Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The missteps of aid to Haiti

An Associated Press story today introduces us to an Haitian by the name of Olisten Elerius. Tropical storms have forced Elerius to build his house over and over again. Jonathan Katz, a writer for the Associated Press tells us Elerius story and how aid shortfalls and misuse have caused this tragedy. Our snippet comes from the story's appearance in Salon.

This is the third time Olisten Elerius is preparing to build his tiny cinderblock house. Four years ago, Tropical Storm Jeanne flooded it and drowned his father, sister and nephew. Then, late this summer, Tropical Storm Hanna swallowed it along with his daughter and another sister. It could happen again.


Haiti's floods are not natural disasters, but a direct result of widespread deforestation, erosion and poverty. Farmers cut trees for charcoal and plant shallow-rooted crops. Rains that would be forgotten elsewhere can kill thousands.

In 2004, Elerius was working in the neighboring Dominican Republic when Tropical Storm Jeanne came twisting like a wounded animal out of the northern sky, sending a wall of water through his cinderblock home and sweeping away his father, sister and nephew. Gonaives residents fled to their rooftops as rivers broke their banks, overflowing morgues with bloated corpses.

A horrified world pledged to help. Elerius returned home just as the money and the white SUVs of non-governmental organizations began flowing into Gonaives, in the north of Haiti.

The U.N. appealed for $37 million in flood relief. Washington would donate more than $45 million, first for emergency food and supplies and then through USAID for the two-year, $34 million Tropical Storm Jeanne Recovery Program.

Disaster officials, newspapers and aid workers called for well-planned, well-financed, long-term aid. Haitian officials told the agencies to spend the money on projects that would save lives: secure rivers, fix roads, design better canals, build homes with better drainage to the sea.

But the U.N. member states, distracted by the Indian Ocean tsunami four months later, raised less than half their funding target.

Work was hampered by violence and insecurity. The Inter-American Development Bank provided about $10 million in loans, mostly for construction of a small drainage system. That project was abandoned by Haitian contractors after bandits stole the cement and steel, IDB representative Philippe Dewez said.

Washington sent money mostly for short-term projects: cleanup, restoration and repair of basic services such as schools, health clinics, roads, bridges and homes. In 2005, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported that U.S. organizations cleared more than 2 million cubic feet of mud and restored the livelihoods of 48,000 people. But the GAO said they failed to meet an already reduced target for houses and completed no roads or bridges.

How the global economic crisis effecting China

The factory jobs that were supposed to be the paths out of poverty for many Chinese are being cut by the global economic crisis. CNN Money paints a portrait of the workers fleeing the cities.

China's ocean of blue-collar workers is streaming back to the country's farming hinterland, bringing thwarted aspirations and rising discontent in tow as their city jobs, their paths out of poverty, fall victim to the global economic crisis.

Train K192 is a daily conduit of the reversing flow.

Every afternoon it pulls into Chengdu, capital of populous Sichuan province, after a 31-hour trip from Guangzhou, center of China's once-thriving export heartland.

Hundreds of weary passengers, some of whom stand through the entire journey because seats are sold out, straggle into the gray light of the Chengdu winter and an uncertain future.

"Lots of factories have closed. Mine shut about three months ago. There was nothing to do, so I came home," said Wu Hao, 21, sporting a stylish striped sweater and a sleek metal suitcase.

After a year spent making circuit boards in Guangzhou, he was heading back to his family's patch of farmland, a full month before the Chinese new year when he would usually visit home.

Officials estimate that more than 10 million migrant laborers have already returned to the countryside as thousands of companies have been dragged under by weak global demand for everything from clothes to cars.

The government, always concerned about social instability, is now on high alert, fearful of the consequences of a huge mass of jobless, disappointed, rootless young men.

Beijing has urged firms to avoid cutting jobs despite falling profits, and many bosses have obliged by retaining workers but giving them unpaid leave.

"Sales were really bad and the boss just kept giving us holidays. We had 15 days off last month," said Tan Jun, who also clambered off train K192 in Chengdu. "Next year I won't go back."

Catholic responce to the Church of England row

The Telegraph's own James Kirkup notes the response that other church groups have made on the Church of England accusations against the UK government.
Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor rejected the Anglican bishops views on BBC Radio Four's Today Programme, suggesting they were playing a "blame game."

Instead of blaming the Government for materialism and social problems, the cardinal said that responsibility should be shared more widely. Ordinary people and churchmen also bear some of the blame, he said.

"If we are going to accuse people of immorality it is much further than the Government, it is the whole country," Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said. "I am not too happy with the blame game because if we say that there has to be a "conversion", then I always start with myself."

"Obviously, governments have a particular responsibility but so have the people, so have the cities, so have the communities, I always think that a change of heart begins locally.. you can't bring it about just by Government."

Asked whether he agreed with Bishop McCulloch that the Labuor Government had been "beguiled by money", the cardinal responded: "I do not think that is the whole truth at all."

The cardinal's support will please Downing Street, which had been angered by the Anglican criticism. On Sunday one senior Government source accused the Church of England bishops of a "totally unjustified political attack" on Labour's record

Bishops attack "immoral" UK policies

Sky News from the UK has the latest in some controversial statements that the Church of England have made in criticizing the nations government.

Five leading bishops have accused the Government of failing to tackle poverty and believing money is the answer to every problem.

But Labour has denied the accusation, saying its agenda is all about fairness and giving people the chance to get on in life.

In a damning assessment of its 11 years in power, the five senior Church of England figures have branded the Government "morally corrupt".

The bishops of Durham, Winchester, Manchester, Carlisle and Hulme claim minsters have pursued "scandalous" policies.

The Rt Rev Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham, said they have not done enough to help the poor since taking power in 1997.

"Labour made a lot of promises, but a lot of them have vanished into thin air," he said.

"We have not seen a raising of aspirations in the last 13 years... instead there is a sense of hopelessness.

"While the rich have got richer, the poor have got poorer."

Monday, December 29, 2008

Eating on one dollar a day

A couple of educators tried an experiment to put themselves in the shoes of those in poverty. They tried to live on a diet foodstuffs that cost only $1 dollar a day. The experiment started their own blog and lots of media coverage.

We found out about the diet from this article reprinted in the Chicago Sun Times. Writer Eliene Zimmerman took a look into their kitchen.

The couple, who are both teach English and social justice in southern California high schools, tried to live for one month eating no more than a dollar’s worth of food a day each. (That required buying in bulk; hence the green bins.) Although the project ultimately raised the public’s awareness of poverty and hunger, it started out as a way to lower the couple’s food bill.

“Kerri noticed it was pretty high, about $100 to $150 a week. We were buying prepackaged foods, frozen foods, soy milk, lots of organic fruits and vegetables,” says Greenslate. (He and Leonard are vegans and do not eat animal products.)

When they compared their own food costs with the international poverty rate - $1.25 today, according to the World Bank - Greenslate says they were astonished. “Here we were spending all this money on food every week, and the contrast between that and what those in poverty live on was stark. I wondered if we could actually feed ourselves on a dollar a day,” he says.

In September they began eating less and blogging about it on their website. In the beginning, Greenslate was hungrier than Leonard. But after the first three or four days, “I had more energy, and my appetite decreased,” he says.

By the second week, however, it had become much harder. “There were days where I would hold onto my lectern in class because I felt too lightheaded. It became harder and harder.”

Leonard daydreamed about food. “I would look through my cookbooks thinking, ’I wish we could have that tonight.’ It was like window shopping,” she says Greenslate lost 14 pounds that month; Leonard lost five. Preparing meals could take hours. Almost everything had to be made from scratch, including bread, tortillas, refried beans, and wheat gluten steaks.


Greenslate and Leonard may have tried living in food poverty for a month, but they did not live in true poverty, says Susanne Freidberg, an associate professor of geography at Dartmouth College who studies the political economy of food.

“They were able to do research and then get in their car and buy a 25-pound bag of cornmeal at the right store for the lowest price. I think if you are that poor, you are buying one cup of flour, an eighth of a head of cabbage, and a little baggie of vegetable oil. On that scale, you’re not getting the food as cheaply,” she says. In many poor countries it’s not just the food people cannot afford but also the fuel for cooking, says Freidberg. “There is such a vast variation worldwide in terms of how people live that ’eating on a dollar a day’ isn’t really meaningful.

”If you live on a dollar a day and you have land and enough hands to work it and the rains are good, the dollar is irrelevant. If you live in a city and depend on the market for food, then you are really suffering.“

Teaching kids how to build bikes

Here is a great inner city project from Houston. It started as a bike repair shop to keep kids out of gangs, but it has transformed into so much more for the children. Lisa Grey of the Houston Chronicle explains how Workshop Houston helps the kids of the third ward.

Workshop Houston started out simple. Right after graduating from Oberlin, four idealists — Zach Moser, Katy Goodman, Seth Capron and Benjy Mason — drove to Houston in a pickup. Between the four of them, they had $20,000 in grant money — enough to launch the Third Ward Community Bike Center, a tiny place where, for free, people could learn to build and repair their own bikes.

They saw the bike shop as an anti-poverty project, giving people in the Third Ward both a skill and a means of transportation — especially necessary in a neighborhood where jobs and grocery stores lie miles away. And for a while, the four got to know poverty firsthand themselves. They shared a four-bedroom apartment. They used foodstamps. They got donations.

They noticed that their 12- and 13-year-old regulars were getting into trouble — out cruising the streets after school, getting tangled in gangs and drugs, going to jail. Bike repair wasn’t enough to break that cycle. A kid can only spend so much time lubricating a chain.

The idealists reformulated themselves as Workshop Houston, with a plan to give middle-school kids something to do every day after school. The Bike Shop would continue, but there would also be the Scholar Shop, with academic tutoring; the Style Shop, with silk-screening; the Beat Shop, with computers for mixing sound; and the Chopper Shop, a place where kids could not just fix a bike, but transmogrify it.

Land is cheap in the Third Ward, and a couple of years ago, Workshop Houston bought a dingy bungalow and a couple of run-down four-plexes on Sauer Street. The original foursome, plus new hires and volunteers, stripped the bungalow down to its studs, painted it lime green and teal and orange, and turned it into the kind of bike shop you expect in a college town.

Kids drift in when they feel like it. Some come only for one of the shops. Some come every day, for everything. Some disappear, leaving half-finished projects behind.

If a kid comes often to the Chopper Shop, the staff gets to know him. They ask about his grades and want to see his progress reports. They nudge him to academic help next door at the Scholar Shop. They go see his teachers. They ask what he wants to do with his life.

1 in 9 Wyoming children live in poverty

The Children's Defense Fund has issued a report that gives some statistics for the state of Wyoming. The report finds that 1 in 9 Wyoming children live in poverty. But, Bill McCarthy of the Wyoming Tribune Eagle says that is still better than the national average.

The national average shows one in six kids living in poverty, according to the report called "The State of America's Children 2008."

The report indicates the number of poor children in the nation has increased nearly 500,000 to 13.3 million, with 5.8 million of them living in extreme poverty and nearly 9 million children lacking health coverage.

"We expect it could rise during the recession in the coming year," Crato said.

So the Children's Defense Fund is hoping to spur urgent national and state responses to the problems of child poverty before the situation worsens, she added.

There are about 74 million children in the United States; almost 21 million of them are under the age of 5. In Wyoming, there are 125,365 children; 35,890 are under age 5, the report says.

The federal poverty line for a family of four in 2008 is $21,200 in annual income.

The report says that 11.6 percent of Wyoming children live in poverty. Nationally, 18 percent of kids are living in poverty, the report finds.

A family of four is considered extremely poor in 2008 if their annual household income is below $10,600 -- half of the official poverty line.

Providing a home for a family in Romania

Another story of charity work today. This one is for an UK based charity that is providing for people in Romania. The newspaper, This Is South Wales, fills us in on the charity and gives an address at the end for contributions.

Fund-raiser Val Newton, of Wales Romanian Aid, who helps families in poverty in Eastern Europe, said the Craus family live in terrible conditions.

"They live in shocking conditions. I have met them about four times now," she said.

"They all have nothing for Christmas. They have rice and pasta and a small amount of vegetables, but they will not have any meat or cheese."

"Their ceiling is made out of mud and there is mud on the floor."

Val visited the family in November when she delivered a food parcel which contained rice, pasta and soup packets which had been donated by kind-hearted folk in South Wales.

"We collected 570 banana boxes full, which is 10 tonnes, and I would like to say thank-you to everyone who donated," said Val.

And more help is on the way to the family, thanks to Val and her team, as they are to receive a new home from donations Val has received from people in South Wales.

She said: "At the moment I am in the process of rebuilding their house for them.


Anyone who wishes to help should send cheques, made payable to Wales Romanian Aid, to Val Newton at Tycroes, Maesybont, Cross Hands, Llanelli SA14 7HD or call 01269 843345.

A "Man of the Year" who has helped Liberia

This morning we introduce you to Mike Cambria, who was nominated as the Rochester, Massachusetts Man of The Year by the newspaper the Standard Times.

After working in education and politics, Cambria began volunteer work for a group called Mission to Liberia. Standard Times writer Don Cuddy explains how the nominee got his start in helping the group.

His Liberian effort began with a chance meeting in 2005 and a request for his help in shipping used clothing and shoes to the beleaguered population.

Mr. Cambra, who was in the export business, had contacts in shipping worldwide. A 40-foot container filled with donated items duly made its way to Africa. But that was merely the beginning of his involvement.

Mr. Cambra was so impressed by the efforts of Liberian refugee Joseph Deranamie to help those left behind that he, too, became completely immersed in the relief operation.

Today, he is chairman of the board of the nonprofit Mission to Liberia, which, with support from a number of communities in Massachusetts, has succeeded in building a health clinic in the town of Duazohn. But much more remains to be done, Mr. Cambra said.

"The greatest need is for health care professionals, so we took a trip to the University of Liberia School of Pharmacy and Medicine. It's just four walls and a blackboard. They have no electricity, no water, no books, no lab equipment."

Mission to Liberia has now focused on three primary objectives, he said. First, it offers direct aid to the local people in the form of clothing, medicine and much-needed items like mosquito nets.

Secondly, it plans to further expand the clinic and its programs to offer living space for medical professionals and to provide educational outreach to the local population on such important health care issues as hygiene, malaria prevention and AIDS.

Mission to Liberia also hopes to supply the university school with a fully equipped teaching lab, including textbooks and microscopes, stethoscopes and other instruments.

The economy's effects on combating homelessness

We found a great story this morning from Business Week that examines the economy's downturn as it effects the battle against homelessness. The donors who came from Wall Street, well, they don't have as much money to donate anymore. Also, the fight to give all a place to live has been hampered by all the recent house foreclosures.

Dionne Walker's piece for the magazine focuses on the efforts in the city of Atlanta, as they try to join other cities in the U.S. that have cut homelessness in half in recent years.

The economy is hitting all sectors hard. When your goal is eroding a phenomenon directly linked to poverty, however, a crisis this deep delivers an extra gut punch.

"We're sort of holding our breath," says Steve Berg, with the National Alliance to End Homelessness, a leader in forming the anti-homelessness plans.

"Despite the good work a lot of these communities have done with their 10-year plans, we're probably going to have a time when there's more pressure on homelessness."

Five years ago, Philip Mangano, executive director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, got fed up with homeless numbers that had risen for decades.

"How many homeless people (there were), where they came from, how long they stayed homeless, what were the initiatives that actually worked to reduce homelessness -- we didn't know," Mangano says. "We were groping in the dark."

So he urged 100 mayors in 2003 to formulate plans to end homelessness within a decade. They would focus on the chronic homeless, defined as those with a disabling condition experiencing long-term or multiple instances of homelessness and who, activists say, suck up half of available resources.

Leaders would measure progress through benchmarks of people staying off the streets, rather than shelter beds filled. Regions began adopting a strategy placing homeless into their own apartments, then offering help, rather than vice versa.

Immediate housing calms some of the most troubled clients, according to the National Alliance, and double-digit drops in homelessness reported in Chicago, Denver, New York and Norfolk, Va., among other cities, seem to back them up.

"We have some remarkable accomplishments here," says New York Homeless Services Commissioner Robert Hess, pointing to a 25 percent reduction in street homeless since 2005.

Mangano says more than 50,000 units of housing targeting the homeless have been created over the past five years; the goal is 150,000 units by 2014.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A new website to fight childhood hunger in Arizona

A new Arizona state program is seeking donors and volunteers to help hungry children. Melissa S. Aude of the Tri Valley Central wrote a story about the program after visiting their new website.

An estimated 33,477 Pinal County children live in poverty or in low-income households, and many suffer from hunger, missed meals and improper nutrition.

With a goal of eradicating childhood hunger throughout the state by 2018, the Arizona Partnership to End Childhood Hunger, a new campaign sponsored by the state Department of Economic Security, is turning to the community and the Internet to ensure that kids throughout the state receive the nutritional food they need.

Last week, the campaign launched a new Web site and online community to encourage anyone who wants to help to sign up. The Web site allows visitors to join an online network, make a donation, begin a fundraising project and recruit friends and family to help in the cause. So far 27 Internet supporters have signed on and several projects have begun in some communities from Globe, where people are raising money for a food bank, to Peoria, where an elementary school is forming a community garden.

"Since this is a new initiative, projects are starting in communities around the state," said Linda Hamman, hunger relief coordinator for the state Office of Community Partnerships and Innovative Practices.

The Arizona Partnership to End Childhood Hunger is a collaborative effort between families, state agencies, local governments, community-based organizers and volunteers. It is based on the philosophy that communities have the tools, resources and expertise to properly feed children, but the challenge is to mobilize assets and find cost-effective solutions.

"The main goal of this initiative is public and community awareness of the assistance available and how communities and individuals can make a difference through education, advocacy and awareness of the issue of hunger in Arizona," Hamman said.

Statewide, more than 700,000 children under the age of 18 live in low-income households and many do receive adequate nutrition, the organization says. With nearly 52 percent of local children living within or near the federal poverty level, Pinal County ranks third in the state as the county with the most economically challenged children. Only Maricopa County and Pima County rank higher.

Part of the problem in fighting childhood hunger is the fact that many of the programs designed to provide food to the poor do not reach all of their target population, according to Hamman.

A respectful way to raise money

An Ethiopian who lives in Canada is trying to raise money to send a donated ambulance back to his home country. Today's Toronto Star has a story about Samuel Getachew, who doesn't like to exploit the poor people of his country to raise funds. Instead, he has been using cultural events to raise the money.

Getachew explains the need for the ambulance to Toronto Star reporter John Goddard.

"Using an ambulance is a luxury in Ethiopia," he says. "Most people ride to the hospital in taxis or wait for a bus. In villages, to transport very sick people, they even use a donkey."

The City of Ottawa typically sells five used ambulances a year for $5,000 each. The city once gave an ambulance to Ghana.

"I have known (Getachew) for quite a while from some of the other work he has done around the city," says Ottawa city Councillor Diane Deans.

"When he wants to do something, he puts a lot of energy behind the project, and I felt it was one the city could and should support."

Last summer, Getachew visited Ethiopia and met Abebech Gobena, a woman he intends to nominate for the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1984, Gobena adopted two children left orphans by the famine and now runs orphanage schools serving more than 5,000 children. Videos of her work are on YouTube.

"I'm going to send the ambulance to her headquarters in Addis Ababa and she will decide what village to send it to," Getachew says. "She has made a commitment that it won't be used only for the middle class."

Friends of Ethiopia must still raise $6,000 toward shipping costs. Getachew says anybody interested can call him at 647-210-5538.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Another increase infood bank usage story

This time it's from Indiana. Since the weather became cold in the states, food banks here have noticed a big increase in the numbers coming in for help. As Lauren Daley of the Indiana Gazette notes, sometimes the demand on the food pantries is too much.

With decreasing state and federal aid and a growing demand, the Indiana County Community Action Program is simply trying to use what it has and rely on community donations to support those in need.

Lorna Vite, executive director of ICCAP, said Indiana County residents seemed to make do when gas prices were high in the summer, but food bank numbers jumped as cold weather hit.

``I think if someone is on a fixed income, this is one way they can free up a little bit of money to go into the fuel bill,'' Vite said. ``I think that as cold weather hit, people were looking for all ways to help their household.

ICCAP's 21 food pantries served 1,713 households in October, an increase from 1,380 in July. The agency also gave out significantly more emergency food bags - 393 - in October, a spike from 92 in August and 88 in September. Those who receive emergency food bags are allowed to do so only three times a year and are referred to the county food bank.

Vite said the agency helps approximately 3,200 people per year, a number she believes will increase in 2009.

``I feel like it will go up. Even if it doubled, we would have to work to supply each family with a bag of food. I feel we could handle that, but we have not been in that situation before,'' she said. ``It would be something we would have to work for.''

Based on U.S. Census data, Vite said there are 24,844 people in Indiana County who are eligible for ICCAP's food bank. To determine eligibility, ICCAP takes 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, which is an income amount set each year based on household size.

Video: Birthing a better life in Appalachia

Some holiday cheer from Jeffery Sachs

Jeffrey Sachs uses his latest commentary to highlight some great accomplishments that have helped the anti-poverty cause. He reminds us of these achievements to show that the fight against poverty can be won, and so that we don't think the problems are too big to conquer.

Our snippet of Dr. Sachs commentary came from the Miami Herald, even though it has been published just about everywhere.

Hats off, first, to Mexico for pioneering the idea of ''conditional cash transfers'' to poor households. These transfers enable and encourage those households to invest in their children's health, nutrition and schooling. Mexico's ''Opportunities Program,'' led by President Felipe Calderón, is now being widely emulated around Latin America.

• Norway, under the leadership of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, is maintaining its tradition of creative social and environmental leadership. The government has put together a global alliance to prevent maternal death in childbirth, investing in both safe delivery and survival of newborns. At the same time, Norway launched an innovative $1 billion program with Brazil to induce poor communities in the Amazon to end rampant deforestation. Cleverly, Norway pays out the funds to Brazil only upon proven success in avoiding deforestation (compared with an agreed baseline).

• Spain, under the leadership of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, has given a major stimulus to helping the poorest countries to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Spain created a new MDG Fund at the United Nations to promote the cooperation needed to address the various challenges of the MDGs.

• Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has similarly surged to the forefront of global problem solving, putting forward a bold action plan on climate change and proposing new and practical means to address the MDGs. Australia put real money on the table for increased food production, along the lines that Spain is proposing. It also champions an increased program of action for the poor and environmentally threatened island economies of the Pacific region.

• These efforts have been matched by actions in the poorest countries. The landlocked and impoverished country of Malawi, under the leadership of President Bingu wa Mutharika, has doubled its annual food production since 2005 through a pioneering effort to help its poorest farmers. The program has been so successful that it is being emulated across Africa.

• Mali's government, under President Amadou Toumani Touré, has recently put forward a bold challenge to the world community. Mali is eager to scale up investments in agriculture, health, education and infrastructure in its 166 poorest communities. The plans are detailed, thoughtful, credible and based on proven successes that the government has already achieved. The rich world has promised to help Mali, and now Mali has led the way with its creativity.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Comment on fighting poverty in the US

Rebecca Blank of the Brookings Institution has some strategies that the next administration in the US could work on to fight poverty in the states. Our clip of the essay comes from McClatchy newspapers.

Holidays should be a time of blessing. But this year, with unemployment rising, more families are feeling squeezed rather than blessed. A sound plan from the new White House to support low-wage workers, ensure an effective safety net and create opportunities in high-poverty neighborhoods might guarantee American families more on their tables in the seasons ahead.

One in eight Americans lived in families with income below the official U.S. poverty level in 2007. As 2008 wraps up in a deepening economic recession, many more families are finding it difficult to pay the bills that cover the costs of food, clothing and shelter. The ability to cope with medical bills, transportation and child care costs must also be part of the modern-day basic survival package.

To understand the problems of poverty, it is important to identify accurately who is poor. Unfortunately, our current poverty measure is seriously outdated. The current thresholds for measuring whether a family is in poverty are based on 50-year-old data about food consumption, updated only for inflation since the Johnson administration established the poverty measure.

If Barack Obama is serious about waging a new war on poverty, a good start would be to consider a more effective way to measure poverty that better indicates how many families have sufficient economic resources to pay for their basic necessities. In a developed country like the United States, this means more than merely avoiding starvation or homelessness; it means having the resources needed to seek and hold employment.

In a new Hamilton Project discussion paper, Mark Greenberg and I recommend the adoption of an improved measure, drawing from the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences, which would better define a poverty line and better measure the actual amount households have to spend on the necessities of food, clothing and shelter.

The new measure would provide a more accurate picture of poverty in America and a better understanding of the effectiveness of antipoverty programs. Combating contemporary poverty, however, also requires a rapid-action plan.

For a major political win early in the Obama administration, his policy advisers should propose expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-wage workers without children. Currently, only working parents who live with their children can receive an EITC that is large enough to matter. We need to "make work pay" for all low-wage workers, including less-skilled men who do not live with their children but still have child-support obligations.

The latest great Idea in microcredit

Ah Ha!!! This guy is on to something. I now have another link to add to the "Get Involved Links" Curtis Stephen from the New York City paper City Limits introduces us to Darryl Penrice.

Darryl Penrice likes to talk. His preferred topics of conversation can roam anywhere from the music of the late rapper Tupac Shakur and the murky underside of politics in America to the mechanics of microeconomics. But if there’s one subject that the 32-year-old Brooklyn resident and self-professed “ghetto prodigy” loves to discuss more than anything else, it’s a vision of a new way to fight poverty that he's obsessed with making real.

For the past year, Penrice has been anything but silent about his proposal, meeting with an assortment of potential investors, city officials, nonprofit groups, college students and major grant-making institutions. In the midst of an outreach campaign, Penrice has been trying to earn support – especially the financial kind – to transform the website that he’s created from a prototype into a full-scale, anti-poverty platform that he contends will have a significant impact in the lives of people experiencing economic hardship in New York and well beyond. “I know what I have,” Penrice declares. “I’m not the most religious person in the world, but if God gave me a gift then I’m going to share it. This is something that can feed millions of people.”

Penrice plans for his initiative – an interactive website called Poverty's Demise.org (or as he calls it, "PDO") – to combine the open source atmosphere of Craigslist with the opportunity-expanding aims of Kiva.org, which allows for “microfinance” lending to entrepreneurs in developing countries. But in many respects, if Penrice's ambitious plan ever goes live, it will launch an unprecedented Web-based undertaking.

Penrice envisions PDO as an outlet for person-to-person financial transactions in which donors help economically disadvantaged individuals – who have been screened and approved for participation – and struggling working-class families pay for essential daily living expenses, including everything from food and rent to utility bills and child care costs. Under the proposal, which Penrice details extensively on his website, the tax-deductible donations would be sent to recipients in the form of “universally redeemable” bar-coded certificates to be exchanged at participating retailers and service providers for specific goods and services. Incentives are also provided to both donors and recipients for volunteerism, and the purchase of healthy food and environmentally-friendly products.

The PDO model would also help to ease the burden faced by those on public assistance and seniors, both of whom are subjected to often-frustrating bureaucracies, Penrice charges. “The government is spending billions right now, but nothing is being done to fix a system that isn’t very efficient,” he says. “A lot of people are against welfare, but how can we tolerate a society where people who worked for 40 or 50 years are forced to choose between their medication or groceries?”

As he seeks to create a high-tech community-oriented platform that circumvents government and nonprofit social services, Penrice is clearly aiming big. He’s hoping to land an investment of $4 million to make an initial run. In addition to setting up an office, hiring programmers and sparking the first wave of donations, Penrice plans to focus on New Yorkers in need before branching out nationwide. One endeavor that Penrice hopes to launch through PDO is a program he calls Broader Horizons, where disadvantaged families are sent abroad. “Can you imagine taking a kid from Bed-Stuy and dropping him off in Japan for a week? The problem with generational poverty is that Dad is in jail, Mom is smoked out, and you think the whole world is a ghetto.”

Fund raising for Madagascar schools

A fund raiser was profiled in the website BC Local News from British Columbia. Luke King is a part of the group Rose Madagascar, who raises money for schools and food for the children of the country.

Sage Birchwater of the Williams Lake Tribune explains Mr. King's involvement in the charity.

At the Tatla Lake Christmas Craft Fair last month, Luke King, 26, had a table selling children’s books, calendars and woven bags made from recycled plastic.

The items, he explained, were all part of a project to raise funds for a small village in Madagascar.

When King, who grew up on a ranch in the West Branch Valley south of Tatla Lake, graduated from the UBC geological engineering program two-and-a-half years ago, he and four university friends went to Madagascar.

Three of whom are now doctoral students, one is a law student, and King is an engineer.

“I went there in the summer of 2006 for a couple of months,” King says.

He says two members of his party were there for eight months.

“We hung out in Tsarahonenana, a community where there was no school,” King continues. “And we were introduced to a gentleman who had a development plan for the community.”


A month ago King and his friends formally joined with Rose Charities to give their project a stronger organizational base.

“Rose Charities works all over the world,” King says.

He says Rose Charities Madagascar is a Canadian group dedicated to helping children and communities in need in Madagascar.

“Rose Charities works with a variety of Malagasy-run projects that reach out to abandoned, orphaned and underprivileged children that would otherwise be living in poverty,” King says.

We will put a link to Rose Charities up in the "Get Involved Links" later today.

An eyewitness account of Zimbabwe's cholera epidemic

A great story done by the Independent that we found on Zim News, gives a close up view of the conditions in Zimbabwe.

In Harare, the rains have come. They are falling on a city gripped by a cholera crisis that refuses to be talked out of existence. The water is soaking through piles of uncollected rubbish, flooding the reeking open sewers of the townships and driving the foul water into the dams and reservoirs. In the waterlogged soil lie scores of recently buried bodies, few of them wrapped in the regulation plastic that would stop the bacteria seeping into the underground streams that feed the city's bore-holes. The rains are drowning government claims that the cholera crisis is over. The official UN death toll stands at more than 1,000 but the reality is on an entirely different scale. International aid workers are reliant on Zimbabwe's ruined health ministry for numbers and admit in private that the figures quoted in Geneva are up to three weeks out of date and exclude those who leave hospitals and go home to die.

Onias Chimbabara has been collating his own statistics. Walking from house to house in Chitungwiza, the mouldering township 20 miles from Harare where the outbreak began, he has been recording cholera deaths and infections and doing the little he can to help. In a battered blue exercise book he has the names of eight of his friends and neighbours who have died and four more who are close to death. The numbers seem modest until Mr Chimbarara's explains that there are only 100 people in his ward. In the next ward, six have died, he says, in the next six again, and so on throughout the whole township. "People here have diarrhoea and skin problems and the mosquitoes are breeding in the sewerage," he says. No one is paying him to do the count, he volunteered, and his hollow cheeks and tired movements are testament to his own brush with cholera.

Chitungwiza is a playground for the intestinal disease, which in its severest form is among the most rapidly fatal illnesses known. The sewerage system stopped working six years ago. Rubbish collections stopped at the beginning of this year, and filthy, stinking water is available fitfully through what is left of the water pipes. "We petitioned the council to collect the rubbish and fix the sewerage but we have got no response," Mr Chimbarara says. Rain drums loudly on the corrugated roof. "Now with the rains it's getting worse, everyone is complaining of stomach pains." The corrupt local council is bankrupt so residents tried to collect money for diesel to get the rubbish trucks moving but everyone is broke; so far, they have just 20 litres. This is not a natural disaster or even a simple case of poverty. The sewerage system worked well enough in Chitungwiza until 2002 when the area voted overwhelmingly for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Thugs from Robert Mugabe's Zanu PF party responded by vandalising the sewerage pumps.

As we spoke, a black and white television showed Mr Mugabe loudly addressing a conference of that same party in nearby Bindura. "Zimbabwe is mine," he told them, wearing the same loud m'zambia patterned shirt he loathes but trots out to play the populist. He would "Never, never surrender!" he shouted, banging the table. The coming of the rains is supposed to be good news. In Mr Mugabe's native Shona, they are called Mwaka ye kurima , the coming of the summer rains for planting. But the country's once-thriving agriculture has degenerated into a desperate effort to stay alive, which in Chitungwiza means old women planting sweet potatoes amid the rubbish on the mud-banks of cholera-infected sewage ditches.

"Everyone is hungry," says Mr Chimbarara. In his backyard is a locked toilet, its rusting door was closed permanently soon after the pumps were smashed, when pouring muddy water down the bowl stopped working. An educated and thoughtful man, he seems embarrassed to say there have been "no flushing toilets for six years". Six feet away is the replacement latrine which feeds stinking, grey, faecal-laden water into a shallow ditch that trickles past the vegetable patch into a similar ditch next door. Asked what he can do for all the people that he is trying to help, he shrugs. "All I can do is tell them to go the clinic." Catherine's clinic in Waterfalls suburb is typical. She is a nurse who until last week worked at the Beatrice Hospital for Infectious Disease. She was watching an average of 13 people a day dying at Beatrice alone. Most patients had clear signs of malnutrition, "skin damages, flaking off like old paint in adults". The children have swelling in their lower limbs, hands and feet.


Hopes that the epidemic could be contained have been dashed. Although the World Health Organisation has yet to confirm it, the disease has spread to all 10 districts of the country, says a non-government organisation worker, speaking on condition of anonymity. "The peak will come in the rainy season," she says. "The technocrats at the health ministry are not in denial. They know this is an emergency. It's the politicians." Like many others, she observes that Zimbabwe's society has fallen apart in the past six months. "Things the country was able to contain in the past it can no longer contain." What prevents an even worse, more widespread disaster are the NGOs. Mr Chimbarara goes on with his sad, self-imposed task. He has already lost his brother, who was shot eight years ago by Zanu militia during the farm invasions. His mother was beaten near to death after the ruling party lost elections in March. "Where are we going?" he asks plaintively. "We are being buried in a shallow grave; we are being buried alive."

The Nubian people of Egypt

A very good profile from Bloomberg today about a displaced people within their own country. Similar to the Kurds in Iraq, the Nubians of Egypt have had to leave their traditional villages along the Nile. Some of the displacement is caused by floods, while some is due to reservoirs that the government builds and plans to build upon.

Daniel Williams of Bloomberg news tells us about the Nubian people and their efforts to preserve their own kind.

Singing songs and chatting in an ancient language, hundreds of cheerful Nubian travelers gathered at Alexandria’s railway station for a long pilgrimage to a lost homeland.

Exiles in their own country, they journeyed 18 hours to celebrate a Muslim holiday in southern Egypt’s Nile valley, a region their ancestors once dominated from a loose confederation of villages along the river banks.

In 1964, their shoreline was inundated when the Aswan High Dam created Lake Nasser, the world’s largest reservoir. Now the Egyptian government has floated plans to develop and populate land surrounding the lake -- without reserving space for Nubians. Activists in the ethnic minority say no fair: They want terrain set aside for new villages so their brethren can live again on the Nile, returning from a northern Egypt diaspora and arid settlements established 44 years ago for displaced families.

“The settlements are false Nubia,” said Haggag Oddoul, an author who has become an outspoken advocate for resettlement. “To restore our character and community, we need to be rerooted. We need to return.”

Nubians ruled Egypt in pharaonic times, their armies having ousted Libyan invaders. They speak their own, non-Arabic language and sing their songs to drum beats. The river was their economic lifeblood and fountain of memory, identity and lore. Central to old beliefs, it held the spirits of angels and holy men.


Nubians, now numbering about 3 million of Egypt’s 73 million people, have been leaving their stretch of the Nile valley for more than a century -- some because of poverty, some because of efforts to tame the river’s annual floods.

The first dam near Aswan was built in 1902; subsequent ones obliterated settlements further and further south until all of Egyptian Nubia was under water.

Khabairi Gamal, 70, unfurled a hand-drawn map of old Nubia for holiday visitors earlier this month in Aniba, one of the transplanted villages. Young Nubians are forgetting their past, he said, turning to Islam Fathi, 23, and asking where he was from originally.

“Well,” Fathi stammered with a smile.

“Go home and ask about your grandfather. Ask about it!” stormed Gamal, the village leader. “And do you know Nubian?”

“A few --”

“Learn it,” Gamal ordered. “You see, we have to move back. Otherwise, there will be no Nubia and no Nubians.”

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas giving in Hawaii

Our blog seems to be catching the Christmas spirit as well, as many stories we have shared are about giving. This focuses on a Rotary club of Hawaii giving to children who live at a Hawaiian homeless shelter. The story on the gifts to children came from the Maui Weekly.

Santa and Dora the Explorer deliver toys from the Rotary Club of Kahului.

Christmas came early for pre-schoolers at the Wailuku A Homeless Shelter on Dec. 17, when the Rotary Club of Kahului brought Santa and his bright red bag brimming with toys to the Head Start class.

As part of the Rotary club’s 2008 “Make Dreams Real” service theme, the event provided toys to 20 of Maui’s needful children.

“As Rotarians, we are committed to the motto of service above self,” said Club President Sandy Baz. “This project allows us to share the blessings that we have received with children who otherwise might not have had a Christmas gift.”

The club partnered with MEO Head Start Director Debbi Amaral to get “Dream Gift” wishes from each child in the Wailuku A Head Start program. Rotarians chose children’s dreams, granted them through local stores, and delivered the wrapped gifts to the shelter.

The holiday party came complete with a pizza feast, a gift exchange, and Christmas carols that brought lots of giggles and smiles to the kids.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

New funds from United Nations to reduce poverty

The International Fund for Agricultural Development, and arm of the United Nations, has released new funds to help in anti-poverty efforts.

We found the announcement from an article in the Times of India.

In an effort to reduce rural poverty, a UN agency has approved a new funding of USD 258 million to improve the lives of impoverished
people in 16 developing countries.

The executive board of the UN international fund for agricultural development (IFAD) has approved more than USD 197.55 million in loans and USD 60.83 million in grants for such projects.

"The agreement of the executive board to this package will enable IFAD to continue to work closely with national governments and partners to help poor rural people in these 16 developing countries build better lives," said IFAD President Lennart Bege.

The rural poor, who are the most vulnerable to global problems like climate change and financial crisis, are at the centre of IFAD's work and "we are single-minded in our commitment to do more and serve them better. The board's support will allow us to do that," he added.

The largest portion of the newly-approved funds, over USD 100 million, will assist several African nations, including the strife-torn Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Swaziland and Kenya, to reduce poverty, improve food security and enhance living conditions.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Mugabe: "Zimbabwe is mine"

Here is the latest from Zimbabwe as found in the Australian newspaper The Age.

President Robert Mugabe has declared "Zimbabwe is mine" and vowed never to surrender to calls to step down, as his political rival threatened to quit stalled unity government talks.

Addressing his ZANU-PF party's annual conference on Friday amid a ruinous political crisis and a deadly cholera epidemic, Mugabe returned to the kind of defiance he has often shown in the face of mounting criticism.

"I will never, never, never never surrender. Zimbabwe is mine, I am a Zimbabwean. Zimbabwe for Zimbabweans. Zimbabwe never for the British, Britain for the British," Mugabe told his party's annual conference.

The veteran leader in the former British colony said he would remain until "his people decide to change him".

While the comments struck a familiar tone for the 84-year-old leader - he said earlier this year only God could remove him from office - he now faces increasingly grim circumstances in his crippled country.

The UN says more than 1,100 people have died in the cholera epidemic, adding to woes such as food shortages and poverty as Zimbabwe struggles with a collapsed economy and eye-popping inflation rates.

Poverty census data for Scranton-Wilkes Barre

The Scranton Wilkes Barre area of Pennsylvania has more people in poverty than the national average. James Haggerty of the Standard Speaker reports on the numbers collected by the US census bureau.

About one of five residents in Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and Hazleton live below the poverty level, new U.S. Census data shows, and the proportion of people on public assistance in the cities far exceeds state and national averages.

“Our poverty level has always been on the high side,” said Teri Ooms, director of the Joint Urban Studies Center, a Wilkes-Barre think tank. “While these numbers are alarming, I’m not surprised.”

The new data, reflecting statistical changes from 2005 through 2007, shows public assistance or food stamps went to 16 percent of Wilkes-Barre residents, 13.9 percent of Scrantonians and 13.8 percent of Hazleton citizens. The state and national averages were 8.5 percent and 8.6 percent, respectively.

In addition, poverty afflicts 21.2 percent of the people in Wilkes-Barre, 20.5 percent in Scranton and 18.6 percent in Hazleton, data shows. The state and national averages are 11.9 percent and 13.3 percent, respectively.

“Poverty levels are tied to wages and educations,” Ooms said, citing the region’s labor history of coal mining, textile spinning and other blue-collar work. “We’ve always had difficulty in maintaining a high percentage of highly educated individuals. It’s a little bit of a vicious circle, but it’s a long-standing problem.”

And, the problem is getting bigger, Nocilla said. Catholic Social Services, which feeds, clothes, shelters and counsels the needy, provided aid to 6,450 people in 2007, a 24 percent increase from 2006.

A Red Cross branch in Colorado is having trouble raising money

The Red Cross of Grand Junction, Colorado is having trouble raising money this year. Emily Anderson of the Grand Junction Free Press reports on the troubles they are having in this economic recession. This article also has some good statistics on poverty in that part of the country.

The Red Cross giving tree hasn’t been receiving much this holiday season.

The Western Colorado Chapter of the Red Cross, located in Grand Junction and serving 10 counties, has received 25 percent of the amount donated last year during the holiday season. Red Cross workers and volunteers called 200 businesses hoping to drum up support and set up the tree at Mesa Mall alongside a table of envelopes for donations in December, but have only collected $2,000 during Christmas time. They collected $8,000 in the same time frame in 2007.

“We’re not saying we’re going to close our doors, but we’re trying to maintain our level of service,” said local Red Cross Executive Director David Hintch.

Even for those charitable organizations getting the same amount of donations as last year, extra items are still welcome because of increased need. Although the median household income has increased from $52,015 in 2006 to $55,212 in 2007, Mesa County poverty levels are still above the state average. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 13.4 percent of Mesa County residents lived below the poverty level in 2007 and 18.4 percent of Mesa County children were below the poverty level. The Colorado average for people below the poverty level was 11.8 percent in 2007, and 15.6 percent of Colorado children lived below the poverty line.

The Salvation Army sent gift baskets filled with toys and practical items to 1,150 families last year, but Major Al Parker expects that number to increase to 1,350 families this year. Volunteers are invited to help sort the baskets today and Monday at the old National Guard building (call 462-5605 if you want to help). Donations of toys, clothing, gloves, coats and gift certificates for food are still welcome, or people can drop some money in a red Salvation Army kettle.

Grand Junction Rescue Mission Director Keith Bradley said he expected fewer donations because of a downturn in the economy, but he has plenty of food to feed the 46 men that sleep at the mission every night.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A great show of charity: gloves for an entire school

Here is a great showing of the Christmas spirit. A woman from Washington state bought gloves for all of the children who attend the poorest school in the area. We found the details from this Associated Press article found at KNDO.

A woman who saw children Monday with no mittens bought 300 pairs of gloves and donated them Tuesday to Stanley Elementary School in Tacoma.

Serena Smith told The Tacoma News Tribune she chose the school at the recommendation of grocery store bagger. Eighty percent of the students there meet federal poverty guidelines for free or reduced meals.

The principal of the school on 17th Street, Cindy Tone-Johnson, called it the "Miracle on 17th Street."

The 54-year-old Smith has two grown sons and works at the Frank Tobey Jones retirement community where co-workers helped her expenses.

A second cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe

Medecins Sans Frontieres says that there is now a second outbreak of cholera in Zimbabwe. Our snippet comes from the MSF press release.

A second cholera outbreak has hit Chegutu, a town 100 km south of Harare, where more than 100 people have died since the first cases appeared on 24 November.

MSF arrived in Chegutu, which has a population of 55,000, on 12 December after being told that day of the emergency. The scene MSF found at the town’s small government cholera treatment centre (CTC) was grim. 74 people were said to have died amongst 650 registered cases.

Patients, dead and alive, were lying on the floor, sanitation services were non-existent and there was no water or food to be found. “The situation was absolute chaos,” says Luis Maria Tello, the MSF Emergency Team Medical Coordinator. “There were no beds and dead people were lying everywhere. People were dying of thirst because there was no water.” The disposal of the dead was one of the first priorities set by the emergency team and MSF was able to carry out disinfection and disposal of the corpses within a day.

The sources of the outbreak are believed to have been discovered. Government authorities found many of the sick had used water from broken pipes that had been vandalized by others trying to access it. Chegutu has been experiencing water cuts for the past seven months, according to residents. Since there are also many burst sewage pipes in the town, it is believed that sewage fairly easily contaminated these drinking sources.

Giving up children to orphanages creates media row in Pakistan

In just one day, three mothers gave up their eight children to an orphanage in Pakistan. When the drop offs occurred last month, it created national headlines shedding light to the worst economic conditions the country has faced in recent memory.

IRIN gave some background on the story and on one of the mothers that was caught up in the media frenzy.

“This is not the first time that people have come to us and dropped off their children citing poverty as the reason for their inability to bring them up,” said Maulana Abdul Sattar Edhi, 85.

“But this time the media showed the stark and ugly face of poverty, which created a ripple in our society and moved the people out of their indifference,” he said.

The Edhi Foundation's headquarters takes in about 300 abandoned babies each year and some 50,000 children at any given moment depend on the foundation for their survival, according to a recent report by the Christian Science Monitor.

According to Haris Gazdar, a Karachi-based economist, an estimated 8.5 million of the country’s 170 million people have been added in the past year to those already living below the poverty line (earning less than two dollars a day).

About 29 percent of the population were living below this level in 2006-07, but this figure may have gone up by 5 percent in 2008-09, he said.

Following extensive media coverage, all three women decided to return to the orphanage and collect their children.

Family’s dire circumstances

“I don’t know what became of me. I made a mistake and I am truly ashamed, but the way the media played up the story has taken away what little respect we enjoyed,” said Bibi. “I lied to my husband and told him I had sent her to a `madrasa’ (religious school) where she would get a good education and three square meals.”

Her husband, Khan Bahadur, an ex-army man, suffers from a muscular disorder and is bed-ridden. “His condition started deteriorating four years ago and now he is just like a child and needs my help with everything,” Bibi said.

Taking care of her children and an ailing husband is taking its toll. “Not only am I in a lot of debt, I have no way out of it.” She used to stitch clothes and earn a little money, but she no longer has time.

People and organisations reached out to the women and doled out alms, but hardly a day later four more children were dumped at the Edhi Foundation - by a father from Tharparkar, one of the most under-developed districts of Sindh Province.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

80 ideas to cure poverty

Minnesota is about to complete a year long commission on poverty. The commission's members have traveled the state to hear from the public, and they have boiled all the comments down into 80 ways to cure poverty.

With the state facing a budget deficit, it's doubtful that all 80 ideas in the report will be implemented right away. Charlie Shaw from the St. Paul Star Ledger looked into the commissions report.

The current draft of the final report contains some 80 recommendations. Because of that number, Gregory Gray, the commission’s director, said the recommendations were divided into seven descriptive categories such as “Making state programs more responsive” and “Preventing and alleviating poverty through a high-quality education system.”

The recommendations will hit the Legislature at a time when the state’s general fund is drowning in red ink. Many would cost the state money to implement. For example, the commission wants to increase the Working Family Credit and other tax credits for low-income workers. The commission also wants the state to guarantee child care for all low-income working families by including all families within 300 percent of federal poverty guidelines in public health care programs.

Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, a co-chairman of the commission, said the group of 18 legislators and two gubernatorial appointees has looked at the benefits the state would receive by paying for these programs. But he acknowledged they wouldn’t come cheap.

“I think … it needs to be aggressive. Unless you believe you’re going to do it in the private sector, it’s logical you would have outlays before 2020,” Mariani said.

Asked if some of the commission’s recommendations can get passed in 2009, Mariani said, “I do. But it’s in the context of hope.”

A new cholera outbreak in Uganda

This outbreak is not nearly as a bad as Zimbabwe, but there are cholera infections in a region of Uganda. The government there is making radio announcements and conducting door to door visits to warn people on how to avoid the disease.

Warom Felix Okello of the Daily Monitor online says that poor sanitation and poor food safety are to blame.

In just a month, over 38 cases have been registered, mainly in the division, including three deaths district-wide. Statistics indicate that 28 people have been admitted at Oli Health Centre with one death case. “Oli Health Centre has become Arua’s referral hospital with overcrowding of patients,” The Municipal Health officer Dr Paul Onzubo said.

The spectrum of a return of the disease annually has raised widespread fear. District officials believe that several local people were infected by sub-standard sale of food and are paying the price.

An economic meltdown has left urban residents with uncollected garbage and severe water cuts, forcing many desperate families to fetch unclean water from shallow wells. The Medecines Sans Frontieres (MSF) team is working closely with the district health team to contain the dreadful disease.

And on a dusty back street heaped with piles of uncollected refuse not far from Oli Health Centre, residents at the road side said, “Cholera is threatening us. Where is our Mayor?”

Cholera is an acute intestinal infection spread by contaminated water and food. It is now endemic in the area, notably Oli and Ajia Sub County. These areas experienced strong torrential rain that run through the small, muddy alleys, invading each household and leaving filthy rubbish in its wake. Contents from broken sewage pipes and latrines seep into the floodwaters, raising the risk of cholera.

Previously, the Arua Mayor Mr Charles Asiki said the Municipal faces problems of garbage collection due to population density. He said this has made it difficult to control dumping of wastes.

Switzerland extends grand to help Tanzania fight malaria

The Swiss has given a grant to the government of Tanzania to their fight against malaria. Switzerland gave 2.7 billion dollars to help bring more treated nets to the people. The announcement was recorded by the Tanzanian newspaper The Daily News.

Switzerland has extended a grant of 2.7bn/-to Tanzania for scaling up the use of insecticide treated nets in the region, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs, Mr Ramadhani Khijja, has said.

Mr Khijja said during a signing ceremony held in Dar es Salaam yesterday that the grant would help reduce the number of deaths from malaria, particularly among children and pregnant women. He said the grant would also go a long way to supporting efforts by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare to better coordinate the Tanzania National Insecticide Treated Nets (ITN) Programme.

"The agreement shows Switzerland's commitment to support Tanzanian government in its aim of improving the health and well-being of all Tanzanians especially those in rural areas, the poor and vulnerable," he said. The Swiss Ambassador, Mr Adrian Schlaepher, said the funding was aimed not only at sustaining but also strengthening the National Malaria Control Porgramme as a viable institution.

'Alarming' levels of poverty in Congo: UN

Yesterday, the United Nations Development Programme released a report on poverty in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The report's findings show that half of the population will not live to see the age of 40. The long lasting war that tries to control the country's vast resources is mostly to blame.

The Mail and Guardian from South Africa details the UN's report.

The report said that 75% of the population lived below the poverty line -- less than a dollar a day.

More than half the population (57%) had no access to drinking water or to basic healthcare (54%), while three out of every 10 children were poorly nourished, it added.

And there was a 47% chance that a Congolese would die before his or her 40th birthday.

While there had been some improvement in adult literacy and access to healthcare, all other indicators had worsened, the report continued.

Human rights groups have long argued that the battle in the east of the country for control of DRC's mineral riches, including cassiterite (tin ore), gold and coltan, is part of the country's problems.

One-third of the world's estimated reserves of coltan, which is used to make electronics components, are in DRC. The country also has 49% of the world's supplies of cobalt.

Poverty in San Joaquin Schools larger than rest of the country

An area of California has found that poverty is greater in their school district than the rest of the country. The San Joaquin Schools have 53% percent of their students in the free or discount lunch program. The numbers enrolled in such programs here in the States are used as a indicator of poverty within a school district.

Jennifer Torres from the San Joaquin Record reports on the figures in San Joaquin and the concern from school officials.

According to figures from the California Department of Education, 53 percent of children in the county qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches based on their parents' low incomes. In some school districts, that percentage is even higher.

Statewide, about 51 percent of children qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Generally the county's school poverty rate has tended to match the statewide average, even falling below it for the first years of this decade.

The percentage of children qualifying for subsidized meals - commonly used to gauge the socioeconomic status of a school's population - has been increasing in the county since 2004. In 2005, it broke the halfway mark.

The statistic is of particular concern because poverty is strongly associated with student achievement; schools with higher numbers of financially struggling families tend to have lower overall test scores.

"Everybody who works in schools needs to be really aware of the impact of poverty on kids," said Lynn Beck, dean of University of the Pacific's Gladys L. Benerd School of Education. "It's quite complex. It's everything from the inability of parents to come to meetings because of second jobs to issues of having enough food."

Educators said confronting the challenges of poverty and improving the academic success of children in the region require an approach that considers what children are doing in their classrooms but also the lives to which they return when the afternoon bell rings.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Video: tackling poverty in Charlottesville, Virginia

A new homeless shelter in Washington state

A new homeless shelter has opened in Washington state. It's opening is just in time too, as the temperatures there are getting cold. Dan Schreiber of Lewis County Washington introduces the public to the new shelter.

Ten people gathered at an impromptu homeless shelter on Tower Avenue in downtown Centralia Monday night at about 9 p.m., as temperatures were plummeting far below freezing.

Carl Bohlin was the lone volunteer running the outreach center across the street from the Destiny Christian Center, which provided space starting earlier this month. As far as Bohlin knew, that was the only place available in town for homeless people to go.

“There are people sleeping in garages and under bridges tonight. It’s hard to come here sometimes, and give up your pride,” Bohlin said. “We need more things like this. We’ve got to give them hope.”

Bohlin said the need is much greater than the 16 sleeping spots set up in the shelter, and people could use more help if any other churches were willing to offer it. The shelter is set to remain open every night the temperature falls below 36 degrees.

“Some people in the community say ‘It’s your fault,’ and it’s hard. I’ve been there,” Bohlin said. “But with this economy the way it is, you make one bad choice and you’re out.”

A 35-year-old homeless woman named Michelle said there are plenty of people whose bad decisions lead them into homelessness, but most who use the shelters are grateful, and simply looking for a safe place to sleep.

Poverty forces organ selling in Egypt

We often hear of organ trafficking in other countries, but this is the first that we can recollect seeing a story about the practice in Egypt.

Not only do experts blame poverty, but also the dialysis and health centers that are run down. Some are so unclean that patients run the risk of getting other diseases just by taking dialysis.

This story from IRIN, exposes the problem of organ selling in Egypt, while showing us the case of one of the organ buyers.

In today’s Egypt, a human kidney can be bought illegally for less than US $5,000. A desperate donor sold his to Fawziya (not her real name) for as much. But even paying that sum of money did not cure the patient.

In Egypt, prior to any transplant, the Doctors’ Syndicate must conduct an investigation and only when a specialised committee has given approval can a transplant take place.

Fawziya from Upper Egypt suffers from kidney failure in both kidneys. With no relatives with matching tissue, Fawziya found herself with two options: to continue undergoing dialysis at run-down government health centres, or seek an unrelated donor willing to give up a kidney in exchange for money. She opted for the latter.

In Fawziya’s case the laboratory managed to bribe a member of the committee to approve the operation. “The laboratory had a contact in the syndicate, and we got the approval that way,” Mohamed said. “The doctors treating my mother were all paid, but my mother’s still sick.”

“Now she’s very, very sick,” said Mohamed, her son. “The transplant failed. Within hours of the operation, doctors discovered that her body had rejected the kidney. She is back on dialysis, and has no intention of undergoing surgery again.”

According to Mohamed, Fawziya had received a kidney from a donor from Cairo. The transplant was arranged by a privately-run clinic that officially operates as a laboratory. “We paid a total of US $15,600 for the entire procedure,” he said. “The kidney alone cost US $4,335.” Much of the family’s life savings, therefore, went to waste as a result of the failed operation.

Strict rules, little enforcement

In Egypt, only live organs can be transplanted, according to one health ministry spokesman speaking on condition of anonymity. “Traditionally, Islam prohibits the transplant of body organs from the deceased,” he explained.

Given the genuine risk of patients paying donors for organs, the syndicate has attempted to apply numerous rules aimed at minimising organ trafficking. In 1996, for example, a decree passed by the syndicate forbade patients from receiving organs from unrelated donors. “Only those who are related up to the fourth degree are allowed to donate organs to a given patient,” said syndicate head Hamdi al-Sayyid.

Additionally, in order to curb the purchase of organs from poor Egyptians by wealthy Arabs, foreigners are not allowed to receive organs from Egyptian donors. “The decree prohibits foreigners from receiving implants from Egyptians,” al-Sayyid explained.

There is, however, no law regulating transplants, rendering it difficult to monitor the situation at every level. According to al-Sayyid, a draft law was recently presented to the People’s Assembly by the syndicate, which is currently being deliberated by the upper house of parliament. “The draft includes provisions allowing for transplants from the recently deceased, which is allowed in numerous other Muslim countries,” al-Sayyid said. He added that the draft law enjoyed the support of the Grand Mufti of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, the most respected seat of religious jurisprudence in the world of Sunni Islam.

The draft also sets down penalties for doctors involved in carrying out illegal transplants. “We’re hoping for the law to be passed as soon as possible so that doctors and institutions involved in the trafficking can be punished,” said al-Sayyid, adding that the draft will subject offenders to possible prison sentences and licence revocations.

A single mother protecting her family from malaria

Our first update for today is about the battle against malaria in Malawi. The Daily Times' Mike Kamande profiled a poor single mother who can not afford mosquito nets for everyone in her family. However, she did get some help from the aid group Nets For Life. The group has distributed 63,000 mosquito nets throughout the country.

It is a known fact that sleeping under an insecticide-treated net drastically reduces malaria transmission but few people have access to nets and so the disease remains a scourge in Sub Saharan Africa, Malawi included. Granted that a net costs about K900 in most shops, it is such an uphill struggle for an ordinary villager, more so a single mother like Anastazia Mphadzula to source that fortune just to buy the life saving net.

Anastazia, 54, of Ndirande Village, T/A Lundu in Chikwawa, a mother of 3 has experienced numerous and frequent close-shaves with malaria most especially her 12 grandchildren of whom she is the only parent.

“Malaria has ravaged my family so much and a month could not pass without one of my grandchildren falling ill to the disease” she said.

She added that due to poverty she could not afford to purchase nets for her large family and so the young ones and herself were condemned to perpetual malaria attacks, and that culminated into reduced productivity in her garden as she spent most of her time attending to her sick family members.

“The health of the people is really the foundation upon which all their happiness and all their powers as a state depends,” once observed Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881). And in truth, everyday it was becoming more apparent that no satisfactory solution to her problems was possible so long as poverty remained at the head of her affairs.

Nonetheless, long at last, a smile emanated from Anastanzia’s face, when NetsForLife, a charitable non-governmental organisation donated a insecticide-treated net that helped reduce her miseries due to malaria. And there could be no mistaking her happiness recently as she bubbled with joy when she recounted her past ordeal.

“It’s unbelievable how a small thing like a net could be so useful in saving so many lives from the pangs of a killer disease like malaria, emancipating an old woman like myself from the slavery that mosquitoes posed on me,” she said.

The sad part of the story, however, is that although she is ready to sacrifice her own life due to the fact that she was given only a single net, she reasoned she ought not to sacrifice lives of her grandchildren, observing that unlike before, the children are now huddled under the net to protect them from malaria spreading mosquitoes. She, however, wished the nets were many.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Is the food crisis truly over?

In the opinion of an interview in the Scientific American, Joachim von Braun of the International Food Policy Research Institute thinks that the crisis will continue. Von Braun is of the opinion that the drop in food prices is only because of the economic recession that is spreading around the world.

David Biello interviewed von Braun for the magazine.

Earlier this year there was a widespread perception of a food crisis as grain and other food commodity prices soared, accompanied by food riots in Haiti and elsewhere. But recently those prices have dropped. Has the crisis passed?
Not at all. Only some of the elements and causes of the crisis have changed. Prices came down in the international commodity markets and that helps import-dependent poor countries. But in many countries the international price change is not quickly passed on to the domestic markets. For instance, in many African countries [prices] remain far above long-term trends. Now the financial crisis comes on top of the price crisis. Capital for investment in agriculture is very limited and employment and income of the poor is reduced in the recession. Hunger will increase further.

What was responsible for this crisis?
The [food] price crisis in 2007–2008 stemmed from long-term neglect of agricultural investment, especially investment in research and development; the financial crisis in the second half of 2008 stemmed from fundamentally different causes—flawed regulatory regimes in banking and finance—but the two crises have fed on each other. Although the food and financial crises developed from different underlying causes, they are becoming intertwined in complex ways through their implications for macroeconomic stability, food security and political security. Because the two crises are interconnected, a coordinated response is needed to alleviate the double blow on the poor.

Why can't we produce enough food and/or get food to where it is needed?
We can grow enough food but currently don’t. Greater investment in research and development [R&D] is crucial for promoting pro-poor agricultural growth. Even though spending on agricultural R&D is among the most effective types of investment for promoting growth and reducing poverty, such spending has stagnated since the mid-1990s. A recent study by IFPRI shows that if investments in public agricultural research doubled from US$5 [billion] to US$10 billion from 2008 to 2013, agricultural output would increase significantly and millions of people would emerge from poverty. If these R&D investments are targeted at the poor regions of the world—sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia—about 282 million people could come out of poverty by 2020.

The battle for the riches in Niger

The war in Niger isn't so much for the land, but what is beneath it. The country has a large deposit of uranium which is needed for nuclear power. A people fight against it's government for the rights to the unclaimed uranium.

The New York Times Lydia Polgreen writes an extensive piece about the battle in Niger.

Until last year, the only trigger Amoumoun Halil had pulled was the one on his livestock-vaccination gun. This spring, a battered Kalashnikov rifle rested uneasily on his shoulder. When he donned his stiff fatigues, his lopsided gait and smiling eyes stood out among his hard-faced guerrilla brethren.

Mr. Halil, a 40-year-old veterinary engineer, was a reluctant soldier in a rebellion that had broken out over an improbable — and as yet unrealized — bonanza in one of the world’s poorest countries.

A battle is unfolding on the stark mountains and scalloped dunes of northern Niger between a band of Tuareg nomads, who claim the riches beneath their homeland are being taken by a government that gives them little in return, and an army that calls the fighters drug traffickers and bandits.

It is a new front of an old war to control the vast wealth locked beneath African soil. Niger’s northern desert caps one of the world’s largest deposits of uranium, and demand for it has surged as global warming has increased interest in nuclear power. Growing economies like China and India are scouring the globe for the crumbly ore known as yellowcake. A French mining company is building the world’s largest uranium mine in northern Niger, and a Chinese state company is building another mine nearby.

Uranium could infuse Niger with enough cash to catapult it out of the kind of poverty that causes one in five Niger children to die before turning 5.

Or it could end in a calamitous war that leaves Niger more destitute than ever. Mineral wealth has fueled conflict across Africa for decades, a series of bloody, smash-and-grab rebellions that shattered nations. The misery wrought has left many Africans to conclude that mineral wealth is a curse.

Here in the Sahara, the uranium boom has given new life to longstanding grievances over land and power. For years, the Tuareg have struggled against a government they largely disdained. But this new rebellion has shed the parochial complaints of an ethnic minority, claiming instead that the government is squandering the entire country’s resources through corruption and waste. Armed with a slick Web site and articulate spokesmen in Europe and the United States, the movement has gotten sympathy from Westerners drawn to the mysterious Tuareg and their arguments for justice.

22 convictions in Egypt food riots

When food prices spiked this summer, riots occurred throughout the world in protest. In Egypt, people are now being convicted on charges from crimes that occurred during the riots.

From this Associated Press story that we found in the International Herald Tribune, the sentencing itself caused some additional protests.

An Egyptian emergency court convicted 22 people for participating in deadly food riots in April, handing out sentences ranging from three to five years, the presiding judge said.

The remaining 27 defendants in the high profile case held in the northern provincial capital of Tanta 55 miles (90 kilometers) north of Cairo, were acquitted, Judge Alsayyed Abdel-Maaboud told The Associated Press.

Defendants screamed at the judge calling him unjust when the verdicts were read out, with some fainting, according to witnesses inside the court.

Thousands of residents of the gritty industrial town of Mahalla al-Kobra rioted in April for two days over the hardships caused by high food prices, destroying posters of the president and clashing with security troops.

The demonstrations were quashed by tear gas and shotgun-wielding security forces who killed three people and arrested dozens of others.

The 22 defendants were convicted on charges of looting, assaulting police officers and the possession of dangerous materials, including firearms.

Before the sentencing the judge read a lengthy statement that blamed international pressures for the food prices, and that the blame was not with the Egyptian government. Echoing the statement that President Hosni Mubarak made this summer.