Saturday, February 27, 2010

More Earthquakes, this time in Chile

As soon as we got out of bed we heard of this morning's earthquake in Chile. The earthquake hit 8.8 on the Richter scale and has caused significant damage. Tsunami warnings have been issued for Hawaii and the West coast in the aftermath of this latest plate movement. Video footage is trickling into the news networks showing significant damage to buildings.

Chile was recently moved up in classification by the world's lending organizations. They are now known as "developed" nation upgraded from "under-developed." In fact, the few times that Chile have been mentioned on our blog were good news stories about the economic growth in the country. The fear this morning is how much the damage of this earthquake will set back those efforts.

Coverage of this latest earthquake does not have many details yet at the time of our posting, but we did find a good summary from The UK's Telegraph.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Video: The Marine Stewardship Council

The BBC has been doing a series profiling social entrepreneurs. The third installment of the series produced by the show Alvin's Guide to Good Business airs this weekend.

This installment features the business the Marine Stewardship Council. The council works to keep fishing sustainable for the future. Making sure the world's does not run out of it's supply of fish will help thousands of commercial fisherman keep their jobs, and keep fish at the dinner tables for millions of people around the world.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Study says to treat tuberculosis and AIDS at the same time

A new study about treating tuberculosis and AIDS has already changed treatment guidelines from the World Heath Organization. A study conducted in South Africa finds that patients who have both tuberculosis and AIDS have a better survival rate if the diseases are treated at the same time.

Most doctors have been choosing to treat TB first, because of drug side effects and adverse interactions. AIDS patients have to take a large number of pills to fight AIDS, while TB only requires one. Another reason that tuberculosis is ofter treated first is simply because tuberculosis can be diagnosed immediately, while an AIDS diagnosis waits for test results from a lab.

From this Reuters article, writer Gene Emery details the study's results further. The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

About 33 million people worldwide are infected with HIV, the AIDS virus, and 9.2 million have recently been diagnosed with lung-destroying tuberculosis, according to the World Health Organization.

In many cases, HIV's suppression of the immune system allows the deadly tuberculosis bacterium to thrive. In South Africa, about 73 percent of TB patients also have HIV.

Yet doctors have been reluctant to treat both at once, often choosing to go after TB first. They have been concerned about drug interactions, overlapping side effects and the large number of pills that patients have to take each day.

They tested more than 600 patients with both TB and HIV.

The death rate was 5.4 percent a year for the volunteers who got treatment for both infections, compared with 12.1 percent for those whose TB was treated first, with HIV therapy beginning about six months later.

The results were so convincing that they already prompted the WHO to change its guidelines to call for treating both conditions at the same time.

150,000 extremely poor in Kosovo

150,000 people in Kosovo live on 45 cents EUR each day, that translates to seven percent of the population according to a new survey. The survey conducted by an Albanian newspaper points out that is less than those termed "extremely poor" in Europe or living on 98 cents a day. According to the report most people in Kosovo feel that they need 120 to 130 EUR a month to meet needs.

From B-92 radio in Belgrade, we read more abnout the survey from this Tanjog story.

Daily Koha Ditore gives these statistics from the Institute for Social Policies, which states that thousands of people "dream of at least living on the extreme poverty lines".

The report states that about 150,000 Kosovo residents live off EUR 0.45 per day or EUR 14 a month, and that they demand that the government double this aid so that they can match that received by those living in the category of “extreme poverty”.

Based on the report, there are more than 34,000 families in Kosovo that live on social benefits.

Six percent of the surveyed families receiving aid claim that the money they receive cannot even pay for necessary medicine.

Twenty percent of those surveyed stated that the assistance they receive covers only the most basic expenses for about ten days each month, while 14 percent stated that they "have no idea how to do the math in order to give an answer".

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

An oil boom for the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation

An unprecedented oil boom has struck a remote Indian Reservation in West Central North Dakota. During the past year, the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation has seen investment into oil well drilling that is unlike anything seen in the US. The oil drilling can now provide jobs for anyone on the reservation who wants one. The Fort Berthold Reservation Authority hopes to put money from tax revenue of the oil drilling to fund health care, infrastructure improvements and more.

From this Associated Press article that we found at NPR, we read more about the oil boom.

"There is probably more opportunity here than people have had in their lifetimes," said Marcus Levings, chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes. Roads are now sometimes clogged with traffic, including Hummers and expensive pickup trucks. The local casino is buzzing with free-spending locals. And tribal members who had moved away to find work are now moving back for the abundant good-paying jobs.

Tribal officials say the oil has helped right a wrong done to the tribes in the 1950s, when more than a tenth of the reservation was flooded by the federal government to create Lake Sakakawea, a 180-mile-long reservoir.

Oil companies are now drilling beneath the big lake, using an advanced horizontal drill technique. Recently completed regulatory paperwork removed the last obstacle.

Since the boom began, lease payments of more than $179 million have been paid to the tribe and its members on about half of the reservation land, tribal record show. Millions of dollars more in royalties and tax revenue are also rolling in.

Levings said the tribe will use its money to pay off debt, and bankroll such things as roads, health care and law enforcement.

The reservation contains portions of six counties, covering more than 1,500 square miles. It lies atop a portion the oil-rich Bakken shale formation, which the U.S. Geological Survey estimates holds 4.3 billion barrels of oil that can be recovered using current technology. The agency said the Bakken was the largest oil deposit it has ever assessed.

State demographer Richard Rathge said 28 percent of people on the reservation were living in poverty in 2000, the latest figures available. More than 40 percent did not have a job at that time.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Unequal education slowly improving in Ghana

In Ghana, girls are often kept out of schools. Old social attitudes lent to a preference for boys education, while the girls stayed at home and helped with chores. But that is starting to change through some educational efforts and even from girls football teams.

From the Guardian, writer Jessica Shepherd has a long piece about unequal education in Ghana.

There are 41 million girls around the world who should be in primary school all week, but aren't, the Department for International Development says. At least 20 million of them are, like Abigail, in sub-Saharan Africa.

In Ghana, 91% of boys, but only 79% of girls finish primary school. By the time they complete junior high school – for 12- to 15-year-olds – 65% of boys and just 54% of girls are still in lessons, says the lobby group the Ghana National Education Campaign Coalition.

Here in Asesewa – one of Ghana's poorest districts – Abigail's nearest junior high school has just five girls out of 20 pupils in its most senior class. The school improvement plan is torn, written in felt tip and peeling from a wall in a corridor. It is the middle of the dry season and temperatures can reach 31C, but the school's tap is empty and the toilets don't work. The most the school seems to have is a few exercise and textbooks that look as though they date back to the 1950s.

The average income for Asesewa's population of 90,000 is between £11 and £14 a month, according to the international charity Plan, which has a base here.

Almost 80% of inhabitants farm maize and the starchy cassava plant. The work is done with machetes or by hand. Most families have no running water or electricity in their homes and almost half are illiterate.Living in poverty like this, girls stand little chance of being spared the time – or the money – for school.

Ministers in the Ghanaian government abolished fees for primary education in 2005 and boast that they spend the equivalent of £6 in state funds on each primary pupil every year. But parents must pay for exercise books, school uniforms and exams.

It is these hidden costs – which can amount to more than £100 per child per year – that dissuade many from sending their girls to school, says Joseph Appiah, Plan's chief fieldworker in Asesewa.

Besides, the value of an educated girl is lower than that of an educated boy. "The feeling is that girls will marry and belong to another family; boys bring back what they make to their parents," Appiah says.

And, in these rural communities, girls are needed at home. From as young as seven they can be expected to prepare breakfast and lunch for their parents, take it to them in the fields and cook a hot dinner in the evenings. Many will also have to fetch water from several kilometres away and sell what they can to supplement their family's meagre income. That leaves little time for lessons. "Here, it is only when a girl has extra determination to make it in her education that she will," Appiah says.

China tells it's schools to stay away from OXFAM

China is telling it's schools to stop all ties with relief agency OXFAM. The Chinese government claims that OXFAM has a hidden political agenda. A recruitment effort to seek volunteers that OXFAM runs on college campuses may have caused the ousting.

From this Associated Press article that we found at The Cleveland Plain Dealer, writer Christopher Bodeen relayed China's statement on kicking out OXFAM.

Oxfam Hong Kong-which oversees the group's mainland China operations-is a "non-governmental organization seeking to infiltrate our interior," according to a notice attributed to the Education Ministry seen Tuesday on a job services Web site hosted by Beijing's Minzu University.

It called the group's chairman, public affairs consultant Lo Chi-kin, a "stalwart of the opposition faction," employing language more commonly associated with communist political struggles of the past.

The statement gave few details of the allegations against Oxfam, which has operated in mainland China for 20 years and works in cooperation with the government's poverty alleviation department.

China's authoritarian communist government remains deeply suspicious of most independent social organizations outside its direct control and sets strict limits on activities of international NGOs.

Oxfam Hong Kong's China Unit Director Howard Liu said the agency has never done anything to challenge Beijing's policies or laws and is only interested in alleviating poverty. He added that the notice appears to refer specifically to an internship program that places social work majors from Chinese universities at NGOs.

Messages left for Lo at his office weren't immediately returned.

The charge against Lo was apparently directed at his membership in Hong Kong's Democratic Party, which advocates direct elections and other political reforms opposed by Beijing. China took control of the former British colony in 1997 but allows it to retain its own legal, economic and political systems.

Child poverty in Egypt increases says UNICEF

From IRIN, a new UNICEF report finds that child poverty in Egypt is increasing.

A new report by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Egyptian government says the number of children living in income-poor households is increasing, causing poorer living conditions and a greater deprivation of their rights as children.

Entitled Child Poverty and Disparities in Egypt, and released on 16 February in Cairo, the report said Egypt’s economic growth in the years leading up to the 2009 financial crisis had not adequately benefited the nation’s estimated 28 million children.

“This growth has not led to a proportionate reduction in income poverty or deprivation,” said the study, which is part of a global series of UNICEF studies on child poverty and disparities.

Economic growth is often seen by commentators as failing to keep up with Egypt’s rapidly rising population.

The report said 23 percent of children under 15 were living in poverty (on less than US$1 a day) and that income poverty was highly correlated with shelter deprivation.

It said more than a quarter of Egyptian children (seven million) were deprived of one or more of their rights under the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by Egypt. Around five million children were deprived of appropriate housing, including shelter, water and sanitation standards; and 1.6 million under fives experienced health and food deprivation.

“It’s important to look at how poverty affects children’s lives and how we can address it,” Sigrid Kaag, UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said at a gathering to discuss the new study. “A child who lives in poverty rarely gets a second chance at education or a healthy start in life.”

Mushira Khatab, Egypt’s family and population state minister, said at the gathering: “The government must take children into consideration when it comes to formulating policies aimed at ending poverty. Investing in the nation’s children can produce good results. Education will get these children out of poverty.”

She called on the government to introduce special laws for the protection of children.

Rural areas worse

The poverty rate among children in rural areas was more than double that in urban areas, and much higher in the south than in the north, according to the study. The south, known as Upper Egypt, had the highest incidence of poverty among children - 45.3 percent.

Girls and boys were equally vulnerable to poverty and deprivation of rights, but girls in rural areas were the least likely to attend school or complete their education, thus increasing the likelihood of them being poor in adulthood.

The study recommended that policies be directly aimed at children to alleviate their poverty.

“If we’re to break the cycle of poverty, it’s key that children are at the heart of development policies,” Kaag said.

Video: Poverty reduction initiative in Nashville, Tennessee

From Nashville's News Channel 5, city leaders have unveiled a new poverty reduction plan. They hope the plan will cut in half Nashville's poverty rate within ten years.

How motorcycles can help to stop the spread of AIDS

Yesterday we posted on a story about Dr. Brian Williams who believes that the spread of AIDS can be contained within the next five years. The scientist believes that if all people in high-risk areas can be tested and if all who test positive are given anti-retro-viral drugs that the spread of AIDS will stop. Dr. Williams made those comments at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

One of our favorite social businesses also attended the AAAS meetings. Riders for Health added that reliable transportation must also be included in AIDS prevention efforts. Transport of patients from remote areas to hospitals is often the biggest challenge for health care, and is often ignored in under-developed countries. Riders for Health provide motorcycles to the health care systems in a couple of African countries to bring the sick to hospitals.

From the Riders For Health website, we learn more of how motorcycles can help to stop AIDS.

Responding to comments made by Dr Brian Williams at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Riders for Health [] pointed out that the lack of reliable vehicles for transporting blood samples over large distances in rural communities is currently one of the biggest barriers to accurate testing for HIV in Africa.

Sample transporter checking samplesDr Williams has told delegates at the conference that accurate testing for HIV and early application of anti-retroviral drugs could help to limit the spread of HIV dramatically. The lack of reliable transport available and the large distances between testing centres and laboratories means that it can often take months for patients to receive their test results. In many cases the lack of correct storage during transportation means samples cannot be tested when they reach laboratories.

In Lesotho, Riders for Health has been working with the Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS Initiative to develop a network of mobile sample couriers to overcome this problem. Riders for Health is using its knowledge of running two- and four-wheeled vehicles in harsh conditions in the developing world to mobilise sample couriers with motorcycles, allowing them to reach even the most isolated communities and clinics.

Executive director of Riders for Health, Barry Coleman, said:
‘Riders for Health have shown that by using motorcycles to mobilise couriers to transport samples quickly and safely from clinics to laboratories and returning the results to the clinicians in a timely manner, patients can be given the right treatment as soon as possible. We have observed that when sample couriers are fully mobilised the time taken for sample testing can be cut from weeks to a matter of days. There has been a huge commitment to the development and supply of anti-retroviral drugs across the developing world, and especially Africa. The means of testing people for HIV are available, but as has been highlighted by Dr Williams, to prevent the spread of the disease it is important that people are tested quickly and accurately. It is vital that reliable transport is part of the solution.’

Monday, February 22, 2010

Video: Feed The Children family feud

From CBS News, a story they presented on a controversy surrounding the charity Feed The Children. Allegations of fraud and bribe taking make for an ugly family feud within the organization.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

"Biology of misfortune" for children in poverty

A new study says that a childhood in poverty can have adverse effects on well-being, health and earning later in life. Children living in poverty, especially before the age of five, are likely to experience what the study calls a "biology of misfortune". The study was presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting.

From News 24, we read more about the study's results.

Early childhood is a "crucial time for establishing the brain architecture that shape's children's future cognitive, social and emotional well-being", the study said.

"Children growing up in a disadvantaged setting show disproportionate levels of reactivity to stress, and it shows at the level of hormonal studies, neurological brain imaging studies and at the level of epigenetic profiling," said Thomas Boyce, of the University of British Columbia.

The researchers studied data on more than 1 500 individuals born between 1968 and 1975 taken from a 40-year demographic study of US households that measured family income during every year of childhood, educational attainment, what level people reached in their careers, plus crime and health as adults.

They found "striking differences" in how the children's lives turned out as adults, depending on whether they were poor or comfortably well-off before the age of six.

"Compared to children whose families had incomes of at least twice the poverty line during their early childhood, poor children complete two fewer years of schooling, work 451 fewer hours per year, earn less than half as much," the study said.

They also received more than $800 a year more in food stamps as adults, and were more than twice as likely to report poor overall health or high levels of psychological distress, the study said.

Leading scientist says AIDS could be controlled in five years

One scientist has made the claim that the AIDS epidemic could be controlled within five years. Brian Williams of the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis says testing everyone in high risk regions then immediately treating all of those who are found to be HIV positive will control the disease.

From the Times Online, writer Mark Henderson talks to Williams and also gets an opposing viewpoint.

Universal therapy with anti-retroviral drugs would not only save millions of lives but also prevent transmission of HIV by making people who carry the virus less infectious, said Brian Williams, of the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis (Sacema).

While such an initiative would be expensive at first, costing at least $3 billion (£2 billion) a year in South Africa alone, it would rapidly pay for itself by cutting the cost of caring for Aids patients and reducing the economic damage caused by Aids deaths, Dr Williams told the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in San Diego.

In the absence of a vaccine, an aggressive treatment programme is the first promising way of controlling a condition that affects 33 million people worldwide and kills 2.1 million every year, he said. It also has the potential to halve tuberculosis infections associated with HIV and Aids.

Two randomised trials of universal testing and treatment are to begin in South Africa shortly, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has indicated that it will back the strategy if they prove successful. The approach is also supported by Anthony Fauci, the influential scientist who leads the US National Institute on Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is funding further trials in areas of Washington DC and New York where HIV is widespread.

While support for universal testing and treatment is growing, Lisa Power, head of policy at the Terrence Higgins Trust, said that it was unlikely to stop the epidemic. She said people are at their most infectious in the first months after contracting HIV and would probably pass on the virus before they could be tested.

Food security concerns for East Africa

From IRIN, a round up of opinions on food security prospects for East Africa.

Bumper harvests being reported in several east African countries will do little to improve long-term food security in countries like Kenya, where almost six million of its 38 million inhabitants receive some form of food aid. This is a result of infrastructural weaknesses, five failed rainy seasons, low production, high prices, conflict in pastoral areas and the continuing disruption caused by post-election violence in early 2008.

Below, specialists address these and other causes of Kenya’s poor food security:


“The issue is not only production; our major problem is also poverty. Even when we have food we have Kenyans who cannot afford it. We need to address food availability and affordability” - Ibrahim Maalim of the Ministry of State for Special Programmes (MoSSP).

“Food prices have remained over 100 percent higher than December average levels in most of the pastoral districts” – Kenya Food Security Outlook (KFSO), January-June 2010, prepared by USAID, Famine Early Warning Systems Network, the Kenyan Government and the UN World Food Programme.

“Kenyans who are poor and chronically hungry are virtually everywhere… 35 percent of children younger than five in the country are malnourished, up from 18 percent in the 1990s" - Ruth Onian'go, professor of food science and nutrition at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.

“Sixty percent of so-called farmers are net buyers of food. They sell after the harvest then buy later” - James Nyoro, managing director, Africa region, Rockefeller Foundation.

“A poor farmer will first feed the family" - John Mutunga, chief executive of the Kenya National Federation of Agricultural Producers (KENFAP).

“Potential improvements in food security could be mitigated by characteristic rapid sale of harvested produce at low prices, as households seek to meet debts, pay school fees, purchase inputs for long-rains land preparation and planting” – KFSO.


“The food deficit is due to a lack of political goodwill” - Ruth Onian’go, nutrition professor.

"We have a challenge in the management of our public affairs [and] the management of our food stocks. Sometimes we are exporting food yet we later need to import. There is a failure to learn from best practices, to invest in knowledge and transform that knowledge into action" - John Omiti, a senior policy analyst with the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA).

“A lack of trust in farmers' organizations has prevented the storage of surplus produce in produce boards” - Johnson Irungu, crops management director, Ministry of Agriculture.

“The food pipeline has had substantial breaks, limiting its capacity to moderate food security in areas that have suffered a succession of at least four poor or failed seasons” – KFSO.

“We do many things wrong so we should not complain about food insecurity" - John Mutunga of KENFAP.

Population growth

"Food insecurity has been expanding even without considering the post-election violence. The food deficit is increasing at 3 percent on average per year, at the level of population growth" - James Nyoro, Rockefeller Foundation. (Kenya's population is projected to reach 43.6 million in 2015.)

“Population growth is higher than our ability to produce food. We need to address the demographic challenge to balance supply and demand” - John Omiti, KIPPRA.

Production costs

"When you face a situation where the import price is below the domestic cost of production, you must think very seriously” - John Omiti, KIPPRA.

"They [the farmers] pay us for the food we eat; this is not sustainable. Farming has been stigmatized due to poor returns; people retire to farming" – John Mutunga, KENFAP. (The average age of Kenyan farmers is 60.)

Too much maize

“The emphasis on maize has affected the production and consumption of indigenous drought-tolerant foods” - Ruth Onian’go, nutrition professor.

Poor infrastructure

“A lack of infrastructure in northern Kenya, where most livestock keepers are, is increasing poverty, vulnerability and the dependence on food aid” - Ibrahim Maalim, MoSSP.

Some regions are enjoying a bumper harvest; a milk glut has also been reported but poor processing capacity is leading to wastage of the milk. “When you tell farmers to produce more you have to imagine there will be excess. What will you do with it?” – Ruth Onian’go, nutrition professor.

Missed chances?

"Even when people say that the weather is changing, and the drought is coming every four years, is there somebody listening to researchers? Now we have a small window of opportunity for the importation of inputs to increase production as we agree that by May-June [food] prices will go up. [But] do we agree that come next year we will reduce these deficits?” - James Nyoro, Rockefeller Foundation.

Lack of housing can separate families

Even though it is not an official cause for putting a child into foster care, lack of housing can often bring US social workers in to separate parent and child. Social Workers can bring children into foster care if lack of housing makes what they think would be an unsafe situation for the child. Thousands of children are in foster care for that one reason.

Once the parent get into a stable housing, the process to reunite the family is cumbersome, filled with delays and red-tape, and can take many months.

From the Philadelphia Daily News, writer Dana DiFilippo exposes this problem.

One fifth of foster children nationally landed in county custody - or languished there, as housing issues delayed family reunification - because of inappropriate housing, according to the Child Welfare League of America. A third of the nation's foster children have at least one homeless or "unstably housed" parent, according to the league.

Desensitized bureaucrats too often equate poverty with neglect and seize children away from biological parents whose only "offense" is hardship, critics charge.

And once kids are in the system, it can prove insurmountably difficult to get them out.

Parents petitioning to get their children back in Philadelphia typically wait five months between hearings, local parent-advocates say.

Because federal law requires social-service agencies to place foster children in permanent homes - biological or adoptive - after 15 months in county custody, biological parents might have just two or three chances to get their children back.

"There is not endless time to resolve some pretty serious problems," said Kathy Gomez, managing attorney of the Family Advocacy Unit of Community Legal Services, who represents hundreds of parents in custody cases.

Under the Pennsylvania Juvenile Act, the list of reasons why children can be placed in county care is vast and varied: Physical or sexual abuse; delinquency under age 10; the death of or abandonment by parents; parental behavior such as drug abuse that endangers the child; the child's habitual disobedience or truancy; and so on.

Poverty is not on the list.

But poverty is a common denominator in many of the families whose children end up in foster care. It invites authorities' scrutiny, and snowballs into other issues that could prompt removal or delay reunification, child advocates say.

"It's easy to come under child-protection observation when you're poor," Gomez said. "And there's no room for error when you're poor: Once something goes wrong, things just tend to spiral."

Housing problems frequently result.

Parents struggling to pay rent might not have money to cover utilities or maintenance and repairs, creating living conditions that social workers might deem unsafe for children, Gomez said. Others who can't afford child care and transportation costs might miss so much work that they get fired - and without a paycheck to pay rent or a mortgage, they lose their housing, she said.

"Lack of housing is not legal grounds for removal, but homelessness, housing problems and residence in low-income neighborhoods all result in a greater likelihood of CPS [child-protective services] being involved," said Corey Shdaimah, an assistant professor of social work at the University of Maryland who has studied the correlation between poverty, housing and child welfare issues.

Ruth White, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Center for Housing and Child Welfare, agreed: "Child welfare won't say that they have actually separated a family because of housing. But it totally happens."

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Video: Mobile technology solutions for India

The following video from Askoka explains an effort to increase mobile technology access for the people of India. A unique cooperation between some non-profits and Microsoft helps to solve the country's social problems.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Haiti earthquake caused 14 billion dollars in damages

A new study says that the Haitian earthquake caused 14 billion dollars in damage, and some experts are calling that estimate conservative. The Inter-American Development Bank says it is the most devastating natural disaster for any country since World War II. The bank compared the earthquake to 17,000 other natural disasters.

The Bank terms the Haitian earthquake the most devastating because of the proportion of damage it did to the country's total economic output. 117 percent of Haiti's annual economic output was damaged. For the tsunami of 2004, only four percent of Indonesia's economic output was damaged.

From the Washington Post, writer Mary Beth Sheridan gets some reaction to the study.

The U.S. government has committed over $500 million for relief efforts in Haiti since the Jan. 12 earthquake, and the Obama administration is expected to soon ask Congress for special funding for reconstruction there. Officials said the exact amount of the request hadn't been determined. But congressional sources said they expected it to be $1 billion or more.

Mark Schneider, who coordinated the American response to Hurricane Mitch in Central America in 1998, said $14 billion was "a relatively conservative figure" in estimating Haiti's reconstruction costs, since new structures cost more than old ones did.

He noted that about $6.3 billion was spent on rebuilding areas hit by Mitch, which killed about 10,000 people. The Haiti quake left at least 200,000 dead.

"You have the central political and economic core of the country essentially destroyed," said Schneider, who is now vice president of the International Crisis Group.

He said the U.S. government provided about $1 billion in aid to countries battered by Mitch, and should commit $3 billion to Haiti as part of a long-term commitment.

The development-bank study found that the death toll in the earthquake in Haiti dwarfed the toll in other natural disasters on a per-capita basis. Roughly 25,000 of every million Haitians died, compared with 772 deaths per million Indonesians in the 2004 tsunami, the report said.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Fighting child trafficking at Heathrow Airport

If a child is illegally trafficked into the UK, the place the child often arrives is at the Heathrow airport. The authorities at the airport found that in the years 2006-07, 63 Chinese children arrived at the airport only to disappear moments later, it is believed to be the work of organized crime. Since 2007, the work of dedicated child care has been able to drop the number of missing children to four.

From the Luxbridge Gazette, writer Dan Coombs details what now happens to unaccompanied children once they arrive at the airport.

To understand how a child can slip through the cracks it is necessary to see what occurs when they first arrive.

Heathrow is a 24-hour airport and there is no respite from arrivals. Statistics show 90 per cent of unaccompanied children and young people touch down outside the hours of 9am-5pm.

Therefore a dedicated care team from Hillingdon is on call around the clock to respond rapidly if they receive a call from the UK Border Agency (UKBA) telling them a child in need has arrived.

Not every unaccompanied child is a victim of trafficking; many arrive genuinely to claim asylum. It is the job of UKBA to determine the specifics of each case, while Hillingdon's teams are needed to safeguard the welfare of the child, irrespective of the circumstances.

Speaking to councillors at last Thursday's policy overview meeting were Jane Graver, head of care at a residential home in the borough, and Paula Neil, the home manager.

Ms Graver said: "When a child arrives at Heathrow, immigration is their first point of contact and we work closely with the staff. We need to place the child immediately.

"We are there to offer support, especially in the first few days and weeks of their arrival, when they most need it. We are informed if the child may be high risk, and we do our own risk assessment. If they come with a phone, we may detain it."

For every story of illegally trafficked children, there is a success story. Recently the Gazette's Citizen of Courage award went to Akhtar Jan, now 23, who arrived unaccompanied at Heathrow aged 16, unable to speak English. Granted asylum, he went on to achieve A-level results good enough to gain him a place to study medicine at Queen Mary's University.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

11 million Germans in poverty

More than 11 million Germans are now living in poverty according to a new study. The numbers of German people who have fallen below the poverty line has grown by a third in the last decade.

The study authors do not recommend expansion of welfare programs to combat the growing poverty problem, instead they recommend more investments in child care and better earning opportunities.

From The Local, we read more about the new statistics for Germany.

According to the alarming figures published by the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), the number of people below the poverty line - 14 percent of the total population - expanded by a third in the last ten years.

The study analysed income data from the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP), which operates under the DIW. It found that young people between the ages of 19 and 25 and families were at particular risk.

Reasons for the surge in poverty included growing numbers of young people seeking higher education, the extension of time spent training, a precarious post-study job market, and a trend toward leaving their parents’ home at an earlier age.

Large families are also at higher risk for poverty, the DIW said. About 22 percent of those with three children are at risk for poverty, while it was more than 36 percent for those with four children.

“Compared to 1998, the poverty risk for homes with many children has risen substantially,” said study co-author Joachim Frick, adding that this was despite an increase in child care facilities and more money for families from the government.

Face of poverty in Asia is female

A new report from the United Nations was unveiled yesterday that describes the development process of Asia. It says that many economies in Asia have been able to cut poverty in half to meetMillennium Development Goal number 1 by 2015. The report points out that the progress has been uneven, often leaving women behind.

from the IPS, writer Diana G. Mendoza attended the report's unveiling.

The Asia-Pacific Regional Report 2009/10, titled, "Achieving the Millennium Development Goals in an Era of Global Uncertainty," said "most countries across Southeast Asia have reduced extreme poverty by half, but the other half has a woman’s face."

Across the region, some countries have managed to cope with multiple threats of economic crisis, health shocks and pandemics, and natural disasters, but most are still hurting from the impact of these crises and have yet to cope with the little time left to realise the development goals they pledged to achieve by 2015, the report added.

Among vulnerable populations in the region, women are among those likely to be hurt most by the impact of the crisis on poverty in the region. According to the report, this sector constitutes the majority of Asia’s low- skilled, low-salaried and temporary workers – part of the flexible workforce that can easily be left behind during economic downturns.

Many of them have lost their jobs in export manufacturing, including garments, textiles and electronics – and in tourism and related services. Employers are also more likely to lay off women workers if they consider that they are not the primary heads of households.

Women form nearly two-thirds of the total Asian migrant population, said the report. Yet, they have little protection.

In most Asian countries, less than 20 percent of female workers belong to labour unions. The loss of female income is likely to have a greater impact on welfare, as women tend to spend a greater proportion of their income on meeting the basic needs of household members.

Dr Heyzer cited the Philippines as one of the countries in the region that has achieved gender parity and maintained economic stability while dealing with the economic crisis, but it is still wanting in protection for women in migration and employment.

"Migration patterns of Filipino women are phenomenal, and although they helped caution the economic crisis through remittances, but they do not receive the care that they need," she said.

She also said the Philippines registered a five percent growth rate in its remittances, totaling 17 billion pesos (368.72 million U.S. dollars) in 2009. This helped push the growth of the South-east Asian country’s national economy from three percent in 2009 to 3.5 percent in the first months of 2010, she said. Yet, she noted the disturbing problem of de-skilling, where educated and professional Filipino women are forced to work as housemates and domestic helpers in other countries.

"The Mountain Thief" premiers March 11 -21st

Some time ago a filmmaker approached our blog to help promote his film. We agreed because it wasn't an ordinary film. "The Mountain Thief" depicts life in a garbage slum in the Philippines. The residents of the slum literally live on top of a pile of garbage.

"The Mountain Thief" not only tells this true to life story but takes the interaction with that life to a more intimate level. Filmmaker Gerry Balasta opened a acting training workshop at the garbage slum. People who attended classes at the workshop went on to star in the film. Fund-raising has also taken place to help with medical needs of some of the film's actors.

At the time of out initial post on "The Mountain Thief" Balasta was still doing some fund-raising to finish the film. Now we are happy to announce that the film is now finished, and will finally premier at a film festival in San Fransisco March 11-21st

For more details and a screening schedule, visit the official Mountain Thief blog. The new trailer for the film is below.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Guinea Pig, a small answer to Congo's problems

An agricultural research concern says that the little Guinea Pig could be the solution to the hunger problems of the Congo. The hunger in the African country has been made even more severe since war began in 1994. Larger livestock can be easily stolen by the armed militants, so small animals for food that are easy to hide may be the solution.

From this Associated Press article that we found at Vancouver's 24 Hours, writer Todd Pitman gives us more details.

Better known as cute pets in Western nations, the small rodents could provide war-battered villages with “a much-needed source of protein and micro-nutrients in a country with some of the highest incidences of malnutrition the world,” according to the Colombia-based agricultural research institute, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, or CIAT.

Congo’s hilly east has been plagued by violent turmoil since Rwanda’s 1994 genocide spilled war across the border, displacing millions of people and sparking years of skirmishes between soldiers, rebels and militia from both nations.

It’s not known how or when guinea pigs — native to South America — arrived in Congo, but CIAT researchers discovered them last year being kept as “micro-livestock” in the nation’s hard-hit North and South Kivu provinces, which border Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.

“Small and easy to conceal, guinea pigs are well-suited to (Congo’s) conflict zones, where extreme poverty and widespread lawlessness means that the looting of larger domestic livestock is commonplace,” the group said in a statement.

The furry animals have other advantages: they can be fed kitchen waste and are a relatively low-cost investment compared to other livestock. Crucially, they reproduce quickly, with females giving birth to multiple litters that total 10 to 15 offspring per year.

The Olive Branch Mission of Chicago

A homeless shelter that has been in service since 1867 says that the problem is worse than ever. The Olive Branch Mission began as a home to feed newly free slaves, but it is now feeding people gone bankrupt from medical bills, laid off from jobs and more.

From the USA Today, writer Judy Keen profiles the work of the mission.

Growing need, shrinking resources and a shift in the face of homelessness from male panhandlers to entire families are challenging Olive Branch in ways rarely seen in its long history, President and CEO David Bates says.

"There are more people in the shadows," he says. "This is our busiest year ever." People who once donated to the mission are now clients. Sometimes mattresses fill the shelter's dining room to accommodate everyone.

Since the recession began, more of the people who make their way to the mission's shelters in a former monastery on the city's South Side were laid off from their jobs, lost homes to foreclosure or were wiped out economically by medical bills.

Patients are dropped off by assisted-care facilities after their insurance benefits are exhausted, Bates says. Eighteen-year-olds who have aged out of foster homes and a growing number of veterans end up here.

The mission, whose founders were members of the Free Methodist Church, provides meals, beds, addiction treatment and employment and housing assistance. It is the city's oldest rescue mission. Only violent individuals and sex offenders are turned away. No one is required to sit through a church service before they eat. "An empty stomach has no ears," says Bates, whose parents were missionaries in Africa.

Cuts in state and city funding have depleted programs that aid the homeless, Bates says, and layoffs and furloughs at social-service agencies have disrupted assistance. The recession also reduced the donations Olive Branch depends on for three-fourths of its annual $2 million budget.

"We're not going to see the effects of the recession being over for a long time," says Hebron Morris Jr., a program coordinator. "I think it will be years."

Charrse Liddell never thought she'd be homeless. Last summer, she was renting an apartment, planning to return to school and looking for an overnight job so she could spend days in classes and caring for her six children. Then the bottom fell out.

"It was the economy," says Liddell, 32. "I couldn't find a job. I was trying my best to keep the rent going and I couldn't. I got evicted." She arrived at the shelter in October. "I let my kids down, let myself down," she says.

Liddell hopes to find a subsidized apartment and a job soon. "I'm on the right track now," she says.

How best to rebuild Haiti?

The Inter Press Service has been running a series of articles exploring ways to best rebuild Haiti. Many ideas have been proposed including changing the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba military base into a field hospital and distribution center, even to using the voodoo priests of the island to provide care.

From the third and last installment of the series, writer William Fisher asks experts their ideas on worker service corps and education rebuilding.

For example, two veterans of aid to Haiti, Robert Maguire and Robert Muggah, have proposed a 700,000-strong national civic service corps to energise the reconstruction effort. They say it could harness untapped labour rapidly and instill national pride and confidence.

"A civic service corps would get the young and able out of the tent cities in and around Port-au-Prince and into work. They could start with the once-iconic center of the capital, but also could begin planting trees, working the fields and providing services in Haiti's countryside. At a minimum, this would reverse generations of unfair stigmatising of the youth there," they write.

Creation of such a group "would be a symbolic first step toward renewing the social contract with the people," they say.

Muggah, based at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, is a principal of the SecDev Group and is currently advising multilateral and bilateral organisations on Haiti's recovery. Maguire is on the faculty of Trinity Washington University and chairs the Haiti Working Group of the United States Institute of Peace in Washington.

Another expert, Mark L. Schneider, Peace Corps director in the administration of President Bill Clinton, has been weighing in on Haiti, focusing on restoring and improving education.

He says, "Let's take the Ministry of Education: What you need to do now is not just put back the same bricks. You need to build a new education policy in Haiti."

"Some forty percent of the kids weren't in school before the earthquake. And eighty percent of those who were in school were in private schools where they had to pay and those schools weren't very good," he noted.

"There's very little public education. You need to have a commitment to a public school education system that offers a decent education to the kids in Haiti. That needs to be built. So you need to have education experts from around the world come and partner with the new Ministry of Education in Haiti."

But Prof. Maguire told IPS that the history of aid to Haiti has been a toxic combination of corruption among the government and business elites of the country, a politically-driven agenda of the U.S., and the selfish interests of private sector international investors who "wanted to maintain the status quo" and who viewed Haiti only as "a low-wage and stable dictatorship" able to manufacture basic garments and other textile products.

In a 2003 report, "U.S. Policy Toward Haiti: Engagement or Estrangement?", Maguire noted that "Great attention was paid to Haiti in the period leading up to and following the demise of the Duvalier family dictatorship in 1986, and then again in the period following the 1990 presidential election of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, his subsequent removal from office in 1991 as a result of a violent military coup d'etat, and his later restoration to office as a result of a U.N.-sanctioned and U.S.-led military intervention."

Envirofit stoves

A health hazard for the world's poor is the inhalation of fumes from stoves and fires. Many have the fires for cooking inside of their huts which makes for toxic indoor air, but a new, greener stove hopes to change all of that.

From the Sunday Times, writer Tariq Tahir introduces us to the Envirofit stove.

A company funded by the charitable arm of Royal Dutch Shell, the oil giant, has developed a cheap and efficient stove that it says could save carbon and lives. Envirofit, a spinout from the University of Colorado, claims that its $20 (£13) stoves cut smoke and toxic emissions by 80%, and halve the amount of fuel that is needed. It aims to sell 10m in the developing world over the next five years.

This has been tried before. In India, where 400,000 people die every year from indoor air pollution, the government gave away 20m new stoves in the late 1990s. The initiative failed because the new kit was of poor quality and there was a lack of aftercare. Most people went back to cooking with their old stoves.

What is different this time, said Simon Bishop, head of policy at the Shell Foundation, is that Envirofit is approaching it as a money-making venture. “Everything we do is about applying business thinking to poverty and environmental issues. There is never going to be enough aid to go around so what you need to do is to focus our limited resources on self-financing mechanisms that can make a big impact.”

The Shell Foundation put up $10m of the $25m raised to roll out Envirofit’s stoves across India and is leading an awareness-raising campaign called Breathing Space.

The stoves are made with an alloy that survives much longer in a high-temperature caustic environment than traditional models. Its insulated chamber is better at holding in heat, cutting down on energy loss and so saving on fuel.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Bamboo Schools of Nepal

Many parents in Nepal do not want to send their children to public schools because of their poor reputation. However, for many parents the costs of private schools are out of reach.

An article from Inter Press Service today profiles the Bamboo Schools of Nepal. The Bamboo Schools strive to keep the costs of education affordable, for qualifying families it's the same price as a clove of garlic.

From IPS, writer Damakant Jayshi describes why they are called Bamboo schools.

The Samata schools, also called ‘bamboo schools’ because their structures are made mainly of bamboo, now make up the largest chain of non-public educational institutions with more than 18,000 students in 10 districts in Nepal.

Eight more are in the offing in eight districts in central and eastern Tarai, Nepal’s southern plains, with each school expected to have at least 3,000 students. The foundation-laying ceremonies in the eight districts are scheduled for Feb. 22-24. "My goal is to open at least one Samata school in each of the 75 districts in the country," Sanjel added.

Samata’s growing number of students is in stark contrast with the nationwide dropout rate among students as they reach higher grades.

According to Nepal’s Central Bureau of Statistics data for 1997-2006, the number of students enrolled during the decade was 4.5 million at the primary level, 1.3 million at the lower secondary level and 679,445 at the secondary level. These figures indicate that as students move upwards in the school system, not many continue with their education.

The Samata schools do not spend much on infrastructure because they cannot afford to. The classrooms and other structures, like teachers’ rooms and hostel, are made of bamboo, with cement plaster from inside to lend strength. The floors are rough and uneven, with bricks missing from the floor in nearly all the classrooms.

Being made of bamboo is not the only unique thing about the Samata schools. The medium of instruction is English – considered a passport to success – because parents and guardians in Nepal prefer private English- medium schools over Nepali or other vernacular language schools.

The school fee is merely 100 Nepali rupees (1.35 U.S. dollars) for students in all the grades, this amount being a little less than the per-kilogramme price of garlic. There is a one-time admission fee of 150 rupees (2 dollars), which can be waived for very poor students in a country where poverty affects 31 percent of its 27 million people, going by Asian Development Bank figures.

Caught in a different war at Ciudad Juarez, Mexico

Children who live in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico are trapped in a different type of war, not one waged between governments but between drug cartels. Safety prevents many children from even receiving an education in Ciudad Juarez. Even if the streets were safe many families could not afford the costs for education that is not free for that region of Mexico. All of this this makes entering the drug trade an attractive option to earn a lot of money fast for pre-teens without an education.

From a series of articles they do for the Canadian Press, Craig and Marc Kielburger co-founders of Free The Children profileone child who hopes for a better future. We found this article at the Vancouver Sun.

When Beatriz drew a picture of what she wants to be when she grows up, the 11-year-old sketched a policewoman.

She drew a smiling face with "polecia" written underneath. Hearts, stars and open-toothed grins created a border.

It's quite the dream growing up in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Most of the criminals she will fight belong to drug cartels contributing to increasing levels of violence, corruption and murder.

"Often there are large families and a lot of kids. They can't feed themselves, so their parents can't afford to send everyone to school," says Charlene Golding who runs a U.S.-based organization called Juarez Kids with her daughter Caroline. "By nine years of age, they need to work to bring home money."

For some, that money will come from factory work. Others will choose the drug trade.

On a mission to Juarez in 2007, Golding and her daughter met Beatriz amid what they call "the war next door." Within 20 minutes of the El Paso, Texas border, they were confronted by families living in homes made of cardboard with no running water or electricity.

On top of this, they learned Beatriz needed between $125 and $165 for tuition, uniform and books as education isn't free. This was too much for her parents. They are among many poor families who migrated to the border region in search of low-paying factory jobs.

The Goldings began fundraising for scholarships. Around the world, education has proven to be a crucial factor in fighting poverty. If Beatriz had money for school, she could fulfil her dream, support her family and create a better life for her own children. But, when their next trip was cancelled for security reasons, it became clear financial security can't provide physical security.

Last year, more than 2,600 murders occurred in Juarez, up from 1,600 in 2008. About 134 minors were killed in the crossfire as rival drug cartels strive for power. The situation is such that on Oct. 30, a local newspaper announced the first murder-free day in 10 months.

"At this point you wonder are these kids even safe," says Golding. "When they are sending in troops and there's extortion going on, education is great but we're talking about are these kids even safe at this point."

Poverty puts children behind on vocabulary skills

A new study has found that children from the poorest families have vocabulary skills that are a year and a half behind other children by the time they reach school age. The UK education think tank the Sutton Trust put together the study and also gave suggestions on how public funding could help combat the inequality.

From the UK's Financial Times, writer David Turner talked to the chairman of the Sutton Trust about the study.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the trust, which campaigns for equality of opportunity in education, said: “It is a tragic indictment of modern society that our children's future life prospects depend so much on their family background, not their individual talents.”

The trust responded by calling for more help for children from poor backgrounds. Its suggestions, which it argued would not add to pressure on public spending, included taking funds aimed at extending free nursery education among three- and four-year-olds, and using them instead to give 25 hours a week of nursery education to two- to four-year-olds from families in the poorest 15 per cent.

The research suggests that low income in itself makes some difference to children's educational level through lack of access to opportunities afforded by, for example, a car.

However, the same research also indicates that some parenting styles associated with but probably not caused by low income help explain the gap between the knowledge of poor children and other young people. For example, only 45 per cent of children from the poorest fifth of families were read to daily at the age of three, compared with 78 per cent of children from the richest fifth of families. Many studies find regular reading with a parent enlarges a child's vocabulary.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Illinois Kids Count Report

The Voices for Illinois Children has issued a Kids Count Report for the state of Illinois. Overall the 17 percent of the state's children live in poverty, and this stat reflects factors from 2008. The authors of the report fear that the poverty level will increase for 2009.

From the News Democrat, writer Jennifer Bowen breaks down the reports numbers. More coverage of the report concentrating on other Illinois locations can be read at Champaign's News Gazette and the Chicago Sun Times.

According to the report, children are one-fourth of Illinois residents but they are more than one-third of the state's poverty population. Illinois' child poverty rate hit 17 percent in 2008, and a sharp increase is expected in data for 2009.

From 2007-08, child poverty rates were 25 percent in St. Clair County and 51 percent in East St. Louis. In Madison County, the child poverty rate was 16.6 percent.

Between September 2008 and September 2009, the number of Illinois families depending on food stamps increased 17 percent to 1.5 million. In June 2009, 1.5 million Illinois residents -- about half of them children -- participated in the federal Food Stamp program, up 22 percent from two years earlier.

In June 2009, 31 percent of children in St. Clair County received food stamps, compared with 22 percent statewide. In Madison County, 23 percent of children were receiving food stamps in June, compared with 16 percent between 2007 and 2009.

In Illinois, 38.5 percent of African-American children live in poverty -- a rate that is even higher than the nationwide average of 34.1 percent. In Illinois, 8.6 percent of white children live in poverty while nationwide 10.8 percent are living in poverty.

Illinois Kids Count is a project of Voices for Illinois Children and is part of a nationwide network of state-level projects supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. It monitors the educational, social and emotional, economic and physical well-being of Illinois children.

Since September 2008, the unemployment rate in Illinois has been consistently higher than the unemployment rate nationwide. Median family income, adjusted for inflation, declined by 5 percent in St. Clair County, 3 percent in Madison County and 14 percent in East St. Louis, compared with 4 percent statewide.

In Madison County, the unemployment rate in 2008 was 5.1 percent and rose to 9.3 percent in 2009. In St. Clair County, the unemployment rate was 7.9 percent in 2008 and rose to a high of 10.6 percent in 2009.

Speeding access to health in Zambia... with bikes

The social business Riders for Health have a double bottom line, make a profit and improve transportation to health care in Africa.

For those who sick in Zambia access to health care can be difficult for some, impossible for others. Hospitals and clinics can be far away from remote villages, it could be a day long trip for some if they even have transportation. Those needing immediate care may never receive it.

To help combat this, two motorcycling enthusiasts fix up old bicycles and charge health systems in Africa for use of the bikes. From the BBC, writer Ashley Morris profiles the social business.

Outside the district laboratory, 30km away, the broken carcasses of vehicles are everywhere.

Behind one building, motorbikes lie rotting, gradually disappearing under the plants that wrap themselves around their wheels.

It was a similar sight that first motivated motorcycle-racing enthusiasts Andrea and Barry Coleman to set up Riders For Health.

Barry explains: "I saw a motorcycle that was new and gleaming and it was completely dead that had done 800km, and we know you could have 150,000km of health care delivery out of that and there it was dead at 800."

With their knowledge of engines and motorbikes in particular, they knew it wasn't Africa's harsh conditions that were the problem, but poor maintenance.

They decided that if they could persuade African governments to let them, they could manage vehicles efficiently and keep them on the road.

The secret of their success is that they train local riders and drivers to carry out simple checks and preventative maintenance.

Although the pilot project will be paid for by fundraising, Riders For Health strive for all their schemes to be self-funding in the long run.

They charge governments a small fee to cover their costs, fixed for five years, so it is easily budgeted for.

It's this business-like approach that sets Riders apart from conventional charities.

As Andrea says, it means they have to think carefully about the constant compromise between keeping the money coming in and maintaining the social benefit.

"I think that social enterprise really has to think about the double bottom line. The money and the humanitarian impact and between those two lines there has to be a tension."

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Concern for more AIDS cases in Haiti

One of the many fears for still recovering Haiti is a resurgence of AIDS. Infection of HIV-AIDS amongst the Haiti population was actually at a low percentage before the earthquake. Health advocates fear that AIDS will flourish in the coming years as the health system in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince needs to be rebuilt.

From the website AFRO, we read this interview with Charles King of the AIDS and homeless combating group called Housing Works. Writer George Barnette asked King about his recent visit to Haiti to look over AIDS prevention facilities after the earthquake.

“I was taken to one of the larger AIDS clinics in Port-Au-Prince which had been pancaked,” said King. “At that clinic, every single staff person and every single patient who was in the building was killed.”

Treating victims of the earthquake is now the No. 1 priority, which leaves patients with other needs in the cold, a fact King found out first hand, much to his dismay.

“In Saint-Marc, which is about a 90-minute drive north of [Port-au-Prince], we actually met with the head of the local hospital and he had plenty of ARVs,” he said. “The hospital was so flooded with trauma patients that they couldn’t enroll any new patients, including people who were fleeing [Port-au-Prince].”

The United Nations estimates that there were about 120,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in Haiti at the time of the earthquake, with the bulk of the infections among the 15-to-49-year-old population, which had an infection orate of 2.2 percent. That rate is down drastically from 5.5 percent within the same age group in 1996.

King said the decline was not fueled by outside forces, but by the Haitian people themselves.

“There has been a growing society movement within Haiti itself to combat the epidemic,” said King. “I attended a conference in Jacmel, by the national association of people living with AIDS and HIV in Haiti, that issued a powerful declaration that the country and global forces [need to] address the epidemic. That was actually followed the day after the conference with thousands of people marching through the streets asking for human rights for all people living with HIV and AIDS.”

New "Robin Hood" tax proposed

A campaign is being launched in the UK to support a proposed "Robin Hood" tax. The tax would collect a 0.05 percent tax from international bank transactions. The campaign hopes to drum up support for the tax with a few TV commercials that are running in the UK

From The London Evening Standard, writer Chris Blackhurst gives this further explanation for the proposed tax.

Today we have our own real-life Robin Hood in Richard Curtis, the comedy writer. Among his Merry Men are Bill Nighy and other celebrities including Bono, and representatives from a range of organisations — Oxfam, Save the Children, Action Aid and others.

Curtis's proposal, launched this week, is to impose a 0.05 per cent tax on international bankers' transactions. He's calling it the “Robin Hood” tax. Diverting 50p from every £1,000 the banks trade in shares, bonds, derivatives and foreign currency could raise up to £250 billion per year. The money would be spent on under-resourced public services in the UK and other countries where the banks do business, and to help fight global poverty and climate change.

It's smart: the size of the levy is not such that the banks would be mortally wounded. And as Curtis points out, we pay VAT at 17.5 per cent every time we go to the shops: why shouldn't the banks pay 0.05 per cent every time they buy or sell a financial product?

It's cleverly designed: half the revenue would be kept by the country where the deal took place, and the remaining 50 per cent split between reducing global poverty and tackling climate change. For leaders of developed nations struggling under public deficits, those sorts of sums for their own country's public services would be a godsend. It's hard, too, to argue against serious cash going to Africa and elsewhere, and alleviating climate change (£60 million-plus going to poorer nations to reduce their emissions would be enough to free the deadlock of the recent Copenhagen summit).

It would be a brave politician who would denounce the Robin Hood tax now. For Curtis's cunning is also in the timing: he's linking banks' unpopularity with the biggest challenges facing the planet. Come to that, which banker is going to put their head above the parapet and say their organisation, having made billions, can't afford a measly 0.05 per cent?

Little change in Zimbabwe a year after power sharing began

From IRIN, it have been a year since the political power sharing aggrement gave many Zimbabweans hope, but not much has changed for the country's residents.

A year after a political pact was forged in the hope of answering Zimbabwe's myriad social and economic problems, the country remains trapped in the same quagmire, with few signs of progress.

On 11 February 2009, with nearly 7 million people dependent on food aid and a cholera epidemic that had killed more than 4,000 and infected nearly 100,000 others sweeping across the country, bitter political rivals President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai agreed to form a Government of National Unity (GNU). They have since agreed on little else.

The deal, facilitated by former South African President Thabo Mbeki and guaranteed by the Southern African Development Community, was touted as a new beginning for the once prosperous nation, but in reality simply moved the animosity from the street to the cabinet. Constant bickering has become the order of the day, and poverty and food insecurity are the nation's constant companions.

Mugabe, who has ruled since independence from Britain in 1980 and is leader of the ZANU-PF party, retained the presidency; Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was appointed Prime Minister; Arthur Mutambara, leader of an MDC break-away party, became Deputy Prime Minister.

Tsvangirai claims Mugabe is failing to abide by the Global Political Agreement (GPA) - signed in September 2008 - which constitutes the basis of the unity government.

Mugabe has unilaterally appointed ZANU-PF stalwarts as attorney-general and governor of the Reserve Bank, but has refused to appoint five MDC provincial governors.

He has also refused to swear in MDC treasurer Roy Bennett as deputy agriculture minister. Bennett has been in a long-running legal battle, in which a variety of charges have been levelled - and then dropped - including sedition and a conspiracy to assassinate Mugabe.

In turn Mugabe claims that Tsvangirai has failed to persuade the US and European Union (EU) to lift targeted sanctions against him and more than 200 other ZANU-PF members.

Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa said after a recent meeting of the party's Politburo that there would be no concessions from ZANU-PF until "Tsvangirai and his Western allies remove their sanctions so that children can go to school, the sick can be attended to in hospitals, people can find jobs and farmers produce."

Tsvangirai has routinely said that the decision to lift US and EU sanctions, which include travel restrictions and the freezing of bank accounts under their jurisdiction, rested with those that had imposed them.

However, a recent statement by Britain's foreign secretary, David Miliband, that the removal of sanctions would be determined on the advice of the MDC, is seen as undermining Tsvangirai's stance.

The MDC won a parliamentary majority in the 2008 elections but Mugabe won a run-off presidential poll unopposed when Tsvangirai withdrew in protest over the political violence; the run-off was declared unfree and unfair. ZANU-PF has been accused of ongoing violence and intimidation.

In 2000 Mugabe launched the fast-track land reform programme, in which white-owned farms were seized and redistributed to landless blacks. The chaotic programme led to the collapse of the agricultural sector and contributed to the dire food shortages in Zimbabwe during most of the past decade.

Farm disruptions

"Two of the key provisions under the GPA are that there should be a land audit to bring sanity and order to the farming industry, but there are continued invasions and disruptions on farms," said Morgan Komichi, the MDC's deputy organising secretary.

There have been persistent allegations that farms were being given to senior ZANU-PF members and high ranking officials in the security services. "Those with multiple farms are probably behind the chaos, as they have violated the principle of 'one person, one farm'," said Komichi.

"Another key provision is the constitution-making process, which has again been stalled. ZANU-PF fears that a new constitution would make them lose power. We believe a new people-driven constitution is part of a democratisation agenda."

The unity government ended hyperinflation, which was being measured in the quintillions of percent, by abolishing the Zimbabwe dollar and allowing the US dollar, South African rand and Botswana pula to be used as currency.

After a year, "Other than the cosmetic changes that you see, whereby people are generally free to meet in some areas, and a slight improvement in terms of the availability of goods ... we have no currency of our own," said Wellington Chibhebhe, secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, the country's largest labour federation.

"What that means is that only a few can afford those goods, which is why the entire public workforce has gone on strike. There are people out there who have never handled a US$20 bill. Our industries have not been revived, so we are essentially a supermarket economy where goods are brought in from South Africa," he told IRIN.

"The two main political parties have benefited immensely from the marriage of convenience. The GNU helped to resuscitate ZANU-PF, which was on the verge of extinction, while the MDC has benefited from the visibility that comes with being in the inclusive government, which they were denied in the past," Chibhebhe commented.

In a bid to kick-start the ailing economy and salvage public services, the unity government lured civil servants back to work with an across-the-board hard currency salary of US$100, which has increased incrementally over the year.

In February 2010 public servants began an indefinite national strike, demanding a monthly salary of $502. They have been offered an extra $17 on their current $160 monthly salary.

Beasts of burden

"Why do we, as teachers and other civil servants, have to sacrifice all the time? We are told that we have to be patient because the economy is not performing well," said Raymond Majongwe, secretary-general of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe.

"We are tired of this, because we also have bills and rentals and transport costs. We are therefore not going back to work until there is seriousness on the part of the government in terms of giving workers realistic salaries," he told IRIN.

Pedzisayi Ruhanya, programme manager of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, a non-governmental organisation advocating human rights and democratisation, told IRIN: "Certainly, there are measures of success in that before the GNU, schools had closed while hospitals had also closed, but they were revived following the GNU."

He told IRIN: "As a transitional government we should have been moving towards a new democratic culture with new institutions, but that has not happened. The constitution-making process has been stalled at each and every opportunity, media reforms have not been undertaken ... [and] the security forces continue to operate from ZANU-PF's armpit as a partisan force."

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Second stage of Haiti's medical emergency has begun

Instead of a rush of earthquake victims, now the medical aid workers in Haiti are experiencing a rush of respiratory and diarrhea diseases as well as malnutrition. The unsanitary conditions in the makeshift tent camps and the disorganized way food aid is reaching people is to blame for most of new wave of diseases.

From this Canadian Press article that we found at Google News, writer Frank Bajak tells us more.

The second stage of Haiti's medical emergency has begun, with diarrheal illnesses, acute respiratory infections and malnutrition beginning to claim lives by the dozen.

And while the half-million people jammed into germ-breeding makeshift camps have so far been spared a contagious-disease outbreak, health officials fear epidemics. They are rushing to vaccinate 530,000 children against measles, diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough.

"It's still tough," said Chris Lewis, emergency health co-ordinator for Save the Children, which by Tuesday had treated 11,000 people at 14 mobile clinics in Port-au-Prince, Jacmel and Leogane. "At the moment we're providing lifesaving services. What we'd like to do is to move to provide quality, longer-term care, but we're not there yet."

In a report issued Monday, the United Nations said the Haitian government estimates 212,000 people were killed and 300,000 injured in the quake. The number of deaths not directly caused by the quake is unclear; U.N. are only now beginning to survey the more than 200 international medical aid groups working out of 91 hospitals - most of them just collections of tents - to compile the data.

At Port-au-Prince's General Hospital, patients continue arriving with infections in wounds they can't keep clean because the street is their home. The number of amputees, estimated at 2,000 to 4,000 by Handicap International, keeps rising as people reach Port-au-Prince with untreated fractures.

Violence bred of food shortages and inadequate security is also producing casualties. Dr. Santiago Arraffat of Evansville, Ind., said he treats several gunshot wounds a day at General Hospital.

"People are just shooting each other," he said. "There are fights over food. People are so desperate."

Nearly a month after the quake, respiratory infections, malnutrition, diarrhea from waterborne diseases and a lack of appropriate food for young children may be the biggest killers, health workers say.

The small dairy farmers of Uruguay

The small dairy farmers of Uruguay or the "crudero" could hardly make a living selling their dairy directly to their neighborhoods. Most crudero not only have small herds but also small properties to let the cattle graze in, so expansion for more sales was impossible. Some crudero resorted to diluting their milk water in a scheme to sell more product.

To help the crudero, business and government teamed together to help pull the small farmers out of poverty. An Uruguay dairy company built a plant in a provience that is home to many crudero. The small farmers now are able to sell their milk to the plant, who then ships the product to a wider range of customers.

From IPS, writer Dino Cappelli explains the project further.

Two years ago, Mauber Olveira, director of development in the Durazno city government, and former mayor Carmelo Vidalín were the driving forces behind one of the alliances to integrate the "cruderos" into the modern milk processing industry.

The formula, Olveira told IPS, was to get Nutrísima, a Uruguayan dairy company, to build a plant in the city of Durazno, which has a population of 35,000 and is the capital of the department of the same name.

The plant buys raw milk from local farmers, pasteurises it and sells it to supermarkets and other buyers.

The project included financial aid agreements to enable dairy farmers to purchase equipment and livestock to boost production.

The assistance - totaling more than 100,000 dollars - forms part of an agreement between the Dirección de Proyectos de Desarrollo (development projects office), which answers to the president's office, and Nutrísima.

The manager of the company in Durazno, Carlos Kuster, explained that the agreement translates into "financial support of around 2,000 dollars per farmer, aimed at ensuring the purchase of a freezer."

He also said "it is quite feasible that equipment will be imported to give small-scale farmers the possibility to collect two days' worth of milk and deliver it every other day to the plant, thus significantly reducing transportation costs."

Kuster said the aid also "makes it possible for farmers to purchase cattle and feed, which is the best use for financial assistance under the current circumstances."

Claudia Jeannette Pérez, president of the association of former "cruderos" from the areas surrounding the city of Durazno, explained that they used to sell raw milk, artisanal cheeses, eggs and vegetables "door to door, in shops and in the local open air markets."

Today, all that has changed.

They no longer live below the poverty line, and there are now proper hygiene conditions on their small farms, which must live up to certain standards in order to sell their milk to the pasteurisation plant.

Furthermore, they now have access to running water - essential to maintaining production levels and standards - and many also have electricity.

How microcredit helped after the Haiti Earthquake

Haiti's biggest microcredit bank Fonkoze received an immediate transfusion of cash from JP Morgan just after the earthquake. The money arrived on January 22nd and Fonzose debtors were able to receive small grants from the bank of a couple of dollars. Meanwhile, major banks in Haiti were inoperable for about a week after the earthquake.

Newsweek looks into the rescue efforts of microcredit banks, not only in Haiti but in other disasters. Writer Mac Margolis and Lucy Conger even recieved some quotes of criticism from people at Grameen Bank.

Such ambitions have drawn flak: "I am unaware of any historical examples of nations that climbed out of poverty on the backs of small entrepreneurs financed by credit," U.S. circuit court justice and economic historian Richard A. Posner once commented. But microcredit initiatives have since bloomed in a thousand boardrooms, winning converts in the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and even luring major commercial banks, many of which now see the future of their industry in courting the "unbanked" multitudes.

But the Haitian earthquake illustrates a more pressing role for microfinance institutions: helping societies respond to shattering tragedies. Ironically, not so long ago many development experts assumed it was the microfinance institutions (MFIs) that would need saving in times of crisis. National calamity, they noted, falls hardest on the weak, depriving the poor of jobs and capital and so, they reasoned, automatically driving them into massive default. "If people could get no money, they couldn't repay. The whole sector was threatened," says Don Terry, a former IDB microfinance and remittances specialist.

In fact, the opposite has been the case. "Devastation typically paralyzes the big banks," says Terry. "Microfinance institutions are used to dealing at grassroots levels in a way that large commercial lenders cannot." In 1998, when Hurricane Mitch ravaged Nicaragua and Honduras, shuttering banks and destroying roads and bridges, microlender Fundación León 2000 stepped into the breach, putting its experience and vast rural customer network at the service of relief agencies. "Microfinance institutions were the only ones able to communicate," says Alberto Solano, the Grameen Foundation's regional CEO for the Americas.

MFIs swung into action again after the Asian tsunami in late 2004. Even as they buried the 200,000 dead and cared for the injured, rescue crews were faced with tens of thousands left homeless and desolate across Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. For that, they needed not just cash but an organization structured to parse the needs at ground level and get money to scattered clients. Enter microcredit experts like Grameen, which helped raise disaster loans and channel the credit to stricken families through local microlenders.

Survey finds higher poverty in Los Angeles county compared to California

The United Way of Greater Los Angeles has released a survey on poverty in Los Angeles County. The United Way finds that the area has a higher poverty rate than the rest of the state of California.

From The Pasadena Star News, we find this summary of the report.

In LA County, 15 percent of people live below poverty - meaning they survive on less than $11,000 for a single person or $22,000 for a family of four - compared with 13 percent nationally.

"Los Angeles County was in crisis before the recent economic downturn. We are now in danger of falling further behind," the report concludes.

LA County fares even worse, comparably, when looking at the population of "working poor" - those with household incomes of less than $44,000 a year.

From 2000 to 2008, the population of working poor ranged from 36 to 40 percent and averaged nearly 6 percentage points higher than the state as a whole, and 7.5 percentage points higher than the rest of the country.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The recent history of economic growth

In a commentary for the American Enterprise Institute, Ryan Streeter criticizes gatherings like the World Economic Forum. Streeter says instead of all the talk at the WEF about redesign and change to boost economies, we should look back at the growth that the world has experienced in the last 40 years.

How ironic, then, that just prior to their gathering, Maxim Pinkovskiy and Xavier Sala-i-Martin updated findings from their 2009 National Bureau of Economic Research paper, “Parametric Estimations of the World Distribution of Income,” on the economics website VOX. Their findings show precipitous drops in global poverty since 1970—just about the same time WEF began meeting in Davos (Mark Perry wrote about the original paper here).

Between 1970 and 2006, the global poverty rate fell nearly 75 percent. During this period, the percentage of the world’s population living on less than a dollar a day fell from 26.8 to 5.4 percent. The world’s population grew 80 percent during the same period, which makes the poverty reduction all the more astounding. The global Gini coefficient, a standard measure of inequality, fell from 67.6 to 61.2 percent, indicating a drop in inequality as well as poverty. The same trend is found in other measures of inequality besides Gini.

And when one computes a measure of global “welfare” understood in the old-fashioned sense of well-being, we find that life has gotten better faster for a larger share of the world’s population than perhaps any time in history. By deriving a calculation of well-being from GDP and inequality measures, the authors show that between 1970 and 2006, global welfare more than doubled, growing faster than GDP.

The authors also consider the World Bank’s new purchasing power parity (PPP)–adjusted measures of GDP and find that while global poverty increases overall, the rate of poverty actually drops faster since 1970 than it does under more conventional GDP measures. In other words, under the PPP model, the world looks a lot poorer in 1970 than it does using more traditional measures of poverty, but today, the poverty rate is nearly the same regardless of whether one uses the PPP or more traditional measures (see the graph below). Using the World Bank’s adjustment actually has the effect of making it look like we have been doing a better job of reducing poverty over the past three decades, despite how the world looks poorer in any given year.