Friday, April 30, 2010

The effects of Niger's food crisis on education

More on the emerging food crisis in Niger and it's effects on education.

Many families are fleeing the South Central portion of Niger in search of food and pasture for their animals. The children go with them and away from their schooling as they join their parents in acquiring food of the whole family. Development workers in the area say that this will hurt Niger's long term development prospects will a less educated workforce.

From Reuters Alert Net, writer George Fominyen describes how the food crisis effects education.

"Three children from this class have abandoned school - two boys and one girl...they have followed their parents to Sudan," teacher Salissou wana Fanna Kaou told AlertNet. Within five months, more than 40 of the school's 238 students have left.

In drought-hit areas, five schools have closed down, and more than 19,000 children have stopped attending classes as they accompany their parents in search of food, water and pastures for their livestock.

"It is a disturbing prospect that we are faced with but the parents cannot leave their children behind, as community solidarity is hard to maintain when no one has food," said Boukar Kolomi, director of education services for the region of Zinder, where 37 percent of primary-level pupils have quit school.

At least 7.8 million people, or nearly 60 percent of Niger's population, will be threatened with severe food shortages this year in the wake of failed rains.

Niger is bottom of the U.N. Human Development Index, and has a school enrolment/attendance rate of about 38 percent and an adult literacy rate of 37 percent, according to the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF).

The United Nations says providing food aid to families would allow them to stay in their villages, keeping children in school.

Guest Voices: Cambodian Mother of Five Becomes an Agent of Change

Continuing our series of guest posts from Concern Worldwide, the story of a mother of five who is making a positive change in Cambodia. This piece is written by Concern worker Stewart Gee.

I have been in Cambodia for just nine months now, and the hectic nature of the lifestyle in Phnom Penh is matched only by the sheer volume of work that needs to be tackled on a weekly basis.

Then again, I have come to expect this when working with Concern, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It is easy, particularly in an office-based role such as mine, to get immersed in the Mekong-like flood of different things coming across your desk.

I guess it’s the same in most jobs. But one thing that’s distinct about working for Concern is that, frequently, things remind you why you left your family and friends to work in an far-away, unfamiliar place, and why you left the cool weather. ( Irishmen were not built for 400C!)

Recently, our local partner organization Support Association for Rural Farmers Organization (SARF) shared a story with me about a woman named Mrs Sokhom. It never ceases to amaze me how when you have nothing, something very small can make a difference that affects everything.

Mrs. Sokhom is a widow living in Chheuteal Kpus village, in Pursat Province. Her husband died from HIV and AIDS in 2004. She was left alone to provide for their five children, one of whom died from a fever at the age of one. Before he died, her husband was the family’s main breadwinner. However, his medical treatment was expensive, and paying for it slowly pushed the family into debt before he died.

After her husband’s death, Mrs. Sokhom was only able to earn $6 – $8 per month (26 cents per day): but it cost more than $15 per month to support her family. She tried to scrape together income by rice cultivation, growing vegetables and selling firewood that she had gathered, but it was not enough and she slipped further into debt as the months went on.

Mrs. Sokhom came to the point at which she could not provide enough food for her family, and she was forced to take three of her children out of school so they could help her earn extra income by herding livestock. In 2006, she decided to send two of her daughters to work in a clothes factory in Phnom Penh, but still found that she was unable to rise above the family debt.

In March 2007, Mrs. Sokhom was selected to participate in a Concern-supported livelihoods project. First, the program gave her training in rattan mat weaving, and later gave her skills and support to allow her to begin raising chickens. She received a grant of $50 to get started in this enterprise, and was able to earn $10 per month from selling chickens and vegetables. This in turn allowed her to save some money and reduce her debt.

A year later, Mrs. Sokhom went to a Concern-supported Farmer Field School in a nearby village where she learned ways to expand her business. Concern’s Farmer Field Schools empower the poorest farmers to manage their own resources, improve planting techniques, diversify crops, and increase their harvests. Participants receive training from Concern program staff in a number of agricultural methods, and there is a strong focus on women farmers.

In August 2008, Mrs Sokhom’s own community selected her to be a “model farmer.” As part of the program, she received another grant of just over $100 to build a chicken house, buy more chickens, and expand her vegetable plot.

Where is Mrs. Sokhom today? Her life has been transformed and she has become an agent of change. Her family no longer faces food shortages and they no longer have to cut down trees and sell firewood for extra income. She is raising chickens and growing vegetables and earning about $50 per month.

In addition, she has shared her experience and learning with five other families in her village. As a result of visiting her model farm, these families are now also part of Concern’s program. Mrs. Sokhom has promised that as she grows her business, she will coach and help other participants to grow theirs.

Smiling, Mrs. Sokhom said, “I am very happy, proud and thankful for the support from Concern and SARF. I never hoped to escape the life I had, and get the opportunity to build a new house. But now everything has changed through effort and patience. Again, I wish SARF and Concern success, health and prosperity to support the poor so that they can leave poverty behind for good.”

Poverty of indigenous people worldwide

A new World Bank study focuses on the poverty of indigenous people around the world. The report says that indigenous people only make up 5 percent of the world's population, but make up 10 percent of the world's poor.

Statistics in the World Bank report shows that Asia has made great strides to reduce the poverty of it's indigenous people, mostly coming from the boom economies of China and India. Meanwhile, Latin America has shown a slow progress.

From this IPS article, writer Marguerite A. Suozzi gathers some reaction to the report.

"The level of poverty that has been reduced in Asia is significant," said Harry Patrinos, a co-author of the study and lead education economist at the World Bank. He attributes these positive results to broad-based economic growth programmes in each country which aim to reduce poverty nationally.

China "started with a much higher level of poverty than any country in Latin America, yet the indigenous populations', the minority populations' poverty reduced by more than 17 percent between 1990 and 2002," said Patrinos. "But we also have a more rapid change in India, as compared to Latin America, where there is a lack of progress," he said.

The report cited the lack of development indicators for indigenous peoples as "a major hindrance to both their empowerment and poverty reduction," and seeks to narrow these gaps "by estimating several key development indicators related to progress under the Millennium Development Goals for indigenous peoples around the world."

But the definition of "development" by the development community, and the definition of "development" held by different native peoples may be one challenge in moving forward.

"Widespread, sustainable, economic growth is required to target poverty reduction," Patrinos told reporters on Monday, as are programmes designed to be specifically relevant to indigenous communities' needs.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

New report on human rights in Myanmar shows no improvement

Human Rights Watch has issued an update on rights within Myanmar, the humanitarian group says human rights are less even after Cyclone Nargis. After the cyclone killed 140,000 people in 2004 the world hoped that the military junta that rules the country would be more open, but the reverse has happened.

From Reuters Alert Net, we read more about the report.

"Civilians in cyclone-affected areas continue to be subjected to various forms of forced labour, everyday restrictions on movements, and infringements of the rights to freedom of expression and association," according to Human Rights Watch's new report.

It said ongoing international recovery efforts are not accompanied by measures to protect human rights and 21 people who were arrested in the immediate aftermath of the cyclone, for speaking out against the iron-fisted junta's handling of relief efforts, remain in jail.

The report called for their release as well as those of nearly 2,100 political prisoners. It cautioned that while the rise of civil society groups in Myanmar - formed to provide relief to cyclone survivors in the first few weeks before international aid was allowed in - is to be applauded, their existence remains extremely fragile.

The cyclone was the worst to hit Asia since 1991, and the country's ruling generals came under harsh international criticism for initially refusing to allow foreign aid workers into the country.

The government finally relented but progress was slow. Without the government's stringent restrictions in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, the survivors would be much farther down the road to recovery, the report said.

Despite estimated foreign reserves of US$5 billion and income from lucrative natural gas sales, "the Burmese government has failed to adequately support reconstruction efforts that benefit the population," it added, calling the country by its former name.

According to the report, the junta had allocated a mere 5 million kyats (US$50,000) to an emergency fund immediately after the storm.

Indonesian women look to other countries for work

From IRIN, a story on Indonesian women who are going overseas to find work, this is leaving many villages with a shortage of women.

The number of women leaving the archipelago, legally or illegally, has been steadily climbing over the past decade, according to the National Authority for the Placement and Protection of Indonesian Overseas Workers.

An estimated six million Indonesian woman - some 90 percent of all Indonesian migrant labourers - are now working overseas, according to the authority.

Most go to the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Jordon and Qatar, with the rest are in Asia Pacific, including Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan.

Many Indonesian villages are left with a shortage of women. Men, such as Edin in Cimanggu village, in a rural farming community on Java Island, sometimes assume the role of a single parent for years at a time.

“It’s very difficult. I have to be very patient to raise them. The grandparents cannot take care of them, so it’s only me,” said Edin, who has two teenagers.

His wife worked in Saudi Arabia for almost seven years, enabling the couple to pay school fees and buy a motorcycle. But they still cannot afford their own land or a house, he said.

His wife returns in six months from what he hopes will be her last trip. “It is not worth it, I don’t want her to go again,” he said.

According to the World Bank, the registered remittances Indonesian migrant workers send home account for more than US$6 billion annually, comprising the second-highest source of income after oil and gas.

Paying the price

But this contribution comes at a significant cost to women and their families.

“Most of the women are in debt because of placement fees and travel costs they have to pay the [employment] agents. It sometimes takes them the first 16 months to pay the agents back,” said Yoko Doi, a specialist in migrant labour at the World Bank in Jakarta. “They also lack financial planning.”

For many, the desperately sought-after prosperity for which they sacrificed so much remains elusive.

Nine-year-old Zikiri’s mother has been working for more than two years in Saudi Arabia and left when his sister was still a baby. She has only sent money home once.

“His father was supposed to take care of him, but he could not do it. The kids were dirty and did not get enough food, so we brought them here,” said Ai Syamsiyah, Zikiri’s aunt.


Some migrant workers build big houses, but cannot afford the maintenance and are forced to go back to work abroad. But most of the money is spent on daily costs for schooling, food and transportation.

Wages abroad are low and the workload sometimes involves looking after entire families alone without holidays.

Women make the most in Hong Kong, earning almost $500 per month, while in Malaysia, they make less then $150, according to Migrant Care, an Indonesian NGO.

But back home they make a fraction of that amount, and unemployment and poverty are rife.

The stories about the appalling conditions experienced by migrant workers are painful. Some women sleep in cupboards, or have no private space at all. Food is poor and insufficient. They often work extremely long hours and are the first to get up and the last to go to bed. An estimated 20 percent come back abused, raped, or without being paid, according to Migrant Care.

But for the women of Cimanggu, such horror stories do not deter women from leaving home.

“I was worried sick. If I was rich, I would not have let her go, but I could not even send her to school. She sacrificed herself for a better economic situation,” said Eneh, whose 18-year-old daughter went to Saudi Arabia. After two years of hard work there, her daughter returned with only $120.

One mother's eviction story makes news in Toronto

The story of mother's possible eviction from her apartment is receiving the attention of the media in Toronto.

Bsra Nor had unemployment insurance benefits taken away from her by the Toronto city government, so she is unable to afford her rent. Her husband lives in the states and is not supporting her financially. Social service advocates are storming city hall to plea Nor's case before she gets evicted.

From Rabble, writer John Bonnar describes Nor's situation.

Bsra Nor’s payments were stopped at the beginning of April after Social Services told her the week before that she no longer qualified for Ontario Works because she is married, even though her situation had remained unchanged since she started receiving benefits almost a year ago.

“I told them from the beginning that I’m married and at my six month interview when I went to update everything was okay,” said Nor. “My husband is not supporting me financially, but now social services wants my husband to come in and sign documents saying that we’re a family.”

Nor was married in Toronto but her husband resides in the United States, where he is still applying for sponsorship to live in Canada.

She said that once the sponsorship process has begun it is illegal to try and enter the country. But without his presence, Nor has been told she can’t continue to receive social assistance.

In the meantime, Nor’s landlord has told her that if she doesn’t pay April’s rent before the end of the month she has to vacate her unit.

“He’s been nice to me for waiting for the last month,” she said. “I don’t know where to go.”

Nor’s mother, who sponsored her eight years ago when she first came to Canada, has a small home and six children living with her. So there’s no room for Nor and her 10-month-old baby boy.

If she were single, Nor said she would couch surf until she can find something permanent. “But since I have a kid I cannot do that,” said the 21-year-old.

Poor rice and wheat harvests in Iraq

From IRIN, Iraq has to import a majority of it's wheat and rice. This story focuses on the poor farming in Iraq.

Iraq is planning to import 80 percent of its wheat and rice requirements in 2010, according to Hussein Ghazy, a spokesman of the state-owned Grains Company affiliated to the Trade Ministry.

Trade Ministry figures show Iraq imported 3.55 million tons of wheat and 1.17 million tons of rice last year - up from 2.54 million and 610,000 tons respectively in 2008.

Rising imports are being triggered by the low water levels in the Euphrates and the Tigris, which is causing reduced production, said Aoun Thiab Abdullah, a senior official in the Water Resources Ministry. He warned Iraq could face another difficult agricultural season this summer.

“The amount of water we receive from the Euphrates at the border with Syria is still low at about 250 cubic metres per second… As for the Tigris, we have seen a 50 percent drop in the flow rate from 1,680 cubic metres per second [in and prior to April 2003] to 836 cubic metres per second. He noted that reservoirs fed by the Tigris were at a reasonable level at present.

However, the three biggest reservoirs fed by the Euphrates - Haditha Reservoir, Mosul Dam and Habaniyah Lake - have severe water shortages, he said.

Because of water shortages and high levels of soil salinity, the government decided in 2009 to halve the area planted with rice, all of which is dependent on water from the Euphrates.

“This situation worries us, especially as the summer season is coming and it could even affect the beginning of the next winter season, when the first irrigation [in October and November] is needed,” Abdullah said.

Weak agricultural sector

Most of Iraq - 78 percent - is not viable for agricultural use. Almost half of the remaining 9.5 million hectares is marginal land used mainly for seasonal grazing of goats and sheep, according to a June 2004 report for the US Congress. Agricultural output accounts for only about 4 percent of gross domestic product.

Agriculture has been paralysed by decades of war and insecurity, underinvestment, and the unchecked cutting down of trees for firewood, which had worsened salinity and desertification. According to the Agriculture Ministry, salinity affects at least 40 percent of agricultural land, mainly in central and southern Iraq, while 40-50 percent of what was productive land in the 1970s has been affected by desertification.

A Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report estimated that “one third of the Iraqi population resides in rural areas and depends upon agriculture for their livelihoods. However, this segment of the population suffers disproportionately from poverty and food insecurity as 69 percent of all Iraqis living in extreme poverty and food insecurity reside in rural areas.”

FAO noted that Iraqi wheat farmers saw a 55 percent reduction in production during 2008 due to severe drought conditions, and dependence on imports is estimated to have risen in 2008 to 74 percent for wheat and 69 percent for all cereals.

A joint report by FAO and the Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit (supported by major UN agencies and offices in Iraq) entitled Iraq Food Prices Analysis, said food prices in Iraq had risen at a steeper rate than global food prices, largely because of an 800 percent rise in domestic fuel and electricity prices in 2004-2008.

According to Mahdi Al-Qaisi, undersecretary in the Agriculture Ministry, Iraq produced 117,000 tons of rice and 1.281 million tons of wheat in the 2008-09 season. These figures are only for production communicated by farmers to the Trade Ministry, so they could be on the low side, al-Qaisi said.

Total consumption of wheat in 2010 is expected to be 4.5 million tons, and rice 1.227 million tons, Grains Company spokesman Ghazy said.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Video: Emergency cash transfers for those in Kenyan slums

This video from Concern Worldwide explains their program of emergency cash transfers for people in Kenyan slums.

Some spins from the G-8 development meetings

The development ministers of the G-8 are done with their meetings to set up the agenda for their bosses later this year. The meetings didn't make any firm commitments, and had a "we'll have our people look into it and get back to you" sort of approach.

From The Toronto Sun, writer Laura Payton recieved a couple of spins on the meetings and critique from World Vision.

“We have agreed on a set of principles that will guide our work and a scope of actions that leave the needed flexibility for each country so that our delegates here can advise their leaders on how to build their basket of initiatives to support Canada's focus on mothers and children,” said Bev Oda, Canada's international cooperation minister.

The delegations agreed their efforts must include nutrition and disease prevention, Oda said. They've also agreed to be more accountable in reporting donor funding and finding more benchmarks to measure effectiveness.

Glen Pearson, the Liberal party's international cooperation critic who was at most of the meetings, said a lot of points were sent to experts to report back, but he still thought they made progress.

“Because we're so close to (the June leaders' summit in Huntsville, Ont.) I'm just hoping we can come up with a plan of action,” he said.

“The issue for me on this thing was not to come out with false promises; it was to set up a framework by which they could achieve these goals.”

Caroline Riseboro, spokeswoman for World Vision Canada, says the agreement to focus on maternal and child health and the emphasis on nutrition are good signs.

“We have been pushing for consensus around the child and maternal health initiative, and details and new money behind it. It looks like that will come, but just the fact that consensus has been reached and this initiative will continue to push forward is critical in saving the lives of 8.8 million children dying every year,” she said.

Not much benefit for Swaziland in trade agreement

From IRIN, an examination of a US trade agreement and the effects it has had on the textile industry in Swaziland.

A decade after the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA), a preferential US trade agreement, became law on 18 May 2000, there are questions over the benefits, if any, derived from the initiative.

AGOA was touted by the US government as offering "tangible incentives for African countries to continue their efforts to open their economies and build free markets"; in return, selected countries could access US markets without restrictive quotas or import taxes.

Neither Swaziland nor Lesotho had a textile sector before the advent of AGOA, but the quality of the jobs it created, and the labour conditions and working environment, are being examined by local as well as US authorities.

"We ask: who is the beneficiary of the textile factories that have opened here since AGOA?" said Comfort Gina, secretary general of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU), an umbrella body. "Jobs were created, but if you take the basic income versus expenditures of a worker, basics like transport, food and accommodation exceed income."

The average monthly wage for a textile factory worker is about US$117, according SFTU data. "Workers are paid below the taxable income level, so the national economy at large isn't benefiting either," he told IRIN.

The US Department of Commerce said the value of Swaziland's AGOA exports increased nearly threefold, from $65 million in 2001 to a peak of $199 million in 2005; Lesotho's exports reached $140 million in 2001 and peaked at $467 million in 2004.

Now the fortunes of both these landlocked countries have declined. By 2007 Swaziland's AGOA exports were only $141 million, and by 2009 the peak amount had almost halved to $101 million. Lesotho mirrored the trend: AGOA exports were at $339 million in 2008, but dropped to $227 million in 2009, about half the peak level.

During the peak period of Swaziland's AGOA exports, employee numbers were double the current figure - about 15,000 Swazis, mostly women, are employed in garment factories financed by Taiwanese investors and operated by managers from mainland China.

A strengthening of the local currency - the Lilangeni, which is pegged to the South African rand - combined with the global economic slowdown, resulted in a steep decline in orders.

Factories have closed, some of which were built at government expense and rented at very low cost to induce businesses to set up in the country. Worker housing was not built, and more often than not employees built informal housing as close to their workplaces as possible.

Felicia Dlamini, a developmental economist based in the capital, Mbabane, told IRIN: "From the standpoint that AGOA brought jobs then, yes, it has been a success, though half the jobs are gone now; but we have to look at the quality of the jobs, and other factors that have impacted on the quality of people's lives."

Zodwa Mavimbela, Assistant Commissioner for Verifying Audits at the Ministry of Finance, which monitors company tax compliance, commented: "Every country wants its workers to pay taxes - that's what we hoped when the AGOA factories arrived. Taxes pay for social programmes, but the workers are paid too little to pay much tax, and the companies are unprofitable and don't pay tax."

Poor labour conditions

Gladys, 26, who declined to give her last name, is one of six women who share a room within walking distance of a factory in Matsapha, an industrial estate about five kilometres west of Swaziland's commercial city, Manzini.

They sleep in shifts, heat water on a gas stove, and bathe in a metal tub; their meals usually consist of bread, maize-meal porridge and vegetables - meat is a rarity.

"All of us have to support children and families. Most of us are from the rural areas - we were driven from there by the poverty and drought," said Gladys, a mother of two who works as a seamstress at the factory.

"That is why we all have boyfriends - even the married girls - because we need gifts from them to buy clothes and pay for our children's school needs," she said.

Swaziland is ruled by sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, King Mswati III, and democratic credentials weigh heavily in determining eligibility for AGOA, but because the country had begun work on democratic reforms, such as drawing up a new constitution, it just made the cut.

Labour law concerns were raised by the US Deputy Trade Representative, Ambassador Demetrios Marantis, at a meeting with government officials in February 2010. A US government official, who declined to be identified, told IRIN that if Swaziland did not improve its labour conditions it could lose its AGOA status.

"There is not a single factory that has a collective bargaining agreement with a workers union. On average, union representation at the factories is 30 percent - far below the 50 percent union membership needed for bargaining power," said SFTU's Gina.

"Employers will give the appearance of cooperating with the union when AGOA inspectors come around, but they are doing everything they can to discourage unionization."

In March, Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini acknowledged the concerns over "the rate of progress by Swaziland in the implementation of international labour agreements, and in particular the effectiveness of monitoring working conditions, and the freedom to organize under the laws of Swaziland."

A debate over raising the price of water

A big debate has flourished this week about water prices. Some elected officials, water experts and businessmen are calling for an increase in the price for water. This is because of concerns over shrinking supplies and wasteful habits. However, some experts say that habits won't change with higher prices, and the higher prices will hurt most those who already can't afford water.

From the Guardian, Juliette Jowit gives us a further framing of the water price debate.

Last Friday, the World Bank held a high-level private meeting about water in New York, at which higher prices were discussed. Days before that the OECD, which represents the world's major economies, issued three water reports calling for prices to rise. "Putting a price on water will make us aware of the scarcity and make us take better care of it," said Angel Gurría, the OECD secretary-general. It has also been a key theme at this week's meeting of industry leaders in Paris, hosted by Global Water Intelligence.

The discussion at the World Bank was raised by Lars Thunell, chief executive officer of the International Finance Corporation. "Everyone said water must be somehow valued: whether you call it cost, or price, or cost recover," said Usha Rao-Monari, senior manager of the IFC's infrastructure department. "It's not an infinite resource, and anything that's not an infinite resource must be valued."

Concern about dwindling water supplies has been rising with growing populations and economies. And with climate change altering rainfall patterns, experts warn that unless changes are made, up to half the world's population could live in areas without sustainable clean water to meet their daily needs.

Global Water Intelligence's 2010 market report estimated the industry needs to spend $571bn (£373bn) a year to maintain and improve its networks and treatment plants to meet rising demand - more than three times this year's projected spending.

At the same time, a major report last year by consultants McKinsey, paid for by a group of water-dependent global brands including SABMiller and Nestlé, said that most of the estimated "gap" in water in 2030 could be met from efficiency savings such as better irrigation and new showerheads.

However, highly subsidised prices are hampering both investment and efficiency, because private and public companies cannot collect enough water, nor persuade farmers, homeowners and businesses to make - and sometimes pay for - changes to reduce their water use, say the experts.

"We were in a vicious cycle," says Virgilio Rivera, a director of Manila Water, which took over water and sewage services in the city when the Philippines government passed a National Water Crisis Act in 1997. "Lack of investment; poor service; government can't increase the water rates because customers are dissatisfied; they are not paying, so low cash flows; so the government can't improve the service."

Huge opposition to price rises is expected however, especially as so many prices are set by elected politicians.

U.S. launches help for female Muslim entrepreneurs

From the Voice of America, the U.S. government is beginning some projects that they hope will help it's relations with Muslim nations. The projects involve giving support to women entrepreneurs.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has announced a series of initiatives designed to boost America's relations with entrepreneurs in countries with large Muslim populations. Clinton's remarks came at the end of a two-day summit on entrepreneurship.

Secretary Clinton announced the new programs she says are designed to help entrepreneurs in mostly-Muslim countries and eventually expand worldwide.

"I am pleased to announce the launch of the Global Entrepreneurship Programs' first pilot program, in Egypt, coordinated by a team of entrepreneurs in residence from USAID. We will soon launch our second program in Indonesia and we plan to expand to a dozen countries within the next two years," she said.

The new initiatives are intended to expand the availability of capital so entrepreneurs will have access to credit to enable them to put their ideas to work.

Clinton also announced new partnerships between business schools in the United States and educational institutions worldwide to share knowledge and expand business education.

Another program will link U.S. mentors with aspiring entrepreneurs to provide expertise on issues such as securing financing or writing a business plan.

"Now these initiatives comprise a first wave of programs to promote global entrepreneurship, but they reflect the Obama administration's commitment to a new approach to development, one based on investment, not aid, on supporting local leadership and ideas rather than imposing our own," said Clinton.

Clinton's announcements came on the final day of a conference that brought to Washington more than 250 entrepreneurs from 50 countries with large Muslim populations.

Rashad Hussain, the Obama administration's special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, says nearly a year after the president's speech to the Muslim world last June in Cairo, the U.S. is making significant efforts to address issues of mutual concern.

"We see a world in which the United States continues to be committed to leaving Iraq and Afghanistan, is continued (dedicated) to finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that we would have the seeds planted for various programs in the areas of entrepreneurship, such as we see here," said Hussein.

One of the entrepreneurs at the conference is Tri Mumpuni, who has put together small financing programs and economic incentives to bring electricity to 60 rural villages scattered throughout Indonesia.

"We know that electricity is the backbone of economic development. We would like to start with giving electricity because from the electricity people can be directed to many different [aspects] of the welfare and improvement of their life," said Tri Mumpuni.

The U.S. also announced a new program at the summit to assist women in technology fields who will have the opportunity to come to the United States for internships and professional development.

One of the best known entrepreneurs at the summit was Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, who founded the Grameen Bank and transformed the lives of millions of poor women in Bangladesh through micro-credit (small loans).

"Today we have over eight million borrowers, 97 percent of them are women. And they own the bank. We made the rule right from the beginning that the bank will be owned by the borrowers. So it is a bank that not only serves the poor women, it is also a bank which is owned by the poor women. They sit on the board, they make the decisions," said Yunus.

While the entrepreneurship summit is officially over, dozens of private groups will hold sessions for the delegates over the next few days to bring together venture capitalists, development bankers and other business experts to promote the partnership between the U.S. and the Muslim world. A follow-up summit is scheduled to take place next year in Turkey.

Questioning how the Red Cross spent the Haitian money

One of the Haitian earthquake survivors is wondering where the Red Cross is, and he is using youtube to spread his message. Armed with his camera, Fred Sajous cannot find any evidence of the $430 million dollars that the Red Cross raised in the disaster. In fact, a tent city right across the road from the Red Cross headquarters has not received anything from them.

From the Miami Herald, Frances Robles summarized her story in the following video. Our snippet of the article is after the jump.

``I couldn't find the $106 million,'' said Sajous, a 29-year-old mechanical engineer who left Fort Lauderdale for Port-au-Prince after being laid off last year. ``I didn't see a single sticker or anything.''

More than three months since the American Red Cross raised hundreds of millions to aid Haiti in the aftermath of the 7.0 earthquake that killed an estimated 300,000 and left 1.3 million homeless, the organization says it has spent about a quarter of the money.

But after consuming $106 million in the first 60 days, the Red Cross in the past month has tapped just $5 million more and has come under fire for what critics call anemic spending.

Other aid groups, members of Congress, bloggers and even a former board member are among the growing chorus asking what the Red Cross is doing with such a massive amount of money raised in such a short time.

Red Cross records are not public, so Sajous settled on registering a watchdog organization called Kontrol Aid and making a video about his hunt for Red Cross relief supplies, which he posted on YouTube. American Red Cross President and CEO Gail J. McGovern last week countered with an Internet video of her own, responding to those who say the organization lacks visibility.

She also scheduled a conference call with members of Congress, underscoring the agency's sudden drive to explain how it funded 43 percent of the global Red Cross efforts that assisted 2 million people, gave tarps and other supplies to 450,000 and distributed almost 24 million gallons of water.

``Slapping our logo on people's temporary homes just didn't seem right,'' McGovern said in the video. ``I can assure you that our presence is being felt by the people of Haiti. We have to answer not just to our donors; we have to answer to the people of Haiti.''

The Red Cross said that expenses so far have included $55 million for emergency relief, such as food and supplies, including $30 million to the World Food Program; $43.6 million for shelter, including tarp; $5.5 million for water and sanitation, and $1.5 million for health costs.

Read more:

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mass exodus from drought stricken central Niger

Over 10 million people are facing hunger in Niger after water shortages from last year meant failed crops and not enough food for this year. Thousands of people from central-southern region of the country are fleeing to the city or Maradi to find work for food, some are even going further onto Nigeria.

From this AFP article that we found at the Vancouver Sun, writer Boureima Hama describes the intense hunger situation in Niger.

As the UN's humanitarian chief John Holmes arrived in the country on Monday, aid agencies said nearly eight million people — more than half the population — were facing food shortages.

"I had to leave Chadakori, my village, where the younwa (hunger) is spreading desolation," said Balkissou, a young woman begging in Maradi's dusty streets.

Her wire-thin body lost in her dress, Balkissou said her village north of the city is "almost empty", save for those too old or too young to leave. She carried plastic bags of food scraps she had collected to send home to her six children.

For months, the city's bus station has become a magnet for refugees from across the entire central-southern region of Niger, where severe water shortages laid waste to crops last year.

"We know that this crisis is only just beginning," Holmes warned after holding crisis talks with the leaders of Niger's transitional government.

Holmes said his agency still faced a shortfall of 130 million dollars for an emergency appeal issued for Niger by the United Nations, which is seeking 200 million dollars (150 million euros).

Echoing his concerns, the UN World Food Program announced it was doubling the number of hungry people it feeds in Niger to 2.3 million people.

"Niger has been hit extremely hard by the drought and the world has to act to prevent massive human suffering and the loss of a generation," WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran said.

OECD says that international aid is "off-track"

From IRIN, the OECD weighs in on international aid and the gap between aid pledges and commitments.

Members of the Organisation for Economic Coooperation and Development’s (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) gave US$121.5 billion in bilateral aid in 2009, reaching a historic high, but the gap between commitments and promises made in 2005 is widening, says the UK’s Overseas Development Institute (ODI).

In 2005 DAC donors collectively promised to commit 0.56 percent of gross national income to aid by 2010, but reached just 0.31 percent in 2009, according to OECD’s 2010 aid report issued on 23 April.

“Though aid commitments have continued to increase, the rate of increase has dropped off in the past few years…making donors increasingly off-track,” ODI research fellow Alison Evans told IRIN.

DAC donors gave $27 billion to Africa in 2009, an increase of 3 percent on 2008, but this is still less than half of the extra aid they promised at Gleneagles in 2005, said Evans.

Norway, France, the UK, Korea, Finland, Belgium and Switzerland all increased their aid commitments, while Japan, Greece, Ireland, Spain and Portugal, among others, reduced theirs.

“For EU [European Union] members these DAC figures are particularly sobering,” Evans told IRIN. Recognizing many donors have had difficult years amid financial recession, she continued, “were these commitments made just for good times? That isn’t the case. They were made because of a commitment to reduce poverty globally and boost international development… for those receiving this aid; they are clearly going to be worried.”

The largest donors by volume were the USA, France, Germany, the UK and Japan, according to the OECD, but just five countries met or exceeded the UN overseas development aid target of 0.7 percent of national income: Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.

Donors pledged to increase aid to US$130 billion by 2010; but the OECD predicts they will fall short by $78 billion (both figures in 2004 US dollars).

New health plan for mothers and infants in Sierra Leone

The chance of dying while giving birth in Sierra Leone is one in eight, it is the most dangerous place in the world for mothers-to-be. To combat this the Sierra Leone government is beginning a free health care program to mothers and infants. The plan faces stiff challenges due to the lack of doctors, hospital beds and ambulances in Sierra Leone.

From the BBC, reporter Umaru Fofana writes about the new health care program.

Sierra Leone has launched a free healthcare programme for pregnant women, breast-feeding mothers and children under five-years-old.

The plan is expected to save the lives of 1.25 million mothers and children, at a cost of $19m (£12m).

Dr Thorlie, who is also Sierra Leone's consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, thinks charging pregnant women and mothers consultation fees and forcing them to buy drugs that can cost hundreds of dollars has "forced us to act against our conscience".

"It is shameful the choice we are faced with sometimes," he says.

"Two pregnant women come to us for delivery. They are both in a bad shape but we tend to the one because she has money and abandon the other because she hasn't."

Since expectant mothers often cannot afford to buy blood and other basic items, doctors have sometimes been forced to let them die, "not because we wanted to, but because we had to", says Dr Thorlie.

Funding for the free healthcare plan has been provided largely by the UN and the UK, with the latter promising a year's supply of drugs and money to help ensure that health workers receive "a fair wage".

The UK's offer to subsidise workers' salaries comes after a two-week-long strike in March by public health workers over pay and conditions.

Votes in World Bank decisions change

As a part of the World Bank's spring meetings changes in the voting shares for member countries were made. A country will get more or less votes on decisions made by the Bank loosely based on how much capital they contribute.

It has long been a problem that only the developed countries have a say in how the Bank spends it's money. It creates a system of the rich countries telling the poor ones what they need instead of the poor nations getting what they want from the Bank.

Voting shares were adjusted in the spring meetings and the Bank says they have increased the power that poor nations have. However, critics of the lending institution says it is some tricks with mathematics that only give an appearance of a greater say for poor nations.

From the IPS, writer Matthew Berger explains the Bank's decisions further.

The share of voting power allotted to low- and middle-income countries on the board of the bank's International Bank for Reconstruction and Development will rise from 44.06 to 47.19 percent.

That number, however, may not be accurate, according to some development and international financial institution watchdog groups. At issue is the definition of what constitutes a low- or middle-income country - or "developing" or "transition" economy - and thus whether certain countries should be included within that 47 percent figure.

The classification used by the bank is based on data in the International Monetary Fund's World Economic Outlook report and includes 16 countries which should not be termed either "developing" or "transition", says the London-based Bretton Woods Project.

These countries are all classified by the World Bank as high-income, it says, and together they hold five of the 47 percent. Sunday, the organisation characterised "the final real share of voting power for developing countries (excluding high income economies)" as just over 42 percent.

"It's smoke and mirrors to count Saudi Arabia and Hungary as developing countries and then claim a three-percent shift in voting power will give poor countries more say," Elizabeth Stuart of the development group Oxfam said Sunday. "The World Bank is asking for a lot more money, but it hasn't got serious about reform."

Jo Marie Griesgraber, executive director of New Rule for Global Finance, an NGO that seeks to reduce poverty and inequality through promoting stable global financial systems, called the changes announced over the weekend "marginal". She agreed with the Bretton Woods Project analysis that "the way you get to this 47 percent is by a distortion of numbers or a misinterpretation".

"We need a really candid examination of the numbers," Griesgraber said.

Oxfam notes that of the 47 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, more than a third have lost some of their voting share as a result of the reforms and 60 percent have stayed the same. Nigeria and South Africa, the largest regional economies, had the most significant cut in quotas.

"Imagine being with traumatised people every single day"

From IRIN, comes the story of a social worker in Sri Lanka who works with children at a free nursery.

Selvanayagam Selvantha, 34, has worked as a pastor and social worker for eight years in rural northeast Sri Lanka, helping people to recover from the country’s civil war and the 2004 tsunami, which displaced more than a million people. He works with the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India, which provides free nursery and after-school activities for affected children, and spoke to IRIN about his experiences:

“I work in the rural parts of Amparai and Batticaloa, and the biggest problem is the poverty that is combined with trauma.

“When we see the suffering, our hearts, minds and spirits are also very affected. These people have suffered a lot. So many died. So much property was lost.

“I have nearly 42 people families attending my ministry. Almost all of them live far below the poverty line. When I visit them, I see no food in their kitchens.

“Most families here have more than six or seven children. Their family head, the father, is usually a farmer working for a daily wage. It’s very hard for him to sustain the family.
“Due to poverty, parents don’t even want their children to have a good education. They want them to become breadwinners from an early age. They are usually sent to work drying fish along the coast.

“One of the most important parts of my work is to listen to these people. Sometimes, it can be the hardest part.

“Imagine being with traumatised people every single day. They share all their problems with us because we are all they have.

“Every time they share their problems, the problems become like my own. When working in this kind of an environment, you have to absorb the trauma into your heart, yet be able to balance and manage your emotions and rationality. In many ways, it’s a hard process to explain.

“We are not only social workers improving education and livelihoods, but we’re counsellors for these people.

"It’s personally very challenging to work in this situation; however, we cannot give up.”

Monday, April 26, 2010

Guest Voices: World Malaria Day

Continuing our series of guest posts from Concern Worldwide, a look at anti-malaria efforts in reflection of the upcoming World Malaria Day. Writer Philip Wegner works as a health adviser to Concern USA.

In Western nations, most people don’t think twice about mosquito-bites except as a minor annoyance. However, as Health Advisor for Concern Worldwide’s Child Survival programs, I cannot help but wonder how the world would be altered if the mosquitoes that cause so much suffering in Africa or Asia did the same thing here? At one time, malaria was also present in the West—but its impact never compared to the illness and death it brings to people in developing countries.

Malaria prevention and control has been an important element of the US Agency of International Development (USAID) Child Survival programs since their inception in 1985. Malaria kills a child every 30 seconds: in fact, it is the number one killer of young children in Africa. Forty percent of the world’s population is at risk of getting malaria—90 percent of some 1 million deaths attributed to malaria every year occur in Africa.

Concern focuses about one-third of its Child Survival programming on malaria prevention and control. For example, in Burundi, Niger, and Rwanda, Concern is working with the Ministries of Health and local village communities to prevent and treat malaria. The most obvious ways to control the disease are interventions that protect people from being bitten by malaria-carrying mosquitoes in the first place. The Anopheles mosquito carries the malaria parasite inside its body, and can infect anyone it bites with the parasite. But the Anopheles only “feeds” from dusk until dawn.

Therefore, people are at highest risk at night or when they are sleeping. Insecticide-treated bed nets for children and adults have proven highly effective in reducing malaria rates, even in areas of high prevalence. A mosquito net, whose estimated average cost is around $10, can save a life. It’s a simple solution with dramatic results. Concern works with local partner and governments to provide ITNs (insecticide-treated bed nets) and, whenever possible, long-lasting insecticide treated nets, to the people that need them the most–pregnant women and children under 5 years of age. The United Nations target is to provide all malaria-prone African countries with malaria control interventions by the end of 2010.

New treatments have revolutionized malaria control in the 21st century. The discovery of an herbal medicine (artemisinin, derived from Chinese traditional medicine) has made the treatment of malaria easier and safer. However, this treatment has numerous and sometimes dangerous side-effects. Today, treatment with a combination of medicines—called ACT (artemisinin-combined-therapy)—is common throughout Africa other malaria-prone regions and has proven to be safe and effective.

Another important development in the fight against malaria is the work to bring treatment directly to the places where people are most vulnerable. Concern and other humanitarian and development agencies are helping to implement programs in partnership with governments at national level that involve training Community Health Workers to recognize and treat early signs of simple malaria in their own communities. In rural Burundi and Niger, Concern recently started a program called “Community Case Management,” which also includes the use of community health workers to screen and treat of diarrhea and pneumonia.

Much work on a concerted, global scale remains to be done if we are to significantly reduce the rate of death from malaria worldwide. But there is hope, with new drugs and better treatment combined with new ways of reaching communities and mothers with children most vulnerable to malaria we can make a real difference. Preventing the huge numbers of child deaths from malaria that occur each year is no longer an impossible dream. World Malaria Day is this Sunday April 25, 2010—let’s all do our part. Urge your congressperson to support lifesaving malaria prevention and treatment initiatives by including $1 billion for child and maternal health programs within the Global Health and Child Survival Account in the FY 2011 Appropriations bill.

Brazil condemns slum houses after rainy season

The recent rainy season in Brazil caused major flooding in the slums of Rio De Janero. The Brazilian government used the flooding as an opportunity to condemn some of the shacks within the slums. Poverty advices theorize it is the governments attempt to clean up the city before it hosts upcoming World Cups and Olympic games.

From the United Arab Emirates The National writer Sharmila Devi talks about the conflict the rainy season created.

A single colour determines the fate of thousands of residents in Rio de Janeiro’s shantytowns, or favelas, after floods killed about 230 people this month.

With a stroke of paint on the side of a shack or house, city officials assessing the damage from record rainfall are deciding who can stay and who must abandon their home. Blue paint means the house is still structurally sound; orange means there is cause for concern; black orders the residents to leave the house.

Although the floods had some effect on all of the city’s six million residents, the worst afflicted are among the one million or so people who dwell in the hillside favelas. They face the biggest hurdles to returning to what passed for normality in the poverty-stricken, drug gang-controlled slums.

The Brazilian government has rushed to try to take control after the floods, aware it is under increasing scrutiny as it prepares to host the football World Cup across the country in 2014 and the Olympics Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Officials issued reassuring statements, saying neither sporting event was likely to face such a disaster because neither would be held during Brazil’s rainy season.

But the floods have highlighted the country’s daunting challenges to upgrade its infrastructure, reduce widespread crime and overhaul a police force widely acknowledged as one of the most corrupt in the world.

Flooding caused mudslides and exposed tree roots and fresh red earth in Rocinha’s steep, hillside streets and alleys. At other, even poorer favelas, long neglected by authorities, shacks and houses were swept away. Dozens of homes built on top of a rubbish dump crumbled down a hillside in Niteroi, a town just across the bay from Rio de Janeiro.

Wastewater has flowed down from the favelas to southern Rio, where the city’s elite live and play on the world-famous beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema. Brazil’s economic inequality rate ranks among the highest in the world, with an estimated one per cent of the population owning 50 per cent of the wealth.

Eduardo Paes, Rio’s mayor, ordered nearly 50,000 people to evacuate the favelas. The city plans to spend more than one billion reals (Dh2bn) on relocation, reconstruction and reforestation.

MSF urges the EU and India to unblock access to medicine

From Médecins Sans Frontières, this press release urges negotiators from the E.U. and India to remove barriers to promote free trade of medicines.

As the European Commission (EC) and India meet for closed-door negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) this week, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warns this is the last chance to remove provisions that will block access to life-saving medicines for people living in the developing world.

“Neither the Indian Trade Minister nor the EU Trade Commissioner have given a public commitment that the provisions that affect generic competition and access to medicines are off the table,” said Michelle Childs, director of policy and advocacy at MSF’s Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. “We will continue to fight until they are officially and unequivocally out of the agreement.”

India is the source of 80 percent of the AIDS medicines used in MSF projects. Without quality affordable medicines from Indian sources, it would have been impossible to scale up treatment to the levels seen today and millions of lives would not have been saved.

Through their governments’ contributions to the Global Fund and other international health agencies, European taxpayers pay for programs that can treat far more people, thanks to affordable medicines from India. But MSF and other groups are concerned that the EC is now trading this away. The draft agreement contains several alarming provisions on intellectual property and enforcement—much stricter than anything required under the international trade rules—that threaten the supply of essential medicines from India.

“The right to life and health of people in developing countries is being sacrificed in this deal,” said Loon Gangte, president of the Delhi Network of Positive People (DNP+). “Do not put profits before patients. This trade agreement must not undermine India’s ability to provide people living with HIV/AIDS here and outside India with life-saving medicines in the name of open markets.”

One of the harmful provisions in the FTA is something known as ‘data exclusivity’. If introduced by India, data exclusivity will obligate generic companies wishing to register a medicine to repeat clinical studies. This not only creates huge financial barriers that act as disincentives to generic companies, but also violates medical ethics, as people would be subjected to the risks of clinical studies for something that is already known. Data exclusivity therefore creates a new patent-like barrier to access to medicines and vaccines, even when these products are not protected by a patent.

“The impact of this proposed agreement is truly global, as treatment will become considerably more expensive, and countries and funders may have to ration the numbers of people they can put on treatment,” said Ariane Bauernfeind, HIV/AIDS program manager for MSF projects in South Africa, Malawi, Lesotho and Zimbabwe. “We are already concerned that newer medicines have been patented in India. The FTA threatens to make an already bad situation worse.”

Also in the draft FTA is a provision that extends the duration of a patent term beyond 20 years. In addition, after multiple incidents of Indian generic medicines being detained while in transit to other developing countries in Latin America, Asia, and Africa, the EU is now seeking to legitimize such measures.

Formal talks between European and Indian negotiators are opening in Brussels this week. The EU has indicated that it wants to conclude the FTA negotiations ahead of the EU-India summit in October.

World Bank: poverty MDG will be met by 2015

The World Bank says that at least one of the Millennium Development Goals will be met.

The Bank's latest Global Monitoring Report was released today. In the annual report, the Bank says the MGD to halve poverty by 2015 will be met. Meanwhile, the goals of halting the spread of AIDS, improving access to education and water, improving child and mother survival and gender equality goals will not be met by 2015 and the progress was slowed by the global recession.

From this Associated Press article that we found at Google News, we read more from the World Bank's statement.

"Poverty rates were falling in all regions, even in Africa the rate was falling about one percent a year," he noted.

Portugal said progress made in the 1990s had reduced inflation, strengthened government finances and gave them better access to private capital markets.

"All those efforts prior to the crisis paid off," he told the press briefing. "It meant that countries were in a stronger position to respond to the crisis."

As a result, the estimated 920 million people who will likely be extremely poor in 2015 should represent a cut nearly of nearly 50 percent from the 1.8 billion in such conditions in 1990, the World Bank noted.

"Based on these estimates, the developing world as a whole is still on track to achieve the first MDG of halving extreme income poverty from its 1990 level of 42 percent by 2015," it said.

Asia has done a particularly good job of reducing extreme poverty, and has already seen the rate of extreme poverty plunge from nearly 55 percent of its population in 1990 to just under 17 percent in 2005.

That level is expected to fall to 5.9 percent in 2015.

OXFAM says fix aid then commit more money

To coincide with the G-8 financial ministers meeting in Canada, OXFAM is saying that international aid needs fixing and more money.

The development ministers of the G-8 nations are meeting in Halifax, Nova Scotia to set the agenda for when the heads of those states meet later this year. As chair of the G-8 this year, Canada wants to push aid development onto the forefront of the agenda, so OXFAM's report gives some suggestions.

OXFAM is now agreeing with those that say that international aid is broken, wasteful and need of repair. However, the charity does not agree with those who think we should get rid of it entirely. OXFAM is urging the G-8 to not only tackle the waste but then to commit more money to aid

From this Canwest News Service article that we found at, writer Richard Foot tells us more about the statement from OXFAM.

Oxfam, an independent aid agency with decades of experience in the world's poorest regions, says rich governments need to drastically increase funding to maternal health care and numerous other social and economic aid projects.

In 1970, developed countries agreed through the United Nations to spend 0.7 per cent of their gross national income on foreign aid. Oxfam says that since 2008 only Denmark, Luxembourg, Holland, Norway and Sweden have met that goal, and that the global shortfall in aid commitments now amounts to roughly $3 trillion U.S..

Canada spends 0.33 per cent of its gross national income on foreign aid, mostly in Afghanistan, our largest aid recipient.

While calling for such spending to rise, Oxfam also acknowledges what a growing chorus of critics are saying: that foreign aid efforts are often beset by waste, corruption and outright failure.

"Clearly it is impossible to argue that no aid is wasted," says the report, 21st Century Aid: Recognizing Success and Tackling Failure.

"Aid is touched by corruption . . . (and) aid dependency is an issue that needs attention."

Oxfam agrees that too much aid spending is determined by the wishes of donors, rather than the needs of recipients.

It says aid efforts also fail when development spending is coupled with military goals — such as in Afghanistan — or handed over without accountability to corrupt governments, or misspent on third-party consultants rather than actual projects on the ground.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Robert Altman's charity to Haiti

Former assistant Treasury Secretary Robert Altman was so moved by the plight of Haiti that he moved his own money and his own plane into action. Altman has purchased many tents and medical supplies for Haitians, filling up his private place with the supplies and having it flown to Port-au-Prince. Altman says he is most struck by the contrast of this poor nation being surrounded by 5-star luxury resorts in neighboring Caribbean islands.

From the New York Times, writer Sam Roberts tells us more about Mr. Altman's story.

Twice, Mr. Altman has flown to Florida, bought about $140,000 worth of medical supplies and tents, had them loaded onto his private jet and, with his wife, Jurate Kazickas, a journalist who has been active in refugee efforts elsewhere, delivered them to a Catholic relief group in Port-au-Prince.

Mr. Altman said he hoped to make a third trip. Though his wife had traveled on aid missions to other countries, including Afghanistan, Bosnia and Rwanda, neither had ever been to Haiti. Nothing he had read or seen, Mr. Altman said, prepared him “to fully grasp the scale of despair and poverty.”

Mr. Altman said he was particularly struck by conditions in the tent cities that had sprouted to house people displaced by the quake.

“I’ve never seen anything like the density in these locations,” he wrote to friends last month. “There is no electricity, running water or waste disposal system amidst these masses of tents. The tents also are boiling hot, now that even warmer weather is here. Nor is there any evident security in these places.”

For her part, Ms. Kazickas is using the Web video service Skype and a Web cam to teach English and history five days a week to Haitian children through She is in New York; the children gather around a computer in a refugee tent.

“Here is a simple way to engage these children in scholastic endeavors and keep them productively occupied,” Ms. Kazickas said.

In Haiti, Mr. Altman and Ms. Kazickas visited the tent classroom where the children, he said, were “beautiful in appearance and spirit” and “gave every sign of being hungry to learn.”

The World Bank's latest World Development Indicators

The World Bank released their latest World Development Indicator report this week. In the report the big Bank claims that 64 million more people will be living in poverty due to the effects of the global recession in 2009.

The report gauges the economies of the world and how well they did in reaching the Millennium Development Goals. The Bank says that the economies of Europe and Central Asia fared the worst in 2009.

From Afrique en Ligne, we read more about the report. You can go to the World Bank website to read the entire book.

``During 2002-2008, low and middle income countries averaged economic growth of 6.2 per cent a year, and during 1999-2005 the number of people living on less than US$ 1.25 a day fell by 325 million.

``In contrast to the record growth in 2000â"07, the global economy grew only 1.9 per cent in 2008 and declined an estimated 2.2 per cent in 2009, the most severe recession in 50 years,'' it noted.

``As a result, some 64 million more people will be living in extreme poverty by 2010 because of the global economic crisis. The effects on human welfare may be costly and long-lasting," the report said.

It also stated that the effects of the crisis were transmitted from high-income economies to developing economies as exports, private capital flows, commodity prices, and workers' remittances declined.

According to the report: ``Global trade, whose growth had slowed to 3 per cent in 2008, declined an estimated 12 per cent in 2009, while developing economies' trade fell by an estimated 9 per cent in 2009''.

It disclosed that, ``private capital flows to developing economies, after peaking at nearly US$ 1 trillion in 2007, dropped to US$ 765 billion in 2008 and are estimated to have been much lower in 2009''.

Exploring the many bribes in India

A new study into the illegal money lost in Africa said that bribes are a very small portion of the money lost to illegal activity, only three percent. This study cast some doubt on what many believe to be big drag on the economies of Africa. For some say that if bribes and corruption didn't take place, the money would instead help to bring people out of poverty.

A story heard on NPR last night explores the bribes that are prevalent in India. Reporter David Kestenbaum quotes some economists that think that bribes are sometimes necessary.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Global Agriculture and Food Security Program launched

A big announcement was made today that fulfilled a pledge made by wealthy nations a year earlier. A new multi-million dollar fund was established today to fight world poverty and hunger. The United States and other nations that make up the G-8 pledged to create the fund at a meeting in Italy.

The fund will be administered by the World Bank. Canada and Spain have already made contributions to the fund. The United States says it will work on getting the other members of the G-8 to contribute.

From this AFP article that we found at the Raw Story, we find out more about the fund's purpose.

"A global economy where more than one billion people suffer from hunger is not a sustainable one," US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said in a ceremony launching the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program.

Canada, Spain, South Korea and the United States, along with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, have already pledged nearly 900 million dollars to the program, initiated as the global economic crisis leaves even more people affected by poverty and hunger.

"At a time of limited resources and large global challenges, this fund will leverage support from around the world to achieve lasting progress against hunger and bolster agricultural productivity and growth," Geithner said.

The fund was first discussed at the G8 meeting in L'Aquila, Italy last year, where 14 wealthy nations committed to contributing some 22 billion dollars to invest in agriculture in low-income countries.

It firmed up at the subsequent G20 meeting in Pittsburgh, where world leaders called for the World Bank and interested donor nations to set up a trust fund to help implement some of the pledges made at L'Aquila.

The United States said Thursday that 67 million dollars of its initial contribution to the fund will be transferred in the coming weeks to the World Bank, which will administer the fund.

The EU defends bio-fuels policy

The anti-poverty head of the European Union refused to acknowledge that bio-fuels raised food prices to make millions more hungry. This claim was made despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary.

The EUs commissioner for development aid Andris Piebalgs issued a position paper published on April 21st. In it, Piebalgs defends the EU's policy of using food for energy. Piebalgs formerly served as the EUs Energy Commissioner.

From the IPS, writer David Cronin reveals more from the paper and the reaction to it.

"I can clearly state today that biofuel policy has done no damage in the developing world," Piebalgs told IPS. "The focus is right."

Holding the energy portfolio in the European Commission from 2004 until last year, Piebalgs was one of the most zealous defenders of an EU strategy that at least 10 percent of all journeys undertaken on the bloc's roads by 2020 should be powered by biofuels.

Since that goal was set in 2007, it has encountered stiff opposition from environmental campaigners and food policy analysts. The World Food Programme has held the greater use of biofuels at least partly responsible for a spike in the prices of basic groceries that has pushed the number of people who suffer from chronic hunger and malnutrition beyond a billion. Food crops used for cars and trucks include wheat, maize, soy, sugar and palm oil.

Piebalgs' stance contrasts with the findings of several studies undertaken at the Commission's request. An environmental impact assessment on the EU's biofuels policy issued last month cast doubts on whether it will help slow down the pace of climate change. The assessment calculated that raising the proportion of biofuels used for road transport above 5 percent in the next decade would do more harm than good to the global environment as many forests would be sacrificed to create room for biofuel plantations.

The Commission has so far refused to make public a series of other documents relating to the biofuels target.

"Evidence is building that the EU's biofuels policy is leading to the destruction of forests and rural areas, as well as pushing up food prices," said Adrian Bebb from Friends of the Earth. "It is crystal clear that the EU's policy on biofuels is not sustainable and it is only a matter of time before the EU needs to change that policy. Quite clearly, though, some commissioners are still in denial."

Earlier this year ActionAid predicted that an additional 600 million people would join the ranks of the world's hungry by 2020 unless the EU scraps its biofuels target. Anne Catherine Claude, a campaigner with the organisation, said that Piebalgs is "probably afraid" of admitting the impact of biofuels because he does not wish to upset the large energy and agribusiness companies who have a vested interest in keeping the target. The Union's objective was originally set after EU officials consulted an advisory panel comprising representatives of such firms as Shell, Abengoa, Total, British Sugar, Nestlé and Volvo.

Facing the "new" poverty problem in Japan

Japan is finally admitting that it has a relative poverty problem. After keeping poverty measurements secret for years, the government released it's data in 2007 to a huge uproar.

The reason for this secrecy is mostly due to the stigmatization that the poor people face. 80 percent of those who are below the poverty line are the working poor. These people may have enough to eat but may lack in health insurance or some luxuries.

In trying to compete with the many low wage jobs in China, Japan created it's own low wage workforce. Now the nation is trying to come to terms with the income inequality it created.

From the New York Times, writer Martin Fackler gives us some background on Japan's economy.

After years of economic stagnation and widening income disparities, this once proudly egalitarian nation is belatedly waking up to the fact that it has a large and growing number of poor people. The Labor Ministry’s disclosure in October that almost one in six Japanese, or 20 million people, lived in poverty in 2007 stunned the nation and ignited a debate over possible remedies that has raged ever since.

Many Japanese, who cling to the popular myth that their nation is uniformly middle class, were further shocked to see that Japan’s poverty rate, at 15.7 percent, was close to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s figure of 17.1 percent in the United States, whose glaring social inequalities have long been viewed with scorn and pity here.

But perhaps just as surprising was the government’s admission that it had been keeping poverty statistics secretly since 1998 while denying there was a problem, despite occasional anecdotal evidence to the contrary. That ended when a left-leaning government led by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama replaced the long-governing Liberal Democratic Party last summer with a pledge to force Japan’s legendarily secretive bureaucrats to be more open, particularly about social problems, government officials and poverty experts said.

“The government knew about the poverty problem, but was hiding it,” said Makoto Yuasa, head of the nonprofit Antipoverty Network. “It was afraid to face reality.”

Following an internationally recognized formula, the ministry set the poverty line at about $22,000 a year for a family of four, half of Japan’s median household income. Researchers estimate that Japan’s poverty rate has doubled since the nation’s real estate and stock markets collapsed in the early 1990s, ushering in two decades of income stagnation and even decline.

The ministry’s announcement helped expose a problem that social workers say is easily overlooked in relatively homogenous Japan, which does not have the high crime rates, urban decay and stark racial divisions of the United States. Experts and social workers say Japan’s poor can be deceptively hard to spot because they try hard to keep up the appearance of middle class comfort.


As America wanders around for solutions for health insurance, one idea has helped thousands throughout Asia and Africa. Modeled after microcredit, the idea of micro-insurance makes health insurance affordable to the poor. In some cases micro-insurance charges only a penny a day to cover a family.

Low cost insurance is a lot easier to do in Africa because they have many differences compared to the US health system. Malpractice lawsuits are almost non-existent, doctors make a much lower wage than in the US, and many hospitals are supported by the government.

From this Associated Press article that we found at the Washington Times, one of our favorite writers, Katharine Houreld describes micro-insurance further.

Even as the U.S. debates how best to insure its people against sickness, a type of health care financing is growing more popular in Africa: micro-insurance. Activists say it can help pay for health care for some of the billions of people in the developing world who cannot afford it.

"Poor people need health insurance; they deserve it. and it can be done," Nobel-prize winning economist Muhammad Yunus told the Associated Press.

His Grameen bank already provides health insurance to around half a million poor Bangladeshis, and Mr. Yunus wants to expand further by using the Internet to connect doctors to patients in remote areas.

Micro-insurance is defined as a product accessible to those earning less than $2 a day, who pay tiny weekly premiums of sometimes less than a cent. The policies usually cover all conditions — including pre-existing illnesses like HIV/AIDS and maternity costs — and are written in language that is easy to understand.

Some 14 million Africans use micro-insurance, and the number of African policyholders has increased by 80 percent in the last five years, according to a recent study by the International Labor Organization. The numbers are still a fraction of the potential market, but are growing rapidly as more organizations offer insurance products to the poor.

But still, insurance can be a hard sell. It's difficult to persuade those struggling to survive to part with precious cash to pay for care that they may never need. For that reason, said World Health Organization specialist Varatharajan Durairaj, micro-insurance could help the middle classes and some of the poor, but not the most desperate.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Twittering for bed nets

Celebrities will begin to send Twitter messages today to raise awareness about malaria. Bill Gates, Colin Powell and Shaquille O'Neal are some of the celebrities that will encourage their followers to buy mosquito blocking bed nets.

Tonight's American Idol will also raise money for malaria fighting with money going the United Nations Malaria No More campaign.

From Reuters, writer Alex Dobuzinskis tells us more about the events.

Organizers of the Twitter fund-raising push are working with the United Nations Special Envoy for Malaria, Ray Chambers.

"It's one of the few campaigns I'm aware of where $10 buys a bednet which can save a child's life," Chambers told Reuters. "The tangible feel of it is greater than any other campaign I've been exposed to."

Malaria causes more than 1 million deaths annually worldwide, but the problem is most acute in Africa.

On Wednesday, singing contest "American Idol," the top-rated program on U.S. television, holds its "Idol Gives Back" show. That too will ask for public donations for malaria relief, as well as charities working with children and poverty in the United States.

The Twitter campaign is a way to build that awareness, because collectively, the participants have 50 million followers on social networking site Twitter.

Organizers said it was unclear how much money will be raised through the campaign, which was inspired by a race a year ago between actor Kutcher and news outlet CNN to be the first to reach 1 million followers on Twitter.

After Kutcher won the contest, he donated $100,000 to Malaria No More, which is one of the groups that will benefit from this latest Twitter campaign.

Spending Spring Break at a South African orphanage

A high school student who once spent time in an orphanage wanted to help children going through a similar experience. Then a visitor came to her school to talk about an orphanage in South Africa called Open Arms. Once Jen Deglmann heard about the orphanage she organized a trip with a few other students and teachers to spend spring break in South Africa.

Deglmann is familiar with what the children in South Africa are going through as she spent the first couple of years of her life in an orphanage in the Ukraine. Diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome she was adopted by a couple in Minnesota where she flourished into a healthy teen.

From the Star Tribune, writer Allie Shah talks to Deglmann about the visit.

The students' days at the orphanage were spent playing board games with the children, baking cookies for them, watching movies with them and giving them piggyback rides.

"It didn't seem like work when you were doing it," said Deglmann. "You're put in the middle of these kids who want love and attention, and you just go for it."

In all, there were more than 30 kids at the orphanage -- boys and girls 12 and under.

The children live in brightly colored huts with ceilings made of straw and cow manure. But the huts were tidy quarters, Deglmann said.

Their time spent with the boys and girls left a deep impression on all four student volunteers, said Nicole Rasmussen, the freshman dean at Benilde-St. Margaret's who chaperoned the girls along with another teacher.

They learned from the orphanage director stories of where each child came from, where their parents were, and how they came to be orphans.

One toddler girl had been stabbed in the forehead by her father. Another small boy had been found in the garbage.

Such heart-wrenching biographies opened the high school students' eyes to larger societal tragedies and how they affect people's lives.

"They have a deeper understanding of poverty and what child abuse and child neglect and disease and lack of infrastructure can do," Rasmussen said. "I do believe they are changed."

Fiji poverty level at 45 percent

New statistics revealed at a conference held in Fiji finds that almost half of the island residents live in poverty. The government of Fiji hopes a new poverty reduction plan will drop that to only 15 percent by the year 2020.

From this AFP article that we found at WA Today, we find out more about the new statistics.

In a bid to improve the living conditions in Fiji, the local government dedicated $FJD1.5 billion ($A8.37 million) to poverty eradication programs between 2000 and 2008, the Fiji Times reported.

Despite this, poverty had increased since 2000, and now 360,000 people - 45 per cent of the population - are struggling, a Household and Income and Expenditure Survey, presented at the conference this week, revealed.

Director of International Initiative for Impact Evaluation, and the event's facilitator, Howard White, said poverty has risen more than 10 per cent in the country since 2007.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Guest Voices: Thousands at immediate risk in Haiti due to rains

Continuing or series of guest posts from Concern Worldwide, Mark Jafar of MTV Networks talks about the needs that are still very urgent in Haiti.

Bourdon Valley, Port-au-Prince – April 18, 2010 – Tucked into the hills that rise above central Port-au-Prince lies Bourdon Valley, an enclave of beautiful, verdant forest flanked by the eastern suburbs of Delmas and Canape Vert. With its thick mango groves and gently winding river, it’s easy to see why one would make this home. But the small, basic concrete houses that once lined the Valley walls now lie in ruin, replaced by the blue and white tarp shelters that now blanket so much of Port-au-Prince’s landscape. More than 14,000 Haitians live in the spontaneous “settlements” within Bourdon Valley’s four square miles, including both its original residents and those who lost their homes, and almost everything else, in the earthquake came here to escape the arid, rubble-strewn streets of the city’s center.

The inclined forests that lend Bourdon Valley its beauty also make it exceedingly dangerous. May 1 marks the start of Haiti’s rainy season, which threatens to unleash a torrent of mudslides and flash floods on the Valley’s makeshift communities. The UN has determined that 9,000 of Bourdon Valley’s residents are at immediate risk of losing their lives in this area due to dangers posed by the rains. Getting these people out is a priority.

More than 2,500 of Bourdon Valley’s residents have registered with the UN’s International Office of Migration for relocation, and tomorrow they begin their exodus to Tabarre Issa, a newly built settlement on the outskirts of town managed by Concern Worldwide. Tabarre Issa is the roots of what could be a lasting community. Concern has constructed clean water and sanitation systems. The World Food Program will provide early food distributions, and the International Medical Corps will operate a medical facility. Well-lit, gravel paths line Tabarre Issa’s spacious tents, which in 6 to 8 weeks will make way for transitional shelters. The infrastructure is in place, and the stage is set for a successful relocation.

The challenge now? Getting people to go. Many of Bourdon Valley’s residents see the value in Tabarre Issa’s concentrated and coordinated aid and services and flat topography. Yet others remain unconvinced and reluctant to leave the confines of the city. As you walk through the settlements of the Valley, you see few signs that its residents are preparing to move, although conditions are overcrowded and harsh, with whole families living in small tents. Men chip away at the earth, building the foundation of a new home. A woman sells used clothing and sweets from a makeshift storefront, while other women try to cook and feed their children with what little they have. The seamless harmonies of young women singing hymnals in Creole ring out from a tent, amidst the sound of power drills and pick axes meeting stone. Signs of the stunning resolve and resilience of Bourdon Valley’s residents are everywhere. The question is: will that resolve ultimately lead them to Tabarre Issa? Very soon the answer will begin to reveal itself.

Mark Jafar is Vice President of Corporate Communications at MTV Networks, where he develops internal and external communications strategies for the company. He manages communications for key internal client groups such as Content Distribution, Digital, Ad Sales and Corporate Responsibility, including MTVN’s Hope for Haiti Now initiative. He also helps support MTVN's brands, which include MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and more, on companywide communications initiatives.