Tuesday, May 31, 2011

OXFAM says food prices will double by 2030

A new research paper from OXFAM has some very troubling forecasts for the future of world food prices. OXFAM predicts that food prices will more than double by the year 2030, which could reverse any gains made in human development. Prices for basic food staples hit another record high in April with no easing foreseen in their global demand.

From the Guardian, writer Felicity Lawrence tells us more about the OXFAM report on food prices.

After decades of steady decline in the number of hungry people around the world, the numbers are rapidly increasing as demand outpaces food production. The average growth rate in agricultural yields has almost halved since 1990 and is set to decline to a fraction of 1% in the next decade.

A devastating combination of factors – climate change, depleting natural resources, a global scramble for land and water, the rush to turn food into biofuels, a growing global population, and changing diets – have created the conditions for an increase in deep poverty.

"We are sleepwalking towards an age of avoidable crisis," Oxfam's chief executive, Barbara Stocking, said. "One in seven people on the planet go hungry every day despite the fact that the world is capable of feeding everyone. The food system must be overhauled."

Oxfam called on the prime minister, David Cameron, and other G20 leaders to agree new rules to govern food markets. It wants greater regulation of commodities markets to contain volatility in prices.

It said global food reserves must be urgently increased and western governments must end biofuels policies that divert food to fuel for cars.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Yunus gives first interview since his ousting from Grameen Bank

Muhammad Yunus has given his first public interview since being ousted as the chief of his microcredit bank. Yunus only said that the Bangladesh prime minister who led the charge to remove him was "badly advised"

Yunus was removed from his Grameen Bank because of a seldom enforced Bangladeshi law that says leaders of the country's licensed financial institutions have to be below the age of 70. Critics say that the Bangladesh ruling party made Yunus the target of smear campaign. At one time, Yunus briefly flirted with the idea of entering politics with a competing party.

From this AHN story that we found at Gant Daily, writer Saleem Samad summarizes the interview for us.

In an interview with the BBC’s Lesley Curwen broadcast on Wednesday, Yunus said he was forced to stand down last month. He said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had only done so because she had been “badly advised.”

Yunus spoke to news media for the first time since he was forced out of Grameen Bank following a brief legal battle.

Microcredit guru Yunus was alleged to have siphoned money from Grameen Bank. Hasina on Dec. 5 last year told journalists that he was “sucking blood from the poor.”

Hasina, criticizing Yunus, said “there is no difference between a person who enjoys taking interest on money and one who takes bribe.”

The pioneer of microfinance contested the prime minister’s observation that the bank of the poor failed to play its role to eradicate poverty.

Ramping up disaster preparedness in the Middle East

From IRIN, a story on improving disaster response in the Middle East.

Several Middle East countries which over the years had failed to prioritize disaster preparedness have established national databases and should now be able to estimate their level of risk and improve response, according to the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) Secretariat.

"The region is affected by several hazards: earthquakes, floods, landslides and drought. However, disaster risk reduction has not been a priority for governments until recently," said Luna Abu-Swaireh, regional programme officer at the Cairo office of the UNISDR. "The commitment is relatively new [and] we have witnessed various progress levels in nations in the region, but overall it is still lower than global levels."

Some progress has also occurred in policy development. "For the first time this region has a strategy for 2011-2020 that outlines a commitment to reducing risk and vulnerability for the Arab countries and populations by working on multi-hazard approaches, risk assessment, identification and enhancing capacity," Swaireh told IRIN.

According to a 2010 report by Arab environment ministers, their region has suffered 276 disasters in the last 25 years, in which 100,000 people died, 10 million were affected and 1.5 million left homeless.

The region is at risk of earthquakes because the Jordan rift valley system extends from the Red Sea, through Palestine and north across the Dead Sea and Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley. About two-thirds of Jordan’s population, the entire population of Lebanon and a large urban population in Syria live within 50km of a fault line.

Increasing scarcity of water and arable land are also a threat to food security, while flooding in recent years has increased vulnerability. In Syria, for example, an estimated one million people lack food because of drought, especially in the northeast which is home to vulnerable, agriculture-dependent families, according to a 2010 drought vulnerability report on Syria.

Tracking disaster losses

Syria, along with Yemen and Jordan, have developed national disaster loss databases which can be used to analyse extensive risks based on data provided by the country, including case studies, illustrations and background on risk drivers.

"A group of Arab states are now making progress in systematically reporting disaster losses, providing an indispensable empirical [data set]," the ISDR noted in a recent report entitled Revealing Risk, Redefining Development.

Jordan, Syria and Yemen have all recently completed national disaster loss databases and will soon be joined by Egypt and Morocco, it said. Other countries are now in the process of finalizing their databases, while Djibouti and Lebanon are following suit.

These databases are nationally owned, managed, maintained and regularly updated by the respective governments. In Yemen, management is a joint effort between the Ministry of Water and Environment, civil defence, and partners including the UN and the World Bank.

"The impact of disasters on the economics of the Arab countries coupled with the problems they are already facing in terms of poverty, etc., makes it a challenge to engage in disaster risk," Abu-Swaireh said. "You need to work today on disaster reduction, to make sure your system does not collapse in the face of a disaster.

"Countries like Jordan, Lebanon, [occupied Palestinian territory] and Syria are at very high risk from earthquakes with concentrated populations around fault lines," he added. "Some countries have undertaken rigorous assessments and linked this to town planning. Lebanon and the occupied Palestinian territory have started assessing hospitals for earthquakes and some schools too, but this is still in its early stages."

A number of specialized agencies in the Arab world, according to the ISDR, have also developed sub-regional early warning systems for specific hazards. According to ISDR, drought has over the years affected the region’s GDP and agricultural production.

"In the last quarter of 2011, we will bring together all relevant stakeholders [government, civil society, private sector] in the region to discuss how we can put the strategies into action, prioritize issues, and invest in risk reduction," Abu-Swaireh said.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The 2011 Global Peace Index

The Institute for Economics & Peace has released their annual Global Peace Index that shows us that the world is less peaceful than a year before. The biggest factor that caused a drop in world peace was not wars between nations, but people rising up against their own governments. The protests and bloody conflicts in North Africa and the Middle East were the greatest example of this.

From the Vision for Humanity website this video gives a great summary of the Index conclusions.

2011 Global Peace Index from Vision of Humanity on Vimeo.

From the press release for this year's Global Peace Index, the writers give us more details on how all the counties were scored. You can view an interactive map and all of the data at the Vision for Humanity website.

The threat of terrorist attacks and the likelihood of violent
demonstrations were the two leading factors making the world less peaceful in 2011,
according to the latest Global Peace Index (GPI), released today. This is the third
consecutive year that the GPI, produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), has shown a decline in the levels of world peace. The economic cost of this to the global economy was $8.12 trillion in the past year.

The GPI is the world’s leading measure of global peacefulness. It gauges ongoing domestic and international conflict, safety and security in society, and militarisation in 153 countries by taking into account 23 separate indicators.

The 2011 Index dramatically reflects the impact on national rankings of the Arab Spring.

Libya (143) saw the most significant drop – falling 83 places; Bahrain (123) dropped by 51 places – the second largest margin; while Egypt (73) dropped 24 places. Unrest caused by economic instability also led to falls in levels of peacefulness in Greece (65), Italy (45), Spain (28), Portugal (17) and Ireland (11).

“The fall in this year’s Index is strongly tied to conflict between citizens and their governments; nations need to look at new ways of creating stability other than through military force,” said Steve Killelea, founder and Executive Chairman of the IEP. “Despite a decade-long war on terrorism, the potential for terrorist acts has increased this year offsetting small gains made in prior years”.

While the overall level of peacefulness was down, this year’s data did show increased peacefulness in some areas – most notably levels of military expenditure and relations between neighbouring states Killelea continued: “There is increasing recognition that there is a real ‘peace dividend’ to be had. Our research identifies eight social attitudes and structures2 required to create peaceful, resilient and socially sustainable societies.”

Twenty-nine nations (particularly in Africa, the Middle East and Europe) experienced a rise in their terror threat level making this the most significant negative influence on the Global Peace Index this year. In thirty three nations the likelihood for violent demonstrations increased.

The 8 structures are: Well-functioning government; Sound business environment; Equitable distribution of resources; Acceptance of the rights of others; Good relations with neighbours; Free flow of information; High levels of education; Low levels of corruption.

Having high scores across all eight structures enabled Iceland to regain its position at the top of this year’s Index, after slipping in last year’s ranking following violent demonstrations related to the collapse of the country’s financial system and currency. High scores across the governance structures also explain why Japan was able to retain its position in the rankings – despite the external shock of this year’s earthquake and tsunami.


If the word had been 25% more peaceful over the past year there would have been an
economic impact of US$2 trillion to the global economy.

If the world had been 25% more peaceful over the past year the global economy would have reaped an additional economic benefit of just over US$2 trillion. This amount would pay for the 2% of global GDP per annum investment estimated by the Stern Review3 to avoid the worst effects of climate change, cover the cost of achieving the Millennium Development Goals, eliminate the public debt of Greece, Portugal and Ireland5, and address the one-off rebuilding costs of the most expensive natural disaster in history – the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

Iceland is the world’s most peaceful nation, followed by New Zealand, Japan, Denmark and the Czech Republic. Iraq (152) moved from the bottom of the Index for the first time ever.
Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region least at peace, containing 40% of the world’s
least peaceful countries, Sudan (151) and Somalia (153) at the bottom of the Index.
For the fifth consecutive year, Western Europe is the most peaceful region with the
majority of countries ranking in the top 20. Four Nordic countries are ranked in the top ten; however, Sweden drops to number 13 because of its arms-manufacturing industry and the volume of exports of conventional weapons. Joining the European Union has had a positive impact on the relevant members of Central and Eastern Europe with the Czech Republic moving into the top ten (5th place) for the first time and Slovenia rising to 10th position.
North America demonstrated a slight improvement since last year. Canada (8) jumped
6 places in this year’s rankings whereas the US's (82) overall score remained unchanged although its ranking improved from 85th to 82nd.

Video: Squatters camp near Moi's farm

From NTV Kenya, a video about ousted squatters that are looking for justice after being removed from their land.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Another reason to improve small farm output

A lot of emphasis has been put on small farmers in the aid world lately, and for good reason. Small farmers grow food for themselves, but any surplus they can later sell to market for extra income. When their yields are bad they can't make any money from their work; or worse yet, they will not be able to feed their families for the year. United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development says that two billion people depend on the crops coming from 500 million small farms.

So the aid world has put a focus on improving the technology, the seeds used and more in hopes to end hunger. We discovered another reason why this is important today from a post at the From Poverty to Power blog. Writer Duncan Green introduces us to a small farmer in Tanzania by the name of Thelezia Salula. She says that it is important to improve the yield and income of small farmers so that future generations can be attracted to farming as a vocation. Without such improvements, they will instead migrate to the cities for work.

More farmers arrive and we move to the partial shade of a leafless tree. The conversation turns to their hopes for their children. Most of them, like poor farmers everywhere, want their kids to study and escape from farming to a ‘good job’ in an office, or for the government. ‘The world is changing, but if they stay in farming their lives won’t change.’ None of their children want to be farmers: ‘no-one will farm when I am old and I will suffer the consequences’, says Thelezia ‘My children will have to pay for labourers to work the farm.’ Farming, it seems, is the last resort when you fail your exams.

But one woman, Salome Luboja, does want her kids to be farmers, and sets out three things that would have to change for that to happen. Firstly, education and knowledge about modern farming methods; second irrigation to safeguard farmers from the vagaries of the newly unreliable rains, and third improved markets and prices. I’m not convinced – towns are just so much more fun than farms, especially for young people – but the women insist that if the facilities were there, the work would not be such a grind, and if the incomes were higher than in the town, the kids would stay on the farm.

I still think many of them will chose to migrate, but if governments and aid donors invest properly in small farmers like Thelezia, (which is one of the things Oxfam is pushing for in the impending Grow campaign, launching on 1 June) at least her children will have a dignified and genuine choice between staying and leaving. That’s only the start though: the flatness of this plain, under a huge sky and scorching sun, seems especially vulnerable to the whims of an increasingly harsh climate. Unless climate change can be controlled too, and people helped to adapt to it, any progress is likely to be short-lived.

Video: Sudan's Abyei 'ablaze' after capture by north

From Al Jazeera, a video on fighting in Sudanese town of Abyei. The town is in flames after being captured by troops from the Northern government. Abyei lies on the border of the north and newly independent south. Both sides claim the town as their own and have been fighting to take control of it.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sanitary energy thru toilets

2.5 billion people throughout the world don't have access to their own toilet. This leaves 2.5 billion people vulnerable to diseases such as cholera, diarrhea. These diseases are spread thru contaminated water as people are forced to use the outdoors instead of toilets to relive themselves.

Some non-profits and some social entrepreneurs have looked at ways of solving the problem by providing sanitation solutions to the poor. A team of engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found a way make a business venture out of the human waste. Instead of selling inexpensive toilets to the poor, they have found away to convert the waste into energy that can be sold back into the grid.

From Forbes Magazine blogs, writer Elmira Bayrasli introduces us to Sanergy founded by MIT grads David Auerbach and Ani Vallabhaneni.

Auerbach and Vallabhaneni knew what they didn’t know. What they didn’t know was that they couldn’t draft up a sanitation solution in Boston – without the insights and input of those in the developing world. Committed to launching a start-up that would truly work for the poor, the two, along with a team of MIT classmates traveled to Kenya for the answers. Kenya, with eight million without access to proper sanitation but a university filled with bright and eager minds to help solve the problem, was an ideal testing ground. In January 2010 the team, in collaboration with the University of Nairobi, conducted a user survey among Kenya’s urban poor, inquiring about their lives. “It was important to us that we found a solution that fit into their lives, not our imagination of their lives,” Auerbach says.

What they found was that Kenya’s poor were interested in having compact stalls that could fit into the tight spaces of their usually one-room homes, rather than large community outhouses. They wanted a “permanent” feel to the stalls rather than the flimsy feel of a porta-potty. As a result, Auerbach, Vallabhaneni and their Sanergy team that includes engineers, architects and designers drew up plans for a 3×5 toilet made out of thin shell cement that is locally produced for $200 per unit. Each toilet is designed for a 100 uses per day. They are units, which also collect waste in double-sealed 30L containers, rather than pits, or septic tanks “that are then drained into waterways.” It is this waste collection that is key.

More than where to go to the bathroom, how to dispose of human waste is, as Auerbach points out, a primary reason that no one touches the issue of toilets. That was Sanergy’s opportunity. Recognizing that, though “messy,” human waste can be converted through anaerobic digestion to produce fertilizer or electricity. It is also where the Sanergy team recognized that it could generate revenue.

Sanergy produces toilets that are franchised to local operators who charge around $0.06 per use. Currently the company has two toilets serving approximately 150 each day. One is at Bridge International school (a for-profit school supported by the Omidyar Network), the other in Kibera, Kenya’s largest slum. These local operators keep all revenues. That, Auerbach says, is an incentive for them to clean, maintain and “market” the toilets. The operators then work with groups who collect the waste daily and bring it to facilities where it is converted to energy. “The waste from each toilet generates Sanergy revenues of $1250 per year.” The waste from 10 million creates a potential market of $178 million per year. Brown gold.

Urgent need to prepare for earthquakes in Myanmar

From IRIN, a story about the need to improve early warning structures in Myanmar.

The recent 6.8 quake that shook Myanmar's northeastern Shan State, killing 74 and affecting 18,000, serves as a stark warning for this largely unprepared, earthquake-prone country, say experts.

Myanmar rests on one of the world's two main earthquake belts, with one of its many fault lines running 1,000km north to south through the country's agriculturally rich central plain, placing major Burmese cities, including Mandalay, Bago and Yangon, at risk.

Historically, strong earthquakes have resulted in rural temple damage but relatively few casualties. However, research shows that increased urbanization, without attention to disaster preparedness, could lead to higher death rates in the event of a major quake.

"There have been earthquakes in the past but the impact was not substantial in areas that were sparsely populated, but if a big earthquake happened to one big city, that would be very devastating because they are not very prepared," said Peeranan Towashiraporn, a senior project manager and earthquake expert at the Asia Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) in Bangkok, citing poor construction quality.

ADPC deemed the northern city of Mandalay - home to one million inhabitants and located on the main Sagaing Fault - as the most at-risk.

The ADPC's Hazard Profile of Myanmar, published in 2009, reports that the fault, part of the Alpide Belt, and the cause of 13 of 17 major earthquakes in Myanmar in the past 172 years, has been mostly quiet for 75 years. This could mean accumulated stress will be soon looking for a release.

Among predictions of imminent earthquakes is a geophysical study by researchers in Japan, who warn that an earthquake with a magnitude of up to 7.9 could shake central Myanmar, near the newly built capital, Naypyitaw, at any time.

"But I'm not worried about the new capital, as the buildings there were well built," Soe Thura Tun, secretary of the Myanmar Earthquake Committee, a subdivision of the Myanmar Engineering Society said. He was more concerned about the 4.4 million inhabitants of Yangon, who reside in old buildings constructed in a zone considered to have strong seismic potential. The Sagaing Fault, Dedaye Fault and Western Bago Yoma Fault are all close by.

When a 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck Bago in 1930, many buildings were destroyed and 500 people died. The tremors were felt 80km away in Yangon, resulting in 50 more deaths.

Many buildings in the former Burmese capital built before the 1990s would be at risk, while those constructed in the past two decades are believed to be resistant, as happened in the recent quake in Shan State, Soe Thura Tun explained.

A case study of Myanmar's earthquake preparedness presented at the 2010 New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering Conference states, "Before 1988, most major structures were designed by the government and seismic resistance was optional." Furthermore, soil investigation before construction work began, an initial step in earthquake preparedness, was not mandatory pre-1999.

In addition to a proliferation of unsafe commercial buildings, Shihab Uddin Ahmad, country director of ActionAid, an international anti-poverty organization in Myanmar, said the public sector had neglected to design a disaster plan.

"There is no hospital that has the capacity to handle mass casualty management. Children in school are not trained to deal with earthquake evacuation... Civil population and rescue volunteers are not yet trained [for search and rescue]," he said.

In a bid to reduce high risk of fatalities and casualties, risk assessments, such as the one ADPC is doing, should be conducted in the quake-prone cities, Soe Thura Tun said. Then, risk-management should be planned, he added.

Ahmad said, "DRR [disaster-risk reduction] is very new in Myanmar. A few agencies have started working with the government to include earthquake knowledge in the education curriculum, but coverage is still very low."

The search for the next IMF chief is on

With the sexual assault allegations put against former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn the time has come to find another leader for the international bank. Again, the push is on from developing countries to have the new IMF chief be from somewhere other than Europe. However the US and the EU; who have all of the voting power on selecting the new head, are still unlikely to look for candidates elsewhere.

From the Guardian, writer Jayati Ghosh looks into the selection process and why Europe is using some faulty logic for keeping the appointment within their borders.

European governments have quickly rallied around the candidacy of Christine Lagarde, finance minister of France, for the top job at the IMF. For obvious reasons, this is not popular in the capital cities of major developing countries playing a more important role on the world stage.

For more than 60 years now convention, rather than any written rules, has dictated that the appointment of heads of the Bretton Woods institutions has been controlled by the traditional global powers. The US has provided the chief of the World Bank and Europe has provided the head of the IMF. These "conventions" emerged and were entrenched during a period when these two broad groupings controlled the global economy, and polity.

That is much less clear today. The medium-term future of the world economy is unlikely to be scripted only by these two players. Before the emergency exit of Dominique Strauss-Kahn had rendered the choice of the next head of the IMF an urgent matter, it was common to hear voices from developed countries suggesting that the next person to be in charge could and should be someone from the developing world. There is certainly no shortage of suitable candidates with sufficient international experience and knowledge of the workings of international finance.

In this context, the speed and strength of insistence with which European countries are pushing for a particular European candidate is notable. Even the support of the UK prime minister, David Cameron, for Lagarde cannot simply be ascribed to his dislike of Gordon Brown. The reason is not just because of European governments' perceived desire to retain some semblance of control over global institutions. It is also because the major immediate work of the IMF is to do with Europe: several European countries are involved in economic rescue packages worked out with the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the IMF – and others are likely to be waiting in the queue.

The argument being made is that since European countries are likely to be involved in bailout packages in the immediate future, it is especially important to have a European to head the Fund. Yet this was precisely the argument used – by Europeans – against having a person from the developing world to lead the institution: that debtor countries could not and should not provide the leadership because of possible conflicts of interest! Once European debtor countries are involved, apparently the inverse logic holds.

Coconut, cashew projects offer hope for small farmers in Mozambique

From IRIN, a story about a small coconut plantation that is being revitalized to provide incomes for a community in Mozambique.

A colonial-era coconut plantation is being revived in southern Mozambique to provide small incomes to a largely cashless rural community, and is being viewed as a pilot project that could be rolled out across poor isolated communities to generate work for hundreds if not thousands of people.

A year after winning independence from Portugal in 1975 the country descended into a 16-year-long civil war, and emerged from the conflict as one of the world’s poorest.

Some colonial-era plantations have survived charcoal burners or other methods of destruction, but remain under-utilized through a lack of investment or the handicaps of poor road and transport infrastructure.

South African farmer Graham Ford has teamed-up with US NGO TechnoServe, with the consent of the Inhambane provincial government - as all land in Mozambique is owned by the state - to revive an abandoned coconut plantation, about 10km from Maxixe.

A small processing factory in the community extracts the meat and oil from coconuts collected by local people and is then transported to the highway by 4WD vehicles where it is loaded onto trucks bound for South Africa.

Coconut products have a ready market in the food and healthcare sectors.

The factory accepts two sacks of coconuts - stripped of their husks - from one person a week, which translates into a monthly income of about 1,000 meticais (US$33.50)

"Until now the local people have not really availed [themselves of] the natural resources around them on a commercial level because they had to take them all the way to the highway [about 10km away]. Here they were only given small sums of money by men who took the coconuts to Maputo," TechnoServe agricultural consultant Rizwan Khan told IRIN.

He said the key to replicating such an initiative, so the poor derived greater commercial benefit, was to situate factories in or near communities.

Khan said the long-term plan was to support the establishment of similar factories across Inhambane Province that would mirror the Maxixe pilot programme - such is the international demand for coconut oil.

A 2002-2003 government survey identified Inhambane as the poorest of the country’s 11 provinces, with about 80 percent of the population living below the poverty line. However, a survey conducted in 2008-2009 found poverty levels had decreased to 60 percent in the province which was rated as the seventh poorest.

Cashew nuts

Mozambique's cashew nut industry was severely affected by the civil war and outbreaks of fungal infections among its ageing cashew tree population led to a decline in both quality and quantity.

NGO CARE International is attempting to revive the cashew trade in Inhambane Province through its SEED (Sustainable Effective Economic Development) programme.

CARE's acting project manager based in the Inhambane coastal town of Vilankulos, Michaela Cosijan, told IRIN cashew nut production was one of the focus sectors, as the resource was being under-utilized.

In partnership with the provincial authorities, a campaign has been launched to plant a new generation of cashew trees across the province, and an insecticide programme introduced to protect the remaining productive trees.

The NGO is also organizing cooperatives for farmers to achieve greater value for their products.

Paulo Johaui Murrouibe, a cashew nut farmer in the Inhambane village of Tsumbo, which has about 3,500 residents, told IRIN: "Previously we sold things as individuals at a low price, and had no ability to negotiate a better deal with the buyers. But now, with CARE's help, we have become organized as a community, negotiating better sales prices and using better farming techniques."

Filomena Maiopue, director of the Mozambican Cashew Institute, told local media recently: "Over the last five years, the average amount of cashew nuts marketed has fluctuated between 70,000 and 90,000 tons. But this year's figure of 112,000 tons is a great victory for the country, since it is the highest figure attained since independence."

Friday, May 20, 2011

Guest Voices: Empowering Communities to Rebuild Their Lives in Chad

For our next installment, in our series guest posts from Concern Worldwide, we read an eyewitness account on the state of poverty in Chad. Overseas Director Paul O'Brien tells why women are in great need of jobs to earn money.

I arrived in Chad last week to meet with our country team, and to assess our programs and the ongoing humanitarian needs in our program areas. Chad is one of the world’s seven least developed countries: it ranks at 163 out of 169 countries in the 20

10 United Nations Human Development Index. The goal of our programs here is to target the poorest communities in the poorest parts of Chad—and I was curious to see how successfully we were doing that.

Capital cities in Africa can be extremely deceptive. Lush boulevards and well-paved roads from the airport to the capital city often mask the ugly truth that just steps away from these roads, people are living in abject poverty. Upon arrival in N’Djamena, Chad’s capital, the city is at first impressive. The promising hum of the city’s generators drowns out the sound of the car’s engine on my journey to the city center—a welcome sign of progress. However, I soon discover there is no running water where I am staying, despite the presence of a generator. In fact, most of the city has no electricity, which is a telling sign of the shortage of basic resources, even here in the capital.

Concern works in two regions in Chad: Goré in the south, which borders the Central African Republic (CAR), and Goz Beida in the east, which borders the Darfur region of Sudan. Both of these areas host refugees from their neighbouring countries, and both are challenging environments in which to live or work. Water is scarce, and the logistics of transporting relief items is difficult because roads and infrastructure are in poor condition.

As I leave the city to begin the 600-kilometer journey to Goré, I witness the unmistakeable signs of poverty in roadside dwellings. People live in small mud huts with no windows, electricity or running water. Most of these dwellings have no latrines, and all cooking is done on an open fire. The luxury of a grinding mill is beyond reach. Women pound grain with heavy pieces of timber—the way they have been doing it for centuries.

The biggest challenge facing mothers in Chad is to feed their children and keep them healthy. The country has one of the highest rates of child deaths in the world. In the villages in which Concern is working in Goré, I interviewed members of a mothers’ self-help group. One mother tells me that she had nine children, but only four survived. Another, a widow, originally a mother of four, says just two of her children are alive today.

It is difficult not to be moved by their stories. I am dumbfounded by their resilience, but I am also ashamed that our world full of wealth and expertise in health and nutrition can continue to let such silent emergencies exist.

Concern is helping women in Goré earn an independent income for the first time and manage their resources, by providing training in producing shea butter for sale at market, and in other trades such as tailoring. The members of these collectives and livelihoods programs are making strong progress, and their confidence is growing. Development takes time, there are no quick-fix solutions, but we must do everything in our power to ensure that these women, their children and their families are not forgotten.

Concern Worldwide’s livelihoods program in Goré, Chad has trained 350 women in the processing of Shea butter and production of soap, food stuffs, and cosmetics. Concern works with refugees and host villages to help them become self-sufficient and improve their safety nets. An estimated 75,000 refugees from the Central African Republic have fled to southern Chad since 2003, while host villages also battle extreme poverty and isolation.

"How can we most effectively break cycles of poverty?"

A great discovery has been made in the last few years about fighting poverty. Economists have discovered that it is best to remove the barriers that keep people in poverty, instead of just giving them the stuff to get by. Many people stay in poverty due to disease, inability to grow food, little access to financial services and many similar reasons. If these people were healthy and had proper resources, research shows that they can easily climb out of poverty.

From the New York Times, the latest op-ed piece from Nickolas Kristof touches on this idea. Kristof describes some economic research that led a solutions in education and health.

Now we reach a central question for our age: How can we most effectively break cycles of poverty? For decades, we had answers that were mostly anecdotal or hot air. But, increasingly, we are now seeing economists provide answers that are rigorously field-tested, akin to the way drugs are tested in randomized controlled trials, yielding results that are particularly credible and persuasive.

Prof. Michael Kremer, a Harvard economist, helped pioneer randomized trials in antipoverty work. In the 1990s, Kremer began studying how to improve education in Africa, trying different approaches in randomly selected batches of schools.

One intervention he tried was deworming kids — and bingo! In much of the developing world, most kids have intestinal worms, leaving them sick, anemic and more likely to miss school. Deworming is very cheap (a pill costing a few pennies), and, in the experiment he did with Edward Miguel, it resulted in 25 percent less absenteeism. Even years later, the kids who had been randomly chosen to be dewormed were earning more money than other kids.

Kremer estimates that the cost of keeping a kid in school for an additional year by building schools or by subsidizing school uniforms is more than $100, while by deworming kids, the cost drops to $3.50. (In a pinch, kids can usually go to “school” in a church or mosque without a uniform.)

Video: A beacon of hope in South Horr

From NTV Kenya, a visit to a Catholic mission that faces the challenge of growing food without much irrigation.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Attempting to wipe out guinea worm

The World Health Assembly is meeting this week in Geneva. The assembly is the decision making body of the World Health Organization. This year, the assembly is discussing how to eliminate guinea worm and cholera. It may be very soon that the WHO can stop talking about the guinea worm. It can be done if water supply is improved for the four countries that still have the disease.

From the Inter Press Service, writer Isolda Agazzi interviews a coordinator in Ghana's efforts to ending the disease.

"In 1989, when we started our programme, 180,000 people were affected by guinea worm," Dr. Andrew Seidu Korkor, national coordinator for guinea worm at the Ghana Health Service, told IPS in a phone interview. "In 2010 we had only eight cases and today there are none. But it takes three years to get the certification that the disease is not endemic in your country any more."

The guinea worm causes Dracunculiasis, a waterborne parasitic disease that exists in only four countries – Ghana, Mali, Ethiopia and Sudan. It lives in stagnant water. When people drink contaminated water, the parasite grows up to three feet and lives just below the skin, often crippling its human host.

There are no medicines to treat the disease or vaccines to prevent it. The only cure is to slowly, painfully extract it over days. While the disease is not lethal, its disabling effect prevents those affected from working or attending school, putting already vulnerable individuals and communities at further risk of chronic poverty.

"If potable water was provided, then guinea worm could be definitely eradicated," Seidu Korkor continued. "But you cannot get 100 percent water supply immediately, because it is expensive and it takes time. Therefore, we also educate people on prevention measures, we look for cases and treat them, we use filters to improve the water supply and apply chemicals to kill the intermediate host."

If completely eradicated, guinea worm would become the second disease wiped out by humankind - the first since smallpox was eradicated in the 1970s.

Nailing the perpetrators of post-election violence in Nigeria

From IRIN, a story on seeking justice from the post-election violence in Nigeria.

Following post-election violence in which an estimated 800 people were killed and 65,000 displaced, according to Human Rights Watch, state prosecutors need to follow through on arrests to try perpetrators and seek justice, rather than initiating new commissions of inquiry that will go nowhere, say civil society and human rights groups.

“These crimes were state-level crimes - a federal-level inquiry is useless,” said Innocent Chukwuma, director of the Centre for Law Enforcement Education (CLEEN) in Lagos. According to Chukwuma, the governor of Bauchi State in the north recently announced that 600 people involved in violence there had been arrested. “If you have arrested this many, why set up an investigative panel - the next stage is to take them to court and try them,” he told IRIN.

Violence broke out in northern Nigeria on 17 April as election results emerged announcing incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan in the lead, causing supporters of opposition presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari, a northern Muslim from the Congress for Progressive Change, to protest. Protests degenerated into sectarian and ethnic riots in northern states.

The impetus for much of the violence was at least partly driven by widespread anger among northern youths who feel marginalized by their leaders, say analysts. “The ugly situations is a combination of poverty, loss of public confidence in elections… with the electorate feeling they would not get justice from election tribunals, and the inability of political leaders to manage communal and interfaith relations,” said Iheoma Obibi, director of NGO Alliance for Africa, and an accredited election observer.

Most of the victims were killed in three days of rioting in 12 northern states - Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Niger, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara.

Commissions of inquiry

President Jonathan has set up a 22-person commission of inquiry into the violence, but analysts remain sceptical it will lead to anything.

Numerous committees and commissions of inquiry set up by state and federal governments to investigate election-related killings over the past decade have resulted in few to no prosecutions, according to Human Rights Watch and other groups.

Some 300 people were killed after the 2007 elections, but only a few were tried, reports Human Rights Watch.

The government sets up commissions so that it can be seen to be doing something, CLEEN’s Chukwuma told Human Rights Watch. “Panels of inquiry have become a tunnel through which the government runs away from their responsibility to bring the culprits of violence to book”… ”Going to these panels buys the government time and when the problems drop from the headlines they go back to business as usual.”

By supplanting police investigations into the violence, these government panels risk doing more harm than good, Eric Guttschuss, researcher with Human Rights Watch, told IRIN.

Police accountability

A number of the deaths in Kaduna State were attributed to the police and military, according to Kaduna-based human rights group, the Civil Rights Congress.

In Kaduna’s capital, Zaria, residents alleged that on 19 April, soldiers and police stormed into homes rounding up young men suspected of taking part in the riots following tip-offs; shooting them, and dumping their bodies in hospital morgues. Sabiu Mohammed, a resident who was among volunteers who went around hospitals in the city, said they recovered 19 bodies in four hospitals.

Precedent indicates most of the police and military involved will not be charged, reports Human Rights Watch.

Of the 700 who died following Jos elections in 2008, military and police leaders were thought to have been involved in 133 cases of unlawful killing, but no one was prosecuted, said Guttschuss.

Police and military were again involved in extrajudicial killings, including public executions outside police headquarters, in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, in July 2009 during a crackdown on the supporters of radical religious group Boko Haram. Not a single police officer was prosecuted, said Guttschuss.

In the April 2011 violence, rights groups heard accounts of police and soldiers in Kaduna, Gombe and Bauchi states systematically beating people they had rounded up after the riots, according to Civil Rights Congress.

Security sector reform to improve accountability in the sector has been attempted by the government but it has been “half-hearted” and “episodic” said CLEEN's Chukwuma.

Spokespersons from the police and military have repeatedly stressed they were just doing their job to keep the peace. Kaduna State governor spokesperson Reuben Buhari dismissed reports of police violence: “These accusations are without basis and are a deliberate attempt to smear the image of the security personnel who have done an excellent job of restoring and maintaining peace in the state,” he told IRIN.

To break the cycle of impunity, states and security sector leaders should put their own houses in order, rather than rely on politicized government-led investigations, Chukwuma told IRIN.

One precedent with evidence of success was an internal panel of inquiry set up by the deputy commissioner of police following the killing of traders in the capital, Abuja, in 2005. It identified individual police officers behind the killings and put them on trial; while the government paid compensation to the victims.

Such internal investigations are more likely to produce results than politicized, government-led investigations, he added.

A tip on how to start helping

One of the great things that is happening in America today is that more young people want to help out and make change than ever before. But the biggest thing that is standing in their way is being unsure on how to begin.

In a guest essay at Nicholas Kristof's blog On The Ground, we learn of one skill that help young people get started. Writer Rye Barcott talks about the charity he started after spending time in the Kibera slum of Kenya.

I’ve seen the effects of this first hand on the faces of college students across the country. After one presentation, a student eagerly exclaimed, “I’m a doer and I just want to do something.”

Her statement implies the question: How? How do you make an impact in an environment that is equally empowering and overwhelming?

The answer, I believe, starts with an old-fashioned skill: Listening. Listening enables trust, and trust is the foundation of positive change. We need to slow down and listen more before doing. This was a lesson I learned as the co-founder of a non-governmental organization (ngo) in one of the largest slums in Africa – Kibera, in Nairobi, Kenya – and carried with me to Iraq as a Marine.

Fourteen years ago the Marines gave me an ROTC scholarship to attend college. Assuming I would be involved in peacekeeping missions, I took classes to gain a better understanding of why ethnic violence happened. I studied basic anthropology and Swahili, then travelled one summer to Kibera to conduct research. There I rented a small shack in the community and started listening to young men my age as they spoke about their lives and ambitions. It wasn’t long before that I recognized a fundamental truth about the world: talent is universal; opportunity is not.

Two Kenyans and I later co-founded Carolina For Kibera to combine more opportunity with talent by investing in local leaders. We referred to our approach as “participatory development.” It’s a concept from anthropology that acknowledges that sustainable change must be driven from within communities. It can’t be imposed from the outside. I found this to be true in Kibera, where our organization now engages more than 50,000 people a year, and also in the Marines, where we continue to wrestle with how to build local capacity during counter-insurgencies.

Cameras for kids initiative in Palestinian refugee camps

From IRIN, a story about a program to take a pictorial diary of life in Palestinian refugee camps.

A Beirut-based NGO is training children in Lebanon’s 12 Palestinian refugee camps to take photographs of camp life in the belief that the exercise is cathartic for the children, will benefit the camps financially and lead some of the trainees to work professionally as photographers.

The idea of getting children to photograph camp life struck Ramzi Haidar after a visit to a Palestinian refugee camp, and led him to start the Zakira project.

"Kids are kids, they are the same everywhere,” he said. “They have the same needs, regardless of whether they are Iraqi, Palestinian, Lebanese or something else. And, if they go through war or other difficult experiences, they need to express what they have seen."

Haidar believes suffering in the Palestinian camps is on a par with what he had seen in Iraq where children had to put up with things no child should, and without any creative or intellectual outlets to deal with them. "I started thinking about how to work with photography in order to express such experiences,” he told IRIN.

Through Zakira, hundreds of children now have the chance to do this through photography. The NGO has carried out two projects so far: `Lahza’, which means “glimpse” or “moment” in Arabic, and the sequel, ‘After Lahza’.

During `Lahza’, Zakira organized workshops in all of Lebanon’s Palestinian camps; 500 children were taught basic photography skills, given disposable cameras and asked to photograph camp life.

A selection of the pictures taken, capturing everything from the distinctive narrow alleys and grey concrete houses in the camps to family and friends, were published. The income generated, which goes back to the Palestinian community, has so far helped pay for a football field and the floor and mirrors of a `Debke’ (folk dance) studio in Lebanon’s largest camp, Ein el-Helweh.

The ‘After Lahza’ project uses photography as a means of expression and to bring people together. More than 250 teenagers - Lebanese and Palestinians – have gained advanced photography skills at three-month workshops in Beirut, Tripoli, Saida, Sur and Baalbek.

Economic opportunity

Zakira is also looking ahead: “What we hope to do next is to set up photo studios in Beirut, Tripoli, Saida, Sur and Baalbek's camps,” said one of the founders, Rima Abushakra. “Many of the teenagers who we worked with during After Lahza are high school dropouts. They discovered that they have a talent for photography and now want to develop it and gain income from it.

"This is great, because in the camps, just like everywhere, there is a market for photographers," she added. "People need photos for their ID cards, and when they get married and want wedding pictures."

The workshops are an opportunity to improve photography skills, and build new relationships. The skills learnt also represent an economic opportunity in the camps: As a stateless community, the refugees have a tough time accessing education and employment.

"We saw many things in the youth we trained: Talent, determination, a quest for self-expression," Abushakra said. "Many of them are now enthusiastic about working with photography.”

One trainee has had several of her pictures published in a Lebanese newspaper, and another has been assigned as an events photographer in his camp. The project has held exhibitions in Dublin, Athens, Washington and Paris.

Palestinians make up nearly 10 percent of Lebanon’s population of about 4.2 million, but live on the margins of society, according to observers. Despite having lived here since 1948, most still live in camps and face poverty, discrimination and social exclusion.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

World Bank: Social development programs in India riddled with corruption

A few years ago, India's Congress party was elected into power with promises of helping the poor. They began a distribution program to give all those in poverty food and fuel. The Congress party also began another program that guaranteed employment for all.

The World Bank has a new report that analyses how well the Congress party has done. The Bank says that both programs are riddled with corruption and red tape. Despite the graft limiting their effectiveness, the bank does admit the programs have helped to spark some growth.

From Reuters India, writer Henry Foy unpacks the report for us.

"While India devotes over 2 percent of GDP to her social protection programmes... the poor are not able to reap the full benefits of such large investments," the report stated.

"India is not getting the 'bang for the rupee' that its significant expenditure would seem to warrant."

Costly social sector spending will likely make it difficult for the government to meet its fiscal deficit target of 4.6 percent of GDP in the fiscal year ending March 2012.

A decade of booming economic growth has pulled millions out of poverty, but its failure to provide for its 1.2 billion population means it lags other developing nations, such as China, in key development indicators.

The programmes assessed by the report have been praised for driving growth in rural areas, which rely heavily on agriculture and were largely bypassed by the mostly urban-centric economic boom that has swollen the middle class.

Food insecurity grips Horn of Africa

From IRIN, a look at how ever rising food prices are hurting the Horn of Africa.

The number of people requiring humanitarian assistance in the Horn of Africa could increase sharply in coming months due to below-average rainfall and high food and fuel prices, say aid workers.

Moreover, funding shortfalls, drought and conflict could further increase the number of people needing humanitarian aid in the region from an estimated 8.75 million people.

Peter Smerdon, spokesman for the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Kenya, told IRIN on 18 May: "The total number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in the Horn is 8.75 million; some of them get food aid from governments and other aid organizations. At least six million people need food assistance from WFP but this number could increase if the current rains are poor or below average."

According to Smerdon, by early May, about halfway through the rainy season, rainfall was well below average in most of the Horn, ranging from 5 to 50 percent of normal rates, and well below forecasts.

Funding shortfalls

Of particular concern, he said, were areas of southern and southeastern Ethiopia.

"Amid growing concern about the impact of drought in the southern and southeastern pastoralist areas, many of WFP's food assistance activities in Ethiopia face significant funding shortfalls," Smerdon said.

The agency said it was assisting 4.3 million people in Ethiopia.

In Somalia, WFP faces a 70 percent shortfall from May through October and urgently needs contributions of US$53 million to feed one million people in accessible areas for the next six months.

In Kenya, Smerdon said, WFP has a 50 percent funding shortfall of $47 million needed to provide food aid for the next six months to 1.7 million people.

In an April food security report Kenya's Agriculture Ministry said the national stock of maize - the country's staple - is expected to be about 5.9 million 90kg bags by the end of July, adequately covering only 1.7 months beginning in August.

The April–September 2011 Food Security Outlook by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net) forecast that most households in the hard-hit pastoral areas would become extremely food insecure and many more livestock would die.

According to WFP, the Horn of Africa drought, which began with the failure of the short rains in December 2010, is the first since a two-year regional drought in 2007-2009 that saw the number of people needing humanitarian assistance in the region rise to more than 20 million.

Conflict could further increase the number of people requiring help. In early May, dozens of people were killed and others displaced when violence broke out on the Ethiopia-Kenya border between two communities over rising food prices.

The fighting between the Turkana community of Kenya and the Merille of Ethiopia, local media reported, reflected a broader pattern of inter-ethnic conflict resulting from food scarcity and persistent drought.

On 15 May, international NGO CARE called for more attention to severe food insecurity in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, saying almost eight million people in these countries needed emergency aid.

"Chronic vulnerability, poverty, social injustice and climate change are all responsible for recurring food insecurity in the Horn of Africa," Mohamed Khaled, CARE's regional emergency coordinator for East Africa, said in a statement. "On top of that, a significant increase in food and fuel prices has worsened the current situation.

"In Kenya, for example, the price of maize, a staple food, has increased over 27 percent during the last three months. Sufficient attention is needed now to prevent further loss of lives and livelihoods. At the same time, the underlying reasons need to be tackled to break the recurring cycles that have persisted in recent years."

Djibouti and Somalia have declared the drought situation a national disaster while the Ethiopian government revised its humanitarian requirements document in April 2011 to reflect the growing needs and mobilize a scale-up of humanitarian response.

Khaled said: "While governments of the affected countries have already started interventions, short- and long-term international assistance is needed to help address critical needs but also underlying structural causes and chronic vulnerabilities. What is needed is a set of interventions which strengthens people’s own resilience capacity and coping mechanisms to survive such severe conditions while at the same time responding to their current humanitarian needs and protecting their livelihoods. It is crucial that people can feed themselves through their own means instead of being dependent on food distributions."


Somalia's situation is dire as conflict continues. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's Food Security, Nutrition and Analysis Unit (FSNAU), some 2.4 million Somalis are in food crisis, representing 32 percent of the population.

The effects of the ongoing drought, deteriorating purchasing power, rampant conflict and limited humanitarian space continue to aggravate the situation in most parts of the country, FSNAU said in an April update.

The fastest growing NGO in the world

The fastest growing NGO in the world today has its roots in Bangladesh, but no, it is not the Grammen Bank. BRAC stands for the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee. They have recently opened up branches in the US and Europe to help spur fundraising efforts to spread their program into more countries.

BRAC is unique because of instead of hiring people to provide solutions for the poor. They hope to train the poor to provide the solutions themselves. One person who receives a microcredit loan for their small business could one day run BRAC small business efforts for an entire district.

From Fast Company, writer Alice Korngold tells us more about the fast growing NGO.

BRAC's vision is a world free from all forms of exploitation and discrimination where everyone has the opportunity to realize their potential. Its interventions aim to alleviate poverty on a large scale through economic and social programs. BRAC has created 8.5 million self-employment opportunities and made $5 billion in micro-loans to over 6 million borrowers. BRAC's schools graduated 3.8 million students from primary schools and 2.3 million from pre-primary schools, with nearly 1.8 million children currently enrolled in its 66,000 schools. You can read more here.

Originally known as the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee--now simply called BRAC--the organization was founded by Abed when he was overwhelmed by the sight of death and extreme poverty among refugees returning to Bangladesh after the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh. Abed left his corporate life, sold his London home to fund his project, and set up relief efforts in a remote area in northeastern Bangladesh. Next he raised funds from Oxfam to further advance the organization. Abed's work ultimately led him and BRAC to deal with the long-term task of improving living conditions of the rural poor. He directed his policy towards helping the poor develop their capacity to manage and control their own destiny.

In "Freedom from Want," author Ian Smillie notes that "[Abed] did not know that, in the years ahead, he would confront and surmount some of the greatest development challenges on the planet and everything he knew about economics, health, and education would be turned on its head."

Smillie describes the unique BRAC culture that was established from the outset: "Brutally honest about what had been achieved and what [BRAC] had learned ... The idea was not to prove they had all the answers before they started, but to find out what worked and apply the lessons." From the beginning, BRAC let incompetent staff go and set up a training center for those who remained. As BRAC facilitated the development of small enterprises by the people they serve, BRAC sought and found ways to lower the costs of production in order to reduce the expenses of borrowing.

You'd think I'm writing about an ambitious, highly competitive company. And yet, I'm writing about what is referred to in The Economist "by most measures the largest, fastest-growing non-governmental organisation (NGO) in the world--and one of the most businesslike."

The dangers of unsupervised school accommodation in Zambia

From IRIN, a story about the problems with unsupervised boarding schools in Zambia.

An absence of boarding facilities for high school pupils in Zambia's northern province of Luapula is forcing children to share lodgings with their peers - unsupervised by adults - leading to teenage pregnancies and HIV/AIDS infections.

Many children live a long way from school and prefer to rent accommodation nearby. Grade 12 pupil Dorcas, 17, stopped attending the Mabumba High day school, about 20km east of provincial capital Mansa, after becoming pregnant.

"We were staying the three of us [girls], then we started sharing the house with three guys and that is how we paired ourselves. We just wanted some form of emotional support; life is really tough out there. So, the whole of last year we were living together with the guys and would have [unprotected] sex almost every night but everything was OK," she told IRIN.

"When I missed [my periods] early this year, I decided to go to Mansa General Hospital for a [pregnancy] test and the results were positive... I left school because everyone was laughing at me. They were saying 'this one is a married woman' after they knew [of my pregnancy]."

Mabumba High School enrols some of its 690 pupils from as far away as the capital Lusaka and about 500 of the children are responsible for their own accommodation arrangements.

"We couldn’t find a place in a proper boarding school in Luapula. Everywhere we went, we were told 'the places are full', and that’s how my mother decided to bring me here. She sends money every month for rentals, food and groceries," Margaret Chanda, 16, a Grade 12 pupil from Ndola in the Copperbelt and attending Mabumba High School, told IRIN.

She shares a two-room grass-thatched hut with her friend and pays US$5 a month.

Wamunyima Chingumbe, a Health Ministry director in Mansa District, said the absence of boarding facilities at day schools had led to teenage pregnancies and made pupils vulnerable to contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs). After malaria, STIs were the most common ailments recorded at makeshift boarding high schools.

Higher STI rates

"In terms of HIV/AIDS and other STIs, quazi-boarding schools record higher numbers of pupils with STIs compared to schools with [official] boarding facilities," Chingumbe said.

"Mabumba High School once recorded 13 HIV-positive female cases and four HIV-positive male cases out of an enrolment population of about 600 pupils," Chingumbe said.

"On the other hand there are very few cases of HIV-positive/STI cases recorded [at official] boarding schools, and this could be attributed to the fact that pupils are confined in one place and dormitories are out of bounds for the opposite sex," he said.
Government investment in universal primary education has not been matched in the high school sector, and the 2008 scrapping of qualifying examinations for Grade 10 has put more pressure on school facilities, with more and more pupils continuing their education. The province has 23 high schools, six of which are day schools.

Elizabeth Mushili, coordinator of the Mansa District Women’s Development Association, a gender-based advocacy group, wants the government to equip all schools with boarding facilities.

'Free-range lifestyles'

"These children adopt confused, free-range lifestyles. We are of the view that government should have been more considerate and constructed dormitories for both girls and boys at these high schools. Or better still, they [government] should have built more day high schools to cut down on the distances [between the schools].

"Early pregnancies are very common because of lack of parental care; no one is looking after these children and, hence, they can do anything," Mushili told IRIN.

"We have pupils, especially girls, who get abused by male adults for sexual exploitation; we have many children around 13, 14 years carrying their own children and dropping out of school in Mabumba and Chembe [another day high school in Mansa where children use makeshift accommodation]," she said.

Luapula is one of Zambia’s poorest provinces: it has a poverty level of 75 percent, compared with the national average of 64 percent. According to UNAIDS the national HIV prevalence for sexually active adults aged 15-49 is 14.3 percent.

"Many of us end up sending our children to these weekly-boarding schools like Mabumba because we have no money to send them to boarding schools. We are poor," Joseph Mutale, a small farmer in Mansa, told IRIN.

"I give my son a tin of maize [for grinding into the staple maize meal] every month and 10,000 kwacha [US$2] to buy relish but he keeps on complaining about other things that I can’t afford to give him," he said.

Pupils attending boarding high schools pay up to $300 for a three-month term, but day schools like Mabumba only charge $40 a term.


Zambian law classifies sex with anyone under 16 as defilement, and is punishable by a prison term of up to 25 years.

"We have many children below 16 years who are very sexually active. It is defilement [of a minor] but she will not see it that way. There are many defilement cases going on here; they are contracting many diseases especially STIs; some are falling pregnant," a teacher at Mabumba High School, who preferred anonymity, told IRIN.

Luapula's provincial education officer Florence Kanchebele told IRIN the government had begun constructing boarding facilities at two day schools – in Ponde and Lukwesa, and acknowledged the problems associated with learners renting accommodation close to schools. She said some pupils engaged in "what may be termed as 'marriages of convenience' with other pupils and sometimes, community members due to economic reasons".

The school authorities were still responsible for their children outside school hours and landlords were "instructed to protect the pupils, report to the school any bad behaviour by such pupils, and sensitize the pupils on the dangers of HIV/AIDS, STIs and early pregnancies," she added.

Ruth Mwewa, a landlord for several pupils from Mabumba High School in the past, told IRIN: "No teacher has ever approached me to talk about these pupils’ behaviour. Two of the girls I have kept here got pregnant and stopped school. The girls are especially a big problem because they are forever found with boys or married men who come with cars."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A microcredit co-operative with indigenous roots

One of the strengths of microcredit was the close relationship the lender had with the borrower. Some of the microcredit banks made sure that the loan helped improve the borrowers life instead of put a bigger burden on them. Grammen and similar microcredit banks made sure that borrowers made commitments to improve their health and education as well as using the loan to improve their business. Each borrower belonged to small groups that helped each member meet these commitments as well as their payments.

We are now seeing this communal aspect of microcredit being taken a step further. Small cooperative savings and loans are staring up without a big central bank controlling the money. Members of the group will contribute to a pot of money that members can later borrow against when needs arise. We linked to a story about one such cooperative in Kenya not long ago. Today, we find a story from the Inter Press Service on one in Argentina. Writer Marcela Valente says some aspects of the cooperative have roots in the Aymará indigenous tradition.

Abra Pampa is the capital of the department of Cochinoca in the arid altiplano region of La Puna, whose scarce population is mainly of indigenous origin, as is Brajeda, a Kolla Indian who, as she says, "was born and will die here."

"You'll laugh if I tell you how much money each of us puts into the pool. It might be 30 or 50 pesos (between seven and 12 dollars) and once in a while up 100 pesos (24 dollars). The money then goes to whoever needs it," she said.

The loans are small, up to 5,000 pesos (1,200 dollars) at the most. "Anyone who wants more has to go to the bank," Brajeda laughs. The interest rate is nine percent, and has remained stable since the fund was created seven years ago.

"Our group gives out loans monthly. If we don't have the amount someone requests, we continue to collect until the next month. And the small interest fee we charge is so that the capital will not run out, so that there will always be something there," she says.

Brajeda says the system is a way "to help ourselves without so much paperwork or red tape." The money goes towards purchases of yarn or thread for weaving work, antibiotics, school supplies or shoes. "It's a big help," she emphasises.

The original adviser to all of the projects was anthropologist Raúl Llobeta.

"This programme was conceived of from an anthropological, rather than market-oriented, viewpoint," Llobeta, a professor at the National University in Jujuy and an adviser to several Avina Foundation projects, tells IPS.

One of his studies found that South America's Aymará indigenous people used to have a financial institution: the "pasankus" – a trust-based community system of savings and credit.

The old system was recreated "to strengthen the self-esteem and cultural identity, and the political and social organisation, of local communities, and it also serves as a financial lever to break the circle of poverty," he says.

Video: Children scarred by Libya conflict

From Al Jazeera, a video that shows how the armed conflict in Libya is affecting the country's children.

Moving from cash transfer to social protection

The cash transfer programs in Latin America have been a great success, but they have brought along with it great criticism. In cash transfer programs, the government gives poor people some money to help supplement their small incomes. People on the right of the political spectrum say such a program will begin a cycle of dependence. While those on the left say cash transfer does little to remove the unjust barriers preventing the poor from moving up the economic ladder.

From the Guardian, writer Stephen Devereux from the Institute of Development Studies talks about how cash transfer can participate in social justice. Using the term "social protection" Devereux talks about an open relationship between governments and the citizens receiving the help.

The social protection discourse has been dominated by efforts to demonstrate and measure its poverty-reduction impacts, and to deflect criticisms from the right and left. But social protection is not only about installing safety nets and contributing to the millennium development goals – important though these are – it also has profound implications for governance and social relations in implementing countries. A conference hosted by the Institute of Development Studies in April addressed a perception that insufficient attention has been paid to the politics of social protection, and its relationship to social justice. Several key lessons emerged.

Social protection is much more than a service-delivery sector: the decisions a society makes about how and whether to guarantee basic subsistence for all citizens reveals the vision that society has about itself – is it based on solidarity and interdependence, or individualism and self-reliance? What constitutes a "good society" at a time when neoliberal capitalism prevails and financial austerity offers a convenient excuse to cut back on government spending? These questions resonate in the UK and mainland Europe as much as they do in the poorest countries.

What are the implications of the social protection agenda for the evolving social contract between governments and citizens? If there is no direct line of accountability between the providers and beneficiaries of social protection, the potential for mobilising civil society is limited. This question is particularly pertinent in countries where poverty and aid dependence mean that international donor agencies dominate the design and financing of these interventions.

Social protection must be delivered in ways that do not stigmatise people: social protection programmes need to respect the dignity of claimants and empower them to become active citizens rather than passive beneficiaries. In India, "social audits" are innovative participatory tools that empower marginalised villagers to claim their right to social protection, and to hold local administrations accountable for their delivery.

Social protection should be linked to other dimensions of social policy, such as tackling discrimination and social exclusion, which are often the root causes of poverty: eradicating social injustice can eliminate a need for welfare transfers. For instance, is it better to deny an HIV-positive person work and compel them to depend on social protection, or to outlaw discrimination in the labour market based on HIV status, as South Africa has done?

Video: IMF Chief Gets Little Support From EU, Parisians

From the Associated Press, an update on the sexual assault charges against International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn. The IMF head is receiving little support internationally for his defense.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Hard rainy season fuels cholera's spread in Cameroon

The rainy season started early and hard in Cameroon. The rains were so hard that it flooded sewerage and garbage through city streets. The filthy water has helped to fuel the spread of cholera in Cameroon's capital city of Yaounde. Since February there have been 250 deaths from cholera.

From Reuters Alert Net, writer Elias Ntungwe Ngalame describes the new humanitarian situation in Yaounde.

Diplomatic missions in Yaounde have also warned their citizens, especially those arriving for the first time, to avoid flooded and cholera-infected zones. They have been advised not to drink water from dubious sources nor eat fruit from roadside vendors, which may have been washed in contaminated water.

The city council, working in tandem with the health ministry, has been spraying anti- bacterial solution in inundated districts. Floods have turned the pit toilets and garbage heaps common in the city’s poorer neighbourhoods into ponds of raw sewage, which is seeping into nearby wells, infecting the main source of drinking water, health officials say.

The council has also banned the sale of bottled drinking water on the streets, a trade that has become popular among the growing ranks of unemployed youths.

The U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is helping the Cameroon government and the population by providing emergency medical kits containing surgical gloves, water treatment tablets, cholera medicine, oral rehydration salts and public education materials. The U.N. agency is concerned about the impact on children, who are particularly at risk from the killer disease.

At the University Reference Hospital (CHU) in Yaounde, patients, including children, lie contorted in agony on mattresses fouled with diarrhoea brought on by cholera.

“Children and mothers are the most vulnerable group and we have been receiving them here by the day since we opened this treatment centre on March 31,” said Gaelle Faure, head of the Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) mission in Yaounde, which is working alongside the government to contain the disease.

According to the international medical aid group, the makeshift unit has treated some 158 cases since April 10. It is also providing hygiene management services, including sensitising people to the importance of adequate sanitation.

The cholera problem is not limited to Cameroon. Since September, cases have occurred in other parts of Central and West Africa, including Chad, Niger and Nigeria, according to a report from the World Health Organization (WHO). The affected area is home to some 5 million people.

In Northern Nigeria and southern Niger, more than 260 deaths and over 3,300 cases have been registered. In Cameroon, 6,199 cholera cases have been recorded in the Far North and 410 people have died, the WHO said.

Around 70 percent of inhabitants in Cameroon’s Far North and border towns in Nigeria, Chad and Central African Republic have no access to potable water, according to the report.

Many also live far from medical facilities that could save their lives by helping them rehydrate and replacing the sodium and potassium lost in diarrhoea and vomit.

Video: China's government trafficking babies from poor families

From Al Jazeera, a video about China's extreme measures to enforcing the one child policy.

A quarter of Mongolia's population live in one shantytown

The country of Mongolia now has a shanty town that contains a quarter of the country's population. People who used to live on the countryside move to slums of Ulan Bator to find work. Many of the people who move used to herd livestock, but growing desertification of the countryside has forced them to turn to the city for a livelihood.

From the Guardian, writer Kit Gillet describes the vast slum in Mongolia.

More than 700,000 people have crowded into the area in the past two decades. Many are ex-herders and their families whose livelihoods have been destroyed by bitter winters that can last more than half the year; many more are victims of desertification caused by global warming and overgrazing; the United Nations Development Programme estimates that up to 90% of the country is now fragile dryland.

Yet with limited education, few transferable job skills and often no official documents, most end up simply waiting, getting angry with the government and reminiscing about nomadic lives past. Many take to alcohol.

"More and more people arrive every year and there are so few jobs available," said Davaasambuu after queueing for 30 minutes to collect his family's daily drinking water from one of 500 water stations that dot the slum. "Nothing has changed in my neighbourhood since the last election [in May 2009]. There have been no new jobs or improvements. One little bridge has been added in the last four years, that's it," he said.

The basic infrastructure is not in place to support such a large population, which expands by tens of thousands of people a year. Many of them still live in a ger – the traditional round felt tent they arrived with from the countryside and which gives the districts their name and also their sense of impermanence.

Davaasambuu's is not an easy life. The area around his home is falling into disrepair with rubbish piling high. Nightly fights between drunks are getting worse. But at least he can take comfort in the fact that he now has a job with which to support his family, unlike many of his neighbours.

"Not everyone in the ger district is dirt poor – some are doing OK – but it is a hard life," said Troy Tvrdik, whose educational and vocational training NGO, Flourishing Future, is based in the district. "Even when it is minus 40, you still have to go out to get water."

Video: Poverty drives student out of school

From NTV Kenya, a video about one child who is unable to attend school because her parents are unable to afford it.

Video: Sexual Violence in the DR Congo

From the Search for Common Ground, a video about the battle to stop sexual violence in the Republic of Congo.

How to slow NGOs overwhelming a post-disaster area

When a large disaster strikes, an outpouring of support comes to aid the victims. That support can sometimes be overwhelming and ineffective.

The greatest example of this is the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake. Hundreds of non-governmental organizations and charities flooded the tiny country. With the government destroyed, there was no one to coordinate all of the efforts. Often, the aid from NGOs and charities went duplicated or wasted. To this day the NGOs remain, without anything to replace them so the people can begin to support themselves.

From the Guardian, writer Madeleine Bunting attended a recent roundtable discussion on this very topic. The panelists talked about possible solutions to the overflow of aid after a disaster. Many at the discussion conceded that it is a problem that might never be completely solved.

The proposal on the table is a certification system. But would this just be a club for the big NGOs to squeeze out the small, local or most innovative? Who gets to check the certification process – that in the midst of a disaster, "is your paperwork in order"? Who inspects to make sure that the NGO is delivering what it claims it does. The problems are legion, as everyone in the room agreed. Alan Duncan, the minister at the Department for International Development, was pretty clear that it was up to the NGOs to work out how such a certification system should work.

As one speaker pointed out, after every disaster there is a renewed attempt to sort out the chaos of the burgeoning international NGO sector. DIY aid is a huge trend created by the massive media engagement in a disaster; everyone watches the pictures on television and the global good will pours out – incoherent, passionate and convinced it can make a difference. After the 2004 tsunami, the "cluster system" was born in which NGOs worked together, chaired by the UN, on particular problems such as water or education. But another speaker pointed out that the cluster system becomes unwieldy: 200 people in a shack at the airport who can't speak the same language and then it starts raining so they can't even hear each other. Chaos.

The central issue is that it's the state structure of a stricken country that has to regulate NGO activity, and the whole point about a disaster is that it often overwhelms the capacities of states in poor countries. Haiti was a terrible example of a weak state that was itself smashed in the earthquake.

A more positive example, said Stocking, was Bangladesh where a strong network of community organisations has grasped disaster preparedness, and put in place measures that have hugely reduced the loss of life from cyclones since the 1990s. The model has been copied in many other countries prone to flooding, providing a low-cost, community-owned template of what Lord Ashdown's recent report on humanitarian emergency aid called "resilience". Stocking talks of building up local NGOs as the front line in a disaster; in Aceh, Indonesia, Oxfam works entirely through such local groups.

Video: Police: Maid Picked IMF Chief Out of Lineup

From the Associated Press, a video about charges of sexual assault against International Monetary Fund chairman Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Discerning the clothing collection boxes

We have often seen the blue and green collection boxes in parking lots across America. The boxes have drawings of the globe and claim to give the clothing to far flung reaches of the globe. Do the clothes actually make it to the poor across the world? Also how do these boxes effect donations to your local charities like the Salvation Army and Goodwill?

From the Chicago Tribune, writer Monica Eng describe why those boxes may not be as charitable as they seem.
With more-established charities reducing their fleets of clothing boxes, commercial recyclers have moved in with their own boxes to tap into the valuable supply of discarded American clothing — sometimes, but not always, in partnership with charities.

Although some larger charities around the country have blamed the new boxes for a decrease in donations, local Goodwill and Salvation Army representatives say donations have remained generally stable, considering the economy.

Some of the more controversial new boxes are placed by recyclers who consider collecting used clothes to be a charitable environmental program or who create and run their own charity to which they donate funds.

One of the biggest players, Gaia, falls in the first category. Over the last several years it has been criticized for characterizing itself as an environmental charity with projects around the world, when most of its environmental work remains collecting clothes for sale. Along with the related organizations Planet Aid and USAgain, Gaia has expanded in the last decade despite its connection to the controversial Danish organization Tvind, whose leader was acquitted of charges of money laundering and embezzlement in 2006.

An example of the second category is Florida businessman Jay Katari, who owns or has a stake in several textile recycling companies and has also headed charities called Shoes for a Cure and Cancer Free America, whose logos have emblazoned hundreds of boxes.

Critics contend that he gives very little of his profits to cancer causes, and the controversy led Johns Hopkins Cancer Center and Children's Center to stop taking donations from his organizations. Katari did not return phone calls from the Tribune seeking comment, but he said in one television report out of Maryland that he has given at least $87,000 to cancer charities.

In 2009, boxes for a new cancer charity called Go Green for the Cause began to appear in parking lots across the nation. Nicole Leve, executive director of the organization, says it has about 1,000 boxes nationally and about 200 in the Chicago area that raise money for cancer charities. Commercial recyclers operate most of the clothing operations and pay Go Green for clothes deposited in the bins, Leve said. Katari runs one of those recyclers and has been a generous donor to the charity, she said.

Video: Breakthrough in the fight against HIV

From Al Jazeera, a video about a new study that reinforces the importance of anti-retroviral drugs for patients with HIV.