief. They broke the numbers down to what each American dollar will be spent on. 42 cents will go to disaster assistance, 33 cents for military aid, nine cents for food, another nine cents to get the food to Haiti, and only one penny to the Haitian government.

Total pledges of aid from the US government to Haiti amount to $379 million that translates to $1.25 for each US citizen.

From this Associated Press article that we found at The Sun News, writer Martha Mendoza gives more detail to the dollar analogy.

Of each U.S. taxpayer dollar, 42 cents funds US AID's disaster assistance - everything from $5,000 generators to $35 hygiene kits with soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste for a family of five.

Another 33 cents is going to the U.S. military, paying for security, search and rescue teams, and the Navy's hospital ship USNS Comfort.

Just under a dime has already been spent on food: 122 million pounds of pinto beans, black beans, rice, corn soy blend and vegetable oil. When purchased in bulk, the actual food prices are relatively low. Pinto beans, for example, cost the U.S. government 40 cents a pound when purchased in 5 million-pound batches last week.

Getting the food to Haitians - paying for freighters, trucks and distribution centers, and the people to staff them, took another nine cents from each dollar.

Initial disaster spending was aimed at saving lives; now the spending is shifting to recovery. The Obama administration is putting five cents of each dollar into efforts to pay survivors to work. One program already in place describes paying 40,000 Haitians $3 per day for 20 days to clean up around hospitals and dig latrines. That project also includes renting 10 excavators and loaders, at $600 each, and 10 dump trucks at $50 a load.

Just under one penny of each dollar is going straight to the shattered Haitian government, whose president is sleeping in a tent while struggling to organize an administration that was notoriously unstable even before the earthquake.

The U.S. rarely gives large amounts of money directly to governments, a practice that is "very defensible from my point of view," said John Simon, who coordinated U.S. responses to international disasters under President Bush's administration.

UK Seniors in poverty drop by a third since 1999

A new study finds that the number of UK seniors living in poverty has decreased by a third in a span of ten years. There are now 2 million UK seniors living in poverty compared to 2.9 million in 1999.

From the UK's Telegraph, we find this breakdown of the numbers.

The ONS analysis found that the difference in income for the richest and poorest households was lower for pensioners than for people who were not retired.

But it added that income inequality increased during the past three decades, particularly during the period between 1977 and 1990.

There has also been a pronounced shift in the source of pensioners' income since 1977.

Money from occupational pensions and annuities accounted for an average of just 18pc of retired people's income in 1977, with the state pension accounting for 53pc.

But by 2007/08, the latest period for which figures are available, the state pension made up only 37pc of the money pensioners had coming in, with occupational pensions and annuities accounting for 36pc.

Relocating Haiti's new homeless

From NPR, a story on the Haitian government's plan to move the many new homeless from the earthquake to tent camps just outside the city of Port-au-Prince. The plan has been met with some criticism from other aid groups working in Haiti.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

UK poverty report from Save The Children

Save The Children UK has released a new study that finds that the numbers of children living in poverty has been rising since 2004. This result is similar to a study from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation issued a few months ago.

During the years of economic growth in the UK an additional 260,000 children moved below the poverty line. Save the Children says that their research suggests that child poverty levels have stayed the same during the recession.

From this press release found at the Save The Children UK website, we read this summary of the report's conclusions. The full report is available to download.

According to the research, commissioned from the New Policy Institute, an additional 260,000 children were pushed into severe poverty during the four years of a UK economic boom, between 2004 and 2008. Our research indicates that this number is likely to have stayed the same over the last two years, as the recession has wiped out any progress that government action may have achieved.

This means that 13% of the UK’s children now live in severe.

The recession is likely to have increased severe poverty by a further 100,000 children but rises in tax credits and benefits are expected to have bought the numbers back down to pre-recession figures. But as unemployment continues to climb, there is a real danger that the number of children living in severe poverty could still rise even higher.

England accounts for the biggest increase in severe poverty, with more than 1.5 million children now living in families that earn 50% below the average UK income and missing out on daily essentials such as enough food and clothes. London is home to around one fifth of all children in severe poverty in the UK — over 300,000 children — the biggest proportion of any UK city.

US stops aid to a Kenyan education program

The US has announced that they are going to stop giving to Kenya's education programs after an audit found more than $1 million dollars missing. This follows the UK's decision in December to stop giving to the education program.

The Kenyan program showed good promise when it started in 2003, enrolling over 1 million children who had never attended school before. Now the program's effectiveness has been slowed due to corruption and graft.

From this Associated Press story that we found at NPR, we read more of the stop funding announcement made by the US Ambassador to Kenya.

The U.S. made the decision based on claims late last year that Education Ministry officials misappropriated 100 million shillings ($1.3 million) of Kenyan government and donor funds to finance the country's much-lauded free primary school education program, U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger told a luncheon of the American Chamber of Commerce in Kenya.

The U.S. funding was to cost $7 million and begin this year, the ambassador said.

Kenya's Finance Ministry audited the program late last year and found the funds missing. Britain announced in December it was suspending its funding of the program.

Britain's funding totaled 55 million sterling pounds ($88.8 million) over a five-year period, beginning in 2005. The December suspension saw the last tranche of funding, 10 million sterling pounds ($16.1 million), withheld.

African policy challenges ahead for US

From the Voice of America, a pair of think tanks have released a study on what African policy challenges are ahead for the Obama administration. Foreign Policy in Focus has the entire report available online.

A new report says the Obama administration faces key challenges in Africa this year, including poverty, climate change and HIV/AIDS.

Africa Policy Outlook 2010 says the U.S. must take action to ensure it “does not miss a historic opportunity to bring meaningful change to the continent.” The report is co-published by Africa Action and Foreign Policy in Focus.

Gerald LeMelle, executive director of Africa Action, “The policy outlook is something we’ve put out now for 10 years. What we try to do is give a sort of an honest look at what the following year will look like vis-à-vis U.S. foreign policy in Africa based on the trends that we’ve seen from the year previous.”

Poverty is the biggest challenge

“We don’t like to discuss poverty that much because it’s kind of an indication that some of the free trade deregulation policies so favored by Western countries and Bretton Woods Institutions (World Bank, IMF) are in fact failing,” he says.

LeMelle calls poverty the greatest single threat to U.S. security today.

“We have seen the result of failed states across the globe and including in Africa, places like Somalia, that have come back to haunt The United States and other countries. And therefore, if we are not seriously addressing the question of poverty, then we’re really setting ourselves up for a fairly dismal future,” he says.

The Africa Policy Outlook report calls for a “nuts and bolts” approach to deal with poverty.

“We have to stop promoting deregulation. We have to stop promoting free trade. We have to stop promoting structural adjustment programs that make it safe for foreign direct investment to make 20, 30 percent profit at the expense of even minimal reinvestment in these communities where the money is being taken from,” he says.

LeMelle says an example of how failure to reinvest in the community can cause major problems is Nigeria’s Niger Delta.

“Fifteen years ago, we were organizing with Ken Saro-Wiwa, the peace activist from the Niger Delta, to get the oil companies to stop dumping oil into the environment. And by and large they refused to meet even minimal demands of reinvesting in schools and in housing and in roads for poor people in the Niger Delta. Today, people in the Niger Delta are picking up guns and shooting,” he says.

He calls it an attitude of profits being more important than people.

Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists were executed after being convicted by a military tribunal for allegedly instigating violence that led to the deaths of pro-government Ogoni chiefs. Saro-Wiwa and the others were hanged in 1995.

Climate Change

The report says another major challenge to Africa is climate change. And LeMelle is critical of the major powers for failing to take stronger action at the Copenhagen climate summit in December.

“Climate change is going to be a major contributing factor to death, disease, conflict, insecurity - all the things that we are concerned about from the perspective of national and global security. So we have to begin to address this,” he says.

LeMelle says while the rich nations pledged $100 billion to help developing countries deal with climate change, it’s unclear whether that’s new money or funds reallocated from other programs.


The Africa Action report says HIV/AIDS will also remain a major problem, despite programs such as PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. LeMelle says it’s responsible for an 18 percent decrease in AIDS-related deaths across Africa since 2004. But he says the increase in funding for PEPFAR is not as large as in years past.

“The end result has been that countries like Tanzania are beginning to turn people away. New patients approach them and they are told they can only enter the rolls (for treatment) if someone else dies. Or they’re saying they’re not taking any new patients for the coming year. This is going to reverse the trend toward successfully decreasing the deaths from HIV,” he says.

He calls on the Obama administration to keep the strong U.S. support to provide anti-retroviral drugs to those infected with the AIDS virus.

LeMelle says with the many problems facing the continent, “Africa deserves a more sophisticated approach than what has been afforded to its people.”

Special series on microcredit from Radio Netherlands

Radio Netherlands is doing a very good series on microcredit. The series tries to look at both the pros and cons of microcredit to answer who really does profit from it.

Those who are pro-microcredit say it's the best form of aid going and helps to give small business people a way to expand their businesses. However, many studies and stories are saying that many borrowers become dependent on the loans and that the credit still doesn't address savings or insurance.

As a part of their series on microcredit, Radio Netherlands attended a conference that featured Princess Maxima of the Netherlands. The Princess has championed the cause of microcredit. We encourage you to visit the Radio Netherlands special series that includes many success stories and some failures in microcredit. Many of the videos are in Dutch.

Princess Máxima, who is married to Dutch Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, sounded another critical note at the RNW meeting. She identified a growing problem in the world of microfinance. Moneylenders out to make a quick profit.

"We have to note that in certain markets some institutions have raised the yields, even as their operating expenses have been coming down. In these cases profits have started to play a more important role than sustainability."

Surprisingly critical words from the princess. But she was not the only one to go on the offensive in the Peace palace. Dutchman Klaas Molenaar, who gives advice about microcredit all round the world, witnessed how things went badly wrong in Afghanistan as a result of over-enthusiasm.

"Ooh, that's very bad. Very, very bad. I've seen donors coming in at a post conflict situation with a lot of money. That's so in conflict with the history of microfinance. It has to grow gradually and organically. There is no capacity when the donors just want to push in money."

Al those present agreed that microcredit is an invaluable tool. A small loan can permanently change human lives. Rik Rensen referred to a remark made by Princess Máxima some time ago that earning a dollar feels better than being given a dollar.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A new movie on microcredit in the US

A new documentary that chronicles the efforts of Grameen Bank expansion to the US has premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Titled “To Catch a Dollar: Muhammad Yunus Banks on America,” the movie shows the struggle that the concept of microcredit has in catching on in the states.

Muhammad Yunus coined the concept of microcredit back in the 1970s when he loaned a few dollars to a Bangladeshi women, since then his Grammen Bank has flourished in Bangladesh with a 99 percent repayment rate. In America however, there have been problems in raising the cash for the bank and getting borrowers to attend required weekly meetings.

From the Huffington Post, blooger Emily Goligoski introduces us to the films director. The youtube of the film’s trailer is after the jump.

Before the screening introduced by producer/director/cinematographer Gayle Ferraro (whose first film Sixteen Decisions followed the story of a borrower in Bangladesh, where the bank first began operating in 1976), founder Dr. Muhammad Yunus spoke about inspiring business ingenuity in potential entrepreneurs. Along with two other Sundance film selection subjects, Harlem Children's Zone founder Geoffrey Canada (of Waiting for Superman) and environmentalist Lester Brown (Climate Refugees), the Nobel Peace Prize-winning economist said he is eager for a time when people don't have to consider taking work that's either in pursuit of profit-making or social aims only.

His bank has managed to focus on the latter while expanding, but its introduction to the United States hasn't been a seamless one. A young Grameen employee who advises groups of five borrowers in Jackson Heights -- and whose simultaneous patience and frustration are the focus of much of the film -- finds that her clients are less likely to be engaged with weekly group meetings than their Bangladeshi counterparts. Her expression of joking concern when she reads from a bank manual about livestock trading value (when the women she's working with primarily work in clothing and hair extension sale) provides calm as the bank struggles to earn $6 million to set up a legal banking structure in the States, largely through Yunus' nearly-constant speaking engagements.

A preview of Davos

The World Economic Forum is coming up on January 27th in Davos, Switzerland. Banking, the economic crisis, and Haiti are to be on the top of the agenda.

In the past, the Forum focused on how globalization ans economics can solve the World's problems. Now, the forum will focus on fixing globalization and economics to prevent another global recession. Former President Bill Clinton will attend as the US envoy to Haiti will try to push the rebuilding of the country.

From this Associated Press story that we found at NPR, writer Bradley S. Klapper summarized the upcoming forum.

Rising global unemployment and sluggish recovery from recession form the backdrop for the forum, which will host more than 30 presidents and prime ministers from Jan. 27-31. The event, titled "Improve the State of the World: Rethink, Redesign, Rebuild," will be opened by French President Nicolas Sarkozy — a man who once hungered for freer markets for his country but now espouses a more state-supervised kind of "moral capitalism."

The forum, which has traditionally championed market-driven solutions, finds itself in a challenging pose.

This year's agenda looks at reforming banks and barriers to world trade as well as cybercrime, corruption and how businesses can respond to climate change.
Political headliners include Presidents Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, Lee Myung-Bak of South Korea and Jacob Zuma of South Africa and Prime Ministers Stephen Harper of Canada and Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of Spain. But the number of top leaders is sparser than in years past.

The slim U.S. presence suggests Davos is not a high priority for Obama's administration, after years of top-level participation under George W. Bush. Lawrence Summers, director of the National Economic Council, is the highest U.S. official slated to appear, leaving Obama at home amid a political battle over health care reform and unemployment over 10 percent, and set to give the U.S. State of the Union address on Wednesday.

Former President Bill Clinton's appearance will focus not on U.S. economic policy but on Haiti. As the U.N. special envoy to Haiti, he will encourage Davos participants to give some thought, and cash, to helping rebuild the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation after the earthquake that killed as many as 200,000 earlier this month, one of history's deadliest.

Friday, January 22, 2010

“Reaching the Marginalised” some statistics on education

A new report from UNESCO has some startling statistics about education around the world. The study titled “Reaching the Marginalised” found a problem with teacher's attendance in schools, with absentee rates as high as 25 percent in some countries.

The study on education also found a drop in total children enrolled from 1999 to 2007. The drop is especially troubling in light of the goals the world has for education with the Millennium Development Goals and the UN's "Education for All"

From The Economist, we find a greater detail of the statistics. The article also proposes some possible solutions that we encourage you to check out.

In India, for example, research by the World Bank reveals that 25% of teachers in government-run schools are away on any given day; of those present, only half were actually teaching when the bank’s researchers made spot checks. That is dreadful but not unusual: teacher absenteeism rates are around 20% in rural Kenya, 27% in Uganda and 14% in Ecuador.

Despite the inspiring rhetoric that accompanied the adoption of the UN’s “Education For All” goals in 1999, progress has been patchy. The numbers of unenrolled school-age children dropped by 33m in 2007 compared with 1999. About 15m of that fall came in India alone (though UNESCO says statistics may understate the problem by up to 30%). In countries like Liberia and Nigeria the numbers have hardly budged since 1999. Of the 72m still outside school, 45% are in sub-Saharan Africa.

Dig, and it grows still gloomier. Two-thirds of the fall in out-of-school numbers was in 2002-04. Since then, improvement has been scanty, though getting the final chunk of children into school is necessarily the trickiest task as the easy cases are already solved. The hardest job is enrolling children from remote areas, who speak minority languages; or come from cultures that place little value on schooling or (in India) from castes that have been long excluded from it. In more than a third of the 63 countries for which such data were available, more than 30% of young adults have fewer than four years of schooling. Nineteen of these countries are in Africa; the remaining three are Guatemala, Pakistan and Nicaragua.

Earthquake survivors at greater risk of trafficking

From the Voice of America writer Lisa Schlein received a statement from UNICEF on Haiti's children. UNICEF says that children in the earthquake stricken country are at a great risk of being trafficked away.

The United Nations Children's Fund warns children in earthquake stricken Haiti are at risk of being trafficked by unscrupulous adults. UNICEF says it is setting up so-called welcome centers where children, particularly unaccompanied children, can go and be safe.

The UN Children's Fund says even before the catastrophic earthquake struck, children in Haiti were at great risk of being trafficked. It says there is documented evidence showing many children have been taken out of the country illegally.

UNICEF Senior Regional Adviser for Child Protection, Jean-Claude Legrand, says there are reports of similar practices happening now.

"We have documented let us say around 15 cases of children disappearing from hospitals and not with their own family at the time being," he said. "We have anecdotal evidence of people crossing into San Domingo with children. And, there have been also observation at the airport of planes loading children."

Legrand says UNICEF and its partners have set up a surveillance system to register disappearances and, more importantly, to try to prevent them from occurring.

UNICEF says the protection of children is at the heart of its humanitarian operation in Haiti. It reports it has set up 20 centers where children who have lost or been separated from their family members can go and get care.

At these centers, aid workers identify and register unaccompanied children and try to reunify them with their families. UNICEF says the centers offer children a safe, friendly environment where they are given food and a space to play to relieve their stresses.

It says each of these centers receives about 2,000 children every day and soon two other centers, capable of hosting 4,000 children a day, will be opened.

Many people from abroad have expressed interest in adopting Haitian orphans. But, UNICEF generally opposes intra-continental adoptions, saying they only should be used as a last resort.

Jean-Claude Legrand says unaccompanied children in an emergency situation are not necessarily orphans. He says it is important this be verified before a child is given up for adoption.

"It is not because a child is hanging around in the streets that you suddenly declare that child as an orphan," said Legrand. "We do not consider that as a proper mechanism. It will take some time before we reach an understanding of the number of children who are going to be orphaned. Do not forget that Haitian society has a very strong setup and that there will be a lot of family members willing to care about children from their own families."

Furthermore, Legrand notes Haiti has a very big community living in the United States, Canada and other countries. He says many of these people will be willing to care for children who are related to them and have lost their parents.

On another matter, UNICEF says it will begin an urgent vaccination campaign against measles, polio and tetanus on Monday. It says it plans to immunize 360,000 children under five against these deadly diseases.

Haiti's new homeless problem

Haiti's earthquake demolished at least every other building in Port-au-Prince. So a big challenge has been finding shelter for all of the new homeless people. Tent camps are springing up everywhere, and some of those may exist for some time to come.

With the tens of thousands of new homeless people, aid groups have been unable get enough tents to all of them. The lack of tents leave many vulnerable to the elements or grabbing any piece of fabric to live under. Many fear that they could still be without shelter during the upcoming rainy season.

From this New York Times article writers Ray Rivera and Damien Cave examine this problem.

“A lot of these people have maybe a sheet on four sticks over their heads right now,” said Niurka Piñeiro, a spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration. “It’s really urgent that we get these tents so we can provide a little better cover from the elements.”

Haitian and international officials, aware that these camps may become permanent, are hotly debating locations. In Phase 2 of the plan, private companies would be contracted to build apartment complexes and homes with the help of residents living in the tents.

“We are hoping that this concentration of people will lead to work,” said Patrick Delatour, the minister of tourism, after a meeting with President René Préval. “They will help build their own housing.”

Officials with the migration agency have argued for sites inside cities close to employment, while Haitian government ministers have stressed the need to build as much shelter as fast as possible.

Already, work has begun on government land near the suburb of Croix des Bouquets. United Nations troops from Brazil have begun leveling the ground in preparation for a tent city for around 30,000 people. Officials hope to house 100,000 people with the dozen or so sites selected so far, which include the lawn of the prime minister’s office, but getting the tents to Haiti remains a difficult challenge.

A handful arrived Wednesday, and a larger shipment from Turkey and other countries came Thursday, but Ms. Piñeiro said thousands more would be needed. “We are really looking for family-sized tents,” she said. “But at this point, we’ll take anything.”

Patricia Legros is living in a bus-long shamble of blue tarps and shower curtains with an American flag for a door. She lives with her parents, a brother, cousins, neighbors. There is an artist, a taxi driver, a police officer, a tailor — 30 people in all. They sleep side by side on mattresses pulled from the rubble. Each night three of the men stand guard by firelight to keep cars from running them down.

Charles Mary René, 22, who has been living on a blanket in Toussaint Louverture Square here since the earthquake with her 3-year-old son and his father, Eddy Leonard, said that during the few times it rained, they just sat and got soaked. “What could we do, we have nowhere to go,” she said.

Children vulnerable to disease in Myanmar

From IRIN comes this story on the life of children in the remote villages of Myanmar. Children often have to take care of themselves while their parents are away working, that means many children unwashed, unfed and unhealthy. This story focuses on education efforts to help turn that around.

In the mountains between Mindat and Madupi towns in Myanmar’s remote Chin State, 45-year-old Mo Reen is searching for orchids to sell during the cold season.

Her husband, meanwhile, works the land for their slash-and-burn farm in Mindat Township, about an hour away. Their children, aged six, eight and 11, are left alone at home.

"When we were young, we were left by our parents, the way we leave our children now," Mo Reen said. "The eldest of the siblings takes care of the younger ones, while the parents are away working. It's traditional here."

But without proper care, her barefoot children run around unwashed and unkempt.

Agencies say a lack of awareness about children’s health issues in Chin State, Myanmar’s poorest, is leaving them vulnerable to infectious diseases, some of them deadly.

"Most Chin parents, especially in the remote areas, lack knowledge, not only about personal hygiene, but also about the health of their children," said Syed Shah Miran, the project health coordinator for Chin State with Merlin, a medical NGO.

Poverty and low levels of literacy contribute to the lack of information, while there is a need for more health awareness-raising campaigns in the state’s isolated, hilly areas, he said.

“Because of this lack of knowledge among parents, their children are very vulnerable to … infectious diseases such as malaria,” said Syed Shah Miran.

Common ailments

According to the Canada-based Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) tuberculosis, typhoid, malaria, HIV, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, diarrhoea and stomach problems are common ailments in Chin State, home to some 500,000 people and nestled along the border with India.

A health worker from the Department of Health said most illiterate parents did not know how to protect their children against common diseases.

“It’s very clear that they don't know how to keep themselves clean and healthy, [nor] do they know how to care for their children and keep them from being infected with diseases that could kill them,” the health worker said on condition of anonymity.

There is no data available on the mortality rate and causes of death in under-fives in Chin State, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

However, it is assumed that causes of child mortality are similar to other states, UNICEF says, including infectious diseases, especially pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria.

The most recent joint UNICEF and government Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey in 2003 showed a higher rate of malnutrition among under-five children in Chin State than the national average.

Chronic malnutrition-stunting among under-fives in Chin State is 36.5 percent, compared with the national average of 32.2 percent.

At the same time, acute malnutrition among under-fives in Chin State is 8.7 percent, against the national average of 8.6 percent.

Chin advocacy groups say malnutrition and chronic food insecurity have worsened since 2007 due to the destruction of crops by a rat infestation.

Challenges to raising awareness

To educate Chin people on the importance of healthcare, international agencies and the Ministry of Health are conducting awareness campaigns. However, there are challenges in Chin State such as accessibility, health experts say.

“One of the challenges is difficult access to its mountainous terrains, especially during the rainy season," Osamu Kunii, UNICEF Myanmar’s chief of health and nutrition, told IRIN.

Villagers have difficulty accessing health providers and facilities, while getting health providers to communities is a problem, he said.

There are only 12 hospitals and 56 doctors for the population, and just four viable roads in the state, according to a January 2009 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report.

In addition, there are restrictions in terms of data collection and sharing.

Officials also say they face difficulties in convincing parents of the importance of health education. “Persuading parents to come and join awareness-raising campaigns is quite challenging for us as they’re busy farming,” said the government health worker.

Most people in Chin State are subsistence farmers and live hand-to-mouth.

"I'm sorry that I cannot spend time with my children," said Lin Htan, 31, while she worked with her husband to prepare their farm in southern Mindat Township. "It’s because day in and day out, I'm busy finding food for them."

Her eldest child, aged seven, has been left at home to take care of his younger brother and sister. Lin Htan said she worried about her children being infected with malaria or other fatal diseases, but she had no time or opportunity to act on it.

A partnership to help East African fruit farmers

A new partnership between Coca-Cola, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and NGO Technoserve hopes to create a bigger market for small fruit farmers in Eastern Africa. Farmers will be given tools and expertise from Technoserve to increase their yields, while the harvest of fruit will go to Coca-Cola fruit drinks sold in the region.

From the Guardian's Katine project, reporter Liz Ford describes the partnership further.

It is hoped the $11.5m partnership, announced this week, will enable more than 50,000 small fruit farmers in eastern Uganda and the Mount Kenya and Rift Valley regions of Kenya to increase their productivity and double their incomes by 2014, mainly through the sale of their fruit to use in Coca-Cola's locally produced and sold fruit juices.

The partnership will particularly target mango and passion fruit farmers, who will be offered advice on implementing quality control standards, developing good practices that will boost productivity and linking to markets.

The announcement comes as Ugandan government representatives meet this week in Soroti, the district in which Katine is located, to talk about the possibility of establishing a fruit processing plant in the Teso region of the country.

The Ugandan government is keen to increase the value of its fruit as a way of meeting its Prosperity for All targets. Fruit exports have increased steadily over recent years - in 2007, the value of exports hit more than $1m. But, as the fruit is exported fresh, the country is missing out on the full potential of its produce through processing dried fruits, fruit juices or canned fruits. At present, Uganda's processing is limited to fruit juice extraction, the produce of which is sold locally.

Some UShs 5bn has been allocated by the government for a fruit processing factory in the Teso region of Uganda, one of the poorest in the country. An estimated 1.5 million citrus trees are planted in the region and by 2011 this number is expected to rise to about 5 million. However, a private backer is being sought for the factory, and there is confusion over the timescale of the project and who will run the operation. Locals hope this week's meeting will help clarify some of these points.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

World Bank waives Haiti's debt payments

Actually some good news today, we hope that there is more to come on this issue.

The World Bank issued a statement saying that they waive all payments on Haiti's debt for the next five years. The Bank points out they only represent 4 percent of all of Haiti's external debt, so many more lenders and countries will need to follow suit.

From the World Bank's press release comes details of the debt forgiveness.

The World Bank fully supports debt relief for Haiti. In June 2009, the World Bank, along with the IMF and other donors, granted Haiti $1.2 billion in debt relief through the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative and the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative. Since 2005, the World Bank’s financial support for Haiti ($363 million) has been carried out through grants. This does not include the $100 million in grants announced on January 13, 2010, in response to the earthquake.

Currently, Haiti's debt to the World Bank, which is interest-free, is about $38 million—about 4% of Haiti’s total external debt. Due to the crisis caused by the earthquake, we are waiving any payments on this debt for the next five years and at the same time we are working to find a way forward to cancel the remaining debt.

A life threatening scrap metal search

From IRIN, this surprising story of the lengths that poverty stricken Vietnamese are willing to go for some money. In a life threatening search for scrap-metal to sell, some look for unexploded land mines scattered around the countryside.

Nguyen Luong Quy was planting a tree on a coffee plantation on the outskirts of Buon Ma Thout, the largest city in Vietnam’s Central Highlands in 2000, when his shovel hit a hard metal object.

“There was a big explosion and I must have been knocked unconscious,” the 37-year-old farmer told IRIN. “I woke up in hospital and at first I thought I was dead because everything was white.”

Although his left arm was blown off, Quy survived the blast, caused by a bomblet - one of millions of cluster bombs dropped by American forces between 1964 and 1973.

But despite his first-hand experience of the dangers of unexploded ordnance (UXO), like many poor Vietnamese, Quy continues to scavenge for the metal contained in cluster bomblets and other unexploded munitions.

According to a 2009 study by the Vietnamese Ministry of Defense’s Technology Center for Bomb and Mine Disposal (BOMICEN) and the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, more than 35 percent of the land in six central provinces - including Nghean, Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri, Thua Thien Hue and Quang Ngai - is contaminated with UXO.

Since the end of the war in 1975, 10,529 people have been killed and 12,231 injured by UXO in the overwhelmingly rural provinces.

Quang Tri and Quang Binh, on either side of the former demilitarised zone that divided communist North Vietnam from the US-backed southern regime, are the worst affected.

But while 28 percent of the UXO victims were farming at the time of their accident, 34 percent were actively searching for scrap metal, many driven by poverty, the same study revealed.

According to the Vietnamese government, 12 percent of the population lives below the national rural poverty line of just under US$11 per person per month, and around $14 per person per month in urban areas.

Life-threatening business

Thousands of poor Vietnamese continue to make a living or supplement their income by using metal detectors to locate unexploded bombs, and then trying to defuse them before selling them on to metal scrap dealers.

It is an extremely dangerous business, however. Although landmines can be deactivated by trained professionals, the cluster bomblets that contain the most valuable metals are impossible to defuse safely.

The global financial downturn has made matters worse, say NGOs. “Scrap metal provides a decent and immediate income without needing any qualifications or investment,” notes Tran Hong Chi from Clear Path International (CPI), an UXO victim assistance charity in Dong Ha, the provincial capital of Quang Tri.

“It’s not just farmers or the jobless who need the money. In July, a teacher was killed while digging up a bomb during his summer vacation. He had a good job and should have known about the risks.”

At the same time, the global economic slowdown is straining the budgets of the NGOs involved in mine clearance.

Chi says this year will be tough for CPI because it lost two key donors in 2009. The same goes for Mines Advisory Group (MAG), one of the main mine-clearance NGOs in Vietnam. Its Vietnam division, which had a budget of $3 million for 2009, lost half its donors last year.

But according to Jimmy Roodt, MAG’s country manager in Vietnam, the economic downturn is just part of the problem.

Mine strategy

A number of donors remain unhappy that Vietnam, unlike neighbouring Cambodia, has yet to adopt a national mine action strategy.

In Vietnam, the UXO issue is largely the domain of the military. Though the government is now working on a national strategy document, Roodt believes this will not be finalized for several years.

Nguyen Thi Thanh An, a childhood injury prevention specialist with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Hanoi, who also sits on Vietnam’s informal UXO working group, agreed: “Without a national centre like they have in Cambodia, there’s no central casualty database to measure morbidity and mortality so we don’t have reliable data to demonstrate to donors how bad the problem is.”

She added that Vietnam would also attract more donors if it signed up to the international treaties prohibiting the use of landmines and cluster munitions - including the 1997 Ottawa Convention.

At the current pace, Phan Duc Tuan, deputy head of the army’s Military Engineering Command, said it would take 300 years and more than $10 billion to clear Vietnam of bombs, shells and mines.

However, said Roodt: “It’s not about clearing every inch but about reducing threat levels.”

“Vietnam,” he added, “is growing fast and, in terms of value for money, there is no country where you could have a greater impact from investing in mine clearance than here.”

Violence eases in Jos region of Nigeria

The 24 hour curfew has been lifted in Nigeria's Jos region as violence there has subsided. With the lifting of the curfew people will begin to return to their homes and the injured will begin to be treated.

The violence flared up this weekend when Muslim youths attached a Christian church. The retaliation later happened at a Muslim mosque. So far, 265 casualties have been accounted for, over 17,000 people fled the area due to the violence.

From the BBC, we read the latest update on this story.

Correspondents say the lifting of the curfew will allow Muslim clerics to organise funerals and bury the dead.

People can now leave their houses between 1000 and 1700 local time.

The 24-hour curfew has made it difficult to account for the casualties, but at least 65 Christians and 200 Muslims are believed to have died.

Relief agencies say at least 17,000 have people fled the violence, using army barracks and public buildings as temporary accommodation.

"I feel relatively safer because I'm not hearing any gunshots," one resident, who asked to remain anonymous, told the BBC's Network Africa programme on Thursday morning. The city is in Nigeria's volatile Middle Belt - between the mainly Muslim north and the south where the majority is Christian or follow traditional religions.

The Red Cross said its workers had begun to treat the wounded on Wednesday, the first day aid workers were able to enter the city under the protection of the security forces.

Correspondents say such clashes in Nigeria are often blamed on sectarianism.

However, poverty and access to resources such as land often lie at the root of the violence.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

RISE; a social enterprise in Kenya

A social enterprise operation received a profile in Kenya's Daily Nation.

The business employs women who stitch together small hand bags that are now sold around the world. The money raised from selling the bags have not only given the women a steady paycheck, but has also helped to start other projects that improve the lives of Kenyans.

Daily Nation writer Sam Kiplagat profiles RISE or Regional Institute for Social EnterpRise.

The CDs measure no more than four inches. The decorated bags are eventually shipped to markets in Europe, the United States and Japan. The discs fetch just about Sh30 apiece. But this translates to some Sh450,000 a week for the groups.

For the weavers across the dusty villages of Migwani, pay comes via the paying points in trading centres or through electronic M-Pesa and Zap. Groups in the aloe industry are equally buoyed financially, making about Sh60,000 every week. Result? The once hopeless villagers are smiling all the way to markets and shops. Children are going to school and deaths from Aids have gone down due to better nutrition.

A local organisation known as Regional Institute for Social EnterpRise (Rise) through Mr Philip Mwangangi, says from a situation where people earned nothing, nearly Sh2 million is earned by ordinary villagers each month. He said: “We are training farmers in nursery management, grafting and water harvesting for irrigation. About 400 group-based farmers have been targeted for the first phase. Fruit tree nurseries are already in place,” he said.

Other areas Rise has targeted, according to Mr Mwangangi, include greenhouse horticulture and agro-forestry. He says five pilot greenhouses have been planned for growing tomatoes by selected community organisations. The agro-forestry endeavour is visible in the tree nurseries tended by each of the 19 organisations, and tree planting is taking place on Kwa Mutotya Hill in Nzauni Location that has been rendered bare by illegal loggers and charcoal burners.

MSF: Six planes with medical supplies redirected away from Haiti

This video from Médecins Sans Frontières shows some footage of their work in Haiti.

Six planes carrying much needed medical supplies had to be rerouted to the Dominican Republic due to over-congestion of the airport in Port-au-Prince. Medical professionals are already unable to catch up to the amount of injuries caused by the earthquakes. This kind of delay in receiving much needed supplies only make their work harder. We read one twitter post from a reporter in Haiti that said that everywhere he went he saw injured people who hadn't been treated yet.

Malaria Risk Index increases the ranking for Haiti

A worldwide assessment of malaria risk also contains a warning of increased risk for Haiti due to the recent earthquake.

The Malaria Risk Index issued by Maplecroft ranks the nations most at risk of malaria. Some of the criteria used include malaria deaths in each country, distribution of mosquito nets, as well as the ability to contain the spread of the disease.

The World Health Organization says there were 863,000 malaria deaths last year. 90 percent of those deaths were in Africa while the rest were in Southeast Asia or the Meditterainan.

From this AFP article hosted at Google News, writer Marlowe Hood talked to Maplecroft about the study.

"It is highly probable that the prevalence of malaria will increase in the wake of the disaster," said Fiona Place, a researcher at British risk analysis specialists Maplecroft and co-author of the Malaria Risk Index.

"Overcrowding in the camps for the displaced, inadequate shelter and sanitation, overburdened medical facilities, ruptured sewer systems -- all these factors provide favourable conditions for the breeding of malaria vectors," Place told AFP.

Improvised use of open-air catchments for rainwater also make it easy for the mosquitoes that carry the disease to multiply, she said.

The Maplecroft Index ranks more than 100 countries most affected by malaria, based on 10 criteria including the number of cases, deaths of children under five, use of nets and distribution of drugs.

Capacity to contain an outbreak is also taken into account.

All but six of the 40 countries hit hardest are in Africa.

Those most in peril, in the "extreme" risk category, are Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Yemen, Burkina Faso, Togo, Comoros and Chad.

Prior to the 7.0 Richter Scale earthquake Haiti ranked 34th, which put it in the "high" category of risk.

The largest non-African country at high risk is Pakistan, according to the study.

Brookings Institution: suburbs contain biggest increase in US poor

The Brookings Institution has issued a new report that measures the numbers of poor in the United States. It finds that the biggest increases were concentrated on suburban areas of the nation's metropolitan communities. Suburban poverty has increased 25 percent since 2000, rising at a rate five times faster than the central cities.

The Brookings report also found that the biggest increases in poverty rates were found in Midwestern cities, while Northeastern poverty rates declined. 30 percent of Americans are now below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

To download the full report from the Brookings website click here, there is also a city by city breakdown of the stats available here. US newspapers are localizing the study for today's issues, what follows are snippets of three such stories that caught our eye.

From The Birmingham News writer Jeff Hansen reveals a surprising trend for Birmingham, Alabama.

The Brookings Institution today reports that the poverty rates in the city of Birmingham and in the rest of the seven-county metro area declined from 2000 to 2008, by 2.4 and 0.6 percentage points, respectively.

That defied the overall trend seen in the nation's 95 largest metro areas, where the number of American poor increased by 5.2 million, with almost half of that growth occurring in what Brookings calls "the suburbs."

Birmingham's outlier status in an anomaly. The metro region was late in joining the Great Recession: Birmingham metro unemployment averaged 4.5 percent in 2008, but then 9.1 percent through the first 11 months of 2009.

Brookings expects the Birmingham-Hoover metro poverty rate will to climb by 2.4 percentage points from 2008 to 2009, based on that surge of unemployment already seen for 2009. And Brookings expects poverty rates in the other 94 metro areas will also rise.

The Brookings Institution said the trend of more poor people living in suburbs means that "the balance of metropolitan poverty has passed a tipping point."

James Rosen of McClatchy Newspapers gives us the statistics for the Carolinas.

More than one of every four Columbia residents is now living in poverty.

Columbia has been hit harder than other cities in the Carolinas, but Charleston, Charlotte and Raleigh are also home to a growing number of poor people.

More than 15.8 percent of Charlotte's residents are poor. That's only a slightly larger share than the 14.1 percent poverty rate in Charlotte metro area suburbs in Mecklenburg, Gaston, Union and York, S.C., counties.

York County, though, has been hit worse, with 16.3 percent of its residents living in poverty.

Things are bleaker still along the S.C.-Georgia border: Aiken County, part of the Augusta, Ga., metropolitan area, has a 19.2 percent poverty rate.

The suburban-city disparity is sharper in Columbia: The city proper has a poverty rate of 27.7 percent, compared with a 13.6 percent in its suburbs in Richland, Lexington, Kershaw and other nearby counties.

The Indianapolis Star gives us the results for that area.

The number of people living in poverty in Indianapolis increased in the years 2000 through 2008, but the city's poverty rate remains below that of the 95 largest U.S. cities, according to a new report from a Washington think tank.

In the Indianapolis suburbs, defined as 10 surrounding and nearby counties, the number of people living in poverty increased to 65,684 in 2008, up by 29,741 since 2000, the report said. The poverty rate in the Indianapolis suburbs increased from 5 percent in 2000 to 7.3 percent in 2008.

Another earthquake in Haiti

Here is another roundup on some of the Haiti headlines. Another earthquake hit the country this morning, sending panicked people out into the streets and away from buildings. Associated Press writer Michelle Faul gives us the latest details, we found this article at the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.

A 6.1-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti on Wednesday morning, shaking buildings and sending screaming people running into the streets only eight days after the country's capital was devastated by an apocalyptic quake.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the new quake hit at 6:03 a.m. (1103 GMT) about 35 miles (56 kilometers) northwest of the capital of Port-au-Prince. It struck at a depth of 13.7 miles (22 kilometers) but was too far inland to generate any tidal waves in the Caribbean.

Wails of terror rose Wednesday as frightened survivors of last week's quake poured out of unstable buildings. It was not immediately possible to ascertain what additional damage the new quake may have caused.

Last week's magnitude-7 quake killed an estimated 200,000 people in Haiti, left 250,000 injured and made 1.5 million homeless. A massive international aid effort has been launched, but it is struggling with logistical problems, and many Haitians are still desperate for food and water.

Still, search-and-rescue teams have emerged from the ruins with some improbable success stories — including the rescue of 69-year-old ardent Roman Catholic who said she prayed constantly during her week under the rubble.

Ena Zizi had been at a church meeting at the residence of Haiti's Roman Catholic archbishop when the Jan. 12 quake struck, trapping her in debris. On Tuesday, she was rescued by a Mexican disaster team.

Another article reminds us of how great the need is in Haiti. Government and charity aid groups cant get supplies and resources into the country fast enough. Associated Press writer Jonathan M. Katz focuses on the struggle to get enough aid into Haiti, our snippet comes from the Springfield News Leader.

The world still can't get enough food and water to the hungry and thirsty one week after an earthquake shattered Haiti's capital. The airport remains a bottleneck, the port is a shambles. The Haitian government is invisible, nobody has taken firm charge and the police have largely given up.

Even as U.S. troops landed in Seahawk helicopters Tuesday on the manicured lawn of the National Palace, the colossal efforts to help Haiti are proving inadequate because of the scale of the disaster and the limitations of the world's governments. Expectations exceeded what money, will and military might have been able to achieve so far in the face of unimaginable calamity.

Those who survived the quake from the beginning but had lost their homes and possessions were growing desperate as they camped out in the streets and in a plaza across from the National Palace.

"We need so much. Food, clothes. We need everything. I don't know whose responsibility it is, but they need to give us something soon," said Sophia Eltime, a 29-year-old mother of two who has been living under a bedsheet with seven members of her extended family. She said she had not eaten yet Tuesday.

It is not just Haitians questioning why aid has been so slow for victims of one of the worst earthquakes in history: an estimated 200,000 dead, 250,000 injured and 1.5 million homeless. Officials in France and Brazil and aid groups such as Doctors Without Borders have complained of bottlenecks, skewed priorities and a crippling lack of leadership and coordination.

"TENS OF THOUSANDS OF EARTHQUAKE VICTIMS NEED EMERGENCY SURGICAL CARE NOW!!!!!" said a news release from Partners in Health, co-founded by Dr. Paul Farmer, the deputy U.N. envoy to Haiti.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A new call to forgive Haiti's debt

Just as soon as Haiti became independent the nation was burdened with debt. As we linked to yesterday, the slaves in Haiti who gained independence then had to pay reparations to their former slave holders. That action began a history of indebtedness for the country, and is a big reason why Haiti has been unable to achieve a stable economy.

Calls for all wealthy nations to forgive Haiti's debts grew stronger yesterday as the "Paris Club" of four industrialized nations issued a statement asking all countries to forgive Haiti's debts. From the New York Times, Alan Cowell reports on the Paris Club's appeal.

Broadening the relief effort, the Paris Club of international creditors issued an appeal Tuesday for nations owed money by Haiti to cancel the debts to help reconstruction after the devastating earthquake a week ago.

A statement from the informal grouping, which meets each month in Paris and is composed of major industrialized countries, came as international agencies pressed for the provision of greater security to protect the distribution of aid in Haiti and the supply route leading from the neighboring Dominican Republic.

The Paris Club said that last July its members canceled all their claims on Haiti, at that time totaling $214 million.

“Considering the financing needs that Haiti will face in reconstructing the country, Paris Club creditors call upon other bilateral creditors also to urgently provide full debt cancellation to Haiti,” the statement said.

The response from creditors was not clear. The Paris Club said that Haiti’s public external debt, before factoring in relief offered to very poor countries, totaled $1.885 billion at the end of September 2008. The appeal came as relief efforts in Haiti were still stymied by bottlenecks and security fears.

Swaziland considers farming input subsidies

From IRIN, Swaziland is considering a new proposal to subsidize farming inputs such as seeds and fertilizer. The Swaziland government hopes the subsidies will improve food production in the country and will take away the reliance on food assistance from the international community.

Swaziland's government is planning to subsidize agricultural inputs to boost food production in the consistently food insecure country.

The proposal, however, has yet to be passed by Cabinet and would then require the establishment of a financing scheme for the agricultural inputs ahead of the main planting period that begins in October.

In the past decade, up to two thirds of the one million population have relied on donor food assistance and although the food shortages were largely blamed on erratic rainfall, the return of good rains in 2009, did little to improve the country's food security.

"The reason why more food isn’t produced is poverty. Farmers did not have money to buy seeds and fertilizer. Those who did not have teams of oxen were hard-pressed to rent government tractors. We had no budget to assist them," Sipho Simelane, Senior Agriculture Officer at the Ministry of Agriculture, told IRIN.

The plan to introduce subsidies comes on the back of Malawi's bumper 2009 maize harvest of 3.66 million tons that was attributed to good rains and the success of an agricultural subsidy programme targeting poor smallholder farmers.

Simelane said the inputs initiative could add 42,000 metric tons to the national food supply and also serve as a vehicle to alleviate poverty.

Wilson Sikhondze, of the agricultural ministry, told IRIN the most recent harvest (2008-2009) produced about 71,000 tons of maize. However, during the 2007-2008 drought year, 83,000 tons of maize was harvested and is seen as an indication that availability of agricultural inputs, rather than erratic rainfall impacted more severely on production.

Swaziland's annual national maize requirement is about 140,000 tons.

Targetting farmers

"This would go a long way to alleviate the shortages. Farmers will be obliged to sell surpluses to the National Maize Board. They’ll be paid," Simelane said.

It is expected the subsidy programme would be more discretionary to reduce possibilities of fraud and increase food production successes, as farmers would be required to pay for one-third of the cost of the inputs.

"We will be targeting 21,000 farmers in areas where there is the greatest potential for high yields. We are focusing on maize production. Each farmer is required to have at least one hectare of land which currently produces at least two metric tons of maize. The goal is to increase yields to at least four metric tones of maize per hectare," Simelane said.

"Swaziland has four agri-climatic zones, and the initiative is targeted at the northern high veld and the high middle-veld where there is adequate rainfall to sustain crops if farmers get the inputs they need," he said.

The middleveld and low veld has adequate soil, but lacks sufficient water resources and relies solely on rain fall.

If implemented and should it improve food production there will be other challenges to overcome, including a revamped agricultural distribution infrastructure, Simelane said.

"We need to look at national storage facilities. They are run by the National Maize Board (NMC, whose main storage facility is at the Matsapha Industrial Estate in the center of the country), where farmers sell their crops. As part of government’s decentralization policy, we have facilities built in all four provinces of the country, with more planned," he said.

The donor dependent country that is ruled by sub-Sahara's last absolute monarch, King Mswati III, already has agricultural input subsidy programs and has served to highlight some of the problems the government initiative may encounter.

Curbing expectations

"We have been providing inputs in years past, but for government to do this is new," Khanyisile Mabuza, Assistant Country Representative for the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), told IRIN.

The Swaziland offices of the UN's World Food Programme (WFP), the FAO and the community-based poverty-eradication nongovernmental organisation World Vision, which partners the UN agencies, has been moving away from food distribution toward programmes self-sufficient food production for a few years.

The majority of farmers who are recipients of subsidy programmes reside on communal Swazi Nation Land, where 80 percent of the population lives under the control of palace appointed chiefs.

"When we supplied inputs it was during emergency situations. We set up trade fairs, and farmers came to learn about the different crops. We then supplied seeds for sorghum, beans or maize. But it set up expectations," Mabuza said.

"Farmers felt they would always be supplied. They receive packages containing R600 (US$81) worth of inputs, but they would sell the contents for R400 (US$54) and felt it was their right to do so. Then they started making demands like they wanted tractors," she said.

Mabuza said government's approach to target farmers was a good one. "It is good that government will manage its input initiative, and that farmers will contribute and not just receive. To be a success farmers must have a sense of ownership," she said.

World Vision has undertaken a survey for government and identified 55,000 small-scale farmers as possible candidates for subsidies. "We want farmers who are passionate about food production, who will work," Russell Dlamini, Programme Director for World Vision, told IRIN.

However, monetary concerns may weigh heavily on the ability of the government to finance the subsidy programme. The renogiation of Swaziland's share of regional custom duties derived from its membership of the Southern African Customs Union has seen revenue cut by R4 billion (US$541 million).

According to some estimates the custom's revenue provided government with about 60 percent of it budget.

"Smart Infrastructure"

When talking about Haiti we often hear about the lack of infrastructure the country had even before the earthquake. A growing movement of poverty-fighters are working with villages in the underdeveloped world to bring them infrastructure solutions.

The charities and entrepreneurs who do this "smart infrastructure" work use science and innovation to provide such things as toilets that covert waste into bio-fuel, even earthquake resistant buildings.

From the New York Times, Henry Fountain profiles a charity that has changed plans to provide medical care since the earthquake.

A week ago, Elizabeth Sheehan, the founder of Containers to Clinics, a nonprofit organization in Dover, Mass., was preparing to deploy the group’s first medical clinic overseas. Made from two shipping containers, it was to be sent to the Dominican Republic, where it would begin to fulfill the group’s long-term goal of building health care infrastructure in developing countries through networks of small container clinics in rural areas.

Then, last Tuesday, a magnitude 7 earthquake struck the Dominican Republic’s neighbor, Haiti. Hospitals in the capital, Port-au-Prince, were destroyed or damaged, and basic medical care was practically nonexistent. Ms. Sheehan said her donors immediately started calling her. “They all said, ‘Why don’t you send it there?’ ” she said.

Now, the group may dispatch the clinic, which has two examining rooms, a laboratory and a pharmacy, to Port-au-Prince if a medical team and supplies can be arranged.

“It can be used in this disaster situation,” Ms. Sheehan said, and then left in Haiti or sent on to Bani, on the Dominican Republic’s south coast, to fulfill the original mission. “We are committed to long-term primary health care for women and children.”

Containers to Clinics is one of many innovative approaches to building or rebuilding infrastructure in developing countries, to help forestall disasters or, as in Haiti, recover from one. Among them are new ideas and projects to supply quality housing, clean water, proper waste treatment and affordable energy, in addition to health care.

Their promoters share a belief that while the conventional top-down approach, by governments and large relief agencies coming in with large projects, works for initial relief and recovery, long-term reconstruction — “building back better,” in the parlance of redevelopment specialists — requires more involvement of local people.

Rising Food price effects on the slums of Kenya

From IRIN, this story focuses on rising food prices and how they effect the urban slum dwellers of Kenya. Even enterprising slum-dwellers who try to sell food have trouble selling to their neighbors because food prices have doubled in just a couple of years.

Fridah Awour Agolla has sold vegetables in Nairobi's Mathare slum for 20 years. In better times, her stock sold out every day. But lately market forces have begun to bite even harder for the millions in Kenya who live in such squalid, neglected settlements.

"My customers are buying less and less; now I find that goods like vegetables do not sell out, they go into the next day. People's ability to buy these goods has really dropped,” Agolla, a mother of five, told IRIN.

Agolla managed to put her children through primary school but never earned enough to pay for secondary education.

"If I could afford to join a savings club [where members’ regular contributions are distributed on a rotational basis], I’d buy a variety of food to improve my stock and I would probably be selling more, and perhaps some of my children could go back to school," she said.

Pamela Anyango Odhiambo, 25, and a mother of five, says making ends meet gets harder and harder in Mathare.

"I think food prices have more than doubled within a short time; for example, with 300 shillings [US$4] I could feed my family for days. Now it is not even enough for one day," said Odhiambo, nursing two-month-old twins.

“Humanitarian crisis”

Slum-dwellers are among the Kenyans worst hit by high food prices, yet they receive far less humanitarian attention than other demographic groups. The poorest urbanites spend up to two-thirds of their income on staple foods alone.

"There is a humanitarian crisis in deprived informal settlements around the world, and one of the regions where this dynamic is playing out is in Kenya,” said Choice Okoro, advocacy and outreach officer for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs-Kenya.

“Urban poverty is set to be Kenya’s defining crisis over the next decade if it is not urgently addressed," she added.

Okoro said lack of recognition of slums and settlements as residential areas for city planning and budgeting purposes has meant that residents have been denied essential services provided to other residents.

"These include water, sanitation, electricity, garbage collection, health, education, access roads and transport," she said. "In turn, the services that property owners provide to tenants are often insufficient.

"The number of urban population living in slums is expected to double in the next 15 years, as migration is exacerbated by environmental adversity," she said.

In a September 2009 report, Oxfam-GB noted that the proportion of urban Kenyans unable to meet their nutritional and other basic requirements (the “absolute poor”) had declined over the past decade. “But this conceals the fact that the percentage share of the very poorest urban groups – defined as the ‘food poor’ [those unable to meet all nutritional needs due to expenditure on other basic non-food essentials] and ‘hardcore poor’ [unable to meet their basic food needs even by forgoing other essentials] has actually been increasing.” The report uses government thresholds, which define “nutritional needs” as 2,250 kilocalories per adult per day.


According to the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), “Nairobi has some of the most dense, unsanitary and insecure slums in the world. Almost half of the population lives in over 100 slums and squatter settlements within the city, with little or inadequate access to safe water and sanitation.”

In an effort to address these problems, UN-HABITAT, the government and Nairobi City Council are working together on a Kenya Slum Upgrading Project (KENSUP), which focuses on improving infrastructure, initially in Kibera, one of Nairobi’s largest slums.

"Working together with the people of Kibera, we have identified the areas where the needs are greater, this is why we started working on water and sanitation,” said Joshua Kaiganaine, KENSUP’s programme manager, noting that $500,000 had so far been spent on water sanitation blocks, rubbish collection points and a 4km access road.

"We tackle waterborne diseases; later, we will move on to different areas like shelter and education but, for that we need to understand what people really can afford considering the majority of them have only casual jobs."

In the first phase of a KENSUP slum decanting initiative, in September 2009 some 1,300 residents of Kibera were moved to new apartment blocks with monthly rents of $20.

Food by SMS

Once it receives Cabinet approval, 20,000 slum residents will receive the equivalent of $20 a month. Depending on the outcome of the pilot scheme, the programme could be extended to other cities, such as Mombasa and Kisumu.

The money will be paid through a microfinance institution, Jami Bora, and via M-Pesa, an electronic cash transfer system operated by a mobile phone service provider.

"Targeting can be a sensitive issue,” World Food Programme (WFP) spokesman Peter Smerdon told IRIN, “as there will always be a bigger need that we can realistically target. Not everyone who feels they are eligible can be targeted, at least not in the pilot phase. So explaining how the project will be rolled out is a key part of the process.

"WFP, Oxfam and Concern will implement the project on behalf of the Government of Kenya," Smerdon said. "At the same time, however, we will be transferring the project to the Government, which will gradually take it over as part of its overall social protection strategy."

Violence flares in Jos region of Nigeria

Violence is breaking out in Jos location of Nigeria between Christians and Muslims. The situation became so severe that the Nigerian government issued a 24 hour curfew for the area.

The violence began on Sunday when a Christian church was attached by young Muslim gangs. Christian youths have returned since the favor. At least 20 people have been killed since Sunday, but medical professionals say that more bodies than that have been brought into area hospitals.

The majority of Nigerians are Muslim, but Christians make up 40 percent of the population.

From the BBC, we read more about the situation in Nigeria.

Extra troops have been deployed to the area, which has seen several bouts of deadly violence in recent years.

At least 200 people were killed in clashes between Muslims and Christians 2008, while some 1,000 died in 2001.

'Machine-gun fire'

Houses, mosques and churches were set alight on Sunday.

At least 3,000 people have fled their homes, according to the Red Cross.

Residents say many buildings have been set on fire, especially in the northern parts of the city.

"As early as 4am (0300 GMT), we started hearing gunshots and machine-gun fire and this has gone on for hours," Dr Aboi Madaki, who works at the Jos University Teaching Hospital, told the Reuters news agency.

"I saw soldiers moving into town and I can see smoke coming from many places."

Jos is in Nigeria's volatile Middle Belt - between the mainly Muslim north and the south where the majority is Christian or follows traditional religions.

Correspondents say such clashes in Nigeria are often blamed on sectarianism, however poverty and access to resources such as land often lies at the root of the violence.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Three ways to get disaster recovery right

A blog that we are fast becoming big fans of is Aid Watch, which gives a very critical view of the way international aid is doled out. Aid Watch contributor Laura Freschi submitted this commentary to Forbes magazine.

Freschi draw parallels between the recovery efforts in Haiti to the Asian tsunami and the Iran earthquake of 2005. Freschi points to three items that are the biggest challenges to relief efforts. For our snippet we focus on the first one, local crisis responders.

Post-relief reports from the tsunami and from the 2005 earthquake that flattened the city of Bam in southern Iran, killing 30,000 people, emphasize the importance of local people as first responders. Locals are first responders by necessity since they are there when the disaster occurs, but their knowledge of local language and geography also makes them well-suited to the task. The majority of earthquake survivors are found by untrained local people digging through the rubble with their hands and whatever basic tools they find.

Similarly, experts recommend equipping local medical volunteers with supplies and logistical support over sending in teams of foreigners who are less familiar with the area. In Bam, expensive foreign field hospitals and medical teams arrived three days after the earthquake, but they found that people with major injuries had already been sent to hospitals in nearby provinces and treated.

The limits of this advice are being challenged in Haiti, where the public health system was weak before the earthquake, and damage to what health infrastructure existed was widespread in Port-au-Prince. Still, reports such as this one flagged Sunday in the New York Times Lede blog highlight the importance of taking full advantage of local medical personnel and facilities:

"I work for a hospital--Sacre Coeur in Milot, 75 miles North of Port au Prince. We were not damaged. We have room for 100 patients, we have over 20 Haitian doctors onsite including a medical trauma team and an orthopedic team arriving today. Helicopters can land very close to us, only ONE landed yesterday with 4 patients! People are dying in the streets AND in the hospitals in Port-au-Prince. We have a full-service hospital with two ORs and are NOT being utilized."

Adopting children from Haiti

From KRQE, this video explains the story of an Austin, Texas family that is trying to adopt children from Haiti. The earthquake has made the paperwork process impossible.

A history of Haiti's debt

A very good commentary from The Nation asks the question: What is Haiti Owed? Writer Richard Kim goes beyond talking about the rescue or even the restoration of Haiti. Instead, Kim talks about what measures do international banks and governments need to take to make Haiti a more stable nation, and one that is on the same economic playing field as other countries.

Kim begins with some history as to how Haiti got into it's miserable state in the first place. With folklore and biased opinions being heard last week we made that history a focus on for our snippet. Kim goes into some possible solutions for Haiti to finish his piece, and it is well worth reading the whole commentary.

Haiti's vulnerability to natural disasters, its food shortages, poverty, deforestation and lack of infrastructure, are not accidental. To say that it is the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere is to miss the point; Haiti was made poor--by France, the United States, Great Britain, other Western powers and by the IMF and the World Bank.

Now, in its attempts to help Haiti, the IMF is pursuing the same kinds of policies that made Haiti a geography of precariousness even before the quake. To great fanfare, the IMF announced a new $100 million loan to Haiti on Thursday. In one crucial way, the loan is a good thing; Haiti is in dire straits and needs a massive cash infusion. But the new loan was made through the IMF's extended credit facility, to which Haiti already has $165 million in debt. Debt relief activists tell me that these loans came with conditions, including raising prices for electricity, refusing pay increases to all public employees except those making minimum wage and keeping inflation low. They say that the new loans would impose these same conditions. In other words, in the face of this latest tragedy, the IMF is still using crisis and debt as leverage to compel neoliberal reforms.

For Haiti, this is history repeated. As historians have documented, the impoverishment of Haiti began in the earliest decades of its independence, when Haiti's slaves and free gens de couleur rallied to liberate the country from the French in 1804. But by 1825, Haiti was living under a new kind of bondage--external debt. In order to keep the French and other Western powers from enforcing an embargo, it agreed to pay 150 million francs in reparations to French slave owners (yes, that's right, freed slaves were forced to compensate their former masters for their liberty). In order to do that, they borrowed millions from French banks and then from the US and Germany. As Alex von Tunzelmann pointed out, "by 1900, it [Haiti] was spending 80 percent of its national budget on repayments."

It took Haiti 122 years, but in 1947 the nation paid off about 60 percent, or 90 million francs, of this debt (it was able to negotiate a reduction in 1838). In 2003, then-President Aristide called on France to pay restitution for this sum--valued in 2003 dollars at over $21 billion. A few months later, he was ousted in a coup d'etat; he claims he left the country under armed pressure from the US.

Global poll says poverty is the most serious global problem

The BBC conducted a worldwide survey asking people what they thought was the biggest worldwide concern. Extreme poverty was ranked as the most important by a good margin over the other problems.

The BBC questioned people in 23 different countries on what they though were the big problems facing the world. Over 25,000 people were interviewed for the survey. Respondents were given a list of problems and were asked to give their opinion of the degree of it's severity, ranging from 'very serious' to "not serious'.

From Domain b, we read more about the BBC survey

* 71% extreme poverty
* 64% the environment or pollution
* 63% the rising cost of food and energy
* 59% the spread of human diseases
* 59% terrorism
* 58% climate change
* 59% human rights abuses
* 58% the state of the global economy
* 57% war or armed conflict
* 48% violation of workers' rights

In this year's poll, poverty was rated as the most serious global issue in 10 of the countries polled, including in the UK, US, Kenya, Australia, Brazil and Chile. However, in Russia, Turkey, Mexico, Indonesia and Nigeria more felt that the rising cost of food and energy was very serious.

The poll, which was conducted before the Copenhagen summit took place, also found that the Japanese were the only nation to regard climate change as the most serious global issue – although the Chinese and Costa Ricans identified environmental issues more generally or pollution as the most serious.

The Chines ranked climate change as the second most serious issue, whereas Americans ranked it ninth.

If poverty is seen as the world's most serious problem, it is not the most top-of-mind. When respondents were asked to name spontaneously 'the most important issue facing the world today', economic problems were most commonly cited, with one in four mentioning them (26%). Terrorism and war followed with 10 per cent.

And while poverty was some distance ahead of other global issues in terms of how serious it was seen to be, it was only one of a number of issues that people had discussed with friends and family recently. The greatest number - 30 per cent - said they had talked about rising food and energy costs with their friends and family recently, with extreme poverty and the spread of human diseases the second most discussed issues (29 per cent) and the state of the global economy third (28 per cent).