Monday, October 31, 2011

Comic Book on Poverty wins Prize

One of the problems addressing the social issues surrounding poverty - for those not affected by it directly - is that one is usually not subjected to the concept of what poverty means until around the age of college.  Then any number of influences can expose one to the idea of poverty but it tends to still be an external 'issue' to be addressed.

I imagine that in order to affect a change in how society views the concept of poverty, its going to need to be something that is learned at a much younger age - an idea folded into the growth of the youth in society so that they can garner an appropriate relationship.

Ideas like the Sesame Street poverty character and this new Comic Book by the UN are signs that the foundations of society are making a shift in understanding our relationship with poverty.

"The book, primarily aimed at children between the ages of eight and 14...provides an interactive way to help young people understand, familiarize and reflect about the MDGs as well as invites them to take action through several activities provided in an adjoining educational guide."

Friday, October 28, 2011

British aid review could shortchange Burundi

A couple of years ago the British government decided to begin a review of international aid expenditures. The review was said to determine what countries had grown to the point where they didn't need as much aid. The review also was set to find what investments produced the greatest results.

There has been great concern throughout the process that some deserving countries would see a decrease in aid. Critics also worried that decisions would be made with only British national interests in mind.

One country in Africa will soon see a closure of services from Brittan's international aid agency. That is the country of Burundi who has the smallest gross domestic product in the world. Parliament is urging the review to reconsider.

From the Guardian, writer Marc Tran reviews the details.

As part of the review announced in March, DfID decided to reduce the number of bilateral aid programmes from 43 to 27. Burundi was dropped, even though DfID said it had "a compelling case for aid". In 2005, the country emerged from a 12-year civil war, fought on ethnic lines, that killed 300,000 people. The conflict left the country devastated, with the lowest recorded GDP per capita in the world, at $150 in 2008. Burundi ranks 166th of 169 countries in the UN's human development index. With 81% of the population living below the poverty line, it is unlikely to meet most millennium development goal targets, not least those on poverty, maternal and under-five mortality, and deforestation. Recent attacks, including the massacre of 36 people at a bar near the capital, Bujumbura, have fuelled fears of a return to civil war.

DfID had doubts about bilateral aid to Burundi in 2009, when a director said the programme was "structurally inefficient, with a small spend, overly-wide scope, and a staff-to-spend ratio which does not reflect economies of scale". DfID said in its bilateral aid review of Burundi that a "large scale-up would have been required to show a significant impact and therefore demonstrate value for money. Achieving this in the short term would have been difficult given capacity constraints in country".

Although its bilateral programme will close next year, DfID said it would continue to support Burundi's integration into the east African community. This will be done through TradeMark East Africa (TMEA), an initiative created by DfID with joint funding from Belgium, Denmark and Sweden. The scheme aims to reduce transport times and costs, eliminate trade barriers, and integrate small markets.

However, a House of Commons International Development Committee report on Burundi took issue with DfID on all three points. Noting that the UK had bilateral programmes with all the countries in the eastern Africa and great lakes region – Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan – MPs said a decision to discontinue bilateral aid to just one of the seven not only sends the wrong signals to that country, but also removes DfID's expertise where it is valued at a critical time.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Video: Kenya's growing population

From Al Jazeera, a the world reaches 7 billion people, a look at how Kenya tries to deal with their exploding population.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

African Farmers adapting to climate change

There is growing evidence that farmers in Africa are already adapting to climate change. They are beginning to change their farming methods on their own in order to keep harvests plentiful.

A development research conference in France touched upon that subject last week. Writer Christophe Assogba from Science relays what was said by one expert at the conference.

"Social adaptation to climate change has also been found in animals," said Abdoulaye Gouro, president of the scientific committee of the research network RIPIECSA (Interdisciplinary and Participatory Research on Interactions between Climate, Ecosystems and Society in West Africa).

He was speaking at a workshop last week (18–21 October) organised by France's Institute for Development Research (IRD) to obtain feedback on current RIPIESCA projects.

"Farmers are not inactive in the face of climate change. They are sowing second crops, and growing cassava, yams and so on in the lowlands. They have been able to increase their acreage in some areas because of the shifting seasons," Euloge Agbossou, head of the hydrology laboratory at the University of Abomey-Calavi, Benin,told the workshop.

"People are not waiting for engineers, scientists and researchers in order to adapt to climate change. They are aware of the phenomenon, they feel it around them and they have adapted to it," he said.

"Now it is up to us to improve on their methods, and see whether their approaches to adaptation are consistent with what science indicates."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

In Mexico, human trafficking is often operated by those in power

Human trafficking is often associated with organized crime or gangs operating the smuggling. In Mexico, the perpetrators of human trafficking are sometimes those in positions of power within the government.

One reporter exposed some of this abuse of power and now receives death threats every day because of it. Lydia Cacho Ribeiro recently spoke in New York about her investigations. Inter Press Service writer Melanie Haider attended the event.

She has investigated gender violence and sex trafficking and published numerous stories and books on the subject. Her 2005 book "The Demons of Eden" exposed an international child pornography and sex trafficking ring in Cancún which involved senators and politicians.

She was thrown in jail and tortured for publishing that book. When she finally came out and started talking, the government tried to label her a terrorist, but without success. She traveled for six years to investigate the world of international sex trafficking of women, resulting in her latest book "The Slaves of Power" in 2010.

Together with non-governmental organisations and a grassroots activist network, Cacho started a prevention campaign called "No estoy en venta" - "I am not for sale" - against sex trafficking that includes a video to give young people tools they need to protect themselves. The video explains anti-trafficking laws, the tactics traffickers use to lure their victims, and other aspects of the issue.

"It is getting away from discourse of fear and moral panic and all this (crap) and going back to the discourse of 'you have the power of the information, use it for your own good and how to protect yourself and other kids in school'," she stressed.

But her fight has not come without a price. Cacho told IPS that she has a lengthy checklist of safety strategies she must adhere to in her daily life because of the threats she receives, such as using a different name to make hotel reservations when she travels and constantly switching phone cards.

"I guess right now in Mexico my biggest challenge is to stay alive," she said.

Friday, October 21, 2011

New World Bank lending plan could avoid environmental concerns

The World Bank has a new plan set in place on how they are going to lend money out to poorer countries. Many environmental NGOs are criticizing the new plan because it does not take into account how the loans will effect the planet.

The World Bank wants to use the results a project achieve as the biggest determining factor on if the money is lent out. The environmentalists say that this could include projects that could harm the natural resources.

From the Guardian, writer John Vidal explains the controversy further.

The proposal, called A New Instrument to Advance Development Effectiveness: Programme-for-Results Lending (P4R), would lend money according to results achieved by projects. The proposal was published in February, and phase II consultations ended recently. Board approval is expected by the end of the year. Some of the NGOs that keep an eye on the bank's activities – International Rivers, Friends of the Earth US and Bank Information Centre – say the clear intention is to allow countries to sidestep dozens of tough, and expensive, social and environmental safeguards which recipients of World Bank loans must normally meet.

According to the proposals, the new instrument would eliminate or greatly dilute 25 existing safeguards and policies. They include those that apply to forced resettlement, natural habitats, physical and cultural resources, indigenous peoples, forests, safety of dams, natural habitats, and environmental action plans. Most of these policies have taken years of pressure by NGOs to secure.

The bank, which lends more than $50bn a year, is one of the world's largest providers of loans for mega-projects, many of which are particularly damaging to local people, the environment and the climate. If countries wanting to build giant dams, roads, power and water projects are to be largely freed from acting in a socially responsible way, the NGOs fear bank lending could lead to more forced evictions and human rights abuses.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

From Concern Worldwide: Paving the Way for Behavior Change in Tahoua, Niger

Next up in our series of Posts from Concern Worldwide is a look at some of the education services they provide in Niger. The program concentrates on improving maternal and child health by education on health and basic care for babies. Concern's Health Adviser Jenn Weiss traveled to Niger last summer to participate in the program.

This summer, I traveled from the Concern US office in New York City to Tahoua, Niger, leaving the heat of the city behind and arriving to much hotter weather (130 degrees!) on the dusty and barren edge of the Sahel. In the Tahoua region, which is about 400 kilometers north of Niamey, Niger’s capital, Concern is in the second year of its child survival programs.

Over the last decade, these programs, funded by USAID have been recognized for their impact, improving maternal and child health in Bangladesh, Rwanda, Burundi and Haiti through low-cost, community-based solutions.

Concern Niger’s Lahiya Yara (‘Life of a Child’) program aims to reach approximately 300,000 mothers and children under five years old with proven life-saving interventions to address diarrheal disease, malaria, pneumonia, and malnutrition by strengthening the health system, and by investing in intensive community-level activities to promote sustained behavior change.

Behavior change is one of the key strategies of Concern’s child survival programs. In simple terms, it means helping people make simple, yet life-saving actions part of their daily routines. It’s a sustainable, low-cost methodology to ensure that mothers are equipped with the knowledge and skills to improve their child’s health.

Some of the specific behaviors the Lahiya Yara Project is trying to promote include washing hands before eating, seeking care for a fever within 24 hours, and giving sick children as much or more food and liquid than usual. These may seem like obvious behaviors that we all practice in the U.S, but in Tahoua, a lack of basic necessities such as clean water, soap, and food, and long distances from the health center are barriers that mothers encounter on a daily basis.

The purpose of my trip to Tahoua was to work with the Lahiya Yara team to develop behavior change messages that will teach mothers how to realistically implement healthy behaviors. In order to make sure our messages would be relevant and accepted, we first asked mothers why they weren’t able to implement the healthy behaviors we recommend. Based on their answers, we designed tailor-made messages that take into account the formidable barriers mothers face.

For example, Concern will be encouraging mothers to provide their children with clean drinking water. One of the barriers women cited as a barrier to providing clean water to their children is that they don’t have the money to purchase a water filter. Concern will therefore focus on teaching women that boiling is also an effective way to treat water.

This is an easy, low-cost solution that could save the lives of many children by preventing diarrheal diseases. It may seem simple, almost intuitive to us, but we have been inculcated with these types of messages through health education in schools and the mass media, benefits not available to most Nigeriens.

Another behavior that Concern is promoting is exclusive breastfeeding until the child is six months old. When Concern asked why some mothers do not feed their babies with breast milk only, many replied that they believed it wasn’t possible or healthy for a mother to breastfeed when she is sick.

Sick mothers would instead feed their babies water or other liquids. Concern will therefore focus its messages on teaching women that most illnesses do not affect breastmilk and that it is healthy and safe to breastfeed even when the mother is sick.

Now that we have our behavior change messages finalized, we will begin to spread messages urging mothers to adapt these specific behaviors through a variety of channels: one-on-one counseling with Health Officers and Community Health Workers, radio messages, and even text messages. By reaching women through multiple channels with consistent, tailor-made messages; Concern’s behavior change activities will equip mothers with the knowledge and skills they need to improve the lives of their children.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

30% of Afghan children are working in child labor

30% of all children in Afghanistan are laboring in some fashion. Most are doing it just to help out their family, because their parents cannot earn money or not enough of it. There are as many as 50,000 to 60,00 child laborers in the city of Kabul alone.

From CNN, writer Kyle Almond filed this story that takes a look at another of the many problems in Afghanistan.

UNICEF has estimated that at least 30% of Afghan children age 5-14 are working in some form. But the issue goes far beyond Afghanistan's borders: UNICEF says that worldwide, approximately 158 million children between 5 and 14, one of every six children in that age group, are engaged in child labor.

"Most of these children are working to help their families meet their basic needs; not all of them," said Eric Edmonds, an associate professor of economics at Dartmouth College who advises many U.S. and international organizations on child labor issues. "I think it's easy to see instances of child abuse and child neglect and assume they're pervasive and they characterize all of those working children. But I think the reality of the situation is that ... most of those working children are doing so to help meet family needs."

While it varies by country, Edmonds said the world's most common child labor -- by far -- is agricultural. Forget about the manufacturing "sweatshops" that tend to dominate the headlines. Often, child labor is simply a kid working on the family farm.

"A lot of people say that's character-building, that's good stuff for them to be doing," Edmonds said. "But the risks associated with agriculture are actually a lot more extreme than a lot of shopkeeping-type tasks that you can imagine: children involved in toxic chemicals, children exposed to pests, children operating machinery that's too large for them, isn't designed to be done by them. All are serious risks that unfortunately a lot of children face."

Of course, the risk of physical harm is just one of many consequences that come with child labor, whether it's on a farm, in a factory or on a street.

The most serious might be the effect it has on society as a whole. If children are spending most of their time working, they'll never be able to attend school and get the education they need to find a better-paying job one day. Often, they will grow up illiterate and poor and pass on the same problems to their own children.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Veteran Ugandan activists disillusioned with direction of HIV response

From IRIN, a story about the fight against HIV in Uganda, some activists there say that they are losing ground against the disease.

Some of Uganda's most active campaigners in its 30-year fight against HIV are losing faith in the government's ability to effectively counter the epidemic as the country struggles to provide treatment and prevent more than 100,000 new infections every year.

Uganda won plaudits in the early days of the epidemic for the aggressive stance taken by President Yoweri Museveni; the country lowered its HIV prevalence from 18 percent in the early 1990s to about 6 percent in 2000. However, several setbacks - including corruption scandals, frequent treatment shortages and accusations of a misguided prevention programme - have undermined its progress.

"Uganda's HIV fight is like a stunted child who once upon a time crawled, stood up, took a few steps but was never able to run," said Milly Katana, a long-term activist and one of the inaugural board members of the Global Fund to fight HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria. "And the way things are going, the child may go back to crawling."

More money, less passion

Katana, who discovered she was HIV-positive in 1995 and went public with her status soon after, says while the injection of millions of dollars saved lives through treatment, it also commercialized the industry, leaving it open to abuse by those not truly interested in defeating the epidemic.

"When we started we had a genuine passion for fighting HIV, but now people do it as a job, a way to earn a living, and are less interested in people living with HIV, in understanding what it will take to end the epidemic," she said.

Katana added that Museveni, who once faced HIV head-on and stood with the activists, appeared to have changed his stance, embracing prevention programmes that did not emphasize condom use and openly questioning evidence-backed prevention techniques such as medical male circumcision.

"I have lost the fire I once had for activism; we need to stop and think and look at what made us succeed in the early days," she said.

Lack of coordination

For Major Rubaramira Ruranga, executive director of the National Guidance and Empowerment Network of people living with HIV/AIDS in Uganda, the lack of proper coordination at the top of the HIV response is largely responsible for the disorganization visible in the rest of the sector.

"Who is responsible for HIV in the country? Is it the Uganda AIDS Commission? Is it the Ministry of Health? Is it the President's Office?" he asked. "We need to have a single body that is able to call people to order, to steer the response effectively; for instance, HIV is going up again in Uganda and we need to know why, but who can tell us?"

He also noted that while the country had strong policies to fight HIV, they rarely reached the implementation phase.

"The national strategic plan is full of good ideas, but where is the change? For instance, a lot has been said about mainstreaming HIV, but it has not gone beyond the rhetoric," Ruranga said. "We need to set benchmarks and have mechanisms that work towards achieving them."

He further noted that HIV decision-making had happened at a high level, leaving out grassroots communities and therefore often missing out on their needs.

"HIV became an office business with lots of workshops, largely in the capital," Ruranga said. "As a result, the needs of the most important people - young people in particular - have been mishandled, and while there is a lot of talk about HIV, there has been little effort to ensure the population understands important issues, such as HIV discordance.

"There has also been a failure to promote a healthy understanding of ARVs [antiretrovirals]. People think it's a panacea and have become complacent about their behaviour," he added. "[They] don't realize that along with ARVs come a number of other complex conditions - cardiovascular disease, lipodystrophy [a condition involving the redistribution of body fat] and so on, some of which can be debilitating."


Rev Gideon Byamugisha has been living with HIV since 1992, and was one of the first religious leaders to publicly announce his status; he is a founder member of the International Network of Religious Leaders Living with and Personally Affected by HIV/AIDS, which, since its formation in 2006, has attracted more than 4,000 members from 48 countries.

Byamugisha says Uganda has failed to keep up with the new methods of handling the epidemic.

"We are still talking about ABC [Abstinence, Be faithful and correct and consistent Condom use], which focuses on sex - but what about the 21 percent of new infections that occur through mother-to-child transmission?

"’Be faithful’ clearly has not worked, since marriage is where most new infections are occurring - the issue should not be faithfulness, but sex with someone whose HIV status you are aware of," he added. "Medical male circumcision is not moving as fast as it should and we have yet to make any moves on treatment as prevention.... we need to take note of the new dynamics and adopt them."

The country needed to shake off the complacency that had set in following the early successes, he said.

"Uganda is a prisoner of its own success - we are like a heavyweight boxing champ who gets the belt and then relaxes," he said.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Anti-terrorism law leads to fear of prosecution for aid groups

Another report released today shows some of the dangerous effects that anti-terrorism laws have for the people that have to live in areas under terrorist control. The US Law puts stiff penalties and jail time to any aid group found assisting terrorist organizations. That has forced many NGOs to stop giving aid to the people in areas controlled by the terrorists.

From the Guardian, writer Mark Tran takes a look at the report from the Overseas Development Institute.

The ODI also found that the administrative burden imposed by counter-terrorism legislation has affected the timeliness and efficiency of humanitarian aid, and can even deter relief groups operating in high-risk areas. In the case of Somalia, where famine has been declared in six regions this year, ODI said funding had declined by half betwen 2008 and 2011, mainly as a result of a drop in American contributions following legislation in the US.

In Gaza, where Hamas has been designated a terrorist group by the US and the EU, a number of NGOs have been forced to limit or suspend their operations. The situation for NGOs has been complicated by a requirement from the interior ministry in Gaza for an NGO registration fee. It is unclear whether payment of the fee could be seen as providing "material support" to Hamas as it would benefit from this revenue.

In Somalia, where al-Shabaab militants are in control in famine-struck regions, Ofac has said that non-USAid partners can work without a licence and that "incidental benefits" to al-Shabaab are not its focus. But aid groups say the statement has created confusion as it is neither a firm guarantee that Ofac will not take action in the future, nor does it bar prosecution under US criminal law.

"Rigid and over-zealous application of counter-terrorism laws to humanitarian action in conflict not only limits its reach … but undermines the independence and neutrality of humanitarian organisations in general," said ODI, "and could become an additional factor in the unravelling of the legitimacy and acceptance of humanitarian response in many of the world's worst humanitarian crises."

Friday, October 14, 2011

From The Culture Zone

Greetings Poverty News Blog Readers! This post has been awhile coming, we simply have been swamped with organizational activities and I haven’t had the opportunity to write a welcoming post to y’all.
As you may have noticed, a few weeks ago Kale announced his need to bow out of the blog as he needs the time for his family. We are fortunate enough to be in a position where we could take up the reins, and see to it that his good work can continue. In the meantime, Kale will still be around and I believe he has even found new energy to continue alongside us.
My name is Joseph - I am the webmaster at The Culture Zone, which is the personal effort of my good friend Michael Harrington. Lately, we have been contemplating what it means to understand why one takes action - specifically against Poverty. So in order to explain The Culture Zone, I would like to talk about what we believe, why we do what we do, and what that means.

  • The idea of children growing up in poverty outrages us.
  • The idea of people being unable to feed themselves, or provide shelter for themselves outrages us.
  • We ask ourselves, “In a World filled with Injustice and Pain, where does my Own comfort fit in?”
  • We ask ourselves, “What exactly is ‘enough?’”
  • We believe that the gap between the rich and the poor has only served to hide The Truth of Reality.
  • We believe that Poverty is not the problem. I am the problem.
  • We challenge the perceived notion of what is Real in today’s society.
  • We live our lives under the concept of treating others as we would be treated.
  • We treat all human beings as equals.
  • We look for those who believe what we believe to come together with us in strength to address these major problems of civilization.
  • We seek to bring together those with resources, opportunity, and passion for making poverty HISTORY – and exalt the truth of reality.
  • The Culture Zone is our place to express what is REAL in the world, and to answer the question “What exactly is ‘enough?’” And to figure out where our comfort really sits.

We hope that if you believe what we believe, then you will be compelled to join us in addressing the disturbing state of the world which allows Poverty to exist.
As far as Poverty News Blog goes - everything will continue as you remember, with periodic updates from The Culture Zone as well. This is the beginning of something we hope will make a difference.

Resource curse precedes oil production in Uganda

Oil well digging has begun in Uganda. What lies underneath the land could bring riches to those above. Already there are allegations of bribes to senior ministers of the government. Before a single barrel of oil is produced the term "Resource Curse" is being used to describe Uganda, just as it is in Niger Delta.

From IRIN, this analysis takes a look at curse that could come with oil drilling in Uganda.

Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi has been accused of receiving funds to lobby for oil production rights on behalf of the Italian oil firm ENI, which eventually lost its bid for exploration rights to British firm Tullow Oil. Along with Mbabazi, Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa and Internal Affairs Minister Hilary Onek are both accused of taking bribes from Tullow Oil worth over US$23 million and $8 million respectively.

The ministers and Tullow Oil deny all the allegations, but MPs on 11 October demanded the ministers' resignations and formed an ad hoc parliamentary committee to investigate them; Kutesa has now stepped aside from his ministerial position to allow investigations into separate charges of abuse of office and causing financial loss relating to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held in Uganda in 2007.

Oil exploration began in Uganda’s northwestern Lake Albert basin nearly a decade ago; the Energy Ministry estimates the country has over two billion barrels of oil; Tullow operates three oil blocks in the region, and had sold off part of its stake to Total and China's CNOOC. However, following the allegations of bribery, parliament has halted the sale.

The revelations of possible large-scale graft have caused outrage in the population. The discovery of oil had given hope to a country that despite more than 25 years of relative stability, remains poor. The UN Development Programme reports that 51 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

“We were so excited when we heard about oil, we knew we would at least get roads, better electricity supply and better hospitals but now it seems that, as usual, all the money is going into the pockets of a few,” said Asuman Kasule, a taxi driver in the capital, Kampala.

No regulatory framework

Analysts say that while the allegations of corruption are troubling and must be addressed, Uganda has bigger problems when it comes to its nascent oil industry. Oil production is due to begin as early as 2013, but the country has not put in place a regulatory framework for the oil industry; the existing legislation on oil and gas exploration was passed in 1993, and analysts say it is not sufficient to deal with the current dynamics.

In addition, the country has not put in place measures to ensure transparency, inclusion of local communities, revenue management and the mitigation of environmental damage. A 2008 National Oil and Gas Policy was intended as a road map for the handling and use of the oil, but critics say many of its recommendations have not been followed.

"As of today, Uganda does not have an oil revenue management framework," Richard Businge, senior manager at International Alert, a peace and conflict NGO, told IRIN. "Government’s argument is that the country has sufficient income and tax laws, which is not necessarily the case because the oil industry is a unique one, which requires a more specific revenue management law. The oil development process has been shrouded in secrecy, breeding confusion and suspicion."


Parliamentarians say oil production sharing agreements dating as far back as 2001 were only shared with them in September 2011. Attorney-General Peter Nyombi Thembo has said the agreements contain confidentiality clauses that prevent the government and parliament from disclosing their contents to third parties.

During a heated debate on 11 October, parliament passed a resolution banning confidentiality clauses in any future oil contracts with foreign companies.

"A lot has gone on in the oil industry without the knowledge of the Ugandan public, and a lot is still going on,” Tony Otoa, a researcher with Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE), a public policy think-tank, told IRIN. "This sort of secrecy - which covered up patronage, corruption - is what preceded the problems Nigeria had in the early stages of its industry."

Otoa said it would be crucial for Uganda to join international mechanisms for transparency in the oil and gas sector such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), an international scheme that attempts to set a global standards for transparency in oil, gas and mining. Implementation of EITI would mean regular, accessible publication of all payments by oil companies to governments and all revenues received by governments from oil companies. The National Oil and Gas Policy recommends that Uganda participate in EITI.

Another such mechanism is Publish What You Pay (PWYP), an international network of civil society organizations that call for oil, gas and mining revenues to form the basis for development and improve the lives of ordinary citizens in resource-rich countries.

"The oil industry is still young, but payments in the millions of dollars have already been made to the government in signing bonuses, licensing fees and so on, but the government has so far been unwilling to share the amounts that have been paid nor the way the money has been spent," said Winfred Ngabiirwe, of PWYP's Uganda chapter. "There has been some flip-flopping by the government on whether it will join EITI, but so far there has been no firm commitment."

Local communities

Ngabiirwe said transparency and open revenue management would be key to ensuring that the local populations in the oil producing areas were able to benefit from the proceeds of the production and lift themselves out of poverty. "As it is, the local populations are not really informed of their rights and we are often blocked by politicians from visiting these areas to enlighten them," she said.

In the areas where PWYP has been allowed to operate, they have set up grassroots chapters of the organization to allow communities to understand and communicate their needs and demand that the oil revenues be used for the development of their areas.

"It’s true that fishing and farming have been interrupted; some communities... have been asked to relocate while others... were notified to prepare to leave," said International Alert's Businge. "The compensation given to them is inadequate - this is determined by government - while those who have to put up with oil activity have to regulate their activities either on farm or on lake. Most of the corporate social responsibility work that companies are doing to kind of buy the `social ticket’ is on infrastructure development and not necessarily responsive to key pressing survival needs of the local communities."

According to a study by Uganda's Makerere University on managing oil expectations, local communities have "expressed hope that oil revenues will result in a better road and railway network, high quality education and health care, a regional technical and university infrastructure, and considerable employment opportunities". However, the study also found that local communities were not involved in the drafting of the National Oil and Gas Policy and were not informed of the oil companies' activities in their region.

And according to ACODE’s Otoa, while it is important for parliament to go after corrupt individuals, it is equally important that they stand up for the rights of local communities and urge environmental caution.

“Our parliamentarians are largely uninformed about the oil sector, so we regularly hold workshops to try and ensure that when the time comes for them to debate an oil bill, they are aware of the key issues that need to be taken into consideration,” he said. “Bodies like the National Environment Management Authority also need their capacity boosted, because they too are inexperienced in the type of environmental damage caused by the oil industry.”

Another important area, according to Henry Banyenzaki, minister for economic monitoring, would be ensuring that Ugandans are trained and employed in various aspects of the oil industry, and that local businesses are geared towards supplying the oil industry.

“We are not moving as fast as we should in government because of bureaucracy, but we need to prepare the private sector as well so that they can get the maximum benefit from the industry,” he said.

Banyenzaki said the government would need to ensure that other key resources - including agriculture and tourism - did not suffer as a result of the focus on oil, a concept known as “Dutch disease”.

"Uganda’s oil wealth can be transformational for Uganda’s economy but this largely depends on how well it is managed... [but] in the absence of proper revenue management and critical forward thinking, the exploitation of oil does not necessarily translate into sustainable socio-economic transformation," said Businge. "

Thursday, October 13, 2011

450,000 people yet to return to the Ivory Coast

It happens over and over again in an armed conflict, the people are quick to leave but slow to return. The displaced people often go on living as refugees for years and years. They begin to grow dependent on aid groups because they can't establish their own livelihood in a different country.

OXFAM tells us that 450,000 people still remain refugees after the Ivory Coast conflict from earlier this year. With the story no longer in the international headlines, the aid groups are running out of food and water to provide for them.

From Reuters Alert Net, we read the latest assessment of the Ivory Coast refugees.

Although some half a million Ivorians have returned to their homes since the end of the conflict in April, 450,000 Ivorians remain displaced inside and outside the country -- the world's top cocoa grower -- according to a report by aid agencies Oxfam, the Danish Refugee Council and Care.

The International Rescue Committee said on Wednesday some of the displaced were sheltering in communities within Ivory Coast while others were in camps in neighbouring Liberia.

"Six months on, the majority of the 170,000 Ivorians who fled to Liberia are reluctant to go back due to persisting insecurity in parts of western Ivory Coast and concerns about targeted attacks by ethnic or political rivals. They remain in precarious conditions in camps and communities," the IRC said in a statement.

Ivory Coast's five-month post-election crisis ended when former president Laurent Gbagbo, who tried to cling on to power despite losing an election in November, was ousted by forces loyal to current President Alassane Ouattara.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sudan's Blue Nile hospital struggles to treat shrapnel wounds

From IRIN, a story about the armed conflict that continues in Sudan between the Northern government and a opposition party.

Kurmuk hospital in Sudan’s southern crisis-hit Blue Nile State is struggling to cope with an influx of war wounded, according to hospital doctor Evan Atar.

So far he has treated 626 people for shrapnel injuries since clashes began last month between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) opposition political party-turned-rebel group.

A man on the operating table cries out in pain, but Atar says the hospital has no more anaesthetics to give him.

Cotton, gauze and saline solution will run out this week if aid does not arrive, he says, adding that six months of supplies have been used up in the past six weeks.

“We are running short of everything - drugs, dressings.” He feared the hospital would have to buy salt, boil it, and use it to sterilize wounds.

"The problem is that there is no way we can get the drugs in here now because of the Antonovs bombing the area, making it very dangerous to fly supplies in from Kenya."

Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir will not allow foreign aid agencies inside Blue Nile or the neighbouring state of South Kordofan, where the government has been fighting SPLM-N forces for months.

The only doctor in Kumruk

Atar is the only doctor in Kurmuk, which has the only hospital between state capital Damazin (under SAF control), and neighbouring Ethiopia.

Nurse Walid Solomon says 20-year-old soldier Satdam Anima is the seventh amputee victim the hospital has dealt with. He was hit by “the big bullet of the Antonov”. Atar, with Solomon’s assistance, sews up the stump near the left shoulder, and Satdam’s eyes roll in pain.

The lack of blood donors mean that the hospital’s 24 nurses donate blood to keep patients alive.

The aerial bombardment in and around Kurmuk is evident and audible.

“In the first war, there was peace in the villages; now they [the Antonovs] bomb even the villages - that’s the problem; and the increasing accuracy of the bombing is leading to rising patient numbers as the weeks go by," Atar said.

The hospital has only one ambulance and most vehicles are useless on the muddy roads. Many of the injured arrive at the hospital by donkey, often too late.

In a ward bed, Altom Osman, 65, is recovering from a deep shrapnel wound to his back and another on his arm when a bomb from an Antonov landed on his mud-and-thatch hut in the village of Sali, north of Kurmuk.

“I was on my farm when the Antonov came. I couldn’t escape," Osman said. He was carrying sorghum flour to his wife.

He managed to flag down a passing soldiers’ vehicle and get to the hospital quickly, and despite his fragile appearance “and very huge wound”, Atar is confident he will make a full recovery.

Further north of Kurmuk in Maiyas, village chief Khidir Abusita pointed to a crater and shrapnel near two huts where six people were killed. He said one man, Sebit Ahmed Hussein, had reached the hospital in time to get treatment, but another, whose “leg was blown apart”, bled to death on the way.

No safe haven

The priority is to move patients from the hospital as quickly as possible, either back home or across the border to Ethiopia where other aid agencies can care for them.

“The fear that an Antonov might bomb [the hospital] is terrible”, Atar said, adding: “Most of the people who were injured are people who were running. The bomb usually explodes upwards in a conical form, so if you keep down you are fine."

Food would also become a problem, he noted. “First of all the war will continue and the second thing is, now, hunger will come and it is not going to spare anyone unless the people go and become refugees to be helped, but for the people left within, it is going to be a big problem.”

Artillery fire directed at rebels could be the last straw. “For now it is the Antonov bombing, but I don’t think I would be here if there is shelling… and no patients could be brought here,” Atar said.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Farmers in Afghanistan continue to grow opium to avoid poverty

A new report says that opium cultivation increased in Afghanistan by seven percent from the previous year. Farmers on the edge of poverty continue to grow the illicit crop because it is the easiest to make money with. Opium prices have doubled in the span of a year.

From The Washington Post World, we find more details on the report and why poverty is cited as a reason for the growth in opium cultivation.

Tuesday’s report also shows that opium cultivation is spreading to new parts of the country, a troubling trend as international troops are trying to stabilize Afghanistan so that they can hand over security responsibilities to the government.

Farmers cultivated 131,000 hectares of opium poppies in 2011, a 7 percent increase over the previous year, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said in its periodic Afghan opium survey. Farmers said they turned to the illegal opium poppy because of “economic hardship and lucrative prices,” according to the report.

The jump came even though the Afghan government increased crop eradication by 65 percent and made significant seizures in recent months.

Fighting Poverty with Mobile Phones

This is really cool - the affects of mobile communications on the abilities of societies living in poverty is astounding.

Mobile Phone: Weapon Against Poverty

"The advent of the mobile society may have brought convenience and a cultural sea change to the U.S. and Europe, but in the poorest regions of the world, affordable mobile phone access has caused a quantum leap in services — like calling for medical help, sending a quick letter to loved ones or starting a savings account — that Americans and Europeans have taken for granted for generations, analysts say."

Monday, October 10, 2011

The World Food Prize 2011 winners

The World Food Prize Symposium takes place this week in Des Monies, Iowa. The annual event brings in policy makers and scientists from around the globe to discuss ways to improve the production of food to ensure that no one goes hungry. During the event the World Food Prize is also awarded to recognize people who have made outstanding contributions to improving food security.

From the Wallaces Farmer, we find out more about this year's prize winners.

The World Food Prize, awarded each year since 1994 and sponsored by the late Des Moines businessman and philanthropist John Ruan, recognizes the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity, or availability of food in the world, thereby helping to boost global food security. This year, the prize will be awarded to John Agyekum Kufuor, the former president of Ghana, and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former president of Brazil, for their outstanding achievements in reducing hunger in their countries. The ceremony will take place during the Borlaug International Symposium, which is the official name. World Food Prize officials commonly refer to the symposium as the "Borlaug Dialogue."

Both of this year's World Food Prize recipients have made considerable contributions to their countries' ag sectors. Under former Ghanaian President Kufuor's tenure, both the share of people suffering from hunger and the share of people living on less than $1 dollar a day were halved. Economic reforms strengthened public investment in food and agriculture, which was a major factor behind the quadrupling of the country's gross domestic product (GDP) between 2003 and 2008. Because 60% of Ghana's population depends directly on agriculture, the sector is critical for the country's economic development.

In addition to the economic reforms, Ghana's Agricultural Extension Service helped alleviate hunger and poverty by educating farmers and ultimately doubling cocoa production between 2002 and 2005. And the country's School Feeding Program, which began in 2005, ensures that school children receive one nutritiously and locally produced meal every day. The program has transformed domestic agriculture by supporting irrigation, improving seeds and crop diversification, making tractors more affordable for farmers, and building feed roads, silos, and cold stores for horticultural crops.

In Brazil, among the major goals of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's presidency were alleviating poverty, improving educational opportunities for children, providing greater inclusion of the poor in society, and ensuring that "every Brazilian has food to eat three times a day." The government implemented policies and actions known as the "Zero Hunger Programs" to provide cash aid to poor families (guaranteeing a minimum income and enabling access to basic goods and services); to distribute food to poor families through community restaurants, assisted-living facilities, day-care centers, and related organizations; and to provide nutritious meals to children in public schools. As a result, the number of hungry people in Brazil was halved, and the share of Brazilians living in extreme poverty decreased from 12% in 2003 to 4.8% in 2009.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Video: North Korean children bear brunt of food crisis

From Al Jazeera, a video on the food crisis in North Korea.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

From one trauma to another in Somalia

One hidden side of of the crisis in East Africa is the lack of safety that women experience. The trip to refugee camps were dangerous for many. Some women were forcibly raped at gunpoint by the armed gangs that patrol the Somalia countryside. Arriving at the camps still provided very little security as the forced rapes continued there. The women have no locked doors to hide behind but instead they have only tent flaps between them and intruders.

From the Inter Press Service, writer Isaiah Esipisu received a first hand account from one of the victims.

When Aisha Diis* and her five children fled their home in Somalia seeking aid from the famine devastating the region, she could not have known the dangers of the journey, or even fathom that she would be raped along the way.

Diis left her village of Kismayu, southwest of the Somali capital of Mogadishu, for the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya’s North Eastern Province in April.

"I was in a group of many women and children, but four of us had come from the same village, hence, we related (to each other) as one family. Along the way, we stopped to make some strong tea since the children were feeling very tired and hungry. One woman remained behind with the children and the three of us went to search for firewood," Diis told IPS through a translator.

"We were ambushed by a group of five men who stripped us naked and raped us repeatedly," she said as tears rolled down her cheeks. "It is something I have not been able to forget. But I wouldn’t like my children to know about it."

"Gender-based violence is a hidden side of the famine crisis," said Sinead Murray, the gender-based violence (GBV) programme manager for the International Rescue Committee (IRC) at Dadaab.

"As per the rapid assessment done on GBV in Dadaab released by the IRC in July, rape and sexual violence were mentioned as the most pressing concerns for women and girls while fleeing Somalia and as an ongoing, though lesser concern, in the camps," Murray told IPS.

"Some women interviewed during (the IRC) survey said they witnessed women and girls being raped in front of their husbands and parents, at the insistence of perpetrators described as 'men with guns.' Others were forced to strip down naked, and in the event they were raped by multiple perpetrators," said Murray.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Al Shabaab and their role in bombings and famine

Al Shabaab is the suspected culprit of a bombing in Mogadishu, Somalia that has killed 70 people. It is the same group of militant rebels that have prevented food aid from reaching the starving in the country during the most recent famine.

The rebel army has often recruited boys from the minority Bantu tribe to do their dirty work. The Bantu have suffered greatly during the famine and now in danger of suffering widespread retaliation from the Somali government.

US law prevents any food aid from going to terrorist organizations. Humanitarian groups from the US have avoided bringing food aid to areas under Al Shabaab control because of the law. The groups fear that they would be sued by the US government despite the attempt to help.

The confusion has compounded the misery for those staring in Somalia. And it is all the more reason that the famine was man-made problem and not necessarily the fault of nature.

This story from IRIN, takes a look at the law and why parts of Somalia have been avoided because of it.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has repeatedly appealed to Al-Shabab to allow food aid into famine-affected parts of Somalia under its control. But, were the militant group to acquiesce, US aid workers fear they could risk legal action if they were part of the humanitarian operation.

Al-Shabab is classified as a terrorist organization by the US government and contact with the group could lead to sanctions, including 15 years’ imprisonment.

However, in July, the US said a new expanded licence issued by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which enforces and administers economic sanctions for the government, would protect NGOs from legal action under the anti-terrorism laws – albeit only those dependent solely on US government grants.

Jeremy Konyndyk, director of policy and advocacy with Mercy Corps, said a group of NGOs took the next step of submitting an application for a blanket licence from OFAC to operate in Somalia, which would protect them from prosecution even if part of their funding came from a non-government source.

“After a month-and-a-half, we still have received no firm answer to this request,” Konyndyk said.

Some headway is being made. Hilary Renner, of the US State Department, said it had recently decided to extend licence coverage to NGOs that not only depend on US government funding, but also money raised privately.

“By doing so, we ensure that these additional activities, undertaken pursuant to a USAID grant, but funded at least in part by other donors, fall under the umbrella of US foreign assistance activities and are covered by the OFAC licence issued to USAID,” Renner told IRIN.

However, it is not yet a done deal. “USAID has informed a number of its partners that it would review proposals to incorporate non-US funded activities within the terms of a grant,” Renner added.

Why US aid matters

The US is the world’s largest aid donor. Until 2008, NGOs from the US or supported by the US formed a substantial portion of the humanitarian presence in Somalia.

That year, the US was Somalia’s biggest donor, giving more than US$237 million. In the same year, Al-Shabab was designated as a terrorist organization and blacklisted by the US government; the insurgency, which controls much of south-central Somalia, began clamping down on aid agencies.

In 2009, US financial support for humanitarian activities dropped to about $99 million. Kay Guinane, a US public interest attorney and director of the Charity and Security Network, said in a briefing, 60 percent of Somalis needing assistance lived in areas occupied or controlled by Al-Shabab, exactly where US aid workers cannot go under the law, which prohibits “material support” to a listed terrorist group, “regardless of the intent”.

“The material support law [which falls under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act in 1996] has been modified repeatedly over the past decade, and is now so broad that it imposes unintended constraints on legitimate humanitarian assistance efforts,” Patrick Leahy, Democrat Senator, told the US Senate Committee on Judiciary on 21 September, calling for reforms.

The definition of “material support” only offers a humanitarian exemption for medicines and religious texts but not for essentials like water or food. It means any property, tangible or intangible, or service, including currency or monetary instruments or financial securities, financial services, lodging, training, expert advice or assistance, safe-houses, false documentation or identification, communications equipment, facilities, weapons, lethal substances, explosives, personnel … and transportation.

Intimidating aid workers

In the past three years Al-Shabab has obstructed aid workers, forcing many to close down – several incidents of attempted extortion, kidnapping, killing and bombings targeting aid workers have been recorded, according to the recent UN Monitoring report on Somalia. In 2009, 10 aid workers were killed and at least 10 were held in captivity in 2010.

Between September 2008 and October 2010, 18 humanitarian aid agencies were expelled from south-central Somalia, typically accused of receiving US funding or promoting Christianity. In 2010, these included Mercy Corps, World Vision and the USAID-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS-NET). The UN World Food Programme (WFP) suspended its operations in the south when one of its warehouses was ransacked and its food stocks burnt.

As the drought escalated, NGOs began lobbying for more clarity on the “material support” law. Days after the UN declared a famine in parts of southern Somalia in July 2011, the US government said it was easing restrictions.

Further lobbying and clarification led to the US government saying that any NGO could work in Somalia without a licence from OFAC. But as NGOs understood it, this was only guidance issued by the Treasury and not backed by any legal guarantee from the Justice Department that they would not be prosecuted.

According to Mercy Corps’ Konyndyk, when the NGOs met the government: “The US Government proposed two paths: either apply for and win US funding for your programmes and obtain legal protection that way; or go into insecure areas with your own funding first and then try to get a specific OFAC licence for your individual agency.” This, the NGOs fear, leaves them vulnerable to the anti-terrorism laws.

However, Renner said: “Several NGOs have requested that USAID modify their existing awards to include their non-US-funded activities. Some other NGOs have requested new awards that include both USAID and non-US funded activities. The approval process will vary for each group based on a number of factors, including discussions of safeguards and reporting requirements with respect to diversion incidents [should aid or NGO resources end up in Al-Shabab’s hands].”


“This [government assurances] is simply not enough,” said Konyndyk. “Not every NGO will obtain US government funding, and it is unreasonable to tell NGOs working with non-US government funds to set up risky operations without knowing whether or not they will be able to obtain a licence. NGOs have been working to test these two paths and to date – two months on from the relaxation of the restrictions in July – I am not aware of a single NGO that has yet been able to obtain legal protection through either mechanism.”

A lot of NGOs’ concerns stem from a Supreme Court ruling in 2010 which upheld a broad interpretation of the “material support” law in a challenge brought by an NGO.

Leahy took up the aid agencies’ concerns with the US Attorney-General’s Office in August. In his response, Ronald Weich, the Assistant Attorney-General assured that counter-terrorism laws would be enforced “in a manner that does not inadvertently impede the legitimate and important disaster relief”.

But that is not good enough, say the NGOs. “Multiple senior US officials have made statements telling NGOs not to fear prosecution, up to and including the Secretary of State and the USAID administrator,” said Konyndyk. “All we are asking is that the USG turn its rhetoric into something tangible.”

A way out would be to provide “a general OFAC licence applicable to responsible, accountable NGOs that would clarify in advance what the rules are and which restrictions are waived”, said Konyndyk. In early August, he said a group of NGOs submitted an application for a general OFAC licence, as acknowledged by Renner, but no answer had yet been given.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Report: Somali Al Shabaab should be tried for crimes against humanity

A new report says that the militant Al Shabaab rebels should be tried for crimes against humanity for their handling of the East Africa famine. Al Shabaab was not allowing food aid to reach the 750,000 people who are starving in Somalia.

From this Reuters Alert Net story, writer Katy Migiro gives us a few quotes from the report.

"Somalia's famine is less a symptom of conflict or climate than of callous and criminal human conduct — including crimes against humanity that demand consequences anchored in international justice," said Matt Bryden, coordinator of the United Nations Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group, in a report for the advocacy group Enough.

"It is ultimately al Shabaab’s twisted ideology, repressive methods, and indifference to the suffering of its own people that lies behind this catastrophe," Bryden wrote.

“The time has come for either the International Criminal Court to become engaged in Somalia, or for a special international tribunal to be established, in order to dismantle Somalia’s deadly culture of impunity.

India Rethinks Poverty Benchmark

From the Voice of America we get more details on the poverty benefit line controversy in India. Earlier this week, the Indian government decided to remove a cap on who receives government social benefits.

The Indian government will not limit social benefits only to those who make less than 50 cents a day in villages and 66 cents a day in cities, which many had feared would be the result of a controversial poverty benchmark proposed last month. The new poverty line triggered an outcry and raised concerns that millions of poor people would be excluded from government welfare programs.

Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh said Monday that beneficiaries of federal welfare programs targeted at the poor will not be restricted by the poverty line set by the planning commission. He called it a significant development.

“The Planning Commission and the Ministry of Rural Development will now work out an agreed methodology with which the states are also comfortable, which will ensure that once the households are ranked according to deprivation, the selection takes place in a manner that no poor and deprived household is excluded from the purview of central government programs," said Ramesh. "This is a major step forward.”

The announcement was made following a massive outcry over the norms on poverty set by the planning commission. The commission had said that people who spend more than half a dollar a day on food, education and health in rural areas and 66 cents a day in urban areas are not poor. That is about half the World Bank’s poverty line of $1.25 a day.

Activists, several economists and opposition members cried foul. They said that the threshold set was not even at subsistence level and left out millions who should be counted among the poor.

The norms embarrassed the government, and were even criticized by some members of the ruling Congress Party. Activists accused the government of trying to reduce the number of beneficiaries of the ambitious social welfare programs it has announced.

Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia agreed that the norms were set at a low level.

“It is clearly a rock bottom level of existence and we know very well that everybody at that level of existence is under significant stress. In fact, we know that even above that level, households are vulnerable,” said Ahluwalia.

Ahluwalia clarified that the norms had been based on the assumption that health and education would be provided free of cost to the poor. He said that has not happened in many states across the country.

“In my view, it is a shame that the public service system for health and education has not delivered these services. In my view, the solution is spend more money on health, spend more money on education,” said Ahluwalia.

The Planning Commission says poverty levels in the country have fallen over the past decade as the economy expands. But the numbers are still huge: About one third of India’s population - or roughly 400 million people - are estimated to be poor.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Video: Indian government removes urban poverty benefit cap

From IBN Live, a video about a controversy on where to set the poverty line in India. The Indian government had set a lower cap for households within urban areas. The cap meant that those just above the line in urban areas could not receive government food benefits. India has now retracted that cap because of the outcry.

Video: Meeting Dadaab's education demands

From Al Jazeera, a video about the education efforts within the vast Dadaab, Kenya refugee camp.