Friday, June 30, 2006

[Africa] UNEP unleashes Africa's potential to end poverty

from African News Dimension

By Carlyn Hambuba

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has launched the second Africa Environment Outlook AEO 2, a report that assesses the state of the environment and draws plausible scenarios as to the likely impacts of different policies over the coming decades in the continent.

Africa’s potential to overcome poverty has been unveiled by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in its latest report. UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner is optimistic that Poverty in Africa can be made history if the region’s wealth of natural resources is effectively, fairly and sustainably harnessed.

Speaking when he officially launched the Africa Environment Out Look AEO2, the new head of the UNEP says despite the potential that Africa has there are still outstanding issues like rapid rates of deforestation, high levels of land degradation, wasteful water use in agriculture and climate change remain and need to be urgently addressed. Steiner noted that natural resources are at the heart of economic activities. The report entitled 'Our Environment, Our Wealth', stress that Africa is currently only using a fraction of its natural wealth potential.

"There is need for Africa to move from being a major exporter of primary resources to being one with a vibrant industrial and manufacturing base," says Steiner. He also called for ‘added value’ to the primary commodities exported by African states. Other challenges are emerging. These range from genetically modified organisms and the costs of alien invasive species up to a switch of chemical manufacturing from the developed to the developing world, says the Africa Environment Outlook-2.

However many African countries are now parties to a wide range of international environment treaties and new cooperative agreements are being born covering shared river and ecosystems like the Limpopo up to the management of the Congo basin’s globally important forests. Meanwhile initiatives like the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) promise to propel the region and its people onto a more prosperous path that balances economic, social and environmental concerns. Several African countries, like the Gambia and Zambia, are mainstreaming the environment in their Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers and other countries are starting to use tax and other market mechanisms to conserve ecosystems like forests.

Achim Steiner, UNEP’s Executive Director, said “The report challenges the myth that Africa is poor. Indeed, it points out that its vast natural wealth can, if sensitively, sustainably and creatively managed, be the basis for an African renaissance—a renaissance that meets and goes beyond the internationally agreed Millennium Development Goals. But this is not inevitable and, as the AE0-2 points out, African nations face stark choices”.

“If policies remain unchanged, political will found wanting and sufficient funding proves to be elusive, then Africa may take a far more unsustainable track that will see an erosion of its nature-based wealth and a slide into ever deeper poverty,” he added. “Such a track will have disturbing consequences not just for many of the 800 million people here but for the rest of the world. Nevertheless, I am convinced that we are fast reaching a watershed in Africa’s response and that the pieces of a sustainable jigsaw puzzle are being steadily put into place” said Mr Steiner.

“Governments are signaling an increased willingness to cooperate and to engage over a wide range of pressing regional and global issues. The economic importance of the environment is increasingly recognized by Africa’s leaders as an instrument for development, for livelihoods, for peace and for stability. I sincerely believe we have a real opportunity to take this impetus a long way,” he concluded.

The AEO-2, compiled on behalf of AMCEN with funding from UNEP and the governments of Belgium, Luxembourg and Norway, is the work of researchers and scientists from across the region. Untapped Potential From freshwaters to forests and from minerals to the marine environment, the region is only realizing a fraction of its nature-based economic potential says the AEO-2, which is sub-titled Our Environment, Our Wealth.

The report says, for example, that the potential for tourism based around nature and cultural sites is huge but relatively untapped. “Africa has numerous tourist attractions, yet it contributes only four per cent annually to the multi billion dollar global tourism industry,” it notes. Similar arguments are made in terms of food in a region with “sufficient land resources to produce enough to feed its people and yet one in three is presently undernourished”.

The report also overturns the popular view that Africa is short of water, rather it underlines how little of it is utilized for irrigation, drinking water and power generation. Africa’s renewable freshwater resource is, at close to 4,000 cubic km per year, about 10 per cent of the global freshwater resource and closely matches Africa’s share of the world population. Yet in 2005 only about five per cent of the development potential is being used for ‘industry, tourism and hydropower,” notes the report. It points out that Africa “is a mining giant” producing nearly 80 per cent of the world’s platinum, more than 40 per cent of the globe’s diamonds and more than a fifth of its gold and cobalt. Yet its industrial base is insignificant”.

The report argues that, in the case of minerals as well as areas like forest products, there is a pressing need to ‘add value to natural resources”. “There is a need for Africa to move from being a major exporter of primary resources to being one” with a vibrant industrial and manufacturing base. The AEO-2 assesses the state of the environment and draws plausible scenarios as to the likely impacts of different policies over the coming decades. The kinds of tough choices facing African leaders, business and civil society are most clear cut in the scenarios on Freshwater and Land.

If food production in Africa is driven purely by Market Forces, the level of land degradation is likely to rise to between 25,000 and 35,000 hectares a year under a worst case scenario. This rapid intensification of farming will hit forests in particular with forest cover declining ‘drastically’ during the 2005 to 2025 period. Under a more promising scenario, dubbed The Great Transition, agricultural land expands by 10 per cent between 2005 and 2025.

Under this scenario much of this comes not from greater exploitation of existing agricultural land but as a result of putting government-held lands into production. Revised tax systems also promote good land use with a switch towards agriculture tailored to local climatic, geographical, demographic and cultural factors. Land degradation declines to 0.1 million hectares a year by 2015 with restoration programmes leading, from about the same year, to an increase in forest cover.

Under a worse case scenario, competition for water will rise as industrial expansion grows with the losers likely to be the general public. Industrial growth in the region is likely to be as a result of developed world companies shifting factories, such as chemical plants, into developing parts of the world such as Africa and in particular North and South Africa.

The new industries will generate employment but will take up to 16 per cent of supplies putting increasing pressure on underground water supplies, says the report. Water prices for domestic consumers could soar in many African cities forcing people to buy cheaper but more polluted sources. Under this scenario over a third of Africans in future will not have adequate access to water.

Under the more optimistic scenario, industries are required to meet proper pollution control standards and, although industrial use of water climbs to just under a fifth of total water use, discharges do not pollute lakes or rivers. Increases in industrial demand are balanced by water efficiency gains in agriculture through, for example, the adoption of drip as opposed to spray systems. Currently agriculture in Africa accounts for up to 90 per cent of water use.

Under the Great Transitions scenario it declines to under 60 per cent as a result of governments introducing and encouraging tariffs and modern water saving irrigation systems. However, the availability of greater quantities of clean and safe drinking water allied to rising living standards and incomes generated by industrial growth will probably result in higher public use if not ‘over use’ in growing urban areas.

Thus the proportion of Africa’s citizens without access to adequate water supplies under this scenario will be 26 per cent by 2050 from a total population then of 1.5 billion. It indicates that to meet and maintain the internationally agreed development goals will require even greater efforts in areas of consumer awareness and water efficiency in homes and cities. Alien invasive species from toads to trees are among the emerging issues facing Africa says AE0-2.

Experts have pinpointed large numbers of life forms, deliberately or accidentally introduced into Africa, which are poisoning cattle, damaging water supplies, carrying infections and affecting tourism. The highest numbers of alien species are estimated to be found in South Africa followed by Mauritius, Swaziland, Algeria, Madagascar and Kenya.

Their impacts may equate to hundreds of millions of dollars in damage annually and may also be contributing to the undermining of economic progress and the delivery of the MDGs. Black wattle, a tree introduced into South Africa about 150 years ago to provide bark products, is undermining river banks and harming wildlife in the Cape Floral Kingdom, one of the world’s great biodiversity hot spots. Since 1995, the South African government has removed and destroyed some five billion black wattle trees. The annual bill for manual and chemical control of all alien species in the Cape Floral Kingdom is around $40 million.

Meanwhile stockpiles of obsolete and hazardous chemicals, a switch of chemical production from developed to developing countries and gaps in the safe handling of toxic substances are becoming another new area of concern. The issue is underscored in a study of wetlands in Senegal where agricultural and industrial chemical pollution has more than halved fish catches in some places. The AEO-2 call for a raft of measures to be put in place to ensure Africa maximizes the benefits of any chemical industrialization.

These include improved risk assessments, monitoring, effective waste management, labeling of products to enable sound consumer choice and emergency response systems. The recommendations echo those proposed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 and that were agreed by environment ministers under the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management at UNEP’s Special Session of its Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum in Dubai earlier in the year. The third emerging issue focuses on how the region is responding to the promises and potential pitfalls of gene modified plants.

The report notes that nearly 20 African countries are now growing or field testing GMOs from Morocco and Egypt to Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa across to Benin, Cameroon and Mali in West Africa. The report accepts that such high tech crops could help in the war against famine and hunger and thus play a part in meeting internationally agreed development goals. But there are worries that such crops may be seen as ‘silver bullets’ deflecting attention from more fundamental issues of hunger like poor food distribution systems, the inability of the poor to get access to crop lands and environmental mismanagement.

There is also concern that too few African countries have the scientific, legal, risk assessment and administrative structures in place to deal with this new generation of crops. A multi million dollar capacity building project, being undertaken by UNEP and funded by the Global Environment Facility, aims to bridge theses gaps so that 100 developing countries, including over 30 African ones, have the necessary skills and laws needed to accept or reject GMOs.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

[Kids Count Report] Tough times for U.S. youths

from The Houston Chronicle

Health, living conditions of teens, kids leveling off; Texas slips to 39th in national report

Associated Press

Fewer teenagers are having babies or dropping out of high school since the start of the decade, but slightly more live in poverty with parents who don't work year round.

A report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation charity found that measures of health and income for children and teens are no longer improving as much as they did in the 1990s.

Instead, children are "treading water," said foundation President Doug Nelson.

"We're not talking about a catastrophe or the bottom falling out of anything," Nelson said. But, he added, "We've still got to do some poverty-rate reduction. We've got to make improvements from those 2000 numbers."

The findings were released Tuesday as part of the annual Kids Count report on the health and well-being of children and teens.

The report measures each state's progress on 10 statistics, including infant mortality, poverty rates, single-parent families and babies born with low weights.

Overall, Texas slipped from 37th to 39th in the national rankings.

Texas is higher than the national average in childhood poverty, child deaths, teen births and teen deaths.

Only Nevada has a smaller percentage of immunized children, and Texas has the highest rate of uninsured children in the nation.

The state's child poverty rate has worsened slightly, from 22 percent in 2000 to 23 percent in 2004, but a lower rate of Texas teens are giving birth, dying and dropping out of school.

"Even though we've seen some improvements, overall for Texas children, things are getting worse," said Frances Deviney, director of the Texas Kids Count. "And that's disconcerting."

States in the Northeast and upper Midwest scored the best. At the top: New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Minnesota and Iowa. Southern states did the worst: Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Louisiana was ranked 49th, even before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast last year.

"We're a really poor state," said Judy Watts, president and chief executive of Agenda for Children, an advocacy group in Louisiana. "Everything starts to unravel as poverty takes a grip on children and families."

Watts said conditions for children are even worse since the hurricane, even with help from the state and federal governments.

Nationally, there were improvements in eight of the 10 measurements in the 1990s, when the economy was booming, government-sponsored health care for children was expanded significantly and welfare reform helped move hundreds of thousands of families from welfare to work.

One issue that has continued to improve: teen pregnancies.

"Every state fell, every racial group fell," said Bill O'Hare, a senior fellow at the Casey foundation.

The Casey foundation uses the most recent statistics available from the Census Bureau and other government agencies for its report, now in its 17th year.

Chronicle reporter Melanie Markley contributed to this report.

[California] Religious leaders, activists unveil covenant, rally against poverty

from Catholic Online

By Ben Gruver

WASHINGTON – Several hundred community and faith leaders along with religious activists from around the nation marched in Washington June 27 to fight against poverty.

The event celebrated the unveiling of the Covenant for a New America, a faith-based strategy for overcoming poverty.

The march and a related conference were hosted by Sojourners and Call to Renewal, a national network of churches, faith-based organizations and individuals working to overcome poverty in America.

Twenty-three national religious groups and religious leaders endorsed the covenant.

Among other things, the document aims to bring people from all religious and political backgrounds together so they can hold each other accountable for ending poverty. One goal is to develop a plan to cut child poverty in half over the next 10 years.

Among those endorsing the covenant was Sister Marge Clark, a Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary who is a lobbyist with Network, a national Catholic social justice lobby whose mission is to bring about economic justice. Sister Clark said she was proud to sign the covenant.

Jean Sammon, an organizer with Network, said the organization follows the Catholic social teaching principle of addressing the structures that affect poor people.

Sister Carole Shinnick, a School Sister of Notre Dame who is executive director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, said her organization also endorsed the covenant because it is consistent with LCWR's positions on poverty.

"Since 1727 when the first (Catholic sisters) arrived in this country, we consistently stood with the marginalized and the poor, especially women and children, and this document that we are endorsing is consistent with that position," Sister Shinnick, a speaker at the event, said.

The protesters marched to Upper Senate Park at the U.S. Capitol from the National City Christian Church, chanting as they went: "In God's name, make poverty history," "Raise minimum wage," and "Make work work."

The message of religious and government leaders who spoke at the park was clear: "Make poverty history."

Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners and author of God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It, said the poor are the new interest group in Washington.

"Poverty is God's special interest," Rev. Wallis said.

"This place (Congress) will be judged on how they treat (the poor)," he said.

Rev. Wallis urged the faith community to eliminate poverty.

"As long as they (political leaders) make bad decisions, we will have to tell them what the decisions ought to be," Rev. Wallis said.

Rev. Wallis urged the audience to "be a special interest group on Capitol Hill."

Rev. David Beckmann, a Lutheran minister and president of Bread for the World, a Christian anti-hunger lobby, said his organization is glad to be endorsing the covenant.

"We people of faith are here to wake up our political leaders and say here is what God is calling us to tell them," he told the crowd.

Kevin Hunter, vice president of domestic programs at World Vision, mentioned three of the covenant's core points his organization welcomes and feels are important to endorse:

- The covenant unites faith communities on common ground.

- It promotes biblical justice.

- It calls supporters to use persuasion for ending poverty.

[UK] Cameron sets out world poverty pledges

from E Politix

David Cameron will today set out his party's views on tackling global poverty in a speech to Oxfam.

The Conservative leader is on a visit to Oxford where he will meet staff at the aid agency's headquarters and take part in a global weblink.

He will then deliver a speech on global poverty to Oxfam workers and members of the public at Oxford town hall.

At prime minister's questions in the Commons on Wednesday, Cameron pressed Tony Blair to do more to secure an agreement at world trade talks this week.

He said Oxfam had expressed severe doubts over the chance of making progress in the talks and added it would be a "disaster" if the WTO talks failed.

The issue has already been in the news this week after Tony Blair announced on Monday he was setting up a body to monitor progress on tackling poverty in Africa.

UN secretary general Kofi Annan will be joined by campaigner Bob Geldof and Microsoft founder Bill Gates on the Africa Progress Panel.

They will produce an annual report on the success of the pledges made at last year's Gleneagles G8 summit.

Delivering a speech at King's College, London on Monday, Blair said the summit achieved "more than all but those with the most rose-tinted spectacles thought was possible."

But he warned that the twin G8 issues of Africa and climate change could easily slip down the international agenda.

"We must not let that happen," the prime minister said. "I will do everything I can to ensure they don't."

[South Africa] Sugar beet could be commercial antidote to desperate poverty

from The Herald

Business Correspondent

THE fledgling sugar beet industry in the Eastern Cape has moved up a gear with the first commercial plantings of the crop south of the Sahara.

Tests undertaken by international sugar consultants have shown that beet grown in the Great Fish River Valley near Cradock produces the highest yield per hectare in the world.

Plantings on a commercial scale have now started on 200ha of land scattered in pockets throughout the 250km length of the valley and at the Bilatye Irrigation Scheme. The plantings will prove whether or not sugar beet farming is commercially viable as a rotational crop.

The sugar beet project is backed by the Eastern Cape government, which owns 74% of Sugar Beet SA, the company set up to manage the project.

If the plantings are successful, the sugar beet industry could contribute significantly to the success of emerging farmers and the economic upliftment of an impoverished region of the Eastern Cape.

Sugar Beet SA has also been appointed as the Eastern Cape government agent for the production of bio-fuels from beet. Ethanol production is seen as being more viable than the production of sugar.

Volunteer farmers were selected according to geographic area, climate and the type of irrigation used. Roak Crew, MD of Sugar Beet SA, said: “We are paying the farmers to compensate them for what they would have made with another crop.”

[Millennium Villages] Innovative Villages Seek to Ease Poverty in Africa

from The Voice Of America

By Cathy Majtenyi

Sauri, in western Kenya, is one of a dozen so-called Millennium Villages set up across the continent by American and African development experts and funded by governments and private donors. Local committees within the experimental villages are designed to boost food production, improve health, water and education access as part of an effort to help communities meet the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations.

Sauri resident Edward Oyier looks with pride at the stone structure surrounding a pipe out of which clean water flows.

He recalls how, more than a year ago, there were only five water points to serve 5,200 people in the area, and that people often drank dirty water and became sick.

About six months ago, the United Nations' Millennium Project supplied Sauri residents with cement, sand, and technical assistance. The community picked sites for building and hired workers, paying them with food.

Now, says Oyier, there are 15 water points in Sauri where people can get clean drinking water. He describes to VOA the difference that these water points have made.

"We are sure of that water, and we can draw it very conveniently because it is near to the people," said Oyier. "The distance that they come maybe [is] 10, five minutes, somebody has drawn the water and goes home. So time consumed is almost zero. But without this, people walk distances, many kilometers, going to fetch water. That is tiresome."

Down the road from the water point, Mama Tekla is spreading out peas on mats to dry in the sun. On her two-acre farm, the 72-year-old grows maize, peas, beans and other crops as well as raises chickens and cows.

She has been farming here since 1953. Her farm's performance was boosted over the past year by initiatives from the project.

The grandmother says that, ever since she made use of farming techniques from the Millennium Project, she and her family are now able to sell food and use funds to expand the farm.

Before the Millennium Project came in, says Mama Tekla, their harvests were not so good. She says that, from one acre of land, they could get two or three bags of maize. Now, she says, they are almost 20 bags per acre.

Sauri and the other Millennium Villages are the brainchild of American economist Jeffrey Sachs, who heads the United Nations' Millennium Project.

Sachs argues that countries aiming to meet the United Nations' eight millennium development goals need to start at the village level. In Sauri and other Millennium Villages, local committees set up and run projects in the areas of health, agriculture, water and sanitation, education, roads and communications, business, environment, and energy.

The eight Millennium Development Goals seek to reduce poverty, illiteracy, disease and food insecurity by 2015.

The projects are meant to be integrated local communities. For instance, Mama Tekla and other farmers donate 10 percent of their harvests to three primary schools in Sauri, which provide hot lunches to the students. The food, in turn, has boosted educational performance to the point where Bar Sauri Primary School's exam results rose from 108th to second in the district.

Patrick Mutuo is Sauri's project coordinator for the project. He describes to VOA some of Sauri's major achievements in the past year.

"The community themselves have become organized and now they are [more] focused than they were before. They are able now to sit down, analyze a problem, write a proposal. This community now has [more] sufficient food than they have ever had," he said. "School enrollment has increased. We are seeing a reduction in malaria because we have had the bed nets and we have now prompt treatment - the medicine is available. Malaria has reduced by almost a half. People have already started businesses."

The Millennium Villages is a joint activity of the United Nations' Millennium Project, the United Nations' Development Program, and the Earth Institute at Columbia University. The World Agroforestry Center is also involved.

Governments, business, and philanthropists worldwide provide funding for the initiative. Each village on average receives about $300,000 per year for five years.

In the case of Sauri, that works out to about $110 per person per year. About half of that is paid for by donors, while the rest is contributed by the Kenyan government, mainly in the form of salaries for extension workers, corporate giving, and from community members themselves.

Millennium Project communications officer Mattias Johansson says the program is part of a larger global effort to combat poverty.

"This is not a stand-alone project like a test tube or a hothouse in the middle of nowhere. This is very much connected to a national and a global discussion on development," stressed Johansson. "On a national level we have an on-going cooperation with the government in order to revise the national poverty and development strategies, to be more in alignment with the Millennium Development Goals. This is actually a part of that plan to eradicate poverty in the world. This is holistic approach to attack poverty from all angles at once."

Eleven other villages have been, or are in the process of being, set up in Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda.

[Bob Geldof] query poverty progress

from The BBC

Bob Geldof is expected to question whether promises made at last July's G8 summit to tackle African poverty have been kept.

Mr Geldof - organiser of the global Live 8 concerts last summer - will be joined by Eurythmics star Annie Lennox.

The joint press conference in London comes only days after Tony Blair warned that it would take "hard work for years to come" to tackle poverty.

Mr Blair praised the Gleneagles summit for raising awareness about poverty.

"These issues were not high up the political agenda in the UK, let alone internationally," the UK prime minister said.

"Now they are."

Mr Geldof is not expected to share Mr Blair's praise for the progress made after the summit as the aid increases promised have not materialised.

And the key concessions that the richest nations would have to make to improve trade terms for Africa have not come either.

Africa Progress Panel

The Irish pop star is expected to name individual countries which he feels have not done enough to keep the pledges made 12 months ago.

Mr Blair has enlisted Mr Geldof, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan to a new body to monitor the progress of pledges made at the G8 summit.

The Africa Progress Panel, which will be chaired by Mr Annan, will produce an annual report to be submitted to the G8, UN and the Africa Partnership Forum.

The aim is to "maintain the international political profile of Africa achieved in 2005".

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

[Australia] Lending a Helping Hand

from The Australian

Remote indigenous communities are in penury, but their businesses are thriving thanks to an American expat, writes Michelle Wiese Bockmann

STARTING from a small shed with a few bags of flour and $5, US-born Glendle Schrader launched a $20million empire that manages businesses for Aborigines in remote communities.

When Schrader moved to the isolated South Australian community of Pipalyatjara to manage its community store in 1975, he recalls seeing packs of dogs so hungry they gnawed through tin cans to get to food.

He says he used the last of his petrol to drive to the government settlement of Docker River in the Northern Territory and bought supplies for the store on credit.

Those first successful commercial contacts with the Anangu people of central Australia have deepened significantly. Schrader, 53, is now at the helm of an indigenous business empire with $10 million in assets that turns over an estimated $20 million a year.

Yet the empire he has built is owned by the nation's most desperate and dysfunctional Aboriginal communities.

Schrader's high-powered influence - especially among male leaders - amid the grog, petrol sniffing, endemic violence and abuse in some of these communities, has divided many.

"Sooner or later we're going to catch up with him and run him off the lands," says one high-profile female leader who asked not to be named.

A disgruntled former employee says "the community at Uluru refer to him as the farmer: the Aboriginal people are the cattle and he just goes up every now and then to check on his stock. The people he is profiting (from) are starving and living in Third World conditions while he lives the high life."

Schrader lives in a comfortable but not ostentatious property near the beach in Adelaide's southern suburbs.

He refuses to disclose his salary or the amount of government funding that flows through the empire he manages.

He agreed to meet The Australian at the offices of legal firm Johnston Withers to discuss his affairs in the presence of a freelance journalist engaged to provide media counsel.

Although he came to Australia in the early 1970s, Schrader's American accent remains strong.

Asked to respond to criticism that he is a leech "who gets rich off the back of blacks", he becomes clipped and closed.

"Well, I disagree," he says. "My wage is not picked by me but negotiated by other people. Our growth doesn't (affect) my salary. It's easy to make ill-informed comments from the sidelines."

Schrader dismisses concerns about his presence and influence in central Australia as indicative of fractured indigenous politics. "If there was somebody else to do it (this job), I would be happy for them to do it," he says.

Schrader runs Wana Ungkunykja, the money-making arm of the Nyangatjatjara Aboriginal Corporation.

He launched the corporation in 1993 with $250 and shareholders who comprised about 1000 Anungu adult members of three central Australian communities, Mutitjulu, Imanpa and Kaltukatjara (Docker River).

These communities remain plagued by substance abuse, poverty, illiteracy, violence, ill-health and financial mismanagement, yet they are the effective owners of the multimillion-dollar enterprise that Schrader manages. He is also chief executive or secretary of more than a dozen associated companies and trusts.

These businesses include roadhouses, a newsagency, tourist companies, a cattle station, community stores, a four-campus high school and screen-printing workshop for the Imanpa community. Schrader also runs a private job network for Anangu people.

He says he employs 200 through the businesses, whose number The Australian estimates at about 30. Only 70 of his employees are indigenous.

Schrader says profits over the years have resulted in payments to each of the communities averaging $100,000 annually.

With the profits, the communities have been able to take out loans and purchase assets such as roadhouses and cattle stations.

The money is distributed under contract and approved by trustees. "Aboriginal people are really worried about their kids; for many communities this is the only discretionary money they get and they apply that to their kids and their culture," he says.

Schrader refuses to discuss his private life and gives away little about his well-connected background and the Aboriginal powerbrokers to whom he is close.

He is married to Lois Pearson, a cousin of Cape York indigenous leader Noel Pearson, who has long championed the need for more private-sector partnerships to reduce welfare dependency.

Pearson's view is endorsed by the Labor Party's federal president Warren Mundine, who says Aboriginal-controlled companies can help to bring economic development to communities and rescue them from poverty.

"All the problems are poverty-related, and we have to deal with that or our conditions will not improve," Mundine says.

"One of the ways we can do that is having enterprises making money, that are profitable, with the benefits of that profit returning to the Aboriginal community."

He says Aboriginal people have to be made "more wise" and given skills to quickly become entrepreneurial. "Benefits must be returned to the Aboriginal community and the Aboriginal community needs to receive those benefits, otherwise we'll have this continual circle of poverty."

An ABC Four Corners program aired on May 29 showed a meeting at which Schrader took over running the Imanpa community store, which was on the brink of closure.

Despite concerns about conflict of interest and proxy voters, community council members, some of whom are illiterate, signed a legal document handing over store management to Schrader's Ninti Corporate Services.

"That's typical of him," says one leader. "That's how he operates." However, none of Schrader's critics are prepared to speak publicly, not even those who are prominent and powerful.

In 2005 Schrader presided over a similarly contentious takeover of the store, garage and community council at the troubled Ernabella community in South Australia's remote north.

Ninti has managed and distributed government grants for Ernabella. "Because the Government was not comfortable last year directly funding the community, so they chose to fund us," Schrader says. Ninti is also contracted to operate the community store at Docker River.

Schrader says the Ernabella and Imanpa stores were "a couple of hundred thousand dollars" in debt when he took over. A previous store manager at Ernabella had been busted by police for "running grog" and was now in jail for other offences.

"It was typical of the type of people who can take over and manipulate and then rip off Aboriginal communities," he says.

Schrader formed Ninti Corporate Services in 2004 to provide financial management to broke Aboriginal communities. Last February he briefed a federal and South Australian Aboriginal lands taskforce on the "useful options" his business provided "for communities that could not manage their assets".

Schrader says all businesses other than Ninti are profitable, while the job network just breaks even.

He expects Ninti, which charges a fee of between 2 per cent and 4 per cent of gross turnover in the stores it manages, to start turning a profit by next year.

Although Schrader paints a positive picture, there are some financial storm clouds hanging over him. Last month the Registrar of Aboriginal Corporations appointed an administrator to manage Schrader's parent corporation, Nyangatjatjar Aboriginal Corporation, because of financial concerns.

Schrader insists he had no role in managing the corporation until February 2006. He took over after auditors raised doubts the corporation could continue as a going concern.

The former administrator was Clive Scolley, who was replaced by the corporation's own subsidiary, Ninti.

Schrader fought the decision in the Federal Court, but lost.

"I think that Aboriginal people have been hard done by throughout Australian history ... This had been something that gives me personal satisfaction and fulfilment that I may be contributing in some small way to righting some substantial wrongs," he says.

It's not the first time Schrader's business deals have been under scrutiny. He clashed with South Australia's former health minister John Cornwell in the late 1980s over funding and spending for an Aboriginal-controlled public health clinic he established and ran.

Schrader blames Australia's tall poppy syndrome for the criticism he attracts.

"I'm proud of the job I've done and I know that the directors, who are my bosses, are quite proud of the work that my companies have done, and why shouldn't they be? The job I've done is long and hard."

[WTO Talks Doha Round] key to fair trade but reform is crucial

from The Times Online

European Briefing by Carl Mortishead

EVERY meeting at the World Trade Organisation is an eleventh-hour cliff-hanger, a make-or-break and a do-or-die. Since the Doha round of trade talks was convened in November 2001, there have been two failed ministerial summits — in Cancún, Mexico, in 2003, and in Hong Kong, in 2005.

Countless deadlines for agreement on a skeleton framework for reductions in tariffs and subsidies in agricultural trade have been breached, but the talks continue, officials fly to and fro and the recriminations mount.

Yet this week looks different. There is genuine fear that the European Union, America and the leading emerging market nations will fall at the first hurdle. The question is: does it matter? In the short term, it means nothing. American law is providing a much-needed deadline as President Bush’s mandate from Congress to negotiate a trade agreement expires in July 2007. Even with broad agreement on a trade deal in the next few weeks — a mammoth task — it will take at least a year to negotiate a full treaty and get it through Congress.

Trade will continue — unfairly, say the world’s development charities — but trade has always been about imbalance and, contrary to what you have been told, the main argument in the Doha talks is not between the very poor and very rich. It is between the rich and those who are getting rich.

The Doha round was promised as a “development round” focused on securing better access by farmers in poorer nations to the fat produce markets in America and Europe. Early in the talks, that was achieved in large measure for the poorest, the least-developed countries, who secured tariff-free access to EU and US markets for 97 per cent of exports. The marginal 3 per cent that remains contains some big items, but the US and the EU have made large concessions, notably in cotton and sugar.

What is at risk if Doha fails is a free-for-all in which trade negotiations revert to a bipolar world where the rich and powerful distribute favours and sweetheart deals amid a whiff of corruption. Doha has been different to previous trade rounds because a group of formerly poor nations have turned over the tables.

Called the G20, the group includes Brazil, India, China and South Africa, rapidly expanding and industrialising economies of enormous potential. It is their demands and their resistance that is setting the Doha agenda. The argument is about whether Tesco can open a superstore in Bombay in return for the EU opening its doors fully to Indian produce. The row is over the big gains and losses for billions of urban-dwellers, not the plight of a few poor farmers in Mali and Burkina Faso.

Without a formal trade round, the G20 and its billions of consumers and workers would struggle to punch at even half their weight. Without Doha, Washington and Brussels will carve up global trade into preference agreements. For Barbados, Brussels can offer a deal on bananas; for Mauritius, special terms for cane sugar. Meanwhile, Washington will grant Colombia, Ecuador and Honduras unlimited trade access on condition that a cold shoulder is shown to President Chávez of Venezuela.

The corrupt world of my gang, your gang beckons. It was apparent in the veiled threat contained in a letter last week to Mr Bush. Signed by 57 senators, it expressed “deep concern about the direction of talks on agriculture”. There are to be no more cuts in US farm subsidies without big concessions from America’s trading partners, say the senators.

Such a world would not last long — the disruptive element has already asserted itself. China and India would not be passive participants in a bipolar world and would quickly establish their own regional trading organisations to assert power on their own terms. There is also Russia, currently seeking admission to the WTO but frustrated by American resistance. It is already pushing its own agenda with energy as the principal lever, and its refusal to adopt the EU’s Energy Charter is its main bargaining chip.

After the Seattle street battles in 1999, Pascal Lamy, the current WTO Director-General, famously derided the organisation as medieval, its tortuous negotiations as archaic. He is right, and if Doha fails, the members should revisit the rules, notably the requirement of unanimity, that every member state must dot every “i” and cross every “t”.

The WTO needs reform because the alternative would be disastrous. Those who trade know that the real barriers to access are not tariffs and subsidies but corruption, graft and bureaucratic delay. Without the WTO’s levelling efforts, the world will quickly fragment, not into two trading blocs but many trading fiefdoms with rules imposed by despots and guarded by corrupt officials. We can then truly say goodbye to fair trade.

[Effects on Health] Push for new tactics as war on malaria falters

from The International Herald Tribune

By Celia W Dugger, The New York Times

The mosquito nets arrived too late for 18-month-old Phillip Odong.

The roly-poly boy came down with his fourth bout of malaria the same day the nets were handed out on March 16 at the makeshift camp where he lived in northern Uganda. "It was because of poverty that we could not afford one," his mother, Jackeline Ato, recalled recently seated in rags beneath a mango tree.

The morning after his fever spiked, she took him to a clinic, but it did not have the medicines that might have saved him. He died four days later, crying, "Mommy, Mommy," before losing consciousness.

It is no secret that mosquitoes carry the parasite that causes malaria. More mystifying is why 800,000 young African children a year still die of malaria - more than from any other disease - when there are medicines that cure for 55 cents a dose, mosquito nets that shield a child for $1 a year, and indoor insecticide spraying that costs about $10 annually for a household.

An emerging consensus on solutions, combined with fresh scrutiny and a windfall of new financing, are prompting major donors to revamp years of failed efforts to stem malaria's mortal toll. The growing support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, enriched this week by a $31 billion gift from Warren E. Buffett, will provide still more impetus for change.

Paltry budgets, faulty strategies and government mismanagement have hamstrung past efforts. In Uganda, population 28 million, not one of the 1.8 million nets approved more than two years ago by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has yet arrived.

The World Bank, after pledging to halve malaria deaths in Africa six years ago, had let its staff working on the disease dwindle to zero.

And the main United States aid agency admitted to outraged senators last year that it spent more on high-priced consultants than life-saving commodities, like mosquito nets that cost $5.75 a piece.

Social conservatives and liberals have been building alliances across ideological lines on malaria, a killer of little children. Senator Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, said he had found common ground with the economist Jeffrey Sachs, who has long maintained that practical solutions carried out by Africans can prevent millions of deaths from malaria. "You have the left and right coming together," the senator said.

At Congressional hearings last year, Senator Tom Coburn, a Republican and a doctor from Oklahoma, argued that Washington-based consultants and contractors have consumed too much of the malaria budget.

He called on Amir Attaran, a law professor at the University of Ottawa and fiery advocate on malaria, who testified that the American agency, the United States Agency for International Development, was too cozy with "the foreign aid industrial complex."

Only 1 percent of the agency's 2004 malaria budget went for medicines, 1 percent for insecticides and 6 percent for mosquito nets. The rest was spent on research, education, evaluation, administration and other costs.

The Bush administration is changing that approach.

First, the United States aid agency is shifting its focus from mainly backing the sale of subsidized mosquito nets in Africa to giving more of them away to poor people.

It is also committed to buying combination drugs like Coartem because the disease is proving increasingly resistant to older, cheaper medicines. A dose of Coartem, produced by the Swiss company Novartis, now costs 55 cents for a child up to age 3.

Finally, the United States is also getting behind the use of DDT and other insecticides and will pay for large-scale programs to spray small amounts of them inside homes.

"We pretty well do know what the silver set of bullets are," Senator Brownback said at his 2004 hearing.

The decisive push for change in malaria programs has come from the White House. Michael Gerson, one of the president's closest advisers, described malaria in an interview as "maybe the main source of unnecessary suffering in the world."

Under the Bush administration's new policy, this year more than 40 percent of America's growing aid for malaria control is to be spent on nets, insecticides, medicines and other commodities.

The Bush administration hopes to convince Congress to at least triple spending on malaria control to $300 million by 2008.

Global aid for malaria control has been rising, though the resources do not match the scale of the dying, critics say. Contributions from rich nations and international organizations have more than doubled since 2003 to $841 million last year, according to the World Health Organization.

With its new gift, the Gates Foundation says its malaria financing will rise, though it is too soon to say by how much. It has already given $177 million for malaria controls.

As the United States moves forward, other crucial donors are also taking steps to fix flawed programs.

The World Bank has approved $130 million for projects in Africa in the past year and says that by 2010 new lending will grow to up to $1 billion.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, a widely praised organization set up in 2002 to pool the resources of donors, generally relies on African governments to do their own procurement.

Still, the government has not yet bought the nets the fund approved more than two years ago. "Oh, my dear, there are a lot of complications in procurement here," said John Rwakimari, who runs the country's malaria program.

The fund is now considering a change that would enable it to provide countries like Uganda with the nets and other commodities directly, rather than the money to buy them after Uganda's management of past grants was marred by incompetence and corruption.

Millions of doses of Global Fund-financed Coartem, the antimalaria drug, arrived this year in Uganda - but that was because the country agreed, at the Global Fund's urging, to buy them through the World Health Organization.

The scope of malaria's toll was evident on a recent visit to the pediatric ward of the regional public hospital in Gulu, Uganda. Babies and toddlers burning with malarial fevers arrived regularly. Mothers lay next to them, their soothing maternal voices a low murmuring in the cavernous room.

As many as 100,000 people, mostly children, die of malaria each year in Uganda alone. "It's like a jumbo jet crashing every day," said Dr. Andrew Collins, deputy director of the Malaria Consortium, an international nonprofit group.

The United States is testing indoor insecticide spraying there. It is also treating more than 700,000 nets that Ugandans already own with insecticides and buying another 400,000 nets laced with insecticides that last up to five years.

Volunteers handed out the nets to families with children under age 5 in over 100 camps like the one where Phillip Odong lived his short life for people who have fled the Lord's Resistance Army, a ruthless rebel group that has terrorized the countryside. The volunteers, many of them peasants, were trained by United States-financed groups led by the JSI Research and Training Institute.

The nets were so sought after in some camps that families whose children were too old to qualify for them besieged health officials. "They packed the health center like firewood," said Suzanne Nyedo, a nurse at the Bobi camp.

Even as policies begin to change, many uncertainties remain.

For example, the United States aid agency has asked for bids on a five-year $150 million contract for indoor spraying of insecticides.

Michael Miller, a senior official at the agency, said contractors would hire Africans to do the spraying. He said the goal was to ensure that Africans also gained the know-how to run insecticide spraying programs.

Mr. Attaran, a harsh critic of the agency, has his doubts.

"Will there be a Halliburton of mosquito control?" he asked. "If there is, the effort will fail. To be cost-effective, it will need to use local labor and managers."

Others warn that the changes are not a panacea.

Andrew Natsios, who helped devise the new policy before resigning as administrator of the United States aid agency earlier this year, cautioned that malaria projects will need to provide much more than just nets and sprays.

"It's not only simplistic, it won't work over the longer term because the countries can't sustain it on their own" for lack of expertise and resources, he said. The aid agency has a crucial role, he argued, in providing technical advice and training.

And there are other questions. Will donors follow through on financing? Will families use the mosquito nets? Will there be enough health workers to deliver medicines?

"There's potential for incredible impact," said Dr. Regina Rabinovich of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, "or incredible failure."

[California] Poverty soaring in area of Escondido

from Sign On San Diego

Mostly Latino immigrants live in crowded apartments
By Booyeon Lee

ESCONDIDO – A neighborhood just north of downtown is an island of mostly poor immigrants who live in crowded apartments, according to a city-commissioned report released yesterday.

The study, prepared by the National Latino Research Center at California State University San Marcos, found that the area languishes under the fastest-growing poverty rate in the state. About 80 percent of the residents never attended college, and more than half do not speak English.

The poorest section is near Grant Middle School, where the median household income is $17,000, less than half of the city's median household income.

“They are poor, disenfranchised Latino immigrants,” said Arcela Nuñez-Alvarez, interim director of the research center. “The general perception is that they don't care about their children's education and they are not invested in the community. But the people we talked to want to take ownership of their community to address some serious challenges they are facing.”

Seven years ago, Escondido began pouring money into one of its most troubled neighborhoods, which is bordered by Ash Street, Lincoln Avenue, Valley Parkway and Centre City Parkway, naming it Mission Park. The 200 residents interviewed for the study had never heard the name.

The city has spent about $9 million on affordable-housing projects, child-care subsidies, after-school programs and a 4.5-acre park scheduled to open in October, according to the city's housing and neighborhood services division.

“We've made a lot of physical improvements,” said Jerry Van Leeuwen, the city's director of housing and neighborhood services. “But we haven't been interested enough in the social fabric of that neighborhood.”

So the city spent an additional $10,000 on the study, which questioned residents on a range of issues, from concerns about housing and crime to availability of social services.

Students at the university research center who did the interviewing compared the neighborhood to some in Latin America where multiple families live in small apartments, Nuñez-Alvarez said.

“Many of these people leave the country of their origin for economic reasons,” she said. “Students questioned how much immigrant families are really moving up when they arrive here to share two-bedroom apartments with three other families.”

The population of Mission Park has increased by more than 6,000, to 16,500, over the past five years. About 80 percent are Latino. Van Leeuwen said the increase was alarming because the number of housing units has remained the same.

Nuñez-Alvarez said this means multiple families are squeezing into one-and two-bedroom apartments because for many of them the cost of rent is about 75 percent of their monthly income.

She characterized Mission Park as the “first stop” for Mexican immigrants, many of whom are families of mixed legal status, where children are U.S.-born and the parents are not.

The neighborhood has become a popular starting point for immigrants because of its large stock of apartments built in the 1960s. Building standards were lax back then, Van Leeuwen said, and developers were allowed to build more apartments than what would be permissible today.

The study also found that 67 percent of the respondents were “very concerned” about crime. In an average month, between June 2003 and June 2005, 65 burglaries, thefts, homicides, rapes or robberies were reported in Mission Park.

The actual number of crimes is probably higher, Nuñez-Alvarez said.

“Many of these crimes are gang-related, and residents told us they do not report some of them for fear of retribution,” she said.

Many respondents said they want to see Grant Middle School used as a recreational facility for families, with access to reading materials and other educational resources to help parents create a better learning environment for their children.

[Africa] Careful natural resource use key to poverty alleviation - UNEP

from Reuters Alert Net

NAIROBI, 27 June (IRIN) - Africa's abundant natural resources hold the key to poverty eradication on the continent, but only if they are used carefully and managed creatively to improve people's living standards, according to a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

"The economic wellbeing of nations and peoples in Africa is inextricably linked to what will happen to the sustainable use of its natural resource base," said Achim Steiner, UNEP's executive director, during the launch of 'Africa Environment Outlook-2' at the agency's headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, on Tuesday. "Natural resources are at the heart of economic activity," he added.

Entitled 'Our Environment, Our Wealth', the report said Africa is currently only using a fraction of its natural wealth potential, and called for 'added value' to the primary commodities exported by African states. "There is need for Africa to move from being a major exporter of primary resources to being one with a vibrant industrial and manufacturing base," it noted.

Africa produces nearly 80 percent of the world's platinum, more than 40 percent of the diamonds and more than a fifth of global gold and cobalt, yet the continent's industrial base remained insignificant, the report observed. "In a nation like Kenya, soils, coastal zones, wildlife are all assets that are at the heart of the productive economy," said Steiner. Africa had numerous tourist attractions yet it contributed only four percent to global tourism annually, the report pointed out.

The report, however, warned that an "unsustainable" use of Africa's natural resources could lead to an erosion of its wealth, forcing the continent to slide deeper into poverty. Steiner was nevertheless optimistic that African governments were showing increasing willingness to cooperate in efforts aimed at addressing global environmental issues. "The economic importance of the environment is increasingly recognised by Africa's leaders as an instrument for development, for livelihoods, for peace and for stability," he said.

Challenges to Africa's environment included land degradation as a result of the intensification of farming, pressures on fresh water sources that would come with industrial expansion, and the introduction of alien species, both animal and plant, some of which could be harmful to local life forms and the environment.

Stockpiles of obsolete and hazardous chemicals, of which Africa had 50,000 tonnes, also posed a major threat to the environment, according to the report, which said that the problem was mainly the result of moving chemical production from developed to developing countries, and lack of expertise in the safe handling of toxic substances.

With regard to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the report acknowledged that the crops could help combat hunger in the continent, but added that there were worries that such plants were likely to be seen as "silver bullets", thus deflecting attention from more fundamental issues of hunger: such as skewed food distribution systems, lack of access by the poor to arable land and environmental mismanagement.

There was also concern that some African countries lacked the scientific, legal, risk assessment and administrative capacity to deal with the new generation of crops. UNEP had undertaken a multi-million dollar project with funding from the Global Environment Facility to help 100 developing countries, including 30 African states, to build the necessary skills and introduce laws that would enable them to decide in favour or against GMOs, according to the report.

The full report is available at:

[Kids count Report - US] Few bright spots for Mississippi kids

from The Hattiesburg American

A new report paints a dismal picture of children's well-being in Mississippi.

The 2006 KidsCount Databook, an annual report released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, ranks Mississippi at the bottom or close to the bottom in comparison to the rest of the country in 10 different indicators of child well-being.

Those indicators are: low-birthweight babies, infant mortality rate, child death rate, teen death rate, teen birth rate, high school dropout rate, percent of teens not working or attending school, percent of children living in homes where parent has no regular employment, children in poverty and children in single-parent families.

Though the state did experience some improvement in five of the 10 categories, in only two categories -decreases in the high school dropout rate and in the child death rate -did Mississippi outstrip the national average, still placing well behind most states in the country.

And in the percentage of children living in poverty, the number of low-birthweight babies born and the infant mortality rate, Mississippi ranked dead last.

Thirty-one percent of Mississippi's 749,569 children lived in poverty in 2004, compared to the national average of 18 percent, according to the report.

"The child poverty rate tells the story for lots of other indicators," report author Laura Beavers said.

The state's low rankings are deeply rooted, she said.

"In Mississippi, there is a historic disinvestment in lots of the things that we know help kids succeed," Beavers said. "In many states where you have the lowest outcome levels for kids, there wasn't the same amount of investment in the educational system, the economic development system and in the health care system, going back to the beginning of the state government system. And it continues to have a negative impact on children."

Mississippi's seeming progress on some fronts may be misleading, Beavers said.

While the state's teen pregnancy rate dropped from 70 births per 1,000 in 2000 to 63 per 1,000 in 2003, Mississippi teens still have a much higher pregnancy rate than the national average, which dropped from 48 per 1,000 in 2000 to 42 per 1,000 in 2003.

The factors that affect child well-being play into each other, said Larry Rodick president of Planned Parenthood Alabama, which covers southeastern Mississippi.

"Infant mortality rate is used as a general health indicator," Rodick said. "But teen pregnancy is one of the problems. We know, for example, that teens who deliver babies prior to 18 or 19 years of age - those infants tend not to make it, and that drives up the infant mortality rate."

Poverty also plays a role in infant mortality and child death rates, said Kaye Ray of the Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative Inc.

"I think you can look at the poverty levels that are outrageously high for Mississippians - so many people make minimum wage, and don't have many opportunities to improve their lifestyles," Ray said. "Sometimes you have parents trying to raise their children and it's difficult to think of medical care as being a high priority when they're trying to pay the rent."

The decrease in the high school dropout rate is good news, said Hattiesburg Schools Superintendent Annie Wimbish - but it isn't moving quickly enough.

"I would like to believe other districts are doing what we're doing with attendance officers - being vigilant and doing follow-ups," Wimbish said. "It's not going fast enough for my liking, but having everybody educated has become a focus."

In the Hattiesburg district, 88 percent of students live in poverty.

Wimbish said the schools work to train teachers on how to help students in poverty and also offer free-lunch programs during the summer.

Mississippi kids have seen some positive improvements during the 17 years the Annie E. Casey Foundation has produced the databook, Beavers said. And in many ways, Mississippi is mirroring national trends - conditions that improved nationally during the 1990s have dropped off around the country. But compared to other states, she said, Mississippi still has a long way to go.

"The state still hasn't closed the gap," Beavers said.

[Kids Count Report] More children in U.S. living in poverty

from Monsters and Critics

U.S. children are poorer and less healthy now than in the 1990s, a child advocacy group says.

The 17th-annual KIDS COUNT Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that three out of 10 child 'well-being indicators' have worsened since 2000.

There were more than 13 million children living in poverty in 2004 -- an increase of 1 million over four years. There was also an increase in the percentage of low birth-weight babies between 2000 and 2003 and an increase in the number of children living in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment.

William O`Hare, senior fellow at the Casey Foundation and author of the 2006 report, said the good news is that the child death rate and the teen death rate have fallen; the teen birth rate has continued to go down, and the high school dropout rate has improved.

New Hampshire, Vermont and Connecticut ranked highest in well-being, while New Mexico, Louisiana and Mississippi ranked the lowest.

The report said strengthening early childhood development can help to assure that all children begin life on a level playing field.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

[Zambia] Population of the Poor is Growing Everyday - Sakala

from All Africa

Ireen Mukabo

CHIEF justice Ernest Sakala has said the population of the poor is growing every day.

During the induction dinner for Rotary Club incoming president Anthony Sambo, justice Sakala said the number of poor people was on the rise and that they were the majority in the country.

"One thing I can assure you or perhaps warn you is that the population of the needy is growing every day and these in fact constitute the majority of our population in the nation," he said. Justice Sakala said Lusaka city had grown into a Metropolis forcing people to migrate from rural areas in search of better life.

"This influx has led the city of Lusaka to fail to cater for the additional unplanned for population," he said. Justice Sakala observed that the proliferation of unplanned residential areas had led to shanty compounds, which had not been developed due to insufficient resources.

"Because of limited resources, the city council cannot upgrade these shanty compounds nor effectively manage them," Justice Sakala said. "This means that the utilities such as clean water, electricity, street lights, sanitation, roads and health centres are inadequate if not lacking."

Justice Sakala said the absence of such utilities in communities had resulted in many people living in abject poverty. He urged the Rotary Club to supplement government's effort in alleviating poverty in the country in accordance with this year's theme 'Lead the Way'.

"This, I believe is where you, as the Rotarians, you should come in to fill the void and help the needy and the poor," he said. " As Rotarians you are better placed to sensitise and seek donor support. I urge you to mobilize funds for projects and programmes targeted for the disfranchised communities in our localities." Justice Sakala further said the advent of HIV/AIDS had also worsened poverty levels in the country.

"The entire society is affected with the disease and as you are aware orphans are everywhere. You must take up the challenge to give due attention and commitment to the issue of HIV/AIDS," Justice Sakala said.

And Sambo said the club would this year concentrate on the provision of clean water, health services, alleviation of hunger as well as literacy management in the country. "This is our mandate from the RI president and we shall strive to achieve some of these goals and expectations during this Rotary year and beyond," Sambo said.

He said more projects on malaria control had been initiated in order to find a lasting solution to the killer disease. Sambo said the club would also continue placing emphasis on projects such as support to University Teaching Hospital - vulnerable patients and burns unit, Kasama and Kasisi Orphanage and Kasempa Lepers and HIV/AIDS orphans project.

[WTO Talks Doha Round] Anti-globalisers want WTO trade round "buried"

from Reuters UK

More than 100 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) opposed to trade liberalisation on Tuesday demanded the WTO's troubled Doha round be "buried" as ministers prepare to fly to Geneva in a bid to revitalise it.

The group, including Action Aid International, Friends of the Earth and Focus on the Global South, said current negotiations "preclude any possibility of benefiting the majority of the world's population".

"The Doha round should be buried, starting by withdrawing support and objecting to the legitimacy of the June mini-ministerial," they said, referring to the meeting beginning on Thursday.

WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy has said the four-year-old round risks collapse without a breakthrough soon, starting with this week's meeting to be attended by more than 50 ministers, a third of the WTO membership.

Ministers are seeking an accord on slashing farm subsidies and import duties, along with deep cuts in industrial goods' tariffs, which is seen as vital to clearing the way to a full free trade treaty which advocates say will boost the global economy and help lift millions out of poverty.

But the NGOs said that analyses by the World Bank, the United Nations and several international think tanks showed that most of the gains would flow to the developed world.

People in Africa and in many other developing countries were projected to lose, they said in a letter sent to Lamy and the chairmen of the farm and industrial goods' negotiating committees.

"This is an unacceptable outcome from multilateral talks," they wrote.

[Uganda] Malaria kills 320 Ugandans daily

From New Vision

By Milton Olupot and Charles Ariko

UGANDA loses an average of 320 people daily to malaria, a symposium on the disease heard in Kampala yesterday.

Dr. Myers Lugemwa told a two-day symposium that malaria remains one of the most serious global health problems and a leading cause for childhood morbidity and mortality.

The symposium, under the theme ‘molecular biology and immunology in malaria vaccine development,’ is organised by Makerere university and the university of California, San francisco.

The Uganda Malaria Surveillance Programme and the African Malaria Network Trust are part of the organisers of the symposium that will be followed by a three-day workshop.

About 70 participants from about 20 African countries, the US and Europe are taking part in the symposium, focussing on malaria treatment, control and research.
Lugemwa said research had shown that malaria had killed half of the global population since the stone age.

A paper by Prof. Fred Wabwire and Dr. Adoke Yeka from the malaria surveillance project said resistance to the accessible and cheap drugs poses a threat to malaria control.

[US] Retired Women Face Poverty

from The Monterey County Herald

Median annual income half of older men's
The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS - Adeline Brown had other plans for retirement.

She never dreamed she'd lose her house and car, be forced to take odd jobs to supplement her Social Security and stretch her dollars by going to a barbershop instead of a beauty salon.

But once Brown left her accounting clerk's job, her income plummeted to less than $1,000 a month. She quickly exhausted her retirement savings when she paid the bills from a back injury.

"This isn't how my life was supposed to go," she said.

Brown, who is 63 and lives in Oak Cliff, Texas, is one of millions of older women who live alone and scramble to make ends meet. Their median yearly income is $12,080, half of what older men receive.

Long overlooked, these women have begun to gain the attention of policy analysts and lawmakers who expect the number of poor older women to swell as 40 million baby boomer women retire.

"Unless there are dramatic policy shifts, boomer women, particularly minority women, will find retirement a never-ending struggle," said Paul Hodge, chairman of Harvard's Global Generations Policy Institute.

Financially strapped older women are a day-to-day concern for Suzanne Cobb, who runs the money management program at The Senior Source in Dallas, a nonprofit social service agency.

Most of the older adults who sign up for financial counseling through the Senior Source are women, and most of them depend entirely on their Social Security checks, Cobb said.

"Some people come to us with a fistful of credit cards and as much as $50,000 in debt," she said. "In those cases, we try to sit down with their creditors and negotiate reduced payments."

Women are more likely than men to spend old age in poverty, in part because many have spent their lives at an economic disadvantage, said Laurie Young, director of the Older Women's League in Washington.

"Women still earn an average of only 76 percent of what men earn," she said. "That means women have an average of $250,000 less over their working lives to invest in their retirement."

Women also drop out of the work force for an average of 12 years to care for children or parents. When they do, they forfeit $550,000 in wages over their lifetime, Young said.

As family caregivers, women often take more flexible jobs that come with low wages and few, if any, benefits. Frequent job changes also make it harder to qualify for pensions.

Women live longer, which makes them especially vulnerable during retirement. They outlive their husbands by an average of six years and, once alone, often have less money to pay the same bills.

Widows typically lose a third to a half of their household's Social Security income when their spouse dies.

Women who reach 65 can expect to live another 20 years.

"Most older people live on 'fixed' incomes that, except for Social Security, aren't adjusted for inflation," Young said. "Over 20 years, women's purchasing power can shrink quite a bit."

Cindy Hounsell, executive director of the Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement, warns that most boomer women will run into many of the financial problems their mothers have.

"The 20 percent with good-paying jobs won't have any worries, but everyone else will," she said.

Besides building a bigger nest egg, some women have come up with their own ways of improving their finances in retirement.

Cobb at The Senior Source, who's 58, plans to work full time until 68. By delaying her Social Security checks for two years beyond her full retirement age, she estimates she'll receive 16 percent more each month.

"I'm no Rockefeller, but I'm not afraid of the future," she said.

Still, retirement experts agree that women won't be able to improve their fate in old age entirely on their own. They'll need changes in Social Security, employer-sponsored retirement plans and labor laws.

The most important reforms will come in Social Security; 29 percent of unmarried older women depend on it as their only source of income, said Young of the Older Women's League.

"Women shouldn't be penalized for their caregiving when it comes time to figure their Social Security benefits," she said. "They should be given credit for the unpaid care they've provided."

Social Security also needs to rethink its benefits for divorced women, said Kimberley Strassel, co-author of the just-published "Leaving Women Behind: Modern Families, Outdated Laws."

"The number of divorced older women will double as boomers retire," she said.

A marriage must last 10 years before a divorced spouse can claim benefits based on a former spouse. Since most divorces now occur within seven years, that rule is out of date, Strassel said.

Pension laws also should be updated to account for the growth in 401(k) retirement plans, said Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

The Senate's Special Committee on Aging recently held hearings on how to narrow the gender gap in retirement income and improve women's financial security in old age.

[UK] Fewer save for pension despite the warnings of poverty

from The Scotsman


A DRAMATIC drop in the number of workers saving enough for their retirement has been uncovered, despite widespread publicity over the pension gap.

Less than half of workers are making adequate provision for the future - a drop of 10 per cent on last year, according to research by Scottish Widows.

There has also been a fall in the proportion of income being saved by people who are not members of a final salary pension scheme.

The study of more than 5,000 Britons found that employees who are not members of one of these schemes are setting aside an average of just 5.8 per cent of their pay, down from 7.9 per cent last year and less than half the amount Scottish Widows recommends they should be saving.

The problem is worst among women, with one third failing to set any money aside compared with a quarter of men.

The study also found the average value of investments had risen from £16,000 to £24,300 in the past year, suggesting that Britons are putting more faith in property or savings accounts than in pensions.

Ian Naismith, head of pensions market development at Scottish Widows, said: "The deterioration is very disappointing when you consider how high profile pensions have been in the last 12 months."

Stuart Glendinning, of the consumer website, said: "Few companies are actively promoting the government's stakeholder pensions because there is no incentive."

[Kids Count Report] More Illinois children living in poverty

from WQAD

The rate of children living in poverty and in homes where neither parent has a full-time job has climbed in Illinois, but the state improved in other measures.
That's according to an annual study of how U-S children are faring called Kids Count, which is funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Illinois ranked 24th among the 50 states in the Kids Count report, while New Hampshire ranked best in the nation, and Mississippi ranked worst.

Illinois did better than the national average at keeping students in school, with six percent of Illinois teens reported as high school dropouts in 2004 compared with eight percent nationwide.

The state's teen birth rate in 2003 also was better than the national average.

But in Illinois, 17 percent of children lived in poverty in 2004 compared with 15 percent in 2000.

[Ireland] risk-of-poverty rate among EU's highest

from Ireland On Line

Ireland has one of the highest rates in the EU of people at risk of falling into poverty, according to a report published today by the Central Statistics Office.

The proportion of Irish people at risk of poverty, after pensions and social transfer payments were taken into account, was 21% in 2004, one of the highest rates in the EU.

The effect of pensions and social transfers on reducing the at-risk-of-poverty rate was low in Ireland compared with other EU countries.

In 2002, social protection expenditure in Ireland was less than 16% of GDP. This was half of the rate in Sweden and the lowest of the EU 15 countries.

The report - Measuring Ireland’s Progress, 2005 - was published today.

[UK] Mixed aid agency reaction to Blair G8 poverty pledge panel

from Ekklesia

Leading UK development agency ActionAid has accused G8 countries of passing the buck on Africa, and says that British Prime Minister Tony Blair's announcement of a panel to hold world leaders to their promises needs to be a spur not a sop to real action.

In a report published this week, the charity declares: “At present, a mix of backsliding, buck-passing and half-measures by rich countries risk undoing much of the progress of last year.”

It goes on to say that the G8 countries are not on track to double aid by 2010, that unfair trade deals continue, and that most of the world's poorest countries remain in debt. While poverty cannot be rendered history overnight, there are too few signs of progress, ActionAid argues.

Mr Blair gained global publicity yesterday in announcing the setting up of an independent Africa Panel, to be chaired by UN secretary general Kofi Annan. The idea to evaluate progress on promises made by the G8 at a summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, last July (2005).

Campaigner and musician Bob Geldof, who is also pushing David Cameron’s ‘New Tories’ to take world poverty seriously, has been enlisted for the panel. So has Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates – who has helped fund the panel and secretariat.

The panel will produce an annual report for the G8 and for the United Nations over the next few years.

The announcement has received a mixed response from aid and church agencies, with many reluctant to ‘sound negative’ about it, but some underlying concerns about its composition and how effective it is going to be.

G8 leaders promised an extra 50 billion US dollars a year in total aid for all developing countries by 2010, including an expected 25 billion dollars for Africa.

Mr Blair says that “steady progress” is being made on this pledge, but critics in the churches and in development groups believe it is too early to tell – and say that some debt and aid commitments are being ‘double counted’.

Plans to cancel 100 percent of the debt of many poor states are on track and have allowed Zambia to provide free health care for people living in rural areas, the Prime Minister claims.

Again, agencies operating on the ground are more sanguine, and express the hope that the panel, constituted centrally by ‘the rich and famous’ will not simply seek to spin elements of the pledge record which might embarrass G8 governments.

On fairer trade, which is many say is the most important long-term change generator in the Gleneagles package, talks have been fitful and little progress made.

But the wealthy countries have “a genuine and urgent choice” to act now and to make “real inroads into poverty”, says ActionAid. Either that, or they will continue to let their pledges slip, with “grave consequences for people living in poverty.”

A church aid agency insider told Ekklesia yesterday: “Many of us have mixed feelings about the new panel. Monitoring is vital, and cynicism isn’t going to deliver progress against poverty. But at the same time it is easy to lose the issues in PR spin – and the question remains about how the voices of the poor get heard, not just the rich and powerful.”

[Kids Count Report] Fewer teens having babies, but more are living in poverty

from WTNH

Connecticut is one of the best states in the nation when it comes to the health and well-being of children and teens.

The latest Kids Count report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation charity measures each state's progress on ten statistics, including infant mortality, poverty rates, single-parent families and babies born with low birth weights.

States in the Northeast and upper Midwest scored the best. At the top: New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Minnesota and Iowa. Southern states did the worst: Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Louisiana was ranked 49th, even before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast last year.

The report says fewer teenagers are having babies or dropping out of high school since the start of the decade, but slightly more live in poverty with parents who don't work year round.

The report also found that measures of health and income for children and teens are no longer improving as much as they did in the 1990s.

[Kids Count Report] Getting a grip on poverty

from The Detroit Free Press

More state, metro Detroit kids worse off as agencies seek answers

Ask 10-year-old Quashawn Willis of Detroit what he plans to do this summer and his answer is pretty simple: "Nothing." Ask him what he'd like to do, and the answer is quick: "Go to Disney World."

That isn't likely to happen, because Quashawn lives with his mother, Michelle Griffin, 31, and sister Quachelle Williams, 3, in Brightmoor, a west-side neighborhood that is among the city's poorest. Griffin lost her last job at a Warren factory a year ago and now relies on help from her family to get by.

Her children are among a growing number of Michigan kids whose families are in poverty, according to the 2006 Kids Count study released today.

At the same time, the state's sluggish economy is also affecting programs for poor families.

Representatives from some of the nation's largest philanthropic organizations began arriving in Detroit on Monday for a conference convened by the Skillman Foundation on ways to strengthen private philanthropy in view of public cuts.

"No child should live in poverty," said Carol Goss, president and chief executive officer of the Detroit-based Skillman Foundation. "We're pleased that foundations across the nation are rallying around this issue."

In 2004, about 18% of the state's children lived in families with incomes below the poverty level, $19,311 a year for a family of four, according to the Kids Count study.

That was a 29% increase over the number of poor children in Michigan in 2000.

Advocates for children already look back on the late 1990s as "the good old days" for kids, when the state and nation had programs targeting tough problems such as poverty.

"We had an economic boom the likes of which the state had not seen before," said Jane Zehnder-Merrell, senior research associate for Kids Count in Michigan. "And we thought it was going to last forever, as did the policy makers, so they gave away state revenue when they should've saved it for a rainy day," she said.

In Wayne County, including Detroit, 30% of children ages 16 and younger in 2004 lived in families with incomes below the poverty level, compared with 25% in 2003.

The childhood poverty rate also rose in Macomb County, from 8% in 2003 to 9% in 2004. In Oakland County, the rate fell from 11% in 2003 to 5% in 2004. Zehnder-Merrell attributed the decrease to the generally brighter economic picture in Oakland County.

The poverty rate also figured into other areas that measure child well-being in Michigan, especially the infant mortality rate.

According to the study, Michigan's 2003 infant mortality rate of 8.5 deaths per 1,000 live births meant the state ranked 43rd among all states in rates of children who die before their first birthdays.

Overall, using 10 measures of child well-being, Michigan improved in six areas, including teen death rates, which dropped from 64 to 55 deaths per 100,000 youths from 2000 to 2003, compared with a national average of 66 deaths. Also, the percentage of the state's children who dropped out of high school fell by 30%, and births to teenagers dipped by 15% during the same period.

Michigan's overall ranking dropped from 26th to 27th.

Among the organizations attending this week's conference at the Omni Hotel are the Ford Foundation, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Heinz Endowments and the Foundation for Child Development.

Goss of the Skillman Foundation is expected to discuss her foundation's Good Neighborhoods initiative, launched in January in six Detroit neighborhoods chosen because they hold about one-third of the city's kids.

The hope is that the programs that are developed will have a wide impact, said William Hanson, Skillman's communications director.

Brightmoor, where Griffin and her two children live, is one of the communities, and the Rev. Dennis Talbert, pastor of the Rosedale Park Baptist Church, is one of the leaders of the Good Neighborhoods project in Brightmoor.

"You only have to drive through the neighborhood, or walk through the neighborhood, or hang out with the kids here to understand that socially we are declining, as well as economically," Talbert said Monday.

These are some of the organizations that offer programs to help poor children and families:

• ARISE Detroit (Activating Resources Inspiring Service and Empowerment) is a Skillman Foundation-funded initiative looking for volunteers and donors willing to work with community and school groups in Detroit. Go to or call 866-942-7473 anytime.

• Think Detroit, a nonprofit, works to provide recreational and educational programs for kids. Go to or call 313-833-1600.

• The Coalition on Temporary Shelter, or COTS, provides shelter for homeless families. Call 313-831-3777 anytime.

• Forgotten Harvest, which collects and distributes tons of fresh food from area grocery stores and restaurants, can use donations of money, food or time. Go to or call 248-350-3663 anytime.

Monday, June 26, 2006

[UK] Indonesian volunteers on scheme to help poor in Britain

from The Hindu

Volunteers from Indonesia are being deployed to help fight poverty, drug and alcohol abuse in one of Britain's biggest cities.

Nine Indonesians between 17 to 25 years of age have been selected by Britain's Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO), a charity organistaion, to work alongside British volunteers in areas of Glasgow infested with social evils, The Sunday Times reported.

They will work in Maryhill and Milton areas for three months under VSO's Global Xchange scheme.

The areas are among the most socially deprived in the UK and have life expectancy rates that are below those of the volunteers homeland.

The average life expectancy in Indonesia is 66, whereas men born in Maryhill and Milton have life expectancies of below 60, the report said.

The volunters have been asked to brace themselves to face the harsh life of inner-city Scotland, Rebecca Metcalfe, the project supervisor said.

"They see the West, as very glamorous with everyone being affluent and having access to high-technology gadgets. But the next three months are really going to challenge those preconceptions," she was quoted as saying in the report.

The visitors, who are members of the Indonesian Scout Association, will live with families in Glasgow during their stay.

"They have been told that there are areas of the city, where there are problems of drink and drug abuse and they have been briefed about the countrys growing secularisation," according to Metcalfe.

[Philippines] Trade exhibit to give organic farming a boost

from Sun Star

KORONADAL CITY -- Organizers of the upcoming Yamang Mindanao trade exhibit are confident the event will greatly benefit organic farming industry and will give growers of organic vegetables and other agricultural products a chance to attract domestic and international buyers.

"Particularly in the European and Asean markets, the consumer trend lately is on healthy foods, meaning those grown the organic way," John Ray dela Cruz, head of the Advocate of Philippine Fair Trade Inc., told a press conference in this city.

European buyers had already confirmed their attendance to the trade fair that will showcase products from the six regions of Mindanao.

The event would be held in General Santos City from July 15 to 17.

Dela Cruz said institutional buyers such as the Manila-based SM Mall and Robinson's would also be coming over to forge possible agreements with producers of organic crops.

"These domestic buyers have vowed to help link Mindanao producers to other buyers," he said.

Ibrahim Guiamadel, regional director of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), said they are also expecting expansion among existing businesses or producers in the region with the holding of the island-wide trade fair.

"Definitely, there would be additional investments resulting in more generation of jobs by way of this trade exhibit," he said.

Dorecita Delima, DTI-Central Mindanao assistant regional director, said they have projected the trade expo to generate P75 million sales for all exhibitors.

"The figure could go higher given the likely bulk orders but we have not included this in our projections for Yamang Mindanao," she said.

Yamang Mindanao, which loosely translates to "riches of Mindanao," is aimed at highlighting the Philippine's best products particularly in Mindanao.

Organizers of the event said that around 100 products from across Mindanao will be exhibited during the trade fair.

[Zimbabwe] Call to fight spread of malaria in

from African News Dimension

ZIMBABWEANS should intensify taking preventive measures against contracting diseases such as malaria to enable the Government to channel resources towards other development issues, Vice President Cde Joice Mujuru said yesterday

She said resources being used by the Government on treatment could easily be diverted towards development programmes if people took preventive measures seriously.

Although malaria is a largely preventable and curable disease, it continues to be one of the top killers of people in the country, a situation that needed to change, she said.

She was speaking during the commemoration of the Africa Malaria Day at Dotito High School in Mt Darwin, one of the malariaprone districts.

This year’s Africa Malaria Day was commemorated under the theme “Get your ACT together” accompanied by the slogan “Universal access to effective malaria treatment is a Human Right, which advocates for the promotion of Atermesinin Based Combination Therapy (ACT) in the treatment of malaria”.

The World Health Organisation has recommended ACT for effective malaria treatment.
“Every household should have some basic knowledge about health. They should know how important it is to be able to prevent diseases.

“If a family ensures that it keeps healthy, then fathers and mothers can work in the fields and their families as well as the whole country will have enough to eat,” Cde Mujuru said.

It was every mother’s duty, she said, to strive for hygiene in their homes, as this was the best way of ensuring that their families would remain healthy.

She appealed to people to play their part in maintaining good health saying while the Government and partners like the United Nations, Population Services International, World Health Organisation and others could fight to provide drugs, spray households as well as insecticide treated nets — it was up to the people themselves to make these useful.

Some people have in the past refused to open their homes to spraying teams while others use the nets as fishing nets or for display.

“I urge those in mosquitoprone areas to support our efforts by opening their homes and also those who are given mosquito nets to make use of them,’’ she said.

[Kenya] Lucrative cash crop or leaf of poverty?

from The East African

Kenyans pay up to 17 times the internationally-recommended prices for some branded medicines, and up to three times for their generic forms, reports DAGI KIMANI

KENYAN CONSUMERS OF khat, known in Kenya as miraa are routinely spending more than half their household incomes on the intoxicant, deepening poverty in vulnerable households, a new study says.

According to the study, some households in drought-ravaged North-Eastern province are committing as much as Ksh800 ($11.3) to khat every day, more than they spend on education or healthcare.

The study by researchers from the University of Nairobi and the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA) says that, in addition, most users of the stimulant chew it during the day, seriously affecting their economic productivity.

Khat is one of the most lucrative cash crops in Kenya's Eastern Province, with revenues estimated at over Ksh2 billion ($28 million).

Although the psychoactive substances in the plant are restricted under international drug conventions, possession and use of the raw khat plant itself is not controlled in many countries.

The psychoactive substances in miraa are close relatives of the restricted drug amphetamine.

"The majority of khat consumers spend more than half their domestic budget on the habit at the expense of such vital needs as education and medical care," says a report on the study appearing in the latest issue of The East African Medical Journal (EAMJ). "At least 40 per cent of subjects themselves blamed khat chewing for low economic productivity and inefficiency at work, while 32 per cent associated it with absenteeism."

IN KENYA, THE SHRUB HAS BEEN cultivated, traded, exported and consumed without any prohibitive measures since legalisation in 1977.

Miraa is the intoxicant of choice among non-alcohol using Kenyans, although it is also widely used concurrently with alcohol. In East Africa, only Tanzania has imposed what can only be termed a "soft" ban on the consumption and marketing of the plant.

Historically, consumption of miraa has been confined to the areas in which it is produced, mainly because its active ingredients are degraded within days after harvesting.

But the emergence of efficient transport systems, especially air transport, has seen the plant become an important export commodity to markets as far away as the UK, Europe and North America.

Six months ago, the British government said it was exploring the possibility of banning the plant, sparking loud protests from its Kenyan producers and exporters who said a ban would be unwarranted and contrary to the principles of free trade.

However, a detailed study by a British academic across Uganda and Kenya over the past two years has concluded there is no overwhelming case for a ban on the use of khat.

Susan Beckerleg’s survey findings, which were published in May in the Oxford, UK-based academic journal African Affairs, say that while opinions on the taking of khat across the region were strongly held, the medical evidence for a ban was not overwhelming.

Kenya currently exports at least 150 tonnes of the plant every week, mostly to Somalia, the UK, the Netherlands and Yemen. Hundreds more tonnes are consumed locally, mostly in the North-Eastern and Eastern Provinces as well as most of Kenya's urban areas.

More than 1.5 million people are thought to have experimented with miraa at one time or another.

"Despite the growing public concern about the increasing consumption of khat and other associated drugs in Kenya, few systematic studies have been conducted on the socioeconomic effects of khat chewing," the EAMJ report says, adding that as a consequence, no significant efforts have been made to educate the public on the financial or medical costs of the intoxicant.

The study says that, among the possible complications of khat use are psychiatric problems such as schizophrenia as well as conditions such as as heart disease, liver damage and hypertension. Kenyan health experts also say that the unhygienic manner in which the plant is handled during harvesting, transportation and marketing has led to the transmission of communicable diseases such as gastro-intestinal infections.