Saturday, October 30, 2010

Video: the spreading of cholera in Haiti

From CNN, a story on how the cholera epidemic is spreading in Haiti. Dr Sanjay Gupta makes the case that simply traveling to the city for treatment could be one cause.

Video: Concern's Child Survival program in Bangladesh

From Concern Worldwide, a story about their child health care programs in Bangladesh.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The microcredit controversy in Andhra Pradesh, India

For some time there has been a microcredit controversy brewing in the Andhra Pradesh state of India. A rash of suicides by microcredit clients has called into question the practices of lenders. A politician has asked all microcredit clients to stop paying the loans and is trying to come up with more regulations of the industry.

From this Wall Street Journal blog, writers Arlene Chang and Eric Bellman give us the summary on the controversy.

The microlending industry in Andhra Pradesh disbursed around $2.3 billion in loans in the year ended March 31. During the same period, state-sponsored self-help groups, with the help of local banks, gave out only $1.46 billion, according to Reddy Subramanyam, principal secretary of the state’s rural development ministry.

The inability of the state’s players to keep up with the nimble-footed microfinance institutions (even though the state-backed programs offer subsidized loans at as little as 3%) has embarrassed the government and made some bureaucrats suspicious about the kind of growth the microlending industry has been clocking every year.

“As long as they come with a social face and have serious intentions about it, we have no objection. But, they are luring poor people into taking loans whether they are in need of them or not,” says Andhra Pradesh’s minister for rural development, V. Vasant Kumar. “Their orientation is only to make money.”

These suspicions and a recent spate of suicides were enough to convince the state it was time to regulate. New regulation which started earlier this month required microlenders to register with at least five different government organizations. One of the required approvals is from the rural development department, which also hands out micro loans so in some sense is a competitor to the microlenders. It’s not totally different from letting Air India regulate Jet Airways.

Government officials insist that microfinance companies have lost their way in their scramble to expand and grow profits. The sector which used to worry about helping the less fortunate is now hurting the poor, they say.

“We feel that the time is right for regulation,” said Mr. Subramanyam of the rural development department. “As long as it was a social venture we didn’t need to put regulation, but when people and their interests are given a go-by we are looking at a different scenario.”

Video: flooding in Benin

From Al Jazerra, a story about another flood, this time taking place in Benin.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Guest Voices: All Sweet for Honey Producers in Malawi

Next up in our series of posts from Concern Worldwide, we learn more about beekeeping in Africa. Joseph Scott Communications Officer of Concern's efforts in Malawi, talks about the Ngala club of beekeepers. This group has used Concern's service and support to help make their beekeeping profitable.

A few months ago, Siverio Kamera, 42, a member of Ngala Club in Dowa, Malawi, was getting disillusioned by the lack of progress in his newly found source of livelihood, beekeeping.

Having joined Ngala Club in 2006, Siverio was finding the going tough as the project was failing to make any meaningful head start.

“The bees were not producing enough honey to make any profitable business. And worse still, the harvesting was proving to be a risky business: We were being stung every day due to lack of protective clothing,” recalls Siverio.

The Ngala club started on a humble note with only four beehives. However, they realized that on their own, the project would crumble. So they approached Concern for support and guidance.

“After seeing our perseverance and determination, Concern helped us with 50 beehives. They also trained us in honey processing,” recalls Siverio, adding, “Besides the beehives and training, Concern also gave us bee suits. This was a great boost as previously we were harvesting without any protective clothing, which was dangerous.”

The relationship with Concern changed the fortunes of the group’s members. When they were starting, Ngala members could only manage about 10-18kg from four hives. The quantities were so low that it made little difference to their lives.

Since then, the group’s production has grown tremendously and a single beehive now produces between 8-10 kilograms, close to double the production.

“We were selling unprocessed honey, which meant more quantity for a less amount. The training by Concern equipped us with processing skills and now we are bottling our produce. This has greatly boosted our sales. Before we were selling the same amount at MK150 but now the price has improved to MK500,” says a proud Siverio.

He adds: “We harvest twice per year and I am able to get MK10,000 on each harvest. This money has helped me pay school fees for my children and also buy basic necessities for my family. I also use part of the money to buy fertilizer for my field.”

Another beneficiary from Ngala whose life has changed for the better is Theresa Makanjira. Theresa says before joining the group, she used to sorely rely on her husband for support.

“I used the profits from the honey I harvested last year to buy food and a goat, which now has one kid. Our life has changed because there are now two of us providing income in the family,” says Theresa.

In an effort to secure the long-term success of the project, Concern has initiated a process of linking Ngala Club to other markets to boost their sales. The move is aimed to ensure that the group will become entirely self reliant in the future, and that stories of success like this one will multiply in the community.

Cholera outbreak in Haiti is far from over

The cholera outbreak in Haiti has leveled off, but that doesn't mean it's over. There are reports of a couple of deaths outside of the first outbreak area of St Marc. Health workers are beginning to see another increase of people coming in with cholera symptoms such as diarrhea and dehydration.

We have snippets of two stories on the fears of an even wider spread of cholera in Haiti. First, from this AFP story hosted at Google News, writer Alex Ogle received the assessment from the World Heath Organization.

"We cannot say it is contained," Claire-Lise Chaignat, the World Health Organization's cholera chief, told journalists in Geneva.

"I think we haven't reached the peak," she said, recommending that Haitian authorities prepare for the "worst case scenario" -- cholera in the capital.

The acute intestinal infection is caused by ingesting food or water contaminated with the Vibrio cholerae bacteria.

Although easily treated, it has a short incubation period -- sometimes just a few hours -- and causes acute watery diarrhea that can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death if not treated.

Fear of the disease is turning to anger, as Haitians begin to blame foreign aid workers and peacekeepers for the first ever outbreak of cholera in the Caribbean nation.

Rumors have swirled this week that cholera-carrying Nepalese troops with the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) were the source of the outbreak.

So far, the Americas' poorest country has managed to avoid the nightmare scenario of the epidemic taking hold in the unsanitary tent cities that cling to the hilly slopes of Port-au-Prince.

But worryingly for doctors, a number of the patients in the town of Arcahaie said they had drunk only treated water before falling ill.

The treated water, even though it was taken from the infected Artibonite River, is the main source of "clean" water for most of the population, and distributed by hand in small plastic bags around the town.

IPS writer Ansel Herz has the following evidence that cholera cases are already beyond St Marc and are close to Port-au-Prince.

"Affected zones are increasing. More capacities for implementation and coordination are needed" in central Haiti, according to a situation report by the St. Marc sanitation cluster of humanitarian groups. A video report by Al Jazeera English showed human waste from toilets at a Nepalese U.N. peacekeeping base running off into the river in Mirebalais, where there are over 50 confirmed cholera cases.

On Wednesday, a medical clinic operated by the charity group Samaritan's Purse in Cite Soleil reported treating a patient for "rice water diarrhea" and vomiting. The clinic's physician believes it to be cholera, according to an alert on the Haiti Epidemic Advisory System, an independent biosurveillance network.

The patient did not come from Haiti's central region, where the epidemic broke out, unlike the five cholera cases in the capital already confirmed by authorities. Cite Soleil is an impoverished slum on Port-au-Prince's northern tip, a 30- minute drive from Lafiteau. There are 20 cases in the capital under investigation, a Tuesday U.N. logistics cluster report says.

Humanitarian groups say they are promoting hygiene and educating the capital's populace about cholera, which can spread easily through contaminated water and food. Some groups distributed soap in tent camps where 1.3 million people still live exposed to the elements nine months after the January earthquake.

"Some of them do nothing because of lack of funding," according to an internal overview of humanitarian activities by the water and sanitation cluster.

Charpon Davidson, 22, received soap from Catholic Relief Services (CRS) at Camp Carradeux, where at least 20,000 people live in tents and makeshift tarps. "They can't just give us soap as a solution. There are a lot of people already carrying the disease," he said.

"If we can't drink treated water, then we'll never have a solution to this sickness," Davidson told IPS. "Because where the problem started, in Artibonite, it's water - water that people take, they drink, they eat - where the disease started." Another woman asked the reporter if cholera was a natural disease or a poison from outside the country.

Amnesty warns of forced evictions in Nigeria

Amnesty International is warning of forced evictions in Nigeria that could leave over 200,000 people homeless. Nigeria's government plans to raze slums in the oil-rich area of the Niger delta. The slums are located on river and waterfronts. The government instead has plans to develop those areas with shopping malls and parks.

From Amnesty International, this press release gives the warning about what might happen to the people who already live in the eviction areas.

Plans for urban development of waterfront areas in the Rivers State capital of Port Harcourt, Nigeria are being developed at the expense of making more than 200,000 people homeless, warns Amnesty International in a new report released today [28 Oct].

The plans include a theme park, a shopping mall and a hotel. Already thousands have been forced from their homes to make way for an eight-screen cinema complex.

Amnesty International’s new report ‘Just move them’ : forced evictions in Port Harcourt, Nigeria urges the authorities to suspend the planned demolitions and to ensure that evictions are carried out in accordance with international human rights law. This includes providing adequate alternative housing.

Amnesty International’s Africa Deputy Programme Director, Tawanda Hondora said:

“These planned demolitions are likely to plunge hundreds of thousands of Nigeria’s most vulnerable citizens further into poverty. The government should halt the waterfront evictions until they ensure they comply with international human rights standards.”

The Rivers State government claims the demolition of the homes on the waterfront is necessary to implement the Greater Port Harcourt Master Plan, an urban renewal project launched in 2009. The development of the waterfront promenade is a central feature of the Master Plan - which encompasses the whole city - but full details have not been made public.

Amnesty is urging the Nigerian authorities to undertake a genuine public consultation on the Greater Port Harcourt Master Plan and ensure that it complies with international standards.

On 28 August 2009, Njemanze, a waterfront settlement, was demolished as part of the urban renewal plan. It is estimated that over 13,000 people lost their homes and, in many cases, their possessions and livelihoods after being forcibly evicted without adequate notice. One year on, many still have nowhere to live.

Chidi Ekiyor, 15 years old, has been sleeping under a flyover since the demolition of the house he shared with his aunt in Njemanze. Chidi told Amnesty International that he has been arrested five times since he lost his home. Most nights he and the other boys are harassed by police or older boys who steal their money or beat them.

Tawanda Hondora continued:

“None of the affected communities have been adequately consulted about these urban renewal plans and this has resulted in a great deal of uncertainty and insecurity. The government must make every effort to identify alternatives to evictions, using them only as a last resort.”

Charity Roberts is a primary school teacher who lives in a property marked for demolition. She told Amnesty International:

“Cash is the problem. Right now people don’t even have enough to eat. How will they relocate? There are some people [whose livelihood depends on] the waterside [fishing etc]. What would they do?”

The Rivers State government claims to have undertaken a buy-out scheme, purchasing all the properties on the waterfront and paying owners a replacement value for them. Under this scheme however, tenants, who make up the vast majority of the waterside population, are completely ignored and can claim no entitlements. House owners who do not want to sell their houses are also given no alternative.

Tawanda Hondora said:

“Nigeria has put in place legislation to protect tenants from unscrupulous landlords. It is hypocritical to say the least that once the state government itself becomes a landlord, it flouts its own rules.”

Amnesty International is also concerned about the excessive use of force, including the unlawful use of firearms, displayed by security forces while undertaking forced evictions.

Notes to Editors:

In 2007, South Africa based-Arcus GIBB was contracted to develop a ‘master plan’ for Port Harcourt to guide the development of the city for the next 50 years. The plan was launched in April 2009 and encompasses the whole city and some surrounding areas. The “development of the waterfront promenade” is a central feature. The Port Harcourt Master Plan has not been made publically available.

A full copy of ‘Just move them’: forced evictions in Port Harcourt, Nigeria is available upon request.

Multiple disasters in Asia

Here is an update on the multiple disasters in Asia. The volcano Merapi erupted on Tuesday killing 31 people in Indonesia. On top of the volcanic eruption an earthquake and tsunami hit the country which killed over 250 people.

First, this news story from the Jakarta Post details some of the evacuation efforts from the volcano eruption.

On Wednesday, the stench of sulfur and dead livestock was in the air with thick ash covering flattened houses, turning the area eerie white.

Most fatalities came from Kinahrejo hamlet in Cangkringan district, Sleman regency, Yogyakarta, or the home of the volcano’s spiritual keeper Ki Surakso Hargo, better known as Mbah Maridjan. The 85-year-old’s body was found at his home in the hamlet, located 5 kilometers from the mountain’s raging crater. The burnt and prostrated body, presumed to be in prayer, was identified by relatives and this image was instantly circulated through mobile phones.

Merapi’s eruption, which took place the day it was put on top-alert status, took residents by surprise, forcing many, including those living outside the 10-kilometer danger zone, to flee to shelters.

Resident Tukirah of Pangukrejo hamlet in Cangkringan, said the disaster happened quickly. “Suddenly we heard loud roars followed by sirens,” after which everyone fled.

About 19,000 residents took refuge in seven shelters in Yogyakarta, which in all can only accommodate 12,000 evacuees. Some 30,000 others took to 39 shelters in Magelang.

Many locals from Yogyakarta who arrived in the shelters after the 5:03 p.m. eruption on Tuesday were not provided with food supplies.

“Supplies such as bottled water arrived at shelters at 1:30 a.m. [on Wednesday],” said Agusti Handayani, who took refuge with her family.

Next, this Save The Children press release talks about the emergency assistance for not only Indonesia but also the recent disasters in the Philippines and Myanmar.

Media Contact:
Kate Conradt

202.640.6631 (W)
202.294.9700 (M)

WESTPORT, Conn. (Oct. 28, 2010) — Save the Children staff is delivering emergency relief and readying to respond to the needs of children and families affected by multiple disasters in countries throughout Asia, including Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines, over the past 10 days.

“When emergencies strike, children’s health and well-being are most at risk,” said Annie Foster, Save the Children’s associate vice president for humanitarian response. “It is critical that we respond to their needs in the immediate hours, days and weeks following a major disaster.”

Foster added, “We learned a lot following the 2004 Asian tsunami, and now our field offices have emergency preparedness plans in place with governments and communities so that when disasters strike — even multiple ones like those this week — we are ready to help.”
Assessing Needs in Indonesia Following Major Quake and Volcanic Eruption

In Indonesia, Save the Children has deployed emergency teams to the sites of twin disasters in separate parts of the country, preparing to respond if necessary.

On Monday morning, a 7.7-magnitude earthquake rattled West Sumatra and triggered a tsunami that slammed into the remote Mentawai Islands last Monday, causing damage to villages in the south and claiming more than 300 lives, with hundreds more missing, according to the government.

Across the country, on the isle of Java, the volcano Mt. Merapi erupted on Tuesday, sending ash and searing volcanic material into the air and forcing the evacuation of thousands of people living the area.

“Save the Children has deployed a team to both the tsunami- and volcano-affected areas to look into the situations of children and their families. We have a long history in Indonesia and the ability to launch rapid responses and reach affected children and families thanks to preparedness efforts in the country,” said Lala Borja, Save the Children’s country director in Indonesia. “We store relief supplies in warehouses in Java and Sumatra, ready for distribution at the onset of a crisis, and have experienced local and international staff on call to respond.”
Providing Relief to Cyclone-Affected Families in Myanmar

In Myanmar, Save the Children has deployed emergency response teams to assist families in remote coastal areas of western Myanmar hit by Cyclone Giri, a Category 4 storm, last Friday.

Save the Children staff traveled 36 hours across mountains blocked by mudslides to reach the coastal region. They are reporting that the full extent of the storm’s impact on children and families is only now starting to become clear.

“Our teams on the ground are reporting that whole islands have been destroyed — schools, homes and, in some cases, entire villages swept away,” said Andrew Kirkwood, country director for Save the Children in Myanmar.

According to the UN, 400,000 children and adults have been affected.

Save the Children has 26 staff in the impact area distributing emergency supplies of food and water to vulnerable children and adults. Over the past three days, Save the Children has reached 20,000 people with rice. The organization aims to reach 80,000 in the coming weeks with food, water, oral rehydration salts, water purification tablets and plastic sheeting. It is also distributing children’s kits with clothes, sandals and toys for families who will have lost everything in this disaster.
Assisting Families Affected by Super Typhoon in the Philippines

In the Philippines, Save the Children will begin distributing relief supplies, including household and school kits, to children and families in Isabela Province, which sustained extensive damage when Category 5 Typhoon Megi tore across the northern Philippines on October 18.

More than 2 million children and adults have been affected by the storm, according to the Phillipine government’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC). Megi destroyed more than 30,000 homes and damaged an additional 118,000 houses.

“Thousands of families have been displaced, and many will have no homes when they return. Their immediate needs include food, materials to help rebuild or repair their homes, and household necessities to replace those lost in the storm,” said Rowena Cordero, Save the Children’s country director in the Philippines.

The organization also will support education and the economic recovery of parents so that they can better provide for their children.

“In addition to providing the basics to help the storm-affected population through the immediate days after this crisis, we also plan to support children’s return to school,” said Cordero. “Children lost their school materials when Megi roared through their villages and homes, and many schools suffered damage. We will work to help repair or refurbish schools and plan to provide back-to-school kits so that children do not miss out on their education.”

The organization aims to reach more than 154,000 people from eight of the worst hit municipalities in Isabela Province.

Save the Children is the leading, independent organization that creates lasting change for children in need in the United States and around the world. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ugandan poverty drops 15 percent in five years

According to government statistics, Uganda has experienced a big drop in poverty levels in only five years. Uganda's official statistics department attribute the drop to a discovery of oil in the north, and a calming of warfare from the rebel Lord's Resistance Army. The reduction in poverty is by 15 percent from 8.4 million people in 2005 to 7.1 million today.

From Reuters, writer Elias Biryabarema gives us more of the Ugandan statistics.

Uganda's economy has been invigorated by the discovery of commercial oil deposits in the Albertine Rift basin on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2006.

The lead explorer, Tullow Oil , has said it expects to start commercial production in the last quarter of 2011, although a lingering tax dispute risks pushing back that target.

"Growth effect contributed more to poverty reduction than redistribution. In other words, poverty reduction continues to be driven by growth," one of the report's authors, Sarah Ssewanyana, said in a commentary.

With an estimated population of about 31 million, Uganda has maintained a strong growth momentum over the last decade, spurred by liberal economic policies, an expanding private sector and a steady inflow of aid and foreign investment.

The government forecasts growth will hit 6.7 percent in the 2010-11 (July-June) financial year and economic analysts say the anticipated petrodollar bonanza will turbo charge economic expansion and accelerate the reduction in poverty.

"Despite significant reduction in poverty, the northern region remains a home for the majority of the poor," Ssewanyana said. According to the survey, poverty levels there stood at 46.2 percent, down from 60.7 percent in the 2005-06 survey.

Emergency response heads to Indonesia

Indonesia has just suffered through a tsunami and a volcano eruption within 24 hours. Aid agencies are heading to the nation to provide emergency response. The death toll has surpassed 270 people from the dual disaster. People who able to avoid the ash and lava of the volcano then had to outrun the tsunami wave to keep from being drowned.

First up from the Bangkok Post, we receive this description of the disaster.

Monday's quake struck in the Mentawai Islands, an area popular with surfers, generating a tsunami as high as three metres (10 feet) and sweeping away 10 villages.

Survivor Borinte, 32, a farmer from Detumonga village on the coast of North Pagai island, said he managed to stay alive by clasping to a piece of wood. His wife and three children were killed.

"About 10 minutes after the quake we heard a loud, thunderous sound. We went outside and saw the wave coming. We tried to run away to higher ground but the wave was much quicker than us," he told AFP.

Several Australian tourists were also caught in the disaster. One group's boat was was smashed and they were washed into the jungle but survived. Another group of nine surfers was found alive after being reported missing.

The tsunami surged as far as 600 metres inland on South Pagai island, officials said. On North Pagai island, a resort and almost 200 houses were flattened.

Medical personnel flew in on helicopters but rescue efforts have been hampered by poor communications to the islands, which are about half a day's ferry ride away from the port of Padang, West Sumatra province.

Next, we have a round up of press releases from aid groups helping out in Indonesia, first we hear from Save The Children.

Save the Children is monitoring the situation and preparing to respond to dual disasters in separate parts of Indonesia, if necessary.On Monday morning, a 7.7-magnitude earthquake rattled West Sumatra and triggered a tsunami that slammed into the remote Mentawai Islands late Monday, causing damage to villages in the south. More than 100 people are dead and hundreds more are missing, according to the government.

After days of rumblings, Mt. Merapi erupted in three separate blasts, sending ash and searing volcanic material into the air and forcing the evacuation of thousands of people living in the area near the volatile volcano, located on the island of Java. Mt. Merapi is the country’s most active volcano.

“Save the Children has deployed two teams to both — the tsunami- and volcano-affected areas to look into the situation for children and their families. We have a long history in Indonesia and the ability to launch rapid responses and reach affected children and families thanks to its preparedness efforts in country,” said Lala Borja, Save the Children’s country director in Indonesia. “We store relief supplies in warehouses in Java and Sumatra, ready for distribution at the onset of a crisis, and have experienced local and international staff on call to respond.”

Last year, Save the Children provided emergency assistance after a 7.6-magnitude quake hit Padang, about 150 miles north of the epicenter of Monday’s temblor.

Save the Children has worked in Indonesia for over three decades. In recent years, it has responded to nearly all minor, medium-sized and major natural disasters in the country. In addition to providing immediate relief to children and families after a disaster, the agency helps communities prepare for emergencies and develop the capacity to reduce risks posed by and mitigate the effects of disasters in the future.

Media Contact:
Kate Conradt
202.640.6631 (W)
202.294.9700 (M)

World Vision says they are bringing supplies but mother nature is slowing down the delivery.

World Vision's emergency response staff in Indonesia are currently dealing with two disasters in less than twenty-four hours: the volcano eruption at Mount Merapi in Java and Monday's 7.2 earthquake in West Sumatra.

"Indonesia's location in the so-called 'Ring of Fire' means we're a prime target for natural disasters like these, but this is like déjà vu for our team," said Jimmy Nadapdap, World Vision's emergency response director in Indonesia.

"Nearly one year ago, we were responding to earthquakes in both West Java and West Sumatra. However, those disasters were one month apart. I can't remember the last time our staff was dealing with two disasters in less than twenty-four hours."

On the island of Mentawai, West Sumatra, at least 108 people have died and more than 500 are missing after a 7.2 earthquake struck Monday at 9:42 p.m. local time. Eyewitnesses reported seeing a two-meter-high tsunami hit Sikakap Sub District and a five-meter-high tsunami on Pagai Selatan. World Vision's rapid response team deployed immediately to the site of the disaster, but high tides and strong waves have kept the team from being able to access the affected villages on Mentawai Island.

"The situation is very unpredictable right now, and nature is not cooperating with us," said Ita Balanda, a program officer with World Vision in Indonesia. "We want to get help to these children and their families as quickly as possible, but it's still too dangerous to reach the island by boat."

Meanwhile, nearly 2,000 kilometers away in Java, a separate World Vision team is en route to the scene of the volcano eruption at Mount Merapi. The team will conduct a rapid assessment to determine the needs of those families who were evacuated from the area.

Media Contact:
Laura Blank,, or call +1.708.872.5265

Finally, this Mercy Corps blog post is an inside look into some of the logistics behind emergency assistance.

Today was a busy day spent doing logistics for our emergency response to the tsunami that just hit Indonesia's Mentawai Islands. Almost 300 people have died, more than 400 are missing and estimates are that at least 4,000 people are displaced.

Wawan, our team leader, has departed from the city of Padang (on the country's Sumatra Island) to Mentawai. The boat he is on will dock at Sikakap on the island of North Pagai sometime after midnight Wednesday. On Thursday, he will connect with non-governmental organizations he knows well. We will possibly be working with these organizations on response to the tsunami. Wawan will also make arrangements for the storage and distribution of critical supplies to affected families.

Protesters throw rocks at cholera clinic in Haiti

A Medecins Sans Frontires cholera facility in St Marc, Haiti was the site of a protest from locals. The residents threw rocks at the facility complaining that it was too close to a school and could further contaminate children. The protesters blocked the road leading to the clinic and prevented people with cholera symptoms from receiving treatment.

From Al Jazerra, reporter Craig Mauro describes the site of the protest.

Those protesting against the clinic's presence "thought it was too close to the school and would contaminate people", he said.

UN peacekeepers from Argentina with riot shields were called in to reinforce police and warning shots were heard as the the protest was brought under control.

The French non-governmental organisation insisted that the clinic's presence was unlikely to cause the spread of the disease.

"They didn't understood well what was the purpose of this camp and how are we going to treat the patients there, and we believe in this coming days we are going to start to work with this community, to explain them that there is no risk for them to have such a facility to treat these patients inside," Francoise Otero, a representative for of the organisation in Haiti, said.

The 400-bed facility was intended to rehydrate and treat people with the disease, which has killed at least 284 people and made nearly 3,769 sick.

The incident came as health officials said that the outbreak appeared to be stabilising.

"The fact that we are seeing fewer severe cases is positive," Federica Nogarotto, the MSF field coordinator in Saint-Marc, said.

"It suggests that people are taking precautions and that there is a greater understanding in the community of the need to maintain strict hygiene and to seek medical assistance at the first sign of symptoms."

The following from the Medecins Sans Frontires gives their side of the story.

A demonstration at a Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) cholera treatment center in the Haitian town of St. Marc on Tuesday, October 26, has disrupted efforts to prevent the spread of cholera and treat people already suffering from the disease, MSF said today.

Construction of a 400-bed cholera treatment center (CTC) was nearing completion when a group of people demonstrated violently against the opening of the facility. Several tents within the center’s compound were burned. Patients were due to be moved to the CTC from the St. Nicholas Hospital in St. Marc, where cholera patients are currently being treated in less than ideal conditions. There were no serious injuries resulting from the demonstration.

“The ultimate consequence is that we are now unable to respond to the cholera outbreak in the Artibonite region in the most effective manner and under the best possible conditions,” said Francisco Otero, head of MSF’s emergency response teams in St. Marc. “This facility was critical to relieving the burden of the high number of cases on St. Nicholas hospital and ensuring rapid treatment of critical cases.”

Close proximity of a CTC to a community does not pose an additional risk to the population. On the contrary, a CTC located in a cholera-affected area affords rapid treatment, helping to ensure lifesaving care to critical cases and to mitigate against further spread of the disease. Rapid onset of diarrhea and vomiting from cholera infection can be lethal in less than 24 hours if left untreated.

“Cholera is a very treatable disease and we are ready to put our expertise to the best use to treat victims of this epidemic,” said Otero. “We look forward to working with the authorities and community leaders to find a solution that does not compromise the effectiveness of the response to this outbreak. MSF remains committed to establishing cholera treatment centers to give the optimal treatment possible and control the spread of the disease."

It has been recommended by the Ministry of Health to dismantle the CTC, which was being assembled on a football field near the hospital, in order to relieve tensions with the community and to give the opportunity to further reassure the population that the facility does not pose any risk to them. The Haitian authorities have stated that they will propose another location for the CTC. It had been previously authorized to be placed there.

Since the emergence of cholera in St. Marc, MSF teams have been working in the Ministry of Health’s St. Nicholas Hospital, which quickly became overwhelmed with patients. Isolating cholera patients to limit infection risk to the rest of the hospital population presented a significant challenge. A functioning CTC would have relieved pressure on the hospital, allowing it to continue its normal function in service to the population. It also would have provided optimal hygiene control, which is fundamental to cholera treatment. MSF has a long history of employing CTCs in highly effective cholera interventions in many countries.

Irrigation improvement in Asia

The population boom continues in Asia as one billion more people are expected to be created in the next 40 years. This will mean many more mouths to feed and agricultural experts say that improvements need to be made to irrigation systems through the continent. Depending on rain alone will not be able to grow the amount of food to feed everyone. Crops are too susceptible to damage by either drought or floods. Irrigation systems began to be built on Asia in the 1970s but a renewed push is needed to expand or upgrade existing irrigation.

From the IPS, writer Marwaan Macan-Markar attended an Asian Development Bank meeting that discussed the issue.

"Irrigated agriculture is a more secure platform," says Thierry Facon, senior water management officer at the Asia-Pacific office of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). "Rain-fed agriculture is less productive."

This distinction has become more stark against the backdrop of uncertain weather patterns arising from climate change. "Farmers are reluctant to invest in good seeds and fertiliser in rain-fed areas because of climate change uncertainties," Facon explained to IPS. "It is in this area that you find most of the rural poor and vulnerable populations."

Studies by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) mirror this reality. "Approximately 27 million hectares of rain-fed rice are frequently affected by drought," states a report by one of the region’s premier rice research bodies based in Los Banos, in the Philippines. "The rain-fed rice environments experience multiple abiotic stresses and are characterised by high levels of uncertainty, particularly with regard to the timing, duration and intensity of rainfall."

But if the irrigation systems built and managed by governments are to help better rice and wheat yields, these largely ageing water distribution networks must be upgraded to meet farmers’ new demands, according to a clutch of new studies released recently at a meeting in Manila hosted by the Asian Development Bank (AsDB).

Many of the current irrigation systems were built when the Green Revolution began to sweep across the continent in the 1960s. This radical push to increase rice production through the introduction of high-yielding rice varieties in the paddy fields across Asia has been credited for helping slash the numbers living in hunger.

According to the U.N. food agency, the Green Revolution accounted for a 300 percent increase in rice production in the past four decades, helping to "reduce the proportion of hunger from 34 percent in 1970 to 16 percent in 2006."

And now, as the region faces the challenge of having to feed 1.5 billion new mouths in the next four decades, attention is once again turning to what the irrigation systems can deliver. "Asia’s population will reach five billion people by 2050 and feeding 1.5 billion additional people will require irrigation systems that generate more value per drop of water," states ‘Growing More Food with Less Water: How Can Revitalising Asia’s Irrigation Help?’ one of the studies released at the AsDB meeting that drew some 600 policymakers.

"Asia accounts for 70 percent of the world’s irrigated land and is home to some of the oldest and largest irrigation schemes," states the Manila-based Bank. "But most systems were built before the 1970s, function poorly and often fail to match the needs of farmers."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Video: Opportunity microcredit in Colombia

From, a story on providing microcredit and micro-savings to people in Colombia.

Getting out of a failing social business

Some creative entrepreneurs motivated to improve social ills are beginning to try out creating social businesses. This new hybrid business that has two goals, not only to make a profit and to ease societal problems.

A few prominent social businesses from the States have failed and that is beginning to make investors wary of them. An article in the New York Times cites the examples of World of Good which was bought by e-bay, and the microcredit lender Unitas.

Another problem being discovered is when entrepreneurs decide to end the failing social business. Laws in the US make if difficult to separate the profit and for-profit parts. The laws complicate things for the entrepreneur when they want to end the part giving them the most trouble.

From the New York Times, writer Stephanie Strom writes about the difficulty in getting out of social businesses that are bleeding money.

GlobalGiving is one of the most prominent examples of the hybrid model of social enterprise that married a profit-making business to a nonprofit organization. Such dual-mission companies have sprouted over the last decade as a means of addressing the financing difficulties faced by many nonprofit groups, particularly as they need capital to expand. “It is virtually impossible to grow a social enterprise in any significant way relying wholly on donated money, earned revenue and debt financing, which are the only sources of financing available to nonprofits,” said Allen Bromberger, a lawyer with extensive experience in nonprofit financing. “These hybrid structures allow social enterprises to tap conventional investors interested in making profits while continuing to pursue their social missions.”

But like Dr. Dolittle’s pushmi-pullyu, the animal that had trouble moving because its two heads could not agree on a single direction, the hybrid model for nonprofits is proving problematic. On occasion, the need to generate returns for investors overwhelms the social mission. In other cases, the business falters altogether and cannot support the nonprofit.

Within the last two years, several ventures have split up or been dissolved. For example, World of Good’s commercial unit was bought by eBay, and its nonprofit arm is now struggling to stand on its own. Another prominent hybrid, Pura Vida Coffee, almost collapsed. And some, like GlobalGiving, demonstrate how hard it is to “cash out” of a venture that is not purely commercial. It wound up using foundation grants to prop up its losing profit-making partner.

Mr. Whittle said two things drove their decision to create a hybrid. “We looked at the philanthropy and didn’t think we could raise the capital required to support the technology, and we wanted to impose a brutal bottom-line discipline on what we were doing,” he said.

Investors have increasingly voiced concerns about hybrid groups. “This conjoined structure really has problems,” said Kevin Doyle Jones, a partner at Good Capital, one such investment firm. “Embedded in it is an inherent risk that individuals are profiting from donations that were made for public benefit.”

These entities, he cautioned, should avoid engaging in “private inurement,” or providing excessive benefit to a person who is close to or has a controlling interest in a nonprofit — though tax law says nothing about how much is too much.

Even newer models are evolving. Several states have passed legislation that permits the creation of so-called LC3 companies, which can raise money from traditional capital markets but place social benefit ahead of profit, and B Corporations, which are certified based on their ability to demonstrate that their business produces certain social goods. But Will Rosenzweig, a founder of the specialty tea company Republic of Tea and now the managing director of Physic Ventures, another firm that looks to invest in companies that bring social benefit, expressed skepticism of the new models. “I think you really have to make a choice and be a business or be a nonprofit,” he said. “It’s hard to be both.”

FAO warns of new food price crisis

Experts from the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization say that another global food crisis could come soon. Food prices have climbed to their highest levels in two years, yet are still not as high as the previous crisis in 2008. The FAO is also pointing to the many recent floods that have swept away crops that have kept food stockpiles low.

From the Guardian, writer John Vidal received more quotes from the FAO and there dire warnings.

Although food stocks are generally good despite much of this year's harvests being wiped out in Pakistan and Russia, sugar and rice remain at a record price.

Global wheat and maize prices recently jumped nearly 30% in a few weeks while meat prices are at 20-year highs, according to the key Reuters-Jefferies commodity price indicator. Last week, the US predicted that global wheat harvests would be 30m tonnes lower than last year, a 5.5% fall. Meanwhile, the price of tomatoes in Egypt, garlic in China and bread in Pakistan are at near-record levels.

"The situation has deteriorated since September," said Abdolreza Abbassian of the UN food and agriculture organisation. "In the last few weeks there have been signs we are heading the same way as in 2008.

"We may not get to the prices of 2008 but this time they could stay high much longer."

However, opinions are sharply divided over whether these prices signal a world food crisis like the one in 2008 that helped cause riots in 25 countries, or simply reflect volatility in global commodity markets as countries claw their way through recession.

"A food crisis on the scale of two or three years ago is not imminent, but the underlying causes [of what happened then] are still there," said Chris Leather, Oxfam's food policy adviser.

"Prices are volatile and there is a lot of nervousness in the market. There are big differences between now and 2008. Harvests are generally better, global food stocks are better."

2010 Global Corruption Index released

Since a majority of international aid is given from government to government a close eye needs to be kept on the corruption within governments. The corruption and bribery that takes place within a certain government will prevent the aid money given from reaching the people it is intended for. This is the reason that the Global Corruption Index published by Transparency International is such an important resource.

The methodology of data gathering for the corruption index is largely done through surveys. The surveys are sent out to international businesses and the multi-national lenders such as the World Bank. Hard data on how much money is lost by corruption is hard to come by.

For the 2010 edition of the index countries that were hit hard by the recent global recession saw a decline in scores. The corruption score for the United States was lowered because of the lack of transparency and integrity that began the whole mess. Other countries with lowered scores include the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Madagascar and Niger.

You can go to Transparency International's site on the index for cool interactive maps and graphics, along with video and pod-casts explaining the results. Below is the full press release from TI on the new index.

With governments committing huge sums to tackle the world’s most pressing problems, from the instability of financial markets to climate change and poverty, corruption remains an obstacle to achieving much needed progress, according to Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), a measure of domestic, public sector corruption released today.

The 2010 CPI shows that nearly three quarters of the 178 countries in the index score below five, on a scale from 0 (perceived to be highly corrupt) to 10 (perceived to have low levels of corruption), indicating a serious corruption problem.

“These results signal that significantly greater efforts must go into strengthening governance across the globe. With the livelihoods of so many at stake, governments’ commitments to anti-corruption, transparency and accountability must speak through their actions. Good governance is an essential part of the solution to the global policy challenges governments face today,” said Huguette Labelle, Chair of Transparency International (TI).

To fully address these challenges, governments need to integrate anti-corruption measures in all spheres, from the responses to the financial crisis and climate change to commitments by the international community to eradicate poverty. For this reason TI advocates stricter implementation of the UN Convention against Corruption, the only global initiative that provides a framework for putting an end to corruption.

“Allowing corruption to continue is unacceptable; too many poor and vulnerable people continue to suffer its consequences around the world. We need to see more enforcement of existing rules and laws. There should be nowhere to hide for the corrupt or their money,” said Labelle.

Corruption Perceptions Index 2010: The results

In the 2010 CPI, Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore tie for first place with scores of 9.3. Unstable governments, often with a legacy of conflict, continue to dominate the bottom rungs of the CPI. Afghanistan and Myanmar share second to last place with a score of 1.4, with Somalia coming in last with a score of 1.1.

Where source surveys for individual countries remain the same, and where there is corroboration by more than half of those sources, real changes in perceptions can be ascertained. Using these criteria, it is possible to establish an improvement in scores from 2009 to 2010 for Bhutan, Chile, Ecuador, FYR Macedonia, Gambia, Haiti, Jamaica, Kuwait, and Qatar. Similarly, a decline in scores from 2009 to 2010 can be identified for the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Madagascar, Niger and the United States.

Financial fallout

Notable among decliners are some of the countries most affected by a financial crisis precipitated by transparency and integrity deficits. Among those improving, the general absence of OECD states underlines the fact that all nations need to bolster their good governance mechanisms.

TI’s assessment of 36 industrialised countries party to the OECD anti-bribery convention, which forbids bribery of foreign officials, reveals that as many as 20 show little or no enforcement of the rules, sending the wrong signal about their commitment to curb corrupt practices. While corruption continues to plague fledgling states, hampering their efforts to build and strengthen institutions, protect human rights and improve livelihoods, corrupt international flows continue to be considerable.

“The results of this year’s CPI show again that corruption is a global problem that must be addressed in global policy reforms. It is commendable that the Group of 20 in pursuing financial reform has made strong commitments to transparency and integrity ahead of their November summit in Seoul,” said Labelle. “But the process of reform itself must be accelerated.”

TI calls on the G20 to mandate greater government oversight and public transparency in all measures they take to reduce systemic risks and opportunities for corruption and fraud in the public as well as in the private sector.

The message is clear: across the globe, transparency and accountability are critical to restoring trust and turning back the tide of corruption. Without them, global policy solutions to many global crises are at risk.


Transparency International is the global civil society organisation leading the fight against corruption

Note to editors: The CPI is a composite index, drawing on 13 different expert and business surveys. Source surveys for the 2010 CPI were conducted between January 2009 and September 2010.

Media Contact

Deborah Wise Unger

Tel: +49 30 34 38 20 662 or
+49 30 34 38 20 666


Monday, October 25, 2010

A reminder of the continuing cholera problem in West Africa

As attention is drawn to the cholera outbreak in Haiti, UNICEF reminds us of the ongoing cholera problem in West Africa. UNICEF says that 1,500 people in Nigeria have died of cholera in the last year. The lack of sanitation, clean water, and hygiene is blamed for the prevalence of the disease.

From this Associated Press story that we found at the Washington Post, writer Jon Gambrell tells us more about the UNICEF statement.

The deaths come as the waterborne illness continues to plague other West African nations, including tiny Benin, where humanitarian officials worry a devastating flood there may spread it further. But officials hope oil-rich Nigeria will see fewer cases in the coming weeks as the dry season approaches and local governments attempt to warn people of the danger.

Geneva-based UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado said Monday that as of Oct. 20, there had been 1,555 deaths in Nigeria from cholera recorded this year, with 38,173 cases reported. At last count in September, when local and federal officials in Nigeria assured the public the disease was under control, Nigeria's Health Ministry said there were under 800 dead and 13,000 people sickened.

According to the World Health Organization statistics, the current outbreak is the worst in Nigeria since 1991, when 7,654 people died.

Cholera is a fast-developing, highly contagious infection that causes diarrhea, leading to severe dehydration and possible death. The disease is easily preventable with clean water and sanitation but in places like West Africa, sanitation often remains an afterthought in teeming city slums and mud-walled villages.

In Nigeria, almost half the country's 150 million people lack access to clean water and proper sanitation, according to the WHO, even though the government earns billions of dollars a year as one of Africa's top oil exporters. Poor basic education among rural villagers and a lack of staffed clinics and hospitals also allows the disease to quickly lead to deaths, said Chris Cormency, a UNICEF official based in Senegal monitoring the epidemic.

Conditional Cash transfers help with more than cash

Cash transfer programs are having a lot of success to help those in poverty. Most of the programs give a bit of cash to the poor in exchange for taking steps to improve health and education. The programs started in Latin America but are spreading through the rest of the world, so much so that the World Bank is beginning to invest in them.

From Newsweek, writer Christopher Werth gives us some examples of how cash transfer programs help in areas other than the pocketbook.

One of the biggest impacts of these programs: education. Since its launch more than a decade ago, South Africa’s Child Support Grant has cut the number of children out of school in half. South Africans are free to use their payment any way they wish, but some countries require school enrollment to keep the money coming in. “It changes the dynamics of the way people conceptualize welfare,” says John Hoddinott, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute. “Both parties have rights and responsibilities.” In many cases, however, simply having cash in hand allows parents to keep their children in the classroom. “Poor households … need the labor of their children; that’s why they don’t send them to school,” says Santiago Levy, the architect of Mexico’s cash-transfer program, now called Oportunidades. But what works in one country doesn’t always work in another. In Malawi, one of the least-developed countries in the world, the World Bank compared two different groups of school-age girls: one was given cash only if they went to school; the other was simply given the money. The results showed little difference in attendance. In fact, those without conditions fared better when it came to reducing teen pregnancy and teen marriage, factors that often pull Malawian girls out of the classroom.

Putting cash in the pockets of the poor also directly improves their health and well-being. Brazil’s Bolsa Familia, which is now the world’s largest cash-transfer program, has cut child malnutrition by 45 percent. Mexico’s Oportunidades is credited with adding more meat, fruit, and vegetables to the largely grain-based diet of the country’s poor. In South Africa, a study by MIT’s Esther Duflo found that cash transfers can reduce the kind of stunted growth in young children that results from inadequate nutrition. Girls benefited most, making up nearly half the gap in height when compared with American girls of the same age. And Duflo found that the program was most effective when the money went to women, who are more inclined than men to invest in the welfare of their kids.

The latest on the Haitian cholera outbreak

Aid workers and the Haitian government are working to prevent the cholera outbreak in St Marc from spreading. There are new fears that the disease might enter the Haitian capital and the many people that still live in the tent camps.

Five people died from cholera within the city limits of Port-au-Prince. Government officials however say  that the five were stricken with the disease while out of town.

The death toll from the cholera outbreak reached 250 over the weekend.

From this Associated Press article that we found at the Winnipeg Free Press, writer Jacob Kushner gives us the latest.

"It's not difficult to prevent the spread to Port-au-Prince. We can prevent it," said Health Ministry director Gabriel Timothee. He said tightly limiting movement of patients and careful disposal of bodies can stave off a major medical disaster.

If efforts to keep cholera out of the camps fail, "The worst case would be that we have hundreds of thousands of people getting sick at the same time," said Claude Surena, president of the Haiti Medical Association. Cholera can cause vomiting and diarrhea so severe it can kill from dehydration in hours.

Robyn Fieser, a spokeswoman for Catholic Relief Services, said she was confident aid groups and the Haitian government will be prepared to respond to an outbreak should it occur in the camps. But she stressed that the challenge of preventing its spread is "immense."

"There are proven methods to contain and treat cholera, so we know what we're dealing with. The biggest challenge is logistics, that is, moving massive amounts of medicine, supplies and people into place to treat them and prevent the disease from spreading," Fieser said from the neighbouring Dominican Republic.

Doctors Without Borders issued a statement saying some Port-au-Prince residents were suffering from watery diarrhea and were being treated at facilities in the capital city. Cholera infection among the patients had not been confirmed, however, and aid workers stressed diarrhea has not been uncommon in Port-au-Prince since the quake.

"Medical teams have treated many people with watery diarrhea over the last several months," Doctors Without Borders said.

Aid workers in the impoverished nation say the risk is magnified by the extreme poverty faced by people displaced by the Jan. 12 earthquake, which killed as many as 300,000 people and destroyed much of the capital city. Haitians living in the camps risk disease by failing to wash their hands, or scooping up standing water and then proceeding to wash fruits and vegetables.

From this OXFAM press release, health adviser Raphael Mutiku talks about the aid group's efforts in treating over 25,000 people with cholera symptoms.

"We are obviously concerned about the spread of cholera to Port-au-Prince. However, earthquake victims living in and around the capital have better access to clean water, latrines and better knowledge of good hygiene practices than in rural areas. We have been doing ongoing educational sessions in dozens of camps ever since the earthquake struck.

"We are working as quickly as possible to stop the spread of cholera. We have a lot of resources in the country right now and luckily this is a very preventable and treatable disease. Oxfam will reach over 25,000 on Sunday with distribution of water tablets, rehydration salts packs and bars of soap . The goal is to stop the spread in the region of Petite Riviere by Wednesday. We were assigned this region which covers about 100,000 people."

"Our hygiene messages are already reaching tens of thousands on the local radio. We are well aware that it's spreading but cholera is very preventable, so as soon as appropriate prevention programs like these are put in place, we can very quickly control its spread.

In Haiti : Julie Schindall on +1 617 735 5572 (US mobile in Haiti) +509 3701 0651 (Haiti mobile)
In USA : Louis Belanger on +1 917 224 0834, @louis_press

Friday, October 22, 2010

Rushing clean water to St Marc, Haiti

Humanitarian aid organizations are rushing to get water to the cholera affected areas of St Marc, Haiti. Over 135 people have died of cholera while thousands more are being treated at hospitals.

From Reuters Alert Net comes this first-hand account of the suffering that the cholera outbreak is unleashing. Writer David Darg works for Operation Blessing.

We arrived at St Marc hospital to a horror scene. I had to fight my way through the gate as a huge crowd of worried relatives stood outside, while others screamed for access as they carried dying relatives into the compound. The courtyard was lined with patients hooked up to intravenous (IV) drips. It had just rained and there were people lying on the ground on soggy sheets, half-soaked with feces.

Some children were screaming and writhing in agony, others were motionless with their eyes rolled back into their heads as doctors and nursing staff searched desperately for a vein to give them an IV. The hospital was overwhelmed, apparently caught out suddenly by one of the fastest killers there is.

Our friend, Cate Oswald, from Partners In Health came out from a triage tent clutching a hand-drawn map. It showed the local river and the names of a few communities where the patients had been coming from. Cate and some of her colleagues led us into the countryside to find the source of the epidemic.

We arrived at the place where many of the patients had originated from, a small dusty community called Babou La Port. Our team set up a water purification system, which filters and chlorinates, ensuring that any bacteria or diseases are killed.

As we worked, sick villagers of all ages congregated under the shade of some large trees. The medical staff placed IVs in some. One, a boy named Frantz, was brought to us by his grandmother. He was weak and vomiting. His grandmother was frail and could only point to the river when we asked her how long Frantz had been ill.

Diarrhea is unfortunately a common problem in this part of the world. A villager with cholera might lie down on feeling ill, expecting to get better, and be dead within hours.

Cholera outbreak in Haiti claims 100 lives

A cholera outbreak in Haiti has already claimed the lives of over 100 people. The source of the contamination has not yet been found. At least 1,000 people have been hospitalized with symptoms of diarrhea and dehydration.

From the Miami Herald, writer Jacqueline Charles reports on the disease outbreak.

The conclusion of cholera was supported by diplomats at one foreign embassy. A report obtained by The Miami Herald stated that foreign health experts working with the Haitian government to identify the problem were ``99 percent sure it is cholera'' that caused severe diarrhea and vomiting in St. Marc, Mirebalais, Drouin and Marchand Dessalines. On Thursday, Haitian health specialists along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta continued to investigate the source of the outbreak while the government trucked in thousands of gallons of water.

South Florida-based Food for the Poor also announced that it was shipping in antibiotic, oral dehydration salts, water filtration units and other critically needed supplies to several cities and rural villages near the outbreak. So far, it had not reached Gonaives, the largest city in the Artibonite region.

The U.S. Embassy warned U.S. citizens that they should only drink bottled water, avoid undercooked or raw seafood and ``seek medical assistance if you develop acute, water diarrhea,'' it said.

Cholera is a contagious bacterial disease that affects the intestinal system. Symptoms include severe vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration. It can cause death within four to 12 hours after symptoms begin if untreated. Spread through consumption of infected food and water, or feces, the disease is treated with fluids and antibiotics.

The disease outbreak is the country's first since January's 7.0 earthquake claimed more than 300,000 lives.

Read more:

The challenges of universal education in Uganda

Uganda expanded primary education back in 2000, but found that it didn't have the capacity to teach all of their students. Finding good teachers became a struggle, as well as clean and safe buildings to conduct classes. Uganda's enrollment expanded from 2 million to 7 million children in 2000, but passing rates have been sliding ever since.

From the Guardian, writer Jonathan Glennie asks an Ugandan think tank on if universal education is still worth it despite the challenges.
Student pass rates have fallen and rates of transition to secondary school are also sliding. As standards fall in public education, a social divide is emerging between the public and private sectors, with private schools being regarded as offering a significantly better education. According to Lawrence Bategeka, from the Economic Policy Research Centre, a Ugandan thinktank, around 90% of current university students in Uganda were taught in private schools. Moreover, as private schooling is not profitable in rural areas, the urban-rural divide is opening up as well.

I asked Bategeka whether it was a mistake to open the school gates to millions more children when Uganda was obviously not ready to teach them. Wouldn't it have been more sensible to increase enrolment more gradually, in line with the realistic possibilities of infrastructural and teacher development?

Bategeka thinks the policy could have been implemented better, but he does not believe it was a mistake to introduce it. Despite the inevitable concerns about standards, there are still millions of children attending school who otherwise wouldn't have been, which means they are learning, and that the culture of universal education is being ingrained into society for the first time, he says. On the back of the policy, the Ugandan government has now introduced universal secondary education to encourage more pupils to continue their schooling.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Finding ways to make crops flood resistant

The occurrence of floods seem to be increasing and most believe that this due to the effects of climate change. This brings another level of risk to keeping families and entire nations food secure. Farmers will need to change their methods to prevent their crops from getting washed away.

A story from the Guardian today talks about farmers in Dandoli, Mali building elevated farming plots and surrounding the young plants with stones. Writer Madeleine Bunting says that it is usually these primitive solutions that often are ignored when receiving international development aid funding.

Chief Temboli says the rainy season is shorter and when the rain comes, it's heavier. Flash floods can cut small valleys and then pour silt into the river. A few years ago, heavy rain led to flooding so that the river burst its banks and washed away the small vegetable plots on which the villages depend for income. A small local non- governmental organisation, AEDM, has helped them to build new plots using better techniques.

As the mayor explains, the key is composting. He recounts with pride the methods they have adopted using a mixture of ash, animal dung and vegetable waste. Standing there by the compost bins, I was struck by how such huge issues as climate adaptation and food security for millions of people come down to such micro matters as composting. It is not primarily technology that is needed – although it has its place – but far more prosaic solutions which are well within the reach and capability of small communities.

The vegetable plots have been rebuilt with painful effort. Patches of level bare rock are used and low stone walls are built to create a form of raised bed. More stone walls, a foot deep, are laid in a lattice work so that each growing area is no more than 2ft square. The walls help keep the soil in place, preventing it from being washed away or the wind in the dry season from dispersing it as dust. The women gather baskets of earth enriched with compost to fill the beds. It is a back-breaking labour. During the growing season, the women fill gourds with water several times a day from the river, 200 yards away, to sprinkle over their tiny plots.

The biggest crop is onions, which can be sold in the local market, but AEDM has introduced other varieties of vegetables to ensure a wider range of nutrients for the villagers than just the staple millet on which they depend for the bulk of their diet.

The booming non-capitalistic economies of China and India

For a long time the United States, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund prescribed a set of conditions for poor nations to relieve poverty. The conditions were often forced upon the poor nations as something they must adhere to in order to receive loans. But after some failures in doing it this way, the powers that be are beginning change their minds. For they are seeing some of the best economic growth taking place in countries such as India and China that are not too capitalistic.

From this "Letter from India" commentary posted at the New York Times, writer Akash Kapur tries to explain the mystery.

For all its temptations, however, the search for a policy toolkit toward development is fraught with pitfalls. Over the last 60 years or so, the international development community has come up with model after model, theory after theory, in search of just such a toolkit.

It has, at various times, promoted the benefits of huge, often conditional, inputs of foreign aid, the rigors of shock therapy, the virtues of free trade and the promise of the Washington Consensus (a set of policies prescribed and often imposed by agencies like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the U.S. Treasury).

Yet for all the efforts to come up with a general theory of development, the truth is that economic growth remains something of a mystery. This is the conclusion of a recent anthology, “What Works in Development?”, published by the Brookings Institution. The essays lead to the conclusion that there is no clear way to ease poverty, and — as the editors, William Easterly and Jessica Cohen, state in their introduction — “no consensus on ‘what works’ for growth and development.”

Mr. Easterly, a former World Bank economist, has elsewhere shown that there is little correspondence between a nation’s economic growth and the extent to which it follows international development prescriptions. Analyzing data for 1980 to 2002, he found that countries that grew the fastest received considerably less foreign aid and spent less time under I.M.F. tutelage than those that grew the slowest. This doesn’t mean that following the orthodoxy harms development, but it does suggest that rapid growth is possible without international aid or advice.

Part of the problem, it turns out, may be the very attempt to follow a model. Progress — economic or otherwise — is a notoriously subjective phenomenon. It is context sensitive, and highly dependent on local conditions. It is, in particular, resistant to the uniformity implicit in even the most sophisticated models.

This view, once held by a fringe, is entering the mainstream. It was given voice last month by none other than Robert B. Zoellick, president of the World Bank, when he spoke of the need for “rethinking” development economics and “a questioning of prevailing paradigms.”

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bill and Melinda Gates show some "Living Proof"

Bill and Melinda Gates hosted a forum that showed some of the lives that were changed through international development aid. Tired of all of the negative stories, the Gates' stated an initiative called "Living Proof" to show that aid does improve lives and it's worth it to do more.

From Reuters Alert Net, writer Katie Nguyen attended the presentation.

"When money is spent wisely, it saves lives, it improves livelihoods and it builds prosperous societies. Bill and I think when you find a leverage point that is this powerful, you should take advantage of it. When we find a way to save millions of lives, we should do more of it. When find a way to improve hundreds of millions of lives, we should give it all we've got," Melinda Gates told an audience of development experts, academics and celebrities.

"So when it comes to development we are both optimists."

The couple are spreading the word through "Living Proof", a campaign to "bust the myths" and highlight what they consider is working well in development.

Taking it in turns to speak, they pressed home their point with slick graphs, photos and video of successful vaccination, maternal health and agricultural programmes from Nicaragua to Ethiopia and Tanzania.

Melinda Gates said that, since 2003, Ethiopia has opened 15,000 remote healthcare clinics and trained 35,000 healthcare workers. The number of mothers who have received two prenatal visits has doubled since 2000, as has the percentage of immunised children.

Bill Gates said 300 million Africans who depend on maize are going to get new varieties that are drought-resistant and will boost productivity.

Green light for health, wealth.... and the environment

Selling green sources of light to the under-developed world is not just an environmental issue it is also a health, and financial issue. The poor spend more than they need to for the fuel for lighting. On top of the cost, the people also breathe in the fumes from the burnt off kerosene or indoor wood fires.

The New York Times cites a statistic that says that 40 billion dollars is spent by those on the "bottom billion" of the wealth pyramid on kerosene. To help save the poor money and improve their health in the long run some entrepreneurs are offering to sell the green solar or LED lamps. Writer Lisa Friedman introduces us to their efforts.

"If you compare what the poor spend on kerosene, it's 10,000 times more than what we pay when we use basic electricity from the grid. It's crazy when you think that the poorest people spend the most, and get so much poor light and poor health in return" said Patrick Avato, an energy specialist in Kenya with the International Finance Corp. (IFC).

Avato manages a 3-year-old program called Lighting Africa, based in Kenya, that tries to help the private sector provide clean and affordable lighting on the electricity-starved continent. The organization -- like the Lumina Project, which is based out of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory -- is part of a small but growing field of market-based initiatives targeting what economists call the "bottom of the pyramid" consumers.

Ned Tozun, president and co-founder of the portable solar lighting company D.Light, said nonprofit groups have done tremendous work bringing solar lighting to poor villages. But he also argued that the charity route can't sustain the infrastructure communities need -- like maintenance education or supplies of new batteries -- if they are going to stick with the clean lighting.

"It's inherently non-scalable," Tozun said. He described visiting villages where people had been given free solar lamps, only to return to kerosene when the batteries ran out and no one in the village sold new ones.

"What we're seeking to do is to create a sustainable, long-scale solution to the problem," he said. "This is a very high-tech product for people living in rural areas, so it requires a lot of education and monitoring."

Tozun said he his partner Sam Goldman have delivered solar lamps to about 1.7 million customers at an average price of $20 apiece. The company's goal is lighting the homes of 50 million people by 2015.

Avato said he's convinced it can happen. Companies already are well on their way to helping Lighting Africa meet its short-term goal of delivering 500,000 high-quality lanterns by 2012. World Bank officials note that just two years ago, there were only a handful of products available for the African market, most costing more than $50. Today, there are 79 products, a growing number of them costing less than $25.

According to a marketing trends report issued this year, the World Bank estimates that the African market for off-grid renewable lighting will double by 2015, and as many as 6 million households on the continent will own solar portable lights.

UK plans on giving more aid to failed states, less to poor states

A controversy is developing in Brittan over the allocation of foreign aid. Prime Minister David Cameron plans on targeting aid to failed states, those who are usually in the middle of a war such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Meanwhile, aid would be decreased to countries that have stable states but may have high poverty such as Nigeria and Kenya.

From the Guardian, writer Nicholas Watt gives us both sides of the development aid debate.

Patrick Watt, Save the Children's director of development, said last night: "What is the real driver of aid allocation? Is it poverty, is it need and the ability to use money effectively or is it the agenda of the National Security Council? We do need to have a balanced approach to aid allocation that reflects the principles of the 2002 International Development Act which stipulates that all aid should be for poverty reduction."

An Oxfam policy adviser also expressed concerns about aid being delivered through "military structures" that could risk civilian aid workers.

The row broke out after the government decided, in the strategic defence and security review, to double by 2014 the £1.9bn that is spent on what are known as "fragile and conflicted states". This echoes the thinking of Andrew Mitchell, the international development secretary, who told the Guardian in January: "We would build on what [the Department for International Development] is today and make it even more successful and perhaps wire it in a little bit better into the Whitehall constellation."

It is understood that the government is planning to narrow the list of priority fragile countries, which currently includes Nigeria and Kenya, to just five. They are expected to be Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Iraq.

Florida tomato workers get a penny per pound raise

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers won a historic agreement with the largest tomato growers in the nation. The CIW has fought for the tomato field workers in Florida, who are paid sub-poverty wages and are sometimes treated no better than slaves.

The Pacific Tomato Growers has agreed to give their workers a penny a pound raise. The raise will bring most workers annual salary from 10,000 to 17,000 dollars. The agreement also makes Pacific agree to a code of conduct in treating their workers.

From this The Nation piece that is hosted at NPR, writer Greg Kaufmann details the history of the CIW battle.

For those who have followed CIW's decade-long fight to raise farmworkers' sub-poverty wages and remedy oppressive working conditions — including slavery — this agreement marks the moment when a wall of denial maintained by the Florida agricultural industry came tumbling down.

When the Department of Labor reported "sub-poverty annual earnings," the growers denied it, claiming tomato harvesters averaged $12-$18 per hour.

When the USDA described farmworkers as "among the most economically disadvantaged groups in the US" with "poverty more than double that of all wage and salary employees," the growers maintained that they were performing a service by providing needed entry-level jobs.

When the Department of Justice worked with CIW to prosecute seven slavery operations in Florida over the last fifteen years, resulting in the liberation of over 1,000 farmworkers, the growers claimed that these were isolated cases and there was no need for systemic reforms.

When a detective with the Collier County Sheriff's Office testified in Congress that human trafficking in Florida agriculture was "probably occurring right now while we sit here" and the growers "isolate themselves from what is occurring, and benefit from what's going on," the growers insisted they were victims of a sophisticated public relations campaign ginned up by CIW.

A Senate hearing convened by Senator Bernie Sanders and the late Senator Edward Kennedy revealed that the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (FTGE), representing 90 percent of the state's growers, went so far as to declare that any members who implemented the pay raise would be fined $100,000 for every worker who benefited. So millions of dollars in checks that buyers were cutting directly to the workers languished in escrow. An industry that had profited from 300 hundred years of forced labor in Florida's fields wasn't about to allow its workers — who have no right to organize, no right to overtime, and no right to bargain collectively — to receive a pay raise from its customers, much less win a seat at the food industry table.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mauritius will achieve MDGs but still has more problems to solve

The island country of Mauritius is on track to meet all of the Millennium Development Goals. However the achievement is another example of how the goals fall short in gauging public welfare. Some things such as health, unemployment and the environment still need improvement on the island.

From the IPS, writer Nasseem Ackburally gives us a summary of the achievements and the lingering problems for Mauritius.

"There are other real issues [that need to be addressed], like debt, non-communicable diseases, pollution, insecurity and violence, and so on, that have a negative impact on our society," says Vidya Charan, executive director of non-profit organisation Mauritius Family Planning and Welfare Association (MFPWA).

Charan is worried the government will use the positive MDG figures as an excuse to ignore other social problems, such as the decline of employment in the textile and manufacturing industries or environmental destruction caused by the ever-growing tourism and construction industries.

In terms of the MDG framework, Mauritius is certainly looking good. Less than one percent of the population of 1.2 million is deemed to be living in extreme poverty (MDG 1); economic growth is rapid and per capita income is above $4,000 (MDG 8).

Mauritius has already achieved MDG 2, universal access to primary education in the early 1990s. It has met MDG 4, reducing of the under-five child mortality rate by two thirds, and MDG 5 of improving maternal health – maternal deaths holding steady between 2007 and 2009.

HIV, malaria and tuberculosis prevalence (MDG 6) are very low in the country. The island has been declared a malaria risk-free area, while TB incidence decreased from 10.8 cases per 100,000 people in 1990 to 8.9 cases per 100,000 people in 2009. HIV prevalence is low at 0.15 percent in the highest risk group of 15 to 24-year-olds.

In terms of achieving environmental sustainability (MDG 7), Mauritius can show, among other factors, that it managed to decrease consumption of chlorofluorocarbons from 65 metric tonnse in 1993 to a negligible amount in 2004.

The island state offers citizens a range of free social services, including education from primary to tertiary levels, public health services, public transport for students and the elderly as well as subsidies for basic food items and gas.

The third MDG, gender equality, is a blot on country's MDG copybook. Although the government’s report claims it managed to eliminate gender disparities in education, women’s participation in the labour force and politics is still an issue.

Human Rights Watch accuses Ethiopia of distributing aid unfairly

Human Rights Watch says that the ruling party in Ethiopia's government only gives aid to citizens who are members of the same party. People who are members of different political parties are often denied food aid, agriculture input help and government micro-loans.

Human Rights Watch is warning other governments or NGOs who might send money to Ethiopia to make sure that the money is disbursed equitably. Ethiopia of course denies the unequal aid, but the UK government also denies the claims made by Human Rights Watch.

From the BBC, we learn more details about the HRW report.

"We visited 53 villages in 26 districts in three regions of Ethiopia and we talked to about 200 people," Human Rights Watch researcher Ben Rawlence told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

"We found systematic discrimination from one end of the country to another against people who were members of the opposition party or people who disagreed with the regime."

Villagers, who are often subsistence farmers, were rejected for micro-credit loans, seeds, fertiliser, food aid, housing if they were a member of an opposition party, he said.

"University places are conditional on ruling party membership, promotion in the civil service - if you're a teacher or a nurse or a bureaucrat in a government ministry - all of these things are conditional on loyalty," Mr Rawlence said.

"People are being asked to disassociate themselves from political parties - rescind comments they've made and write out letters of regret - in order to obtain food aid."

Efforts to confirm the stories of discrimination with regional officials, civil society, opposition leaders and journalists revealed that this was how things commonly operated, he said.

Damage reports from the Philippines and super typhoon Megi

Damage to the Philippines caused by the super typhoon Megi is beginning to be processed. In the early assessments there are some signs of good news amidst the destruction.

As feared, rice crops not yet harvested were destroyed by the typhoon, but agriculture officials say that the Philippines should still have enough stockpiled to make it through the year. 80 to 90 percent of the homes in the typhoon region were destroyed. However only 10 deaths have thus far been attributed to the storm.

From Reuters Alertnet, writer Rolando Ng gives us more details on the damage.

The head of the National Food Authority, which manages the Philippines' grain stocks, said while unmilled rice crops had been damaged in the Cagayan valley, the country's second-biggest growing area, there was no need for extra imports this year. "We have more than enough for the year. The extent of damage to palay (unmilled rice) harvest in northern Luzon is still being assessed, but initial partial reports show that shortfalls are manageable," Angelito Banayo said in text message to Reuters.

Initial estimates of typhoon damage to unmilled rice in the Cagayan valley, which was directly in the path of Megi, varied, with three estimates from agriculture department officials putting the losses at between 52,000 and 105,000 tonnes.

They were well below a worst-case scenario of more than 230,000 tonnes, although the Governor of Isabela province, which includes part of the valley, put the losses at 385,000 tonnes.

The national disaster agency put the death toll so far at 10, a low tally for such a strong typhoon in the country of some 94 million. More than 3 million people live in Cagayan Valley, where the storm first hit and the government had spearheaded an evacuation drive from there and other coastal areas.

Hundreds of thousands were affected in three northern regions when heavy rain and strong winds destroyed or damaged houses, uprooted trees, flattened rice fields and triggered landslides, isolating four coastal towns in Isabela province.

Disaster agency officials in the Cordillera mountain region said more than 180,000 people in five provinces and the resort city Baguio were affected by the typhoon, but less than 3,000 are in temporary shelter areas.

Nearly all of Baguio was without power due to fallen trees and power lines, and low-lying areas were underwater, forcing hundreds to seek temporary shelter.

Meanwhile, Heifer International has been closely watching the families that they have helped in the region. According to Heifer's blog, this post says that everyone seems to be ok, but have taken on a lot of damage to their homes and crops.

Heifer International staff in the Philippines is reported to be okay a day after Super Typhoon Megi struck the country. Country Director Hercules Paradiang reports the roof of one staff member’s house had to be repaired, but that all team members are accounted for in the wake of the worst storm the country has seen in years.

According to staff reports from the north, at least 103 Heifer partner families lost their house’s roofs and harvestable crops (rice and vegetables) were destroyed by the storm. Communication services in some areas are still down, so a full reporting isn’t possible at this time, but there are reports that in the Palanan area, where Heifer works, 90 percent of houses were lost or damaged, displacing more than 11,000 people. Additionally, the national food authority warehouse was damaged, leaving 4,000 bags of rice—of 6,000 in storage—unfit for consumption.