Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The microcredit bubble in India

India has seen a microcredit boom over the past decade. Over 400 million people in India do not have access to banking services. With such a large untapped marketplace, microcredit in India has moved from a few non-profits to many banks flush with money from private investors.

The boom in microcredit has some Indian economists worried. They fear that bubble is forming in India's economy that could burst and have a devastating explosion upon the countries poor.

From the Christian Science Monitor, writer Vaishnavi Chandrashekhar examines the microcredit bubble.

Microfinance institutions (MFIs) watched their loan portfolio in India jump from $252 million to $2.5 billion between 2005 and 2009, according to data compiled by Sa-Dhan, an umbrella group for the sector. Last year alone the number of borrowers jumped 59 percent to more than 22 million people, and loan portfolio grew 56 percent. When including government-supported microcredit programs, the sector overall grew to more than 70 million borrowers and a $7.5 billion market.

But the spectacular growth and the rush of private capital into private MFIs – microfinance comprised 40 percent of equity deals in India last year – have some experts worried about a subprimelike bubble. The expansion has been too large, too fast, and too geographically concentrated, critics say, pointing to incidents of mass default in pockets of the country.

“Once irrational exuberance takes hold, it is difficult to puncture it until it is punctured,” says Sanjay Sinha, managing director of Micro-Credit Ratings International Limited in New Delhi, referring to the subprime housing crisis that triggered the US recession. A March report from the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) found private equity valuations for Indian microfinance were six times book value, and three times the global median. Excess capital flows were driving overvaluation, the report said.

Last year, overheated microfinance markets led to repayment crises in Bosnia, Nicaragua, Morocco, and Pakistan, Mr. Sinha notes, which forced some MFIs to close shop. “There is a global exuberance about microfinance – a flood of money without the infrastructure to distribute that money.”

It is the MFIs, however, with their quicker processes, larger loans, and more aggressive repayment policies, that have propelled much of the recent expansion. Some have transformed into for-profits as they scaled up in size and profitability.

India's largest MFIs – about 27 of 230 analyzed in the 2009 State of the Sector Report issued by Access Development Services – cover 88 percent of the MFI market. India's biggest MFI, SKS Microfinance, which self-reported 5.3 million borrowers and a return on equity of 19 percent last year, will become India's first MFI to issue a public offering next month.

Most of the sector's growth, however, has been concentrated in a few regions. More than 50 percent of microfinance clients live in the four southern states, which are home to 15 percent of the country’s poor households. By contrast, the states in the central region host 32 percent of poor households but less than 9 percent of clients. 

This skewed growth is most startling in Andhra Pradesh, where average household microfinance debt is eight times the national average. The state of 16 million households had 20 million microfinance clients last year, according to an annual report on the sector.

Thousands refused ARV drugs in Uganda

Due to funding shortages many people in Uganda who need anti-retro-viral drugs for HIV-AIDS treatment are unable to get them. An informal ban on new patients receiving the drugs has been instituted in Uganda.

The two biggest donors of Uganda's ARV treatment program blame the global recession for the funding gaps. The Global Fund on AIDS, Malaria and TB has cut back on funding the program, while the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has kept funding levels the same. The leveling of funds to PEPFAR come despite campaign promises from now President Obama to put more money into the program.

From All Africa, writer Henry Zakumumpa tells us why the people are not getting live saving drugs.

Several organisations caring for people living with HIV/AIDS in Uganda have sounded alarm bells regarding their members who are being turned away at anti-retroviral treatment centres even when their CD4 counts (which determine patient immunity levels) show that they are due for treatment. An evening television news report on NTV Uganda on June 16 June, 2010 highlights the plight of hundreds of people with HIV/AIDS who are stranded at treatment centres which have declined to enroll them on treatment citing severe funding dilemmas for the lifelong ART drugs.

For people with HIV/AIDS, anti-retroviral treatment is the main hope of prolonging life. Anti retroviral drugs (ARVs) inhibit the ability of the HIV to multiply in the body.

Dr Peter Mugyenyi, the Executive Director of the Joint Clinical Research Centre (JCRC), one of the leading national providers of HIV/AIDS care and treatment in Uganda, acknowledges the problem.

"In Uganda, lower- than- anticipated funding support from PEPFAR and other donor entities in the past couple of years has forced many facilities to turn away new HIV-positive patients seeking ART," Dr Mugyenyi says in a foreword he wrote for the latest 2010 report of the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition (ITPC) entitled Rationing Funds, Risking Lives: World Backtracks on HIV Treatment.

Dr Deus Lukoye, the Kampala City Council HIV/AIDS Focal Person, has confirmed to this reporter that many ART sites in Kampala are turning away new patients due to donor funding deficits.

According to Prof. Michel Kazatchkine, Head of the Global Fund on AIDS, Malaria and TB, the United States President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) programme and the Global Fund together are providing almost 100% of the funding for ARV treatment costs in developing countries such as Uganda.

"I can't believe the world will let me die when the money that is needed to put me on treatment and prolong my life, for my family's sake at least, is available globally and even in my own country" says James Mbidde (not real name), 38, who has been turned away at two ART centres in Kampala.

Debt relief plan announced for Liberia

A new plan to give debt relief to Liberia was announced yesterday. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund launched a plan to relieve Liberia of 4.6 billion dollars of debt.

From the AFP article that we found at South Africa's News 24 we read more on the joint statement on the relief, and some reaction from OXFAM.

In a joint statement, the boards of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank said the impoverished African nation, which is only just recovering from the ravages of a protracted civil war, "has successfully implemented its poverty-reduction strategy and maintained a stable macroeconomic environment, despite the global economic crisis".

They said that Liberia's course toward economic and social stability would be eased by the debt relief.

"We welcome the concerted efforts made by Liberia to obtain this debt relief. This will help attract new investment and generate much needed opportunities," Chris Lane, IMF mission chief for Liberia, said in the statement.

"Debt relief for Liberia is a step in the right direction, as it will open up fiscal space for spending on desperately needed social services," said Oxfam policy advisor Pamela Gomez.

"Oxfam along with our partners in Liberia recently conducted a research study which found that Liberia is facing a public health crisis - three out of four people have no access to safe water, and lack of water and sanitation cause 18% of deaths in that country," she said.

So "the Liberian government itself is going to have to act fast to budget more for water and sanitation to halt the scandal of preventable disease and deaths", Gomez said.

New AIDS report on the middle east

From IRIN, a new study gives us statistics on the occurrence of HIV-AIDS in the Middle East.

Statistics on the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the Middle East are hard to come by but a new study launched on 28 June in the United Arab Emirates has attempted to gather all existing data into one place and add some analysis and action points for policymakers.

“In all previous reports we thought there was no HIV data from this region. But there turned out to be lots of data here,” said Laith Abu Raddad, director of the Biostatistics and Biomathematic Research Core at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar and the principal author of the study (not yet available online).

“This report is basically more like a scientific epidemiological study: Getting pieces of data, thousands of data that we managed to collect from every country in the region, putting them together and analysing them to see what they tell us in terms of HIV epidemiology,” he said.

The report, characterizing the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Middle East and North Africa, is a joint effort of the World Bank, the UN Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO). It covers 23 countries that the three organizations include in their MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region.

According to UNAIDS, about 412,000 people were living with HIV in MENA by the end of 2008, up from 270,000 in 2001. The report said most new infections were from within commercial sex and drug-taking populations.

The report divides the MENA region into two categories according to HIV prevalence: the “subregion with considerable prevalence” (Djibouti, Somalia, Southern Sudan); and the Core MENA region, where HIV prevalence is described as “very limited” (the rest of MENA countries).

Sudan, Somalia and Djibouti

“In north Sudan, we used to think in the past that we have a much more serious problem of HIV but now the data set is more complete, it’s clear that north Sudan really is quite similar to the rest of the MENA countries. But in south Sudan we may have a generalized epidemic,” Abu Raddad said. A generalized epidemic is one that has spread beyond high-risk minority populations to the general population.

A 2003 UNAIDS and WHO report referred to in the study said Sudan had a 2.6 percent HIV prevalence rate.

Abu Raddad said Djibouti “was the Disneyland of risk behaviour” and had a large number of Ethiopian sex workers serving truck drivers and foreign army bases. “We have this corridor which is certainly full of HIV, but the rest of the country is fine,” he noted.

A 2008 UNAIDS report said Djibouti had a 3.4 percent HIV prevalence rate in its capital and a 1.1 percent rate outside it.

“Technically speaking, the HIV epidemics in Djibouti and Somalia are already generalized, but the context of HIV infection and risk groups in these countries suggests that HIV dynamics are mainly focused around concentrated epidemics in the commercial sex networks,” said the new report.

Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran

The report said Pakistan and Iran, where HIV prevalence is low among the general population, faced concentrated HIV epidemics among injecting drug users (IDUs), while this was also a significant mode of transmission for HIV in Afghanistan.

“We know we have a concentrated epidemic among IDUs in Pakistan, and the increase was very rapid over the past few years. In Karachi, for example, we had near zero percent among this group in 2003 or 2004 and then within six months it jumped to 24 percent.”

He said this increase could be attributed to needle sharing, poverty and a lack of awareness.

Egypt and Tunisia

Egypt has a different pattern in terms of the spread of HIV. Surveys of risk groups showed that HIV prevalence was very low among IDUs and female sex workers (FSWs). “This is not a surprise for FSWs. In those kind of conservative countries in the region - and Egypt is one them - we see very little prevalence of HIV among FSWs. But having very low prevalence among IDUs is quite a surprise,” Abu Raddad said.

He said that Egypt appeared to be having an HIV epidemic among men having sex with men (MSM), at a prevalence rate of 6 percent.

“The country also has an interesting pattern. Usually HIV epidemics start with IDUs and then move to MSM, which we see in Iran and Pakistan. But this is not the case in some countries, like Egypt and Tunisia, where the epidemic is starting with MSM,” Abu Raddad said.

Dearth of data

Experts said that despite all the information from different sources that the new report brings together, the region still does not have enough data to form a coherent strategy to tackle HIV/AIDS. The report conceded that the MENA region “continues to be viewed as the anomaly in the HIV/AIDS world map”.

“This is because we have not invested enough in building the right surveillance systems, so we don’t have systems that actually detect and follow up on this issue,” Hind Khatib, regional director of UNAIDS, told IRIN.

“Political commitment should be matched with domestic resources and investment in human resources, which is limited in the region. You have to spend on your programmes and systems and you have to have strategic directions that are focused on the drivers of the epidemic,” Khatib said.

She said she hoped to see the governments of the many low-income countries in the region allocate more funds to HIV programmes, particularly in light of the fact that the financial crisis had made it harder for countries to be eligible for assistance from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Experts agreed that the main challenge for the region was the stigma of HIV/AIDS and discrimination against people living with it.

“We have to bring in the people living with HIV and the civil society. We have to open up in our thinking and policies,” Khatib said.

Video: Malnutrition peaks in Niger early this year

From Medecins Sans Frontieres, this video shows that malnutrition is peaking earlier this year than usual in Niger due to the area's famine.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Video: still an aid dilemma in Haiti

From PBS, this Frontline segment focuses on new methods of delivering aid to the still earthquake-stricken Haiti.

Military attempts at aid shows mixed results in Afghanistan

From IRIN, the mixed results of military personnel doing humanitarian aid work in Afghanistan.
Abdul Hadi, a taylor, is ambivalent: “Yes the bazaar is better now than it was before because the Marines are here to provide security. Before it was the Taliban who controlled security - things were secure then but the Taliban used to threaten to chop off people’s hands if they were found stealing. But people here are happy whoever brings security - either the Taliban or Marines. As long as business can be done."

Hadi’s store is in a part of Helmand province that until recently was the scene of fierce fighting between Taliban and US troops. "When the Americans first came there was a lot of fighting around here between them and the Taliban and we had to close our shop for one week because of it. But after the fighting we re-opened again."

As part of a strategy to win local support for their military operations in the area and ensure greater protection for their foot patrols, US marines have spent US$130,000 rehabilitating the bazaar, putting in shop doors and windows, new drainage schemes, as well as a planned new road to run through it.

For Hadi, all of this is a bonus and although it might not matter to him who provides security or financial support, the idea that the military are increasingly involved in aid distribution across Helmand province is of major concern for many NGOs and aid agencies.

As the security situation in Helmand deteriorates, the region is rapidly becoming too dangerous for aid organizations and UN agencies. Increasingly, development work is being carried out by international troops - with mixed results.

For aid agencies blurring the lines between war and assistance is worrying. Several agencies, including Oxfam, Care and Afghanaid published a report in January pointing out that this year, $1 billion would be spent on aid by the military, more than the government's budget for health, education and agriculture combined. They say many projects are quick fixes with no lasting effect and found many examples where the aid given was culturally inappropriate or ineffective.

Root of instability

The Helmand town of Mian Poshteh is desperately poor and has no local school. Poppy production is still the major source of income for most families, many of whom support the Taliban.

Marine Captain Scott Cuomo is commanding officer for both Mian Poshteh and Lakari Bazaar, an area not much bigger than 15 sqkm. He insists the hearts and minds strategy - outlined in the US Army's Commander's Guide to Money as a Weapons System -benefits both the local population and his military mission.

"The first Shura [tribal council] that was held back in October 2009 saw only three elders coming. Now at every Shura there are at least 15 to 20 elders who attend. We are currently negotiating with the elders to build a school and health clinic in Mian Poshteh.”

He says there have also been positive strategic knock-on effects. “The bazaar was a renowned centre for both opium and weapons: Lakari was seen as a major block to establishing long-term security in the whole district because it is a key hub and because the Taliban were using it as a weapon and opium transit point. Since the arrival of the Marines and improved Afghan army presence, everything that is now being sold in Lakari Bazaar is legitimate.”

Aside from supporting the bazaar, Marines have established a medical clinic at their base, which has so far treated nearly 2,000 patients from the surrounding area. This is the only medical facility in the district.

Allowing locals to access such key services and building trust with the local aid projects is a key part of US counter-insurgency (COIN) tactics. USAID-funded civilian advisers have also been brought in to work alongside troops in encouraging locals to grow alternatives to poppies. For the Marines, tackling poverty, seen as an underlying cause of the insurgency, makes perfect sense. Locals, happy with financial aid, are more likely to support their operations and less likely to attack them, so the theory goes.

But according to research by the Feinstein International Center at Tufts University, it is corruption and the ineffectiveness of the government rather than poverty that is at the root of Afghanistan's current insecurity. "A COIN strategy premised on using aid to win the population over to such a negatively perceived government faces an uphill struggle, especially in a competitive environment where the Taliban are perceived by many to be more effective in addressing the people’s highest priority needs of security and access to justice."

In the report of a conference discussing the COIN strategy in March 2010, researchers argued that ill-conceived, poorly implemented aid projects with weak oversight has done more harm than good for the international coalition in Afghanistan.

"There is a need for much greater awareness regarding the destabilizing effects of aid in terms of creating perceived winners and losers, promoting a destructive war/aid economy, and fuelling corruption," the report noted. "Donors should avoid setting development aid up to fail by expecting it to deliver on unrealistically ambitious stabilisation objectives for which it is not well-suited."

Family leaves the US to care for children in Niger

CURE International is about to open up a new pediatric hospital in Niger. CURE has 10 different hospitals in the under-developed world that specialize in orthopedic and neurosurgical conditions of children. The hospital will employ 50 people and will have 24 beds and two operating rooms.

A story from PENN Live today profiles the Lehman family, who will move to Niger to work for the hospital. Leron Lehman will begin work as the hospital's executive director.

Most Americans probably wouldn’t trade the comforts of home for the challenges of establishing a hospital in Africa, but two local families have.

Leron and Chris Lehman were living the typical American life: Leron was successful at his job as executive vice president and chief financial officer at a medical transcription company in Harrisburg, and Chris was busy looking after three kids and a dog and volunteering at school and at church.

Then, the Monaghan Twp. couple decided to change it up.

The hospital initially will have two doctors on staff. The medical director, Dr. Gary Roark, an anesthesiologist from Lebanon, has just arrived in Niger with his wife, Karina, and children Erica, 21, and Daniel, 16.

Much work is on tap for this summer, with hospital construction to finish, 45 employees to hire and training programs to begin, all in an effort to open doors to patients in September, Leron said. The hospital will also serve as a training center for Nigerian doctors and nurses in advanced specialty surgery and patient care.

The Lehmans had always prepared their kids — Drew, 13, Ben, 11, and Becca, 9 — that life might change. “We talked to our kids on a regular basis about the possibility of living and working cross culturally. We wanted them to have a broader world view than what we thought we could provide them within the U.S.,” said Chris, 40.

Surprisingly, the Lehman children were more excited than upset about moving to Africa for at least three years, maybe more. While leaving family, friends and their dog Daphne behind was hard, now they say they’re not very homesick, and they love their new house — small but with a pool — and their school.

IMF and World Bank gets pay raises and criticism

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have approved pay raises for it's employees. The decision to give pay raises were criticized by the banks major donors in the US and Europe. The donors are critical of the raises because governments world wide have had to freeze pay or make cut backs in the wake of the global recession.

From the Washington Post, writer Howard Schneider explains the controversy.

U.S. representatives on the IMF and World Bank boards abstained in the recent votes that approved raises of 4.9 percent and 3.7 percent, respectively. They were joined by European nations that felt the increases set the wrong tone when governments are being pushed to retrench. The IMF just released its "Ten Commandments for Fiscal Adjustment in Advanced Economies."

Raises at the World Bank were approved at a Wednesday board meeting, just a day after Britain released an austerity package featuring new taxes and spending cuts -- not the best timing for winning the British board member's support.

"We greatly value the hard work and expertise of bank staff," said Rob Kelly, a spokesman for Britain's Department for International Development. But "when governments worldwide are cutting public spending, increasing taxes, and reducing or freezing public-sector pay, to award an above-inflation pay rise risks making the bank appear out of touch."

The dispute mirrors some of the broader dynamics in the world economy. The United States and Europe remain the major financial backers of the IMF and World Bank, and they were recently tapped to help replenish the coffers of both institutions after the global crisis spurred record lending to support economies around the world. Salaries of top World Bank staff were frozen last year in recognition of the crisis.

The idea of giving money straight to the poor is spreading

For many years, any aid dollars were put into improving what was around those in poverty, or their living conditions. The aid money would go to infrastructure improvements; better roads, schools and the like. Now an idea is gathering momentum that gives the aid dollars directly to the people, called "cash transfers." Not only is this taking place in the under-developed world but New York City has also tried it out.

From the Guardian, writer Aditya Chakrabortty explains why cash transfers may be the wave of the future in poverty-fighting

What Melamed saw in Mozambique was one of the first major exercises in what is now among the most talked-about new ideas in aid, called cash transfers – or, as a new book title puts it, "Just give money to the poor", as those donors did to the former soldiers. The authors, Joseph Hanlon, Armando Barrientos and David Hulme, count 45 countries that hand cash to more than 110m families. In Brazil, poor families can collect money from lottery shops. Pick-up trucks drive across Namibia, bearing safes with cash machines welded on the front, used by old ladies to take out their monthly pensions.

It sounds forehead-smackingly obvious: isn't giving cash to the poor what we do every time we shovel change into an envelope, or pledge a donation to Comic Relief? But when that money – whether from individuals or governments or big international institutions like the World Bank – gets to Africa or Asia, it's typically turned into new roads, schools, even community radio stations. The idea is to give poor people the infrastructure and training they need to lift themselves out of destitution.

Or perhaps I should say that was the idea. Looking back over the last few years, we see in retrospect a brief golden period for aid. It was marked in Britain by turning Clare Short into the new secretary of state for international development, and defined internationally by the 2005 pledge at Gleneagles of the G8 richest countries to give more money to Africa. And it appears to be drawing to a close.

Academics and writers such as Bill Easterly and Dambisa Moyo now gain plaudits for books with titles such as Dead Aid. Recession-hit politicians at events such as last weekend's G20 summit in Toronto avoid even mentioning the Gleneagles promises. And when official money is handed over, it often ends up on the most useless projects. In 2008, Berlin spent half a million dollars on what it called a "basic nutrition project" but which turned out to be a scheme to reduce unpleasant smells from food-processing factories in China and (naturally enough) Germany. That would be called a joke, if it was only remotely funny.

Against all that, the idea of just handing over a hefty chunk of the world's $100bn aid money directly to the 1.4bn people living on less than $1.25 a day is pretty attractive. Less funny business from donors, and far less waste. And what makes this most remarkable of all is that while the rich countries squabble over how much money to give and in what form, this initiative has sprung largely from the poor nations – usually under pressure from some of their poorest people.

This is the world of aid turned upside down. A couple of years ago, Oxfam tried the idea out in a few villages in Vietnam. Charity workers gave the equivalent of three years' wages in one go to more than 400 families. When they returned they found that poverty had dropped through the floor, with most of the money spent sensibly on food or fertilisers, seeds and cows. But older people had put some cash towards coffins, explaining that funerals were a major expense. And one group had built a communal house, to practise yoga.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Guest voices: Small steps effect big changes for children in Nepal

Continuing our series of guest posts from Concern Worldwide, a story about their educational efforts in Nepal. According to Cecial Adhikari small improvements to the lives of the children can go a long way.

“I enjoy staying in the classroom where I can concentrate on studying,” fifth-grader Lalit Khatri told me when I spoke to him at the Pashupati Primary School in Dashera village, which is located in the Jajarkot District of Nepal.

Through its local partner, Nepal Water for Health, Concern recently implemented a program to improve water and sanitation facilities at Lalit’s school in an effort to promote basic health for the students of this rural region. I was back to visit with the children and teachers and see how the project was impacting their lives.

Nepal has the poorest drinking water and sanitation coverage for its population in South Asia and a correspondingly high rate of waterborne diseases. In the area in which Concern works, the most prevalent diseases are: dysentery, diarrhea, typhoid, hepatitis and cholera. The cholera outbreak in 2009 claimed over 200 lives in Jajarkot District.

Lalit explained what had changed at his school since the project was implemented: ”Now the school is clean and free of bad odors because of new toilets. And because of a new water tap, we have clean water, and have learnt about the need to wash our hands.”

The situation here was very different four months ago when Concern first became aware of the problem: the area around the school was filthy, smelly, and dangerous. In the absence of toilets, younger students used the areas around the school, exposing themselves and other children to the transmission of waterborne illnesses, all highly preventable diseases which are too often fatal in this remote region of Nepal.

Lalit Khatri
At Lalit’s school, students at higher grades, particularly girls, and female teachers, would walk long distances in search of isolated and open spaces so they could have privacy. Similarly, when the children needed clean drinking water, they were forced to travel to nearby houses, which hindered their attendance of class.
When Concern’s team in Nepal learned of the situation at the school, it became immediately clear to us about the urgency to begin a water and sanitation project.
Improved hygiene behavior, which was taught in the school as a component of the project, has now been passed down by the children to their families – something that has proven in the past to bring about positive change at the community level.
Apart from the obvious improvements in health and hygiene practice, the children’s teacher credits Concern with contributing to her students sense of dignity and self-respect: ”The water, sanitation and hygiene program in our school has not only provided us with services and facilties but we have now moved from shame to dignity. Before we did not feel safe or secure and often felt humiliated.”

Recent surveys show that 59 percent of public and community schools across the country do not have any toilet facilities, a factor which has contributed to the increasing rate of girl dropouts per year. Concern has been working to improve the situation so that girls are encouraged to return to school and continue with their studies.

According to the United Nations Human Development Index, in Nepal, more than 60 percent of women over 15 are illiterate; and nearly 10 percent of all female children are currently not enrolled in school.

Poverty is falling, even in Sub-Saharan Africa

The truth is that poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa is dropping, yet it is consistency being shown as a failure. In order to halve it's poverty level from 2000 to the year 2015, Sub-Saharan Africa would have to experience economic growth that even the best economy could not achieve. Yet, this is the standard it and the world is trying to chase in meeting the Millennium Development Goals.

An article in Business Daily Africa highlights a couple of studies that criticize the MDGs. Writer Victor Juma gives us the details on the studies and shows us some of Africa's successes.

Economics professor at New York University, William Easterly, says in a research paper that choices made in defining success or failure as achieving numerical targets for MDGs made their attainment “less likely in Africa than in other regions even when its progress was in line with or above historical or contemporary experience of other regions.”

Citing statements from the IMF, WB, and UN, Prof Easterly says the view that Africa will miss all the MDGs has the effect of making African successes look like failures.

“The paper does not argue that Africa’s performance is good in all areas, only that its relative performance looks worse because of the particular way in which the MDG targets are set. As a result, some African successes are portrayed as failures.”

The bid to reduce poverty by half is criticised, one, for ignoring the fact that Africa is coming from a relatively low economic base and, secondly, for turning a blind eye on economic growth indicators that fall below the $1.25 a day threshold.

For Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, with low per capita income and high initial poverty, achieving the poverty reduction targets means growing at a higher rate than other countries, a Herculean task.

Michael Clemens and Todd Moss of the Centre for Global Development estimate that for Africa to halve poverty by 2015, it will take an average seven per cent year-on-year annual growth.

“Only a handful of countries on earth (seven), in the best of circumstances, grew recently at the rate all of Sub-Saharan Africa would need to grow in order to halve poverty by 2015,” they recently wrote in a paper, What’s wrong with the MDGs?

Comment on G-8/G-20 aid disappointment

The disappointment in the conclusions to the G-8 and G-20 meetings have been varied and widespread. Many were hoping that Canadian PM Stephen Harper calls to restore accountability would be heard. They hoped that the leaders world restore their commitments to paying up on the aid they promised before. Instead, other items took up the agenda in the meetings.

From The Vancouver Sun, this commentary from Mark and Craig Kielburger sums up the frustration quite well. Craig and Mark are the co-founders of Save The Children.

Canadians are rightfully angry to hear that $1.2 billion is going missing from public coffers to pay for the G8/G20 summits. Too bad we've heard little about the missing $19.5 billion.

Five years ago, the G8 leaders shook hands with superstars such as Bono and Bob Geldof as they pledged $50 billion in aid to developing countries. At the 2010 deadline, they came up $19.5 billion short. That's the real scandal of the G8.

Maybe the security price-tag and the disruption to daily lives in Toronto would be worthwhile if the G8 and G20 actually delivered on commitments.

(Then again, maybe if the leaders followed through, the protests and security bill would be smaller.)

Unfortunately, it's security that shows up on balance sheets -not broken promises. Lack of accountability means commitments are usually forgotten soon after the Summits close.

In 1970, world leaders agreed to a pledge tabled by former Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson to give 0.7 per cent of their gross domestic product to aid. Despite resuscitating that commitment twice in 1992 and 2002, Canada is less than halfway to reaching this goal and has no timeline to see it through.

On top of this, we started the century with the now off-track Millennium Development Goals. Among other issues, it addressed maternal health. Today, the 2005 Gleneagles commitments are also collecting dust.

Gleneagles was ambitious. It cancelled $40 billion in debt. The leaders seemed serious about keeping their promises to increase aid. Unfairly, they raised our hopes before falling back into the perpetual cycle of promise, pose and put aside.

Going into the G8 and G20 Summits, the wealthy nations had delivered only 61 cents on the dollar committed. Think about it. If it was your mortgage, you'd face foreclosure.

But, despite the financial crisis, something started by greed on Wall Street, pushing an estimated 100 million more people in developing nations into hunger, some wealthy nations are actually lobbying to do less. These countries are France and Italy, two nations that have gone drastically off-course on their commitments.

Read more:

School clubs help Somalian children with trauma

From IRIN, a story on how after-school programs are helping students overcome trauma.

When Sabah Ismail Ali, a social worker in Somalia's self-declared republic of Somaliland, first started working with children, truancy and aggression were common, especially among children from families with problems such as extreme poverty and displacement.

"I started off as a child protection officer, then I later trained as a psycho-social worker, qualifying by December 2007. I realized right from the start that many children who showed aggression were being caned by teachers who had no idea of the social problems such children were dealing with," Ali told IRIN.

In efforts to help children from difficult backgrounds deal with psycho-social issues, a local NGO, the Comprehensive Community-Based Rehabilitation in Somaliland (CCBRS) partnered a Ugandan NGO, the Transcultural Psychosocial Organization (TPO) in mid-2009 and, with funding from the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), introduced social clubs in four schools where the majority of the students were from displaced families.

Ali, who was involved in the project from its initial stages, told IRIN: "Before the clubs were set up, we first approached the Ministry of Education to explain what we wanted to do, then we identified the schools. We then met the schools' administrators and some of the teachers and explained our mission.

"We started by training the teachers in various aspects of providing psycho-social support and how to counsel children facing social problems."

Club culture

Three types of clubs were then introduced to pupils aged 10 and above in the four identified schools: the environmental and sanitation club; culture, sports and arts club, and the awareness-raising club. At least 60 pupils (30 boys and 30 girls) belong to each club in the four schools: Guryasamo Intermediate School, Fadumo Bihi Primary and Intermediate School, Mohamed Moge Primary and Intermediate School and Ahmed Gurey Primary and Intermediate School.

"Soon, clubs became operational and we started seeing a reduction in the number of pupils who would be caned by teachers for truancy," Ali said.

In the past, if a child misbehaved in class, teachers would punish them with detention, canning or suspension, which led to many children dropping out of school. "Previously, children would drop out of school without anyone understanding why, but with the introduction of the clubs and the training of teachers as counsellors, these cases have also reduced because teachers now know how to handle children with social and psycho-social problems."

Since most of the children are from poor and displaced families, Ali said, the truancy could at times be because they had not had a good meal in a while, "so a good thing has come out of the clubs because with this understanding, some schools are now even waiving their fees for the poor pupils who cannot even afford to have breakfast in their homes.

"With these clubs, what stands out for me is not only the reduction in school dropouts but the improved teacher-student relationship; pupils now have the confidence to come up to a teacher and explain a problem; this is something they could not do before," Ali said.

She added that the clubs had become so popular that schools and parents were urging CCBRS to introduce them in other schools so that more children could benefit.

Fighting corporal punishment

Abib Ahmed Hirsi, the CCBRS programme officer, said the NGO would assess the impact the clubs had had on the children's social development a year after they were introduced in the four schools.

"Part of the clubs' activities is to discourage use of corporal punishment; sometimes we have awareness-raising weeks which we label 'Week without sticks' or 'No sticks, schools free from sticks'," Hirsi said.

Ettie Higgins, head of UNICEF in Hargeisa, told IRIN the agency's goal in creating child-friendly spaces and school clubs was to foster participation and to promote the psycho-social wellbeing of children from marginalized communities.

"UNICEF seeks to promote both the physical and the psycho-socio-emotional health of the child, guaranteeing a safe and protective space for learning," she said. "This programme has directly benefited approximately 2,500 school-children."

Despite new laws, tribal people of India still need land rights

Two years ago India's Forest Rights Act was passed. The law was applauded by human rights advocates for India's indigenous people. The tribes live in the forest areas of central India and make up 8 percent of the population. The people lived of the resources of the forests but have never had any rights to the land of their ancestors. The Forest Rights Act was supposed to change that, but the law has been prone to lack of use and corruption.

From Reuters Alert Net, writer Nita Bhalla explains the hard life the tribal people experience and how the law was to help.

Social indicators of tribal communities and other forest-dwellers are amongst the worst in the country, where health problems related to child malnutrition, malaria and diarrhoea are widespread and literacy rates fall well below the national average.

But for generations, these impoverished communities have had to deal with a much bigger threat - the threat of losing their homes and livelihoods.

Forest-dwellers say for years they have been treated as criminals - often beaten, forcefully evicted or jailed for refusing to leave the land their forefathers cultivated - by forestry officials, who deny the claims, as well as illegal mining and logging firms.

After years of struggling for their land rights, the government finally passed the Recognition of Forest Rights Act in 2006 and notified into force in 2008 - aimed at ensuring security of tenure and access to minor forest produce such bamboo, honey, wax, medicinal plants and fish.

But more than two years later, the landmark legislation - which overturned centuries-old colonial legislation made by the British to exploit India's rich forest resources - has not shown the results hoped for.

The ministry of tribal affairs' 2009/10 annual report shows only about 25 percent of the 2.6 million claims made for recognition of land rights have been awarded title deeds.

How the lack of raising money can be deadly

From IRIN, a story on how providing funding for clean water and sanitation in Liberia has proven difficult.

Poor sanitation and bad hygiene cause the deaths of one in five Liberians, according to the World Health Organization, but despite NGO lobbying efforts to put clean water and sanitation high on donors’ and the government’s agenda, the sector still faces a "deadly financing gap" says NGO Oxfam.

Three out of four Liberians have no access to safe drinking water and six out of seven cannot access sanitation facilities, such as toilets, according to Oxfam in a recently-launched report, Life and Dignity at risk: Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Liberia.

A further US$93.5 million is needed to boost clean water access to 50 percent of all Liberians; and to improve access to toilets to 33 percent - goals set out in the government’s 2008-2011 poverty reduction strategy.

Diarrhoea kills 20 percent of children who die aged five or under in Liberia according to the report, which was released on behalf of the WASH consortium - a group of five international NGOs which advocate the improvement of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services in the country.

Why so slow?

Weak capacity, lack of coordination between different ministries and between different donors, and a lack of financing for water and sanitation are the major obstacles to attaining water and sanitation goals, said the consortium.

With no central WASH authority, the ministries involved in water and sanitation supply include the Ministry of Public Works, Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, the Liberia Water and Sewage Corporation, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Ministry of Mines, among others.

Donor coordination is also weak: only two donors regularly attended government WASH coordination meetings last year, and the donor coordination group is led by the African Development Bank, which as yet has no presence in the country and cannot attend meetings.

The ADB is providing $35 million to support WASH in the government’s 2008-2011 poverty reduction strategy (PRS). Staff could not be contacted for an interview.

A policy, at last

A water resource and sanitation board, which will coordinate all activities in the sector, is finally being set up, after the much-delayed launch of the government’s water and sanitation policy in December 2009.

“That is the instrument to use to force leadership in the sector,” the consortium’s advocacy manager, Muyatwa Sitali, told IRIN. “Only with a water and sanitation policy can the government coordinate donors, UN agencies and NGOs involved in water provision to come up with a critically needed, sector-wide approach.”

Until that is fully functioning, it will remain unclear who is doing what in the sector, where the money is going, and what the priorities are, says Sitali.

More cash

But getting it to function will be difficult unless donors and the government commit more money to the sector. They agreed on a US$143.5 million Poverty Reduction Strategy to improve clean water and toilets across the country by 2011, but with 18 months left to achieve its goals, it is still only one-third funded.

Neither the government, nor donors are channelling enough to WASH, Public Works Assistant Minister George Yarngo told IRIN. “Given the low level of funding from both donors and the government, the PRS goals will not be achieved.”

To fast-track results, the government must fund 10 percent of the PRS, says Oxfam. Since 2006, it has allocated less than one percent of its annual budget to WASH - or from $200,000-$1 million each year. Exact figures are hard to establish because so many different ministries are involved.

It pays to pay

Upping WASH investments will pay off in the long term, say Sitali and Yarngo: Governments that do invest in water and sanitation stand to gain economically, said the Wash Consortium report: it estimated each dollar invested in the sector brought economic gains of $8-11.

But, to date, donors have favoured funding middle rather than low-income countries’ water sectors, said NGO WaterAid.

Water and sanitation receives less funding than health, education, transport, energy and agriculture, according to the global Annual Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking Water (GLAAS).

Donors that are usually strong WASH supporters - such as the Netherlands and Germany - are not funding the sector in Liberia.

“If we adequately responded to WASH, we would see a significant reduction of the diseases caused by dirty water and bad sanitation, which would drastically reduce the cost of medical services,” said Sitali. “And providing water and sanitation facilities in schools would enable thousands of people to maintain their education. Good water and sanitation is not just a matter of life, it’s a matter of dignity.”

Assistant minister Yarngo is confident the situation is about to improve, now that a policy is in place. “We just need to fast-track these changes.”

G-20 meeting could be historic if they stick to their agreement

Over the weekend the G-20 reached an agreement that could be historic if the member countries stick to it. The leaders of the G-20 countries agreed to put their economic programs under peer review. Some believe that this could help to do away with policies that only help the rich nations and could remove trade imbalances.

From the Globe and Mail, writer Kevin Carmichael explains the agreement and gives a little history on how the global economic crisis helped to make it.

In a surprising show of faith in an institution that has met only four times, leaders from countries as disparate as Germany and Saudi Arabia agreed Sunday in Toronto to subject their domestic economic programs to peer review within the G20.

By this fall’s Seoul summit, countries have promised to explain in some detail how their domestic policies are helping to achieve the G20’s goal of reducing the excessive mismatches in spending and saving that exacerbated the financial crisis. Then, with the help of the IMF and its expertise in economic modelling, the other members will assess whether each partner is doing enough.

The commitment is historic.

The promise by each leader agreed to put his or her cards on the table adds a level of transparency and credibility that the process lacked until now. While economic co-ordination has been tried before, it has been with lesser officials or the International Monetary Fund as the arbiter. Now, the accountability rests at the highest levels. Where previous failures could be blamed on bureaucratic deadlock, global economic co-operation is now a political imperative in the hands of presidents and prime ministers.

The increased transparency could even encourage competition among members to implement policies that curry favour with investors.

Since the review remains a voluntary exercise without penalties, success will depend on G20 members taking the process seriously, both by submitting credible policies and showing the courage to offer tough, but fair, criticism. Given how these countries allowed the global economy to get so out of whack in the first place, there is reason to be skeptical they have what it takes to deliver, especially as the economy improves.

In Pittsburgh, the G20 acknowledged that self-interested policy making had created the conditions for the global recession that was sparked by the 2008 credit crisis.

U.S. consumers spent too much borrowed money, an unsustainable circumstance that the world’s major exporters were all too happy to exploit.

In fact, China underwrote the spending by purchasing U.S. debt in an effort to keep its currency low against the dollar, a policy that had the effect of lowering American interest rates. Big oil exporters run up surpluses of their own by using their wealth to buy U.S. bonds instead of investing in their domestic economies. Continental European countries refused to confront rigid labour markets that constrained investment and productivity.

The IMF and World Bank submitted studies that showed the G20 could generate GDP of $4-trillion, create tens of millions of jobs and lift even more out of poverty if countries actually made the changes necessary to achieve more balanced growth.

The IMF warned recently that trade imbalances, which narrowed after the financial crisis, are starting to move back to pre-crisis levels. The U.S. still has a current-account deficit that is more than 3 per cent of GDP, while China and Germany run current-account surpluses that are about 4 per cent of GDP and 5 per cent of GDP respectively.

Friday, June 25, 2010

A round-up of items on today's G-8 meeting

Despite the claims that it is now an meaningless organization, here is a round up of items about the G-8 meetings that begin today.

From the CBC, here is an overview of the Canadian hosts greeting their guests.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has formally welcomed G8 leaders at the organization's annual summit in Huntsville, Ont., where they are expected to discuss global security, and Canada's key initiative on maternal and child health.

The leaders of the seven other Group of Eight leading economic powers — France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain, the United States and Russia — are gathering in the exclusive Deerhurst Resort near Huntsville before they join other G20 delegates in Toronto on Saturday.

Ahead of the formal talks, Harper praised Britain's new government for its recent spending cuts, saying British Prime Minister David Cameron's budget "highlighted the very fiscal consolidation" Canada was trying to steer the G20 toward at this weekend's summit in Toronto.

"I appreciate your responsible and difficult decisions in that regard," Harper told Cameron during the leaders' brief remarks to reporters at the G8 site.

Cameron replied he believed the spending cuts were what "needs to be done" and said he looked forward to working with other leaders at the dual summits to "address the imbalances that we have."

While some leaders are calling for continued stimulus spending in the wake of last year's financial crisis, Harper is expected to call on G20 leaders to cut their budget deficits in half within three years.

Read more:

Reuters reporter Lesley Wroughton focuses on the broken aid commitments of the past and the calls for accountability int today's meeting.

Although the G8 cannot avoid talking about its own economic troubles -- namely the strength of the global recovery and the state of public finances -- the smaller group wanted to carve out some time to discuss problems facing poor countries, G8 officials said.

Canada, host of the G8 and G20 meetings, wants to ensure that donor countries follow through on their commitments.

The hosts also want mother-and-child health and the rebuilding of Haiti from a devastating earthquake to be the focus, officials said. Haiti was invited to attend the G8 meeting along with Jamaica and some African countries.

The United States is pushing for more agricultural investment in Africa and has created a fund to boost food production in poorer countries.

The G8 will discuss progress toward meeting the eight U.N. Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs, on poverty by 2015. The group will also review the $18 billion shortfall in reaching the $50 billion total pledged in 2005 at the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland.

The Gleneagles meeting also promised to provide an extra $25 billion a year for Africa as part of the overall $50 billion increase in financial assistance by 2010. Citing figures from the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the World Bank said the G8 had provided just $11 billion of the $25 billion for Africa.

Where the only job to be found is in scrap metal

For some in Zimbabwe, selling scrap metal to be recycled can be the only means of making money. The process of searching for scrap metal has led to theft or vandalism of metal still being used, enough so that the practice has caught the attention of the government.

From IPS, writer Ignatius Banda introduces us to a couple of women who rely on scrap metal because they can't find other work.

Gugulethu Mkhwananzi is another one of the many unemployed women who have become features of everyday life in Bulawayo’s poor working class suburbs as she moves from house to house, looking for "rusted gold", or scrap metal.

Mkhwananzi sells whatever she finds to local scrap metal dealers. This has become her sole source of livelihood in a country where the vast majority of women are without formal employment. As she pushes the cart that she uses to collect the scrap, the physical toil is showing: Mkhwananzi looks much older than her 45 years.

Despite the taxing work, Mkhwananzi gets as little as 0.5 dollars per kg. Scrap metal dealers only buy in quantities ranging from 50 kg upwards. "What can I do?" she asks, the fatigue showing. "I have no formal education and this is the only thing I can do to feed my children," laments the sole breadwinner of a family with four children.

Judith Sibanda has also found a livelihood in selling scrap metal. For her, this has meant waking up early in the morning each day to travel to other townships to look for scrap metal. "It has become something of a proper job for me," she says.

But Mkhwananzi notes that she "has been selling scrap metal for years now but it is becoming increasingly difficult to find the scrap".

This has forced her to adopt a daring-do attitude as she traverses the city’s poor working class townships. "I have learnt to befriend total strangers just to scavenge for scrap metal in their homes. Many people do not know the value of scrap metal and readily give it away," Mkhwananzi explains.

The demand for scrap metal has caused an increase in vandalism. Daring thieves now steal anything from taps to coffin handles, which are in demand due to soaring AIDS-related deaths.

Local companies have in the past lobbied the coalition government to ban the sale of scrap metal, citing as reason foundries suffering as the bulk of scrap metal was being bought for export and recycled.

According to renewable energy advocates, over 50 percent of the world’s steel production consists of the recycling of scrap metal, thus making it one of the world’s most recycled materials. This has helped cushion the ecological and environmental impacts of mining raw minerals from the ground.

Enterprising scarf weavers in Thailand

A new social enterprise gives traditional silk scarf weavers in Thailand a global market to sell their craft on the internet. The Kothad Silk Project was the idea of Farquhar Simpkin who is putting 50 percent of the profits back into the scarf weavers community.

From Triple Pundit, writer Leon Kaye tells us how the money is benefiting the community.

The process for making silk apparel is labor intensive. Producing half a kilo of silk takes 35 to 40 hours, and then the weavers, who are traditionally women, use hand looms to create intricate patters in colors and styles that are reflective of the region in which they live. Silk weaving has had a long tradition in Si Sa Ket, but weavers have lacked any effective means for distribution. Simpkin is changing that, and in turn is investing in the community. Workers receive a fair trade pay for their work, and income they generate from the Project helps pay school fees for their children, build a family business, stay in a region where their families have lived for generations, and keep these traditions and skills alive.

The Kohtrad Silk Project will also benefit the entire community because 50% of all profits from the scarves and shirts sold will go towards building an Internet hub, giving locals cheap access to the internet. The hub will be located next to a village school, and the plans are already drawn: the Project’s goal is to have the hub filled with desks, computers, and printers within one year.

Read more:

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Zimbabwe stays in the Kimberley Process for diamonds

Last week, Zimbabwe was accused of treating it's diamond miners cruelly, amounting to a new type of "blood diamonds" being exported from the country. Human Rights Watch was calling for Zimbabwe to be kicked out of the "Kimberley Process," a coalition of nations that adhere to humane practices in cultivating diamonds.

As we read in this press release from Global Witness, the latest meeting of the Kimberley Process did not come to a ruling on Zimbabwe.

Diamond meeting ends without consensus on Zimbabwe

Serious challenges ahead for landmark certification scheme, say NGOs

The lack of consensus among Kimberley Process (KP) certification scheme members over whether Zimbabwe can resume diamond exports from the troubled Marange area was welcomed by the KP civil society coalition today as the ‘least bad' outcome. The scheme's annual meeting in Tel Aviv broke up without agreement after through-the-night talks.

The Marange diamond fields have been plagued with violence over recent years. A joint work plan was agreed last year between the Kimberley Process and the Zimbabwean government, which aimed at bringing Zimbabwe back into line with the scheme's minimum requirements. Almost no progress has been made on key aspects of this plan, including smuggling and demilitarisation of the diamond fields. Despite this, a number of governments supported a resumption of exports at this week's meeting.

"There are no winners with this result. But by maintaining a ban on exports in the absence of significant improvements in Marange, the Kimberley Process has taken an important step towards restoring its battered credibility," said Elly Harrowell from Global Witness. "If Zimbabwe follows through on its threat to export diamonds from Marange regardless of the lack of consensus, members, including the diamond industry, will need to think hard about how they will respond, and what action they can take to stop these diamonds from contaminating the international trade."

Zimbabwean authorities have demonstrateed a worrying lack of respect for the three-way partnership at the heart of the Kimberley Process. Zimbabwean Minister of Mines Obert Mpofu, present at the Tel Aviv meeting, openly denigrated the role of civil society organisations in the process. The collaboration between governments, industry and civil society has underpinned the success of the KP since its inception in 2003.

Shortly before the meeting in Tel Aviv, a prominent human rights activist, Farai Maguwu, was arrested and detained by the Zimbabwean authorities. As director of the Centre for Research and Development in eastern Zimbabwe, he had been researching and exposing state-sponsored violence and military involvement in mining and smuggling in the fields. Mr Maguwu remains in detention.

"We continue to be troubled by the Zimbabwean authorities' aggressive attitude towards human rights campaigners and its disregard for the rules of the Kimberley Process. We would welcome the opportunity to work with Zimbabwe in the collaborative spirit of the scheme, to address challenges in the country's diamond sector," said Alan Martin from Partnership Africa Canada.

The coalition is calling on the Zimbabwean authorities to work constructively and openly with all members of the Kimberley Process to bring the Marange diamond fields into compliance with the minimum requirements. They also repeat their call for the immediate and unconditional release of human rights activist Farai Maguwu.

The debate around Zimbabwe eclipsed a number of positive initiatives in Tel Aviv this week, including a workshop on future improvements to the Kimberley Process, and an enforcement seminar bringing together customs and police representatives from around the world to discuss stronger implementation of the scheme.

/ Ends


Elly Harrowell (Global Witness) on +44 7703 108 401 or Annie Dunnebacke (Global Witness) on +44 7912 517 127

Alan Martin (Partnership Africa Canada) on +1 613 983 6817


1. The Kimberley Process is a rough diamond certification scheme, established in 2003. It brings together governments, industry and civil society, and aims to eradicate the trade in conflict diamonds. Member states are required to pass national legislation and set up an import/export control system. Over 75 of the world's diamond producing, trading and manufacturing countries participate in the scheme.

2. The Kimberley Process Civil Society Coalition includes Green Advocates (Liberia), CECIDE (Guinea), COOPERGADI and COOPERGAC (Brazil), CLONG (Republic of Congo), CENADEP, GAERN (Democratic Republic of Congo), Fatal Transactions, GRPIE (Côte d'Ivoire), the Network Movement for Justice and Development (Sierra Leone), Centre for Research and Development (Zimbabwe), Partnership Africa Canada (PAC) and Global Witness (GW).

Asking the G-8 and G-20 to manage food better

From IRIN, a food security think tank is asking the G-8 and G-20 for a better international food management system.

A new global architecture to govern food security is urgently needed to reduce the number of hungry people, and predict and prevent another food price crisis like the one that took the world by surprise in 2006-08.

Shenggen Fen, director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), a US-based think-tank, urged leaders of the G8 industrialised countries and G20 emerging countries, who will be meeting in Canada for two days from 25 June, to focus on this issue.

"The existing governing systems, and even countries, failed to predict the [food price] crisis in 2007/08," and ever more people have been going hungry since then, he told IRIN.

The food price crisis and the recession that followed pushed the number of malnourished men, women and children to more than one billion in 2009, according to UN agencies, and the figure is still growing.

"Hunger has been much more pervasive than poverty ... If past trends continue, global food security will deteriorate even further," warned an IFPRI report on meeting the UN Millennium Development Goal to halve hunger, called Business As Unusual, written by Fen and released on 23 June.

"While food prices have dropped, incomes because of the recession have been reduced by a much higher rate," said Holger Matthey, an economist at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The G8 countries pledged US$22 million to tackle global hunger at their 2009 meeting in L'Aquila, Italy, "But we don't know how much of that money has come through," said Fen, who proposed setting up a tracking system to monitor funds for reducing hunger.

IFPRI uses its Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System (ReSAKSS) to monitor funding for agriculture in Africa. "We could maybe expand this system to cover global flows," Fen suggested.

After the 2006-08 crisis, when staples such as maize, rice and wheat climbed to their highest prices in 30 years, many donor countries, aid agencies and analysts suggested that the existing Committee on World Food Security (CFS) be reformed.

The CFS is a technical committee of the FAO, and serves as a forum in the UN system for the review and follow-up of policies on world food security, food production, nutrition, and physical and economic access to food.

Jacques Diouf, director-general of FAO, announced last week that the CFS was being reformed to make it a "global platform for policy convergence and the coordination of expertise and action in the fight against hunger and malnutrition in the world".

Fen said the UN Secretary-General's High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis, set up after the crisis, had done a "good job" in coordinating initiatives to respond to the crisis.

"But that task force also needs support - it needs current information from policy institutes such as IFPRI and other academics; there needs to be more information-sharing between governments and organizations to make this work."

Another crisis?

Uncoordinated policy actions of governments across the world during the 2006-08 food crisis made prices even more volatile and affected access to markets, said a new joint Agricultural Outlook for the next 10 years, produced by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and FAO. Food prices have come down, but are still high, according to FAO.

The Outlook acknowledged that the 2006-08 food price crisis "was due to the contemporaneous occurrence of a panoply of contributing factors, which are not likely to be repeated in the near term. However, if history is any guide, further episodes of strong price fluctuations in agricultural product prices cannot be ruled out, nor can future short-lived crises".

High crude oil and energy prices were major contributors to forcing up food prices in 2006-08. Fossil fuel and energy prices not only affect the cost of agricultural inputs, but expand the quantity of agricultural land being diverted to produce grain for biofuel. "Crude oil and energy prices are assumed to increase over the coming decade as global economic activity is restored," the Outlook commented.

Burgeoning demand for milk and meat in emerging economies like China and India also puts pressure on the amount of staple grains diverted to animal feed. Besides higher population growth rates - two percent per year in Africa - high urbanization trends and a large emerging middle class will drive demand for food.

The OECD/FAO projected that staples like wheat would cost 15 percent to 40 percent more from 2010 to 2019 than they did from 1997 to 2006.

Merritt Cluff, a senior FAO economist who led the Outlook research team, advised food aid agencies to "source food purchases locally where possible ... [so] that local rural communities receive higher payments for their commodities and stimulate production".

Numbers of hungry growing

The task of halving the number of hungry from 1990 levels by 2015, as required by the MDG, has grown - the world will have to help 73 million people out of hunger every year to reach the MDG target.

To help achieve this, Fen suggested that countries scale up investment in agriculture and social protection - a twin-track approach proposed by the UN task force in the wake of the 2006-08 crisis.

A study Fen conducted in China showed that for every $1,200 spent on agricultural research in 2000, 11 people were lifted out of poverty; in Uganda, for every additional $920 invested in agricultural research in 1999, 58 people were lifted out of poverty.

It paid to concentrate on country-led, bottom-up approaches to making people food secure by involving local governments and seeking broad participation; if countries could not afford agricultural reforms, the private sector should be brought in. Fen urged countries to experiment with new policies and expand successful pilot initiatives, saying: "Scale up the unusual."

The IFPRI report noted that in Kenya, where the Business Alliance Against Chronic Hunger launched its first pilot programme in 2009, more than 30 private companies had become members. According to local news reports the initiative had helped more than 2,000 farmers.

Worldwide, food markets remain volatile. In 2006-08 prices were "exacerbated by trade policies of exporters, creating higher import prices", said FAO's Cluff. No trading system could ensure that people would get "cheap food, but net importers deserve to have unrestrained access to markets on a predictable and fair basis".

Cluff suggested that developing countries put in place well functioning markets, and establish commodity exchanges to make "price discovery more transparent and fair".

Some optimism for African economies

A consulting firm is telling global investors that Africa is a good place to invest in, despite what the popular image may be. The gross domestic product of Africa increased 4.9 percent since the year 2000, that is a higher increase than developed economies. The growth is largely because of rising commodity prices, but the consulting firm sees some other good things happening in Africa.

From the Wall Street Journal, writer Celia Dugger details the report for us.

In a report released Thursday, McKinsey & Company, the consulting firm, presented a bullish message to companies, arguing that “global businesses cannot afford to ignore the potential.”

“The growth we’ve seen in Africa recently is much more widespread than is generally recognized,” said Arend van Wamelen, an author of the report based in Johannesburg for McKinsey, which advises domestic and international companies investing in Africa. “There are a lot of underlying good things going on in the economies.”

The report, titled “Lions on the Move,” includes an array of arresting facts from the firm’s business and economics research arm, the McKinsey Global Institute. Since 2000, 316 million people on the continent have signed up for cellphone service, more than the entire population of the United States; Africa’s billion people spent $860 billion in 2008, more than India’s population of 1.2 billion.

From 2000 to 2008, African economies grew at twice the pace that they did in the 1980s and 1990s. Moreover, Africa was one of only two regions — Asia was the other — where the collective economy rose through the global recession of 2009, by 1.4 percent.

In a clear sign of the reorientation of the economic landscape in Africa, China has provided more financing for roads, power, railways and other infrastructure in recent years than the World Bank.

And in a sign of increasing security, the number of serious conflicts in which more than 1,000 people died annually declined to an average of 2.6 a year in the 2000s from 4.8 in the 1990s, the report said.

Some of the demographic trends praised in the report could turn out to be double-edged swords. By 2040, McKinsey projects, Africa will have 1.1 billion working-age people, more than in China or India. But even now, South Africa, one of the continent’s most dynamic economies, is not growing fast enough to absorb all the young people entering the job market — or providing them with educations that would equip them for the workplace.

Indeed, the report notes that Africa has been getting many more children into school but that it needs to do far better at giving them a quality education.

Making jewelry out of bullets

A teenager that found a way out of the Ghanaian refugee camps is now making jewelry that is worn by Hollywood stars.

Lovetta Conto and her father fled Liberia during it's civil war, crossing the border into Ghana separated them from her mother. At the age of 12, Conto was met by a worker from the US social enterprise Strongheart Fellowship that helped to get her out of the camp.

Conto made it to America and is now using a craft she learned in Ghana to much success. She makes necklaces that use pieces of bullets used in Liberia's civil war and changes them into a hopeful work of art.

From CNN's Inside Africa, reporter Mark Tutton tells us Conto's story.

"We had to flee to Ghana and leave my mother behind. We thought we would be safer there because our whole country was ruined," she told CNN.

"I felt alone because I was in another country where I wasn't really welcome. I always wanted to go back to my country. But you have no choice because your country is in a civil war and it's the only place you have to be."

Conto said her father had to leave her with other families while he went to work, trying to earn enough to send her to school.

"I didn't really go to school because my dad didn't have the money to pay my school fees, so I stayed home a lot," she said.

"Sometimes I would go to school without eating. I went to school hungry a lot and there wasn't much safe drinking water for people to drink and the water made people sick. There was just a little well and you had to get the water from there, and it wasn't safe."

In 2005, an American named Cori Stern visited the camp. Stern was the founder of the Strongheart Fellowship, an organization dedicated to helping gifted youngsters who have been displaced or orphaned by conflict.

Conto started making jewelry as part of a Strongheart project. Tasked with creating something that reflected her environment and the people around her, Conto came up with the idea of making something from a bullet fired during Liberia's civil war.

Conto came up with a design inscribed with the word "life." It's intended to show new life can arise from even the worst hardship. She has now sold hundreds of necklaces under the name "Akawelle," which translates as "also known as love."

Aid requested as 10 million face hunger in West Africa

From IRIN, another appeal for money and aid to help combat the famine in West Africa.

Several UN agencies and NGOs are calling for a greater mobilization of aid workers and funding in the West African Sahel to meet the needs of a population facing one of the worst nutrition crises in recent years.

Over 10 million people are at risk of hunger in the Sahel before the September harvests, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO). In Niger, about half of the 13.4 million inhabitants are facing hunger. Up to two million Chadians and hundreds of thousands of Mauritanians and Malians also need assistance.

There have been early interventions and prepositioning, but more should have been done earlier, say aid workers and the response needs to be urgently scaled up.

In late 2009, the Famine Early Warning System Network highlighted signs of the crisis: a drop in cereal production, poor pastoral conditions and a dangerous combination of poverty and high food prices.

“There are always delays in supply pipelines. This means that decisions taken today will have an impact on the ground in late July or August. Food distributions should have started in April or May,” said the Swiss operation director of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Bruno Jochum.

Support remains crucial, he added, since during the months of August and September, people are typically left with no food while they wait for the next harvest.

Only 57 percent of the US$190 million emergency appeal by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) for Niger is funded. In Chad, the World Food Programme (WFP) still lacks $23 million of the $65 million required for the food crisis.

The head of the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) for West Africa, Cyprien Fabre, noted, however, that the donor response is timelier than in 2005, when the food crisis caught many unprepared. This time, he said, early warning and response mechanisms were in place in most affected countries and funds were rapidly allocated.

“Operations are well under way in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali. In Chad, more actors are needed to respond properly. Funding will be available, if necessary.”


The situation in the Sahelian belt of Chad is especially worrying. “Chad is somehow like Niger in 2005,” explained the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) regional adviser for nutrition, Félicité Tchibindat. “The number of organizations on the ground is limited, so is the political will. On the bright side, humanitarian agencies and donors are now starting to respond.”

Such mobilization will help, but the imminent start of the rainy season will make the tricky task of bringing assistance to remote villages in a landlocked country even more challenging. WFP indicates that it can take as long as 3-5 months for food to arrive in Chad. In parts of the country, roads will be officially closed as of the end of June because of the rains.

“Even if there are cargos and cargos of stocks, if they cannot be delivered, people will not get food. Without prepositioned food, it will become very difficult. Agencies may have to look into air deliveries,” said OCHA’s public information, advocacy and donor relations officer for West Africa, Yvon A. Edoumou.

“Very vulnerable”

If there are normal harvests in the autumn, the population is expected to recover at the end of the year. A normal to wet rainy season is forecast by the Permanent Inter-State Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS).

Precipitation is crucial in a region where most agriculture is rain-fed. “If the rains fail, it will be a catastrophe in the whole region. People’s assets are significantly depleted. They have borrowed money to eat and are now waiting for the rains,” said ECHO’s Fabre.

The Sahel countries are among the poorest in the world. A third of the population of Chad and Niger is chronically undernourished. Each year, 300,000 under-five children die of malnutrition, according to UNICEF.

“The population is already very vulnerable,” said OCHA’s Edoumou. “When you live from one day to the next, any shock provokes a crisis. If the rains are poor, if the cattle are affected by a mysterious disease, people are in difficulty.”

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

New progress report on the MDGs

The United Nations has produced a new report showing the progress in meeting the Millennium Development Goals. The good news is that the UN predicts MDG number 1 of halving the worlds poverty can be met by the year 2015. In the next five years, the number of people living in poverty should be halved from the level of 1990, lifting some 920 million people out of poverty.

However, the goals on improving sanitation, and the empowerment of women have shown slow progress. The report notes that the goals that need the biggest infrastructure development have been the slowest to improve.

From the IPS, writer Beatrice Paez details the latest MDG report.

"Economic growth has been robust enough to guarantee that all regions remain on track to meet the poverty target," said Francesca Perucci, chief of the U.N.'s Statistics Planning and Development Section.

However, progress remains uneven in sub-Saharan Africa, Western Asia and parts of Eastern Europe.

The report says that the number of people living on less than 1.25 dollars a day fell from 1.8 billion in 1990 to 1.4 billion in 2005, and the poverty rate dropped from 46 percent to 27 percent. These advances were partly driven by India and China, along with countries in Eastern Asia, which experienced sharp reductions in poverty.

The MDGs are a set of far-reaching commitments undertaken by governments in September 2000. They range from the empowerment of women to reducing child mortality. The deadline for meeting these targets is 2015, leaving governments five years to go.

The report will be used as a tool in preparation for a high- level summit on the MDGs this September at U.N. headquarters in New York. It noted that development aid continues to rise, but cautioned that the flow of funding has been uneven and only five donor countries - Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden - are meeting or exceeding the U.N.'s target of 0.7 percent of gross national income.

The lag in certain development goals is partly due to skewed budget priorities, "but also objective difficulties for governments not being able to fund and sustain all those changes in the long run," Perucci told IPS. "There might be changes if there is strong political will from both sides - the donors and national governments from developing countries."

She noted that the fastest progress has been mostly towards goals that do not require major infrastructural changes - like Goal 6, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. The availability of anti-viral drugs and treatment has risen rapidly for HIV and malaria. Countries where malaria is endemic have seen an increase in aid from 0.1 billion dollars in 2003 to 1.5 billion dollars in 2009.

However, other key goals, such as the empowerment of women, remain distant. Job insecurity and lack of benefits for women are widespread, and have been exacerbated by the financial crisis, the report said.

Providing sanitation for the 2.6 billion people who lack it has also proven difficult to achieve - only half of the developing world has met this critical need.

The failing education system of Zimbabwe

From IRIN, the sad story of the failing education system in Zimbabwe.

Chenai Moyo, 18, is confident she would have passed the examinations at her school in Harare, Zimbabwe's capital, but for two years in a row there was no money; now she has to fend for the family and depends on an older man for support.

"I couldn't register for examinations last year [2009] because my father had just passed away, and the little money that was there went towards his burial. My mother is not employed and now that she is ill the situation is worse for me and my brothers," Moyo told IRIN. Her mother tested positive for HIV in 2009.

Moyo was a brilliant student but said she would probably never sit her O-Level examinations, a school-leaving certificate. "My mother talked me into marrying this man, who is an elder in our church. He has promised to look after my ill mother and my two brothers, but I have given up hope of ever going to school again," she said.

She is not alone: recent education ministry statistics showed that some 100,000 learners (33 percent of those eligible to write O-level exams) and around 10,700 learners (29 percent of those eligible for A-level exams) had failed to register.

"This year ... there are a number of students out there who have failed [to register] because of poverty," education minister David Coltart said in a statement.

Zimbabwe's ailing education system, once a model for sub-Saharan Africa, has buckled and all but collapsed under the economic and political crises of the past decade, when widespread food shortages, hyperinflation, cholera outbreaks, and an almost year-long strike by teachers in 2008 led to a dramatic decline in the standard of learning.

It is not uncommon for 10 pupils to share a textbook, and although the government drastically slashed school fees in February 2009, deepening poverty put even the reduced cost of attending government schools in some areas beyond the reach of thousands of children.

The government extended the initial exam registration deadline of 28 May by two weeks, but most people were sceptical that parents and students who had previously been unable to pay the fees - US$10 per O-level subject and US$20 per A-level subject - would be able to raise the money in time.

"The extension means nothing at all - the period is too short, and one wonders why the government is in such a hurry to close the door on students," the president of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), Raymond Majongwe, told IRIN.

"Besides, late entrants will be fined US$5 per subject and we don't know where the government expects the poor parents that have failed to raise the examination fees to get the extra amount."

Majongwe said he thought the ministry's figure for the number of students who had failed to register for examinations was an "understatement" of the gravity of the situation.

"According to our own independent surveys, close to 200,000 O- and A-level students have been denied the chance to prepare for their future. There are thousands who have resigned themselves to fate, as they have failed to write in the past and are not part of the current statistics since they are not attending school," he pointed out.

A headmaster at a secondary school in Seke rural district, about 40km south of the capital, said only 30 students at his school would write their O-level examinations this year.

"I was supposed to have 125 students sitting for their O-level examinations but only a handful managed to register," he noted. "While the examinations fees might not seem too high, it should be remembered that the majority of households in rural areas still have large families to look after, and there is a significant number of child-headed families."

Video: The threat of less AIDS funding in Uganda Part 2

From CNN, here is part two of their story on the threat of AIDS funding being cut for Uganda, and how it could undo the progress they have made. Thanks to HCLUganda for telling us about this.

Bringing abused "talibes" children back home

From IRIN, some children who leave home for Koran study are instead abused by religious leaders. This story tells of one NGO who brings the children away from harm and back to their families.

Each year a minority of Koranic students, or talibés, put under the care of a religious leader who then exploits and abuses them, are reunited with their families by child protection agencies. But after overcoming the challenge of tracing their parents, reintegrating ex-talibés into family life can be difficult as they have known little more than begging and beatings since their infancy, say child protection NGOs.

Since 2004 Bissau-Guinean NGO AMIC (L’Association des Amis de L’Enfant), based in Gabu, 200km northeast of the capital Bissau, has been helping transport children back to Guinea-Bissau, where it then traces their families with a view to reuniting them. The vast majority of the estimated 50,000 talibés are from Senegal or from Bafata and Gabu 80km and 200km east of Bissau respectively, according to a recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report.

“Finding their families is difficult because many of the children leave when they are very young and they can only give the first name of the person who has raised them, or the name of their grandparents’,” said Laudolino Medina, head of AMIC in Gabu. “We spend a lot of time trying to establish the facts.”

Families in these mainly Peule Muslim areas, send their children through middlemen to attend Koranic schools in Tambacounda in western Senegal, east to Ziguinchor, or to cities in the north, including Thiès, Dakar and St Louis, according to HRW; but often the religious leaders instead force the boys to raise money by begging, do not feed or clothe the boys, and regularly beat them.

Ex-talibé Boubacar told IRIN he thinks he is nine years old. He left home when he was about three, and was sent to live with a marabout (religious teacher) in a Koranic school in Parcelles, a Dakar suburb.

“I didn’t like being in Dakar. It was violent and I didn’t sleep at night; I didn’t eat enough. Here I am well. I eat. I have shoes. I can wash myself,” he told IRIN in a timid voice.

A 2007 report by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the International Labour Organization and the World Bank, found most children begging in Dakar, including the talibés, were malnourished, often severely. According HRW many are regularly beaten, and poor health, worms and scabies are common.

Boubacar is now living with the head of AMIC instead of in AMIC’s transition home, as the 20 other boys who were brought over with him have all been returned to their families. AMIC’s transition centre can house up to 40 children at a time, and 20 additional boys are expected soon, said AMIC’s Medina.

But AMIC cannot trace Boubacar’s parents as he has had no contact with them for years and cannot remember their full names, or where they live. Having scoured Gabu region to no avail, AMIC are going to start searching in Senegal.

Joanita Teixeira, head of AMIC in Gabu, told IRIN: “He is intelligent, talks a lot, and was not violent with the other boys; he was always kind to the little ones.”

Promise to protect

If Boubacar’s parents are located, they will have to sign a declaration of parental authority authorizing the voluntary return of their children into their homes.

“Parents pledge to keep the child, to support him during his reintegration process, and to send him to school,” Medina told IRIN.

Since November 2005 the organization has reunited 253 boys. Supported by the Swiss government, the International Organization for Migration, and the Geneva Institute for Human Rights, AMIC pledges to pay for each child’s secondary school education until completion.

In the past, some boys found the transition too difficult and there were many runaways: 30 in 2006, according to AMIC, which says it will care for Boubacar until his family is found.

Culture clash

“These children have lived without their families for a long time. When they return, there can be a culture clash,” said Medina. “These boys have acquired a lot of vices - they steal, they fight, they are aggressive. They have developed many self-defence mechanisms because they have been living in the street.”

Marcel Ouattara, joint representative of UNICEF in Guinea-Bissau, told IRIN: “The return can be a shock for the child. In Dakar there are more and more child beggars in the streets - so they have many friends; they are used to seeing electricity; they can buy sweets or cold water with their begging money.”

Ex-talibé Mamadou spent two years in Dakar before returning to his village just outside Gabu town two years ago. He has consistently refused to attend school or find a job since, his father told IRIN.

Wearing oversized fluorescent green plastic sandals and a blue shirt with a picture of footballer Drogba on it, Mamadou smiled only when IRIN spoke to him about football.

Many of the families who send their children away live in poverty and thus it is to poverty that the children return to, says child protection specialist at UNICEF Sonia Polonio. Their villages may be miles from the nearest school or health centre, “and as for social and psychological support, it’s left to NGOs to look after them,” she said.

Many ex-talibés return with tapeworm or scabies, said Medina. “We have even discovered some children have died several months after their return,” he said, adding that poverty or ideological reasons may mean parents do not want their children back.

“In rare cases we have to mediate with a family so they accept their child back. A father may tell us his son must learn the Koran; that he chose that child for this purpose, and this is the child’s destiny. He may want to send his child back to Senegal.”

AMIC now closely follows each child’s progress over two years, which has caused the number of runaways to plummet. In difficult cases, it will mediate with the family, often searching for a compromise solution, such as agreeing to support the child’s Koranic education in Guinea-Bissau.

There are few studies outlining what happens to talibés over the long-term, though some child protection experts say they become hawkers, selling telephone cards or second-hand products, on city streets.

Boubacar is currently out of school, as he missed the start of the school year. But AMIC says he will be enrolled next year - as long as they find him a home.