Friday, July 31, 2009

Going on vacation!

Hello everyone! Your humble blooger is starting his vacation, NOW! We're going to a wonderful land far north of home that is absent of any computers, routers, or T1 lines. This will be my son's first time to experience the strange wonder of this mysterious land. So posting will be a little more sporadic than usual in the coming days.

Our brother from the same mother will be on putting some posts up while we are away. So fear not, there will be a trickle or two of news that we will not miss. We will return on Monday, August 10th.

Thank you so much for following, reading and being a part of this blog. Since we have started to venture into Facebook and Twitter, it's a great joy to see some of our followers have joined us on those sites as well. We just hope that you will be able to use the info gathered here to advocate for those less fortunate, or to empower you to continue working for them. Because basically that is what this blog is for, shedding light on a subject that many "newspeople" avoid.

This brother from the same mother has designed a new header for the blog, so we hope to unveil that when we return. So we hope to give the blog a bit of an upgrade in look before autumn begins.

Again, many thanks for reading!

WFP may stop air flights without new money

Air flights to refugee camps in Chad may have to be suspended by the World Food Programme. The food aid arm of the United Nations is facing a budget shortfall that threatens the flights. The WFP blames the lack of money from world governments cutting donations due to the global recession. The WFP says that flights can be restored if they receive new donations.

From Reuters, writer Daniel Flynn describes the threat to flights.

The U.N. Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS), operated by WFP, will run out money for its services in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea by the end of August, the agency said. It needs $10 million to keep these services open until the end of the year.

In February, WFP was forced to close the air service in the West African countries of Ivory Coast and Niger. The service in Niger, one of the world's poorest and least developed states, is expected to resume in August after a donation from the U.N. Common Emergency Relief Fund.

In Chad, UNHAS' six aircraft carry an average of 4,000 humanitarian passengers a month to 10 destinations, where they provide assistance to 250,000 Darfur refugees and 180,000 internally displaced people in the country's east.

"How will WFP reach the hungry? How will doctors reach their patients? How will people have clean water if the engineers who help to build wells can't get there?" asked Pierre Carrasse, head of WFP's aviation branch, in a statement.

Barrow said that if flights were suspended, WFP staff and other aid workers could travel by road but this would be slow due to the large distances involved and frequently dangerous due to rugged terrain and banditry.

WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran said on Wednesday the organisation had received pledges for only $3.7 billion of the $6.7 billion it required in funding for 2009.

Exhibit of a poor family home at the Ohio State Fair

This year the Ohio State Fair will have the home of a poor family as one of it's displays. The exhibit is sponsored by Habitat for Humanity and Thrivent Financial. After touring the home, visitors are encouraged to give donations to the two groups.

From this Associated Press article that we found at the Newark Advocate we read more details of the display. The home sounds a like your humble blogger's house in too many ways.

An exhibit at the Ohio State Fair depicts the home of a family in poverty, with light provided by a bare bulb hung from the ceiling and plaster off the walls.

Its sponsors said they hope people will be inspired into action by the display, housed inside a tractor-trailer near one of the fair entrances.

The grim scene also shows broken windows partially covered by tattered curtains, a 1970s space heater being used for warmth, and an electrical outlet packed with plugs.

Muhammad Yunus to receive Medal of Freedom

We congratulate Dr. Muhammad Yunus as he will soon receive a Medal of Freedom from U.S. President Barack Obama. The medal is the highest civilian honor in the U.S.. Yunus will receive the award in recognition for his pioneering work in microcredit. He first came up with the idea of giving small loans to poor people without collateral back in the 1970s.

From Microfinance Focus, we find this reprint of an interview conducted in March with Dr. Yunus.

MF FOCUS: Microfinance is an established and recognised instrument to fight poverty today. Many people are confident and hope that poverty can be eliminated through it. Isn’t it too simple just to rely on microfinance?

Dr. Yunus: You don’t have to. Nobody is forcing you to do that. If somebody wants to do Microcredit, fine. I wouldn’t say this is something everybody should have. Nobody says it is the only solution. Human beings are very multi-dimensional. Microfinance is one of the many, many things.

MF FOCUS: Social business is an additional way. Do you identify enough potential for social business to make a real difference, globally?

Dr. Yunus: Yes of course. Definitely it is a global and not a local issue. There are two kinds of businesses: One is business to make money, the other business is to change the world. This one is with the intention of changing the world and not to have any personal gain from that. It is all dedicated to make a difference. It is addressing a social issue, to resolve it. You can do that.

MF FOCUS: What are the factors that make social businesses successful?

Dr. Yunus: A good business plan, good ideas and use the creativity in the most creative way.

MF FOCUS: Microfinance as well as Social businesses have to be highly efficient. How is it possible to maintain or re-introduce the social mission back into microfinance?

Dr. Yunus: Whenever something gets popular, actually catches attention, there are people who take advantage of that and misuse it. It happens in everything. When Big brands are popular, it gets imitated by fake ones. Same thing happens with microcredit. People name it microcredit but in fact it is not microcredit. It is something completely different.
People have to be made aware of what is microcredit and why it is important to stick to the real microcredit and not the one which has a different motivation. But while you are looking at the microcredit itself, even good people may have wrong ideas, which makes them shift away from the whole idea, the mission. We have to be very careful and remind ourselves, what is our mission. That is why we have meetings (Sa-dhan conference) like this, to rediscover your mission and then re-adjust your work to the mission.

Racial disparities in health

A new study that examines health care in West Virginia finds that disparities along races exist in health factors. Health Care For America Now says that amongst African-Americans more people with diabetes and more babies die than those with from other races. The study also has data that shows that rates of poverty are higher with ethnic minorities.

Instead of grabbing a snippet that has people talking about the possible causes, we decided to grab more stats for this post. From the Charleston Daily Mail reporter Michelle Saxton dives deeper into the report.

# West Virginia's infant mortality rate for black babies from 2003 to 2005 was 12 out of 1,000 live births, which is 60 percent higher than the 7.5 figure for white babies, the report shows.

# The life expectancy for a black person is six to 10 years shorter than that of a white person.

# The diabetes mortality rate for blacks is 85.3 deaths per 100,000 people compared to 33.3 for whites.

# The rate of annual AIDS cases for blacks is 41.8 per 100,000 compared to 3.7 for whites.

# About 32 percent of blacks live in poverty compared to 19 percent of whites.

# About 32 percent of blacks are enrolled in Medicaid compared to 17 percent of whites.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Microcredit for women in Rwanda

A microcredit effort operated by Rwanda's central bank focuses on making loans to women. Rwandan women who want to start up coffee shops, stores or agriculture business can apply at the countries banks for the loans.

The program started in early July and already some government officials say the selection process is not strict enough. With access to small loans being new in the country, some women do not have a business plan for how to repay the loan. The central bank says they will begin an education program for women to combat the problem.

For a further description on the new microcredit operation in Rwanda we turn to this snippet from IPS reporter Aimable Twahirwa.

The Rwanda central bank has established a mechanism of micro loans for all financial institutions that lend to female entrepreneurs. Loans for projects declared viable are against collateral guarantees, to be paid back over a long period.

Since the establishment of this new credit scheme early this year, at least 6,568 women have received assistance for micro- and small enterprises from the government, international donors and NGOs worth 890,000 U.S. dollars, according to the central bank.

According to Kanimba, many of these are associations that own both coffee farms and shops, for instance, in a new initiative to finance the reduction of poverty.

The associations "served as (one of) the main tools to address the multiple causes of poverty, unemployment and social exclusion especially in rural areas," minister Mujawamariya remarked. "Slowly but surely, the lives of rural women are changing following the new credit scheme," she told IPS.

But businesswoman Solange Uwimbabazi, who runs a shop at Nyabugogo market near Kigali city, insists that it is quite difficult for poor women to access credit in a situation where the process of allocation of loans by banks is far from transparent.

"There is discrimination," the entrepreneur, a mother of five, observes. "Some groups of women are excluded to benefit from loans. The wealthiest groups are considered the most," she adds.

A profile of a Poco drug user

A new drug named Poco is giving people in Buenos Aries, Argentina an escape from poverty. The use of Poco has flourished in a poor neighborhood just outside of the city, giving it's users an intense but short high. Many who give up on their hopes of providing for themselves or family turn to the drug for an escape.

Accompanying his story in the New York Times, reporter Alexel Barrionuevo has this video profiling on of Poco's users. An update on how he is doing follows the jump.

The story picks up on Mr. Eche reentry into rehab.

Mr. Eche was wasting away before his mother’s eyes in late May when the police picked him up for suspected paco possession. Mrs. Acuña intervened and got a judge to drop the criminal case on the condition that she would check him into yet another psychiatric hospital.

On June 14, Mr. Eche’s birthday, the family surprised him at the hospital. They ate cake on a patio with an unexpected visitor — Mr. Eche’s son, Enzo, 5, who was granted special permission to enter the hospital. Mr. Eche began crying when Enzo ran into his arms, Mrs. Acuña said.

She is thankful for small blessings. With swine flu raging through Buenos Aires, Mr. Eche’s stay at the hospital has kept him from sleeping on the streets and being at greater risk of catching the virus, she said.

In another month, Mr. Eche will have to leave the hospital. His mother said she hoped to get him into yet another treatment center, this one run by a church. “I have to have faith that he will recover,” she said. “I will raise my hopes yet again.”

Beyond the police raids, Mrs. Acuña said, politicians need to get to the root of what is causing paco’s spread. Oculta’s residents are starving for jobs with decent salaries to help break the cycle of hopelessness that is creating whole families of paco addicts and dealers, she said.

She and her husband said they hoped to find the money to turn the upper floor of their diner into an integrated drug-prevention center employing psychologists and professional counselors.

Ultimately, only Oculta can save itself, Mrs. Acuña said.

New report says 3 million Italians are in poverty

A new study says that three million people in Italy live in absolute poverty. The statistics service ISTAT defines absolute poverty as having less than what is deemed essential for life.

From this Agence France-Presse story that we found at News.Com.Au, we read more stats from the survey.

Absolute poverty is defined by the "incapacity to acquire goods and services necessary to attain a lifestyle held as the minimum acceptable,'' which means everything from food, clothing and education to medical care or entertainment.

The number of families falling below Italy's poverty line is 1.126 million, the institute's report said, 2.893 million individuals or 4.6 per cent of the population, although the numbers are broadly in line with 2007 figures.

In the southern Mezzogiorno region, the rate has shot up from 5.8 per cent to 7.9 per cent in the new annual results.

New initiative to help the poor in the San Francisco Bay area

A San Francisco Bay area charity has announced more money to go into programs to help the poor in the are. The Marin Community Foundation announced a five year, 15 million dollar funding for various programs. Programs include a savings program that will match the money people save. Other programs include job training skills and micro-enterprise start-ups.

From the Marin Independent Journal, reporter Richard Halstead talks to the foundation about the efforts.

"Through this new initiative," said foundation President Thomas Peters, "we'll fund efforts to help people learn new job skills, understand personal finances, benefit from financial services that meet their needs, receive support to start their own business and avoid economic crises."

Peters said Marin's high cost of living makes it difficult for the working poor to move out of poverty. According to the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services, there are nearly 23,000 families in Marin who have trouble covering such basic needs as housing, food and health care.

"A parent with two children needs an annual income of $68,000 to be regarded as fully self-sufficient," Peter said. "But since that would require the earnings equivalent of working four minimum-wage jobs, many Marin families can't reach that goal."

Peters said the foundation will spend about $3 million per year on the effort. It has already awarded $600,000 in grants to two San Francisco-based nonprofits.

Earned Assets Resource Network, which helps low-income families establish savings accounts by matching families' personal contributions with philanthropic and federal government funds, will receive a one-year, $350,000 grant from the foundation, Peters said.

Women's Initiative for Self Employment, which provides low-income women with training and ongoing support to start their own businesses, will receive a one-year $250,000 grant. WISE has a Novato training office.

"These are the kinds of efforts that help families become more stable and economically secure for the long term," Peters said.

IMF to increase lending, $14 billion through 2014

The International Monetary Fund says it will begin to increase lending to poor nations. The fund says that the world has higher financing needs due to the global recession, and the sharp rises in food and fuel prices that preceded the recession.

From this Associated Press story that we found at the Lexington Herald Leader, writer Harry Dunphy gives us more of the IMF's statement.

The IMF said it expected to provide up to $17 billion to these countries through 2014, including up to $8 billion over the next two years. In addition, the fund said low income countries would not have to pay interest on any outstanding IMF loans through 2011.

The resources to increase lending will come in part from the sale of IMF gold, the fund said.

"This is an unprecedented scaling up of IMF support for the poorest countries, in sub-Saharan Africa and all over the world," said Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the IMF.

He said the G-20 countries at their April meeting asked the IMF to respond to the global financial crisis, which has hit low income countries so hard "and we are responding with a historic set of actions in terms of support for the world's poor."

The $8 billion over the next two years exceeds the G-20 call for $6 billion in new lending to low income countries.

Strauss-Kahn said the new resources the fund was providing and new means of delivering them "should help millions of people from falling into poverty."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A new method of treating tuberculosis in South Africa

A new program started by Medecins Sans Frontieres is helping to make the treatment of tuberculosis easier on it's patients. In South Africa, those sick with TB were effectively quarantined in hospitals to prevent the spread of the virus, but once people realized that they would be locked up for a long time many did not come forward for treatment. The MSF program treats the people in their homes, but they must promise not to leave the homes.

From the New York Times, reporter Celia Dugger explains the new treatment further.

Under South Africa’s current policy, Ms. Vani would normally have been whisked away to a hospital after tuberculosis was diagnosed and isolated from the public for a grueling regimen of toxic, hard-to-tolerate pills and injections, lasting months.

In the neighboring Eastern Cape Province, patients have effectively been imprisoned in a hospital encircled by fences topped with razor wire, and dozens of them have escaped in desperate bids to reunite with their families. Both the Eastern Cape and Western Cape Provinces have sought court orders to compel the return of runaways.

But in this case, Ms. Vani is being treated in a local clinic and lives at home under a pilot program run by Doctors Without Borders and supported by both the city of Cape Town and Western Cape Province. The idea is to show that such patients can be successfully treated in an impoverished community like Khayelitsha even while they are still infectious.

For Ms. Vani to continue in the program, Ms. Beko had to ensure that the young woman could live at home during her treatment with minimal risk of infecting others. Tuberculosis spreads through the air when patients cough and sneeze, and the germs could get trapped in the tiny room where Ms. Vani lives alone.

“They may send you to the hospital, as there are no windows in the house,” Ms. Beko said with a doubtful shake of her head.

Ms. Vani, eager to avoid a long-term hospitalization, promised that she would remain alone in the house and only see friends outside in the open air. “I already told my boyfriend it would not be good for him to sleep over,” she said through a paper mask that covered her mouth.

Drug-resistant tuberculosis is a mounting global health threat. The World Health Organization reported the highest rates of it ever last year. Some 500,000 of the 9 million new cases of tuberculosis in 2007, the most recent estimates, failed to respond to the standard, inexpensive first-line drugs. About 150,000 people died of drug-resistant TB.

Video: Yes, even China needs microcredit

China has experienced great economic growth in recent years, but the growth has largely been concentrated in the cities. Rural China has experienced little if any of the economic growth. So, yes there is a need for microcredit in the country.

Two young entrepreneurs have started a microcredit venture to provide loans to the 200 million in China who are still in poverty. Wokai or "I Start" has a website that features peer-to-peer lending similar to Kiva.

From MSNBC, reporter Ed Flanagan tells us more about microcredit venture. A video with one it's founders is featured after the jump.

Founded eight months ago by 25-year-olds, Casey Wilson and Courtney McColgan, Wokai is the convergence of the pair’s shared interest in economic development and China. The pair, who met in a Chinese language program at Beijing’s Tsinghua University in 2006, created a microfinance program to help provide assistance to some of China’s estimated 228 million people who have no access to basic financial services.

Wilson and McColgan created a Web site that they’ve coined "Facebook for Farmers" – it features many of the core characteristics of Web 2.0: social networking, blogging and interactive media.

Functioning similarly to the one of the more established microfinance sites,, Wokai’s online system of peer-to-peer loans allows potential lenders to scan the profiles of pre-screened rural Chinese borrowers and decide for themselves who they want to loan money to.

The loans are small – the average loans is around $300 – and are mostly used by farmers to invest in simple business improvements such as adding additional livestock or buying new products for dry goods stores.

To attract loans and help develop the organization, Wokai has enlisted an army of young volunteers both in the United States and China. They have assisted in everything from website development to working directly with field partners in China to screen potential borrowers. Meanwhile, member chapters in San Francisco, Seattle and New York help drive awareness and donations through localized fund raising events.

Flaws in data make in hard to have Kids Count

As a part of the Annie E. Casey's 2009 Kids Count Report, the Foundation included a special report that talked about the lack of good poverty data. The report pointed to an outdated measurement of poverty that our government still uses that hasn't been updated since the 1960's. The Foundation says that the lack of good data hurts the cause of helping vulnerable children in the states.

From this Associated Press article that we found at Google News, reporter David Crary talked to the Casey Foundation Senior Vice President, Patrick McCarthy.

In its special report on national data, the Casey Foundation said "perhaps the single most glaring shortfall comes in our efforts to measure poverty, the key performance indicator that rises above all others in its impact on children's futures."

The poverty formula still used by the federal government, which Casey called "thoroughly outdated," was developed in the 1960s. It calculates the cost of a basic grocery budget for a given family size and multiplies the total by three because food, in the '60s, represented one-third of a typical family budget.

The formula has not been recalculated since then even though, according to Casey, food now accounts for only about one-seventh of a typical family's budget.

The formula takes no account of child care, transportation, health insurance, and certain government benefits such as food stamps and housing vouchers. Also — except for Alaska and Hawaii — it does not reflect regional differences in the cost of living.

McCarthy said the National Academy of Sciences has developed some recommendations for a new formula that would take many of these additional factors into consideration, and a bill reflecting the proposals has been introduced in Congress.

Skeptics in various camps worry that any changes might cause harm by either increasing or decreasing the number of families officially defined as poor, said McCarthy. "But the reality is, we need an accurate count."

The poverty measure — used to determine eligibility for various benefits — has been a source of concern to many advocacy groups over the years.

Kinsey Dinan, a senior policy associate with the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University, said the current system potentially disadvantages families that don't receive substantial government assistance and those living in areas with high living costs.

Search continues for Haitian immigrants from boat wreckage

The search continues today for the Haitian immigrants who fled to the U.S. but didn't make it. The boat filled with over 200 passengers ran into a reef just off the coast of the Turks and Caicos Islands, the waves broke the ship a part.

So far 80 people are missing, The U.S. Coast Guard is going to continue to look, but says that the chances of finding more survivors are slim. From this Associated Press story that we found at WRAL, reporter Jennifer Kay talked to the local Coast Guard about the search.

Authorities cautioned that the outlook for more survivors wasn't bright given the long hours that had passed since the accident. Anyone still in the water would be struggling with 23 mph (37 kph) winds and 6-foot (2-meter) seas, officials said.

"We hope that there are survivors and we can get them medical attention," U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Jennifer Johnson said. "However, as time goes by, it becomes less and less likely because of exposure and fatigue."

She said Coast Guard ships, airplanes and a helicopter joined local authorities and volunteers in searching a 1,600-square-mile area Tuesday.

Turks and Caicos officials were moving quickly to send the ill-fated migrants back to impoverished Haiti, saying 60 were flown home Tuesday. Fifty-eight more spent Tuesday night under blankets on cots in a gym, and an unspecified number were at another detention site or in the hospital. The bodies of the unlucky 15 lay in a makeshift morgue.

It still wasn't clear when the boat wrecked. Johnson said the accident occurred Monday afternoon, but Deputy Police Commissioner Hubert Hughes said it could have happened Sunday night. Turks and Caicos reported the disaster Monday to the Coast Guard, which patrols the area for drug traffickers and illegal migrants and helps in search and rescue efforts.

The sailboat, crowded with about 200 men, women and teenagers fleeing Haiti's deep poverty, broke up as it tried to maneuver through treacherous coral reefs and was struck by heavy swells near West Caicos. It's part of an archipelago that has proved deadly for Haitians trying to escape their homeland's misery to find a better life elsewhere.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Another analysis of Nigeria

The violence continues in Nigeria, in the latest round 80 people died after Islamic militants attached police. The oil rich country of Nigeria is also the poorest in Africa. It's people only get more frustrated as it's government only gets more corrupt.

The Associated Press today has a good analysis on the problems in Nigeria. Wrirter Michelle Faul has covered Africa for over 25 years.

The militants have carried out a string of devastating attacks on pipelines and other oil installations as well as kidnappings of petroleum company employees.

When the oil militants attacked a fuel depot in Lagos, the economic capital — for the first time striking outside the delta — the government reacted by freeing a long-jailed leader of the movement and urging negotiations.

But that fight likely will continue as long as the government fails to address decades-long grievances about the unrelenting poverty of the delta people.

In the north, governments have done little over the years beyond commissioning reports after particularly bloody bouts of violence, never acting on them because those orchestrating the violence have links to well-placed members of the elite that has controlled successive governments.

The foot soldiers are ill-educated manual workers who are easy to manipulate: one of the names of the radical sect behind the latest violence is "Boko Haram," which means "Western education is sin."

It's one of the legacies of British colonization that never has been rectified. The colonizers ruled the north of Nigeria indirectly through sultans and caliphs. In the south, they governed directly and missionaries brought Western education. The gulf remains to this day.

Corruption and inefficiency are blamed for the persisting poverty in Nigeria, the world's eighth-biggest oil exporter and fifth-largest source of U.S. oil imports.

Some Nigerians were hopeful 10 years ago when decades of corrupt and brutal military rule ended, and again two years ago when they had the first handover of power from one civilian president to another.

But both former President Olusegun Obasanjo and current President Umaru Yar'Adua have links to the powerful military — and that has helped perpetuate Nigeria's cycle of corruption.

Youths starve to fight hunger

Youth from throughout Baldwin County, Alabama participated in a 30 hour fast over this past weekend. The event raised money for World Vision, and the youths also helped out at the county soup kitchen.

From the Press Register, reporter Andrew Dunning tells us what moved the youth to starve.

"This is the first time youths from St. Andrew by the Sea Community Church in Gulf Shores, Providence United Methodist Church in Spanish Fort and Christ Presbyterian Church in Daphne have teamed up to participate in the 30-hour Famine," said Sharla Berry, director of Youth Ministries at Christ Presbyterian Church.

Berry said that the kids started the 30-hour fast at 6 p.m. Friday when youths gathered to hold a candlelight service. The participants lit 600 candles — one for each child who died from hunger in that hour.

The participants got only water or other liquids for hydration during the 30 hours.

"I'm participating in the 30-hour Famine to help raise awareness about world hunger, especially in Third World countries," said Jim Hollis, 16, of St. Andrew by the Sea Community Church.

"We try and raise money by asking people for donations," Hollis said. "We tell them that $360 allows World Vision the opportunity to feed a child for one year."

Most of the youths are taking part in the famine to raise awareness of world hunger, but some participants, like 14-year-old Harrison York of Christ Presbyterian Church, have gone above and beyond to make a difference in a child's life.

York said this was his second time to participate in the 30-hour Famine event and he also sponsors a child through World Vision for $32 a month, which makes sure a child gets the food and nutrition he or she needs to survive.

2009 Kids Count Report released

The Annie E Casey Foundation has released their yearly roundup of child well being in the states, called the "2009 Kids Count Report"

The latest statistics in this report are from 2007 so most of the effects of the global recession are not yet factored into this report. However, our home state of Michigan; that basically had a one-state recession before all others joined us, had a sharp increase in children living in poverty.

From the Washington Times article on the report, writer Carol Morello breaks down the report. For all of the stats and graphs, go to the Kids Count Data Center provided by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

"Our take-away is that even going into the recession, the economic outlook for a lot of families was dire," said Laura Beavers, the national Kids Count coordinator. "There was a flattening of the median income, and the poverty level was creeping up year after year."

Some regional differences stood out. States in New England and the Northern Plains all scored relatively high in an overall composite of the 10 indicators. And the 10 states with the lowest rankings were all in the South or Southwest.

Both Virginia and Maryland declined in the 50-state rankings. Virginia slipped from 15th to 16th, and Maryland slid from 19th to 25th. The District was not ranked because it's a city, but it saw improvements almost across the board; the percentage of children living in poverty, for example, decreased from 30 percent in 2000 to 23 percent in 2007. The decline might be a reflection of poor families being priced out of gentrifying neighborhoods.

In an ominous harbinger of the future, states that were roiled by economic difficulties early in the decade saw the dramatic effect a worsening economy has on children.

In Michigan, for example, the rate of children living in poverty rose by more than a third, from 14 percent in 2000 to 19 percent in 2007. In Ohio, the number went up by almost a fifth in the same period, from 16 percent to 19 percent.

Ethiopia receives emergency money to fight malnutrition

The U.N.'s Emergency Response Fund has released six million dollars to Ethiopia. The country is going through severe malnutrition, due to a large shortfall in food. The rainy season in Ethiopia was not wet enough and caused the shortage in food.

From the IRIN, we read more of the emergency response.

Ethiopia is facing challenges in providing food, health, nutrition, water and sanitation, emergency shelter, agriculture and livelihoods, according to the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Fidele Sarassoro.

To counter these challenges, the UN has allocated US$6 million from its Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).

“I have directed the humanitarian community jointly to agree on priority areas in which this new money can immediately be put to use," Sarassoro said.

At the same time, the federal Disaster Risk Management and Food Security Sector (DRMFSS) has announced that rising malnutrition and food insecurity were a growing concern and likely to lead to 6.2 million Ethiopians relying on food aid, out of a population of approximately 77 million.

At present, 4.9 million people in the country benefit from relief food.

According to the DRMFSS, the country has a shortfall of 176,000T of food. However, this is likely to increase to 390,000T in the months up to December 2009.

"Because of the existing shortfall, only three of the six planned rounds of food allocations have been distributed to date," the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said in a statement on 20 July.

Comment: Not "Dead Aid" but Reverse Aid

In one of the most controversial books about international aid in recient years, Dambisa Moyo says that African nations are worse off than they were 50 years ago. In her book "Dead Aid" she uses the figure of $1 trillion dollars when talking about the total amount of money that has been spent in African aid.

However in this commentary from Joy Online, Dr. Nii Moi Thompson challenges the figure and describes why it may not be entirely accurate. At the same time, Dr Thompson shows an unwanted side-effect that some aid loans have on African nations. Dr. Thompson is a development economist who lives in Ghana.

First is the exact scale of the “aid” that Moyo tells us, with irritating frequency, has been “transferred to Africa” over the past 50 years with seemingly no meaningful reciprocity. She parrots the oft-repeated claim of “US$1 trillion,” a figure whose origin and credibility remain murky, at best.

But that’s only half the problem of Dead Aid. The other (unspoken) half is the amount of money that poor countries have transferred to rich countries over the same period.

Perhaps for Moyo there is no data on this other transfer to warrant its discussion, but the case of Ghana (a poster child of the aid-underdevelopment paradox) shows why such an omission cannot be ignored for whatever reason.

In 1994 (five years before donors labeled it “heavily indebted” and “poor”), Ghana’s budget statement made the following grim disclosure about its 1993 performance: “In the second half of the year, Ghana also obtained a Compensatory and Contingency Financing Facility [from the IMF] equivalent to US$65.1 million. At the same time an amount of US$67.9 million was paid back to the IMF, thereby showing a net outflow to the IMF of US$2.8 million.” If every African country in 1993 sent out an average of US$2.8 million more to donors than it received, that would be about US$150 million in net transfers, a princely sum for a continent supposedly hard up for development finance.

Of course we cannot forget the well-known disparity between what donors publicly pledge to “transfer” (headline aid) and what they eventually give to, or for, poor countries (pipeline aid). For example, data from Ghana’s Ministry of Finance shows that between 1990 and 2006, donors promised some US$1.1 billion in aid to the education sector but actually disbursed US$766.9 million
But even here we must distinguish between “disbursements” and “transfers”. Some donors insist, as a matter of commercial policy, that a portion of disbursed aid (sometimes as high as 75%) be spent on imports, including consultancy services, from their home countries; very little money is actually “transferred” to the recipient countries.

Besides the well-known problems with such “tied aid”, poor countries also lose large amounts of their own monies to rich countries through such practices as transfer pricing (self-dealing) and invoice-tampering by unscrupulous multi-nationals, as well as the abuse of tax holidays granted to these multi-nationals ostensibly to help stimulate economic growth in poor countries. In Ghana, some multi-nationals have been known to sell off their assets to others, typically from their home countries, just as their tax holiday is about to expire for them to pay taxes. The tax holiday is effectively extended, depriving Ghana of resources for development and, paradoxically, deepening its aid dependence.

Perhaps rather than Dead Aid we should be talking about Reverse Aid.

Numbers of poor children in the UK increases

Save The Children of the U.K. says the amount of poor children in the country is increasing. The charities survey specifically says that 60% of children in Wales have neither parent employed.

From this story at Wales Online, writer Darren Devine tells us more about the survey.

Research by Save the Children shows around 192,000 youngsters across the nation live in poverty.

Save the Children says there’s been a rise in children living in workless homes in some parts of Wales compared with previous years.

Areas where the numbers of children living in workless families have increased are Bridgend, Carmarthenshire, Flintshire, Swansea and Pembrokeshire.

Workless families have to make tough choices between food, heating and transport costs.

Children from poorer families often experience ill health and delayed development, suffer accidents and become pregnant as teenagers. They also miss out on school trips, out-of-hours activities and extra tuition.

Eleri Thomas, head of Save the Children in Wales, said access to child care and well-paid jobs remain two of the most significant barriers for parents trying to overcome poverty.

She said: “Large inequalities remain in health and in educational attainment, where the narrowing of the gap between poor children and their peers has stalled and we need to address this, both on a national and local government level.

“Families should be supported into work, but they need good quality affordable child care and we need to make sure that employment is paying decent wages and offers long-term job security.”

Haitian boat escaping to the U.S. capsize and drowns

A boat full of Haitians trying to find a better life in the U.S. capsized and sank near the Turks and Caicos Islands. The U.S. Coast Guard says they have found 113 survivors, but 85 people are still missing. The boat struck a reef nearby the islands as it was trying to elude from police.

From this Assoicated Press story that we found at KSWB, San Diego, reporter Vivian Tyson gives us more on the wreck.

"Our main goal right now is just to get everybody out of the water and get medical attention for those who need it," said Petty Officer Third Class Sabrina Elgammal, a Coast Guard spokeswoman.

The shipwreck happened around 2 p.m. Monday. By late evening, Turks and Caicos authorities using small boats had rescued about 40 people stranded on a reef 2 miles (3 kilometers) southeast of West Caicos island. Many others were later found on a nearby reef, Moorlag said.

The boat carrying up to 200 Haitians had been at sea for three days when passengers saw a police vessel and accidentally steered the boat onto a reef as they tried to hide, survivor Alces Julien told The Associated Press at a hospital were some survivors were receiving treatment.

Elgammal said information from survivors indicates that between 160 and 200 people were on board when the vessel capsized near this island chain north of Haiti and southeast of the Bahamas. She said the cause of the accident is under investigation.

A Coast Guard cutter has been searching through the night for survivors, and Moorlag said a helicopter and a jet will join the search at first light. He said a C-130 aircraft was expected Tuesday morning to help in the search.

Haitians routinely take to the seas in rickety, overcrowded boats in hopes of escaping poverty in the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Task force on poverty begins in Colorado

Colorado state government has begun a task force to examine ways the state can cut it's the numbers of poor people. Members of the task force are trying to look at economic solutions as well as government assistance.

This Associated Press article that we found at, writer Steven K. Paulson describes the task force goals.

Rep. John Kefalas, a Democrat from Fort Collins who chairs the Economic Opportunity Reduction Task Force Committee, said the 10-member committee will look at the root causes of poverty and try to determine why some parts of the state have more poverty than others.

"We've given ourselves a year, to December of 2010, to put together a plan of action," Kefalas said.

Jodie Levin-Epstein, spokeswoman for the Center for Law and Social Policy, a nonprofit organization focused on laws and policies that affect poverty, told lawmakers that Colorado is one of the worst states in the nation when it comes to dealing with the issue.

She said people who are trying to get out of poverty are stymied by poverty measures that are based on life in the past century, when moms stayed at home and husbands were the breadwinner. She said lawmakers have failed to take into account the cost of health care, transportation and tax policies that make it difficult for families to escape poverty.

"We need to figure out ways to make work work," she told the panel.

Video Protests in South Africa

The BBC has video of another round of protests in South Africa. Garbage collectors are now striking, demanding a %15 increase in pay. The workers say that they have not been able to afford food since the large jump in food prices last year. An article from the BBC is included after the jump.

This article from the BBC has further details on the strikes.

Striking South African municipal workers have emptied piles of rubbish onto the streets during a march to demand a wage increase.

Police fired rubber bullets to disperse protesters in Limpopo Province, who police said had become "disorderly".

The ruling ANC has reportedly condemned the workers' behaviour. Recent strikes and unrest are seen as the major challenges for President Jacob Zuma.

About 150,000 workers have stopped work demanding a 15% pay rise.

Workers say they are unable to make a living from their current wages because of high food prices.

President Zuma has called for understanding from workers, but the BBC's Jonah Fisher in Johannesburg says crowd-pleasing promises he made during his election campaign are proving hard to keep.

Our correspondent says a pledge to create 500,000 new jobs has already been retracted.

A documentary on Honduras making the film festival circuit

A new documentary that focuses on Honduran poverty is making the rounds at film festivals. Blinded by Open Arms is produced by Alexie Elfmont a 24 year old recent College graduate from Miami. Elfmont and some friends traveled down to Honduras to film a fund raising video for a non-profit, but decided to stay longer and make a film.

From the Miami Herald, reporter Susana Montes-Delgado details some of the young film crews encounters.

For 17 days, the filmmakers interviewed former M-13 (Mara Salvatrucha) and M-18 gang members, drug addicts, lawyers, policemen, politicians and prison officials.

They filmed children begging on street corners, inhaling glue and sleeping on sheets of cardboard. Their stories have a common theme: extreme poverty, low education rates and broken homes. More than 50 percent of the Honduran population lives below the poverty line.

The young filmmaker took her camera into San Pedro Sula's prison, where prostitution and rapes are common. Foreigners are the most common target of kidnappings. Although there are women in the prison, it is not divided by gender, Elfmont said.

``We went inside with one policeman. I remember walking through the prison and feeling the eyes of the inmates fixated on our bodies,'' she said. ``I felt I was a piece of meat and that at any moment, something could happen to me.''

Later that night, filmmakers went out with a Honduran SWAT team that regularly patrols the streets. They came across a 13-year-old boy who appears in the film sniffing glue.

``Why are you in the street?'' Elfmont asks.

``Because I don't have a family,'' he replies.

Sabillon was impressed with the candor of those interviewed.

``Nobody does this in Honduras,'' he said, discussing the film. ``In a way, people are victims of the system and they wanted to be heard.''

Peer to Peer microcredit

An Indian business website is doing a special series on Social Entrepreneurship, which is starting business with the goal of human benefit instead of only a goal for profit. The latest installment of the Pluggd.In series has a profile of a peer to peer microcredit website. The site Rang De gives individuals the opportunity to make the microcredit loans to low income people.

From Pluggd.In is this interview with Rang De founder, Ram NK.

Rang De is a social business with a strong focus on becoming a sustainable and scalable business that provides access to capital. Rang De is able to provide microcredit at low cost as we source social investments from individual investors. The unique proposition we offer to the social investor is that they have the ability to select an individual borrower to whom the money goes to – based on business activity and geography. Social Investor also has the ability to monitor the progress made by the borrower through a unique wellness score. Rang De engages with a network of grassroot organizations to help in screening borrowers, disbursing the loan and collecting repayments.

While the social investor gets a tangible social return and a nominal financial return of 2% flat p.a. or 3.5% APY, the field partners get 5% flat p.a. to cover their operational costs. Rang De charges 1% flat p.a. to cover its transaction costs. Rang De ensures that the borrower pays no more than 8.5% flat p.a. as interest towards the loan. There are no hidden charges or processing fees.
Startup Journey
# What made you start Rang De? And how did you go about it?

The journey started in December 2006 when I was giving a serious thought to coming back to India after a short stint in the UK. Having started as a senior consultant in Vignette and going on to become the Principal Consultant in the company, I decided that it was time to quit my corporate career and return to India and do something that is socially relevant. The desire to do something socially relevant was always there but did not have the financial means or the know how to take the plunge. After a successful career and a small amount of savings, I thought the time is now or never.Then the question of what could bring about a sustainable impact in India began to occupy my thoughts. That’s how we decided on doing something in the microcredit space. Prior to that the other causes that I really wanted to work on were – child labour, domestic help and social media.

Somehow, microcredit seemed to be the most promising as it had the potential to alleviate poverty on a large scale. Also because the root cause of almost every social problem in India emanates from poverty. Our initial research brought out a startling fact: 90% of the total estimated demand for microcredit of Rs. 200,000 cr was still unmet and that 80% of India’s population still does not have access to any form of credit.

Rang De was started with a seed funding of 6000 GBP from the founders and unconditional support from our technology( and creative( partners. We subsequently received funding from CSO Partners – a strategic partner of ICICI Foundation.

Did you always wanted to be a social entrepreneur?

Yes. Right from my college days, I was involved in getting people together to do something for a social cause. During my second year of engineering I organized a fund raising event where we celebrated the birthdays of 40 children from an orphanage run by Missionaries of Charity. They were simple acts of charity and volunteering. This continued during my professional life as well. I volunteered for NGOs during weekends and holidays.

Searching for Good

A search engine will give a penny to your favorite charity each time you do an internet search. has over 81,000 participating non-profits, who are not charged anything for their participation, they simply receive a check each year.

From this description that we found at, writer Tracy Aiello tells us more about the search engine. Tracy's article contains some other good fair-trade and charitable ideas.

Searching for Good: Mother Teresa didn’t search the latest Hollywood gossip, but I’m sure she’d bless the result., is the simplest answer to giving back – let your web browser do it for you. Launched by a brother and sister team in 2005, Goodsearch, powered by Yahoo!, donates about a penny to a non-profit of your choice for every search executed. The site has more than 80,000 non-profits and schools registered, but if your favorite isn’t on the list, just add it, and search away. Think of it, search for quotes on Gandhi, AND give money to the Youth Federation for World Peace. Nonprofits aren’t charged to be part of the program, they just receive a check every December, which founder JJ Ramberg says is “the most fun day of the whole year!”

After realizing that their idea worked, the do-gooding family launched, an online shopping center that adds to the pennies, donating a percentage of online purchases to the charity or school of your choice. There are more than 1,000 popular online merchants participating and coupons and discounts to add to the fun.

A third of British seniors in poverty

A third of British seniors are living in poverty according to new statistics. The European Commission says that 30 percent of UK pensioners are living below the poverty line, the fourth highest rate in all of Europe.

Advocates for the poor are urging for immediate action to tackle the problem.

From the Pocklington Post, we read more of the stats and the reaction.

Age Concern and Help the Aged called for ministers to act through measures such as reforming the benefits and pension system.

The figures come ahead of the Work and Pension Committee's review of Government efforts to tackle pensioner poverty, which is published on Thursday.

The EU research, which compared relative poverty in the 27 member states, showed nearly one in three UK over-65s were at risk of poverty in 2007, the same proportion as in Lithuania (30%).

It revealed that in most leading European economies, pensioner poverty levels were either below or slightly above the EU average of 19%.

While the UK fared better than the 51% in Cyprus (51%), Latvia (33%), and Estonia (33%), the figures show British pensioners are worse off than Romania, where 19% fell below the poverty threshold, Poland (8%) and France (13%). Pensioners in the Czech Republic are least likely to be living in poverty, with 5% below the threshold of an income of 60% of the national median, according to the figures.

Poor neighborhoods have great effect on children's future earnings, says Pew

The neighborhood you are raised in has a significant impact on your future livelihood, according to a new study from the Pew Charitable Trust. The Pew research says that African American children who were raised in poor neighborhoods have a greater chance of earning less when they grow up than white children. Pew says this is because less white children live in poor neighborhoods.

From this article in the Washington Post, writer Alec MacGillis explains the difference.

The Pew Charitable Trusts Economic Mobility Project caused a stir two years ago by reporting that nearly half of African American children born to middle-class parents in the 1950s and '60s had fallen to a lower economic status as adults, a rate of downward mobility far higher than that for whites.

This week, Pew will release findings of a study that helps explain that economic fragility, pointing to the fact that middle-class blacks are far more likely than whites to live in high-poverty neighborhoods, which has a negative effect on even the better-off children raised there. The impact of neighborhoods is greater than other factors in children's backgrounds, Pew concludes.

Even as African Americans have made gains in wealth and income, the report found, black children and white children are often raised in starkly different environments. Two out of three black children born from 1985 through 2000 were raised in neighborhoods with at least a 20 percent poverty rate, compared with just 6 percent of white children, a disparity virtually unchanged from three decades prior.

Even middle-class black children have been more likely to grow up in poor neighborhoods: Half of black children born between 1955 and 1970 in families with incomes of $62,000 or higher in today's dollars grew up in high-poverty neighborhoods. But virtually no white middle-income children grew up in poor areas.

Using a study that has tracked more than 5,000 families since 1968, the Pew research found that no other factor, including parents' education, employment or marital status, was as important as neighborhood poverty in explaining why black children were so much more likely than whites to lose income as adults.

"We've known that neighborhood matters . . . but this does it in a new and powerful way," said John E. Morton, who directs Pew's economic policy unit. "Neighborhoods become a significant drag not just on the poor, but on those who would otherwise be stable."

Friday, July 24, 2009

Not much talking being done now at the WTO

Ambassadors at the World Trade Organization says there is not a lot of negotiations going on. That is despite a G-8 pledge to complete a global trade pact by the end of next year. Not much will be done for the rest of the summer, because many WTO diplomats go on vacation in August.

From this Associated Press story that we found at the Gloucester Daily Times, we read more about the slow WTO.

"Mismatch" was the word used by ambassadors Friday at the 153-member World Trade Organization in comparing that promise to reality on the ground.

They said the current talks were falling far short of the pace and intensity needed to wrap up a deal once promised as a recipe for lifting millions of people out of poverty and adding billions of dollars to the global economy.

There is a "marked and embarrassing gap" between what world leaders and top trade ministers have called for and what is being accomplished in talks, Australia's ambassador Peter Grey told a meeting of the WTO membership.

Washington's outgoing envoy Peter Allgeier said there was "no doubt" that the slow progress of technical work was failing to match the ambition of politicians, while his Indian counterpart Ujal Singh Bhatia claimed there was a "striking lack of energy" in WTO negotiations.

Bhatia said the disconnect threatens to damage the credibility of the WTO and world leaders, who have voiced their support for the Doha round at recent summits in Bali, Indonesia; Paris; L'Aquila, Italy; and Singapore.

The global trade talks were supposed to be completed in 2004 and have been at a standstill for months.

The Imagine Cup from Microsoft

We know all about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but his company Microsoft also does some things to help poverty fight. Microsoft organizes the "Imagine Cup" that invites teens to submit technological advancements that can help the environment or those in poverty.

From Monday Morning, we learn more about the competition and one example of one of the entries.

“They really are taking on all these problems”, Joe Wilson, Microsoft senior director of academic initiatives, told media prior to the finals.

“This audience wants social change in a way generations before didn’t, and innovations in technology are coming from these people who live with it, not from the guys in the corporations”.

More than 300,000 students from some 110 countries competed in the greatest turnout seen at the Imagine Cup since it was launched in 2002.

Teams containing a total of 444 college students faced off in Cairo on July 9 for top spots in nine categories, including software design, robotics and game development.

“It’s befitting that we do this here in Cairo”, said Walid Abu-Hadba, corporate vice president for Microsoft’s Developer and Platform Evangelism Group. “Egypt is the cradle of civilization”.

Team Wafree from South Korea won top honors in an “embedded” category for creating an easy-to-use machine for raising insects that can be used as food sources in parts of the world where fertile land and water are scarce.

Each winning team gets 25,000 dollars to divide between members as they see fit, according to Microsoft.

Bringing power to the people of the Niger Delta

We have had quite a few posts lately about the armed conflict in Nigeria. The rebel factions have fought the government over frustration from having little or no access to basic services or to the oil revenues.

An article we found in Ethical Corporation Magazine touches on some projects that have helped to bring power to the people of the Niger Delta. Writers Emma Wilson and Brian Shaad also suggest some ways that more progress can be made in the region.

Total’s Egi Electrification Programme is an IPP and a community development project undertaken in partnership with the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC). The aim is to provide uninterrupted electricity to all communities of Egi District in Rivers State, in the Niger Delta.

A 13 MW independent power plant uses associated gas from the nearby Obagi field. The plant generates electricity that is distributed through a local transmission network.

The project includes the renovation, expansion and activation of the electricity network in communities already connected to the grid, and a new transmission network to bring more communities onto the grid.

The Bonny Utility Company is different example of collaboration between industry, government and the community, on Bonny Island in the Niger Delta. Power is generated from a turbine using gas from the liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility.

The local government has provided land and tax breaks. Local industry partners including NNPC, Shell, Total, Eni and Mobil subsidise the power services.

Electricity is supplied free up to an agreed limit. Above this, every customer can obtain additional services at a subsidised rate via a pre-payment model. (About 20% of customers use just the free electricity)

Over 75% of the utility’s employees are taken from the local population and there is a policy of preference for local contractors. The community is also involved in the running of the utility via the Bonny Kingdom Development Committee.

We suggest three scenarios for international oil and gas companies in facilitating local access to energy, based on level of commitment to tackling energy poverty and climate change.

The basic step is to improve current practice, while focusing on core business opportunities, for example by engaging meaningfully with local people and diverting associated gas for local energy needs rather than flaring it.

Pushing the boundaries a little further, large oil and gas companies might engage in innovative partnerships with governments, donors, NGOs and communities and direct social investment funding not only towards gas-based projects, but also towards renewable energy projects.

A more radical approach might entail establishing sustainable community-based utilities for decentralised power generation (using gas or renewables) and taking a more decisive role in the policy arena to promote investment in low-carbon energy systems and energy efficiency.

If international oil and gas companies are to engage in tackling energy poverty, they can’t do it alone. They and development practitioners need to overcome their traditional reluctance to collaborate on such initiatives.

Video of Muhammad Yunus on barriers to fighting poverty

In this video that we found at Current TV, Muhammad Yunus talks about barriers to fighting poverty, from attitudes to laws.

Donating money to wear street clothes

Students from an UK school got to shed their uniforms for a day, but it came at a price. Students had to donate to come into school in any street clothes, the money went to a charity that operates a orphanage in South Kenya.

From the Shield Gazette, writer Angela Reed explains the fundraiser.

Pupils at St Aloysius RC Infants in Hebburn held a non-uniform day and raised £270 for The Akhonya Trust, a Gateshead-based charity that supports a rural area in western Kenya.

It runs a home for 130 children orphaned by HIV/Aids and pays for corrective surgery, such as club feet, cleft palate and bowed legs.

It also supports an organisation called SAIPEH (Support Activities in Poverty Eradication and Health), which has just set up a feeding centre in a small village called Manyasa.

The money raised by the school allowed the Trust to buy a pure-bred cow and a goat for the feeding centre, which provides 30 orphans with two basic meals a day.

The goat has been named Aaron, after five-year-old pupil Aaron McDowell, who donated all his savings.

The children were asked to come up with a name for the cow and agreed on Milky.

The effects of the Somali pirates on aid

The Hufington Post has an interview with Steve Hansch of the Open Society Institute. Hansch just returned from Somalia after researching the pirates and political climate in the country.

Piracy began threatening international vessels in one of the main international shipping routes lying off the Somali coast after the collapse of the government there in 1991. Who are the pirates?

They are often unemployed young men, primarily from Puntland in Somalia, who have seen their fishing decline because of overfishing of their waters by international fishing. They've found that if they occasionally intercept people, the insurance companies reward them for it.

Has piracy been affecting the distribution of aid relief to the local civilian population?

No, the pirates have on occasion boarded food shipments, but overall an enormous amount of aid has been delivered. There's a completely different phenomenon going on in Somalia which I don't want to refer to as 'piracy'. In the central part of Somalia where the main aid needs are, aid workers and doctors have been taken hostage. It's obviously similar to the piracy, but it's not the same as boarding a ship. Now there are no longer ex-pat aid staff working in Somalia. The level of ex-pat aid staff working in the area is the lowest area per aid dollar spent in any country.

Aid agencies have been saying for some time now that Somalia is a highly dangerous place to work in given the continued political instability, violence, and kidnappings. After the recent assaults on UN offices in Somalia, a UN official said yesterday that the UN would not 'back out' of the country, but is it feasible to continue humanitarian efforts in this environment?

A gang takes people hostage and hopes it will make them millionaires because the government of those hostages will step in and pay the ransom. Governments have created a market by being willing to pay millions of dollars. Most aid professionals are working for NGOs and the ransoms that have been paid have not been negotiated at the initiative of those organizations, which could use their position to work through mediators. Governments have leapfrogged the NGOs.

Are aid agency ex-pat staff likely to return in the coming months?

I don't know when they'll go back in. Crime is a funny thing. In the long term history, some things don't seem to change.

What is the situation regarding aid distribution now?

Aid is not just about taking stuff and distributing it. The largest share of U.S. government aid is in food aid, and it's being distributed through local Somali NGOs. But the more professional people from other countries are the people who would do the project supervising and monitoring, and they are not able to get through. One of the things humanitarian people do is make sure that key things are done; it's not just about spending dollars. That's been dramatically reduced, and that phenomenon is really being seen this year. Effectively in 2009, there are no ex-pats working in Somalia.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A government response and a peaceful protest in South Africa

Some of the protests have begun to settle down in South Africa. Earlier this week, violent protests erupted after people took to the streets to protest the lack of basic services many have in the country. Many years after apartheid ended, many people still don't have access to water or decent housing in South Africa.

From Reuters written by Marius Bosch we read of the governments response and one peaceful protest that happened Wednesday.

South Africa's government on Thursday threatened to crack down on violent protests which erupted this week over jobs and living conditions, posing an early challenge to President Jacob Zuma.

Police fired rubber bullets and teargas on Wednesday at township rioters who were calling for the removal of local officials of the ruling ANC party they accuse of corruption. Scores of protesters have been arrested.

Police said calm had returned to Siyathemba township, southeast of Johannesburg, after four days of rebellion. Violence flared in various townships after a series of strikes.

The unrest, with scenes reminiscent of attacks against foreigners last year that killed 62 people, have dented South Africa's hope of showing a positive image less than a year before the country hosts the soccer World Cup.

In the Ramaphosa squatter settlement east of Johannesburg, one of the main trouble spots during last year's violence, thousands of residents staged a peaceful protest march.

Watched by heavily armed police, the protesters carried placards. One said: "Poor service delivery is what we hate."

Many South Africans say local governments have failed to provide jobs, housing, sanitation and medical services, and have instead promoted a culture of nepotism.

"I want to live like Zuma in a house with electricity. I'm tired of living in a shack, I want a flush toilet," said Nicolas Mabitsela, who lives in the Ramaphosa settlement.

Drawing attention to endosulfan

The fair trade underwear company Pants to Poverty is organizing protests to warn about the use of a chemical in cotton processing. Pants to Poverty is organizing the protest in 16 different countries, and is getting help from celebrities from the UK and Bollywood.

From the Ethiopian Review, we read more about the chemical that is getting the attention.

They are calling for a ban on the use of the harmful pesticide endosulfan, used in underwear production.

It can cause cancer, birth defects, respiratory problems and sterility among cotton farmers and their families.

Pants To Poverty, a Fairtrade underwear company, says toxic cotton pants containing traces of the chemical are being sold on the UK high street.

Just one pair of non-organic cotton pants can use 10ml of the chemical – enough to kill a person if directly exposed.

Ben Ramsden, founder of Pants To Poverty said: "Using pants as our metaphor, this campaign explains both the good and the bad about the cotton industry and points towards a brighter future."

Laboratory tests on 1,000 pairs of pants from UK shops showed one in 50 tested positive for the dangerous pesticide.

It has been banned in 62 countries due to its high toxicity, but its use is still permitted in India and other developing nations.

A new stove to help those in poverty

A new stove is being developed in the UK to help those in poverty make more efficient use of wood fires. Most poor in the under-developed world use wood fires to cook, but most of the energy conducted in the fire goes up in smoke. The SCORE stove helps to contain that energy and use if for other means.

From the website Gizmag, writer Paul Lester tells us more about the invention.

Two years ago experts began work on a revolutionary new stove that could help reduce poverty in third world countries. The £2m SCORE project (Stove for Cooking, Refrigeration and Electricity) was designed to offer cooking, refrigeration and energy production from a wood-powered generator and subsequent developments have now brought the project to a point where it can be mass-produced.

With two billion people worldwide using open fires to cook and around 93% of the energy produced going to waste, a suitable way to harness this power and transform it into usable energy would seem to have obvious benefits. Now able to utilize other material including dung and other locally available biomass, the unit would be capable of converting heat into acoustic energy and then electricity, for around one hour’s use per kilogram of fuel.

The cost target for the generator is £20 per household, and with SCORE currently being tested in the UK and Nepal the team is now looking for sponsorship in order to take the product to the locations for which it is intended.

Project director Paul H. Riley is optimistic about the future: “We have had tremendous interest in the SCORE project from around the world and the SCORE community —launched a few months ago — is working extremely well. This includes entrepreneurs and volunteers that adapt the stove for local use among its members.”

Unemployment statistics from Kentucky

A new Brookings Institution study finds that unemployment in the U.S. is becoming more of a suburban problem than an inner city problem.

From Louisville, Kentucky's Courier Journal, reporter Jere Downs gives us some stats on the poor in his local area.

As the recession drags through a second year, the Brookings report found that poverty is weighing on suburban areas, particularly newer, far-flung settlements. Of the largest 100 U.S. metro areas, Louisville is among 75 where the burden is growing faster outside of cities, according to the nonprofit think-tank based in Washington, D.C., which analyzed the growth of the jobless rate, new unemployment claims and applications for federal food stamp assistance in cities versus suburbs over a one-year span.

Researchers considered Jefferson County the region's primary urban area. They compared its economic status with the surrounding Bullitt, Henry, Meade, Nelson, Oldham, Shelby and Trimble counties in Kentucky and Indiana's Clark, Floyd, Harrison and Washington counties.

In those suburban counties, the number of jobless rose 88 percent, from 14,492 people in May last year to 27,241 two months ago, said Elizabeth Kneebone, a co-author of the report entitled "The Crabgrass Recession. Suburbs Feeling More Pain than Past Downturn."

In contrast, Jefferson County's jobless rose 72 percent, to 37,193 from 21,580, in the same time period, she said.

From May 2008 to May 2009, Jefferson County's jobless rate rose 4.3 percentage points, to 10.3 percent from 6 percent, of those available to work, the report found. In surrounding counties, the rate of unemployed rose 4.7 percentage points, to 10 percent from 5.3 percent.

Applications for federal food stamp assistance, however, climbed at a higher rate in Jefferson County than in surrounding areas from January 2008 to January 2009, Kneebone said. Within Jefferson County, those receiving food stamps rose 10.6 percent, to 101,510 recipients from 91,755. In the surrounding counties, those on food stamp aid rose only 7.7 percent, to 49,109 from 45,591.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Two different Nigeria's

As a part of a series of reports on Nigeria, the Financial Times has an overview of the country and it's path to economic growth. There are two very different Nigeria's; one has a large boom in the private sector, the second is the slow path to provide basic services to people due special interests inside it's government.

Writers Matthew Green and Tom Burgis develop the two countries story further.

From the hawkers dodging traffic in the choked streets of Lagos to the billionaire oligarchs in penthouses above, Nigeria seethes with restless ambition and an awareness of potential unfulfilled.

Yet 10 years after the country’s transition from military to civilian rule, progress towards reversing decades of declining living standards and restoring the social contract between the government and the people is still agonisingly slow.

In the 26 months since President Umaru Yar’Adua took office, frustration has intensified.

On paper, his promised reforms in energy, power and infrastructure could lay the foundation for an economic lift-off that would transform the prospects of Nigerians.

Faith in his government’s ability to deliver, however, is evaporating. With the political class gearing up for general elections in 2011 – that risk degenerating into a repeat of the mayhem sponsored by rival politicians in 2007 – even the most ebullient of Mr Yar’Adua’s ministers acknowledge time is running out.

That Nigeria has survived repeated bouts of political and economic crisis since independence in 1960 is a tribute to its people’s resilience: yet there is a sense today that the country is teetering between two very different futures.

The optimistic one is that a burst of private-sector led growth, unleashed by government action to solve the chronic power crisis diversifies the economy and spurs a rapid re-emergence of the middle class.

Companies such as HiTV, a satellite television station profiled in this report, show that dynamic businesses can offer jobs to the country’s army of unemployed graduates. The sheer scale of the Nigerian market continues to act as a magnet for investors and an inspiration for entrepreneurs.

The second vision is bleaker, informed by images of communal violence that killed several hundred people in the city of Jos in November that underscore the growing social pressures.

Nigeria’s population – 40 per cent of which is under 15 – will grow from 140m in 2005 to more than 200m by 2025, according to the United Nations. Even today, only a fraction has access to clean water, adequate housing or healthcare.

For a teenage generation warehoused in a failing state education system the consumer lifestyles championed by hip-hop stars and on homegrown TV channels remain a seductive yet remote aspiration – nowhere more so than in the rapidly de-industrialising north.

“The collapse of the architecture of governance means the government has lost its moral authority to hold things together,” says Matthew Hassan-Kukah, vicar-general of the archdiocese of Kaduna and a respected commentator. “People are falling back on vigilante groups.”

Analysis on the causes of hunger in Uganda

A great analysis from Uganda's The Monitor tries to look into the root causes of hunger in the nation. In her piece, author Evelyn Lirri looks into several factors such as the armed conflict, people too poor to purchase food, failures of government, and climate change.

For our snippet, we focus on the inability to purchase food and population growth, but we encourage you to give the full article a read. We found the analysis at All Africa.

While the number of people living in abject poverty - described as living on less than a dollar, or Shs2,100 a day - has fallen from 56 per cent in 1992 to about 30 per cent today, the subsistence nature of the country's agricultural sector means many do not have cash incomes to buy food when needed.

Many of those with a cash income have simply been priced out of the food market. Figures from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics show that inflation hit double digits earlier this year on the back of high food prices as drought and exports to lucrative emerging markets put pressure on food supplies.

Food inflation, according to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos) stood at 23.8 per cent for the year ending May 2009. The rising food prices were initially a blessing to producers, says State Minister for Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, Musa Ecweru.

"The risk has been that at times they sell almost everything and at the end of the day, the money they have is not able to buy food when there is a crisis," he said.

According to Prof. Nuwagaba, while official figures put the number of Ugandans employed in the agricultural sector at 70 per cent, the reality on the ground shows many young people are quitting agriculture for petty jobs in urban centres like riding boda boda (motorcycle taxis).

Another problem contributing to Uganda's hunger is the unchecked population which is currently growing at 3.2 per cent annually, says Prof. Nuwagaba.

This means that every 20 years, the population is expected to double and by 2025, the population will be 56 million and 106 million people by 2050.

Projections for the year 2000 to 2050 indicate that a growing population will increase pressure on the available land. At the current growth rate, population density, which is around 124 people per square kilometre, will reach 233 in 2025 and 438 in 2050. Increasing land conflicts across the country are probably a pointer of things to come.

This population growth has not been matched by growth in food production; a country which had only five million people and was self-sufficient in food when the first census was carried out in 1948, is now on the brink of starvation as its tries to feed more people from a finite size of land without managing the elements.

New U.N. report measures poverty in Arab countries

A new report from the UN's Development Program measures the development standards of the Arab region. The report called "Challenges to Human Security in the Arab Countries" uses the term "human security" when talking about basic needs.

The report from the UN gives us a few statistics of poverty inArab nations that are worth noting. We found a summary of those stats at the MEMRI Blog.

A survey of a sample representing 65% of the population indicates that the average level of poverty was the lowest in Lebanon and Syria with a rate of 28.6-30 percent, the highest in Yemen at 59.9 percent, and 41 percent in Egypt.

Based on the survey, the report estimates that 65 million people live at the poverty line.

In 2005, unemployment was estimated at 14.4% in the Arab countries, compared with 6.3 percent globally. Unemployment among youth represents the biggest social challenge.

Violent protests of a lack of basic services in South Africa

Riots are breaking out in South Africa as protesters a getting angry over a lack of basic services in the country. People without water or decent housing have taken to the streets to protest.

From the BBC, we read more about the latest violent protests and the conditions behind them.

Police have fired rubber bullets at demonstrators in Johannesburg, the Western Cape and the north-eastern region of Mpumalanga.

More than 100 people have been arrested during the past week.

In Mpumalanga, there were reports of foreign-owned businesses being looted as foreigners sought police protection.

President Jacob Zuma promised to improve service delivery when he came to power in May, and said fighting poverty was his priority.

South Africa announced in June that it was facing its worst recession in 17 years.

The recession and job losses have added fuel to long-standing grievances over the government's failure to deliver basic services, and the protests are the most direct challenge to President Zuma since he came to power, our correspondent adds.

Fifteen years after the African National Congress won its first election, over a million South Africans still live in shacks, many without access to electricity or running water.

Jeffrey Sachs warns of red tape tying up the G-8 food security pledge

In his latest commentary, Jeffrey Sachs applauds the G-8 decision to put 20 billion dollars into agriculture.

A few years ago, research conducted by the UN's Millennium Project found that food production could dramatically increase if small, peasant farmers are given good seeds and fertilizer to grow with. So the G-8 pledge of money hopes to give more of these inputs to small farmers.

However, Sachs says that a lot could stand in the way of getting the inputs to the farmers. Sachs warns against the aid money being tied up in bureaucracies and red tape. We found his latest commentary at the Business World Online.

A consensus has now been reached on the need to assist smallholders, but obstacles remain. Perhaps the main risk is that the "aid bureaucracies" now trip over each other to try to get their hands on the $20 billion, so that much of it gets taken up by meetings, expert consultations, overhead, reports, and further meetings. "Partnerships" of donors can become an expensive end in themselves, merely delaying real action.

If donor governments really want results, they should take the money out of the hands of 30 or more separate aid bureaucracies and pool it in one or two places, the most logical being the World Bank in Washington and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in Rome. One or both of these agencies would then have an account with several billion dollars.

Governments in hunger-stricken regions, especially Africa, would then submit national action plans that would provide details on how they would use the donor funds to get high-yield seeds, fertilizer, irrigation, farm tools, storage silos, and local advice to impoverished farmers. An independent expert panel would review the national plans to verify their scientific and managerial coherence. Assuming that a plan passes muster, the money to support it would quickly be disbursed. Afterward, each national program would be monitored, audited, and evaluated.

This approach is straightforward, efficient, accountable, and scientifically sound. Two major recent success stories in aid have used this approach: the Global Alliance on Vaccines and Immunizations, which successfully gets immunizations to young children, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria, which supports national action plans to battle these killer diseases. Both have saved millions of lives during the past decade, and have paved the way to a new more efficient and scientifically sound method of development assistance.

Not surprisingly, many UN agencies and aid agencies in rich countries fight this approach. All too often, the fight is about turf, rather than about the most effective way to speed help to the poor. Obama, Rudd, Zapatero, and other forward-thinking leaders can therefore make a huge difference by following up on their pledges at the G-8 and insisting that the aid really works. The bureaucracies must be bypassed to get help to where it is needed: in the soil tilled by the world’s poorest farm families.

Sex education and microcredit from a creative Thai NGO

It's an older story, but we we wanted to link this piece on a non-governmental organization from Thailand that uses creative even unconventional means to promote safe sex in the country. Population and Community Development Association was formed over 35 years ago to promote safe sex and abstinence in a country where people laugh at the Thai translation for condom.

From INSEAD Knowledge, writer Karen Cho tells us about safe sex and microcredit programs run by PDA.

PDA’s creative tactics included a microcredit programme targeted at mothers. Instead of encouraging mothers to have another child, they were told they each would win a pig if they refrained from getting pregnant. They listened, and not only got their pig, but raised the animals for six months and even managed to sell them for a profit.

“So the message was: ‘the more children you have, they poorer you become.’ We try to get them to focus their time and energy on income generation rather than having children,” says Kulapongse.

She says the average number of children per household has since fallen to 1.2 from seven. “It’s a huge achievement of Thailand overall, including PDA – the population growth rate has decreased from 3.3 to 0.3 per cent.”

Operating on the belief that local people are best suited to shape and sustain their own development, PDA set up the Village Development Bank, part of a development initiative to eradicate poverty. It provides microcredit financing, which would be otherwise unavailable, to villages to start their own enterprises.

“We believe that the poor are still poor because they lack two things: access to credit and business, and life skills training. The Village Development Bank gives villagers access to microloans with affordable interest rates. We also give them skills to run the fund, distribute loans and do bookkeeping. After that, we also encourage them to use the profits from this microcredit fund towards development activities for their own village, so it’s very sustainable and it works,” says Kulapongse.

She adds that this kind of model has been developed against a backdrop of PDA’s experience in rural development stretching more than 25 years. It is a long-term process and requires a lot of participation from villagers to ensure the bottom-up approach, but definitely yields positive and concrete results, she says. In tsunami-affected areas, for example, “not only did the fund grow, but the mindset and attitude of the villagers changed too. With consistent monitoring and skills enhancement, it changed the role of women and youth in that area.”