Thursday, December 30, 2010

Domestic child laborers at risk of abuse in Pakistan

From IRIN, a story about the mistreatment and abuse of Pakistan's child labor force.

In recent months stories in the Pakistani media of horrendous abuse suffered by some children engaged in domestic work have focused attention on their plight.

In Karachi, the capital of the southern province of Sindh, this month, 14-year-old Muhammad Zafar was rescued by police after neighbours reported the boy had been kept shackled at the home of his employers. He had also not been paid wages for some 19 months.

“His employers told us he had stolen gold items, and we could not see him or take him away till these had been paid for,” Zafar’s mother, Parveen Bibi, told IRIN.
She said the boy had been sent out to work as the family was very poor.

At a busy fast-food outlet in Karachi, several small girls watch over children they are paid to “mind”. Their charges are in many cases barely a few years younger than themselves. In houses across cities, it is common to see children sweeping floors, washing dishes or performing other kinds of work.

They are a part of the child labour force, which consists, according to official figures, of three million children under 18. Of these, according to a 2003 survey in six major cities by the government’s Commission for Child Welfare and Development, 8 percent are engaged as domestic workers.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) puts the number of children working in the domestic sector at 264,000, according to a 2004 report.


“The abuse of children who work as domestic labourers is under-reported. These children are often trafficked from rural areas of Sindh and the Punjab, and brought to cities to work. As such they have no one to watch over them and are vulnerable to violence,” Salam Dharejo, national manager at the Child Labour for the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child NGO, told IRIN.

He said this year they had documented six cases of death among child domestic workers as a result of violence inflicted on them.

It is believed that rising inflation is forcing families to send their children out to work. “Hardship for almost all families is increasing because food is more expensive,” Sikander Lodhi, an economic analyst, told IRIN.

According to the Consumer Price Index of the Federal Bureau of Statistics, annual inflation was running at 15.37 percent in November 2010. Food price inflation is a key factor in this trend.

“Poverty is a huge factor in people sending children out to work, or selling them to those who use them as labour. The recent floods have also brought an increase in child labour, as people who came into cities after being displaced from poverty-stricken districts in Sindh and the southern Punjab saw opportunities to obtain employment for children in urban households,” Dharejo said.

“My ten-year-old daughter now works in a big house, looking after a two-year-old and doing some cleaning chores. I worry about her constantly,” Saadia Bibi, 40, told IRIN.

Torture, sexual abuse

She has good reason to worry. Last month, in the southern Punjab city of Multan, a child the same age working as a maid was brutally tortured because her employers believed she was possessed by evil spirits.

There have been other allegations of torture involving child maids although in the high profile case of 12-year-old Shahzia Masih, whose employer was accused of her murder in January this year, a court in November acquitted him of the charges.

Mistreatment of child domestic workers, according to the limited research available, is widespread.

Sexual abuse is not uncommon either. According to the Alliance Against Sexual Harassment (AASHA), comprising a group of organizations working against the harassment of women in the workplace, 91 percent of female domestic workers say they have suffered sexual abuse.

Overnight Links for December 30th

Water Aid Nigeria is calling on the government to do a better job on providing clean water and sanitation services. From a This Day story found at All Africa we read that the push for sanitation is following a cholera outbreak from earlier this year. 

The Inter Press Service has this story about a Vitamin A supplementation program in India. UNICEF conducts the program that helps to give Vitamin A shots to children twice a year. 

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has a story that says that the cholera outbreak in Haiti could hurt the rice harvest this year. Farmers fear that crops near rivers and creeks may be infected with cholera.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

How microcredit could empower women in Afghanistan

Microcredit primarily makes loans to women. It has helped to empower women to earn more money and gain respect from men. So in a country notorious for poor treatment to women such as Afghanistan, microcredit faces some unique challenges.

From this Reuters article that we found at WTAQ, writer Michelle Nichols takes a look at how microcredit can help women in Afghanistan.

"If you talk to the real villagers, they need money," said Fazlul Hoque, head of non-profit development group BRAC in Afghanistan, which is responsible for half the country's 430,000 microfinance clients. "We need to establish a credit culture."

Unlike traditional bank loans which require paperwork such as proof of identification and income, many microfinance lenders simply require borrowers to become part of a support group and verify their ability to repay.

The average annual income in Afghanistan is $370, according to the World Bank. But Hoque said the default rate on BRAC loans was low, around 3 or 4 percent.

Microfinance -- developed more than 30 years ago by Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his efforts -- traditionally targets women. MISFA said 60 percent of current Afghan clients are women.

"Women are ignored, so one of our social missions is to bring them out, so that there will be a kind of dignity of women, they can have a better position in the family," said Hoque, adding that more than 80 percent of BRAC's clients were women.

But the independent Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) said it would take more than access to microfinance to empower women and build their social status.

"Credit can be a means to assist women to achieve more decision-making power and autonomy, but there needs to be a purposeful, culturally attuned strategy in place to support this process," said Paula Kantor, an AREU visiting researcher and former director of the unit.

There are enduring limits on women's rights across Afghanistan more than nine years after the strict Islamist Taliban were ousted after more than five years in power, during which women were made to wear all-covering burqas and were rarely allowed out in public for education or work.

A U.N. report earlier this month found that millions of Afghan women and girls suffer from traditional practices such as child marriage and "honor" killings, and that authorities are failing to enforce laws protecting them.

AREU senior research officer Sogol Zand has been studying microfinance and gender in Afghanistan and said that when a loan helped improve a family's economic situation it reduced domestic violence, but when a family found it difficult to repay their loan, the violence increased.

Food price hikes in Cote d'Ivoire

From IRIN, a story on food price hikes in Cote d'Ivoire.

While political rivals in Côte d’Ivoire trade barbs, diplomats make declarations and regional groups issue warnings, many Ivoirians are eating less so they can feed their children, as prices for basics like cooking oil, rice and flour climb, in some cases doubling.

For now the crunch is hitting mostly poor families, Ivoirians in the commercial capital Abidjan told IRIN. This is a growing population group: In 2008 nearly half of Côte d’Ivoire’s then 20 million people were below the poverty threshold of about US$1.25 per day, compared to about one-third in 2000, and 38 percent in 2002, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

“Poverty has increased on a steady trend [in the past 20 years] as a result of the successive socio-political and military crises,” IMF said in a May 2009 country report.

“We’re at the end of our tether,” Françoise Mahan, a midwife in Abidjan’s Abobo District, told IRIN, one month after the presidential run-off election which ended in unprecedented deadlock with two political camps claiming power. Already after the October first round, tensions led to some prices creeping up.

“I can no longer get what I need at the market with 2,000 CFA francs [$4] for my family of three. Now I need about 50 percent more - but at the moment we just can’t afford that.”

Food prices are soaring in Abidjan and other main cities. In the northern city of Odienné and in Gagnoa in central Côte d’Ivoire, before the election crisis a kilogram of sugar cost the equivalent of about $1.25. It now costs $2.40; and the same goes for a litre of cooking oil. A sack of rice now costs around $35 in Odienné and the centre-north city of Korhogo; families could buy the same sack before the political crisis for around $26.

In Abidjan a kilogram of meat cost $2.80 before; now prices range between $4.40 and $5.

As the government of the internationally recognized president, Alassane Ouattara, called for a nationwide strike to begin on 27 December - to try to force incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo to step down - many Ivoirians are simply trying to make ends meet.

“We heard about the strike call,” said a youth in the central town of Gagnoa. “But it’s the holiday season and some people wanted to come out and try to make at least a bit of money.”

Karim Koné, petrol station attendant in Abidjan’s Adjamé District, said he eats less per day to make whatever food the family has go further. “I’ve started depriving myself of food during the day. I prefer to leave whatever I’d eat in the middle of the day for the family’s evening meal.”

Snowball effect

People’s lack of buying power is hitting vendors and this is having a snowball effect. “Before, I could make about 15,000 CFA francs [$30] a day, but since about a week ago that’s impossible,” said meat vendor in Adjamé Ousmane Diallo. “People just aren’t buying.”

In Abidjan’s wealthier neighbourhood of Cocody, Fatim Touré sat waiting for clients. “Many people just turn around when I tell them the prices,” she told IRIN. “But it’s not the vendors’ fault; with this crisis, hauliers are charging more for moving vegetables into Abidjan.”

She said a sack of aubergines which used to cost her $20, now cost $26.

For now petrol prices, which fluctuate periodically, have not yet risen significantly during the crisis; but chauffeurs told IRIN given the instability fewer drivers are venturing out and transport prices – for both passengers and goods – are up.

“Some of our colleagues have not come out because of the strike,” Abidjan taxi driver Drissa Fofana told IRIN. “But we’ve got to feed our families. The situation is tense so we take the risk; we’ve doubled our tariffs, even if petrol prices have remained the same.”

Cooking fuel is costing families more: In Abidjan a 12-kg bottle of propane gas that went for about $9, now costs about $13. A market vendor in Gagnoa told IRIN charcoal there used to be $10 a sack; now it’s double that.

“Everyone's having a tough time, so one really can’t blame the vendors,” said the mother of seven who sells juices and other items in a Gagnoa market. The crisis has simply worsened what was already a bad situation for her family; she said her husband is unemployed and they cannot afford to put their children in school.

Higher-income families in Abidjan are able to keep extra food at home just in case of further unrest. Some said the most significant impact for now is that they feel confined to their homes.

“Every week we stock up at the supermarket, just in case,” bank executive Bertrand Comoé said. “I don’t allow the children to be out after 6pm. Everyone is home by that hour; it’s like a prison. It’s stressful, but we have to do what we can to avoid the worst.”

A 5 December joint statement by the African Development Bank and World Bank expressed concern about the political situation’s impact on the average Ivoirian. Having re-engaged in Côte d’Ivoire in 2008 after suspending relations in 2004, the World Bank has closed its office in the country and stopped disbursing funds since the election crisis.

“The sustained crisis in Cote d'Ivoire will drive many more Ivoirians further into poverty and hurt stability and economic prosperity in the West African sub-region,” the statement said.

Why has aid failed in Haiti?

Non-Governmental Aid Organizations make up the largest sector in Haiti. There is very little commerce, and the government is largely inoperative. So the over 400 NGOs operating in Haiti are the only ones able to get things done, yet it seems that so little is accomplished.

From the Guardian writer Unni Karunakara of Medicines San Frontiers asks the question of why aid seems to be ineffective and puts the blame on the United Nations.

It is against this backdrop that many non-governmental agencies have launched fundraising appeals, even while their post-earthquake coffers remain filled. The UN's Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has repeatedly claimed that underfunding of its $174m cholera appeal, launched primarily to benefit private groups, is hampering the response – despite the fact that Haiti is the top-funded UN appeal for 2010. As nearly a million Haitians remain homeless in the face of a full-blown public health emergency, arguments that existing funds are tied up in longer-term programmes ring hollow.

The inadequate cholera response in Haiti – coming on the heels of the slow and highly politicised flood relief effort in Pakistan – makes for a damning indictment of an international aid system whose architecture has been carefully shaped over the past 15 years.

Throughout the 1990s, the UN developed a significant institutional apparatus to provide humanitarian aid through the creation of the Department for Humanitarian Affairs in 1992, later renamed OCHA, all the while creating an illusion of a centralised, efficient aid system. In 2005, after the Asian tsunami, the system received another facelift with the creation of a rapid emergency funding mechanism (CERF), and the "cluster" system was developed to improve aid efforts.

The aid landscape today is filled with cluster systems for areas such as health, shelter, and water and sanitation, which unrealistically try to bring aid organisations – large and small, and with varying capacities – under a single banner. Since the earthquake, the UN health cluster alone has had 420 participating organisations in Haiti.

Instead of providing the technical support that many NGOs could benefit from, these clusters, at best, seem capable of only passing basic information and delivering few concrete results during a fast-moving emergency. Underscoring the current system's dysfunction, I witnessed the Haitian president, René Préval, personally chairing a health cluster meeting in a last-ditch effort to jump-start the cholera response.

Co-ordination of aid organisations may sound good to government donors seeking political influence. In Haiti, though, the system is legitimising NGOs that claim responsibility for health, sanitation or other areas in a specific zone, but then do not have the capacity or know-how to carry out the necessary work. As a result, people's needs go unmet.

Overnight links for December 28th include missions project in Sierra Leone, Cambodia's dependence on foreign aid, and Amnesty's 50th

Many groups in the Dallas, Texas area teamed together to create a medical facility in Sierra Leone. Writer Leigh Munsil of the Dallas Morning News says that Hope Center also provides educational facilities for the unemployed.

Cambodia has taken big strides in reducing the number HIV positive people within its borders. The country is on track to meeting the Millennium Development Goal for cutting AIDS in half. However, a new study warns that Cambodia's dependence on foreign aid might hurt future gains against the disease. From the IPS, writer Marwaan Macan-Markar details the new report.

Amnesty International will soon be marking their 50th anniversary. Writer Sir John Tusa of the BBC tells us how the organization's focus has changed over the years, resulting in what the writer terms as a "mid life crisis" for Amnesty.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Women in Kenyan slum use flying toilet to avoid rape

In the slums of Nairobi, Kenya the constant threat of rape and sexual violence have led some women to avoid using communal toilets. Instead, they are forced to use the very unsanitary practice of using flying toilets. They are called "flying toilets" because the bags full of excrement are often flung out of windows exposing the neighborhood to the contents within.

From Women News Network, we hear the story of one victim and details from Amnesty International report on the subject.

When darkness descends in the ubiquitous slums and ‘informal settlements’ surrounding Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, women who visit and use communal toilets unwittingly become sitting ducks.

The dangers are high, for women living in the slums, that they may become targets of youth gangs and individual male rapists.

“I had heard that it was unsafe to visit the (community) toilet alone,” said forty-two year old, Rebecca Nduku, a single mother of three, when she challenged her friend’s ‘I-told-you-so’ warning. Acting against advice, Rebecca suffered irrevocably for throwing caution to the wind.

“I reasoned that since it was only 7:30 p.m., and there were many people walking around, it would be safe to visit the toilet, which was located only about 100 meters away,” explained Nduku. “The moment I unlocked the toilet’s wooden door to walk back home I was dragged to an abandoned house where I was abused, in turns, by five men until I blacked out.”

The July 2010 report, “Risking Rape to Reach a Toilet – Women’s Experiences in the Slums of Nairobi, Kenya,” by human rights organization, Amnesty International UK, offers a searing and detailed account on the lives of 130 Nairobi women who live in constant fear in the four largest slums surrounding the city.

In failing to include informal settlements and slums within mainstream urban planning, the City of Nairobi and the Ministry of Public Health has been faltering. In spite of social services and specific campaigns addressing safety challenges for women, successful programs remain a ‘mirage.’

“The continued exclusion of slums and informal settlements from the city’s planning processes, in particular the non-enforcement of existing sanitation standards, results in stark disparities in access to sanitation facilities between slums and informal settlement areas and other residential areas,” said Amnesty International after assessments were made on the continuing challenges and problems with sanitation and safety for women.

“Many women have suffered rape and other forms of violence as a result of attempting to walk to a toilet or latrine some distance from their home,” outlines the Amnesty report. “To avoid these dangers, women sometimes wash or use latrines in groups or ask male family members to accompany them at night. However, this does not alter the fact that facilities are inadequate and inaccessible.”

In facing ongoing problems of violence against women, many women in the informal settlements and slums have improvised their own solutions toward safety. It involves avoiding community toilets completely.

The theory is simple. “Flying toilets,” bags that are used instead of bathroom facilities, are part of the answer to violence. But the often thin plastic bags come with many complications. They are extremely unsanitary. Once the bags are loaded with excrement, they are flung through windows eventually breaking open as they expose surrounding areas to numerous pathogens.

2010 in Haiti; disasters strike fast but help arrives slowly

Throughout the year 2010, the happenings in Haiti has dominated the posts on this blog. What has happened in the little country has really touched our heart, so we have focused much of our posts on it.

To sum up what has happened to the country and really most disasters in the world, the disasters have been quick, but the response has been slow. The rubble is beginning to be cleared from Haiti's streets, but the process has been slow. The cholera is spreading across the country quickly but there are still no vaccines for the people.

NPR conducted this interview over the weekend with their correspondent who has been in the country all along. Jason Beaubien gives us some analysis on the slow moving recovery efforts.

HANSEN: Jason Beaubien, have the U.S. and the international community been able to live up to their promises of financial aid and assistance?

BEAUBIEN: Certainly in Haiti there's a great sense of frustration that things are moving slowly. More than $10 billion was pledged from the international community. Less than a billion of that has actually come into the country over the last year. There's very much a risk that after this anniversary, Haiti could completely fall off the radar of the international community. And there's no way that Haiti's going to rebuild without that assistance from the international community.

They're not in a position to do it on their own and certainly there's going to be other disasters, other things that are going to pop up. And I think in Haiti there's very much a sense that the pace this last year was so slow that if that continues that Haiti could be stuck in this limbo waiting for this international aid to come at a time when there really isn't that much pressure for that to happen.

HANSEN: Again, billions of dollars were pledged to help. Money has come in. Who administers the money that comes in? I mean, the Haitian government is barely functional.

BEAUBIEN: There is a large consortium. It's called the Interim Haitian Reconstruction Commission. It's being headed by former President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Bellerive. They are administering billions of this money. They are overseeing sort of the biggest chunk. A lot of it is also in the hands of individual non-governmental organizations, aid groups.

HANSEN: The earthquake basically left whatever medical care there was in Haiti in ruins. A lot of people weren't treated for the injuries related to the quake. Then the cholera outbreak hit. I mean, what is the state of medical care in Haiti today?

BEAUBIEN: It's actually kind of strange. Medical care is actually better in Haiti now than it was before the quake. The number of international health care organizations that have come in - Doctors Without Borders and many others - are providing health care for free to the population at a level that they never were getting before the quake. So, that's sort of a perverse consequence of this.

At the same time, the cholera outbreak has put huge new strains on that system. This strain of cholera, this strain can kill people in a matter of hours. And so, now there's this need to have specialized cholera treatment facilities just about everywhere so that people, within a matter of hours, can get them. So, it's sort of a win on one hand and a loss on the other.

HANSEN: Has the cholera outbreak been curbed?

BEAUBIEN: No, and the problem is that it's clear that in a place like Haiti where the sanitation facilities are at times nonexistent, where getting clean water is one of the daily challenges that people face, that they're not going to be able to completely contain cholera and wipe it out. It's going to be in the country for years to come, people are saying.

Study finds unsafe conditions for mining workers in Central African Republic

From IRIN, a new study shows how diamond mining workers in the Central African Republic are often subject to low wages and attacks from armed groups.

Thousands of people dependent on diamond mining in the eastern regions of the Central African Republic (CAR) earn pitiful wages and are continually harassed by local and foreign armed groups, says a new study by the International Crisis Group (ICG).

Poverty and crime characterize the diamond business in CAR, according to the report entitled Dangerous Little Stones: Diamonds in the Central African Republic.

“The inability of artisanal miners to escape poverty holds back development in mining areas and increases the risk of young men and women joining rebel groups in the hope of better alternatives,” it said.

Low education levels, high mining costs and limited production have had adverse effects. “Miners are mostly ignorant of a diamond’s real value and, even if they know it, they are obliged to sell at the price offered, sometimes by written contract to the collector who financed the work… A collector might buy a one-carat diamond from a miner at 80,000 CFA francs [US$160] and sell it to a buying office for 200,000-300,000 CFA francs [$400-$600],” said the report.

Additional costs such as the hiring of equipment and licensing fees make for a hand-to-mouth existence, especially for those struggling to feed large families.

CAR’s diamond deposits are alluvial, making extraction harder and industrial mining less feasible. At present, production is based on trial and error methods, and the use of shovels and baskets to collect gravel from river beds. An estimated 80,000-100,000 miners depend on artisanal mining for a livelihood.

The ICG report recommends formalizing the mining sector to lower mining-related costs, lift living standards and reduce illegal mining networks. Weak law enforcement benefits illegal miners and traders, with bandits also profiting in mining zones. The report also calls for the expansion of livelihood activities, including agriculture. According to the UN Children’s Fund, chronic malnutrition in CAR stems from, among other things, loss of income in mining areas.

Armed groups such as the Convention des patriotes pour la justice et la paix (CPJP) and the Union des forces démocratiques pour le rassemblement (UFDR) remain active in the eastern diamond zone, making “the east a dangerous place to live and move around”, said the report, which noted that while diamond profits are not the only reason for rebel activity, they have contributed to making such rebellions harder to end in CAR.

Chadian connection

In late November, the CPJP took over the town of Birao in the northeastern province of Vakaga, causing population displacement after the departure of UN Mission troops deployed there. The CPJP has since been ousted by joint CAR-Chadian army soldiers.

The UN mission in CAR and Chad was established in 2007 to protect civilians, facilitate humanitarian assistance and protect UN personnel in eastern Chad and northeastern CAR. It ended in May at the request of the Chadian government which pledged full responsibility for protecting civilians on its territory.

According to a 1 December report by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the UN Security Council, risks in the northeast are attributable to ethnic, economic and political issues, with security remaining "stable, yet fragile" as security forces in Birao have limited capacity to fend off potential attacks.

LRA threat

Ban added that the Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) also posed a threat, although the major sources of insecurity are banditry and people passing through the area with arms to sell. The most urgent threat, Ban said, stems from armed internal political opposition groups, especially the CPJP.

The LRA presence further south is, according to the ICG, “yet another reason for the UFDR to postpone disarmament”. A July decision by President Francois Bozizé - for Ugandan soldiers in pursuit of the LRA in CAR to leave Sam Ouandja, in Haute Kotto Province, in favour of more international support - left a gap which has been filled by UFDR.

The lack of peacekeepers there, given the Ugandan army withdrawal, is cause for concern as “[Ugandan] troops provided at least some protection to civilians,” said advocacy group Resolve.

Insecurity in parts of the southeast, due to the LRA presence, often forces residents to leave their villages. The population in and around M'Boki, Zémio, Rafaï and Obo in Mbomou and Haut-Mbomou provinces has almost doubled, with impacts on food and water availability, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The two provinces border the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Orientale Province and Southern Sudan’s Western Equatoria region, which have also come under a series of LRA attacks, prompting a recent call by humanitarian agencies for international action against the LRA.

Overnight Links for December 27th

A commentary from the Guardian's Poverty Matters Blog says that it is time to concentrate on poor people, not poor governments. Writer Andy Sumner cites the growing economies of the world that still have many people being left out of the growth.

Poverty can lead people to fight, thinking that winning a battle can bring themselves out of misery. From this Associated Press article that we found at the Fort Mill Times, writer Jim Gomez describes how poverty leads Philippine youths join a communist rebel movement.

Ethnic clashes killed at least 32 people in Nigeria during the Christmas holiday. From Australia's The Age, this AFP story tells us the battle is the latest in a series of clashes between Christian and Muslim factions in the country.

Video: organ trafficking in Moldova

From Al Jazeera, a video on organ trafficking in Moldova, where the people have kidneys taken from them by force.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lynch mobs in Haiti looking for someone to blame for cholera

Lynch mobs have begun in Haiti as people are looking for someone to take the blame for the cholera epidemic. At least 40 people have been killed by the mobs so far. The mobs accuse the victims of using black magic to spread the disease.

From France 24, this wire story gives us more details.

At least 40 people have been lynched in recent weeks by angry Haitian mobs who accused their victims of spreading cholera in the poverty-stricken nation, local officials said Wednesday.

Fourteen people suspected of using black magic to spread the disease in the south-western region of Grand Anse were among those killed.

A cholera epidemic has killed more than 2,500 people since its outbreak in Haiti in October. More than 100,000 people have fallen ill from the disease and it is feared that six times as many people could become infected.
Science backs rumours

Meanwhile, scientists reported in the New England Journal of Medicine on Thursday that strong evidence suggests the disease came from South Asia.

Researchers said DNA samples from cholera bacteria recovered in Haiti were nearly identical to strains found in South Asia. The finding supports controversial theories that UN troops from Nepal or Bangladesh may have been responsible for bringing the disease to the Caribbean nation.

According to Harvard researcher Dr. Matthew Waldor, the finding indicates that cholera was introduced by people rather than arriving on ocean currents or occurring within Haiti, which also has been suggested.

Overnight links for December 23rd

The government in Bangladesh is raising more questions about the operations of the Grameen Bank. From BD News 24 we find out what the new complaint is about. 

China already has a fifth of the world's population and is able to manage feeding them all fairly well. A story in the Guardian says that commodity food price shocks might make it harder for China in the future. Writer Jonathan Watts recorded the comments of a U.N. expert on the subject.

Nepal's education system still faces one stiff challenge, continuing the classes during natural disasters. From the IPS writer Damakant Jayshi talks about the eduction system efforts to become secure during tragedy.    

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Video: Christmas adoptions of Haitian children

From the Associated Press, this video shows some Christmas adoptions of Haitian children headed to France for the holiday.

Overnight links for December 22nd

The Guardian has a video about early marriage in Ghana. The video profiles a fourteen year-old girl who is about to be taken into marriage. 

Yemen is the recipient of a lot of aid from the U.S. but the aid is given with control of al-Qaida in mind. This Associated Press story that we find at Google News tells us that fighting al-Qaida is a very low priority for Yemen. 

We are approaching the anniversary of the 2004 Christmas tsunami that killed a half a million people. An article from the BBC says that Indonesia's Aceh has made a great recovery, but is still vulnerable to future disasters. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bill Gates on some grant money lessons learned

Innovation moves faster in the technology sector than in many other areas of science, such as medicine or biology. Five years ago, Bill Gates gave millions of dollars to some ideas for advancements in vaccinations, and modified foods, thinking those ideas would become reality by now. Most of those ideas are still in the planning stages, giving Bill Gates a big lesson in how his foundation operates as it tries to solve social ills.

From the New York Times, reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr. writes about the lessons learned and how the foundation plans on changing strategy.

In an interview, Mr. Gates sounded somewhat chastened, saying several times, “We were naïve when we began.”

As an example, he cited the pursuit of vaccines that do not need refrigeration. “Back then, I thought: ‘Wow — we’ll have a bunch of thermostable vaccines by 2010.’ But we’re not even close to that. I’d be surprised if we have even one by 2015.”

He underestimated, he said, how long it takes to get a new product from the lab to clinical trials to low-cost manufacturing to acceptance in third-world countries.

In 2007, instead of making more multimillion-dollar grants, he started making hundreds of $100,000 ones.

“Now,” he said, only half-kidding, “you get a hundred grand if you even pretend you can cure AIDS.”

That little won’t buy a breakthrough, but it lets scientists “moonlight” by adding new goals to their existing grants, which saves the foundation a lot of winnowing. “And,” he added, “a scientist in a developing country can do a lot with $100,000.”

Over all, he said: “On drawing attention to ways that lives might be saved through scientific advances, I’d give us an A.

“But I thought some would be saving lives by now, and it’ll be more like in 10 years from now.”

Several scientists at the conference noted that Mr. Gates comes from the software industry, where computing power constantly doubles. Biology, by comparison, moves glacially — and microbes are less cooperative than electrons.

Biology also has a greater tendency to create progress-hindering controversy. For example, doing clinical trials on illiterate subjects in poor countries, which was once cheap and fast but ethically dubious, has become time-consuming and expensive as ethical standards have improved.

Also, poor countries lacking regulatory authorities and highly educated political and scientific elites may be nervous about being misused by Western scientists and careful about accepting new technologies.

Despite discoveries on many fronts, up to two-thirds of the grants either did not get renewed or may not in the near future, Mr. Gates estimated. In some cases, it was because they were not succeeding, either scientifically or because of political obstacles, or someone else had found a better path. In others, the foundation changed the goal.

Mississippi relies on foreign aid

One of the poorest areas of the U.S. is in central Mississippi. The area is so poor that is not only depends on government assistance from the U.S. but it relies on foreign aid as well.

From the Huffington Post, writer Marian Wright Edelman of the Children's Defense Fund tells us how they made this discovery.

The Children’s Defense Fund commissioned Julia Cass, an award-winning journalist, to prepare a report on child poverty and to interview poor children and families. She began in Quitman County, Mississippi, a touchstone of poverty in America that was the starting point of the 1968 Poor People's Campaign.

There, she made a startling discovery: Enriching experiences for children are so meager and government aid so spotty that after school tutoring and reading programs in Quitman and three other Mississippi Delta counties are financed by what is essentially foreign aid—The Bernard van Leer Foundation of the Netherlands.

"The foundation focuses on children and families in what it refers to as oppressed societies," said Betty Ward Fletcher. Her Jackson-based consulting firm was contracted by the Dutch foundation to help it design a program in Mississippi, called Children's Villages, for children aged 5 to 14. "Some of its people wondered why it should be working in the most affluent country in the world, but they decided the reality is, we have poor children in this country who are denied the opportunity to be all they can be." Fletcher heard of a ten-year-old boy consistently breaking into homes. He would eat and play on the computer and then leave.

People and jobs are leaving Quitman County, as in other parts of rural America. Adults without the money or education to make it elsewhere are stuck—and their children are stuck with them.

A good education is a major escape route but it is a well-known disgrace that America's poorest children generally go to the worst schools, which perpetuates disadvantage. A study done by the Economic Mobility Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts found that of American children born to parents in the bottom fifth income level, 42 percent—and 54 percent of African American children—remained there as adults.

Only about 30 percent of the children who graduate from Quitman County's Madison Palmer High School go to college, primarily to the two junior colleges in neighboring counties. About two graduates a year have the test scores and scholarships to make it to the University of Mississippi. Very few go to colleges outside Mississippi and none make it to an Ivy League or top-drawer private college or university.

The tradition of teenage marriage in Zambia

From IRIN, a story on the tradition of marrying off teen-aged girls in Zambia.

The minimum legal age for marriage in Zambia is 18, and parental consent is required if a girl or boy is 16-17. Anyone under 16 is a minor, and defilement of a minor is a serious offence, punishable by imprisonment of up to 25 years.

Patricia was 12 when she married John, four years her senior.

"My parents said they needed to benefit [from my dowry] before they die, and that's how they ordered me to stop going to school and get married to him... They charged him 500,000 kwacha [US$110] as bride price; he paid half and they gave him a field of maize [Zambia's staple food] to cultivate for them," she told IRIN.

After six years of marriage, Patricia has three children, has not returned to school, and is having a torrid married life.

"He beats me up very much and insults me saying my parents did not teach me properly, that I am very dirty and childish. He also has girlfriends, which I don't like, but when I tell my parents about it, they say he will stop; they tell me that all men are like that," Patricia said.

Early and forced marriages are common in Luapula Province, northern Zambia, where the incidence of early pregnancy and under-age marriage is estimated at about 70 percent among teenage girls, according to the UN population agency (UNFPA), which also pegs school drop-out levels at around 60 percent for girls aged 13 or 14.

Pascal Salimu, an UNFPA gender officer in Luapula Province, which has a population of 800,000, said poverty and tradition were behind child marriages, with the remote rural areas worst affected.

"Marrying off young girls is a tradition here... People [in rural areas] perceive a girl child as a source of wealth, and would rather give the girl into marriage to raise funds for educating the boy child," Salimu told IRIN.

High maternal mortality

Zambia's maternal mortality rate (MMR) of 591 per 100,000 live births is one of the highest in the world, according to the 2008 Demographic Health Survey, the most recent. No study has been done at national level to determine the contribution of early marriages to the country's high MMR, but Salimu said regional research had shown a high correlation between the two.

"Women who die in childbirth are mostly young; either there is prolonged labour, or there are other complications. Our recent study in Luapula's Mwense District found that about 30 percent of all maternal deaths involved young children," he said.

Luapula has one of the country's gloomiest social indicators: the poverty level in some towns is as high as 78 percent, against the national average of 64 percent. HIV prevalence is also higher in the province, compared to the national average of 14.3 percent of sexually active adults aged 15-49. HIV infection among pregnant women in Luapula is 18 percent, with mother-to-child transmission at 40 percent.

One parent in Mansa, the provincial capital of Luapula, who gave his name only as Mwewa, told IRIN early marriages were an effective tool for safeguarding the health of children and upholding family honour. "I would rather my daughter is married early before she 'knows' the world. I don't want her to become pregnant or end up contracting HIV because these children of nowadays know a lot of things, and whether you like it or not they already practice these things."

Grace Mwendapole, a programme unit manager in Mansa for Plan International, a child rights organization, said early marriages were a violation of the children's basic rights to a safe childhood, education, good health, and being able to make decisions about their own lives, and perpetuated gender-based violence.

“Because most girls are married off to older men, they have to live in abusive relationships [and] the poverty cycle continues. Some of them suffer from various complications [while giving birth] and some of them even end up dying," she told IRIN.

Marriages in Zambia can be customary, legal or religious, but religious unions are not recognized by the state. Experts blame customary marriages for fuelling child unions, as they often disregard the law in that they are arranged without the bride's consent.

"What is sad is that despite all the conventions we have signed [the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women], Zambian law does not even have any definition of early marriage. What we are talking about is, in fact, not even early marriage but child defilement - that is what it should be called," Mwendapole said.

"If we bring in [the] term of 'early marriage' it complicates the whole thing.”

Traditional leaders taking the lead

Some traditional leaders in Luapula Province have begun acting against child marriages. Chief Kasoma Lwela, a traditional ruler in Mansa, dissolved 15 child marriages in 2010 alone, and in the process sent about 12 girls back to school.

"Under-age marriages are rife in my area, and are affecting the education of girl children and exposing them to HIV and AIDS at a tender age. Early marriages are exposing young girls to complications when giving birth, resulting in increased maternal and infant mortality," he told IRIN. He intends to dissolve all child marriages in his jurisdiction through the traditional courts.

Elicho Bwalya, the provincial medical officer, said government had intensified awareness-raising campaigns to curb teenage pregnancies and child marriages in Luapula.

With support from UNFPA, the government has so far trained 56 health staff in long-term family planning methods, a further 49 in emergency obstetric and neo-natal care, and 1,010 community workers in family planning promotion and distribution of materials across the province, he said.

"This situation of having children carrying their fellow children [in pregnancies] is making our healthcare programmes very difficult to implement, because we are talking to immature people," Bwalya said.

"We end up with a lot of diseases in the community, affecting mothers, affecting children, and this will consequently translate to more poverty at national level."

Overnight Links for December 21st

A team of medical professionals from Kentucky took a missions trip to Haiti to help meet the health needs there. From the North Platte Telegraph writer Malena Ward talked to the people who took the trip.

Al Jazeera has a series of special programs on the upcoming independence referendum vote for Southern Sudan. The "Crossroads Sudan" program concentrates on the challenge of development for the new country.

The cholera death toll continues to rise in Haiti. The AFP story that we found at Google News says that the number of people dead has now surpassed 2500.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Bartering for medical care in Zimbabwe

From the New York Times YouTube channel, a video on how the Chidamoyo Christian Hospital in Zimbabwe uses a barter system for providing medical services.

Traffic accidents becoming a humanitarian problem in Cambodia

From IRIN, a story on how traffic accidents in Cambodia have become a humanitarian problem.

Cheng Heng’s wound was minor, but the impact on his family severe. The 31-year-old garment factory worker was riding his motorbike to work, when he collided with a bicycle 30km west of the capital, Phnom Penh.

His broken clavicle required surgery, costing US$250, leaving him out of work for almost a month and forcing him into debt.

As the primary breadwinner for his family of 10, contributing half the total income of $300 a month, it will take at least three months to pay off his debts.

Cheng hopes they will manage by working at nearby factories. “I didn't get any help either from NGOs or my factory,” he said.

Traffic crash “crisis”

In Cambodia, economic growth and urbanization have prompted people to migrate to the crowded capital, where a surfeit of automobiles, lax enforcement of traffic laws, and scant understanding of road safety take their toll. On average, 4.7 people die in accidents each day, according to a report by the Cambodian government and Handicap International Belgium, an NGO in Phnom Penh.

Over the past five years, the number of accidents increased by more than 200 percent, and the number of fatalities nearly doubled to 1,717 last year.

“We’re seeing more road crashes in outskirt areas, where there’s more speeding,” Socheata Sann, road safety programme manager at Handicap International Belgium, said.

The numbers are part of a troubling trend in Southeast Asia countries. In Vietnam, more than 11,000 people die in traffic accidents each year, 2,100 died in Myanmar last year.

In 2009, 1.4 million motor vehicles were registered in Cambodia, more than double the half million registered five years earlier.

Traffic accidents tend to affect vulnerable Cambodians, many of whom are poor. About 90 percent of crash victims ride vehicles motorbikes and bicycles, or are pedestrians, according to the report.

Last year, road accidents cost Cambodia $248 million, according to a study by Handicap International Belgium and Hasselt University in Belgium, against $116 million in 2003.

Men who are family breadwinners are often injured or killed, taking a toll on families and communities. About 80 percent of accident casualties are in the “economically active” portion of the population, and the peak age group is 20-29 years old, states a government report.

Families “can be tipped into poverty by costs of medical care, the loss of the family breadwinner’s income, funeral costs”, and can suffer social and psychological problems, Ryan Duly, Mekong regional programme manager at the Global Road Safety Partnership, a Geneva-based network of road safety groups, told IRIN from Bangkok.

“It is often the poorest households that are most affected as they do not have a safety net to absorb this loss of income,” he said.

Children also face high risks; in the 5-14 age group, road accidents are the most common cause of injury-related mortality and morbidity.

Cutting accident rate

In the next 10 years, the Cambodian government hopes to reduce the number of road fatalities by 30 percent to 2,240 deaths from the 3,200 deaths that authorities predict.

The government passed a law in 2006 requiring motorcycle drivers to wear helmets. No legislation, however, requires passengers to wear helmets. Inconsistent enforcement also hampered the law’s effectiveness, Sann told IRIN.

When police began enforcing the law in early 2009, about 90 percent of drivers in Phnom Penh wore helmets, whereas around 12 percent of passengers did so, according to Handicap. Fewer than half of drivers wore helmets at night, when they were not as visible and police officers less likely to be present.

Malaysian model

Some specialists say Cambodian officials should look to Malaysia for its traffic safety model, which combines tough enforcement, education and transport planning.

That country used to have a “serious problem” with motorcycles, Law Teik Hua, a civil engineering lecturer at the Putra University Malaysia in Selangor, Malaysia, told IRIN in Phnom Penh.

In the past three decades, the country has reduced traffic fatalities by about 30 percent, although the number of fatalities last year nudged up by 3.3 percent from 2008.

But he concedes changes in Cambodia, like in any country, will be difficult. “It takes a generation to change peoples’ perceptions.”

According to the World Health Organization, about 1.3 million people die in road accidents each year. More than 90 percent of those deaths are in low- and middle-income countries, taking a particularly high toll on the young and poor

Overnight links for December 20th

The Pan American Heath Organization is getting ready to begin cholera vaccinations in Haiti. Jane Sutton from the Scotland Herald says that the PAHO still needs to raise more money to manufacture more vaccine before they begin.   

The latest U.S. Census Bureau numbers show that the Muncie, Indiana area has a higher level of poverty than state or even national levels. Seth Slabaugh of the Muncie Star Press looks into the reasons why poverty is so high for this rural area. 

Canada will soon be withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. The country is beginning to talk about how they continue to help human rights in Afghanistan after the troops are gone. From the Globe and Mail, writer Sarah Smiles Persinger examines the new debate.   

Saturday, December 18, 2010

cholera fears come with flooding in Colombia

Flooding in Colombia has brought with it fears of new cholera cases. From the Latin American Herald Tribune, we find out more about the emergency.

Several reservoirs in Colombia are at the limit of their capacity amid the worst rains on record, and one has already overflowed, while the government acknowledged Friday that it fears a possible outbreak of cholera.

The catastrophic situation that much of the country is going through, in which 271 people have died and more than 2 million are affected, according to the latest official report, has become even more threatening in the northwestern province of Cordoba.

There the Urra Dam overflowed and in turn caused the flooding of the Sinu River, which inundated the homes of at least 2,000 families in several municipalities and in Monteria, the provincial capital, according to Mayor Marcos Pineda.

President Juan Manuel Santos was to visit Friday the municipality of Lorica, Cordoba, where he plans to announce new measures as part of the emergency decreed to combat the effects of the devastating rains.

What happened at Urra could be repeated at another nine hydroelectric dams that generate 84 percent of the energy consumed by Colombians, the daily El Espectador said Friday.>

Friday, December 17, 2010

Yunus calls for a regulatory authority over microcredit in India

Muhammad Yunus has been asked often about his take on what is going on in Andhra Pradesh, India. A rash of suicides amongst microcredit borrowers has officials stepping into regulate microcredit companies that don't seem to be playing fair. Yunus says a that India should establish a regulatory body over microcredit similar to the one in Bangladesh.

From Rediff, we read more on Yunus' comments.

"They (MCI) were created to fight the loan sharks and not to create one. There should be some regulatory authority when you have so many micro credit programmes running. It's time to have one for transparency purposes so that people are given out information in a transparent way," he said during a video conferencing session organised at IIM-A.

"Bangladesh has created a micro credit regulatory authority to address these issues because we have so many programmes in the country now. I think it would be a good idea for India to do that," he said.

Grameen Bank offers small loans for self-employment to some of the poorest people in Bangladesh, including beggars.

The bank, with 2,600 branches and total deposits of $1.5 billion - of which 46 per cent come from its borrowers - has 8.3 million borrowers, 97 per cent of them women.

"The bank lends over $120 million per month in Bangladeshi currency," said Yunus, who received Nobel Prize [ Images ] for peace in 2006. Yunus maintained that government should not be running the micro credit programmes. Instead, they must create some sort of fund so that there is an easy source of funding for the NGOs who want to start such programmes.

"The government should not be running the micro credit programmes. They should be run by other people," Yunus said in reply to a query.

The reason why I say government should not be lending money directly to the borrowers is that the moment they do that, politics gets involved into it," Yunus said.

"The government should stay away from the credit side so that quality of credit is good." Yunus' remarks on MFIs come in the backdrop of a controversy over alleged strong-arm tactis adopted by MFIs in loan recovery from poor farmers and charging exorbitant interest on loans.

Lord's Resistance Army might strike again, during Christmas

During the last two Christmas seasons the Lord's Resistance Army has committed atrocities to people in Uganda, Sudan and the Republic of Congo. Aid groups fear that the group could do it again this year, and they are calling on the international community to step up enforcement in the region to prevent a repeat.

From the BBC, we read more about the fears that the LRA might strike again.

Figures show that the LRA over the past two years has become the most deadly militia in the DRC, the aid groups say in a report.

On Christmas Day 2008 and over the following three weeks, LRA beat to death more than 800 people in north-eastern DR Congo and Southern Sudan, abducting hundreds more.

In December 2009, the brutal militia killed more than 300 villagers in DR Congo in the run-up to Christmas.

An LRA spokesman denied that his organisation was responsible for the atrocities.

The rebels - originally from Uganda and also roaming across parts of Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR) - killed or abducted more than 1,000 people in remote areas of DR Congo last year alone, the report says.

Sterilizing male malarial mosquitoes

A scientific facility in Vienna is attempting to sterilize male mosquitoes to help lessen malaria. The male's sole purpose in life is to reproduce, so the hope is sterilizing them will reduce the population of malarial mosquitoes.

From the Inter Press Service, writer Timothy Spence explains the process to us.

Entomologists and other researchers at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are testing whether sterilised insect technique (SIT) can be used to reduce populations of malarial mosquitoes. Experiments are taking place at the agency’s laboratory facilities in eastern Austria, and researchers emphasise that their work is at an early stage.

Though the IAEA is better known for inspecting nuclear sites and non- proliferation treaties, its researchers are engaged in other activities, such as using atomic technologies and precision measuring devices to develop more efficient crop irrigation techniques, improve medical diagnoses and calibrate scientific equipment. They also train scientists from developing countries.

The focus of the malaria research so far has been on Anopheles arabiensis, a mosquito species that thrives in the Nile River basin in Sudan. Sudan’s government requested IAEA assistance in reducing the prevalence of malaria in the region. More than 500,000 malaria cases are reported every year in the country of 43 million, and malaria accounts for some 32,000 deaths annually, according to the Global Fund, the public-private partnership that channels money into combating malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis.

Researchers at the Austrian lab have established a colony of the Anopheles mosquitoes that are the target of SIT research. Experiments involve a painstaking process restricted by the relatively short lifespan of the insects - - less than a month -- and the handful of hours when the sterilisation procedure is optimal.

In the lab, the mosquitoes are separated by sex. The males get a blast of up to 100 Gray in a cobalt irradiator, a lethal radiation dose for a human. The sterilised males are then placed in a mesh-covered box where males and females mix in a frenzied mating ritual.

"This is like a crowded discotheque," said Jérémie Gilles, a French entomologist and one of eight researchers working on the project.

SIT has been used successfully to suppress other pests -- often invasive species -- by flooding nature with insects that cannot reproduce.

Overnight links for December 17th

Columnist Pam Strickland of the Knoxville News talks about the prevalence of food stamp usage in Tennessee. The state has the third highest food stamp usage rate in the US.  

 The Guardian's Poverty Matters blog examines the issue of celebrities getting involved in development aid. Madeliene Bunting says the issue is complex and it is impossible to say if all of the celebirites are really helping or just wasting time. 

Stephen Harper Prime Minister of Canada is signing up to lead the fund-raising efforts for the new U.N. initiative on maternal health. Globe and Mail writer Campbell Clark says that Harper will co-chair the committee with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

How does Ghana avoid the oil curse?

Ghana begins drilling for oil today. An oil field called Jubilee should produce 120,000 barrels a day for the next 20 years.

We have seen oil be a curse more so than a blessing in other parts of Africa. Bad governance has sucked all of the oil revenues away into a few corrupt pockets instead of being used to bless the people. The country of Ghana is often held up as a good example of governance by the western world. So how does Ghana avoid from falling into the same curse?

We have two different perspectives on this topic. First the website The Africa Report has an exhaustive study on the Ghana oil. One sidebar to the study concentrates on the how to avoid the oil curse.

This time it must be different. That is the oft-heard demand from 
activists, politicians and business-people when discussing oil’s potential in Ghana. The discovery of the Jubilee field – with about 1.8bn barrels – is different from its African counterparts. It is the first time substantial amounts of oil and
gas have been found in one of Africa’s established democracies.

Estimates on the quantum of Ghana’s oil wealth vary hugely. The common starting point is that Jubilee will produce about 120,000 barrels per day and some $1.2bn in government revenue a year for 20 years. The adjacent Tweneboa field is reckoned to be as big as Jubilee’s, but industry experts forecast the biggest finds will be onshore in the Keta basin. With companies like Exxon Mobil, BP, ENI and Sinopec
vying to buy equity in the Jubilee field, the assumption is that Ghana has several billion barrels of reserves. 

A key imperative, according to the World Bank’s Sébastien Dessus, is revenue transparency. That means signing up to full disclosure under the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and working with civil society groups on the analysis of contracts and the monitoring of environmental impact. Then there are the corrosive effects of revenue accruing to an over-centralised government. Worst of all is the ‘Dutch disease’, under which the currency appreciates as oil revenues flow. Bank of Ghana Governor Kwesi Bekoe Amissah-Arthur says he is determined to hold down the value of the cedi against the US dollar to maintain the
competitiveness of exports.

Next, this Oxfam press release points to the lack of transparency that they already find in Ghana's oil production.

On Wednesday, December 15, Ghana will celebrate the start of oil production at the major offshore “Jubilee” field, kicking off an oil boom expected to bring billions of dollars into the country. As Ghana prepares to “turn on the tap” with an elaborate inauguration ceremony, international humanitarian organization Oxfam America urges the government to quickly address large gaps in the legal framework needed to make the most of the billions in government revenue Ghana will receive from the sector.

“The start of oil production represents an important opportunity for Ghana. However, we are concerned that three-and-a- half years after discovery of the Jubilee field, there is still no oil revenue management law in place and no independent regulator established for the sector. Ghana has an enviable recent track record of progress on fighting poverty and improving democratic accountability, but the sudden onset of oil wealth often comes at the expense of good governance and effective development. Ghana’s challenge as an ‘oil hot spot’ will be to manage this industry with transparent and accountable policies and practices, so the people of Ghana can truly benefit over the long term,” said Ian Gary, Oxfam America’s Senior Policy Manager for Extractive Industries and author of the Oxfam report, Ghana’s Big Test: Oil’s Challenge to Democratic Accountability.

By early 2011, estimates are that Ghana will be producing approximately 120,000 barrels of oil per day. The Jubilee field has 500 million barrels of proven reserves and a potential for over 1 billion barrels. The production rate is expected to supply more than $400 million to the government’s 2011 budget and around $1 billion per year into the country in the early years. Promising indications from adjacent exploration oil wells could mean even higher levels of production and reviews in the next few years.

The Ghanaian government must establish a legal framework that ensures transparent publication of oil payments received, open and competitive contract bidding and contract disclosure, and active monitoring and participation by civil society. While there have been some positive signs – Ghanaian President John Atta Mills promised disclosure of oil contracts in March 2009 and a petroleum revenue management bill tabled in the Ghanaian Parliament in July contained important transparency and safeguard provisions – with first oil right around the corner, the necessary laws and systems have not been put in place. Despite government commitments, oil contracts remain unavailable to the public.

“The Ghanaian Parliament is currently debating an oil revenue bill, and important provisions – such as a prohibition against using oil revenue as collateral for loans – have already been stripped out of the bill. A Petroleum Exploration and Production Bill, which had numerous weaknesses, has been shelved. Celebrations of first oil are clouded by the fact that the government has yet to establish an independent regulator since the Jubilee discovery was announced in 2007,” said Richard Hato-Kuevor, Oxfam America’s Extractive Industries Advocacy Officer in Accra, Ghana. “These oil laws involve national questions that require national consensus. There is simply too much at stake for Ghana to adopt inadequate laws to manage this massive industry.”

The removal of a ban on using future oil revenues as collateral for loans is particularly worrying. Many oil producers around the world – such as Nigeria, Angola and Congo-Brazzaville – have gone deep into debt due to unsustainable oil-backed borrowing. Such loans, with steep interest rates and short repayment terms, are often taken out in secret with little or no parliamentary or public scrutiny. Recent press reports have noted that the state oil company, the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation, is working with Deutsche Bank and other private banks to secure a $500 million loan. The terms and purpose of the loan are not clear.

Ghana is one of the most peaceful and relatively prosperous countries in West Africa but remains poor with the majority of Ghanaians living on less than $2 a day. While poverty needs are pressing, stabilization and savings funds must be established and funded to avoid the price shocks and wasteful spending in the early years of an oil boom, which have bedeviled other countries.

Historically, the exploitation of natural resources in Africa has far too often led to increased poverty and conflict, a phenomenon often referred to as “resource curse.” In 2009, Africa produced 13 percent of the world’s oil with great investment and exploration throughout the continent, but this has yet to translate into tangible benefits for Africa’s poor. In fact, resource-rich countries in Africa have actually experienced lower growth rates than countries with scarce resources.

“Oil wealth threatens the growing democratic accountability that has been built in Ghana’s recent history,” said Mohammed Amin Adam, convener of Ghana’s Civil Society Platform on Oil and Gas. “This industry presents very real risks to Ghana’s fragile economy, including incurring too much debt through oil-backed loans. We as Ghanaians need to see December 15th as a day to wake up to these challenges and hold our government accountable for the management of this enormous opportunity for the country.”

In March 2011, Oxfam will publish a “Readiness Report Card” analyzing Ghana’s efforts to prepare its oil boom.

Overnight links for December 16th

The Guardian has this video on solutions to improve the water supply in Haiti. The lack of clean water in the country is really helping to spread the cholera outbreak.  

Inter Press Service writer Damakant Jayshi has this story about door to door efforts to improve maternal health in Nepal.  

Finally this audio roundup of the headlines provided by Reuters Alert Net's AudioBoo channel.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

MSF moves facilities to areas of Haiti that have new cholera cases

Medecins Sans Frontieres is moving its facilities along with where the cholera outbreak moves in Haiti. More people age getting sick in the Northern and Southern portions of the country, so MSF is moving staff into those parts that are seeing surges of infections.

From this MSF press release, we find out more on the latest news from Haiti.

Since October 22, 2010, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has treated 62,000 people with cholera symptoms in Haiti. This week, MSF's 4,000 Haitian staff and 315 international employees treated close to 2,000 patients each day in the 47 centers and cholera treatment units it has established across the country.

MSF has treated more than 15,000 people in the capital with cholera symptoms since the epidemic began. The number of patients admitted into MSF facilities in Port-au-Prince has stabilized at a daily average of 385 patients this week. The situation is also stabilizing in the Artibonite department, which has thus far been hardest hit by the epidemic and where more than 23,000 people have been treated. This week, slightly more than 1,000 people were admitted into MSF facilities there.

However, the epidemic continues to spread in Haiti's northern cities and rural areas. During the past week, more than 4,000 patients were treated in the Department du Nord, as its known locally, and 1,100 patients were treated in the Department du Nord Ouest. Despite the significant logistical challenges involved in reaching isolated parts of both departments, MSF teams are expanding the number of units, treatment centers, and rehydration points in both areas.

Meanwhile, the epidemic has increased sharply in the South. Of the 475 people treated in the South for cholera since the start of the outbreak, 439 presented in the past seven days. In Jacmel, in the Departement du Sud Est, approximately 100 patients are arriving at MSF's 50-bed cholera treatment unit every day. "Our team had to handle an inflow of 260 in a single day," says Dr. Loreto Barcelo, MSF's coordinator in Jacmel. "There were people everywhere… Patients, their families… There were several hundred people at the treatment site. We had to put up to four patients in a single bed and try to save as many as possible while waiting for extra help to arrive. We now have an additional 20 nurses helping us and opened a new 100-bed treatment center, which is helping us manage the situation."

This week, new cholera treatment facilities were set up in Pignon, St Raphaël, Ranquitte (Nord), Gaspard (Nord Ouest), and Jérémie (Grande Anse). However, as the epidemic continues to spread, the response by local and international organizations remains inadequate.

Some have raised the possibility of launching a vaccination campaign. Under the circumstances, epidemiologist Kate Alberti wonders if this is appropriate. "The epidemic affects the entire country today, including the most remote areas. This isn't the time to carry out a vaccination campaign. The priority is to treat patients, provide access to chlorinated water and improve hygiene measures to prevent others from becoming ill." However, Alberti adds, "In the future, we will consider vaccination as a viable option to immunize the population and limit the appearance of a new epidemic."

MSF is treating victims of post-election violence

MSF treated 96 victims of the violence that erupted in Port-au-Prince and several other cities between December 7 and 12. Of that number, 38 had gunshot wounds. Four people died of their wounds. MSF has surgical supplies and medical teams at six facilities in Port-au-Prince and two in other regions of the country. The organization remains prepared to treat any additional wounded patients. Despite the insecurity, MSF teams have managed to ensure continuity of medical care, including responding to the cholera epidemic and treating persons wounded in the violence.

World Bank announces record donations of 50 billion dollars

The World Bank has announced a record for money pledged that will go to the poorest nations. The Bank has over 50 billion dollars that it will loan out over the next four years. The 50 billion will all go to a branch of the bank called the International Development Association. The IDA distributes grants or no-interest loans to the poorest nations of the world.

From this AFP article that we found at Google News, we find out more about this announcement from the bank. A post on this topic yesterday mentioned the reforms that NGOs wanted from the IDA before the new round of lending begins.

The pledges to the International Development Association (IDA) for 2011 to 2014 -- 18 percent higher than the last round -- will help immunise 200 million children, offer health services to over 30 million people and give access to improved water to another 80 million, the bank said in a statement.

The announcement was made in Brussels after a meeting of the IDA's main donors, who meet every three years to review policies and replenish its coffers.

The fund is one of the world's largest sources of aid for 79 poor nations, 39 of them in Africa.

A total 51 donors, including China, contributed to the IDA round, which set up a special crisis response fund that will include a special allocation for earthquake-hit Haiti.

European Union countries contributed 43 percent of the total -- well below the 85 billion euros used to bail out Ireland and its banks by the bloc and the IMF.

Since its creation in 1960 the IDA fund has provided more than 220 billion dollars, averaging 14 billion annually over the last two years, with around 20 percent of funding provided as grants, the remainder in interest-free long-term credits, often stretching 35-40 years, including a 10-year grace period.

Brazil claims to have eliminated childhood malnutrition

Brazil is claiming that that have met another of the Millennium Development Goals by eliminating extreme malnutrition from the country. Since 1989, Brazil says that they cut in half the following: number of people living on less than a dollar, the number infant deaths, and deaths of women during childbirth.

From Fox News Latino, we read more about the achievements being announced from Brazil.

The proportion of underweight Brazilian children under 5 fell by 7.1 percent to 1.8 percent between 1989 and 2006, thus achieving one of the first goals in the eradication of poverty and hunger set by the United Nations to be reached by the year 2015, the Health Ministry said.

Brazil has also substantially reduced the number of people living on an income equivalent to $1 a day, has shrunk the gap between rich and poor, and has increased the employment rate, all areas contemplated in the Millennium Goals.

Health Minister Jose Gomes Temporao said that Brazil should reach the goal of reducing the childhood-mortality rate by 2012, three years before the U.N. target date, if the country "stays its present course."

According to the report, infant mortality fell by 58 percent in Brazil between 1990 and 2008, to the point of having 22.8 deaths for every 1,000 live births, and within three years should fall to 17.8 deaths, which would mean achieving the goal set by the United Nations.

Read more:

PEPFAR may soon begin distributing microbicide gels

Earlier this year, a clinical trial found great promise for the use of microbicide gels to prevent the spread of AIDS. In an interview with Reuters Alert Net, the head of the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief program says they would like to start distributing the gels once regulatory hurdles are cleared.

Writer Andrew Quinn interviews PEPFAR head Eric Goosby talks about the future methods of the program.

"We would support PReP in terms of high risk populations," Goosby, the U.S. Global AIDS coordinator, told Reuters, adding that various country approval plans were already under internal consideration.

Goosby said microbicide gels -- a focus of hope since a South African clinical trial this year showed at least one version lowered HIV infection rates -- could also play a part once full regulatory approval is obtained and more is understood about how they work.

"We haven't worked out the delivery system or the dosing or interval of application," Goosby said. "We are absolutely positioned to engage in it as soon as we know those."

Goosby spoke as PEPFAR signed a new five-year deal with South Africa to bolster its AIDS fight, signaling a deepening cooperation between Washington and a country once depicted as representing the wrong approach to the AIDS epidemic.

The addition of PrEP and microbicide gels could represent a potentially large new budget item for PEPFAR, the $18.8 billion program launched by former President George W. Bush, but Goosby said new efficiencies in both care and treatment were already streamlining the overall bill.

He said South Africa had proposed using PrEP to treat uninfected inmates in South Africa's prisons -- a major vector for HIV -- while pilot projects elsewhere were looking at sex workers and men who have sex with men.

Overnight Links for December 16th

The UK is giving some emergency humanitarian assistance to Somalia. 1.5 million people have been displaced due to ongoing violence, so the emergency aid will provide food, water and shelter for those people. This Shabelle Media Network article from All Africa gives us the details. 

80 million children work in Africa and experts warn that that number could increase. From Africa News, writer Rubakana Eddy explains how most of thee children are victims of exploitation.

From the Inter Press Service more details on Israel's mass deportation of African migrants. Writer Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa Al-Omrani find that some observers are likening it to building a new wall against another people.

Finally, Reuters Alert Net is providing an audio newscast of world headlines that we will begin embedding into our overnight links post.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

NGOs demand reforms from World Bank before new loaning cycle begins

A part of the World Bank that provides interest free loans to the world's poorest countries is about to announce a new funding package. The International Development Association will announce how much money they will have available for the next five years thanks to government contributions. Before the new funding cycle begins, NGOs want the donor governments to insist on new reforms from the bank.

From the Inter Press Service, writer Matthew O. Berger describes the demands that NGOs are making.

"We do support an IDA replenishment but we think it would be a missed opportunity if donors did not use their leverage for change," said Oxfam spokesperson Elizabeth Stuart.

Donor governments are expected to be somewhat stingier this time around due to the economic crisis and waves of austerity measures, but, says Stuart, that bleak economic situation should be all the more reason for thorough tracking and transparency of where IDA funds go and what they accomplish.

"It is the responsibility of donors to ensure the Bank is spending the money effectively during the recession," she said.

The Bank's case for replenishing IDA's coffers rests on what it sees as the fund's successful track record over the past decade, particularly in helping to spur economic growth in many poor countries before the economic crisis rolled back some of that progress.

For its part, IDA has scaled up its work in the past 10 years, increasing its lending and grants from 4.4 billion dollars in 2000 to 14.5 billion in 2010.

The Bank also points to reforms that have tried to track the results this lending has had.

But Oxfam's Stuart says the reforms have not yet gone far enough.

"The Bank talks a lot about tracking results but this tracking is often too technical and doesn't include the right indicators. People can't really understand it. We need something very simple that both taxpayers and people in poor recipient countries can understand," she said.

Not all NGOs are as critical of IDA's progress on openness, though. InterAction, an alliance of U.S.-based NGOs of which Oxfam is a member, has many other members that are much more positive about the replenishment process, said John Ruthrauff, director of international advocacy at InterAction.

Though there are certain reforms InterAction would like to see implemented, Ruthrauff is hopeful the Bank is starting down that reform path, as indicated by the Bank agreeing to inform InterAction and other civil society organisations, in writing, of the changes made to the draft IDA replenishment report.

"This is a very important step because the Bank never tells civil society whether or not their input had any impact," said Ruthrauff.

The new UN strategy to improve maternal health moves forward

During Millennium Development Goal summit last fall, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon announced a new initiative to improve maternal health. A woman's chance of living through a childbirth is actually pretty low in the under-developed world, as low as a one in 21 chance for some countries. This initiative actually has some political will and momentum, the first meetings for the committee will take place during the upcoming World Economic Forum

From the Guardian, World Vision's Kate Eardley talks about the new U.N. program and the improvements that need to be made for women around the world.

The launch in September of the UN secretary general's Strategy for women's and children's health has been met with great excitement by those who want to see a drop in the number of deaths. The report comes with the promise of saving the lives of 16 million women and children by 2015. But there is some anxiety about how this will be achieved.

What makes this strategy stand out from previous initiatives is the high level of political will it has garnered. It has received significant commitments from traditional donors, including countries of the G8, but, crucially, a large number of governments from developing countries also made major policy and financial pledges. Afghanistan committed to triple public spending on health and increase the percentage of women giving birth with a skilled health worker, while Niger pledged to introduce legislation to raise the legal age of marriage to 18 and increase female literacy.

So how do we move from promise to delivery; from commitments to lives saved? This week marks a critical milestone as the WHO announces a timeline for progress. Dr Margaret Chan, WHO director-general, will appoint the prime minister of Canada and the president of Tanzania as co-chairs of a group of 25 global leaders who will champion maternal and child health - the commission on accountability and information. This group will be tasked with mapping out how to turn the promises made in September into action in rural communities and slums in the poorest countries. It will have its first meeting at the World Economic Forum in Davos early next year, before making a final report to the UN general assembly in September 2011.

In Sierra Leone, where childbirth survival rates are some of the lowest in the world, the government has made its own commitments to the global strategy, pledging to "increase access to health facilities for pregnant women, newborns and children under five through the removal of user fees". An estimated 4 billion people living in developing countries have to borrow money or sell assets so they can access healthcare for themselves or their families.