Monday, June 30, 2008

Poverty-hit Bangladesh forced into huge fuel price hike

from AFP via Google

DHAKA — Impoverished Bangladesh became the latest victim of surging global crude costs Monday with the government announcing it has been forced to hike state-set fuel prices by between 34 and 66 percent.

Authorities said they had no alternative to the sharp increases because the country could no longer afford to sell petrol, diesel, kerosene and gas at subsidised rates that were set when a barrel of oil cost just 60 dollars.

On Monday, oil was trading close to 144 dollars a barrel.

"Frankly speaking, we had no choice. It was unavoidable," Bangladesh's deputy energy minister M. Tamin told AFP.

"The oil subsidy still accounts for 40 percent of the government's development budget. Imagine a situation where crude oil goes up to 200 dollars a barrel. All development in Bangladesh will stop," he said.

The price rises represent a major blow for the country, one of the world's poorest, where nearly 40 percent of the 144 million population survive on less than a dollar a day.

The country is already suffering from rising food prices, with the price of rice -- a staple in the South Asian nation -- nearly doubling over the past year.

"It's an international crisis. We think rich countries, oil-producing countries and the United Nations should deal with the issue urgently," Tamin said.

Starting Tuesday, the price of diesel and kerosene is to go up by 37.5 percent to 55 taka (80 US cents) per litre (0.26 gallon), while petrol prices will increase by 34 percent to 87 taka per litre, the ministry said.

The price of furnace oil, used in small factories, has been increased by 50 percent, while a cylinder of gas used for cooking will go up by 66 percent.

"The prices of petroleum products have been increased due to the massive increase in global oil prices. It has been putting huge pressure on the government's budget," energy ministry spokesman Afrazur Rahman explained.

"Even with the hike, the government will have to spend 100 billion taka (1.45 billion dollars) as subsidies on fuel" over the next financial year, he said.

The official added that even with the sharp rises, fuel prices in Bangladesh were among the lowest in the region and that state-owned Bangladesh Petroleum will still be selling fuel at a 40 percent loss.

The government last increased fuel prices in April 2007. World crude oil prices have since more than doubled, costing the impoverished country more than one billion dollars in subsidies in the fiscal year that ends on Monday.

Economist Apiur Rahman, the head of Development Coordination -- a Bangladeshi think-thank -- said the global surge and the resulting domestic hike could be catastrophic for millions in the country.

"It's very bad news for the country's farmers, for rural poor, and even middle income people," he said.

"It will drive millions of people into poverty. Inflation will jump immediately. But the government had no choice, its hands were tied. It had to raise prices."

He called on the government to "increase subsidies in other areas" -- such as for staple foods and healthcare -- to lessen the blow to the poor.

Economic development in Bangladesh has taken several blows over the past 18 months, beginning with political instability and the imposition of a state of emergency in January 2007.

It was then hit by highly destructive floods and a massive cyclone the same year.

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Land prolongs poverty's tenure

from the Guardian

Why are so many acres of arable land lying unused in Katine? Richard M Kavuma investigates the controversial issue of land ownership

By Richard M Kavuma

After more than half an hour in animated conversation with John Erupu, a farmer and local councillor in Katine, we agreed that we were friends and he even invited me to visit his village and meet his family.

"By the way, John, since you have 10 acres of land, would you consider selling me one acre?" I suggested. The tone of his voice changed abruptly.

"No," he replied emphatically, "I cannot sell to you because my culture does not accept that. We have to meet as a clan and they listen to the problem I have that is forcing me to sell the land. If they are convinced, they may allow me."

This reminded me of Phoebe Ageo, 35, a leader of one of the farmer groups supported by Amref's Katine Community Partnerships Project. I had met Ageo two months earlier at her home in Adamasiko village. Prosperous by Katine standards, she said one of her constraints was land; she wanted to expand her gardens of cassava and groundnut beyond three acres but could not easily find land. But as I left her homes, I couldn't help but notice large chunks of apparently arable land lying idle nearby.

Erupu and Ageo typify the paradox of land in Katine: so much of it is lying fallow under the watchful eye of its owners – yet there is not enough land for those itching to farm. Some people try to rent land but Erupu says he would not do this as the person renting might misuse it or suddenly try and claim full ownership.

"It is something that is hard for us to understand," says Venansio Tumuhaise, Amref's project officer for livelihoods. "There is a lot of land but those who want to farm cannot touch it. It gets even worse when you find that the same people cannot afford implements like ox-ploughs to till the land."

What harm would it do Erupu, I ask, to sell me one of his five acres of land currently lying unfarmed? "If owners are allowed to sell their land, the next generation will not have anything to inherit. No land should be wasted in this way. It is good to sell only a bit so that any children that are born will get some land," he says.

Under legally recognised land tenure systems, land in the Teso region is held under a strict regime of customary ownership. In some other areas, those who inherit land can give it to other relatives or even sell it off, but not so easily in Teso. Here clans have to approve and, as Erupu said, the committee of his Igwetoma clan could dismiss an application unless it were persuaded by his reasons for wanting to sell.

Ostensibly such a rigid system discourages reckless young men who would otherwise inherit land, refuse to work and survive by selling off parcels of their inheritance to the detriment of their future offspring and other family members.

But while this system ensures that John Erupu has enough land for his children and grandchildren, it will not help Amref's desire to see bumper harvests and better incomes across Katine. Tumuhaise believes it would make business sense for someone who has a lot of idle land, to buy ox-ploughs and oxen and open up larger farms with higher productivity. But under the present land tenure system here, that is far from simple.

Which takes us 350 kilometres to the Ugandan capital, Kampala, where parliament has spent ten years trying to reform the land tenure system in Uganda – with laughable results. According to one researcher, the key principle driving Uganda's land reforms is to make it easy for those who own land to transfer ownership, mortgage it or even sell off the land. That way, landowners could use it to get bank loans for development of the land, and progressive farmers such as Ageo, who need more land, could easily access it.

This is critical to the development of Uganda. With some 80 per cent of the population still living in rural areas, the government has prescribed a steady commercialisation of agriculture as the surefire way out of poverty, but doesn't seem to know how to make the medicine work. One bottleneck is the land-holding system in the rural areas.

A great percentage of land in Uganda – as much as 70 per cent – is owned customarily rather than through the modern legal system, and lawmakers here seem incapable of legislating to make that land marketable.

The latest attempt is the Land (Amendment) Bill 2007, now in parliament, which is seeking to end what government calls "mass evictions" of people by registered owners – but this bill has caused ripples across the country. Critics, including some of Uganda's top lawyers, argue that the thrust of the bill is to make it very difficult for a registered owner of land to evict squatters from it. Although the bill currently targets areas of central and mid-western Uganda, there is fear that its provisions will later have grave consequences for areas in northern and eastern Uganda.

Not surprisingly cultural leaders in Teso have moved swiftly to condemn the bill. "Our position is that this bill is very bad for Teso," said Source Opak, information minister for the Teso cultural institution. "This legislation will simply facilitate grabbing of customary land."

For now though, the Uganda government, eager to push through the law, has mooted amendments to the effect that the more controversial aspects of the bill would not affect areas such as Teso or northern Uganda.

Unfortunately, according to one of Uganda's leading development economists, this spells doom for the agriculture sector in areas such as Katine. Dr Augustus Nuwagaba believes that land in Katine is not regarded as an economic commodity, but a cultural one, hence the difficulties in developing it.
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Small change adds up for philanthropist

from the Chicago Tribune

Fulbright Scholar turned beer vendor takes personal approach to foreign aid

By Ted Gregory

His fellow beer vendors sometimes tease Adam Carter for wearing knee and back braces and an ergonomically designed strap to schlep the Old Style and Budweiser he hawks at Wrigley and U.S. Cellular Fields.

They call him the most accessorized beer vendor, and they notice he is less likely to join them for late-night carousing than he used to be.

But those who know Carter well know his mettle. A Fulbright Scholar with degrees in cultural anthropology and international development, Carter, 33, works as a vendor half the year.

The other half he is an international microphilanthropist trying to save forgotten, impoverished nooks of the world one modest donation at a time.

Carter of Chicago is part of an under-the-radar, altruistic movement that gives small, strategic, direct help to needy people in other countries. It can be $80 to buy kitchen supplies for a Cambodian orphanage, or $2,500 to buy food for a children's center in a Brazilian shantytown. Carter has done both, and more.

Also known as travel philanthropy, his is a simple, personal approach to foreign aid. Donors give Carter and his kindred spirits small donations.

He hands them to a grass-roots group or individual he has identified through his 12 years of extensive travel. Often, he gives his own beer-selling money.

"I could participate in programs that would touch more people," Carter said while strapping on his vendor's gear at a bar a block from Wrigley Field. "I would rather have a more hands-on approach. I would rather have a more direct link to the people I'm helping."

Born in Hinsdale, Carter lived in Wheaton until he was a toddler. After his parents divorced, he lived with his mother in Lincoln Park.

Carter says he was fascinated with National Geographic magazine, an interest both parents encouraged. They also fostered ideals of tolerance and helping others who are less fortunate. His mother was a hospital volunteer.

His father has cooked meals for the homeless for years and, as a younger man, marched in civil rights demonstrations.

About the time he started working at Wrigley Field, Carter chose to study cultural anthropology at the University of Michigan.

"This was a window into the rest of the world," he said.

During college, he studied in Italy, traveled in Europe and took an excursion to Morocco, where he was struck by its exotic culture and its heartbreaking poverty.

"That experience definitely was an eye-opener," he said. "After that, I was like, 'I want to go to Asia. I want to go to Africa. I want to go to South America.' "

As graduation approached, Carter and a childhood friend weren't ready to "lock it in" on a career track, he said. Instead, they embarked on a journey through Asia and the Middle East.

Over the next three years, he spent his springs and summers moving up the vendor chain in Chicago and used those earnings to travel in Africa, India, Mexico and Central America the rest of the year.

Fascinated by these regions' cultural richness but troubled by the poverty, he enrolled in George Washington University's international development program. As a Fulbright Scholar in 2001-02, he studied the effects of Moroccan Immigration in Spain.

About that time, he heard of Backpack Nation, the dream of San Francisco cabdriver and writer Brad Newsham, himself a seasoned traveler.

Saddened and disillusioned by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Newsham wanted "to overwrite that chapter with a better one," he said. His idea was to transform the estimated 2.5 million Western backpackers "into an army of roving ambassadors, emissaries of peace," providing each of them with money to deliver to an individual, family, organization or village.

Newsham launched Backpack Nation in 2002, and the media fanfare helped generate $20,000 in donations.

Carter applied for and received $2,000, which he gave to a children's center that he'd visited in a shantytown on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro.

The director "started crying and he called me an angel," Carter said. "You talk about an epiphany."

With organizational help from Newsham, Carter continued his philanthropy, as did an acquaintance, Marc Gold, a community college teacher from San Francisco. Gold had started doing microphilanthropy on his own in 1989 and received $2,000 from Backpack Nation.

At one point, Newsham's effort included about 15 ambassadors who distributed small-scale aid to nearly 20 countries, from Russia to Brazil, but, exhausted by the effort, he discontinued Backpack Nation in 2005.

Gold already had formed a philanthropy travel organization called 100 Friends (, for which he raised more than $250,000 from 2002 until last year.

Operating at first under the auspices of another group, it became an independent charity in January; Carter is associate director. His blog is

Travel philanthropy's impact is debatable. Practitioners concede it is tiny compared with the efforts of large aid organizations. And charity watchdog groups caution that they know next to nothing about the concept.

"It's nice, but what they can do is limited," said Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy in Chicago. "They can point to individual stories, but if you can do it on a bigger scale, you can substantially impact the well-being of a community. I'm not against the idea, I just don't consider it the most effective way of helping."

Gold and Carter contend that larger organizations often are slowed by bureaucracy or err in huge ways—like sending dozens of beds to an orphanage when the cultural norm is for the children to sleep together on the floor.

Small, strategic aid—as when Gold spent $1 for medicine to clear up a severe ear infection for a Tibetan woman and $30 on a hearing aid—can yield a powerful, personal connection, the two men said. It also dramatically changes others' perception of Americans as selfish, they added.

Gold provides a list on the 100 Friends Web site of 166 projects funded with donations, and he has posted several slide shows and video presentations about his work. Carter, who said he has given away about $20,000—mostly in Brazil—since 2005, said he has never received a complaint from a donor.

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G8 leaders to set up task force on food crisis: report

from Maktoob Business

Leaders from the Group of Eight industrial powers will agree to establish a task force at their summit next month to tackle the world food crisis, a report said on Monday.

The group will aim to address the immediate problem of food shortages in poorer countries as well as address longer-term challenges such as boosting food production, the Yomiuri Shimbun said, citing unnamed government sources.

The working group is also expected to discuss removal of export restrictions and directing global food stockpiles to those most in need, the daily said.

The report came after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he would press G8 leaders at their July summit in Japan to tackle the world food crisis, as well as climate change and the flagging fight against global poverty.

The G8 is made up of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States.

G8 leaders are expected to issue a statement on the food crisis at the summit in the northern Japanese resort town of Toyako, senior Japanese official Masaharu Kohno has said.

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High inflation in Asia may hinder the region’s anti-poverty gains

from Media Global

By Shipra Prakash

High inflation in Asia may impede the progress the region has made over the last 20 years and limit gains against poverty, according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

Two thirds of the world’s poor live in Asia. With soaring inflation, it is they who are paying the highest price.

In China, wages cannot keep up with the pace of inflation, and as a consequence living standards have fallen.

The China Labor Bulletin (CLB), an organization that works to solve labor disputes, strikes, and protests, reports that due to increased inflation, Shenzen authorities in July will raise the minimum monthly wage. In Central Shenzhen, the minimum wage will increase by 17.6 percent, from 850 Yuan to 1,000 Yuan, about $145. The minimum wage in suburban areas of the Special Economic Zone will increase by 20 percent, from 750 Yuan to 900 Yuan, about $131. But the CLB stated that “next month’s increase will be barely enough to cover inflation.”

It is not difficult to understand why. With the World Bank forecasting an average consumer price inflation rate of seven percent this year in China, the rise in food and energy prices comes as no surprise.

But inflation is by no means exclusively limited to China. Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia face inflation rates between 7.5 percent and 11 percent. In Vietnam, inflation stands at a staggering 25 percent.

According to the International Monetary Fund, two thirds of the consumer price index in Asia was comprised of foodstuffs in 2007. The figures for 2008 are sure to be of even greater concern.

Inflation in India has reached more than 11 percent. Only a year ago, the figure was 4.28 percent.

This month the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that in the state of Madhya Pradesh in India, government supplementary programs aimed at feeding the poor are under threat because of inflation and food prices.

Madhya Pradesh has the highest levels of child malnutrition in India, and now a bad situation has become worse.

“Due to eroding purchasing power, households will buy less food and spend less on health and education, all resulting in hunger and malnutrition among those who are already vulnerable,” Dr. Suresh Chandra Babu, Senior Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), said in an interview with MediaGlobal.

“Not only will the number of poor increase, the depth of poverty will increase among those who are already poor. Thus the progress made in the past in poverty reduction could be undone,” he added.

Yet India has attempted to secure domestic rice stocks and control food prices. In March of this year, the country raised its minimum price for the export of rice.

India is the second largest rice producer in the world, and countries reliant on imported rice will now have more trouble meeting their needs.

The cyclone that hit Bangladesh last year destroyed nearly all of its rice harvest, and now the country is struggling to overcome rice shortages.

Russia and Argentina, like India, have turned to protectionism to safeguard food supplies for their nationals. Both countries have banned the export of locally produced cereals.

Such protectionism only pushes food prices higher. Still, the blame for the food crisis cannot be solely laid at protectionism’s door.

Rising energy costs have also pushed the price of food up, and an international yelling match has begun between oil producers and consumers over why energy prices are so high.

Saudi Arabia contends that speculation on oil futures, and not insufficient supply, is the reason for high oil prices, while consumers respond that it is the other way around.

Still, Saudi Arabia has announced that it will raise oil quotas to 9.7 million barrels by the end of July, an increase of about 500,000 barrels since May.

But Victor Shum, a Singapore-based energy analyst for Purvin and Gertz, an energy consulting firm, said he believes that increasing oil quotas will have little immediate effect.

“We generally expect it to have a minimal impact on oil pricing in the short term, but long term investment in capacity will help relieve the supply and demand pressure and help lower pricing,” he told MediaGlobal.

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Geldof and Clinton team up for African education project

from the Daily India

London, June 30: Sir Bob Geldof has joined forces with former U.S. president Bill Clinton to launch a 4.7 million pounds campaign for the education of children in Africa.

The pair hopes that the project will provide more access to schools for 1.2 million children in Malawi and Rwanda.

The funds are expected to pay for the building of four new training centres and 4,000 teachers to help give African kids a better start in life.

"We are trying to make a hole in the huge need Rwanda and Malawi have for primary teachers," The Sun quoted Clinton, as saying.

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AU conflict panel warns poverty fuelling separatism wave

from Afriquenligne

Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt - Africa is at risk of more border and poverty-ignited conflicts which will require the African Union (AU) to take urgent steps to save the continent from an escalation, an expert body of the organization has warned.

The Peace and Security Council (PSC) has warned in its report to be presented on Sunday at the AU Summit in Sharm El Sheikh that poverty and deprivation, blamed for the latest conflicts in the archipelago of Comoros and Kenya, are standing in the way for a conflict-free continent.

"Significant progress has been made since the last Assembly as shown by the developments in Burundi, the peace process in Côte d'Ivoire and the re-establishment of authority in the Comorian state of Anjouan," the PSC said in its report.

However, the continental peace and security watchdog, seeking mergers with more powerful institutions across the world, also warned that peace efforts in certain parts of the continent remained deadlocked.

The report, which is due for close scrutiny at a high level segment of the African Union Heads of State Assembly, also warns that even though progress in resolving conflicts was achieved this year, potential for new and open conflicts still remain.

"New tensions have emerged, which if care is not taken, could degenerate into open conflict," the report compiled by the continent's 15-country member peace and security body said.

The report offers a fresh twist to discussions over the formation of a grand government for Africa, which is also slated as a point of discussion during the Summit, which convenes in Sharm El Sheikh 30 June-1 July, to prioritise anti-poverty initiatives.

According to Nobel Peace laureate Wangari Maathai, efforts to establish the grand government of Africa, though absolutely necessary, cannot be realized until the rest of the continent is psyched to reason as Africans, not as members of ethnic groups.

"We have not come out of our own tribalism fears. The leaders are dividing their countries and telling those who are not their tribesmen that their lives are in danger unless they support a tribal position, we need to reason as Africans first," she told PANA.

[comment] Rwanda resurrects prosperity amid imperfect politics

from the Delaware Online


In the dozens of poor countries I've covered as a foreign correspondent, development specialists -- people who run projects aimed at pulling nations out of poverty -- have generally worked hand in hand with human-rights advocates. That makes sense because these two groups are natural allies. Both instinctively support governments that promote freedom and prosperity, and oppose corrupt and repressive ones.

Recently, though, I've been spending time in a country where these two groups are on opposite sides: Rwanda.

No other country's government is so highly praised by development specialists but so roundly condemned by human-rights advocates. In fact, Rwanda's spectacular rebirth since the shocking genocide of 1994 has reignited an old debate about the very nature of human rights, and whether the West's obsession with this concept can undermine innovative solutions to problems that hold entire nations in misery.

Over the last few years, Rwanda has emerged as the most exciting place on Earth for people who dream of ending global poverty. Development specialists are drawn by the dazzlingly original, entrepreneur-driven program that President Paul Kagame is promoting.

One aid administrator told me Rwanda is "the only country on the planet that has a chance of going from absolute poverty to middle income in the space of a generation."

A Harvard Business School report in 2007 found that economic conditions are steadily improving and that the country is "corruption free," "stable with social progress" and possibly on its way to becoming the "Switzerland of Africa."

Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa calls Rwanda "a miracle unfolding before our very eyes."

All over Africa and beyond, experts are beginning to hope that this country, so devastated by genocide 14 years ago in which more than 800,000 people were killed in 100 days, will give the world a new model for fighting poverty.

During one of my interviews with Kagame, I asked him why, despite decades of study and the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars in aid, no one has come up with a formula for ending poverty in Africa. He rejected my question.

"Everyone knows how to develop Africa," he said. "The problem is that no one does it."

Kagame's formula, modeled after those that brought rapid development to East Asian countries, is simple and straightforward. First and above all, he believes in security. Under his rule, Rwanda has become the safest country in Africa, where even in the capital people walk alone after dark carrying cash, cell phones and other valuables.

Then comes honest governance. No African government has ever waged the kind of campaign against bribery and influence-peddling that Kagame is leading in Rwanda.

Add education, population control, first-class infrastructure, gender equality, good health care and a strong sense of private initiative, Kagame believes, and prosperity results.

But although diplomats, economists and development experts are full of praise for Kagame and his government -- and many Rwandans share their enthusiasm -- American and European human-rights advocates are less impressed. They point out that Kagame won his last election with 95 percent of the vote and that there is no prospect of anyone defeating him in 2010, when he is expected to be re-elected to a second (and, by law, final) seven-year term.

The European Union judged the last election "not entirely fair," and the U.S. State Department called it "seriously marred."

Human-rights advocates also reject Kagame's view that Rwandans must view themselves only as Rwandans and stop using the words "Hutu" and "Tutsi." He allows people to complain, for example, that the country is ruled by a small clique, but not that it is ruled by a clique of Tutsi. A reporter may assert that Rwandans are miserable, but not that Hutu are miserable. Last year, a journalist was sentenced to a year in prison for writing that "those who killed Hutu are free" because national leaders "think the Hutu who perished are not human beings."

How does Kagame explain such prosecutions, which seem to contradict Western notions of free speech and an unfettered press? He says they are necessary because Rwanda faces another psycho-spiritual challenge that may be more daunting than making a poor country rich. Its population remains deeply divided as a result of factors that led to the 1994 genocide. Kagame considers the limitation on speech essential to prevent another mass murder. His critics call it an unjust, self-serving and dangerous restriction on free speech.

War crimes

Another great debate between Kagame and his critics is over who should be punished for horrific crimes of the 1990s. All agree that those who carried out the genocide must be held accountable. But what about soldiers who fought under Kagame's command, first in the insurgent Rwandan Patriotic Front and then, after victory, in Rwanda's national army? The front may well have committed war crimes during its fight for power. Later in the 1990s, Rwandan troops suppressed a counterinsurgency waged by fighters loyal to the deposed genocidal regime. Many innocent people were killed.

The government's position is that these two sets of crimes -- the genocide and the brutal wars waged afterward -- were totally different and deserve different responses. That is why, as "genocidaires" are being judged and punished, there is no parallel set of trials for those who fought alongside Kagame.

He dismisses calls for such trials as politically motivated efforts to place his liberation army on the same moral plane as mass murderers and so weaken his government's moral authority.

Some human-rights advocates assert that because those being punished for genocidal crimes are Hutu, and most of Kagame's commanders were Tutsi, treating them so differently could stoke resentment and even fuel a future conflict.

There are genuine human-rights concerns in Rwanda. A detailed report by a monitoring group sponsored by the African Union, for example, praised the country for its "dramatic recovery" but found that judicial independence is "compromised" and urged "an opening up of political space for competition of ideas and power." Kagame dismissed it as "simplistic."

When Human Rights Watch listed 20 Rwandans who allegedly died in police custody, he told reporters that anyone making such charges had "probably consumed drugs."

These dismissive responses reflect, among other things, the smoldering contempt that Kagame and his comrades feel for the "international community." Their experience growing up as exiles without anyone lifting a finger to help them return home, and then watching the world (and particularly the United Nations) refuse to step in to stop the 1994 genocide, has given them a deep belief in self-reliance and scorn for outside critics. It's easy for human-rights activists to carp, they say, but those activists do not realize that Rwanda remains an explosive place where a single misstep could set off a tragedy of biblical proportions.

"Ours is not an ordinary situation," Kagame told me. "It has built into me some sort of contempt for people who don't see the situation as it actually is, who don't see the depth and breadth of what we are facing. ... For me, human rights is about everything. Even languishing in poverty as a result of colonization and other situations of the past violated human rights. If you solve that, you resolve the human-rights issue."

A Class Divided-Part I: Poverty and Violence in New Orleans Public Schools

from Red Orbit

By Maloney, Stephen



When Recovery School District Superintendent Paul Vallas was preparing to take over state-run New Orleans public schools in June 2007, the career educator sought the advice of experienced local leaders on how to approach his new job.

Having run the Chicago and Philadelphia school districts, which have many students living in poverty, Vallas expressed confidence in his ability to handle his new job with former New Orleans Mayor Maurice "Moon" Landrieu.

"I went over to his (Landrieu's) house one night and someone asked me to compare school districts and I talked about the poverty rates being comparable," Vallas said. "Moon turned to me and said, 'There's poverty and then there's Southern poverty -- deep poverty.'"

With more than three quarters of Louisiana's public school students classified as low income, the specter of poverty is casting a dark shadow across the state's educational landscape. Educational leaders say poor economic conditions severely limit student performance, creating a domino effect that can drag down a state or region's economy.

"On every major demographic and educational indicator, low- income students start behind, stay behind and fall behind," said Steve Suitts, Southern Education Foundation vice president. "As a nation, we still haven't really come to grips with this problem and what it means for education."

In the South, the number of low-income students has ballooned in the past four decades: 54 percent of the region's 50.1 million public school students are now classified as low income, according to a new SEF report, "A New Majority, Low Income Students in the South's Public Schools."

According to federal regulations, a family of two with an annual income of less than $14,000 lives below the poverty line and qualities for the free or reduced lunch program.

Low-income students are two to three times as likely to drop out of high school as more affluent students, Suitts said, wreaking havoc on the economy as unskilled dropouts hit the job market.

"There's nothing that will be more decisive in forecasting the economic health of Louisiana and the other Southern states than how well the states meet the challenge of educating this new majority," he said.

Vallas said more than 85 percent of the RSD's student population qualifies for the federal free or reduced lunch program, a major indicator of a student's economic status.

"The higher the concentrations of poverty the greater the challenges," Vallas said. "In part, it certainly puts an added burden on the school systems that do not necessarily have the means to meet that burden."

Addressing the issue of student poverty has been one of the RSD's most important tasks, Vallas said.

The key to winning the battle against poverty in the classroom is early intervention, he said.

"There's no more effective way to attack the challenges of poverty than universal early childhood education," Vallas said.

Providing low-income students with the same level of education as more affluent students has to happen early and that extra effort must be maintained throughout a student's career for the negative effects of poverty to be cancelled out, Suitts said.

One of the underlying problems preventing adequate help from getting to impoverished students is the difficulty teachers can have determining the exact needs of each student, S.J. Green Charter School principal Tony Recasner said.

Ninety-eight percent of Green Charter's 325 students qualify for free lunch, but no two students have the same set of economic challenges to overcome, Recasner said.

"A lot of what happens is a function of the parent, typically a mother," he said. "The child's behavior and achievement in school is largely related to mom's aspirations and mom's circumstances."

A single mother working more than one job to make ends meet will more often than not have difficulty getting her child to school on time every day, resulting in a gap in the student's education, Recasner said.

In addition, the same overworked mother will seldom have time to help her child with homework or with a difficult assignment, further limiting classroom achievement.

"The way we best understand a student's achievement and behavior in school is really by getting as good an understanding as we can of their mother's circumstances," Recasner said. "Socioeconomic status is probably the biggest factor in determining the school success of children."

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NGOs Tell of Japan Aid Inadequacy

from All Africa

The Nation (Nairobi)

By Godffrey Olali

Civil society groups have observed critical gaps in some key deliberations made at the recently concluded Fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD).

The meeting which took place in Yokohama, Japan, between May 28 and 30, has met stiff criticism from key players, who are afraid that Tokyo might not be at a vantage position to present Africa's problems during next month's G8 summit in Japan.

"Japanese and African civil society have noted with disappointment the omission of civil society as participants in the proposal for the follow -up mechanism," observes Ms Sue Mbaya, an Advocacy director with World Vision, African region.

She cited the trade agenda as a key issue which was not properly tackled during the summit which she attended.

"We did not hear any substantial deliberation or progress on the trade agenda save for few African leaders who insisted on the importance of revisiting the global trade platform," she said.

She urged the organisers to make the necessary amendments and confirm civil society's participation in the follow-up mechanism, adding that lack of address to trade was a major oversight.

Ms Mbaya added that re-distribution of resources was another key aspect which was not given prominence at the summit which was attended African heads of state, including Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki.

"We cannot talk about economic growth without addressing the distribution variable while taking into account the fact that there is already insufficient commitment to make sure the poor are benefiting from growth," she said.

Ms Mbaya observed that until Africa tackles this phenomenon, it will experience increased poverty and unequal levels of development in terms of economic growth.

She added that inequality is on the increase in the continent with countries like Botswana, Namibia and South Africa topping the list of the five most unequal economies in the world, with their economies doing well but the poor not benefiting.

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Store in Grayslake an ethical endeavor

from the Lake County News Sun

Ten Thousand Villages recognized by Forbes magazine


GRAYSLAKE -- One of the most ethical companies in the world is doing business here.

Ten Thousand Villages, which sells handmade gifts, jewelry and home decor crafted by Third World artisans, was recognized earlier this month for its fair trade and sustainable economic and environmental practices by Forbes magazine and the Ethisphere Institute.

The shop at 960 Harris Road, Grayslake, is one of 150 nonprofit Ten Thousand Villages retail stores across the United States. Founded 62 years ago by the Mennonites, the company establishes long-term buying relationships in places where skilled artisans lack economic opportunity. It practices fair-trade compensation practices including cash advances and prompt payments.

"We get to know our artisans on a deeper level -- culturally, socially and emotionally," said Kim Vander Yacht, the Grayslake shop's assistant manager. "We work with them to come to agreement on a fair wage for the products they produce. They tend to undervalue their items. They have no idea what they're worth in the U.S. or Canada."

The company gives its craftspeople 50 percent of payment up front to help finance production. It also pays for shipping. Villages shops keep overhead low with the help of a volunteer work force. The Grayslake shop runs on the efforts of people like Myke Cardosi of Grayslake, a retired credit union vice president.

"I wanted to give back to the world I had taken from for so many years," Cardosi said. "A gift item from Ten Thousand Villages is a gift that gives twice. It's a gift that also helps someone in the world feed their kids, clothe them, educate them, put a roof over their head. We're helping people we've never met but who we know are living in very destitute conditions."

Popular and affordable sale items include those made of recycled newspapers from the Philippines and Vietnam. Artisans wrap sheets of newspaper around single broomstick straws then coil them to make trivets, picture frames, placemats and bowls.

The shop also sells necklaces made out of a seed from a rare tree in Kenya. The seeds, which may only be harvested every other year, are dried then strung on cord made of recycled automobile tires. "Fish" rocks from Vietnam, which bear the imprint of the artisan's thumb, and that are popular choices for paper weights and aquarium decor, are also hot sellers.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

SA must expect Zimbabwean flood

from The Daily News, South Africa

Some 200 000 Zimbabwean refugees are likely to cross into South Africa in the next month or two if it becomes clear that Robert Mugabe will remain in power.

This is according to Braam Hanekom, of Passop (People Against Suffering, Suppression, Oppression and Poverty), which released a statement on the ramifications of Morgan Tsvangirai's withdrawal from the election.

"We fear that Zimbabweans will flood into South Africa, as never before, resulting in further frustrations among poor South Africans.

"The numbers we can expect, if the Zimbabwean people have no chance of changing their president, will result in massive bloodshed. It is the worst possible time for a drastic increase in migration into South Africa, it will be war," the statement noted.

"Anybody with the capability to walk, swim, beg, or borrow to come to South Africa will," Hanekom also said.

The Cape Times visited the area under the foreshore overpass on Monday where undocumented immigrants have been queuing for the past two weeks to be taken to the Department of Home Affairs.

Zimbabweans there said that they wanted to go home, but couldn't while Mugabe's Zanu-PF was in power.

Calos Mambosasa had spent almost six months waiting for papers from Home Affairs, and still had not received them.

He said that "all his friends" in Zimbabwe wanted to come to South Africa to escape the economic and political troubles, but he wanted to go back.

"If this ruling party's out maybe we can go home. We would like to go home," he said, as other Zimbabweans who had gathered around nodded.

"We don't really believe that Mugabe will concede a defeat," said Bruce Mashinya, another immigrant from Zimbabwe.

Mashinya queued under the overpass for a month before getting papers, which he said was a short time compared with other people.

He left his family behind in Zimbabwe when he came to South Africa in May. He said that they asked him for money so that they could move to South Africa too, but he doesn't have a job yet.

"We are hopeless. (Tsvangirai) has let us down, the only hope is on him," he said.

Then with a smile, he said "But we still love (Zimbabwe) more than South Africa."

Homeless South Africans and victims of xenophobic attacks also stay underneath the overpass, creating a volatile situation, according to a report released last week by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC).

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Bill Gates Parts Ways With Microsoft To Focus On Charity

from Red Orbit

One of the world's most successful software experts is trading computers for philanthropy. Bill Gates announced he is stepping down on Friday from his daily duties at Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), to focus on his $38 billion charitable foundation.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation -- built by his vast fortune-has been around for ten years. Gates is the world's third richest man, and he says with great wealth brings great responsibility.

The 52-year-old will trade a lifetime of developing software for a new role in finding new vaccines or to micro-finance projects in the developing world.

The CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Patty Stonesifer said, Gates won't focus on managing the organization; instead he will hire hundreds of new employees.

"He's clear that he loves the idea that he doesn't have to be the operating leadership," Stonesifer said.

Instead "he wants to do strategy and advocacy," Stonesifer said, which means he will focus on better understanding the problems the foundation is trying to solve. Which could include meeting with the leadership of government, business and non-profit groups in the near future to convince them to spend more money on world health, hunger and poverty.

His wife, Melinda Gates, also plans to spend more time at the foundation; she is currently involved in planning the new building.

As Microsoft's largest shareholder, Gates will remain chairman and work on special technology projects. His 8.7 percent stake in Microsoft is worth about $23 billion.

Gates has been Microsoft's genius programmer, its technology guru, its primary decision maker and its ruthless and competitive leader since the company got its start in 1975. Co-workers say he would famously disappear into the solitude of a country cabin to digest employee-written papers and ponder the future of the industry. Later he would emerge with manifestos, like the 1995 "Internet Tidal Wave" memo, which shifted the focus of the entire company.

Analysts and academics credit Gates for the emergence of software as a moneymaking industry. In the past, it had only been a pastime for hobbyists or a subset of the hardware sector. Gates has built Microsoft into a hugely successful monopoly. The software company has only grown stronger despite major blows in antitrust trials in both the U.S. and Europe.

Gates noticed early on in the PC revolution that software could one day have more potential than hardware. At age 13, he programmed his first computer.

"When I was 19, I caught sight of the future and based my career on what I saw. I turned out to have been right," Gates wrote in his 1995 book "The Road Ahead."

His early friendship with Paul Allen blossomed into the founding of Microsoft. They named the company for its mission of providing microcomputer software.

Gates realized the importance of successful business and charity at an early age. He was born October 28, 1955, the second of three children in a wealthy Seattle family. His father, William Henry Gates Jr., was a partner at one of the city's most powerful law firms, while his late mother, Mary, was an active charity fund-raiser and University of Washington regent.

Teachers at the exclusive Lakeside Preparatory School first introduced him to computers. The teen prodigy soon began programming in BASIC computer language on a primitive ASR-33 Teletype unit.

Gates met Allen at Lakeside. The pair were two years apart in age, but shared a fascination with computers.

"Of course, in those days we were just goofing around, or so we thought," Gates recalled in "The Road Ahead."

During his two years at Harvard, Gates became friends with a Detroit native who shared his love of math and cynical humor. He eventually convinced his classmate, current CEO Steve Ballmer, into leaving business school to join Microsoft.

Gates dropped out of Harvard and relocated with Allen to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where they established Microsoft.

In an interview with The Associated Press after he announced his transition, Bill Gates - who dropped out of college to launch Microsoft - talked about his move to spending more time at his Foundation as an opportunity to go back to school.

"There's a lot I don't know and I'm looking forward to learning all about it," he said.

His education will be guided by leaders of each foundation program, who will have more time now to relay to him what the organization has been learning through its research from the American classroom to the African farm.

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[Book Review] Free-market reform in developing nations; Can a deregulated economy really save the Third World?

from The Futurist Magazine

Discovering the root causes of poverty in the Third World and attempting to combat them has become a billion-dollar industry in itself. Yet, according to a recent publication by The Independent Institute, international aid efforts may only serve to hinder rather than encourage economic development.

Lessons from the Poor: Triumph of the Entrepreneurs Spirit chronicles the successes of Third World entrepreneurs who lifted themselves up from poverty and overcame obstacles (particularly the labyrinth of government regulations) to become successful business owners. In his foreword, Florida State University economics professor James D. Gwartney declares that, in order for developing nations to become developed nations, people's "natural tendency to act entrepreneurially--to discover opportunities and better ways of doing things"--must be freely encouraged, without interference from the government.

"When regulations limit trade and require people to get permission from the government in order to start a business and try out an innovative idea, they restrict economic progress," Gwartney writes. "They also restrict basic human rights." The book uses case histories to illustrate the claim that the best possible solution is free-market reform, where the objective is a deregulated entrepreneurial environment in which small businesses are allowed to succeed or fail on their own terms. If the most vital method of reducing poverty in Third World countries is the encouragement of entrepreneurial innovation, then perhaps the best way to encourage it is to remove the governmental obstacles that hinder it. This is laissez-faire economic theory at its best. We can save the world simply by allowing it to save itself. Government red tape, trade regulation, and high taxes distract entrepreneurs from pursuing the traditional business goal of better products at lower prices, and also lead to corruption and economic stagnation. The result is that most citizens remain impoverished.

Editor Alvaro Vargas Llosa, director of the Center on Global Prosperity and a senior fellow at The Independent Institute, points out that, statistically, there is more regulation in poorer countries than in wealthier nations. He suggests establishing looser institutional frameworks in those Third World countries that are "friendly to the process of creating wealth" in order to "harness entrepreneurial activity for the social good." He explains, "Entrepreneurial energy is present in many types of societies, but only in countries with limited government, adherence to the rule of law, and respect for individual rights does this energy foster economic growth."

Vargas Llosa sees entrepreneurship as "a transforming force in the developing world," arguing that other methods, such as foreign aid, simply don't work. He tends to dismiss such concepts as corporate social responsibility, writing, "Many people fail to understand that an entrepreneur who discovers opportunity and transforms resources into wealth provides the most 'social' service possible to the rest of the community, even when that is not the original intention." In other words, successful local entrepreneurs raise the standard of living within the community and provide opportunity to those who live there--and even if those side effects are incidental to the entrepreneurs' goals, they will occur nevertheless. Thus, small local businesses can accomplish what 50 years of foreign aid programs haven't been able to.

Yet, Vargas Llosa's dismissal of foreign aid programs may be overly generalized. For example, there is no real discussion of the burgeoning field of microfinance and of organizations such as the Grameen Bank, Kiva, and the Foundation for International Community Assistance, which provide small loans to Third World entrepreneurs in order to help spur economic growth and alleviate poverty. A growing cadre of economists now view microfinance not as unnecessary market interference, but as a way to create a level playing field.

At any rate, contributors to Lessons from the Poor are generally sanguine about the future. Economists Joshua C. Hall and Russell S. Sobel proclaim that "prosperity is within reach of even the poorest communities of the world."

However, some critics worry that any form of market fundamentalism has the potential to lead to even greater financial inequality. For example, George Soros argues in The Crisis of Global Capitalism (Public Affairs, 1998) that the global capitalist system, characterized by free trade, is disintegrating: "Financial markets are given to excesses.... Instead of acting like a pendulum, financial markets have recently acted more like a wrecking ball, knocking over one economy after another." A free market economy may ultimately lead to societal inequalities, particularly in terms of the distribution of wealth, according to Soros. The question then becomes, would these burgeoning entrepreneurs (who are, after all, acting rationally and in accordance with their self-interest) have a problem with that potential outcome? Soros sees the need for a more sustainable process--a mixed economy--that regulates the global marketplace in ways that truly protect human rights.

Hazel Henderson, author of Ethical Markets: Growing the Green Economy (Chelsea Green, 2007), takes a similar critical view: "The fundamental way to reduce poverty is to stop creating it, which is what the current inequitable global economy and trading system perpetuates. The numbers from the World Bank, UNDP, and elsewhere report that the gap between rich and poor has kept widening for decades." China's recent economic boom provides an interesting counterexample. "They do not have a 'free' market economy, but instead believe that 'markets are good servants but bad masters,'"Henderson notes.

According to Henderson, "China's regulated markets are patterned more on the European model of the 'social market economy.'" Henderson further points out that, in the wake of the subprime mortgage crisis and the collapse of Bear Stearns, even economists on Wall Street (and U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, for that matter) "now expect continued government intervention to save deregulated markets from their mistakes.... The European economies are all more regulated than the U.S. economy, and they are doing much better than we are."

Another fear is that a large increase in entrepreneurship in the developing world would not be a sustainable long-term solution in and of itself, and that entrepreneurial growth, left unchecked, would rapidly lead to the further overconsumption of resources and thus to a range of social and environmental ills. Henderson again points to the example of China, which is finally beginning to address the drastic increase in health problems and environmental damage that has occurred since its 1978 economic reforms.

Different times, same mission

from The Columbus Dispatch

After 150 years, the Sisters of Mercy still dedicate their lives to serving the needy

By Meredith Heagney

CINCINNATI -- In 1858, they were a group of 11 young immigrant women who came to America to live in poverty so they could help others who had it even worse.

Today, the local order of the Sisters of Mercy operates a range of services that includes schools, hospitals and countless one-on-one contacts.

The past 150 years haven't changed the order's mission: to serve the poor, sick and uneducated, particularly women and children.

Sister Louise Huitink is one of the sisters carrying on the work of her predecessors. Her specialty is caring for the elderly poor, bringing them groceries, managing their finances and taking them out for their birthdays.

She and the other 261 sisters in the Regional Community of Cincinnati, which covers Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Jamaica, follow the path of those original women who emigrated from Ireland to serve southwestern Ohio.

Today, the sisters sponsor two high schools for girls and a Montessori school, offer job training for formerly homeless women and deliver food and medicine to the elderly poor.

Sisters help low-income people find psychological help and offer transitional housing to women and children in need.

"We're still helping poor women and children," said Sister Elaine Charters, a member of the order for 52 years.

"You just retranslate it for the times," said Sister Kathy Green, an administrator.

Much of the nuns' work has been handed off, by necessity, to laypeople.

In 1961, there were about 800 sisters in the Cincinnati-based regional community, said Sister Marjorie Rudemiller, president. The median age of the remaining nuns is 75. The youngest is 48.

The original members of the order who crossed the ocean were barely more than girls. Many of them never saw their families again after boarding a boat to America.

The 18- and 19-year-olds had been recruited by Sarah Peter, a wealthy Cincinnati woman who had gone abroad to find religious people to serve the city's missionary needs.

The nuns lived in a run-down house with a board set on barrels serving as a kitchen table.

"They were really pioneers, young women of great faith who didn't know where they were going, didn't know where they were going to stay," Green said.

Those early sisters opened a night school for young Irish women and a shelter to keep them from falling into prostitution. They taught them domestic skills so they could work as maids.

In the 1860s, they opened a laundry and paid destitute women to work there. Soon after, four sisters took over an elementary school for girls, laying the groundwork for the many teaching sisters who would come after them.

In 1892, sisters with no medical training opened Mercy Hospital in Hamilton, the forerunner of what is now the 30-hospital Catholic Healthcare Partners. Today's Sisters of Mercy are co-sponsors.

For the order's first century in existence, the sisters opened or staffed 46 schools, one college and eight hospitals. Sisters of Mercy nuns once taught at the now-closed Holy Family elementary and high schools in Franklinton.

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More Debt Relief in Sight for Poorest Nations

from IPS News

By Emad Mekay

WASHINGTON - Anti-debt campaigners say legislation passed by a U.S. Congressional committee this week that would expand debt cancellations to an additional 25 poor nations could prove effective in fighting poverty, stopping environmental degradation and easing the traditional strict economic conditions that accompanied loans and often led to economic chaos.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which supervises U.S. funding for international financial institutions, passed the Act for Responsible Lending and Expanded Debt Cancellation on Tuesday.

The act, known both as the Jubilee Act and the Casey Bill for Democratic Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, paves the way for the approval by the full Senate.

Some 25 low-income countries that are not eligible for debt cancellation under current debt-forgiveness initiatives, such as Mongolia and Georgia, stand to benefit from the bill.

The legislation takes the unusual step of instructing U.S. officials at international financial institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Paris Club of bilateral creditors not to seek to impose the traditional conditions that have often been blamed for economic crises in many developing nations.

Critics say that international financial institutions have typically imposed conditions that were slanted towards multinational companies and local elites. These included user fees for water, sanitation, primary education and health care, including treatment for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

Those institutions, with enormous influence on borrowing governments in the most impoverished nations, have also urged the passage of laws undermining workers' ability to organise and deterred government spending on essential healthcare or education expenditures by imposing national budget caps.

The new act takes those institutions to task on a number of other issues, including creditor transparency and responsible lending.

It warns, for example, against pushing poor nations back in the red through new loans. Instead, it says that future external financing needs should be met mainly through grants. It also warns of so-called vulture funds, which have traditionally sought to buy sovereign debt at a discount with the intent to litigate collection at a large profit.

Under the bill, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), a congressional oversight agency, will audit the debt portfolios of previous governments in certain countries, including South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where there are allegations that odious loans were made to the government. The GAO report will be made public in two years.

The act was hailed as "live-saving" and "historic" by anti-debt campaigners who have long argued that debt penalised poor people and increased hunger around the world.

"We are thrilled to see such strong bipartisan support for the Jubilee Act in the Senate Foreign Relations committee," said Neil Watkins, national coordinator of the Jubilee USA Network, a coalition of development groups that is now lobbying for passage of the act by the full Senate.

The bill does require beneficiaries to manage their economies better. Countries receiving debt relief will have to allocate at least 20 percent of their national budget towards poverty-alleviation programmes such as the provision of basic health care, education and clean water services.

The U.S. treasury secretary will certify annually as to how the savings from debt cancellation were used in poor nations.

"In other words, the debt relief cannot go towards benefits for the wealthy elites or unnecessary military expenditures in these nations," said a statement from Senator Casey's office.

Countries that are classified as terrorism sponsors or are engaged in weapons of mass destruction proliferation, or involved in human rights abuses are excluded from benefiting from the bill.

The international debt crisis has made headlines over the past several years with mounting evidence of its impacts on poor families across the globe.

After extensive campaigning by debt activists, the United States and other Group of Eight (G8) industrialised nations reached an agreement to cancel 100 percent of the debts owed by eligible poor nations to Paris Club members, the IMF, the World Bank, and the African Development Bank. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) reached an agreement in early 2007 to provide similar treatment.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

UN to press G8 on food crisis, climate change, poverty

from the AFP via Google

UNITED NATIONS, UN chief Ban Ki-moon said Thursday he would press Group of Eight (G8) leaders at their summit in Japan next month to tackle the world food crisis, climate change and the flagging fight against global poverty.

On the eve of his departure on a two-week, three-nation Asian tour, the secretary general said the July 7-9 summit in the northern Japanese resort town of Toyako must face the three inter-related crises which demand "our immediate action."

He said that before departing, he would write to each of the G8 leaders to lay out his concerns about the global food crisis, the need "to act now" on climate change if a deal to cut greenhouse gases is to be reached by the end of next year, and the emergency of development.

"If ever there were a time to act, together as one, it is now," he told a press conference.

Ban said he would appeal to world leaders in Toyako "to deliver on the measures agreed to in Rome earlier this month to end the current food crisis and prevent a recurrence".

These measures include a commitment by nations to remove export restrictions and levies on food commodities and cut agricultural subsidies, particularly in developed countries.

Ban said he would also propose tripling the proportion of Official Development Assistance (ODA) from wealthy nations to developing countries for farm production and rural development.

"To overcome this crisis, we need nothing less than a second, green revolution," he said.

And noting that the international community was falling behind in its goal of achieving the poverty-reduction Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015, he said: "If we are to deliver on this promised future, we must take steps today."

On climate change, the UN chief urged stepped-up bargaining to reach a new, historic deal in Copenhagen next year.

The treaty due to be hammered out in the Danish capital in December 2009 is meant to provide an action plan after the Kyoto Protocol's obligations to cut greenhouse gas emissions expire at the end of 2012.

The United States, which snubbed Kyoto, and developing nations, which have no obligations under it, agreed at a conference in December in Bali, Indonesia, to negotiate to craft the next treaty.

Ban said he would press the G8 leaders to agree "short- and medium-term targets" for reducing greenhouse gases.

He added that a fully funded and operational adaptation fund to help the world's most vulnerable nations cope with global warming must be in place by the end of this year.

The UN chief also warned that the combined impact of climate change and of the global food crisis were slowing and in some cases reversing progress made towards achieving the MDGs.

"In Hokkaido (the G8 summit) we must deliver on our commitments," he said.

"I will also seek increased funding for specific programs relating to infant and maternal health, community health projects and disease control, HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and neglected tropical diseases."

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Poverty addressed at forum

from Mid Hudson News

KINGSTON – It is summer and the humidity may be an annoyance. Or thoughts center for some on a vacation.

But winter already has a lot of people thinking about the cost of survival since fuel oil has nearly doubled since last year and the minimum fill-up may approach more than $1,000 for 250 gallons of fuel oil.

“I have greater fear for the coming winter than I have ever had for the people of Ulster County,” said Michael Berg, the executive director of the Family of Woodstock.

He was one of the featured speakers during a panel discussion on poverty in Kingston and Ulster County at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation.

Berg sat on the panel with Rev. Darlene Kelley, of the Clinton Avenue United Methodist Church, which runs a soup kitchen in midtown Kingston, and Roberto Rodriguez, the commissioner of Social Services for Ulster County.

Rodriguez’s department oversees the HEAP program, which helps people with heating assistance. Rodriguez said there’s already been interest from workers, who don’t normally seek this kind of assistance.

“We are looking to what I believe will be a very challenging fall and winter,” said Rodriguez.

“The challenge is that we may have more need than we have allocation for. We’re seeing case loads going up.”

Winter is only one worry. There is also the present, and many Hudson Valley residents have always struggled to meet the region’s escalating housing costs and other necessities like health care – before rising energy costs starting pushing the price of food and commuting through the roof.

“The impact of the cost of housing, utilities, gasoline, the cost of food, and the cost of health care are all hitting at the same time, and there doesn’t seem to be any sign of relief coming from the major governments,” said Berg. “We have a lot of people that were rent burdened three years ago. How are they going to survive this year?”

Berg said he saw a 26 percent increase in 2007 for the services of his food pantries, and now he’s very pessimistic about the future.

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Poverty rates in Gaza soars versus WBank - report

from Reuters

By Mohammed Assadi

RAMALLAH, West Bank - The percentage of Gazans living in poverty topped 50 percent in 2007, the highest level recorded, as Israel tightened its blockade of the enclave, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics said on Thursday.

Home to 1.5 million Palestinians, Gaza has been hard hit by Israeli sanctions meant to sideline Hamas Islamists who took over the coastal territory a year ago from more secular Fatah forces loyal to Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas.

The Statistics Bureau, in an annual report, said 51.8 percent of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in 2007 lived in poverty, versus 47.9 percent in 2006.

In contrast, the poverty rate in the Israeli-occupied West Bank fell to 19.1 percent in 2007, compared with 22 percent a year earlier, due in large part to increased aid flows to the territory, the agency said.

Poverty in the two Palestinian territories taken together rose to 30.3 percent last year, up from 29.8 percent in 2006. The Statistic Bureau said the 2007 poverty rate was the highest level recorded in a decade.

The agency defines any six-member family that earns less than $572 per month -- an amount equal to roughly $3 a day per person -- as below the poverty line. Many international agencies use $2 per day as a measure of poverty.

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Rafters help keep church's Malawian mission afloat

from the Allentown Examiner

Community encouraged to support Allentown Lake events June 26-29

ALLENTOWN - Not many rafts float on Allentown Lake, which makes the one that will be launched on Thursday evening even more special.

Four team members planning a mission to the African nation of Malawi in August will launch the raft to raise awareness about their trip. They plan to spend 72 hours on the lake from June 26-29.

Those interested in learning more about the mission of the Allentown Presbyterian Church can visit the information table that will be set up near the lake. The rafters have also planned a variety of other events to spark community interest and participation, including a wine and cheese tasting at a lake house, music at Pete Sensi Park, a water balloon catapult aimed at the raft and a Sunday morning sunrise worship service.

Allentown's Robert Rhoad, who will float on the raft, said the event aims to raise awareness of the intergenerational team of seven people from the Allentown Presbyterian Church that will depart for Malawi on Aug. 2 and return on Aug. 15. The team members are Rhoad and his father, Ed, and 13-year-old son, Ethan, Ann Darlington, Charlie Lyons-Pardue and Hal Boston and his son, Hal Jr.

"Also, Karen Collins is a member of the team and will be on the raft with us, but is not able to go on the trip with us to Malawi," Rhoad said.

The team going to Africa plans to work with village leaders and members to assess their needs and implement long-term, sustainable programs designed to help address the effects of the crushing poverty that exists in Malawi.

"With the help of the larger Allentown community, we hope to make a difference in the lives of our brothers and sisters on the other side of the globe," Rhoad said.

The mission team will follow the footsteps of the church's pastor, the Rev. Stephen Heinzel-Nelson, and his family, who went to Malawi in January and will remain there through December.

"The Heinzel-Nelsons have been hard at work, developing relationships with local leaders and charitable organizations and determining which programs have proven most successful in helping to alleviate the poverty and other multi-faceted needs that exist in Malawi," Rhoad said.

Located in the southeast quadrant of Africa, Malawi is considered to be one of the four poorest countries in the world, with unemployment estimated at 60 percent or more, nearly half the population surviving on less than $1 per day and approximately 65 percent of the population living below the poverty line, according to Rhoad.

He said the statistics about medical conditions in Malawi are hard to fathom, with the average life expectancy less than 40 years old and more than 13 percent of children not reaching the age of 5. With rampant HIV/AIDS, Malawi has a staggering number of orphans and child-led households. He said there are more than 500,000 children under the age of 14 who are orphaned as a result of their parents dying from HIV/AIDS.

In addition to the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS, Malawi is also plagued by malaria and malnutrition. Throughout Africa, 3,000 people die from malaria every day, which is tragic as the disease can be prevented relatively inexpensively with the use of $10 mosquito nets, he said.

With regard to malnutrition, Rhoad said most Malawians consume about 1,400 calories per day, which is far below the amount necessary for living a normal, healthy life. The resulting malnutrition stunts the growth of children and has other far-reaching impacts on the health and welfare of the Malawian people, he said.

The severe medical issues combined with food insecurity caused by severe economic conditions in Malawi make it extremely difficult for Malawians to pull themselves out of poverty. According to Rhoad, the Allentown Presbyterian Church has a vision to have the Allentown community partnerwith and adopt a Malawi village to provide broad-based
assistance designed to enable the village to lift itself out of poverty.

"We will be partnering with the DevelopmentOffice of the Presbyterian Church in Malawi, and with them have identified a rural village an hour outside of the city of Blantyre, near the town of Zomba, which is currently not receiving outside assistance," he said. "Further meetings with leaders from the village need to occur before our plans are finalized, but we hope that this opportunity will become a reality."

The church intends to provide a variety of forms of aid, including constructing a mission center that will serve as a preschool/ feeding center for orphans and a training center for agricultural and other programs to enhance the food supply for the village. The church would also like to purchase and distribute mosquito nets for children and families, provide funding for fertilizer and seed to enhance next year's harvest, purchase needed materials and supplies for orphanages and the preschool and establish programs to provide sustainable sources of food.

For more information about the Heinzel- Nelson family's mission in Malawi, visit

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UN says toxic waste exports on the rise

from The Miami Herald

Many poor countries accept toxic waste from abroad, such as old computers, rusted ships and pesticides, in a shortsighted bid to lift themselves out of poverty, despite the dangers to human health and the environment, a U.N. rights official said Thursday.

Okechukwu Ibeanu, a special rapporteur of the Human Rights Council, also told delegates discussing a convention on moving hazardous waste that rich nations must do their part to help developing countries build sustainable and environmentally sound economies.

"Many developing countries, despite sometimes knowing the dangers of the waste, continue to accept hazardous products and toxic waste due to poverty and the quest for development," Ibeanu said.

"Is it worth the short term monetary gain? Is it worth people falling sick ... precious water sources contaminated permanently?" he asked. "I believe that we need to think of a better solution to generate income and development."

Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal was created in 1989 as a response to "toxic ships" attempting to offload their cargo in poor nations. With measures allowing countries to ban imports and requiring exporters to gain consent before sending toxic materials abroad, it was seen as the best hope to end the mountains of waste that were reaching poor countries.

But almost two decades later, critics including environmentalists and African nations contend the accord has failed to stem the flow of toxic waste and keep pace with a rapidly changing trade that is increasing global in nature. They contend that insufficient funds, widespread corruption and the absence of the United States as a participant have undermined the pact.

Delegates over the next two days are expected to put forth a number of proposals to strengthen the convention, including a long-standing call to ban the export of hazardous waste, as well as proposals to factor environmental recycling into the mix. Others want to boost funding to the convention's 14 regional centers that provide technical support and training to poor nations.

They also will discuss measures aimed at better regulating the recycling of contaminated old ships, mostly in South Asia, as well as industry-supported guidelines on recycling old phones and computers.

Achim Steiner, executive director for the U.N. Environment Program, acknowledged that the convention has lagged behind the rapidly changing nature of toxic waste. He said the biggest challenge was finding a way to consume waste - the estimated 20 million to 50 million tons of televisions, cell phones, computers and home appliances that are sent to poor nations for recycling.

He said the international community was making progress, noting his agency was drawing up a waste strategy and had recently launched a project to implement a hazardous waste management plan for Abidjan, where a toxic spill in 2006 killed 10 people and sickened tens of thousands.

He also said developed nations had started programs to buy back outdated equipment, and that pressure from Greenpeace and other environmental groups had prompted major electronics and phone companies to start designing more environmentally friendly products.

But many delegates from the developing world want the Basel Convention to go further, arguing the only way to end the trade in toxic waste is with an all-out export ban on such materials.

An amendment calling for a ban was first proposed in 1995, but not enough of the convention's 170 member countries have ratified it.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Minister opens Combat Poverty event

from The Irish Times

by Jason Michael

Minister for Lifelong Learning Seán Haughey today outlined the Government’s strategy in fighting social and educational disadvantage.

Speaking at the opening of Combat Poverty’s national conference Overcoming Barriers to Educational Disadvantage , he said the Government’s commitment to addressing social exclusion and educational disadvantage is evident in the social partnership agreement, the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion, and the National Development Plan.

“ Towards 2016 and the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion adopt a life-cycle approach in addressing these issues. Working with the social partners the Government has set a number of long-term goals which aim to significantly improve the educational opportunities and outcomes for Irish children over the coming years.”

Outlining a number of key developments aimed at education disadvantage, Mr Haughey said measures such as the National Educational Welfare Board, the National Qualifications framework, and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme are aimed at achieving greater levels of inclusiveness and providing for the diversity of pupils in second level schools.

This year, the Government has committed some €800 million on measures to tackle educational disadvantage representing an increase in the order of €70 million on the 2007 figure, Mr Haughey added.

UK minister offers help in poverty reduction

from The Jakarta Post

Desy Nurhayati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Britain's minister for international development, Shahid Malik, paid visits Tuesday to the headquarters of Indonesia's two largest Muslim organizations, Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), to discuss poverty reduction programs.

After a meeting with Muhammadiyah chairman Din Syamsuddin, Malik said the British government had agreed to provide US$150 million assistance for the development of poverty eradication programs in Indonesia over the next three years.

"The UK is obviously a very strong friend of Indonesia, and certainly friendship goes beyond aid and money. But in terms of development assistance over the next three years, we hope to support Indonesia with the $150 million, on priorities set by the Indonesian government. We will just follow and support the strategy," he said.

Malik is the first British-born Muslim to serve in the country's government after being appointed minister of international development by Prime Minister Gordon Brown on July 29 last year.

He is responsible for the work of the British Department of International Development in Asia, Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America, including its poverty eradication programs.

"Half of Indonesians earn less than $2 a day, that's quite a big challenge for any country," he said.

"The UK government is committed to achieving the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals), which include halving extreme poverty by 2015. If more religious groups in the world show such commitment, we will certainly see a more rapid movement to achieve the goal."

He said he was encouraged by the participation of Muslim groups in fighting poverty.

Din said Muhammadiyah would expand its collaboration with the British government in various fields, including education, economic empowerment, public health services and culture.

"We have had an MOU with the British government for the past three years, and we will continue this ongoing cooperation," he said.

Malik said issues like maternal healthcare are also fundamental, considering that Indonesia's maternal mortality rate is among the highest in Southeast Asia, and his government expects to see more cooperation on such issues.

Malik, a Sunni Muslim, also expressed his views on the Islamic sect Ahmadiyah, which the Indonesian government has banned from carrying out religious activities.

He said that in the UK, people believed in freedom of expression and religion, and everyone was welcomed to carry out their activities, as long as they did not preach violence.

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Refugee Doctor 'Making a Difference' for Thousands in Burma

from Voice of America

By Luis Ramirez

Part of VOA's new Making a Difference series. Each week, VOA introduces a different individual - famous or lesser-known - working to help others.

Thousands of people flee Burma each year, escaping poverty, oppression, and civil war.The nearest escape for most is Thailand, where they experience both despair and hope. Burmese refugee, Dr.Cynthia Maung, runs a small, modest public health clinic near the border in Thailand, and is making a difference in her community by providing essential services not available to most residents of the poor region.

Mothers line up with children, waiting for immunizations. In another line, couples with newborns wait for documents certifying their children were born in Thailand. The documents take the place of birth certificates Thailand refuses to issue.These people are refugees, and in the eyes of Thailand's authorities, they do not exist.

But to Dr. Cynthia Maung, they do matter. Dr. Cynthia is a Burmese physician and a refugee herself. She makes a difference for thousands of her fellow refugees in Thailand and for many more inside Burma. For example, the Burmese physician founded the Mae Tao Clinic, a safe haven where miracles happen every day.

Dr. Cynthia fled Burma in 1988 following an army crackdown on those who demonstrated for democracy and justice.

"I joined with the demonstration group and then when the military seized power, people started disappearing, or missing, or fled to the border. I myself also decided to come to the border to continue struggling or working for political change," she says.

In a two-room shack, she started doing amputations and delivering babies using instruments sterilized in a rice cooker. Young volunteer medics trained by Dr. Cynthia treat everything from landmine injuries to gastroenteritis.With donations from NGO's and foreign governments, including the United States, Dr. Cynthia's work has a reputation for a making a little money go a long way.One hundred 50 thousand people come here for treatment each year. Those who can, pay under a dollar.

Dr. Cynthia lives in modest quarters next to the clinic. She could have immigrated to the West and be making a huge salary. But for Dr. Cynthia, this is a greater calling.

"When we live here, we are not only treating illnesses, we can also educate young people who can go back and work in their community and who are very willing to promote the health activities in their village. So it is a very good opportunity for young people to give education and to give more hope," she says.

The clinic trains volunteer medics who fan out into the ethnic Karen and other isolated areas of Burma. Some of the volunteers are former patients who, once desperate for help, are now the ones helping. It is they who embody Dr. Cynthia's vision.

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“Ten million malaria patients in Myanmar”

from Radio Netherlands

by an RNW reporter

According to the World Health Organisation, malaria and AIDS are the two most devastating global health problems of our time. Together they cause more than four million deaths a year. They are both diseases of poverty and both of them cause poverty.

However, according to Professor Willem Takken, one of the pre-eminent malaria specialists in the Netherlands, the overall effect of malaria is greater than that of AIDS. This is chiefly because HIV/AIDS has also hit the western world, so there has been a stronger push to come up with successful treatments for the disease, which is not the case for malaria. Professor Takken explains:

"There are five to six million people who get malaria every year. A million die from it every year, but for those who don't, it still makes them seriously ill for a couple of weeks which means that they can't work."

And for people who are living on a daily wage, the loss of a week's wages has a direct impact on the family's food input.

Médecins Sans Frontières
In Myanmar, malaria is cited by medical NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) as being the number one cause of death. MSF has been fighting the disease for years in Myanmar where it now has 30 clinics that treat some 200,000 patients. Dr Frank Smithuis, himself a malaria specialist, is MSF Head of Mission in Yangon, the country's capital. He says:

"The WHO says that there are 500,000 malaria patients in Myanmar, but I know for a fact that's not true. I estimate it to be closer to ten million."

Mr Smithuis backs up the enormous discrepancy with the figures of MSF's own centre of operations in Rakhine state.

"Previously the clinics in this area used to see 30 patients a month. Since we started our diagnosis and treatment - which we give at a very low price of about eight cents per treatment - the number of patients seeking help in our clinics has increased 30-50 fold. So we saw the numbers of malaria patients increasing from 30 to 1800 in a month."

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Peters announces $2 billion Pacific aid programme

from the National Business Review, New Zealand

Foreign Minister Winston Peters says New Zealanders have a "clear expectation" that Pacific Island nations will take up the development challenge and do the work needed to lift their citizens out of poverty.

He announced today a Pacific Development Strategy that will deliver $2 billion in aid over eight years.

"This allows us to make a sustainable impact on improving health and education in the Pacific, to address infrastructure gaps and promote economic growth and to improve governance and leadership," he said.

"No one is saying this is going to be easy, nor that New Zealand has all the answers. The challenge is immense, complex and, most of all, long term."

Mr Peters said there was a need to encourage policies and practices which fostered growth and better standards of living.

"It also means preventing corruption, poor governance and conflict which erode development gains."

Mr Peters said economic growth around the region was failing to keep up with population growth.

In some cases, government decision-making was weak in addressing problems and modern practices were not followed.

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U.S. Poor Vulnerable to 'Neglected' Diseases

from WLTX

Tropical diseases that ravage Africa, Asia and Latin America commonly occur among the poor in the USA, leaving thousands of people shattered by debilitating complications including mental retardation, heart disease and epilepsy.

The diseases, caused by chronic viral, bacterial and parasitic infections, disproportionately strike women and children and are largely overlooked by doctors, says author Peter Hotez of the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, part of Sabin Vaccine Institute.

Hotez says the diseases go untreated in hundreds of thousands of poor people who live mainly in inner cities, the Mississippi Delta, Appalachia and the Mexican borderlands.

In many cases, he says, the infections cause disabilities that trap sufferers in lasting poverty. His analysis, called "Neglected Infections of Poverty in the United States," appears in the journal he edits, PloS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

As widespread as the diseases are, few people in middle America have heard of them, and many doctors never think to check for them, says Carlos Franco-Paredes of Emory University Rollins School of Public Health, who was not involved in the analysis.

Franco-Paredes says the effect can be devastating: "If you have these infections as a kid, if you're anemic, your ability to learn when you go to school is affected. If you have these infections on a chronic basis, they can affect your ability to become a productive adult and support your family."

Hotez says it is a "disgrace" that diseases causing so much suffering remain at the bottom of the national health agenda.

"If this were occurring among white mothers in the suburbs, you'd hear a tremendous outcry," says Hotez, a microbiologist at George Washington University.

Franco-Paredes says the remedy may be as simple as screening minorities, immigrants and refugees and making sure doctors can diagnose and treat these ailments.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Biofuels pushing 30 million into poverty: Oxfam

from Reuters

By Pete Harrison

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Biofuels are responsible for 30 percent of the increase in global food prices, pushing 30 million people worldwide into poverty, aid agency Oxfam said in a report on Wednesday.

The use of biofuels is soaring as developed countries try to reduce their dependence on imported oil and cut emissions of carbon dioxide, but critics say they have led to a shortage of grain, pushing up commodity prices.

"Rich countries' demands for more biofuels in their transport fuels are causing spiraling production and food inflation," said Oxfam biofuel policy adviser Rob Bailey, who wrote the report. "Grain reserves are now at an all-time low."

Oxfam called on rich countries to dismantle subsidies for biofuels and reduce import tariffs.

"Rich countries spent up to $15 billion last year supporting biofuels while blocking cheaper Brazilian ethanol, which is far less damaging for global food security," the report said.

The aid agency also urged rich countries to scrap biofuels targets, including European Union plans to get 10 percent of its transport fuel from renewable sources like biofuels by 2020.

The EU plans strict criteria to ensure biofuels do not do more harm than good. Some member states want targets to be conditional on the commercial availability of second-generation biofuels from farm waste, timber waste and domestic waste.

Oxfam estimates that by 2020, CO2 emissions from land-use change in the palm oil sector may have reached over 3.1 billion tonnes, largely as a result of the EU target -- and it would take over 46 years of biofuel use at 2020 levels to repay this "carbon debt".

Link to full article. May expire in future.