Thursday, January 31, 2008

Corruption concerns block more US aid to Philippines

from ABS CBN News


Millennium Challenge Corporation CEO John Danilovich briefs newsmen on 2008 grants. Danilovich says the Philippines could not get more help because of a dramatic fall in its anti-corruption rating.

WASHINGTON D.C. - The head of America’s chief global poverty-fighting arm said indications of worsening corruption in the Philippines is blocking the way to hundreds of millions of dollars in additional help.

John Danilovich, Chief Executive Officer of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), said they have “serious concerns” with corruption indicators for the Philippines.

“The drop in performance was in fact very dramatic,” he told reporters during a briefing at the Foreign Press Center here on Wednesday, January 30.

The MCC, established in 2004 to administer the Millennium Challenge Account, is part of the US development assistance infrastructure that rewards countries “that have demonstrated commitment to implement political, social and economic reforms.”

The MCC has provided $5.5 billion to 16 “Compact” status nations and another $325 million to 15 “Threshold” status countries that include the Philippines.

Finance Secretary Margarito Teves is headed here for scheduled talks with Danilovich on Tuesday.

The Philippines' grade in the area of “control of corruption” – one of 17 categories the MCC is looking at – fell from 76 percent in 2007 to only 57 percent at the start of 2008. It’s still a passing grade, but the drop is so worrisome to the MCC that it is setting aside the Philippine’s elevation from “Threshold” to “Compact” status.

“We want to understand more clearly why that dramatic drop has occurred so we can have some clarity as to whether or not this precipitous drop is going to continue or if there was some indicator irregularity or if there are further strong reforms the Philippine government needs to take in this regard,” Danilovich explained.

This new concept of development assistance arose from the 2002 Monterrey Summit where US President George W. Bush called for a “new compact for global development” linking contributions from developed nations to greater responsibility from developing countries.

Staying in “Threshold” status or moving up has immense ramifications for the Philippines. As a “Threshold” nation, it will receive $22.1 million this year to improve revenue administration and anti-corruption efforts. The program will specifically benefit the Office of the Ombudsman, Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), Bureau of Customs and Department of Finance.

Compare that amount – average for “Threshold” status nations – to countries that have made it to “Compact” status. Morocco will get nearly $688 million for fruit tree productivity, fisheries and artisan crafts; Ghana with $547 million to boost farmer incomes in that country’s poorest regions; Mozambique with $507 million to improve water systems, sanitation, access to markets, land tenure services and agriculture in targeted districts; Mali with $461 million to develop two of that nation’s key assets – its international airport and the Niger River, among others.

Charges d’Affaires Carlos Sorreta pointed out that the Philippines has been improving steadily to meet all the MCC benchmarks. These are grouped into three main subjects:

- “Economic Freedom” which measures fiscal and trade policies, inflation, regulatory quality, business start-up and land rights and access;

- “Investing in People” which measures natural resource management, girls’ primary education completion, primary education and health expenditures, and immunization rates; and

- “Ruling Justly” which measures rule of law, voice and accountability, political rights, civil liberties and control of corruption.

“We’ve improved across the board on practically all categories so we’re very close now to possibly Compact status. We passed that corruption indicator but it’s a competition to attain Compact status so they want us to improve more,” Sorreta said.

In 2007 the MCC gave failing grades to the Philippines in the fields of fiscal policy, business start-up, primary education expenditures, health expenditures and immunization rates. But at the start of 2008, that number had been trimmed to just three areas – fiscal policy, primary education expenditures and health expenditures.

Sorreta admitted that the MCC puts a premium on fighting corruption. While there has been marked improvement in “Economic Freedom” categories, and mostly maintaining 2007 levels for “Investing People”, indicators for “Ruling Justly” categories have fallen over the last year.

He explained that the MCC relies on “third party assessors” to evaluate how participating countries are faring in all its pre-determined benchmarks.

“Third party assessors don’t actually have hard evidence. I’ve seen their reports, they don’t have the kind of evidence that you can go to court with,” Sorreta averred.

He surmised that the deluge of negative media reports on Philippine corruption may have contributed to the MCC’s unfavorable outlook on the country.

“It’s really research, open sources. So the MCC in a sense of fairness is giving us the opportunity to address those things that were raised to them,” he added.

Regardless of how the Danilovich-Teves meet fares, the Philippines has already blown its chance to be elevated this year. The MCC board, headed by State Secretary Condoleeza Rice, meets again in the summer, and if the Arroyo administration can convince them the state of corruption in the Philippines is not as bad as it’s been portrayed, it may get another chance to move to the next level.

Oxfam Urges 'Change of Direction' in Afghanistan

from The Voice of America

By Tendai Maphosa

International aid agency Oxfam is calling for a major change of direction by Western countries in their efforts to reduce suffering in Afghanistan. It warns poverty is driving ordinary Afghans into the arms of insurgents and drug gangs. From London, Tendai Maphosa has more in this report for VOA.

In a letter to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and other world leaders, Oxfam says social and economic progress in Afghanistan has been slow and is being undermined by increasing insecurity.

The Oxfam policy advisor in Afghanistan, Matt Waldman, says the security situation has worsened, especially in southern Afghanistan, during the past 18 months.

Oxfam says two years after the international community pledged more than $10 billion of aid to the country, many of the commitments made remain unfulfilled. In the "Afghanistan Compact" the donors and Afghanistan's government resolved "to overcome the legacy of conflict" by promoting development, security, governance, the rule of law, and human rights.

Waldman, who is based in Kabul, told VOA more could be done with the money that has been made available for Afghanistan.

"It is not really a just question of volume, volume of aid that is, what is perhaps even more important is how the aid money is spent," he said. "It is estimated that up to 40 percent of aid to Afghanistan goes back to donor countries and that is through corporate profits of contractors or through high consultant salaries. We have got to try to get more aid to the people of Afghanistan, we have got to try to improve donor coherence, and too much aid is un-coordinated, which has obvious consequences. Too much aid is wasted and not used to deliver real results for the people of Afghanistan."

The Oxfam letter says development is the key to lifting Afghans, the majority of whom live in rural areas, out of their poverty.

Waldman says there has been little aid to the agricultural sector, but it is essential to counter the country's flourishing drug trade, and related criminal activity in Afghanistan and the region.

"There are no quick fixes to the poppy problem in Afghanistan, I would say aerial eradication is wrong, it will drive farmers, the vast majority of whom are very poor and trying to feed their families into the hands of the Taleban and that would be a big mistake," he added. "Likewise, proposals to license poppy production are not workable in this environment. The government does not have the authority in the poppy areas to be able to control this. What I think is the way to move forward in this situation is through supporting a comprehensive approach in which rural development is at the center, because we need to give sufficient support for agriculture so that Afghans are not forced to turn to poppy."

Oxfam's letter follows warnings by the Atlantic Council and the Afghanistan Study Group, both U.S.-based, that Afghanistan could become a failed state if urgent steps are not taken to deal with worsening security and the slow reconstruction.

Net benefits

from The Economist

From The Economist print edition
Giving bed nets and drugs away free may be the way to deal with malaria

“FREE goods are worth what you pay for them” is the cynic's approach to the world, shared by hard-headed poverty-busters. Charging even a nominal price for things such as mosquito nets and condoms makes people take them more seriously, it is argued. Given away free, the nets may end up being used to catch fish rather than protecting sleeping people.

That does happen. Even so, a recent study in Kenya suggested providing malarial areas with large numbers of free bed nets brought better results than selling them. Now a new survey by the World Health Organisation (WHO), on behalf of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, has shown that the approach works well in other countries, too.

Unlike most big do-gooding outfits, the Global Fund is flexible and iconoclastic. It was one of the first international aid organisations to come up with the radical idea of seeing whether its interventions actually work. Since it consists of a small secretariat in Geneva and a few local offices, it lacks the scientific and managerial infrastructure to do this itself. So it subcontracts the job—in this case to Arata Kochi, the head of WHO's anti-malaria operation.

Dr Kochi and his team reviewed anti-malaria operations in Ethiopia, Ghana, Rwanda and Zambia, looking mainly at under-fives, who are most threatened by the disease. In Ethiopia, the amount of childhood malaria reported at clinics fell by 60% and the death rate halved within two years of the beginning of the mass-distribution programme. In Rwanda, things were even more spectacular: both cases and deaths dropped by two-thirds within a single year. In Zambia the fall in both was around a third. Only in Ghana were the data equivocal. Cases fell by an eighth and deaths by a third, but that was against a background of generally improving health in which the amelioration rates for malaria were worse than those for non-malarial illness and death. In other countries, the rate of malaria tracked the general disease rate until the programmes began, and then fell suddenly (see chart).

Giving away insecticide-impregnated nets free to anyone visiting a clinic (the nets stay potent for about five years) was not the only new thing about the operations. In all cases, the countries rolled out nationwide campaigns instead of relying on local ones. In many cases, they also gave away drugs based on artemisinin, a substance to which the malarial parasite has yet to develop widespread resistance.

Nets and artemisinin are two planks of malaria control. The third is to spray the inside of people's houses with DDT, to kill female mosquitoes when they settle to digest their blood meals. The objective is to achieve 80% take-up in each village. At that point, the cycle of transmission from mosquito to human to mosquito is broken in a way similar to the action of a vaccine; this stops the spread of the disease, and thus protects everyone.

Based on the new results, Dr Kochi reckons that a five-year campaign costing about $10 billion would be enough to bring malaria under control in most of Africa, reducing the death rate to a matter of thousands a year, rather than the million or more who die now.

Eliminating malaria altogether, though, would be a far harder task, involving destroying mosquitoes in the remaining pockets of infection. That is controversial: some—not least Dr Kochi—see it as a dangerous distraction until the easier job of bringing the disease under control is completed. Others want to aim straight away for elimination. In the long run, that should surely be the objective. But, as the old saying has it, the best can often turn out to be the enemy of the good. And the good now looks to be in sight.

More money, more poverty?

from Latin America Press

Andrés CañizálezElsa Piña.

Consumption soars, but unequal distribution persists.

There is more money in the hands of the poorest Venezuelans, causing consumption to soar, but fundamental issues — such as a lack of shelter and other basic needs — are still far from being resolved.

Once President Hugo Chávez’s government took full control of the state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) following a December 2002-January 2003 oil strike, the company’s priorities were rearranged.

According to their website, US$13 billion was pledged in 2006 to the nation’s social development. In fact, it is common to find announcements advertising that PDVSA will finance events ranging from children orchestras to food programs.

Luis Pedro España, head of the Poverty Project at the Andrés Bello Catholic University, says that thanks to the oil bonanza, the country is living an illusion, just as it did in the 1970s.

“There are people who consume more, but only because PDVSA has more income. When the oil market suffers a cold, we ourselves will die of pneumonia,” assured España in a recent interview.

Network against poverty
According to the government’s National Institute of Statistics, Venezuela has seen a spectacular reduction in poverty. Households living in poverty reduced from 54 percent in 2003 to 27 percent in 2007, while families in extreme poverty went from 25 percent to less than 8 percent.

David Velásquez, who was minister of Social Participation and Social Development until the beginning of this January, believes that government policies are responsible for the achievements.

“A network against poverty is developing. It is possible to reach the goal of Zero Misery [extreme poverty] in 2001 and Zero Poverty in 2021,” he remarked.

Furthermore, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean gave Venezuela second place (after Argentina) as the country with the most successful policies for reducing poverty in 2007.

However, it is obvious for Mercedes Pulido, former minister of Social Development, that while Venezuelans have higher incomes, “basic problems continue without being resolved.”

“If income alone is measured, there is undoubtedly a positive change, but this does not resolve the structural problem of poverty. What we have, so to speak, are poor people with more money,” commented Luis Vicente León, director of Datanálisis, a market and politics research firm.

According to the Human Development Report 2007-2008 issued by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), there is a serious situation of unequal distribution in Venezuela: the poorest 10 percent must share 0.7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, while the richest 10 percent control 35.2 percent of the GDP.

For UNDP, a useful indicator for measuring income distribution is the Gini coefficient, which grew from 44.1 in 2006 to 48.2 in 2007 on a scale of zero (perfectly equal) to 100 (perfectly unequal).

The president of INE, Elías Eljuri, disregarded the UNDP report, which he branded as ridiculous.

Fair Trade certification spreads to cosmetics

from Cosmetics Design

Guy Montague-Jones

Shea butter has become the first cosmetic ingredient to be certified as Fair Trade in Canada but others are likely to follow as ethical consumerism catches on.

Fair Trade certification has long been available to food manufacturers and importers keen to redress the power imbalances in international trade and protect the rights of disadvantaged workers.

Now the certification system has spread to personal care with shea butter being the first Fair Trade certified cosmetic ingredient to hit the Canadian market.

Imported by Quebec-based Societé d'Agri-Gestion Delapointe and produced by a female farming collective in Burkina Faso, Africa, the Fair Trade shea butter is suitable for use in lip balms, body milks and massage balms.

The ethical trend

A recent Organic Monitor report predicted a sharp rise in the number of fair-trade personal care products on the market over the coming years.

Beauty consumers have become increasingly interested and concerned about the ethical and environmental impact of their purchases.

Manufacturers have therefore begun to respond to their demands by seeking Fair Trade certification, which guarantees a minimum price to producers and demand in return that producers pursue projects to further sustainable development.

"Access to the international market via Fair Trade is very promising for the women shea butter producers because it guarantees a price per kilo that is two to three times greater than what companies from the conventional market usually offer," said Adama Ouedraogo, director of CECO, an poverty fighting NGO that has supported the producers of the shea butter in Burkina Faso.

Fair Trade certification system

Interestingly, in contrast to organic certification Fair Trade certification is much more harmonized.

Fairtrade Labelling Organisations (FLO) International, which is an umbrella group comprising 23 member organization, sets international Fair Trade Standards, which are then implemented by the independent FLOCert.

FLOCert coordinates all the inspections of producers, trade auditing and certification

It usually takes between 6 and 12 months after application for a trading partnership to obtain certification, said Cynthia Wagner, spokesperson for TransFair Canada.

TransFair Canada is one of the 23 member organizations of FLO and its task is to promote Fair Trade in the Canada and authorize the use of the Fair Trade logo on products sold in the country.

Poor will have voices heard in the battle against poverty

from The Scotsman


PUBLIC meetings will be used to give people affected by poverty the chance to have a say in the Scottish Government's anti-poverty strategy.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon today launched a discussion document on tackling poverty and spreading prosperity throughout society. And she said the debate would go "to the heart of the kind of Scotland we want to build".

The document confirmed ambitious Government targets to increase the incomes of the poorest 30 per cent of Scots by 2017 and to narrow the gap between Scotland's best and worst performing regions by the same date. The discussion document will go out to key groups whose ideas will then help chart the way ahead.

But the Government said there would also be a series of public meetings involving those affected by poverty themselves to encourage people to give their views.

At least one of the meetings to be held over the next few months will be in Edinburgh, though dates and venues are to be arranged.

Ms Sturgeon said: "As I speak, almost one in every five Scots – 880,000 – is living in poverty. This is quite simply unacceptable – a tragedy which we will not tolerate and that is why making poverty history in Scotland will be central to everything we do.

"Our strategy recognises that economic growth is not only about growing the economy and releasing Scotland's entrepreneurial and creative talents. It is also about sharing our increased prosperity and ensuring that all in Scotland can flourish."

Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance welcomed the document.

He said: "Despite the progress that has been made in recent years in Scotland in tackling some aspects of poverty, particularly child poverty, there is much more that needs to be done and we hope that the consultation will help identify how all those with an interest in tackling poverty, from local community and voluntary organisations, to local government, health boards and enterprise companies, can play their role.

"We are particularly pleased the Scottish Government is showing real co
mmitment to finding ways to include the voices of those who are directly affected by poverty in this discussion process.

"We share the Scottish Government's desire to get to the root causes of poverty: unemployment, low pay, lack of services and discrimination. We are hopeful that this new discussion paper will stimulate the ideas and solutions that will ultimately deliver a real impact on poverty and disadvantage in Scotland."

And Councillor Harry McGuigan, spokesman for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on health and wellbeing, said councils would work with the government on the issue.

He said: "This discussion paper points to the need for a focus on prevention as well as mitigating the effects of poverty and what is needed to move people out of poverty."

The discussion will run from now until the summer and the framework will be in place before the end of 2008.

Global Burden of Child Deaths

from All Africa

The East African (Nairobi)

By Zachary Ochieng

MORE THAN A THIRD OF child deaths and 11 per cent of the total disease burden worldwide are due to maternal and child undernutrition.

These and other stark findings are the conclusions of an international group of investigators publishing their findings in The Lancet, a medical journal published in London.

In a series of maternal and child undernutrition articles under the title, Maternal and Child Undernutrition: An Urgent Opportunity, Dr Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, public health scientists Robert Black, Zulfigar Bhutta, Jennifer Bryce, Saul Morris and Cesar Victora argue that nutrition is a desperately neglected aspect of maternal, newborn, and child health.

"The reasons for this neglect are understandable but not justifiable. When one considers specific actions to improve maternal and child survival, one is drawn to particular interventions - vaccination, oral rehydration therapy, and the treatment of infection and haemorrhage. In recent years, this portfolio of responses has broadened to embrace the health system - human resources, financing, and stewardship.

Somehow, nutrition has slipped through the gap," the authors say.

"And yet we know that nutrition is a major risk factor for disease. What public health experts and policymakers have not done is to gather the evidence about the importance of maternal and child nutrition, catalogue the long-term effects of undernutrition on development and health, identify proven interventions to reduce undernutrition, and call for national and international action to improve nutrition for mothers and children," the authors contend.

According to the authors, undernutrition is the largely preventable cause of over a third - 3.5 million - of all child deaths. Stunting, severe wasting, and intrauterine growth restriction are among the most important problems. There is a golden interval for intervention - from pregnancy to 2 years of age. After 2 years, undernutrition will have caused irreversible damage to future development towards adulthood.

INCREDIBLY, FOUR-FIFTHS OF UNdernourished children live in just 20 countries across four regions - Africa, Asia, western Pacific, and the Middle East. These are the priority nations for action.

In terms of under-5 mortality rates, the most immediate needs are for Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Madagascar, Kenya, Yemen, and Burma. In order of population size, and excluding the countries with highest mortality rates, the ranking is different: India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Philippines, Egypt, South Africa, Sudan, and Nepal.

Yet there are proven effective interventions to reduce stunting and micro-nutrient deficiencies. According to strict criteria around admissible evidence, breastfeeding counselling, vitamin A supplementation and zinc fortification have the greatest benefits. Attention to maternal nutrition through adequate dietary intake in pregnancy and supplementation with iron, folic acid, and possibly other micronutrients and calcium are likely to provide value. But these interventions need additional programmatic experience about how to achieve full coverage.

The authors say there is no magic technological bullet to solve the problem of undernutrition.

Long-term investments in the role of women as full and equal citizens - through education, economic, social, and political empowerment - will be the only way to deliver sustainable improvements in maternal and child nutrition, and in the health of women and children more generally.

The compelling logic of this scientific evidence is that governments need national plans to scale-up nutrition interventions, systems to monitor and evaluate those plans and laws and policies to enhance the rights and status of women and children. Although complex and fraught with political disagreement, none of these solutions are separable from global treaties and negotiations over trade, agriculture and poverty reduction.

"The international nutrition system is broken. Leadership is absent, resources are too few, capacity is fragile and emergency response systems are fragmentary. New governance arrangements are urgently needed. An agency, donor, or political leader needs to step up to this challenge. There is a fabulous opportunity right now for someone to do so. But who?," ask the authors.

"Maternal and child undernutrition is highly prevalent in low-income and middle-income countries, resulting in substantial increases in mortality and overall disease burden," the authors say.

BY DOING AN ANALYSIS THAT accounted for co-exposure of nutrition-related factors, the authors found that these factors were together responsible for 35 per cent of child deaths globally and 11 per cent of the total disease burden.

The paper concludes by making a compelling case for the urgent implementation of interventions to reduce their occurrence or ameliorate their consequences.

The authors also state that poor foetal growth or stunting in the first two years of life can lead to irreversible damage, including shorter adult height, lower attained schooling, reduced adult income and decreased offspring birthweight for women. The researchers analysed the association between child and maternal undernutrition with human capital and risk of adult disease in low and middle income countries, focusing on five longstanding studies in Brazil, Guatemala, India, the Philippines and South Africa.

They showed that indicators of undernutrition at the age of two were related to adult outcomes. Further, they found that children who are undernourished in the first two years of life, and who put on weight rapidly later in childhood and in adolescence are at a high risk of chronic diseases related to nutrition. But they found no evidence that rapid weight gain or height gain in the first two years of life increases the risk of chronic disease, even in children with poor foetal growth.

The authors conclude by saying "...damage suffered in early life leads to permanent impairment and might also affect future generations. Its prevention will probably bring about important health, educational, and economic benefits."

Yet implementation of existing maternal and child nutrition-related interventions could prevent a quarter of all child deaths in the 36 countries with the highest burden of undernutrition.

Breastfeeding counselling and vitamin A supplementation are currently the nutrition strategies with the greatest potential to cut child deaths, comment the authors.

They studied how a variety of nutritional factors affected children's growth patterns and risk of death.

In populations with enough food, education about complimentary feeding increased the height-for-age score, while provision of food supplements increased the score further in food-insecure populations.

Further, the authors also found that management of severe acute malnutrition using World Health Organisation guidelines can reduce case-fatalities related to this condition by 55 per cent, but this requires admission to a health facility. The authors add that nutrition strategies on their own are not enough, concluding by saying, "Attention to the continuum of maternal and child undernutrition is essential to attainment of several of the Millennium Development Goals and must be prioritised globally and within countries... What is needed is the technical expertise and the political will to combat undernutrition in the very countries that need it most."

The authors also contend that 80 per cent of the world's undernourished children live in just 20 countries, and intensified nutrition action in these countries can lead to achievement of the first Millennium Development Goal and greatly increase the chances of achieving goals for child and maternal mortality. They address seven key challenges for addressing undernutrition at national level, including getting nutrition on the list of priorities, and keeping it there.

The paper looks at the varied situation within and across Latin American countries, which as a whole have experienced a large drop in stunting, being underweight and wasting; and China, where a multi-sectoral approach has seen rapid nutritional improvement.

The authors caution that nutrition resources should not be used to support actions unlikely to be effective in the real life setting of a particular country, nor to support actions that have not been proven to have a direct effect on undernutrition.

They ask, "What can be done?...There are no simple prescriptions to reduce undernutrition, although high coverage with four or five of the proven interventions would certainly have a sizeable effect," charging leaders at country level to review their existing strategies and programmes.

According to the authors, the international nutrition system - made up of international and donor organisations, academia, civil society and the private sector - is fragmented and dysfunctional, and needs reform.

They say: "Financial, intellectual, and personal linkages bind these organisations loosely together as components of an international nutrition system... We argue that such a system should deliver in four functional areas: stewardship, mobilisation of financial resources, direct provision of nutrition services at times of natural disaster or conflict, and human and institutional resource strengthening."

Their analysis of evidence to date finds that currently, there are substantial shortcomings in each of the areas above.

FRAGMENTATION, LACK OF evidence for prioritised action, institutional inertia, and failure to join up with promising developments in parallel sectors are recurrent themes. Many problems are systemic within organisations in the field. They suggest five priority areas for action to create a much stronger international nutrition system, and call for research leadership in areas that matter.

The authors conclude by saying: "The moment is ripe for these reforms. Their implementation would transform the political salience of undernutrition, and offer the chance of a better, more productive life to the 67 million children born each year in the countries most severely afflicted by undernutrition."

Volunteers lead Japan's bid to maintain global reach

from AFP via Google

TOKYO (AFP) — When Kiyoshi Baba stopped a top police officer for running a red light in Nepal, he was not only pushing a safety message far from his native Japan, he was also projecting Japanese influence abroad.

In leaving for Nepal, Baba was contributing to one of Japan's most visible efforts to retain its global influence despite a soaring public debt that has choked the country's funds for "pocketbook diplomacy."

Tokyo has slashed aid to developing countries by 40 percent since 1997, and will reduce it by four percent a year until 2011, according to a plan created by former premier Junichiro Koizumi.

Japan was the world's top aid donor until 2000. By 2006, it had slipped to third behind the United States and Britain, and in four more years could fall to sixth, says the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Still, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda wants Japan to retain its clout.

"It is indispensable to enhance our country's diplomatic power," he said at the opening of parliament earlier this month, citing global warming, poverty, and security issues including the fight against terrorism.

Amid a public debt fallout, analysts say the government must develop other approaches to maintain its global reach.

"Japan could increase its foreign investments, technology transfers and its participation in maintaining peace in the world to compensate for its drop in public development aid," said Katsuhiko Mori, international relations professor at International Christian University.

Fukuda has already taken some steps. He is pressing for Japan to take the lead on climate change and intends to put the issue at the top of discussions at the Group of Eight summit he will host in July.

At the World Economic Forum in Switzerland last week, Fukuda called for a new global target of a 30 percent improvement in energy efficiency by 2020 and vowed a 10-billion-dollar fund to help developing countries reduce emissions and cope with the impact of climate change.

He said Japan will also invest 50 billion dollars over the next five years in researching and developing new technologies to fight global warming and to shift Japan to a "low carbon society."

Back home, he is pushing for a law that would authorise sending soldiers on overseas peace missions without having to get parliament's approval each time.

Naoki Ito, political aid director at the foreign ministry, said engagement in peace missions did not run counter to Japan's pacifist tradition, but was a part of the country's diplomacy "expanding its paths of action."

The main conduit for Japanese development aid is the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which funds a corps of volunteers.

With over 40 years of experience in Africa, South Asia and South America, JICA could withstand the drop in the public budget and still send out the same number of volunteers, said Sumiko Nakamura from the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers, a JICA programme which today employs around 3,000 workers in 84 countries.

"The goal is to aid developing countries grow by themselves while allowing the volunteers to get an experience that will be useful in Japan upon their return," Nakamura said.

"The idea from the beginning was to compensate Asian countries after World War II," said Ruri Ito, a trans-national sociology professor at Hitotsubashi University.

"In retrospect, that became a tool for Japanese diplomacy void of means of action" after Japan was occupied following the war.

Baba, a former policeman in his 60s, came across a JICA ad in 2003 seeking an expert to help improve road safety in Nepal.

He soon found himself immersed in a road system that lacked regulations and traffic lights -- which JICA eventually financed.

"It was new. We had to teach the population how to follow them," Baba told AFP of the stoplight initiative.

Baba made headlines after stopping a top police official who had run a red light, an incident caught on video and broadcast on television.

"The incident took a political turn," he recalled. "Me, I just wanted people to respect the red light!"

Baba was later awarded a medal by Nepal's King Gyanendra and has now begun another two-year mission to the country, with the goal of making a DVD about road safety.

Legislators urged to boost efforts to fight poverty

from The Stamford Advocate

By Natasha Lee
Staff Writer

STAMFORD - CTE President Phillip McKain yesterday urged state legislators to fight for funding for social programs to help beat poverty in Stamford and neighboring towns.

Lower Fairfield County's wealthy demographics make it difficult for agencies such as CTE to get state and federal money, McKain said. Eligibility is difficult for low-income residents, particularly those working two or three jobs to make ends meet, because their income can be counted against them, he said.

"People almost have to be on the streets to qualify," he said.

CTE Inc. is federally designated to reduce poverty in Stamford, Greenwich and Darien, and serves about 5,000 low-income people each year through educational, social and employment programs.

According to federal poverty guidelines, about 8.7 percent of Stamford's population, or 10,316 people, live in poverty. The U.S. Census Bureau's latest estimate puts the city population at about 120,000 residents.

The 2000 census reported about 2,400 Greenwich residents lived in poverty, and 391 in Darien.

"People don't think of Greenwich or even Darien as places where people exist in poverty, but they do," McKain said.

CTE struggles to maintain funding for its $350,000 Community Service Block Grant, which pays for education and youth programs, and its $380,000 Human Services Infrastructure funding, which supports employee training and family services programs, he said.

The formula used by the state Department of Social Services and Department of Labor to allocate money fails to account for the cost of living, which limits or denies the amount of funding CTE receives.

"That's the sort of battles we have to fight all the time," he told state officials and CTE employees yesterday. "I'm appealing to you to pay close attention to this so that the low-income community on this end aren't hurt."

State Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, and Moira Lyons of Stamford, former speaker of the state House of Representatives, were joined by state Reps. Gerald Fox III, D-Stamford; Carlo Leone, D-Stamford; and Christel Truglia, D-Stamford, at yesterday's legislative breakfast, held at CTE in the South End.

Cassandra Arcano, a graduate of CTE's Individual Development Accounts program, stressed why such programs are needed to help low-income families become self-sufficient.

Arcano, a single mother of four boys, signed up for the program in 1999, after the birth of her last son. Arcano was living in public housing in Darien and juggling to provide for her family while working and taking classes at Norwalk Community College.

Arcano joined the program so she could learn how to save money for a house, but later changed her goal to operating her own business after an opportunity came to take over a fledgling pizza place.

Today, Arcano owns Four Brothers Pizza in Darien and two other businesses, including a catering company. She owns her home in Westport.

"I kind of achieved all my goals, so I'm making new ones," she said.

Arcano catered yesterday's breakfast.

Fox, also a CTE board member, said the agency must keep legislators informed about gaps in funding. The legislative session begins Feb. 6.

"It's one of the most important issues that we as public servants can address. We're committed and hope to develop more stories similar to Cassandra's," Fox said.

Edwards bid shows poverty not big campaign theme

from Reuters

By Matthew Bigg

ATLANTA - The inability of John Edwards to gain traction in his bid for the U.S. Democratic presidential nomination indicates that fighting poverty in America has limited appeal for voters.

Edwards told audiences it was "the issue of my life." But he dropped out of the race on Wednesday because too few responded to his anger at inequality, his heart-rending stories of suffering and his passion about combating corporate greed.

"These are not issues that generate a lot of votes or poll particularly well," said Mari Culver, wife of Iowa's Democratic Gov. Chet Culver and a tireless campaigner for Edwards in her home state.

Critics called the former senator a hypocrite last summer for getting a $400 haircut and building a large house, but by the end of his campaign many advocates for the poor praised his dedication to the issue.

Edwards came second in Iowa's caucuses but saw his rivals Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama use some of his best lines, eat into his voting base and weave his issues into larger themes more attractive to Democrats, analysts said.

Nowhere was that clearer than in post-hurricane New Orleans where Edwards launched and ended his campaign, said Louisiana pollster Bernie Pinsonat. The city, devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, was a perfect example of the case that Washington fails to provide economic justice.

But even in New Orleans, poverty was not a vote winner because the celebrity of Obama and Clinton made Edwards a third choice even for storm sufferers and voters elsewhere in Louisiana were suspicious of how the city's government used its resources.

"His whole campaign was based on a strategy of helping the poor. When Obama got in it was a flawed strategy because in South Carolina and in New Orleans (black) voters were not going to vote for him," said Pinsonat of Southern Media and Opinion.


Given that 47 million U.S. citizens lack health insurance and there is a vast gulf in incomes between the richest and poorest Americans one might expect social equality would be a priority for many voters.

But a Pew Research Center survey this month showed "dealing with the problems of the poor" ranks 13th on a list of domestic priorities for voters, a position that has held steady for years and did not change much even in the wake of Katrina.

People express their concern about poverty through voluntary giving and remain suspicious about the effectiveness of government programs, said Michael Dimmock, the Pew Center's associate director.

And a stark difference of opinion remains on the causes of poverty. Many say that America's offer of opportunity allows anyone with a strong work ethic to climb out of poverty. Government therefore should not redress problems caused by irresponsible behavior.

As he bowed out, Edwards said Obama and Clinton had pledged to put ending poverty central to their campaigns. Yet in his speech he chastised the party for its failure on the issue.

"I don't know when our party began to turn away from the cause of working people," said Edwards. "In this campaign we ... looked them square in the eye and we said: 'We see you, we hear you and we will never forget you.'"

Some commentators dismissed the electoral viability of the campaign message as out of step with the educated, middle class voters at the core of the Democratic party.

"Populism isn't going to be effective because it doesn't create jobs. It makes economic development harder because it scares investment away and most voters know that," said politics professor Merle Black of Emory University in Atlanta.

"It's Great Depression economics at the start of the 21st century," he said. (Editing by Philip Barbara)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Fair trade at Sainsbury's

from The Hastings Observer

Fair trade campaigners showed their support at Sainsbury's this week for the supermarket's focus on ethically produced goods.

Coffee, tea and bananas are the main fair trade sellers according to staff member Niki Adams, but other items are proving popular with shoppers such as chocolate and honey.

The group included Fairtrade committee members Denis and Christina Lucey, Jack Doherty, and Wendy Gubby.

Jack commented: "The Bexhill Fairtrade Town Steering Group is very pleased to demonstrate our support for Sainsbury's in their change to use fair trade tea for all their own brand teas, and their special promotions and offers from January 30 to February 11.

"This illustrates two points - that larger retailers are sourcing more products ethically, and that retailers are responding to the consumers who want goods produced more fairly.

"However, looking around stores there is still a lot to be done. In four weeks time, we in Bexhill celebrate our first Fairtrade Fortnight as a Fairtrade town, and have many events highlighted.

"We would ask other stores, cafes, schools, churches and businesses to let us know what events they are planning so we can include them in our programme, such as staff using fair trade beverages.

"We also ask everyone to look for the fair trade logo while doing their shopping - because your shopping list can lift millions out of poverty, disease and illiteracy."

Poverty in Buffalo: How It Impacts the Region

from WGRZ

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one in three Buffalo residents are living below the poverty level. Their financial situations may be similar, but there are many different faces to poverty.

Patricia and Don Doolittle are the perfect example of that. She's a college-educated mother of two. Despite her best efforts, there are months when the money doesn't go far enough.

"It can be so frustrating you can walk into the house and actually feel the stress," Patricia said.

After graduating from Bryant and Stratton College, Patricia worked for months to find employment. She wanted to be an administrative assistant; but, either no one was hiring or her lack of experience hurt her.

"I don't expect somebody to just hand me a job. I went out there," she said. "I went looking. I did the interviews."

For awhile, Patricia used temp-service jobs to pay the bills. Then, this past December, she was hired for a permanent position at the Boys and Girls Club. There was a catch--the position was only part-time.

"I am very optimistic, and hopefully in a few months my part-time goes to full-time," she said.

At this point, the family relies on her 20-hour-a-week paycheck to pay the bills and feed four mouths. Her husband, who's disabled, also receives a monthly check and the family supplements that with food stamps.

"Poverty doesn't hit certain sexes, religions, races, or anything. It doesn't know discrimination," Patricia said.

No one knows that better than United Way President Arlene Kaukus. She's seen how poverty affects people from all walks of life and she knows that it isn't confined to the home life.

"It's going to show up in crime rates. It's going to show up in healthcare costs. We're going to keep paying for it," Kaukus said.

According to her, that's the real price of poverty and one that the entire community pays.

Many, like Mary Jo Conrad, believe early intervention is the key. As principal of Buffalo's Lydia T. Wright School, she sees impoverished children early in life.

"Unless you intervene early, the likelihood of turning around a person's life, the older they get, is clearly more costly and there's less likelihood of having a successful impact," Conrad said.

Like her, the Doolittles are holding on to hope for better days. For now, Patricia has accepted an important lesson through her job at the Boys and Girls Club. Despite sometimes feeling otherwise, she now knows she's not alone.

"I know there's other people just as educated as me--or more educated than me--probably having the same problem we're having. It doesn't just hit people receiving public assitance. It hits educated people as well," Patricia said.

India to host India-Africa summit in April

from The Times of India

NEW DELHI: With an aim of bolstering its relations with Africa, India will host the Summit of African countries here to enhance the "true partnership" to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma, who is attending the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, announced that India will hold the Summit of India-Africa Forum in New Delhi in April.

Sharma, who is leading a high-level delegation participating in the African Union Summit, also invited heads of African countries for the summit meeting here.

"India looks for a true partnership with Africa and support its development and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals," he said on Tuesday.

Sharma delivered letters of invitation from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to heads of state and foreign ministers of African countries.

Among the countries invited for the summit meeting are South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Senegal, Uganda and Zambia.

Sharma also called on Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Ghanian President John Kufuor, who is also the current chair of the African Union.

Both the leaders have accepted the invitation and said the timing of the summit is appropriate as Africa diversifies its relationship and cooperation with India is now in the forefront of their agenda.

'Tourism against poverty' spotlighted at Madrid trade fair

from AFP via Google

MADRID (AFP) — Spain's King Juan Carlos Wednesday opened the FITUR tourist trade fair, one of the world's largest, with a plea to thousands of industry professionals to use tourism to help eradicate poverty.

"Tourism is a driver of understanding between peoples. It is an effective instrument with which to eradicate poverty and to improve the legitimate aspirations and well-being of citizens," he said in an inaugural speech.

The 28th annual FITUR in Madrid is hosting 13,300 companies from 170 countries who will be seeking the business of around 250,000 visitors, some 150,000 of them professionals, before the event closes on Sunday.

The UN World Tourism Organisation prefaced the event on Tuesday by announcing that developing nations drove up global tourism arrivals by 6.2 percent last year to a record of almost 900 million.

UNWTO Secretary General Francesco Frangialli said the figures demonstrated "tourism's potential for the developing world."

The head of the African Travel and Tourism Association, Nigel Vere Nicoll, underscored this.

"Every 10 tourists to Africa creates one job, and one job feeds about 10 people," he told AFP Wednesday.

New participants at FITUR this year are Bhutan, Greenland, Madagascar and the west African archipelago of Sao Tome and Principe. Azerbaijan, Zimbabwe and Niger have returned for a second year.

Exhibitors from the Asia-Pacific region, the Americas and Africa are up by 18, 17 and 14 percent respectively, reflecting "the growth of the international dimension of the fair," FITUR said.

The head of Bhutan's tourism department, Lhatu Wangchuk, said the isolated Himalayan kingdom decided to make its debut at the fair after developing its tourist infrastructure.

"We are here because our capacity to receive more tourists is improving, so we need to get into promotion, but in a subdued way," he told AFP.

"Foreign exchange revenue and employment are important to us," he said, adding that tourism is currently the country's fourth biggest earner, but is expected to be the second within five years.

"We are looking for tourists at the high-end of the market in Europe, the US and Japan," he said.

Spain has the largest number of exhibitors, and this year will be promoting the Expo Zaragosa 2008 international exhibition. South Africa is focusing on its staging of the 2010 football World Cup.

Among the special promotions are the New Seven Wonders of the World: the city of Petra in Jordan, the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal in India, the Coliseum in Rome, Chichen Itza in Mexico, Macchu Pichu in Peru and the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Brazil.

FITUR "is a trade fair which for the past three decades has reflected the realities of the industry, has been a step ahead of the changes and has brought about innovative responses," Juan Carlos said.

Study finds financial, racial disparities in dental care

from The Boston Globe

But says more children seen

By David Abel,

Although more Massachusetts children are getting needed dental care than in the past, low-income and nonwhite children lag behind their peers, according to a report released today by Delta Dental of Massachusetts, an insurance company.

Nearly two-thirds of third-graders from low-income families suffer from tooth decay, roughly twice the rate of children from higher-income families. Children from low-income families are less likely to receive treatment than those from higher-income families. The 67-page report, titled "The Oral Health of Massachusetts' Children" also found significant racial disparities in dental disease and treatment.

"More needs to be done," said Dr. Alex White, a dentist and the director of analytics for the Catalyst Institute, which compiled the data from statistical sampling and the examination last year of about 6,000 children by dentists and hygienists at the Boston University School of Dental Medicine. "We know we can make a difference; we're just not doing it for everyone," White said.

Among the causes of persistent dental disease, he said, are the lack of universal dental insurance for children, a diet with too much sugar, and no addition of fluoride to the water in some parts of the state.

The report found that more than 1 in 4 children in the state start school with dental disease, including a disproportionate number of children from minority groups. Some 24 percent of Hispanics and 23 percent of black kindergartners had untreated cavities, about twice the rate of whites.

Still, dental hygiene has improved since the last oral health survey in 2003. The proportion of third-grade children with dental disease declined from 48 percent to 41 percent over the past four years. The proportion of children surveyed with untreated decay declined from 26 percent to 17 percent.

The highest incidence of dental disease occurred in Hampden and Suffolk counties. In Hampden County - where only Holyoke, Longmeadow, and Westfield add fluoride to their water - 58 percent of third-graders had cavities, 17 percent above the state average. In Suffolk, 57 percent of third-graders had cavities.

"This report provides compelling evidence that dental disease remains a serious problem for our children and especially among minority children and children from low-income families, even though dental disease is almost entirely preventable," Fay Donohue, president and chief executive officer of Delta Dental, said in a written statement.

Man Wai Ng, chief of the department of dentistry at Children's Hospital Boston, said that in recent years dentists there have encouraged pediatricians to look for dental disease in their patients. As a result, she said, the hospital has seen a 50 percent rise in the number of children referred to dental clinics.

"We're now able to identify at-risk children at an earlier age and provide care that is less risky and less costly," Ng said.

She suggested that parents brush their children's teeth twice a day, with toothpaste that contains fluoride, as soon as teeth appear. She also encourages parents to bring their children to a dentist twice a year, not to let them take a bottle to bed, and to limit their intake of sugary drinks, such as juice.

Gore, Bono Talk Poverty, Warming at Davos

from AOL Video

Bush Looks to End Food Aid Restrictions

from The Associated Press via Google

By DESMOND BUTLER – 5 hours ago

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Bush is making a renewed push to allow the government to spend food aid money to buy crops in poor countries. Congress is unlikely to go along.

Bush has asked Congress to change a law that requires food supplies for foreign aid to be bought in the United States.

Lawmakers from states with large agricultural industries are opposing the proposal on grounds that American farmers should continue to benefit from the aid program. Congress members, nearing completion of a bill that would govern how the administration spends about $1.2 billion in aid, so far have not included loosened restrictions on food aid sourcing.

Bush mentioned the issue in Monday's State of the Union address. He urged Congress to make the changes that he argued would "help break the cycle of famine" in countries that receive U.S. food aid.

The administration and aid groups have argued that the current policy slows efforts to deliver food to disaster areas, sometimes by months. Critics also say it harms farmers in developing countries by denying them markets that could help them and the people who would work with them out of grinding poverty.

"In some cases, food aid coming from the United States puts local farmers at a disadvantage," said Laura Rusu, a spokeswoman for Oxfam America.

Bush's latest request for the change comes less than three weeks before he is to go to Africa, where he is likely to highlight his administration's efforts to fight HIV-AIDS, malaria and other diseases and poverty.

Keith Williams, a spokesman for the Agriculture Department, says the administration is continuing to push Congress to approve the sourcing changes, and mentioning the issue Monday was an attempt to press the case.

With less than a year in his presidency and his popularity at low levels, Bush lacks the political muscle to push unpopular proposals through Congress. Traditionally, agricultural interests are quite strong politically.

Anti-poverty groups who have been critical of the current policy are skeptical that the administration is determined enough or even politically capable of winning over Congress.

"I don't see that this is going to happen," said Marianne Leach, director of government affairs for the anti-poverty group CARE. "We have not heard about anything that the administration is doing to make this happen."

Some U.S. lawmakers, who oppose Bush's proposal, argue that massive agricultural purchases in developing countries could disrupt local economies and drive up prices for important staples beyond the crisis areas targeted by aid.

"I agree with the president that we should strengthen the emergency response capability of U.S. food assistance," said Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee in a statement. "Allowing some local purchase of food in poor countries seems to have promise, but let's be careful about wholesale change."

The Senate version of the bill would include $25 million — a small fraction of the overall food aid budget_ for a four-year experimental program to test the idea of buying crops abroad.

Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.

Hybrid Goats Not a Sure Way of Fighting Poverty

from All Africa

New Vision (Kampala)

By Joshua Kato and Ronald Kalyango

FARMERS are given hybrid goats and promised that it will help them get out of poverty. However, they claim the goats have so many hindrances that delivering them from poverty may not come easily.

At the moment, the Government is promoting the rearing of hybrid goats, mainly from South Africa.

Dr. Olaho Mukani, the director of animal resources, says the Boer goats were first imported by Makerere University 10 years ago for research purposes.

In 2003, 500 goats were imported out of which 400 were given to farmers in exchange for four local goats each. The remaining 100 were stocked at Rubona Stock Farm and Njeru for multiplication purposes.

Hybrid goats produce more and grow bigger than local goats. They also grow much faster. A typical Boer can grow to more than 50kgs. Females can produce about six kids at a go and they produce twice a year.

Joseph Masaba, a senior technician in livestock breeding at the National Resources Research Institute (NALIRI), says a boer goat, if well fed can gain between 35 kilos and 40 kilos. "Hence they produce more meat than the local breeds that take between two to three years to gain 20kgs," Masaba says.

One he-goat can be given to a group of farmers in a village and the farmers can bring their she-goats siring. The target is that gradually, many farmers will rear hybrid goats. This was the case in Bamunanika in Luwero district, says Steven Sserwanga one of the farmers in Bamunanika.

When a pure buck (he-goat) mates with a local breed, the product is 50% hybrid and when the 50% offsprings mate with the pure Boer, the product is 75% hybrid.

On the market, a pure Boer buck costs between sh800,000 and sh1m. A 50% costs about sh200,000, while a 75% costs about sh350,000 while the local breeds cost between sh30,000 and 60,000. As a result, many local consumers look for the cheap local goats instead of going for the expensive Boer goats.

According to goat keepers, goats - especially white ones - have a big market in the Middle East.

However, the numbers produced are still very low to sustain the market.

Paul Ssembeguya, the proprietor of Ssembeguya Estates, one of the largest goat breeding centres in the country, says they need to export at least 16,000 goats weekly to sustain the middle eastern market.

Many contractors hired by the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) programme to supply 75% breeds cheated and supplied either 50% breeds or even local breeds at the price of the 75% breeds. "We received goats that were quoted highly, but we realised they were poor breeds. This has discouraged us from rearing goats," says a farmer.

Under the NAADS programme, many of the goats were over priced, almost four times their real value. In Tororo, several farmers refused to accept a delivery of the prized 'hybrid' goats with each valued at sh400,000.

In mid-western Uganda, the Government has an agreement with Ssembeguya Estates to supply goats to the region.

The initial agreement was worth over sh6b, although the Government failed to meet their part of the bargain. However, Ssembeguya Estates entered another agreement with NAADS to supply 395 improved goats to farmers in Ssembabule.

Ssembeguya says it was expected that at the end of the contract, the number of farmers adopting goat production would have gone up. Last year, Ssembeguya supplied some of the goats to farmers, but the farmers were not impressed.

"The goats look old and tired. They have even failed to deliver," one of the farmers said.

However, officials at Ssembeguya Estates claim they supplied the right goats, arguing that the farmers might have failed to adhere to the maintenance guidelines.

The other problem is that when it comes to selling the goats for meat, the market is still low. As a result, many farmers are stuck with the hybrid goats. "People still want to eat the smaller and less fatty traditional goats," says a farmer. He says his goats produce six litres of milk a day, which he consumes at home because of lack of market.

More so, many farmers think pigs produce results faster than goats. While a goat needs at least a year to produce one or two kids, a pig needs nine months to produce about 10 piglets.

Overall, the Boer goats are a good option for quick and mass production of goats. However, more awareness is still needed for the project to succeed.

Supervision at delivery must also be improved, if the right breeds are to be given to farmers. It is because of poor supervision that some breeders distributed poor goats.

"The process has entirely proved to be a success. The challenges now are to produce more in order to sustain bigger markets," says Mukani.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Securing a poverty-free SADC

from The Mail and Guardian Online

The Southern African region is at risk of not meeting the millennium development goal on poverty eradication, as power outages become a daily occurrence. Countries including Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa experience regular electricity cuts, leading to outages at clinics and schools -- key public facilities essential to meeting the goals.

Eradicating poverty is chief among the aims of the Southern Africa Trust, an independent, regional, non-profit agency, and supporting regional integration is key to its policy formulations. The organisation is committed to identifying knowledge and policy gaps that could help governments build infrastructure that is geared to improving the working and living conditions of the poor in the region.

In its January policy briefing, “Building Bridges Out of Poverty”, the trust examines transport, energy and water infrastructure in the subcontinent. It identifies these three sectors as necessary props to “facilitate intra-regional trade and investment, and address the special needs of landlocked countries to access the rest of the world”.

A major challenge faced by Southern Africa is to build rural access roads, the trust says. New and improved roads will make it possible for the rural and urban poor to “participate in development opportunities”. In particular, proper roads will provide access to jobs, markets, social services and health facilities.

But integrated development planning is lacking. While the Southern African Development Community “corridor” approach is potentially useful, weak organisation within the secretariat hampers the roll-out of effective transport programmes.

In the majority of the region’s countries, biomass such as fuel wood and cow dung remain the main sources of energy for families and informal traders. This is especially so in the rural areas. Up to 80% of the region’s total energy consumption is dependent on these energy sources, the policy think-tank says.

But while initiatives, such as the SADC biomass energy programme, promote the use of energy-efficient devices, investment in additional generation and transmission capacity is an imperative because demand is outstripping supply. “South Africa is already experiencing power outages, which are likely to increase unless investment in expansion … is prioritised,” the trust says.

A spin-off to the more efficient use of fuel wood is that it will save forest areas. Energy-efficient technologies will also reduce carbon emissions.

Water resources
Rain-fed crops and livestock are at the heart of Southern Africa’s rural economy. Food production is “often adversely affected by floods and droughts indicating lack of investment in water harvesting, storage and distribution infrastructure,” the trust says.

While recent floods and bursting river banks are an urgent concern in Mozambique and Zimbabwe, the trust predict that there will be water shortages by 2025, especially in South Africa, Malawi and Zimbabwe. It urges that remedial measures be put in place to prevent the distinct possibility that the region will have to implement water rationing. Developing the infrastructure in water harvesting, storage and distribution will be critical in overcoming the “looming water shortage”.

Regional integration adviser at the trust, Dr Themba Mhlongo, says: “Southern Africa needs to invest in the management and development of water resources, including irrigation infrastructure technologies and efficient use of limited water resources.

“Inadequate water control infrastructure is one of the key factors limiting the productivity and competitiveness of agriculture in Southern Africa.”

The trust suggest that inter-basin water transfers from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and Angola to the southwestern parts (Botswana, Namibia and South Africa) could be the long-term solution to an impending water crisis. Alternatively, desalination could be an attractive option for water-scarce countries such as South Africa.

To finance all of this, it recommends that a SADC bond market be created for regional savings that are earmarked for investment. Public-private partnerships may be another avenue to explore to fill the gap in infrastructure finance.

But the absence of appropriate legislation binding the different states in the subcontinent to the SADC project is a major stumbling block to effective regional integration across the transport, water and energy sectors.

“SADC countries are struggling to address the lack of investment in energy infrastructure. The objective of providing affordable energy services to rural communities as a basic right through increased access to modern energy technologies therefore remains only a distant hope,” Mhlongo says.

“It is imperative for SADC countries to prioritise investments in generation and transmission capacity in order to ensure regional energy security.”

Where to Now?
The SADC’s regional infrastructure development “master plan” must be implemented.

“However, the financing of regional infrastructure development remains a key constraint to realising that potential.” The regional grouping needs to identify more creative ways to finance cross-border infrastructure. Development finance institutions could be a possibility to secure the loans that are required to build the regional infrastructure. Another is to leverage private sector resources through public-private partnerships.

While the policy briefing focuses on infrastructure development, the trust suggests that they are insufficient on their own to provide relief to poor people in Southern Africa. Many other “complementary poverty-focused initiatives are necessary to overcome poverty”.

Malaysia on target to wipe out poverty by 2010

from The New Straits Times

By Hamidah Atan and Deborah Loh

PUTRAJAYA: The Ninth Malaysia Plan, the mid-term review of which will be conducted in March, has already shown positive results, the prime minister said yesterday. Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said the third national mission to eradicate poverty and bridge socio-economic divides had reduced poverty from 5.7 per cent in 2004 to 3.5 per cent last year, according to a study by the Economic Planning Unit (EPU).

"I am very happy to state here the positive effects of the development plans and projects we have implemented for the benefit of the people. The EPU's household income survey carried out last year showed the rate of poverty had gone down, with the number of hardcore poor reduced from 1.2 per cent to 0.7 per cent.

"This means that our target to eradicate poverty by 2010 is achievable," he said at an annual gathering of 8,000 civil servants organised by the National Institute of Public Administration (Intan) at the Putrajaya International Convention Centre.

Also present were several ministers, corporate leaders, Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Mohd Sidek Hassan, Public Service director-general Tan Sri Ismail Adam and Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Musa Hassan.

Abdullah said the income gap between rural and urban areas had also been reduced from a ratio of 1:2.11 in 2004 to 1:1.99 last year. "This means that we have been able to reduce the income gap three years earlier than we targeted.

"The income gap between Bumiputera and Chinese has fallen from 1:1.64 in 2004 to 1:1.52 last year; between Bumiputera and Indians from 1:1.27 to 1:1.23 and between Indians and Chinese from 1:1.28 to 1:1.23."

Abdullah said the EPU would only finalise the survey findings in March but he expressed confidence that the figures to determine the government's level of accomplishment in implementing all five thrusts of the national mission would show positive results.

Since independence, he said, the government had been consistent in its effort to wipe out poverty and with the implementation of the New Economic Policy, the poverty level had been reduced by 60 per cent.

"This effort has always been our priority and we are thankful that we have succeeded. By 2010, there will be no more poor people in this country. We should be resolute in our commitment to get rid of poverty," he said.

The government has allocated RM200 billion for projects under the Ninth Malaysia Plan.

Abdullah stressed that delays by government agencies and ministries in implementing the projects would cause the people to lose out.

"It is my ardent hope that all agencies double their efforts to carry out these projects within the set timeframe. Implementation of the projects will be one of the key performance indicators for secretaries-general of ministries and heads of department.

"The performance of your ministries and departments will be measured by your success in implementing impactful projects, not just by your capabilities in spending 100 per cent of the allocations.

"That is old management. The projects must benefit the people."

He also told government servants that they had no option but to succeed to make sure the country's public service emerged as one of the world's best.

"Give yourselves only one option -- success, not failure, not anything else but success, success and success. Give the people one service, one delivery and no wrong-door policy.

"If this is what you want to achieve, you can definitely reach what you have strived for. We also want to attract the best and attain the best for our civil service. Multi-ethnicity (in the civil service) is an asset and we want to preserve this asset."

Abdullah said fewer articles on civil servants' inefficiency and misdemeanours were published in the newspapers last year compared with 2006.

"If last year was the start to an improved public service delivery system, this year should be the year for us to attain a standard of excellence on par with the best or best in its class."

In terms of competitiveness, the prime minister said Malaysia had gained world recognition alongside some developed countries such as the United States and Japan.

The Institute of Management Development, in its 2007 World Competitiveness Year Book, placed Malaysia in eighth place in terms of competitiveness for countries with populations of more than 20 million.

Abdullah said Malaysia was placed fourth in terms of business efficiency and 10th for infrastructure last year. "We were placed at number 19 among the world's leading trading countries last year.

"This, however, should not make us complacent as other countries like China, India and Vietnam will continue to increase their level of competitiveness. We should continue our efforts to achieve a first-class standard in public service."

Brown calls on business to stamp out poverty

from The Times Online

The Prime Minister has invited companies to find ways of meeting goals to provide health and education to impoverished children.

David Charter in Davos

Business leaders were today challenged by Gordon Brown to join a new movement with politicians and aid agencies to prevent international anti-poverty targets heading for dismal failure.

The Prime Minister invited the wealthy executives at Davos to a summit at Downing Street in May where companies will be asked to come up with resources to help meet the Millennium Development Goals, a series of targets with a 2015 deadline.

His appeal was shared by Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary General, Bill Gates of Microsoft and Bono, the U2 frontman, who said that despite their "crap" name, the goals marked a great chance to make real improvements in the lives of the impoverished.

Mr Brown said: "We have promised that infant mortality will be cut by three quarters by 2015. On present trends we will not make that happen until at least 2050.

"We have promised that every child will be in schooling by 2015, but on present trends we will not achieve that before 2115 and the children of the world cannot wait another century."

The Downing Street summit of international corporations will be followed up by European Union leaders at their council meeting in June and at the G8 meeting of leading industrialised powers in Japan the following month.

Mr Brown added: "This is a unique call to action, never made before, to all private sector companies, all NGOs [non-governmental organisations] as well as all governments."

Bono, a veteran campaigner for the poor, said that the world was facing a moment of truth. "Where another generation put a man on the moon, we cannot put every kid in school," he said.

"Where another generation fought fascism and injustice and prevailed, we fail in our fight against the anopheles mosquito which kills 3,000 people a day," he said, referring to malaria deaths.

Mr Ban said that knowing that thousands of children were dying in the developing world from preventable diseases, without doing anything about it, was like "standing and doing nothing as the train roars off to Auschwitz."

The UN chief added: "Too many nations have fallen behind. We need fresh ideas and fresh approaches. It is unacceptable that one child dies of hunger every day, every five seconds."

Mr Ban said that he would use September's annual United Nations summit to refocus attention on the millennium goals. "We will bring together the world leaders and together demand action," he said. "We must re-energise the world's commitment."

[Press Release] Bread for the World Responds to State of the Union Address

from PR Newswire

WASHINGTON, Jan. 28 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Rev. David Beckmann,
President of Bread for the World, issued the following statement in
response to the State of the Union address delivered tonight by President
George W. Bush:

"With turmoil in our nation's housing and financial markets, the
President took the opportunity in his State of the Union address to push
for quick passage of the economic stimulus package he sent to Congress last
week. While the package includes incentives for businesses to invest in
facilities and equipment and tax rebates that would also go to most
low-income working families, it does not include important provisions like
temporary increases in food stamp and unemployment benefits. It is critical
that the stimulus package take into consideration the needs of those
vulnerable families who will be hit hardest by the recession.

"Trade can be a powerful engine of economic growth and poverty
reduction in developing countries. Bread for the World is pleased that the
President reiterated the U.S. commitment to a successful Doha Development
Round. We will hold President Bush to doing everything in his power to
ensure that the Doha Round results in an agreement with development at its

"Bread for the World hopes the President will continue to work with
Congress to ensure that this year's Farm Bill lives up to its potential as
a source of help and hope for rural communities, farm families of modest
means, and hungry and poor people here at home and around the world. This
would help to kick-start the Doha Round, allowing member nations to reach
an agreement before the end of the year.

"What the President said about global poverty was right on the mark.
One of the great legacies of this Administration will be its commitment to
the continent of Africa particularly in the field of health. Reducing
poverty and disease around the world has been one issue on which
Republicans and Democrats have worked together.

"The President's HIV/AIDS Initiative has shown amazing success in a
very short time. However, in many regions of the world, HIV/AIDS is a
disease of poverty and cannot be solved by drugs alone. The President's
upcoming FY 2009 budget request must regain a sense of balance between
emergency response to the HIV/AIDS crisis and the investments in long-term
development. Nutrition, clean water, and livelihood assistance will help
achieve success in the fight against HIV/AIDS and ensure that countries can
build the capacity to take on the care of their citizens in the future.
Programs like the Millennium Challenge Account seek to build this
sustainable capacity and deserve equal investment.

"Feeding hungry people must be the number one priority of our food aid
programs. It is scandalous that half of every food aid dollar does not go
to feed those in greatest need, but into the pockets of U.S. companies for
processing, packaging, and transport. Bread for the World supports a shift
to from our current system to one where local purchase of emergency food
aid in appropriate circumstances can be accomplished. We are pleased that
President Bush used his pulpit to push for this change."

Poverty touches lives of many Polk County students

from The Tyron Daily Bulletin

Chris Dailey

Statistics suggest Polk County should have relatively few students in families living in poverty.

In 2005, Polk County had the ninth highest per capita income in the state, according to the Center for Local Innovation.

But those numbers can be misleading.

Despite having a relatively high number of wealthy residents, Polk County has a substantial number of students living in poverty, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau on poverty and from Polk County Schools on free and reduced meals.

A census bureau report released recently shows that 424 of 2,825 school age children in Polk County were living in poverty in 2005, up from 398 in 2004 and 246 in 1995.
As a percentage, the number of students in poverty in Polk County has risen from 10.3 percent in 1995 to 15 percent in 2005.

Polk was still below Henderson County at 15.8 percent and Rutherford County at 22.8 percent in 2005, but was nearly the same as Buncombe County at 15.8 percent.

Polk County Schools Supt. Bill Miller says state officials probably figure Polk has far fewer students in poverty than it actually does after seeing Polk’s high per capita income. That makes it difficult, he says, whenever Polk County Schools seeks grant funding.

Miller says state officials, and probably even some Polk residents, would be surprised to learn exactly how many Polk students are in poverty.

The school district’s data on free and reduced meals shows that perhaps a majority of students are in families living below or just barely above the federal poverty line.

This year 43 percent, or about 1,124, of Polk’s 2,615 students qualify for free and reduced meals. Miller says that figure is low since school administrators know that many students stop signing up for free and reduced meals when they reach high school.

The fact that a student qualifies for the free and reduced meals is kept private, yet Miller says some high school age students may have an unfounded fear that they will be perceived as different.

Excluding the high school and the middle school, nearly 51 percent of Polk County’s elementary school students qualify for free and reduced meals.

The highest poverty levels are seen among students at Polk Central and Sunny View, where 62.1 and 57.7 percent of students, respectively, qualify for free and reduced meals.

According to this year’s income eligibility requirements, students whose families make less than 130 percent of the federal poverty threshold qualify for free meals.

Students in families making under 185 percent of the federal poverty threshold qualify for reduced price meals.

For 2007 the eligibility guidelines mean that a family of four with an annual, gross income under $26,845 qualifies for free meals. A family of four under an annual, gross income of $38,203 qualifies for reduced price meals.

Supt. Miller says Polk County teachers recently went through a training session aimed at helping them understand the economic pressures experienced by many of their students. Those pressures can create significant obstacles to learning.

As Miller says, it can be hard to get students to focus on higher learning when they’re more worried about something as essential as getting enough food to eat.

For that reason, the school system has started a “Feed a Kid” program that is already planning to deliver weekend food supplies each Friday to 73 children. Miller says the number of students who can benefit from the program is much higher.

The “Feed a Kid” program has been launched in cooperation with Thermal Belt Outreach, Columbus Presbyterian Church and Polk County Cooperative Extension.

Lack of counterpart fund stalls anti-poverty projects

from The Inquirer

By Ven S. Labro
Visayas Bureau

TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines -- The lack of counterpart fund has prevented some of the poorest Eastern Visayas towns from availing of grants for anti-poverty projects.

The Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (Kalahi-CIDSS) is a World Bank-assisted project that aims to empower communities, improve local governance and reduce poverty.

However, the project requires a local counterpart contribution (LCC) of about 30 percent of the estimated project cost, with the provincial, municipal and village governments contributing 10 percent each.

Neil Moraleta, Kalahi-CIDSS social marketing officer in the region, said that some of the poorer towns identified as prioritized program beneficiaries waived their inclusion in the anti-poverty project since they could not comply with the LCC requirement.
Moraleta cited the case of La Paz town, a 5th class municipality in Leyte, which was not in the original list of prioritized beneficiaries. La Paz town availed of the project after a couple of poorer towns backed out from the program, Moraleta said on Tuesday.

He also mentioned the case of a town in Samar whose mayor withdrew from the program in 2007 because of lack of counterpart fund.

But the project went ahead after the congresswoman in their district shouldered the full LCC amount using her countrywide development fund, Moraleta added.

He also noted that the late release of counterpart funds delayed the implementation of some projects.

He cited the case of Leyte town where nine projects were not able to complete implementation in 2007 as scheduled.

"We hope to eventually complete these projects, which are already 80 to 90 percent accomplished, by March this year," he said.

However, he maintained that there were a few cases of delayed project implementation due to lack of LCC fund.

Letecia Corillo, Department of Social Welfare and Development regional director, recently said that Kalahi-CIDSS would release P300 million in development funds in 2008 to 600 villages in 25 municipalities across the region to fund "poverty-responsive community projects identified by these communities."

Corillo said the project recipients in 2008 included the towns of Julita, Javier, Kananga, La Paz, Leyte, Mayorga, Mahaplag, Bato, Capoocan, Tabango, Tabontabon and San Isidro in Leyte province; Paranas, Sta. Margarita, Sta. Rita, Tarangnan and Villareal in Samar; Cabucgayan and Naval in Biliran; and Silvino Lobos, Laoang, Las Navas, Mondragon, Pambujan and San Roque in Northern Samar.

The Kalahi-CIDSS, which was started in Eastern Visayas in 2003, has disbursed over P330 million to 511 villages in 33 municipalities.

The amount represents 44 percent of the more than P720-million grant allocated for the implementation of Kalahi-CIDSS projects in more than 800 villages in the six provinces in the region.

In 2007 alone, Moraleta said some P288 million was released to 156 villages in the region to bankroll projects identified by the communities themselves such as the construction of water system facilities, school buildings, health stations, drainage systems, farm-to-market road, and footbridges, among many others.

Why is Child Development Stalled?

from All Africa

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks


Experts put the lack of progress on children's development in West Africa down to pervasive poverty, chronic malnutrition in many countries, piecemeal aid responses, and health systems broken by protracted conflicts.

Nine of the 12 countries with the world's highest rate of child deaths are in the region, according to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) State of the World's Children 2008 which was released on 22 January.

According to the report, the region is the only one in the world showing "no progress" on reaching the Millennium Development Goal to reduce under-five mortality by two thirds by 2015.

While the number of children dying before their fifth birthday has declined by almost a quarter globally since 1990, in West and Central Africa it dropped by only 1.2 percent, the report showed. On average 18.6 percent of children in West Africa die before their fifth birthday, while one in 10 will die by their first.

The reasons for such slow progress are complex, but some factors stand out according to UNICEF's Dr. Genevieve Bagkoyian, UNICEF's regional adviser on child survival and development.

High death rates among children are largely a result of chronic poverty and the legacy of conflict in Chad, Liberia and Sierra Leone; poor management of health systems in some of the wealthier states such as Nigeria; and chronic malnutrition in parts of Sahel countries of Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad, Bagkoyian said.

"Throughout the region, how many governments do we have that are stable, have adequate funds and good governance to tackle change?" she asked.

Leading cause

Malnutrition is a leading cause of death in the region, killing half of all children under five, according to UNICEF. This is because it weakens children's ability to fight other diseases, such as malaria or pneumonia.

"Poor nutrition in the first five years of a child's life combined with high levels of disease will lead to high death levels," Greg Ramm, West Africa regional director of Save the Children, told IRIN.

According to a previous UNICEF report, malnutrition-related death rates in West Africa are double the global average.

Malnutrition also affects reproductive health, leading to low birth weights and in some cases, premature births.

In Niger, of the 19 percent of children who die by their first birthday, a quarter die on the day they are born, mainly because of these factors, combined with a lack of access to skilled doctors or midwives, according to Bagkoyian who estimated that across the region 60 percent of women give birth at home without a doctor present.


But giving birth also leads to death for simpler reasons that are easier to rectify, such as the lack of a clean blade to cut umbilical cords and cultural behaviours such as an avoidance of breastfeeding Bagkoyian said.

"In many of these countries, if we changed a number of taboo behaviours, we could save a lot of children even if they are born at home," she said.

The lack of trained medical staff points to a need for stronger health systems that prioritises the health of mother and child, she said, adding that aid agencies and donors have not had as much impact as they could because they have not coordinated themselves to tackle root problems.

"In the past we had one agency working on a polio campaign, another on measles, when what is needed is commitment from agencies and donors to come up with joint solutions to these problems, rather than one by one."

She added that prevention efforts are crucial. "Simple preventive actions, if expanded to reach higher numbers, could reduce child mortality by 5 percent per year," she estimated, pointing to mass immunisation campaigns, working with donors to provide children with Vitamin A and mosquito nets and spreading simple reproductive health messages as good examples.

Government role

But building better health systems also depends on governments, Save the Children's Ramm said. Poverty can create a major barrier to achieving this, because it leaves such a small tax base for governments to invest.

"In many of these places, even when governments have prioritised healthcare within their available budget resources, there would still not be enough money to get the job done, because there's simply no tax base to fund it."

"When addressing if it's a question of poverty or of priorities, the answer is both, but ultimately you can't prioritise what you don't have," he said.

But while some West African governments channel a relatively generous proportion of their annual income to health, some of the most marginalised give the least, including Chad, which according to UNICEF allocated just 3 percent of its annual gross domestic product (GDP) to health in 2007.

To reverse the situation in West Africa, Ramm said, aid agencies and governments need to tackle change at different levels: working on prevention efforts at the community level, working with governments to set up stronger health systems, and lobbying donors to meet their aid commitments.

But donors also have a responsibility to increase the proportion of their aid budgets that goes to healthcare and nutrition, he said, starting with meeting the UN target of committing 0.7 percent of their GDP to official development assistance. To date only five countries - Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Luxembourg - have done so.

Tea deal to fight poverty

from This Is Hertfordshire

SHOPPERS at Sainsbury's in St Albans will be given a free tea bag on Saturday to mark the store's drive to support impoverished Third World producers.

The chain has just announced that all of its Red Label own brand tea from certified Fairtrade sources, which guarantee producers get a reasonable price.

The news will triple the entire British Fairtrade tea market to 9,000 tonnes a year.

Over the next three years, Sainsbury's will move all its own-brand tea, ground coffee and hot chocolate to Fairtrade, creating about £2million extra each year for developing countries.

Steve Beale, manager of the Everard Close store, said "Colleagues and I are very excited that we are helping St Albans celebrate Fairtrade and giving our customers the opportunity to have a Fairtrade cup of tea.

"We drink nearly 3 billion cups of tea and ground coffee every year in the UK and this means a much larger number of producers in developing countries, from tea-producing Kenya and Malawi to coffee growers in South America, will benefit."