Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Giving money instead of food, the pros and cons

During the last few disasters in the world, the idea of giving cash to the victims has grown in popularity. Because there is still food in the shops of Pakistan, aid groups are giving cash to the flood victims so they can go out and buy it themselves. This practice puts more money into the system, but some fear it could spike inflation right after a crisis.

From this Associated Press article that we found at the Seattle PI, writer Zarar Khan and Chris Brummitt give us both sides of the cash aid debate.

Some large charities have already begun handing out money to victims of this summer's devastating floods and others say they have plans to so, continuing a trend that began in earnest after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and has picked up pace ever since.

But some in the humanitarian community remain resistant to the idea, especially those in the larger U.N. agencies, where there are fears that cash can cause inflation and fuel corruption. Many Pakistanis apparently share the same concern. They have preferred to give food, clothes and medicine to flood victims instead of money because of worries it could be misused.

While aid groups use the term "cash-based programming," actual money is rarely given because of security reasons. The assistance is mostly in the form of checks, vouchers, food stamps or remittances at banks.

Some aid experts say the resistance to cash by some aid groups is as much cultural as anything else. They say it challenges deep-seated and largely unspoken assumptions that Western countries know best what the poor in developing countries need.

Several studies have shown that a main argument once used against giving cash - that recipients would spend it on cigarettes, alcohol or drugs - is not true.

"We can trust people. They are wise enough," said Claudie Meyers from Oxfam GB, which has already given checks of around $60 to 7,000 families in the northwest and plans to give out similar amounts to 40,000 more.

"They can prioritize their needs. If I was in this situation, I would buy food. They do the same."

The WFP, which plans to be feeding 6 million people in Pakistan by the end of September, recently concluded a pilot project in Buner district in the northwest where it gave cash vouchers to people rather than food. It found that recipients spent 70 percent of the money on food and the distribution costs were around five percent cheaper than trucking in food.

The study also reported a significant boost to local shops.

Paul Harvey, an independent aid consultant who has studied the use of cash in emergency situations, said that so long as aid groups were responsible, it was a very effective response. He said that in reality a mix of food, other aid and cash was often the ideal choice.

"Cash should be part of the tool box and could be used more than it currently it is," he said. "People prefer having cash. It is a more dignified way of doing things."

Niger flooding displaces 200,000 people

The number of people left homeless from the Niger flooding is nearing 200,000. Rainfall was already bad in Niger during July and August, but now it is to the point where it is washing away much needed food. Health workers in Niger are already reporting a increase of people needing treatment for water-borne diseases.

From CNN, this wire story gives us more details about the other flooded area of the world.

Families left homeless in the remote Diffa region in southeast Niger and Agadez in the north have not received assistance yet. About 80,000 animals have died in Agadez flooding.

"We must find a way to quickly burn or bury their bodies to ensure water sources are not contaminated," Traore said.

The flooding has only compounded the food security crisis in the West African nations, where nearly 15.2 million suffered from hunger after failing harvests, the OCHA said, citing the government.

According to the international aid group Oxfam, Niger is the country worst-hit by the West Africa food crisis. Before the floods, half the population lived under threat of famine, the group says.

The World Food Programme is working to provide highly nutritious food rations to 670,000 children and their families, Bettina Luescher, a spokeswoman for the agency, said Monday.

"By the end of August, 5.5 million people will have received a full ration," she said.

Still, the agency is continuing to appeal to donors for funds to reach the $230 million needed for emergency operations.

The program has currently received 67 percent of that goal, Luescher said.

The debate on if the world will meet the MDGs

With five years left to go, there is a lot of debate on if the Millennium Development Goals will be met.

Some economists say that most areas of the world will at least be able to meet the Goal of halving poverty. While some who work for NGOs and the United Nations say that most of the world is falling short. There is some agreement that doubling access to sanitation will not be met.

From this APP article that we found at the Sydney Morning Herald, writer Danny Rose recieves the view of Tom Costello, leader of World Vision in Australia.

"The global financial crisis meant we took our eyes off the MDGs and off the ball," Mr Costello told reporters in Melbourne on Tuesday.

"We retreated, looked inwards, and we're stuck in our bubbles saying `we're only worried about our selves' ... there was certainly a drying up of funds and momentum."

The disadvantage in developing nations was also exacerbated as rising unemployment in the first world resulted in less "remittance" money flowing into the third world, as migrant workers had less extra cash to send home to their families.

Mr Costello spoke at the 63rd annual United Nations' DPI/NGO (Department of Public Information/Non-Governmental Organisation) conference, the world's largest gathering of aid and charity workers and the biggest UN summit yet held in Australia.

The event is focused on assessing global progress towards the MDGs, and Mr Costello said the world could yet meet the MDG defined targets for improved childhood education.

Clear progress was also evident in the now "flattened" rate of new HIV infections globally, he said.

"The MDGs, because they exist, we've seen some three million children's lives saved since the year 2000," Mr Costello said.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Pakistanis still in homes have other needs

Since the flooding the Pakistan government has put a priority on giving aid to the homeless. Many who still have homes have not been helped since the floods began. While they may still have a roof over their heads, they might be without clean water or food.

From this Reuters article, writers Myra MacDonald and Kamran Haider give us a few examples.

Muzamel is just five days old and sleeps peacefully under a makeshift mosquito net, blissfully unaware that her family home is now an island, still surrounded by water one month after the floods hit.

It is a half-hour journey by army motor boat to reach the village of Kot Bodla, across a giant lake which has submerged the family's livelihood -- its cotton and wheat fields -- below five or six feet of water.

Since the floods came, the 30 or so people in the extended family who live here have been cut off, living off their animals and what stocks of food they had, and crowding into the buildings which were not destroyed or dangerously damaged.

"The water came in the night. It was raining," says Lal Bai, the baby's grandmother. "One by one, houses began to collapse. I was so scared and worried about the children; I thought the water was going to come and wash them away. We moved the children from room to room to save their lives.

Since then, nobody has come to help them.

Here in Rajanpur district of south Punjab, some 700,000 people fled their homes. With many of the people who fled stranded on embankments with nothing, the army says it had to give priority to the homeless.

Lal Bai's daughter gave birth without hope of medical help - a girl who now sleeps tightly bound in a green scarf, three black dots smeared on her forehead to keep away evil spirits.

Her family has little idea what the future holds after such terrible floods -- even in all the stories of their ancestors they had heard of nothing like this.

They know the immediate future will be hard. The cotton was just three weeks away from being picked when the floods hit. They do not expect to be able to sow wheat in the winter. They do not have enough food for their goats, sheep and buffalo.

Farmers and miners in Zambia battle over land

From IRIN, a story about battles over land in Zambia between miners and farmers.

Mining prospectors in Luapula Province, northern Zambia, have forced small-scale farmers from their land at gun point, according to villagers in the region.

"We have a lot of battles going on over land; people's right to land is being violated by manganese miners, time and again," said Ignatius Musenge of the Zambia Land Alliance, a land rights NGO based in Mansa, the provincial capital.

Luapula Province borders the mineral-rich Katanga region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and has deposits of manganese, cobalt, citrine and copper; some reports claim there are also deposits of diamonds, uranium, gold and tin.

"We are handling about 20 complaints per week on average, and so far we have had more than 500 people evicted [since 2009] in various parts of Mansa as a result of manganese mining," Musenge told IRIN. People forced from their land have been given no compensation or alternative land.

"They [prospectors] are chasing us from our own land," Peter Mwila told IRIN. "Is this country just for the rich? The chief [traditional ruler] gave me a 10-hectare piece of land many years ago, where I have been farming. But early this year someone came and chased me with a gun, saying I was farming on his mining area, and I am now living with my uncle in the next village."

President Rupiah Banda's government has permitted exploration to gauge the extent of the province's mineral deposits, and has allowed small-scale mining activities, but residents claim that once mineral deposits are discovered they are evicted from their land.

Lister Zimba, who was "chased from her land" in Mansa district in May 2010, told IRIN: "The only thing I have is this land, where I do my farming. So, what happens to me now? The chief gave us land; people with money got the land from us."

Nowhere to go

"Where can we go? This is the only land we [I, my husband and three children] have lived on. We have no jobs, why should they take even the little that we have?" she said.

Mining - particularly in Copper Belt Province, northern Zambia - contributes 80 percent of the country's foreign earnings, and since 2003 has been the main driver of its annual five percent growth rate. But the commodities boom, tempered by the 2008 global slowdown, has failed to improve the livelihoods of most of Zambia's 12.4 million citizens.

About two-thirds of Zambians survive on less than US$1 per day, and only about 500,000 people have formal employment, but these statistics become more extreme in Luapula.

The province is one of poorest of Zambia's nine provinces, poverty levels are an estimated 78 percent - compared to the national average of 64 percent - and only three percent of Luapula's 775,353 people have access to formal jobs, according to the 2008 Labour Force Survey Report released in June 2010 by the Central Statistical Office.

One of the few large industries, a battery factory, closed in the 1990s and there is an expectation that large-scale mining operations could transform the province's economic fortunes.

Chief Ndake, a member of the House of Chiefs, a body of traditional rulers, warned that pro-market policies could push poor people living on customary land into deeper poverty if they were evicted.

In Zambian law, land is held by customary tenure, and although the government has encouraged citizens to take title to their land, many are unaware of the need to do so, and the state has the authority to revoke any untitled land awarded by traditional rulers.

"The powers that we have [as traditional rulers] to give land to the people are not actually honoured; in fact, the villagers living in rural areas are termed as squatters. The millions and millions of Zambians who have lived on this land for more than two, three centuries up to now, they are squatting," Chief Ndake told IRIN.

"It is only those who have settled on statutory land, where there are all those title deeds, that are settled permanently, and this law becomes very effective when there is an investor coming, when there is timber to be produced, when there are mineral deposits," he said.

Kennedy Sakeni, a former parliamentarian living in Mansa, is one of the small-scale miners accused of evicting people from their customary land.

Wild allegations

"Those are just wild allegations - they want to create problems where there are no problems. Others want to eat with both hands; you compensate them today, tomorrow they come back and ask for more money," he said.

"The truth is, I have seven mining licenses for [digging] pits in different places, and wherever there are fields of cassava [a staple food] in any of my mines, I have compensated them [local people]. In certain areas, where I am not mining just now, the people still have their cassava fields intact," he said.

Boniface Nkata, Zambia's deputy minister of mines, said government was concerned at the rising number of evictions. "There's very serious tension in terms of mining activities in the district [Mansa]," he acknowledged.

"But ... government cannot be blamed where someone is evicted from the land they have been occupying illegally, without valid documentation - they are squatters. Those who are driving them out are permitted to do so, because they should not come and find their minerals tampered with," Nkata told IRIN.

"The law is very clear - even when your chief gives you land, you should obtain title deeds for it from the ministry of lands. Then, any investor will have to partner with you, or just mine outside your farm area," he said.

"We can't have a situation where anyone does what they think is right. As government, we can only call on all our investors to offer some form of compensation to the affected people, to ease their relocation or resettlement."

The government intended to open the mineral wealth of the province to international investors after a two-year exploration period, "so that they can develop the province, invest in corporate social responsibility, pay tax," Nkata said.

"These mining activities have the potential to improve the economy of Zambia significantly, and I think we should look at the bigger picture."

More people on US government assistance than ever before

More people in the US than ever before are using government assistance programs. Food stamps, medicare and similar programs expanded to help more people during the economic recession and there are no signs of the rolls shrinking.

From USA Today, writer Richard Wolf breaks down the numbers and looks into what it means for the US economy.

More than 50 million Americans are on Medicaid, the federal-state program aimed principally at the poor, a survey of state data by USA TODAY shows. That's up at least 17% since the recession began in December 2007.

"Virtually every Medicaid director in the country would say that their current enrollment is the highest on record," says Vernon Smith of Health Management Associates, which surveys states for Kaiser Family Foundation.

The program has grown even before the new health care law adds about 16 million people, beginning in 2014. That has strained doctors. "Private physicians are already indicating that they're at their limit," says Dan Hawkins of the National Association of Community Health Centers.

More than 40 million people get food stamps, an increase of nearly 50% during the economic downturn, according to government data through May. The program has grown steadily for three years.

Caseloads have risen as more people become eligible. The economic stimulus law signed by President Obama last year also boosted benefits.

Close to 10 million receive unemployment insurance, nearly four times the number from 2007. Benefits have been extended by Congress eight times beyond the basic 26-week program, enabling the long-term unemployed to get up to 99 weeks of benefits. Caseloads peaked at nearly 12 million in January — "the highest numbers on record," says Christine Riordan of the National Employment Law Project, which advocates for low-wage workers.

100,000 pregnant mothers displaced from Pakistan flood areas

From this Save the Children press release, the organization talks about their efforts to reach children and pregnant mothers in flood-stricken Pakistan. Save the Children says that 100,000 pregnant women within the flood areas need assistance.

As the devastating floods in Pakistan continue to cause misery for millions of families, Save the Children reports that tens of thousands of newborn babies and their mothers could be in serious danger.

At least half a million pregnant women have been affected by the floods, with more than 100,000 of them due to give birth in the next few months, according to the United Nations. Many will be forced to deliver in temporary shelters, with no access to clean water or health care and often surrounded by contaminated flood water.

Sonia Khush, Save the Children's director of emergency preparedness and response, said: "We know that mothers are giving birth in flimsy or crowded shelters, steps away from stagnant water and debris. And we know the dangers for newborns are extreme — the first hours and days of a child's life in the developing world are the riskiest, even without the added complications posed by a disaster of this scope. Displacement, increased impoverishment, crowded living conditions, disease and infection are further imperilling the lives of mothers and their newborn babies in Pakistan."

Even before this disaster, Pakistan had a high infant mortality rate, with 1 in 20 babies dying within the first month of life.

"This is a child survival crisis," said Khush. "Dengue, malaria, diarrhea and other infections are sickening hundreds of thousands of people. All of these diseases are treatable but can be fatal — especially to children — if not addressed. Our fixed and mobile health clinics are seeing hundreds of people every day, including pregnant women, new mothers and children. We are working to reach as many children and adults as quickly as possible."

Throughout this crisis, Save the Children has been helping mothers and babies survive. Aid workers have carried pregnant women across swollen rivers to safety, and delivered lifesaving care to women giving birth in appalling conditions.

For example, Abida, pregnant with her first child, was forced to flee her home in Sindh to escape the flooding. She went into labor in a school where she was sheltering along with 2,000 other people. Save the Children aid workers helped her and her new baby boy by providing medicines and a special kit for newborns.

Save the Children has so far reached over 160,000 people through emergency medical care and distribution of food, tents, shelter kits, hygiene kits and other supplies. Save the Children is working in all four provinces through UN clusters and in partnership with national, provincial and district administrations, to provide assistance to flood-affected families. Save the Children has been working in Pakistan for more than 30 years.

Floods destroy crops in already starving Niger

10 million people were already facing starvation in Chad and Niger. Now, flooding in the region has washed away some of the crops that people hoped to harvest in September. This is on top of a failed harvest last year due to drought that began the crisis.

Save The Children went on record yesterday to say that 400,000 children face starvation in the region and asked for the world to help. Over 2,400 children visited Save The Children clinics last week with severe malnutrition.

From the Independent, writer Andrew Johnson gives us the details about the latest aid appeal.

Aid agencies warned yesterday that 10 million people are already facing severe food shortages, particularly in the landlocked countries of Chad and Niger, after a drought led to the failure of last year's crops. As many as 400,000 children are at risk of dying from starvation in Niger alone, according to Save the Children.

Now unusually heavy rains have washed away this year's crops and killed cattle in a region dependent on subsistence agriculture. Organisations including Oxfam and Save the Children say that the slow international response to the emergency means that only 40 per cent of those affected are receiving food aid. As many as four out of five children require treatment for malnutrition in clinics.

Such is the shortage of international aid that the United Nations World Food Programme has had to scale back its £57m operation to feed eight million people in Niger and instead concentrate its efforts on the most vulnerable – children under two – according to Oxfam.

Save the Children says the increased malnutrition rate could swiftly be followed by an increase in the number of children dying from disease because of floods in Niger caused by heavy rain over the past few weeks. "Stagnant pools of water have been contaminated by animal carcasses and are a breeding ground for malaria-carrying mosquitoes. This has increased the threat of malaria, respiratory disease and diarrhoea – the biggest killers of young children," the organisation said.

"After six months without proper nutrition, these children have little resistance to disease," said Severine Courtiol, Save the Children's Niger manager. "There is little children can do to avoid coming into contact with this contaminated, disease-ridden floodwater. That's why it's critical we make sure they get enough food so they are strong enough to fight off and recover from sickness."

Robert Bailey, Oxfam's west Africa campaigns manager, said that some food was available in marketplaces in Niger, but was too expensive for ordinary households to afford. As a result, many were reduced to eating leaves and berries.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Guest Voices: Women Can’t Wait: Empowering Women Farmers

Next up in our series of guest posts from Concern Worldwide, comes this comment from Allyson Brown, acting Operations Director for Concern US. Brown says that the world must move quickly to give help to women farmers. Concern Worldwide works with poor people in the under-developed world to help them survive poverty and hunger.

The Summit on the UN Millennium Development Goals is fast approaching. If we are serious about beating global poverty, the empowerment of women farmers must be high on the agenda. Why?

Did you know that women produce more than half of the world’s food but earn only 10% of the world’s income? And although women produce up to 80% of food in the developing world, they often are not able to grow enough to feed themselves and their families.

Over a billion people go hungry every day, and 60% are women. This is not just today, this week or this month—it’s every day. Hunger continues to be the single biggest risk to health worldwide and poses a greater threat than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

Concern Worldwide passionately believes that we can and should give this crisis the attention it deserves, and that women play a vital, yet unrecognized, role in the fight against global hunger.

Agatha Akandelwa is one of these women. These days, she takes care of 21 people in her Zambian village, including her grandchildren and several children of sick and deceased relatives. But sometimes it’s hard to find food for her large extended family.

“Our food situation becomes very diffic
ult every year, starting in about September and lasting right through until January. During that period we only get about one meal per day. I really don’t feel good during that time. As an adult, I can go all day without food and then get up and go to the field the next day, but I get really concerned for the children during the hungry times.”

Concern Worldwide works daily with women farmers like Agatha. We help provide them with tools, training and a little money to invest in seeds—and the women farmers have seen a significant impact. They’ve not only been able to grow enough to feed their families, but they’ve also been able to use the income from their surplus crops to send their children to school and keep their families healthy.

Women farmers are responsible for growing, harvesting, preparing and selling the majority of food in poor countries. They are on the front lines of the fight against hunger, but far too often they do not have a seat at the table with policy makers or aid organizations.

Until recently, policies designed to address hunger have failed to adequately value the role of women farmers as crucial players in providing their families and communities with food for both consumption and sale. There must be a reform of land tenure rights, as well as property and inheritance laws as measures to help women farmers succeed.

The US, with its new Feed the Future Initiative—a $3.5B commitment to improving the global food supply—has already made investment in women and girls a key part of the program. Unless world leaders focus on women farmers, the target they set to halve poverty and hunger by 2015—one of eight UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) originally set in 2000—will not be reached. It’s that simple.

Concern Worldwide’s Women Can’t Wait campaign urges the international community to listen to women like Agatha and to increase support for women in the fight against global hunger. The campaign, which collects signatures via online petition, urges world leaders to allocate crucial funding in support of women in the developing world and to make sure that such funding actually reaches women to help bring about real, lasting change.

The campaign will culminate at the Summit on the UN Millennium Development Goals that will be held Sept. 20—22, 2010 in New York, at which time Concern representatives will present the signatures to the assembled dignitaries.

Video: making an Iko Toilet

This video explains the work of EcoTact, a Kenyan company that works to bring clean sanitary toilets to neighborhoods without them. The Acumen Fund has invested in this company and you can also find a good summary of their work from the Acumen site. Thanks to Boing Boing for the RT.

Small harvest leads to child malnutrition in Cameroon

From IRIN, the story about a small harvest that has brought high levels of child malnutrition to Cameroon.

Northern Cameroon, as in much of Africa’s western Sahel band, has unusually high child malnutrition this lean season between harvests - high even for an impoverished region where poor nutrition is common and most of the five million people lack access to safe water and sanitation.

Six children died from malnutrition in Kousseri hospital, northern Cameroon, in July alone. Tending to 23 children at the hospital’s therapeutic feeding centre, centre director Fanta Abba Adam told IRIN: “We don’t generally have this many deaths.”

“We are overwhelmed by cases of malnutrition,” Mahamat Ousman, a local Health Ministry official told IRIN. He said workers from health centres throughout the district of Kousseri generally come to the main hospital for supplies once a month, but since June many have come four times per month.

“In the 10 health centres in Kousseri city, malnutrition cases [moderate and severe] went from 75 in May to 166 in July,” he said.

Even outside the lean season, 55,000 under-five children in Cameroon's North and Far North regions have severe acute malnutrition, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). That is about 70 percent of the country's severely malnourished under-fives, while the zone is home to one-third of the country’s children.

The children who died recently or who are in a fragile state at Kousseri hospital “came to hospital in an advanced state of malnutrition and with medical complications,” nutritional centre head Abba told IRIN. “In such cases, it is almost impossible to save them.”

In many instances the late arrival in health centres stems from reticence to say a child is malnourished, Abba told IRIN. But access to treatment is also a problem; 20 of the 43 health districts in the North and Far North regions have the trained staff, equipment and means to provide free malnutrition treatment, according to Health Ministry officials, who say setting up treatment in the remaining centres is under way, and the slowness is partly due to a lack of funds.

But one health worker who requested anonymity said part of the reason the structures are lacking is that many government leaders are not aware of the magnitude of Cameroon's malnutrition problem.


As in other countries across West and Central Africa the causes of malnutrition in Cameroon are many - crop failure on top of chronic poverty, poor weaning and infant feeding practices and lack of access to basic services.

For 24-year-old Falmata Ousmanou, poverty and a lack of financial support from her ex-husband are at the root of her 18-month-old’s acute malnutrition. She spoke with IRIN as she sat holding the child, who weighs 4.6kg, at the main hospital in the Far North town of Maroua.

She said she knew her baby at a certain age needed to have vitamins and minerals; she simply could not afford them.

“When my baby was 11 months old, health workers advised me to give him porridge enriched with peanut butter and milk,” said 24-year-old Ousmanou, who has three children after a fourth died.

“But he has been losing weight since. I think it’s a lack of minerals. The corn porridge I give him rarely has all the ingredients it should. Sometimes I don’t even have porridge to give him. Sometimes I have to borrow flour from my neighbours - but I can’t do that all the time.”

Floods, cholera

Health Ministry nutritionist Augustin Ndongmo Nanfack, just back from a tour of the Far North region, said heavy flooding and a cholera outbreak in the area are exacerbating the nutrition problem.

“The situation is worrying,” he told IRIN. “I fear with the floods, which have destroyed crops, the nutrition situation will worsen.” In many areas of West and Central Africa, floods are destroying crops families planted in the hope of bouncing back from food deficits caused by drought or erratic rains in 2009.

Four million left homeless from the Pakistan floods

In the latest news from Pakistan, the floods continue to spread throughout the south. The flooding has now left four million people homeless. Four million acres of crops have been destroyed in the flooding, that is out of a total of 57 million acres in Pakistan

From this Reuters article, that we found at Canada.com, writer Robert Birsel gives us the latest from Pakistan.

The worst floods in decades have been spreading through the rice-growing belt in southern Sindh province district by district, breaking through or flowing over embankments.

International Organization for Migration spokesman Saleem Rehmat told reporters about 80 percent of the 3.9 million people in Sindh affected by the floods were displaced.

Hundreds of thousands of people have fled cities, towns and villages in the province for safer ground, disaster management officials said, adding that growing water pressure in the Indus River was one of their biggest concerns.

Food is running out in remote villages. Two exhausted-looking men wading along a flooded road in Sindh in search of supplies said they had walked for three days from their flooded village.

One of the men, Daim, was carrying a sick-looking chicken and two nearly lifeless large chicks in a basket on his head. There had been a third chick but he and his hungry companion had roasted it the night before, he said.

In other parts of the country, the scale of the humanitarian disaster is gargantuan, and growing.

At least half a million people are living in schools in flood-hit areas. The cramped, unhygienic conditions, combined with food shortages and intense heat, raise the specter of potentially fatal disease outbreaks, such as cholera.

There are more than 120,000 case of suspected dengue and malaria, while skin infections and diarrhea have affected hundreds of thousands more, the U.N. said.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Guest Posts: Delayed Funding Exacts its Cost on Pakistan

Continuing our series of guest posts from Concern Worldwide, Dorothy Blane a former country director for Pakistan talks about the how the delay in collecting aid has compounded the problems with flooding. Concern Worldwide works with poor people in the under-developed world to help them survive poverty and hunger.

The world is only now waking up to the alarm that the humanitarian community has been sounding for more than three weeks about the scale of the emergency here in Pakistan.

It’s difficult and rather pointless for those of us in-country to spend too much time wondering why the response, especially in terms of funding, has been so slow to kick in. There is just too much work to do on the ground here, and we have no time for hand-wringing.

One reason cited for the lack of funding is that the death toll still only stands at a relatively modest 1,500 or so, but those of us on the ground know that this number could drastically increase, with the specters of both disease and food shortages hanging over the country. If we take the right sort of action now, we do have the chance to change this gloomy picture.

I can only offer my perspective as a first-hand witness. The deficient and delayed response is starting to exact its cost on the Pakistani people, especially the most vulnerable.

In aid world jargon we speak of it as the ‘second-wave’ of death, which sounds too abstract to register with most audiences. But its meaning is very plain. The lives of hundreds of thousands are at immediate risk. We have anecdotal evidence that children are already dying. If we don’t act quickly, many, many more will die.

Dirty, polluted water kills. Try to imagine waking-up in the morning without clean water for you and your family to drink. Yes, there is water everywhere around you, but because of the pollution it is effectively poisonous. This is the daily dilemma for so many mothers in Pakistan right now.

If the response does not escalate quickly, an already horrible situation will get much worse. The World Health Organization predicts that up to 1.5 million cases of diarrheal diseases—including as many as 140,000 cases of cholera—150 cases of measles, 350,000 cases of acute respiratory infections, and up to 100,000 cases of malaria could occur over the next three months. These conditions can be treated easily but they will go unattended and cause this “second wave of death,” if the international community does not provide more funding, and fast.

What’s more, the current $460M sought by the UN is just what is needed for the initial relief period and was based on lower estimates of the actual number of people needing assistance—and only slightly more than 50 percent of that amount has even been funded. In the medium-term, when these initial funds have long been spent, a food security crisis is highly likely to develop due to lack of land rehabilitation , basic seeds and tools to get people back to some level of self-sufficiency.

In Punjab, which is (or was!) the breadbasket of Pakistan, prime arable land has been scourged. If a massive effort could be made to rehabilitate those sections of land from which floodwater recedes quickly, then at least some crops could be planted by October, which may mitigate this crisis. It must be done, and for that we need more funding to start that work in a timely manner.

Governments around the world can and must do more. They must make good on the pledges they make. In this era of billions of dollars going to stimulus packages and bank bail-outs, surely the people of Pakistan—caught in a tragedy the scope of which “the world has never seen,” as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said when he visited the country—deserve a better deal.

Kendall Ciesemier, an Illinois teen with her own charity

An Illinois teen has seen her charity efforts grow from donating her birthday money to establishing her own not-for-profit and traveling to Africa. When she was 11, Kendall Ciesemier stuffed all of her birthday money into an envelope and gave it to World Vision.

A couple of years later, Ciesemier had her own troubles to deal with because her liver was failing her. Kendall used her predicament to call more attention to Africa, as she insisted that any money donations go to AIDS orphans.

Since recovering from two different transplants, Kendall's efforts have been shown worldwide on the Oprah Winfrey show. She has since established her own charity for helping AIDS orphans, and has traveled to Africa to she her charity at work.

From this Associated Press article that we found at WSBT, writer Robert Sanchez tells us more about Kendall's amazing story.

"It's hard to come so far from the moment I said I wanted to help these kids," said the Wheaton resident, now 17.

Seeing pictures and reading stories about the conditions in Africa weren't cutting it. She had to experience herself what was going on there.

Kendall got that opportunity in June when she and her family visited Zambia and South Africa. The Wheaton North High School senior returned from the trip knowing that she must continue what she started.

"Inspiration slapped me in the face and said, 'You're not done with Africa, Kendall. You have so much more to do,'" she said.

Some recent national attention might help her achieve her goal to raise $1 million and convince 30 high schools each to donate $5,000 to Kids Caring 4 Kids.

In June, the Ciesemiers visited a school in Zambia. Thanks to money raised by Kids Caring 4 Kids, the school was able to build new showers, bathrooms and a sick bay for its 200 students.

The children live in mud huts and face various dangers, including malaria, every day.

Still, Kendall said, they literally greeted her with open arms.

"It's the greatest feeling to have a million kids just try to hug you," she said. "They were so happy."

She also visited an orphan care center that Kids Caring 4 Kids helped build in South Africa. Children go to the center for support, including food, homework assistance and medical care.

The first thing that struck Kendall was the massive size of the local cemetery because of the AIDS epidemic. "They've lost an entire generation of people," she said. "They've lost everyone's parents."

Despite the tremendous need, she notes progress. "You see what is changing; there is a difference being made."

Authorities say Nigerian population is growing too fast

From IRIN, authorities say that the population in Niger is growing too fast.

The population of Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, is growing at an unsustainable rate, according to the authorities and civil society groups.

If current growth rates of 3.3 percent per year remain unchanged, by 2050 Niger’s population will have reached 50 million. The current population is 15.2 million - and even at this level there is widespread malnourishment.

It has been nearly 25 years since Niger identified population control as a priority in its fight against poverty, said senior Ministry of Social Development and Population official Barra Bahari. But convincing people to have fewer children by marrying later and using contraception is not an easy task.

“This is a humanitarian emergency. We have no future without birth control,” said Idé Djermakoyé, president of a local NGO involved in family planning, the Nigerien Organization for the Development of Human Potential (ONDPH). “The government cannot cope. The population is poor, the health system is weak and there is no land for farming. We are already unable to feed and educate our population.”

National statistics are grim. Nearly 60 percent of the population survives on less than a dollar a day. A woman dies every two hours while giving birth. Nearly one child in five dies before the age of five. Almost one in three does not attend primary school.

The economy would have to grow at a rate of 7 percent a year to meet people’s basic needs, according to Najim Mohammed, coordinator of the Permanent Secretariat of the Poverty Reduction Strategy, a government body. In 2009, growth was negative, he said. The government says average annual growth in the last decade has been just 3.1 percent.

A recent government study on the impact of population growth notes that by 2015, if the trend remains unchanged, thousands more classrooms, teachers, and health personnel will be required. In general, each active member of society will have to look after at least two inactive ones. And the already deficient food production will be even less adequate.

Promoting contraception

In the maternity ward of Diffa’s health centre, Mamane Fati is holding her newborn daughter, her ninth child. “The first born could not even stand when I had a second one,” she said. Her sister then told her about contraception. “Now, I have understood that we have to put some space between births. I try to leave three years between each of them.”

The fact that this is Fati’s ninth child is hardly exceptional. The average Nigerien woman gives birth seven times in her life, the highest number in the world.

What may be noteworthy is that Fati, now 38, was 21 when she had her first child. That is almost old in a country where half of all females have their first child at 15-16, according to a 2006 government demography and health survey.

By promoting education for all, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) hopes to reduce instances of early marriage. “Education could most often break the cycle of early marriage”, said UNFPA’s deputy in Niamey, Saidou Kabore. “Girls will not marry while studying. And then, the more a woman is educated, the fewer children she will generally have.”

By 2015, the country aims to reduce the proportion of early marriages from 60 to 40 percent and the number of children per women to five. Some 18 percent of its sexually active population should be using contraception by then.

Family planning and contraception are among the topics discussed with every woman giving birth in Diffa’s maternity unit. “We stress that it is important for their health and that of the child to space births,” explained the head of the maternity unit, Mariama Daouami.

In the last nine years, Daouami said, the contraception message seems to have had more resonance in the cities. “In the countryside, it is another story. Most often women say they will have to ask their husband. And then, there is the religious factor. They think that spacing birth is defying Islam.”

She added that when a man has several wives, wives will often compete to have the most children, because this will reflect on their status in the family and on their inheritance share.

Key targets: Men and religion

Organizations such as UNFPA have understood that without the sanction of men and religion, change is unlikely.

“We used to only target women, but we cannot promote family planning without involving men,” said UNFPA’s Kabore. “It is men who decide when it comes to contraception, or delivering at the health centre. This is related to the problem of women’s status in the society.”

In 2004, UNFPA started engaging men in family planning by opening a dozen “husbands’ schools” in central Niger. Married men were invited to meet twice a month to discuss reproductive health. Kabore said it led husbands to become more involved with health and family matters. This year, 136 such “schools” have been established.

Hassan Ardo Ido has 12 children under 21. He describes it as a heavy burden but also explains: “We think that if you have five children who can fetch wood, well, that will help the family.” This is one of the ideas that UNFPA is trying to fight against by stressing that children are expensive to raise, said Kabore. “It is believed to be a security net, but several examples show that it is an insecurity net.”

The fact that children have tended to die more frequently at a very young age may also explain the urge to have a large family. “People have to understand that it is no longer necessary to have five children to ensure two survive,” said Djermakoyé, from ONDPH. “Many more children live now that we have relatively better access to health care and vaccination.”

Working closely with traditional chiefs and religious associations has also become a priority. Islam is not against family planning, said Kabore. Citing Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Iran, he noted: “There are Muslim countries where family planning has worked very well.”

Marabout Gabo Sabou preaches about family planning to his fellow marabouts. “The Koran says we cannot prevent births. We don’t contradict this, but we say that the size of the family needs to be on a par with resources. The Koran never said you should make children regardless of your ability to look after them.”

Even though his sermons are not always warmly received, he says his peers are now much more responsive than they were when he started two decades ago. “Now people listen and we can discuss. There was not even a discussion before, just a fight.”

“We are starting to see the impact of our work, but it is very slow,” said the Population Ministry’s Bahari, noting that the use of contraception has increased from 5 percent in 2006 to over 13 percent. “Contraception was a taboo subject when I started in 1990. This is no longer the case. Condoms are being shown on TV and people are not shocked.”

Study says half of mothers in poverty suffer depression

Poverty could cause another problem for child development according to a new study from the Urban Institute. The results of the study show that nearly half of all mothers in poverty who are raising infants show some signs of depression.

Experts fear that the depression could hurt the child's development as a depressed mother would be less likely to do things with the child. The study cites the example that depressed mothers breastfeed their children for four months on average, shorter than the recommended six or more.

From the Washington Post, writer Donna St. George describes the study further. You can also go to the Urban Institute's page on the study to learn more.

In what was described as the first detailed portrait of its kind, researchers reported that one in nine infants in poverty had a mother with severe depression and that such mothers typically breastfed their children for shorter periods than other mothers who were poor.

"A mom who is too sad to get up in the morning won't be able to take care of all of her child's practical needs," said researcher Olivia Golden, who co-authored the paper with two colleagues at the District-based Urban Institute. "If she is not able to take joy in her child, talk baby talk, play with the child - those are features of parenting that brain development research has told us contribute to babies' and toddlers' successful development."

The study said that even severe depression goes largely untreated among low-income mothers of infants, with just 30 percent speaking to a professional about a mental health problem during the year before the survey was conducted.

With at least 70 percent needing help, the problem is significant and "we should focus on closing that gap," Golden said.

Video: Increased need seen at the Wichita Falls Food Bank

From KAUZ, another story that depicts the increased need for food assistance in the US. This story focuses on the Wichita Falls Area Food Bank in Texas.

Video: an update on Concern Worldwide efforts in Pakistan

From Concern Worldwide, an update the organization's relief efforts in flooded Pakistan. Concern Worldwide works with poor people in the under-developed world to help them survive poverty and hunger.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Flooding in Niger on top of a food shortage

From World Vision UK, the story about another flood that deserves some of our attention. Niger is already in the middle of a severe food shortage, now has over 100,000 people displaced by flooding.

World Vision is concerned that the existing food crisis in Niger could worsen as a result of widespread flooding.

The longed-for rains have brought destruction instead of relief for many in the parched West African country, where floods have washed away entire villages and crops.

Some 111,000 people have been affected, according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Prior to the floods, about half of the population – 7.1 million people – were already in need of food assistance. Almost 500,000 children under the age of five are acutely malnourished.


Households that had no food supplies as a result of the food crisis have now lost their crops and food supply for the next year, in the areas most affected by flooding. Water supplies have become polluted, and cattle washed away.

“People are starving to death,” said Hudan Mohammed, a villager in Zinder, southern Niger.

“Nursing mothers have no breast milk; parents are watching their children starve as their animals have been swept away by floods.

“The international community urgently needs to come to the aid of Niger, otherwise thousands of people will die.”


World Vision began scaling up its food and nutrition emergency response in Niger earlier this year.

The organisation is treating severely malnourished children under the age of five and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, and providing food to affected children in areas worst hit by the crisis.

World Vision is also preparing to respond to the flooding by providing affected families with essential items, including blankets and soap.

"This is devastating on a scale we haven't seen in Niger for years," said Mark Bulpitt, Head of Humanitarian Emergencies at World Vision UK.

"If we don't act now, this could be catastrophic for children and their families."


Niger’s hunger season is at its height, with the harvest expected in September potentially improving the outlook for many.

However, those families worst affected by flooding will continue to experience serious food shortages in the coming months.

World Vision is also concerned for the health of malnourished children, who are particularly vulnerable to malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory infections during the rainy season.

The organisation works to make a serious and sustainable impact on poverty and its causes, especially as they affect children, and is committed to long-term change in Niger.

New book says that Africa will soon be affluent

A new book recently published in France has a very positive outlook on the economy of Sub-Saharan Africa. The book written by a former head of the France agency for economic cooperation says that Sub-Saharan Africa will soon have a very affluent economy. The book points to the environment and climate change as stopping future growth, but critics say the book ignores the problems of education and agriculture.

From the Inter Press Service, writer Julio Godoy introduces us to the new book.

In the book "Le temps de l'Afrique" ("The African Age"), Jean-Michel Severino, until last April director of the French state agency for economic cooperation, and his co-author Olivier Ray argue that sub-Saharan Africa has started the new millennium under far better economic and social circumstances than generally assumed.

To support their thesis that "Africa is rushing towards affluence", as Severino put it in an interview, the authors use the most recent economic and social data, showing rapid economic growth, high investment and sinking poverty.

"The vision that we in Europe have of Africa -- of a continent frozen in poverty and disease -- is simply wrong," Severino declared. "On the contrary, today's sub-Saharan Africa is a region of high economic growth, with numerous business opportunities. Sub-Saharan Africa is now a high speed train rushing towards affluence and prosperity."

Severino recalled that since the beginning of the century, the sub-Saharan African economy "has grown by a yearly average rate of 5.5 percent, against only 1.35 percent in the euro zone".

Severino quoted a recent study by the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), which shows that African poverty "is falling rapidly".

The NBER paper, by economist Xavier Sala-i-Martin and his research assistant Maxim Pinkovskiy, predicts that if "the present trends continue, the millennium development goal of halving the proportion of people with incomes less than one dollar a day will be achieved" by 2015.

"We are not nursing dangerous illusions about Africa," Severino told IPS.

Another 200,000 people evacuated in southern Pakistan

Another 200,000 people have been newly evacuated from the flood waters that continue to march into Southern Pakistan. Over 5 million Pakistanis are without shelter as their homes were destroyed by the worst flooding ever seen in the nation.

From the BBC, we read more latest about the moving flood waters and the health problems sure to follow.

The vast body of flood-water that has swept the length of Pakistan is now threatening previously unaffected communities in Sindh province, at the country's southern tip.

Overnight, the authorities have been organising a mass evacuation from the town of Thatta - near the mouth of the Indus delta - and surrounding villages.

At the moment, all that stands between locals and the vast weight of water is an embankment which has started to crack in places. If it bursts, the whole area could be submerged.

The task of coping with disease and urgent humanitarian needs is being made more difficult by the sheer number of people cut off by the floods.

An estimated 800,000 people are still stranded, the UN says - many in the mountainous north-west, where roads and bridges have been swept away.

The US has deployed at least 18 helicopters to fly regular relief missions, but the UN said it would need at least 40 more heavy-duty aircraft working at full capacity to reach those who have been cut off.

There are fears of further flooding as the Indus river at Hyderabad, already at a 50-year high, is expected to rise even further.

Albino killing practice expands in Swaziland

From IRIN, the practice of killing albino people to give their genetically mutated organs to medicine in Swaziland.

The recent killing of two albino Swazi children within a few days of each other is raising fears that the practice of murdering people with the genetically inherited condition to sell their body parts for “muti” (medicine) is migrating southwards.

Incidents of albinos being dismembered have been well-documented in Tanzania and Burundi, among other countries, in a trade driven by the belief that those suffering from albinism - caused by the body's inability to produce the melanin pigment that helps the skin protect itself from the sun's damaging ultra violet rays - have a special potency when included in concoctions that claim to bestow almost everything from political power and wealth to curing HIV/AIDS.

Last week Banele Nxumalo, 11, was shot and carried away by a group of masked gunmen next to the Siguduma River in southern Swaziland's Shisweleni Region, in front of 20 adults and children. Her decapitated body was discovered a few hours later. The killing came a few days after another albino child of similar age was found murdered and mutilated in the same region.

The child's father, Luke Nxumalo, told local media, "I wonder why albinos are targeted, because they are just humans like us, and a gift from God."

Constance Dube, a child welfare councillor based in Manzini, Swaziland's second city, told IRIN: "We have never had these ritual killings specific to albino persons before, but we've never had an AIDS epidemic causing so much panic either."

One in four Swazis between the ages of 15 and 49 is living with HIV - at 26.1 percent the world's highest prevalence - in a population of about 1 million, of which about two-thirds are in a state of chronic poverty.

No longer exempt from albino killings

The government and NGOs have embarked on HIV/AIDS education programmes, but many people still have deep-seated superstitions. Muti murders of children are not uncommon, and various theories explain the rise of child rapes, such as that sex with a virgin cleanses one of HIV/AIDS, but the recent targeting of albino children has opened a new chapter in the mountain kingdom.

Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse, an NGO opposing the sexual abuse of women and children, said in a statement that the country could no longer claim immunity from the "ritual killings" most common in East Africa.

"Swaziland, therefore - which has been identified as a destination, source and transit point for human trafficking, which also occurs for trade in body parts - is clearly no longer exempt of this type of crime, where young albinos are being targeted," the statement said.

Thembile Msibi, a traditional healer in Hhelehele, a village about 30km from Manzini, told IRIN that the blood and body parts of albinos were believed to cure HIV/AIDS. "[The killers] probably went after these poor children because they are easier to kill than adults, but the power of the muti made from them is very strong," she said.

Between 2007 and 2009 at least 70 African albinos were killed in Burundi, Kenya and Tanzania; according to recent reports, a Tanzanian police officer estimated that a "complete set of albino body parts" - including all four limbs, genitals, ears, nose and tongue - can sell for about US$75,000.

Trading in body parts

Under the Same Sun (USS), a Canadian faith-based NGO advocating the rights and protection of people with albinism, put unofficial estimates of the number of albinos killed in Tanzania and Burundi at more than 200 in the past two years, excluding others who have survived the hacking-off of limbs.

Earlier this month Tanzanian police arrested a 28-year-old Kenyan man in a sting operation near Mwanza, capital of the northeastern Mwanza Region, for attempting to sell a 20-year-old albino man for US$250,000.

Peter Ash, founder of USS, told the Vancouver Sun newspaper in a recent interview that the practice of killing albinos had only begun in the last decade, and "the killing of albinos and trafficking in body parts appears to be centred ... in and around the city of Mwanza."

The United States, the European Union and other nations and civil society groups have condemned muti killings. In the ensuing outcry, Tanzania has so far sentenced seven people to death for the murder of albinos, according to reports. A Swazi police officer, who declined to be named, said the increased awareness of these killings may have forced the perpetrators to move to other states to "harvest" people.

There have been no reports of discrimination against albinos in Swaziland, but there is also no reliable data on their numbers, or any registered associations catering for their needs.

Since the two Swazi children were murdered, however, police have received requests from the parents and guardians of albino children for protection.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

UK review of aid could drop aid to Africa

The UK government is reviewing the aid they give to the rest of the world. The review could recommend stop aid payments to countries who no longer need it, or have too much corruption to use it correctly. Government officials say the recommendations could include African countries that are resource rich. Most at risk are the nations that only use the resources to make a few wealthy, even though it could pull the whole nation out of poverty.

From the Daily Nation, writer Paul Redferen describes the possible pulling of aid money.

The Department for International Development (DFID) has particular concerns over Sierra Leone, where Britain has been closely involved in nation building since a military intervention in 2000.

There the government of President Ernest Koroma has been accused of corruption in recent mining deals.

“I’m watching particularly carefully how Sierra Leone intends to exploit its mineral [resources],” Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell told the Daily Telegraph newspaper. “It is an important issue that requires openness and transparency and if not I am prepared to act.” Mr Mitchell also said the focus would be on “making British aid more effective in reducing poverty through improved transparency and value for money.”

A new type of migration from Zimbabwe

Only one out of every 16 HIV-positive children in Zimbabwe have access to life prolonging ARV drugs. This has led the parents of those children to migrate across national borders to get medical care for their children. The governments of Botswana and South Africa do not turn any children away in an effort to meet the Millennium Development Goals. This leads many to wonder why Zimbabwe is unable to keep up with the health demands of her people.

From IPS Africa, writer Ignatius Banda describes this new type of migration away from Zimbabwe.

"This is how desperate the people are to provide treatment for their children," said Khumbulani Khaphela, a pastor with an evangelical fellowship church working in rural Plumtree.

"Some families after hearing that others have sent their children across the border have approached us to assist them with going there as well," he said. The churches are expected to finance the medical trips as part of their contribution toward efforts to save the lives of HIV-positive children.

The people of Plumtree are no strangers to migration. Men and women have been forced to leave their poverty-stricken villages as the lack of access to running water, high unemployment, lack of medical care and a litany of woes hit the rural communities hard. Thousands left their homes to work in Botswana and South Africa while sending back a portion of their earnings to their families.

But this migration, HIV/AIDS researchers and local elders say, has contributed to the spread of the virus as husbands living and working away from their wives and families engaged in extramarital sexual relations and returned home HIV-positive. This resulted in the birth of a number of HIV-positive children.

The migration into bordering countries to seek medical attention for children has also been partially been driven by the growing number of HIV-positive urban residents who flock to rural areas for ART. They have sought out treatment in rural hospitals where waiting lists for ARVs are deemed shorter than those in large towns like Bulawayo. However, the FBOs say there have also been reports of parents from urban centres, like Bulawayo, who have also resorted to transporting their children to neighbouring countries for treatment.

"From what we are hearing, it is easy for children with tuberculosis and HIV to be treated in South Africa’s government hospitals," said Josphat Dakamela, a village elder in Plumtree. "What can we do? Everybody knows there are no medicines in the country (Zimbabwe) so what is happening here is no surprise."

How kindergartens can help meet the MDGs

From IRIN, an article that explains how kindergartens in Guinea-Bissau can help that country meet the Millennium Development Goals.

In the village of Gantauda, 90km from Guinea-Bissau’s capital, Bissau, a child’s third birthday is a milestone: it is the age when they can start at the local kindergarten, which their parents know improves their chances of survival.

Enrolling in Gantauda kindergarten, Guinea-Bissau’s only pre-school centre, not only increases the chances of the children going on to primary school, but critically also provides a level of basic nutrition and health care most children are denied in a country where under-five mortality has risen from 203 to 223 per 1,000 live births, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The Gantauda programme provides lunch for the children, has clean latrines on-site, and will soon have a healthcare centre. It also hones children’s motor skills, encourages joint learning and establishes reading and writing techniques - the kind of integrated approach that can help improve children’s health outcomes, said Sophie Nadeau, human development specialist at the World Bank.

Numerous World Bank studies - including in Colombia, Bangladesh, Mozambique and Argentina - show introducing children to pre-school will up their likelihood of not only attending, but performing well in, and completing, primary school.

Only 28 percent of 7-12 year olds currently attend primary school in Guinea-Bissau, according to UNICEF, while just 12 percent of girls complete it, compared to 18 percent of boys. As such, Guinea-Bissau is still way off-track to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of primary education for all by 2015, estimates the World Bank, which has re-set the goal for 2020.

Though it is too early to study the links between this programme and primary school completion rates, or health indicators, teachers have tracked children’s performance. "Children who attend the kindergarten appear to learn faster once they go to primary school,” said Bacar Lano, who teaches the three- and four-year olds at the centre. “We work on all kinds of techniques here to help them do that, including the basics of handwriting and the alphabet. We also spend a lot of time encouraging the kids to play, which helps to develop creativity.”

According to Ingrid Kuhfeldt, director of Plan International which funds the Gantauda programme, the biggest initial problems children starting primary school face in this region are behavioural problems in the classroom, and language barriers - the official language of instruction is Portuguese, but most children speak local languages.

The World Bank’s Nadeau told IRIN studies in Ecuador, Cambodia and Mozambique showed that while socio-economic differences do not greatly affect children’s performance at age one, two or three, by age five, those living in poverty “lag behind considerably”. Pre-school education can change that, she said. If not, “if they are already disadvantaged then this, coupled with low quality conditions means it is not surprising they don’t learn much at school.”


Donors are currently testing the cost-effectiveness and impact of three early childhood development (ECD) models in different settings: government-run or “formal” early childhood development programmes; community-based schemes; and “parenting programmes”, whereby parents regularly meet to discuss ways to nurture their children’s development.

Plan International has adopted the community-based model: Villagers choose the teachers, pay into a joint fund to support families who cannot afford to send their children, and contribute 30 percent of the running costs. All the playground equipment was made by local carpenters from local materials so that it will be sustainable, says Kuhfeldt.

The Ministry of Education has a very low capacity in Guinea-Bissau. Its budget barely covers teacher salaries, and would be very hard-pushed to take on quality ECD programmes on a large scale, she told IRIN.

Currently, every child in the village aged 3-6 attends the kindergarten, teacher Lano told IRIN. “Nobody is left out.”

Donors catching on

The 30 donors and agencies involved in the Fast Track Initiative to help achieve universal basic education, are increasingly funding early childhood as well as primary education, said Nadeau.

UNICEF helps develop training materials and curricula for ECD teachers; and tries to push the agenda forward with education ministries.

MDG meetings in September will provide an opportunity for ECD experts to push their agenda further, Nadeau told IRIN. In an ideal world, some sort of ECD intervention would be part of all universal basic education projects, she said.

But to get there, they must collect more data to convince decision-makers, said Nadeau. “The magnitude of the problem [children arriving at school unprepared] is not documented enough.” And once armed with data, advocates must reach beyond educators, to try to convince ministries of finance to start supporting some of these projects in the future, she said.

Pakistan meets with the IMF as the US announces new aid

Pakistan officials went to Washington DC yesterday, seeking a break in the terms of repaying loans issued from the International Monetary Fund. While the Pakistani leaders were in town, the U.S. followed up on news of an expanded aid package to the flood devastated country.

From the IPS, writer Matthew O. Berger gives us more details on the political happenings yesterday.

On Saturday, Masood Ahmed, director of the IMF's Middle East and Central Asia Department, said in a statement that in addition to the "suffering to millions of people [the floods] also pose a massive economic challenge to the people and government of Pakistan."

"The scale of the tragedy means that the country's budget and macroeconomic prospects, which are being supported by an IMF financed programme, will also need to be reviewed," he said.

Ahmed said the Fund looked forward to meeting with Pakistani officials to discuss "ways in which the IMF can assist Pakistan at this difficult juncture." The specifics of what was discussed at Monday's meetings are not yet known.

If the terms are not relaxed, officials have said they will instead seek a new loan package under new terms.

Pakistan has already been promised emergency loans of one billion dollars from the World Bank and two billion dollars from the Asian Development Bank.

The floods are reported to have already taken over 1,600 lives and displaced 4.6 million people as well as causing massive infrastructure damage and covering 1.7 million acres of productive farmland.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials followed up on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's announcement of an expanded emergency aid package at the United Nations on Friday by quantifying some of their efforts on the ground in Pakistan.

Noting that the U.S. is the "first and most among contributors" to the relief effort, Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Dan Feldman said the government was looking to redirect existing foreign aid funds to Pakistan to meet the needs of flood victims as quickly as possible.

Clinton had announced an increase in aid from 90 million to 150 million dollars. "This money is going towards local and international NGOs, towards U.N .agencies, towards operations for NDMA [National Disaster Management Authority] through the government of Pakistan" as well as in-kind and technical assistance, Feldman said.

Pakistan floods: worst disaster ever?

From IRIN, a round-up of opinions from humanitarian aid leaders on how the Pakistan floods rank amongst the worst disasters in history.

On a tour of water-logged and rain-weary Pakistan, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the floods were the worst disaster he had ever seen. The response to the crisis has been less enthusiastic - only about half the US$459.7 million requested by the United Nations has materialized.

"The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) of the Pakistan government puts the numbers of affected population at around 20 million people and rising, in an area the size of Italy," said Saleem Rehmat, Senior Programme Coordinator of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Pakistan.

"Donor fatigue is an issue, but I think it's not an issue for the United States," Eric Shwartz, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration, said at a press briefing in Washington.

The US deputy representative in Pakistan Frank Ruggiero told the same briefing that America had provided more than $90 million of support and was leading the donor response.

IRIN spoke to humanitarian experts and NGOs on whether the disaster was indeed the "worst ever", and what they thought of the response. This is what they had to say.

Peter Walker, current head of the Feinstein International Centre at Tufts University, is the founder and past manager of the World Disasters Report, published by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

Taking into account the numbers affected, "I think by the time the disaster is over it will have been one of the worst on record," he said.

"The real issue is how many people have been affected, and how severely has their ability to create sustainable livelihoods been affected? It is the scale and the multi-layered nature of this disaster that is so overwhelming.

"The immediate flooding has wiped out the asset base of millions of people, so they face a future where they have to refinance and build homes, clear debris-covered land (assuming it has not been washed away), restock shops and market stalls, re-equip small businesses, etc, etc. And all this in towns where the schools, clinics, courts, police stations all need rehabilitating.

"We know that Pakistan is likely to lose at least one year's good production, and may see food-production levels lowered for the next few years because of the combined effects of soil erosion, destroyed irrigation, and contaminated soil.

"Then we have the army as the only really effective state institution, and an insurgency, and foreign interest in Pakistan's politics.

"So, will the floods lead to a possible famine like situation next year? Will this be enough to topple the government, and will they be replaced by a military government?

"It is this complexity and propensity for one crisis to tip into another that makes Pakistan today one of the most devastating disasters."

He was unable to comment on the response, as he did not have the data to make an assessment.

Randolph Kent, head of the Humanitarian Futures programme at King's College, London, has served as the UN humanitarian coordinator in hot spots like Kosovo and Somalia.

He said the millions of people affected in Pakistan were "just the beginning" of the kind of disaster that could unfold in coming years. "Humanitarian agencies and countries have to become more proactive about pre-empting disasters to be able to respond better."

He called for an annual assembly like the World Economic Forum held annually in Davos, Switzerland, to help aid agencies and countries thrash out ways to prevent or prepare for future humanitarian crises.

"Countries should also give the authority to the UN Secretary-General to issue an annual 'State of Humanitarian Preparedness', identifying the vulnerable communities."

Kent reiterated what he had written in his blog on World Humanitarian Day - 19 August - that "humanitarian crises in the foreseeable future will be far more complex and far more interactive than they have ever been in modern history."

He cited the simultaneous disasters unfolding across the world at the moment - floods in Pakistan, drought and fires in Russia, landslides in China.

"It is evident that so-called 'synchronous failures', or the collapse of entire economic and communications systems, will result in massive loss of life and livelihoods in even the most seemingly well-controlled societies.

"The divide between what one had assumed to be a 'hapless' South and a 'resilient' North is increasingly a fiction, and a growing number of vulnerable people in rich and poor societies in all hemispheres will find themselves exposed to new types of threats, as well as more intensive conventional threats.

The UN, he said, would have to be far more "creative", "proactive", "daring" and "speculative" in identifying potential threats.

This would require the UN to "engage in longer-term strategic analysis, focusing on potential vulnerabilities, and to do so in ways that bring together the disciplines and expertise that are available in the more than thirty funds, programmes and specialized agencies that comprise the United Nations," he told IRIN.

Saleem Rehmat, at IOM in Pakistan, agreed with Ban. "Yes, in terms of human misery and damage to infrastructure," it was one of the worst disasters. "More than 10,000 villages have been affected; infrastructure - including small and big roads, thousands of link bridges, telecom networks - have been destroyed.

"This disaster is bigger than the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, [the Asian] tsunami [in 2004], and even the Haiti earthquake [in 2010], in terms of people affected and damage to their properties and infrastructure.

"The international community is trying its best to respond quickly in cash as well as in kind, but in terms of the scale of the disaster, more immediate funds will be required to stave off a second wave of disaster (people suffering or dying due to disease or hunger) if the flood victims do not get immediate support in terms of shelter, food, health, and water and sanitation."

He said the donor response had not been slow, "but more needs to be done in terms of funding by the international community, keeping in mind the scale of the disaster affecting at least 20 to 25 percent of the whole of Pakistan."

Did he think the media coverage had been adequate, because that might influence donor response?

"At the national level, media outlets have round-the-clock coverage of the flood situation, and what the flood victims are suffering with each passing day, but I think it is not being projected at the same level in the international media - it needs to be done as if on a 'war footing'.

"I think if the international media has a first-hand look at the ground - how people are suffering and how much damage and destruction the floodwaters have caused - the international donor community will have a better idea [of the situation] and respond massively, as per the immediate needs of the flood victims."

Louis Belanger, the humanitarian media officer at Oxfam International, said he could not be the judge of whether the Pakistan floods were the "worst ever" disaster, but the donor response had been "much too little, and much too slow". He said it was difficult to "generalize" about why the response had been slow because different donors were influenced by different factors.

"With the exception of the US, the UK, Denmark, Norway and Australia, no government has pledged more than $5 million. The donor community really needs to step up and respond on a scale that is commensurate with the magnitude of the disaster.

"It does seem, however, that the volume of the response is affected by the fact that many of the flooded districts are the same ones where the fighting between the Pakistan military and the Taliban has taken place over the past two years.

"We fear that some donors may feel they have already made substantial commitments to the crisis-affected population, and that they've done their bit – albeit not in response to this latest emergency.

"It's possible also that the criticism of the government's handling of the flood crisis has affected donor willingness to respond – some donors have expressed concern about the way in which aid funds will be handled.

"It's also an unfortunate fact that different types of disasters attract different levels of attention and different levels of funding. Tsunamis and earthquakes, for example, historically have tended to attract higher levels of funding than slower-onset disasters, such as droughts and floods."

Jonathan Whittall, acting deputy country representative in Pakistan of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), said it was quite difficult to compare one disaster to another. "You have to take into account the existing vulnerability of the affected population, which will vary from Haiti to Pakistan."

Whittall is based in Peshawar, capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in the northwest, where the flooding has been severe. He said the response had been slow, but "what is overlooked is the very rapid response of community-based organizations", which had played a leading role in helping people in many hard-to-reach areas.

In 2009 a large-scale military offensive in the province's Swat Valley destroyed homes and livelihoods and displaced two million people. MSF relies entirely on private funding, so it had got around being viewed as "Western" and had avoided any hostility, Whittall said. The organization had been operating in Pakistan for more than a decade, had forged deep links with the community and had managed to win the trust of local leaders.

He was not sure how much money MSF had been able to raise, "but it has, so we have been able to scale up our operations."

US spokesman Philip Crowley had the last word when he told reporters in Washington: "You had an earthquake in Haiti, and, tragic as it was, it happened, it ended, and we've been dealing with the impact of that ever since. In Pakistan you actually have a disaster that is still happening; you have the flooding that is actually getting worse.

"That has probably affected ... your ability to get reporters in there. And, quite honestly, to some extent it is the pictures that come out of these disasters that do help trigger both governments and people around the world to respond."

Monday, August 23, 2010

Five years since Hurricane Katrina

With a couple of floods going on now, let's pause and take a look back at one that hit US shores five years ago. Hurricane Katrina pounded New Orleans with a severe storm and a broken levee that flooded the city. Some parts of New Orleans have never recovered, as people fled never to return to their homes.

From Relevant Magazine, writer Ryan Hamm interviewed Phyllis Freeman of World Vision, on the response back then and the continuing work now.

Describe the scene of post-Katrina New Orleans.

We went into the 9th Ward first and we saw the barge that actually broke the levee. When we arrived we saw it sitting there and it was one of the most awesome sights. This huge ship broke that levee and [there was such an] intensity of seeing the size of it—the water that was coming over and just wiping out almost that entire [area and] almost no houses remained standing. That was in mid-September, 2005.
What was the condition of all the places affected by Katrina and how has that changed in the last five years?

Some of the homes in the communities where the levee broke and the waters moved into the community, [you can really see] the resilience of the homeowners in the months of October, November and December of 2005. They were repairing their homes and preparing to come back. Other places, you saw homes with “for sale” signs on them.

I just returned to the 9th Ward in the month of June of this year. Many of those homes are in the same condition they were five years ago. Which means that those families, whereever they are, haven’t been able to return home. Maybe they came home and rented something else but they are not back.

When the water came over, you saw refrigerators on top of homes and cars on top of garages and things like that. Those large items have been moved, but the vegetation has come in. So you see plants growing out of the roofs of houses because of the mud and everything else [in the flood waters].

The concern is much has been done but there’s still much to be done. Basically that’s it. A catastrophic event the size of Katrina is decades long in trying to recover. Even five or ten years from now parts of New Orleans will probably look pretty much the same. If the homes have been destroyed then it will just be land. Just because the media’s attention is not focused there, I think people must remember that it’s a devastating, long-term event, and children are still being impacted.
What has been the biggest factor in a neighborhood’s recovery?

I think the civic engagement of multiple individuals, businesses and political entities. So if there’s an activist that would like to make sure that their community is rebuilt in the right way, just being able to collaborate with all of the different aspects and families involved—[figuring out] whether or not you need permits or getting people to engage with you. Fundraising is a key aspect of that but it takes the collaborative part to make sure that your communities reemerge better than they were before.

Pakistan meets with the IMF as flood moves south

Pakistani officials are in Washington DC today to talk to the International Monetary Fund. Pakistan wants to talk to the IMF to come up with a solution to prop up the economy broken by the flooding disaster.

For more on the latest conditions on the ground in Pakistan, writer Robert Birsel filed this Reuterspiece that we found at KUAR.

The worst floods in decades have been spreading through the rice-growing belt in southern Sindh province district by district, breaking through or flowing over embankments.

Sindh is home to Pakistan's biggest city and commercial center Karachi, but the floods have affected mostly rural areas and far smaller urban centers.

International Organization for Migration (IOM) spokesman Saleem Rehmat told reporters about 80 percent of the 3.9 million people in Sindh affected by the floods have been displaced.

"People are laying on roadsides. They have taken shelter under trees or have made some sort of shelter under cloths or other items. They desperately need proper shelters," he said.

Hundreds of thousands of people have fled cities, towns and villages in the province for safer ground, disaster management officials said, adding that growing water pressure in the Indus River was one of their biggest concerns.

In other parts of the country, the scale of the humanitarian disaster is gargantuan, and growing every day.

At least half a million people are living in about 5,000 schools in flood-hit areas. The cramped, unhygienic conditions, combined with food shortages and the intense heat, raise the specter of potentially fatal disease outbreaks, such as cholera.

Video: Providing clean water to Pakistan

From Medecins Sans Frontieres, another video depicting the struggle in Pakistan. MSF shows their efforts to provide clean water to flood survivors. Flooded waters have contaminated water supplies, and health experts fear water borne diseases such as cholera could spread unless clean water is provided.

MSF or Doctors Without Borders, is a humanitarian organization that concentrates on medical services for the under-developed world. You can learn more about the work of MSF by visiting their website.