Wednesday, July 28, 2010


With the microfinance company being offered to the public, there is debate about how this may change the original purpose of the anti-poverty loans. Reported by AP Business.

An Indian company that makes tiny loans to villagers aims to raise up to $354 million in an initial public offering, a move critics fear will encourage India's largest microfinance lender to put shareholders above the poor it serves.

SKS Microfinance's share sale, launched Wednesday, has already drawn the ire of one of the leading lights in the field. A publicly traded company's traditional obligation is to make money for its shareholders, while the mission of microfinance - loans typically under $200 for starting businesses that banks won't make - is to lift people out of poverty.

Some say those are irreconcilable objectives. Others argue it is possible to serve two bottom lines simultaneously, reaping both financial and societal rewards. Either way, SKS's IPO - the first in India and the third worldwide - is likely to set a trend. Other Indian microfinance lenders are watching and waiting to see whether they too should tap capital markets.

"This is pushing microfinance in the loansharking direction," Muhammad Yunus, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work at established microfinance lender Grameen Bank, told The Associated Press. "It's not mission drift. It's endangering the whole mission.

"By offering an IPO, you are sending a message to the people buying the IPO there is an exciting chance of making money out of poor people. This is an idea that is repulsive to me," he said. "Microfinance is in the direction of helping the poor retain their money rather than redirecting it in the direction of rich people."

Advocates of commercialization say tapping capital markets and the deep pockets of private equity investors is the only way to get enough funding to sustainably serve billions of people without access to credit. Demand for microfinance funds in India in 2008 exceeded supply by $47.1 billion.

The backers of SKS include venture capital funds Sequoia Capital and Sandstone Capital, George Soros and Infosys chief mentor N R Narayana Murthy, considered an august and ethical figure in India's business world.

SKS set a price band of 850 to 985 rupees ($18.20 to $21.10) per share, valuing the company up to $1.6 billion. It has already raised 3.0 billion rupees ($63.7 million) from anchor investors including Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan.

That's a lot of zeros for a company that started out as a non-profit, and today aims to be the Coca-Cola of financial services, with a mission to lift 6.8 million families out of poverty one 2,000 rupee ($43) loan at a time.

It has grown at breakneck speed - looking to Starbucks and McDonald's for inspiration - adding 55 branches and over 200,000 borrowers a month in the year ended March. Its 21,154 employees today serve 90,000 villages, perhaps the hardest 3 percent of India's population to reach.

The company is now looking to monetize that distribution network.

SKS has tied up with Nokia, Bharti Airtel, and German food wholesaler Metro to provide customers with loans to buy their products. It has also sold 12.5 million life insurance policies for Bajaj Allianz and Birla Life.

SKS maintains there is no way it could have helped so many people so quickly without tapping commercial funding.

SKS declined to comment for this story, saying it was legally prohibited from speaking to international media on the eve of its public offering.

"What we have done as a new generation of microfinance has actually shown that through a commercial approach you can actually raise significantly more capital and put more money into the hands of more poor women," chairman Vikram Akula - who made over $10 million from selling a stake in the company in April - told India's CNBC-TV18 Wednesday. "In so doing, we actually think there is no conflict between the social and the commercial."

Others disagree. There have been political protests against microfinance groups seen as usurious in Andhra Pradesh state and religious leaders in Karnataka state last year issued a decree against paying back loans, resulting in massive defaults.

SKS charges, on average, 28 percent annual interest, which the company says allows its borrowers to make post-interest returns of 30 percent to 250 percent on their businesses.

SKS's rates compare favorably to village moneylenders, who demand 36 percent to 72 percent interest - or higher. Grameen Bank charges an average of 18.5 percent, ranging from zero to 20 percent. Grant-based microfinance lenders in India also charge around 18 percent, according to research and ratings agency CARE. If SKS's clients could get an unsecured personal loan from an Indian commercial bank - which most of them can't - they'd pay 16 to 17 percent.

Xavier Reille, lead microfinance specialist at the World Bank-hosted Consultative Group to Assist the Poor, argues that an IPO is a fine way to get more money to more poor people, if you have good enough governance to prevent profiteering.

"Will the client benefit?" he said. "I'd like to see if that will happen in the next two or three years. I want to make sure the clients' interests are represented on the board."

As SKS has grown and attracted more commercial funding, its borrowers have seen their ownership stake fall from 40 percent to 11 percent of the company, post-IPO.

Review of Ghana's Community-Based Rural Development Project

A full description of the community policies and rural development in place in Ghana. From The Ghanaian Chronicle, by Daniel Nonor.

Ghana’s fight against poverty to make progress towards the Millennium Development Goals has seen various successive policies introduced to accelerate national development, with a special focus on rural development.

By far, the design and implementation of these policies for social well-being have required a constant evaluation of how these systems have evolved over the years and to understand what impact they have had on development and poverty reduction programmes.

One such programme is the Community-Based Rural Development Project (CBRDP), which was initiated by the Government of Ghana as part of its poverty reduction strategy in 2004. The Project aims at using rural community participation to reduce rural poverty and to build and strengthen capacities for effective local government administration.

The Project aims, among others things, to build and strengthen the capacity of rural communities, and enhance their quality of life by improving their productive assets, rural infrastructure and facilitate their access to key support services from public and private sources.

In addition, the Project contributes to improved employment and economic growth, especially among the rural population, with varied innovations to make projects community-owned by maximizing community involvement in the implementation of projects.

The projects under the Community-Based Rural Development Project have been categorised into five main components, namely: Institutional Strengthening and Capacity Building; Infrastructure for Agricultural Development; Rural Enterprise Development and Learning Centres, Infrastructure for Social and Human Development as well as the Community-Based Natural Resource Management.

After six years of its implementation, the CBRDP has made significant contribution to the effort to alleviate poverty among Ghana’s rural population. With the construction of five dams, one dugout, 188 feeder roads, 20 market structures and 12 slaughterhouses in rural communities across the country, many otherwise disillusioned rural folk can now make something meaningful out of life.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, and the future looks even brighter with on-going projects on two wind pumps, eight dams, two dugouts, irrigation facilities, 214 feeder roads, 45 market structures and 15 slaughterhouses, which are expected to bridge the urban-rural development gap.
Institutional Strengthening
and Capacity Building

The activities under this first component are meant to provide support to strengthen and build the capacities of local government institutions in support of the Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy through good governance and human resource development at the national, regional, district and community levels. This is meant to enable the beneficiaries to play effectively their crucial role in the implementation of the projects under CBRDP and thereby become more effective players in the entire local governance set up.

So far, CBRDP has provided training for all 138 district assemblies and 454 selected district councils in decentralisation policy and regulations, procurement, financial management, planning, and monitoring and evaluation.

With support from CBRDP, the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC) has trained personnel from all public services in procurement. Also, the entire accounting system for the district assemblies has been reformed in collaboration with the Controller and Accountant General while the Internal Audit Agency conducted an orientation for newly recruited auditors for the district assemblies.

The capacity building training provided under CBRDP has already started bearing the anticipated fruits. The training programmes, for instance, have had a tremendous impact on the knowledge and performance of local government entities, thus promoting the realisation of project outcomes beyond the CBRDP. Now beneficiaries like Regional Planning and Coordination Units, NGO’s, CBO’s, private and public service providers and rural communities apply rapid project implementation methods with impressive success rates.

To achieve the Project’s objectives, Learning Centres have been established in rural communities to serve as focal points for empowering the poor through the acquisition of knowledge and skills, processing units and marketing outlets.

A total of 1,606 trainees have acquired various valuable vocational skills from the Learning Centres found in various parts of the country. Out of these, 1,209 beneficiaries have been given funds to start their own businesses. Nine hundred and fifty-seven (950) of them have actually set up and are doing very well.

By 2009, 17 Learning Centres in Western and Central Regions had received funds to upgrade their activities. These Learning Centres include Pioneer Bamboo Processing Company Ltd, Profound Integration Company Ltd, Monfre Enterprise, Odo Pee Herbal Centre, Ante Sara Adom Mmoroso Bakery, Association of Beekeepers, and Eddiebay Kente Weaving Learning Centre in the Central Region.

The Learning Centres in the Central Region that have received 100 percent disbursement are Aboadi Rural Agricultural Technology Centre, Centre for Improved Animal Production System (CIRAPS), GABS Catering Services, God With Us Beekeeping & Learning Centre, Biri Cane Work & Shoe Making Training Centre, Okooba Gyasi Farms, Thess Broni Ventures, Kpemli Ventures, and Western Coast Jewellery Enterprise. Between 95 percent and 99 percent funding levels have been achieved for Learning Centres and their trainees respectively.

The implementation of projects under this component has had a tremendous impact on rural dwellers through the provision of support services. This has resulted in increased employment opportunities with increased income levels and rural livelihood as a whole.

Beneficiary enterprises have seen drastic expansion, while many more have been established to provide knowledge and skills to rural dwellers.

When such programmes are well monitored and implemented ,the country would go a long way in reducing poverty and meet the millennium development goals by 2015.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Kids Count findings

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2010 KIDS COUNT Data Book was released today. It has found 18% of the nation's children live in poverty. The Washington Post published a blog summary on the report's findings.

Even before the U.S. economic troubles of the late 1990s, the child poverty rate had increased in this decade, affecting nearly one-fifth of American kids, according to a new report released today on the well-being of American kids.

The annual KIDS COUNT Data Book compiled by the nonprofit Annie E. Casey Foundation and released today also shows the following:

*New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Vermont rank highest in child well-being across a number of indicators.

*Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi rank the lowest.

The report, using the latest available information, says that the rate of children living in poverty in 2008 was 18 percent, indicating that 1 million more children were living in poverty in that year than in 2000. Experts project that more up-to-date census data will show child poverty climbing to above 20 percent.

The report shows improvements in these areas: infant mortality rate (down 3 percent from 2000 to 2007); child death rate (down 14 percent down from 2000 to 2007); teen death rate (down 7 percent from 2000 to 2007); and teen birth rate (down 10 percent from 2000 to 2007); and the percentage of teens not in school and not high school graduates (down 45 percent from 2000 to 2008).

Three areas worsened: the percentage of low-birth-weight babies (up 8 percent from 2000 to 2007); the child poverty rate; and the percentage of children living in single-parent families (up 3 percent from 2000 to 2008).

*The six states with the biggest improvements in their rankings between 2000-2007 (health data) and 2000-2008 (economic data) are New York, Maryland, North Carolina, Illinois, Oregon and Wyoming.

* The five states with the biggest drop in rankings between 2000-2007 and 2000-2008 are Montana, South Dakota, Maine, Alaska and Hawaii.

The KIDS COUNT Data Center provides online access to the latest child well-being data on hundreds of indicators by state, county, city and school district.

Yunus to guest star in Simpsons

Renowned micro-creditor to be in the Simpsons cartoon in October. This news found at Finance Markets, written by David Masters.

The Bangladeshi anti-poverty banker Muhammad Yunus is to feature in an episode of hit TV cartoon The Simpsons.

Yunus, whose pioneering work on micro-finance earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, will appear in the TV show as a cartoon version of himself.

The episode will focus on his micro-credit work in Bangladesh, which has helped to lift millions of people out of poverty.

His voice has already been recorded for the special episode, which will air in October.

Monday, July 26, 2010

China and India wanted to donate

The Global Fund is setting plans to bring China and India into the donor pool according to AHN.

Global Fund, an organization dedicated to the fight against AIDS, has urged India and China --- two of the fastest-growing economies in the world --- to pool in their resources to fight the dreaded disease.

At the 18th World AIDS Conference, which concluded Saturday, Global Fund's Executive Director, Michel Kazatchkine, said the deficit in funds could be "bridged" by "innovative financing" and assistance from the emerging economies.

China and India have received huge funding from international bodies for their AIDS programs, but Global Fund said, the time had come for the two Asian giants to start donating as well. "I believe that in a globalizing world, in a world where countries like China are joining, and want to join, world governance, at a time when the G8 is becoming the G20, it is right for these countries to take up a share of the burden," Kazatchkine told the conference.

Kazatchkine is planning to place a $20 billion requirement --- from 2011-2013 --- to combat the disease when a crucial Global Fund meeting takes place in October. Besides AIDS, the organization also funds the fight against tuberculosis and malaria.

Kazatchkine said he was not expecting huge contributions from China and India as the two countries were also grappling with their domestic problems and poverty, but added that, "In terms of GNP per head, China ranks in the hundreds in the world league table. I don't say it is a poor country." Recent statistics suggest there has been a disconcerting slump in the funding received from Western donors to combat AIDS.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

New Economic Indicator to Complement Poverty Index

Scholars created the Economic Security Index and have unveiled their report today at a forum. Jonathan Cohn blogs about it today at The New Republic. The findings of the new index show that American insecurity is higher this past year than anytime in the past 25 years. A portion of Cohn's post follows:

On Thursday, a group of scholars led by Yale's Jacob Hacker and backed by the Rockefeller Foundation are unveiling a new statistic to measure hardship. They call it the “Economic Security Index.” The official unveiling is at a forum, being held at the New America Foundation. But the full report itself is already online.

In an interview on Wednesday, Hacker walked me through the basic concept. The ESI measures the number of Americans whose “available household income” falls by more than a quarter from one year to the next and who cannot replace this lost income.

The goal is to capture the effects of three things that can sometimes happen simultaneously: People lose their job, face high health care bills, and lack savings or other resources to meet their obligations. (The formula's variables household out-of-pocket medical expenses as well as income and wealth.) As the report explains:

Prior research has focused primarily on individual sources of economic insecurity, such as earnings volatility and the incidence of large medical expenditures. The ESI, by contrast, represents the first attempt to incorporate several key influences—income declines, medical spending shocks, and financial wealth buffers—into a single unified measure.

Using this measure, Hacker and his colleagues determined that the proportion of Americans economically insecure in 2009 and 2010 was higher than at any time in the last 25 years. This reflects the impact of the recession, obviously, but it’s also indicative of a long-term trend towards greater vulnerability. The percentage of insecure Americans was 13.7 percent during the recession of the early 1990s and 17 percent during the recession at the beginning of the last decade. For this recession, it’s 20.4 percent. (Note: That’s a projection, since not all the relevant data is available yet.) And not only more people people experiencing severe income shocks. It’s taking them longer to recover when they do. “The typical individual who experiences a decline of at least 25 percent in household income requires between six and eight years for their income to return to its previous level,” the report summary says.

Note, by the way, that the ESI for the 2000s recession is higher than it was for the 1990s recession, even though unemployment and poverty--the statistics we use most commonly in politics--were lower. (See table below.) That's one reason the new measure is so potentially important: It gives us a better picture of who is suffering when. Of course, it is also important as a reminder of just how widespread insecurity can be.

Hacker’s four colleagues Gregory Huber of Yale, Philipp Rehm of Ohio State, Mark Schlesinger of Yale, and Rob Valletta of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. The group consulted a technical committee that included Henry Aaron and Gary Burtless of the Brookings Institute, as well as Robert Solow, winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1987.

The research team intends to update ESI regularly in the apparent hope that, like Orshansky's poverty index, it becomes a staple of political and policy conversation. I hope it does. I think most people assume that economic hardship is confined to a very small group of people who are very poor. The more people realize that it's actually pretty widespread--reaching up even to middle-income groups--the more likely they are to do something about it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Looking for link exchanges, while on vacation

Your humble blogger is about to go on vacation. Again this year, we are heading to the far north, beyond the reach of the internet. Where woods and water are a lot more plentiful than social networks or 3G phones. So our regular posting schedule will not resume until August 1st. My brother just might do a few posts while we are away, but we are not making him guarantee anything.

Before we go, we figured we would ask if anyone out there would like to do a link exchange with Poverty News Blog. We are especially looking for other NGOs, charities, fair trade, social businesses and the like. We can either include you on the blog's list of "Get Involved" links or put you on our blog roll. Please write a comment below to get the ball rolling. So until next month... Ce Ya!

Could Afghanistan's minerals bring more than wealth?

It was recently discovered that Afghanistan has 1 trillion dollars worth of precious metals underground. This news whetted the appetites of the US government and its corporations, and they are moving to again gain more control over the country. But as we have seen with other countries rich in minerals remain they still remain largely poor and greatly violent. So what is to prevent Afghanistan from reaching the same condition?

From this op-ed piece in the New York Times, Paul Collier states the problem ahead for Afghanistan and gives some suggestions.

Indeed, security in Afghanistan could easily deteriorate as a result of the discoveries, as it has not only in Congo but also in Nigeria (rich in oil) and Sierra Leone (diamonds). Afghanistan’s huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and lithium and other metals could end up financing more tribal and ideological warfare. Greed might stoke violence among the combatants, and attract more Afghans to fight. Consider how in Sierra Leone diamonds enabled the Revolutionary United Front to evolve from a protest movement into a lethal diamonds racket.

Most important, Afghanistan must see that its citizens who live near the mineral deposits benefit — with jobs and spending on public works. Nigeria is a prime example of what happens when the local population pays the price for extraction without reaping the rewards. Oil drilling in the Niger Delta has created few jobs for local people but caused hundreds of spills, ruining their ability to make their traditional living from fishing or agriculture. Politicians have pocketed most of the oil revenues. As the residents of the delta realized that outsiders were profiting from the destruction of their land, gangs formed to kidnap oil workers and sabotage pipelines.

To avoid such fallout, Afghanistan should follow the example of Botswana, which has used diamond revenues to build roads, power lines and schools, raising the economic standard of the country from very poor to upper-middle income. Malaysia, likewise, has used revenues from tin and oil to diversify its economy and create jobs — building, for example, a manufactured exports zone in the impoverished region of Penang.

Afghanistan is part of the last frontier for resource discovery — one of the 60 most impoverished countries, which account for around a quarter of the earth’s land but which have barely been prospected. Over the next decade, given high world commodity prices, the last frontier will be explored, creating more opportunities like that in Afghanistan. All these countries will need to resist the kind of plunder that has characterized resource-rich countries with weak governance.

World Vision reaction to UN maternal health plan

From this World Vision press release, the humanitarian organization gives its reaction to a new United Nations plan on maternal and child health. World Vision fights poverty worldwide by focusing on improving the lives of children and the communities around them, you can learn more about sponsoring a child by going to their website.

The new United Nations initiative for global maternal, newborn and child health is a promising step toward reinvigorating progress, but neglects to adequately address some important action points, according to World Vision, the world's largest international humanitarian organisation focusing on the well-being of children.

Stopping parent-to-child transmission of HIV, providing universal access to treatment for all children and mothers who need it, and ensuring safe pregnancy and childbirth are all essential to improve overall health and survival, UN leaders and health experts emphasized this week at the International AIDS Conference in Vienna. World Vision also underscores the importance of strengthening family and community care, a cornerstone of successful public health interventions.

"This UN-led plan will help build on the progress made in reducing needless deaths of children and mothers so far, and we commend the leadership that has made this health catastrophe a priority," Stefan Germann, director of global HIV and health partnerships for World Vision International, said today at a panel discussion in Vienna with officials from UNAIDS, UNICEF and other groups.

"However, some critical gaps remain - particularly when it comes to ensuring that life-saving interventions make it the last mile to the people who most need them," said Germann.

The Joint Action Plan, first introduced in June, calls for all countries to revitalize efforts to meet Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5 by further reducing preventable deaths of mothers and children worldwide. Millennium Development Goal 6, which includes reducing HIV and AIDS, calls for universal treatment access and a stop to new infections of children.

"To succeed in achieving these goals, health care options must be brought closer to households, and barriers to using these services must be reduced," said Germann. "Even the poorest countries can deliver on their pledges if supported with the right kind of technical expertise and appropriate levels of funding, as we've seen in several examples."

Wealthy countries must be held accountable to deliver on aid pledges they have already made and urged to ensure an additional US $42.5 billion in health investment by 2015. G8 and G20 leaders at last month's summits in Canada fell far short of this. Any global plan should also press mid- to low-income country governments to move toward dedicating 15 percent of their national budgets to health, as African countries pledged in the Abuja declaration, and include maternal and child health in their national poverty reduction strategies.

World Vision's own Child Health Now campaign, launched in November 2009, has recommitted the organisation to aligning its health work to prioritise maternal and child health, with US $1.5 billion over the next 5 years to help priority countries improve their health systems reaching the community and household level. World Vision responds to HIV and AIDS-related needs in nearly 60 countries.

"Children still lag far behind adults in access to HIV prevention and treatment, while many mothers face pregnancy and childbearing without access to ways to protect their babies from HIV, and we must close those gaps," said Germann.

"We have good technologies, good treatments," said Germann. "Getting those within a mile of people is easy, but to cover the 'last mile' is the hardest part. That is why we need to focus on strengthening community systems-local faith groups, churches and community health groups-anyone who is able to make sure that health care options reach those in need."

Fair trade clothing

You may be aware of fair trade coffee, but now some products clothing manufactures are ensuring fair wages and development help for growers of cotton. Transfair, a leader in fair trade certification; is now going to certify clothing products. A couple of companies products have already received the label at Tompkins Point Apparel, and HaeNow.

From Triple Pundit, writer Leon Kaye tells us what the certification does for the suppliers.

Farmers: Cotton farmers in countries including Mali and India can earn up to 30 percent more on Fair Trade sales while collecting a premium for needs such as schools and medical centers. Farmers also must follow stringent environmental standards, and cannot raise genetically modified plants or use toxic chemicals during production

Workers: Garment workers earn a premium of up to 10 percent of the cost of the garment for community investment or a cash bonus. Factories must meet strict workplace requirements based on the International Labor Organization’s conventions.

Companies: Transfair’s label certification process motivates firms to invest in the farmers and workers from which they source, and to communicate their commitment to environmental and social responsibility to consumers at the point of purchase.

Consumers: For each Fair Trade purchase, farmers and factory workers earn a percentage that allows them to fund social development projects while solving poverty in their communities.

Read more:

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

International AIDS Conference features a twin Bill

On day two of the International AIDS Conference, both Bill Clinton and Bill Gates gave speeches on being more effective with available money to fight the disease. There are no planned budget increases from the major governments and donors of the world, so instead the AIDS fighters will need to be less wasteful.

From the Guardian, Sarah Boseley jotted down the following notes from the speeches.

"This is a tough economic environment. Right now there isn't enough money to simply treat our way out of this epidemic," he said.

"If we keep spending our resources in exactly the same way we do today, we will fall further behind in our ability to treat everyone."

Gates cited male circumcision, which a major trial four years ago showed could reduce the chances of a man contracting HIV by 60% – although it is as yet not proven to protect women.

Clinton, a former two-term US president, called for better use of the limited funds available in a separate speech warning that excessive resources went on bureaucracy, unnecessary trips and unread reports.

"In too many countries, too much money pays for too many people to go to too many meetings and get on too many aeroplanes to do too much technical assistance," he said. "Too much money is spent on reports that sit on shelves. Every dollar we waste a day puts a life at risk."

He called on America to lead the way and for all countries "to do some soul-searching … and actually spend the money on the people it was meant to help instead of the apparatus in the country in question".

Clinton said he did not want to blame anybody. "I was president for eight years and I had no idea it was as bad as it was," he said. But, he added: "We can fix this."

World Vision: Georgian youth project must continue

From this World Vision press release, a project is profiled that helps the street children from the country of Georgia. World Vision fears that the project may be coming to an end and urges for it to continue. World Vision fights poverty worldwide by focusing on improving the lives of children and the communities around them, you can learn more about sponsoring a child by going to their website.

By Ana Chkhaidze

GEORGIA - For three years World Vision LIFE project staff worked alongside the Georgian government, Orthodox Church, schools, police, and various NGOs, aiming to change the fate of children and youth living and working on the streets of Batumi and Kutaisi, two of Georgia’s largest cities. Now, after three years of long and difficult work, the LIFE Project is reaching its end.

It leaves behind a legacy of lives transformed, like that of 12-year-old Achiko who lived and worked on the streets of Batumi, a Black Sea resort town in Georgia, to escape his family poverty. When he left, his family would go weeks without hearing from him. Achiko, meanwhile, would mostly spend the little money he made at Internet cafes playing computer games, spending many of his nights in those same cafes.

“Everybody thought that Achiko’s case was hopeless – he lived on the street, didn’t go to school, and fought with other children,” said Shorena Dolaberidze, World Vision Georgia LIFE project field officer.

“Our social worker had a difficult time working with him, but over time she managed to help him and he has since returned to his family and re-enrolled in school.”

In the beginning, project staff worked on the family’s economic situation; they provided Achiko’s mother with vocational training in cooking to then seek employment, and helped his father secure a loan to start a small business. Now, Achiko’s mother works in a bakery and his father runs a small fruit stand in the local market.

While the project staff helped the family earn an income, they also worked with Achiko with the help of a social worker and psychologist to help him transition back into his family and into school. All the while, Achiko also became heavily involved in the LIFE centre’s life skills training and recreational activities.

“I like being here, I study lots of things. I will not stay in the streets anymore,” Achiko told the audience at a recent LIFE project presentation in Batumi.

Children like Achiko made a swift about-face in many cases. According to project staff many of these children and youth in the beginning months hid from them and did not want to leave the streets.

“Simply reaching out to these children was one of the most challenging tasks our staff faced. And it was especially difficult for the Roma children,” Irine Javakhadze, LIFE Project Manager, said.

“However, after our committed and personable staff worked long hours on the streets reaching out to children, and created and trained mobile group workers to interact daily with these children, they were able to not only register many of the children, but they were also able to get them enrolled in our project activities and services to help them off the streets.”

Most of the children reached by project staff and mobile groups have been assisted, first through outreach to the children and their families, then by informing them of the project and its services, and finally by enrolling them in the various activities available, including hygiene classes, HIV and AIDS awareness, English classes, arts and crafts sessions, field trips to historical sites, and many others.

These results and the stories that came from finding and helping these children and youth, and their families, were exhibited in public presentations held in Kutaisi and Batumi this summer. Children were the major participants in the presentations and an arts and crafts exhibition was also on display, showing off the new skills the children learned from spending time at the project centres.

And in Batumi, the presentation kicked off with a pantomime. The theme of the pantomime was children living and working on the streets and the assistance they received from World Vision. But the pantomime also had a sobering ending and showed the reality of this problem – when one child leaves the street another replaces them.

“The work done by this project must be the example for other NGOs. Thanks to this project many children reunited with their families and returned to school to continue their education,” Mate Takidze, Minister of Education, Culture and Sports for the Achara region, said.

“Unfortunately, there are many families who continue to need this type of assistance and our Ministry is going to collaborate with World Vision on these issues.”

During the three-year project staff registered 212 children and youth, 192 of which were assisted. In total, 15 children returned to school, 24 children improved their attendance at school, 36 beneficiaries found employment, 41 received vocational trainings, 10 were placed in Small Group Homes, 83 children received life skills trainings, and 48 beneficiaries were enrolled in economic improvement activities.

“This project was more service oriented and at this stage it is difficult to make it sustainable; the Georgian government is not yet ready to receive this type of project. For this reason, our priority now is to advocate on the issue of juvenile justice and convincing the government to recognise this group as a vulnerable group,” said Tamuna Barkalaya, World Vision Georgia Development Director.

Two new studies could help AIDS prevention efforts

Since there are currently only enough drugs to treat a third of all people with HIV and money to provide the drugs is unlikely to increase, more AIDS prevention efforts must take place. Two more studies that were released to coincide with the International AIDS Conference might make prevention easier for governments and NGOs.

First, a study has found that using a vaginal gel that has the same active ingredients as anti-retroviral drugs helps prevent women from getting HIV. Another study shows that cash transfer programs help young women say no to sex.

From this New York Times piece that we found at Blue Ridge Now, health writer Celia Dugger explains the new studies.

Women who used a vaginal microbicidal gel containing an antiretroviral medication widely used to treat AIDS, tenofovir, were 39 percent less likely over all to contract H.I.V. than those who used a placebo. Those who used the gel most regularly reduced their chances of infection 54 percent, according to a two-and-a-half year study of 889 women by Caprisa, a Durban-based AIDS research center.

Broader trials are needed to confirm the results, and it will most likely be years before the product is publicly available, but if produced on a large scale the gel would cost less than 25 cents per application, the lead investigators estimated.

Because the trial was relatively small and the gel was nowhere close to 100 percent effective, AIDS scientists and public health officials wanted to see another trial get similar results before they undertook the large fund-raising and public education efforts that would be needed to make billions of doses of the gel, as well as the applicators, which are more expensive, and then to persuade women to use them and governments of poor countries to adopt them.

Dr. Bruce Walker, a Harvard Medical School professor who was not involved in the study, said a cheer erupted when researchers unveiled their findings to a small group of scientists last month in Durban.

“This is the first time that there’s been a tool that women can use to protect themselves from becoming infected,” he said. “It’s a game changer.”

In another piece of progress against AIDS, a separate, large study in Malawi sponsored by the World Bank, and made public on Sunday, found that if poor schoolgirls and their families received small monthly cash payments, the girls had sex later, less often and with fewer partners.

A year and a half after the program started, the girls were less than half as likely to be infected with the AIDS or herpes viruses than were girls whose families got no payments. The likelihood that the girls would agree to sex in return for gifts and cash declined as the size of the payments from the program rose, suggesting the central role of extreme poverty in sexual choices.

“Maybe we can combine these behavioral and biomedical interventions,” said Dr. Tim Farley, a scientist with the World Health Organization involved in H.I.V. prevention research. “We need to pursue both avenues.”

Comment: on the closing of Unitas

A couple of weeks ago the non-profit Unitas closed its doors. Unitas was a fund raiser of sorts for microcredit institutions, they raised capital and then gave the money to microcredit banks in the under-developed world. The non-profit also gave consulting services to microcredit institutions.

When closing the announcement from Unitas gave this spin: "capital markets have embraced microfinance to the extent that there are tens of billions of dollars in microfinance capital now available annually, with additional providers entering the marketplace at an aggressive clip. We now feel that there is greater need for our capital and energy in other areas—which we are currently exploring—aligned with our overarching mission of alleviating poverty through opportunity.” according to Chairman Joseph Grenny from the Unitas press release. Many observers of the microcredit industry say that this spin is way off, and that more capital is needed for microcredit to reach more in poverty.

From the great blog at the Seattle Times called the Business of Giving, this commentary from Adam Sorensen critiques the closing of Unitas. Sorensen has spent his career working in microcredit as a manager and investor.

By all accounts, Unitus executed its strategy well in India, with far less traction in other parts of the world. Since 2001, when it began hiring professional staff out of a converted bungalow in the shadow of the Microsoft campus, Unitus raised $40 million in donor funding to support 12 microfinance providers in India, three elsewhere in Asia, four in Latin America and three in Africa.

While its contributions should be lauded, the Unitus' board's claims that a wave of commercial capital washed over the industry is unsubstantiated and dubious. Outside of India, Unitus' limited activities mirror the limited penetration of commercial capital in the microfinance industry. Globally, the microfinance industry remains financed primarily from subsidized sources, with truly commercial capital (i.e. non-subsidized) limited to a few large, profitable microfinance providers, many of which previously received donor funding.

According to the World Bank's Consultative Group to Assist the Poor, donors and investors each provided roughly 50% of total funding to the industry in 2009. Of investors' share, half was invested by the German government and four development banks - all public institutions - and another large, but unspecified slice was sourced from social investors. Regionally, subsidized funding is even more important in less-developed regions like Sub-Saharan Africa, where donors provide 75 percent of total funding in Sub-Saharan Africa.

At an industry level, the trouble with the Unitus board's declaration and the unwinding of the organization is that there are serious issues facing microfinance providers, donors and investors. These issues challenge Unitus' view of the microfinance industry and its impact on the poor.

First, the 2007-08 commodity inflation bubble, followed shortly by the financial crisis and widespread economic distress, has pierced the oft-repeated assumption that microfinance is unaffected by the macroeconomic environment. Second, the rapid growth of microfinance providers, especially commercial players, in countries like Bosnia and Morocco has shown how uncontrolled microcredit extension can destabilize the industry at a national level. Finally, these difficult circumstances are compounded by an existential threat from a string of randomized-control trials have called into question the impact of microfinance as a strategy for poverty-reduction. Cumulatively, these developments demand the participation of Unitus as a proponent of commercial capital to spur the rapid growth of microfinance to reduce poverty - not a victory lap.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Using mobile banking to reach the un-banked

The popularity of mobile banking has swept across Africa. The bankers like it because it saves them money to complete each transaction. Doing banking over the phone also saves banks from having to build a branch in remote villages. Microcredit banks have also found that mobile banking helps to lessen the risk on defaults.

From this article from Kenya's Business Daily, Kevin Mwanza writes about how banks and microcredit lenders have used mobile banking.

Worldwide, it is estimated that $20-30 billion is currently on loan to more than 50 million microfinance borrowers.

Here in Kenya, a massive 62 per cent of the population has no access to conventional banking services, leading to the enthusiastic market response to the nascent mobile banking and money transfer services.

“Mobile banking has fast become an important part of financial services in Kenya and microfinance institutions are not lagging behind on this,” said PesaPot CEO Michael Asola, whose firm provides mobile loan technology to MFIs and the Sacco industry in Kenya.

PesaPot recently joined forces with RedCloud Technologies, an international developer of cloud computing financial services platform, to help it come up with mobile solutions that will enable its clients gain real-time insight into their loan portfolios as well as dramatically reduce their costs.

Some of the MFI and Sacco’s that have partnered with PesaPot include RiverBank Credit, Wasili Sacco and Umande Trust.

Other applications include end-to-end transaction features that connect the borrower directly to his bank account over the phone, using any mobile service provider that has a money transfer service, and a feature for loan officers to vet and get loanees directly into the organization’s system while in the field, cutting on unnecessary paper work.

Microfinance’ institutions that have taken advantage of these technological advancements have been able to reach the mass market after vetting borrowers, which enables them to reduce their portfolio-at-risk levels.

Other services that are being provided using these latest technological advancements include micro-insurance, characterized by low premium and low coverage limits, designed to service low-income people and businesses in developing countries.

International AIDS Conference worries about money

At the start of the International AIDS Conference in Vienna there is a lot of worrying about money. The speakers at the conference all expressed concern about money for AIDS funding being cut back or staying the same. Right now, only a third of HIV-positive people receive drugs to stay healthy, more funding is needed to give the drugs to all.

From this Reuters article, writer Kate Kelland covered the start of the conference.

Speaking at the start of an international gathering of some 20,000 AIDS activists, scientists and HIV patients in Vienna, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon praised progress made against the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS, but said this could be jeopardized if governments trimmed budgets.

"Some governments are cutting back on their response to AIDS. This should be a cause for great concern to us all," he told the conference via videolink from New York.

Michel Kazatchkine, head of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria said it needed up to $20 billion in the next three years to sustain progress.

"I am hugely afraid. I am very concerned," he told reporters at the Vienna conference. "Because of the (global financial) crisis ... because of the competing priorities."

"I hear of many governments cutting official development aid, but I hear other governments saying that despite cuts in other areas, foreign assistance will remain -- and I also hear other governments with good news. It is very up and down."

A report published at the conference by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) found that overall support for global AIDS effort from donor nations flattened out last year in the midst of global economic crisis.

In 2009, the Group of Eight leading wealthy nations, the European Commission and other donor governments provided $7.6 billion for AIDS relief in developing nations, compared with $7.7 billion disbursed in 2008, it said.

World leaders set this year as a deadline for universal access to treatment for all HIV/AIDS patients who need it, but the head of the International AIDS Society Julio Montaner echoed the tone of protesters, who shouted "broken promises kill."

Montaner rebuked politicians for failing to deliver on their promise, saying that only a third of the 15 million people who need potentially life-saving AIDS drugs currently get them.

"Today we have treatments that work, we have shown that this can be done ... what we need now is the political will to go the extra mile to deliver on universal access," he said.

Low food security for western Nepal

From IRIN, a story on food being in short supply for 600,000 people in the western hills of Nepal.

Food security for more than 600,000 people in the western hills of Nepal is set to deteriorate, aid agencies warn.

With already low agricultural production in the more food-insecure areas, inflation is exacerbating matters further.

“A lot of villagers are opting for more desperate coping mechanisms,” Richard Ragan, country representative for the World Food Programme (WFP), told IRIN in Kathmandu.

Many villagers are already reducing the number of meals they eat each day, cutting portions, or migrating to urban areas or India for work, he said.

“In a desperate attempt to buy food, families are even selling their livestock and household assets and the out-migration [to Nepali cities and India] has increased already by 40 percent,” Ragan said.

Typifying that reality is Chattra Bahadur Chettri, a farmer from the western district of Bajura working in the Nepalese capital.

“I came here with my children to avoid any more hardship,” the 50-year-old said.

Food inflation

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the cost of staple food items such as rice, pulses and wheat is as high or even higher than at the peak of the international food crisis in August 2008.

Rice, a staple part of the Nepalese diet, has increased from US$0.34 per kg in 2008 to over $0.50 this year, local traders say.

With no increase in income and unemployment on the rise, even a slight increase in price has a knock-on effect on people’s purchasing power, WFP notes.

Food inflation is already up by 20 percent, the Federation of Nepal Chamber of Commerce and Industries reported, leaving food increasingly unaffordable for poorer families, many of whom live on less than $1 a day.

As one of the poorest nations in the world, 31 percent of the country’s 28 million inhabitants live below the national poverty line with each person surviving on less than $1 a day, according to the World Bank.

More than 80 percent of the people living in rural areas depend mostly on subsistence farming for their livelihoods, according to the FAO.

Worst areas

Bajura, nearly 500km northwest of the capital, is regarded as the most food-insecure district, according to the Nepal Food Security Monitoring System (NeKSAP) initiated by government’s Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives and WFP.

The district was badly affected by drought in 2009 when there was no rain for six months from August to January.

NeKSAP frequently analyses information on household food security, markets and nutrition in more remote regions through its district networks.

“If I don’t find any work here, we will go to India after selling my goats and house,” said Chettri, who explained that many villagers like him were now intent on leaving their homes and moving to other districts where food was more readily available.

Already 87 percent of Bajura’s population (nearly 125,000) is food-insecure.

In Humla, another remote hill district, 700km northwest of the capital, nearly 85 percent of its population (almost 50,000) is suffering from food insecurity, NeKSAP estimates.

Other vulnerable districts include Mugu, Kalikot, Jumla, Dailekh, Accham, Doti, Bajhang, Darchula and Baitadi.

“These are the areas which already suffer from very low agricultural production and the situation has been made worse by food inflation,” Narendra Khadga Chettri, director of Support Activities for Poor Producers of Nepal, said.

With monsoon rains expected in June and lasting until September, there is now concern about the risks of landslides and floods - more external shocks in what is already a precarious food situation, according to the FAO.

New study links AIDS to poverty in US

A new study examines how AIDS and poverty are related in the United States. The new study was released to coincide with the International AIDS Conference now taking place in Vienna.

The study says that infection rates are nearly double for heterosexuals in poor neighborhoods than in wealthier areas. The authors of the study conclude that poverty is the leading factor in determining who is infected with the disease. The chances of one meeting a sexual partner with AIDS may be doubled according to where one lives.

From this Associated Press article that we found at KAIT, writer Mike Stobbe tells us how the study was conducted.

"In the United States, we haven't have a history of looking in depth at the association between poverty and HIV," said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of HIV/AIDS Prevention for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mermin oversees the CDC team that did the new study.

The study involved a survey in 2006 and 2007 of 9,000 heterosexual adults, ages 18 to 50. They answered questions on a computer about their income, condom use and other details and were given HIV tests.

The research was done in high-poverty neighborhoods in 23 U.S. cities. It focused on heterosexuals who don't use intravenous drugs; that group accounts for about 28 percent of Americans living with HIV. It did not involve gay or bisexual men, who have the highest rates of HIV in the United States.

The results: HIV was detected in 2.4 percent of the people who were living below the federal poverty line, which in 2007 was an annual income of roughly $10,000 or less for an individual. The 2.4 percent translates to roughly 1 in 42 people.

In contrast, infections were found in 1.2 percent of people in the same neighborhoods who made more money than the federal poverty guideline. That's 1 in 83 people.

Both rates were higher than the national average, which is 0.45 percent, or 1 in 222 people.

The results suggest that people in low-income neighborhoods are more likely to be infected because they live among more people who are infected. Perhaps more people in such neighborhoods have used illegal drugs or had other experiences that put them at higher risk, Mermin said.

Video: What do the Afghan people want?

From Oxfam, this video asks; what do the Afghan people really want? OXFAM is an international Non-Governmental Organization that operates advocacy, education and emergency assistance programs to help those in poverty.

200 Palestinians homeless 18 months after war

Eighteen months ago, Israel led an armed offensive against Hamas ruled Palestine. The Israeli army bulldozed buildings close to the border when they entered the territory.

The demolition of those houses made for new homeless people within Gaza. Eighteen months after the war, 225 families who had their homes destroyed still haven't found a place to live.

The blockade against Gaza has made it difficult to rebuild. As the blockage does not allow for any construction equipment to pass the borders. Israel fears that equipment will be used to make weapons.

From this Associated Press story that we found at WPIX, writer Karoun Demirjian describes the conditions for the Awaja family.

A bulldozer flattened the Awajas' house on the first full day of Israel's ground offensive, when tanks and troops swept into Gaza neighborhoods near the Israeli border.

As the family fled, bullets hit Kamal, 49, his wife Wafa, 34, and their 8-year-old son Ibrahim — who bled to death in the street.

After a brief stay with Kamal's first wife — he has two, but is separated from the first — and her seven children in their tiny apartment in Gaza City, the Awajas pitched a tent on government land near Beit Lahiya. Municipal officials told them to vacate.

"I told them I'm not leaving... I'm afraid to go back there, close to the border," Kamal said.

They now occupy three tents and have had a sixth child, a baby girl named Leyali.

They tether the tent to the ground with cinderblocks and rugs. They siphon electricity from nearby lines to power a refrigerator, microwave, oven, TV and computer, all salvaged from their old home or smuggled through underground tunnels that connect Gaza to Egypt.

Wafa is constantly busy cleaning wind-blown dust off dishes and clothes, chasing away rats and stray dogs, and protecting belongings from thieves.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Child labor in the mines of Congo

Some areas of the world have trouble keeping children in school, not because the children have a lack of interest, but because their family needs them to earn an income. The children work in the Republic of Congo's mineral mines, going underground digging and chopping away, then carrying bags of the minerals up and out of the mine. The children do not keep all of the money themselves but share it with the family so they can go and buy food. The parents then become dependent on the money and encourage their children to stay out of school.

From this AFP article that we found at The West Australian, we learn more about the children's plight.

Barefoot with water up to his knees, seven-year-old Isaac sifts through sand to extract copper like hundreds of boys in southeast DR Congo, forced by poverty to quit school and work in the mines.

Isaac abandoned his maths and language classes in February, leaving the only school in Kamatanda, a small village in Katanga province, the main mining region in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Since then, he has worked in a vast open copper mine in the area, helping some 2,000 "diggers" extract the mineral under a blistering sun, then to sell to businesses in Likasi, a nearby town.

There are about 400 children from Kamatanda and other surrounding villages who contribute to the effort by sorting, carrying, or cleaning the mineral.

Isaac says he earns less than four dollars (three euros) each day in the mine, "and with that I can buy clothes and contribute to the expenses at home," he explains, his face still full of childhood innocence.

He is the third child in a family of eight, and when his parents could not afford the 30 dollars needed to pay his yearly school fee he joined his brothers and sisters in the mine.

"When they quit their classes, they go back down the pits. The children want to study, but the parents lack the (financial) means," says Alphonsine Fumbi, a mother of six.

Three of Fumbi's own children previously worked as assistant diggers.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Going around the world to fight poverty

A visit to Peru has turned into a new adventure for one family. After vising Peru and seeing first hand the poverty there, Teresa Keller decided to begin devoting her life to fight poverty. Keller sold most of her possessions and plans to travel the world participating in humanitarian development projects in each country. When word spread of her ambition she decided to turn the trip into a non-profit, that will not only seek sponsors for the travels but will later raise more money for the projects.

From Nashoba Publishing, writer Pierre Comtois interviews Keller on her decision to drop out and help out. To learn more about Keller's new non-profit go to

"The whole thing started when I went down to Peru, and for the first time ever, saw real poverty firsthand," said Keller who, until recently, worked as executive director for the Archeological Institute of America in Boston. "People there were just living in makeshift structures on sand dunes.

"As part of my job, I had to commute into Boston every day," Keller said. "My life was very busy, traveling and raising money and I didn't have a lot of time to spend with my kids. But I always thought that someday, I wanted to do something to help people. Well, after visiting Peru, I decided that someday was here."

She left her job, sold her house, got rid of her car and moved into a rented apartment. With the money saved, by traveling light and cheaply, and some fundraising, she saved enough to pay for herself, three of her children -- Jennifer Manglass, 18; Alex Gagliardo, 13; and Ella Gagliardo, 12 -- and her daughter's best friend, Meagan Franz, 17.

"We will just backpack and stay in developing countries where it's not very expensive," said Keller. "Ahead of the trip we started to set up volunteer operations like the one we did in Kenya at a village where they take care of kids who are HIV positive. I felt that since I had a fundraising background, how could I volunteer in that village and not do more to help the people there? They needed houses; they needed wells for water to grow food.

"One thing led to another," she said, "so eventually we decided to start a not-for-profit to raise money and awareness. We wanted to promote cultural understanding between people and countries because in America, we don't have as good an understanding of other cultures as we should have. I think it's important in our global world that we understand each other."

Although the Kellers intend to pay for their traveling costs themselves, they hope to eventually raise $100,000 through their new nonprofit, which would be completely dedicated to the various charitable projects they hope to establish in different countries. Already, an anonymous donor has promised to give 5 cents for each hit on the group's Web site. Later, Keller said that she hopes to be able to post video at that will show donors how their money is improving the lives of people everywhere.

Read more:

A third of Zimbabwe's children are malnourished

From IRIN, a new survey finds that a third of the children in Zimbabwe are malnourished.

Tinashe, a single mother of three living in Mbare township in Harare, the Zimbabwean capital, regularly misses a meal so as to stretch her US$90 a month income, and occasionally gives her children food left over from her employers' meals at the middle-class household where she is a domestic worker.

"My children are at the stage when they should be growing tall, but that is not the case - they are underweight," said Tinashe, who did not want her surname used. Her wages pay the rent and the school fees, but there is never enough money to put regular meals on the table, she told IRIN.

Many households endure the same experience. "Nearly 12,000 child deaths each year may be attributable to maternal and child under-nutrition", the latest Zimbabwe Food and National Nutrition Survey noted.

The survey was produced by the UN Children's Agency (UNICEF), the UN World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the British government's Department for International Development (DFID), the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), and Helen Keller International, which works to prevent malnutrition and blindness.

"The prevalence of chronic malnutrition is now 33.8 percent and, according to World Health Organisation standards, that means one in every three children is chronically malnourished - a significant public health threat," said George Kembo, director of the Zimbabwe Food and Nutrition Council. "Only 8.4 percent of children under two years - meaning one in 10 children - is receiving a diet that is minimally acceptable."

UNICEF's country representative, Peter Salama, said in terms of the survey more than a third of Zimbabwe's children under the age of five were chronically malnourished and consequently suffering from stunted growth. Children in rural areas were found to be more affected by malnutrition than those living in urban areas.

"The data emerging from the survey provides irrefutable evidence of the magnitude of the problem of malnutrition in Zimbabwe. These levels of malnutrition are unacceptably high. They represent not only a challenge to reaching our development goals, but will also constrain economic growth," he said.

The survey did not expect the country to attain the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), set by the UN, of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, and reducing child mortality, unless the prevailing situation changed.

A range of factors contributed to malnutrition. "Exclusive breastfeeding is considered the cornerstone of child survival and development. If universally practised by over 80 percent of the population, it can result in 13 percent reduction of under five mortality," Kembo said.


Harare's sanitation woes remain a vexed issue. In recent years poor maintenance of the sewerage and water reticulation systems, and unaffordable water purifying chemicals, have been blamed for outbreaks of cholera, a waterborne disease, that have claimed the lives of thousands of people.

Residents have consistently complained that they were charged for water that was either not delivered or unsafe to drink, and have subsequently refused to pay their water bills.

The mayor of Harare, Muchadeyi Masunda, told IRIN the city would be forced to disconnect water supplies for non-payment of bills, because there was "nothing for nothing".

It is a circular argument. Masunda said residents had to settle their accounts, so the city could purchase water treatment chemicals, in order to supply safe drinking water.

The possible upcoming war in Sudan

A couple of days ago we linked to a press release that said that Sudan was unprepared for an upcoming referendum on southern independence. A coalition of humanitarian and human rights organizations called from urgent action from heads of state.

Instead of preparing for independence, Sudan seems to be preparing for war. The Sudan government doesn't want the south to break away because most of the country's oil sits in the south. The UN Security Council could do something about Sudan in meetings today but it seems unlikely. The international community and the US government has not done enough to stand in the way of this possible war.

From his New York Times blog, writer Nicholas Kristof sheds more light on the Sudan predicament that lies in front of the UN security council.

The U.N. Security Council is expected to meet today to discuss African peace and security issues, including how to prevent mass atrocities there. Presumably the Security Council will again refuse to address seriously the most important African peace issue — the prospect of a new north-south war in Sudan in the coming months.

It is so frustrating to see what’s unfolding in Sudan these days. It looks like one of those old-time Westerns where two trains are steaming toward each other on the same track. You know it’s going to end badly — and yet it’s difficult to get attention until disaster happens.

Now that the International Criminal Court has indicted Sudanese President Bashir for genocide, as well as war crimes and crimes against humanity, you might think that the Security Council would focus on avoiding such a war. But it has pretty much tried to avoid the subject. As for the Obama administration, it has refused to put serious pressure on Khartoum, and the policy seems to me to be failing. One measure of that is the recent crackdowns in northern Sudan on civil society there, perhaps a warm-up to the new war.

The Bush administration managed to get the CPA that brought the referendum and a respite from Sudanese war. If the Obama administration blows it so that war resumes, that will be a serious black mark for the White House. As a recent op-ed in the Times by Dave Eggers and John Prendergast noted correctly:

This is President Obama’s Rwanda moment, and it is unfolding now, in slow motion. It is not too late to prevent the coming war in Sudan, and protect the peace we helped build five short years ago.

An uneasy relationship in Myanmar

From IRIN, a story on the uneasy relationship between the military junta in Myanmar and the few humanitarian aid workers they allow into the country.

Soon after floods and landslides killed 68 people and displaced thousands a month ago in western Myanmar, the prime minister and two other ministers went to assess the damage first-hand.

They delegated duties for aid delivery. They greenlighted humanitarian shipments. Minister of Social Welfare U Maung Maung Swe met local and international NGOs to brief them on the government response, hear their assessments and “thank [them] for their support”.

This is not the ruling military government of yesteryear, when only a visit from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon - three weeks after Cyclone Nargis struck in May 2008, leaving 140,000 dead - could secure international aid workers unfettered access to the battered Ayeyarwady Delta region.

This is the post-Nargis junta.

“The government’s response capacity has much improved since Nargis. The government has shown willingness to work with the UN and NGOs,” said Bhairaja Panday, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) representative in Myanmar. “The government has shown more confidence in dealing with the aid community and now understands better how the latter functions.”

It is far from a perfect union, with many aid workers grumbling about restrictions on travel outside Yangon and nervous of openly criticizing the junta for fear of being shut out of the country altogether.

Yet judging by the junta’s actions - not only after the landslides, but also with respect to policies - a fragile trust has coalesced between the government and international aid workers.

“The relationship between NGOs and the UN agencies and the government on substantive policies has gotten much better in the five years since I got here,” said Andrew Kirkwood, Myanmar director of Save the Children.

Two steps forward… sometimes

Kirkwood pointed to HIV, forced labour and child rights programmes as concrete signs of better cooperation for the benefit of the people of Myanmar.

For example, trafficked children picked up in Thailand are now safely repatriated and no longer charged with illegal migration, Kirkwood said.

The government has also given its blessing for a forced labour and underage military recruitment complaints desk run by the UN International Labour Organization (ILO).

Still, challenges remain. With the exception of the cyclone-hit delta, visas and travel permits were just as difficult to get as before, aid workers said.

A staff member of an international health NGO, who spoke on condition of anonymity, complained that the government processed mandatory operating licence applications at a snail’s pace.

“Although we are under the process of renewal, we can do our work under the previous (memorandum of understanding), but low profile. We cannot scale up; we cannot extend to other areas, but we are still working,” he said.

In some cases, international aid workers are barred from areas where help is needed most.

During severe flooding in many parts of Myanmar in 1998, “the government restricted information from the affected area, as a policy,” said Win Zin Oo, the director of humanitarian and emergency affairs for World Vision. “At the outset of the Nargis response, the policy of the government was ‘we can do [this] by ourselves’.

“Now, the approach of inviting international agencies for assistance can be seen as change, due to the humanitarian space created by cooperation during the Nargis response.”

Willing to cooperate

Kirkwood, of Save the Children, recalled that during the annual water festival in April 2009, a cyclone looked to be headed for Northern Rakhine State. Everyone across the country was on holiday, but the government called to set up a meeting to plan a joint assessment and response mission. The storm narrowly missed Myanmar and hit neighbouring Bangladesh.

“That, to me, was a great indicator of where we’ve come since the tsunami [in December 2004]. I was here when the tsunami happened as well, and that kind of cooperation wasn’t there,” Kirkwood said.

In the case of the recent landslides, the government issued its assessment of the situation in Northern Rakhine State, heard the UNHCR and NGOs’ take and then adjusted its own accordingly.

“They were not only saying you have to go by our assessment. They wanted us to share information with them on our findings,” said Panday of UNHCR.

For Northern Rakhine State, the government has mobilized key ministries to manage the aid, agreed to facilitate shipments and passed out contact names, focal points and phone numbers, said Vincent Hubin, deputy head of office for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

“They are open to receiving support and are continuing to engage. This is exactly the sign that the cooperation built after Nargis is continuing. We have engagement.”

Comment: Malaysia needs another law to hold child traffickers accountable

Malaysia has taken steps to fight child trafficking with its borders. The US has recognized their efforts by recently upgrading their status. Fines and penalties against child trafficking for sex have also doubled in Malaysian law.

Yet a piece in the teen paper Malaysian Today says the country needs to make another step. Writer Pauline Wong tells us why it's important that Malaysia signs on to the Optional Protocols in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Just last month, Malaysia was upgraded to Tier 2 from Tier 3 in the United States Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, showing recognition of the efforts of the government to fight illicit trafficking.

And even more recently, the penalties of human trafficking were increased 10-fold, showing a move in the right direction to deter and curb this crime against humanity.

But despite all that, Malaysia is still one of only three countries in South East Asia who have not signed on to the Optional Protocols (Articles 34 and 35) in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) - a shocking fact, for these protocols are crucial in putting precedence on the rights and protection of children victimised by sexual trafficking.

According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Articles 34 and 35 of the CRC state that the government should protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse and take all measures possible to ensure that they are not abducted, sold or trafficked. In this protocol, it is made compulsory to criminalise these offenses. This Optional Protocol strikes hard on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and is to supplement the Convention, and to provide detailed requirements to end sexual abuse and exploitation of children.

What Now?

But Malaysia is not bound by these Optional Protocols. Malaysian children are at great risk of sexual exploitation with little to no consequence to the monsters who are responsible.

"So many Malaysians are appalled at the crime of the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, yet no concrete action is undertaken," said Noreen Proseeur, Training and Education Director of P.S. The Children. "The Optional Protocol, once ratified, will be a solid platform to advocate for meaningful child protection with respect to the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography."

The Optional Protocol (to the CRC on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography) reinforces and extends the duty of the government to initiate protection measures relating to the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, explained Nooreen.

"It is a lack of political initiative that stops the government from signing to these protocols - they don't deem it important," she said. "The government is only looking into human trafficking, but much more still needs to be done to stop child sex trafficking."

One organisation taking matters into their hands is The Body Shop, who in collaboration with their non-governmental organisation (NGO) partners, are embarking upon their second year of their campaign against child sex trafficking.

Last year, The Body Shop launched their 'Stop Sex Trafficking of Children and Young People' campaign with the aim of creating awareness of this highly secretive and lucrative crime, urging the people to face the facts: Malaysia is a destination, transit and more shockingly, source country for trafficking, with an estimated 90 children getting trafficked every month.

This year, they are pushing even harder for the signing of the Optional Protocols - and the reason is clear.

"Child pornography is an extremely grave concern, now more so than ever. Technology has made it so easy to film a child for pornographic purposes; times have moved on and so has technology," said The Body Shop MD, Datin Mina Cheah-Foong. "You can do so much more that you could not do before. It's as easy as installing a spy camera in a kindergarten, for instance, and the pictures get circulated all over the world among pedophiles!"

Thursday, July 15, 2010

UN asks for 9.5 billion dollars for humanitarian aid

The outgoing coordinator for the United Nations humanitarian efforts says they need 9.5 billion dollars this year. John Holmes says the money is needed to help 53 million needy people in 34 different countries.

Member nations of the UN have not been giving as much as the UN budgets require. Many countries have been keeping the money to instead take on economic crises in their own land.

From this AFP article that we found at Google News, we read more of John Holmes' comments and see an unfulfilled pledge concerning Haiti.

Last November, UN officials initially appealed for 7.1 billion dollars for 2010, but that figure has now ballooned to 9.5 billion due to new crises, including Haiti's devastating earthquake in January and worsening food emergencies in Africa's Sahel region and in the Central African Republic.

Holmes' UN office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said roughly 48 percent of the appeals were now funded, leaving a shortfall of 4.9 billion dollars.

"Maintaining humanitarian aid budgets this year in the face of recession and pressure on budgets has been a real achievement by many donors," Holmes said.

"I urge them to keep up this effort to ensure that people struck by disaster or conflict receive the help they desperately need for the rest of the year," he added.

Holmes, a Briton, is to step down as OCHA head at the end of August and will be replaced by Valerie Amos, currently the British High Commissioner to Australia.

In Haiti, some 250,000 people were killed and 1.5 million left homeless in the January 12 earthquake, which ravaged much of the capital Port-au-Prince.

An international conference in New York in March pledged more than 10 billion dollars over five years for Haiti's reconstruction, but only a fraction of the promised aid has materialized.

Fear drives migrants away from South Africa

From IRIN, a story on an escalation of attacks on foreigners living in South Africa since the conclusion of the World Cup.

John Muswere, 34, arrived four hours ago at the main bus terminus in Harare, capital of Zimbabwe, after making an unplanned journey with his wife, their three-year-old child and few household possessions from Johannesburg, South Africa, where he spent 18 months working as a mechanic.

"I am left with little money on me because I left South Africa in a hurry and before my employer could pay me. All the transport operators are saying my money is too little and I don't know how I am going to leave this place [the bus terminus]," Muswere told IRIN while his wife tried to pacify their wailing child.

The hasty trip was prompted by rumours that foreigners would be targeted once the FIFA World Cup finished, just as they were in May 2008, when 62 people were killed and more than 100,000 displaced.

Since the final game on 11 July there have been numerous attacks on foreign nationals and their businesses, mainly in Western Cape Province. The Forced Migration Studies Programme (FMSP) of the University of the Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg, estimates that 1.2 million Zimbabweans live in South Africa, mostly arriving in the past decade after their country's economy collapsed.

"I will be starting from scratch, and at no time has life been so uncertain for me. I don't know how I am going to feed the family because it might be a long time before I get a job here," Muswere said. His uncle has offered them temporary accommodation.

The threats began a few months before the soccer world cup, and came in the form of notes pasted on the door of their one-room rented flat in the inner-city suburb of Berea, Johannesburg, "telling me that they would kill me and my family if I remained in their country after the World Cup".

The notes accused Muswere and other Zimbabweans in the suburb of "stealing their sisters, jobs and houses".

"I thought they were mere threats until they accosted my neighbour, who was coming from night duty at a local supermarket where he worked as a security guard, poured petrol on him and set him alight. Fortunately, he survived but he is still in hospital," said Muswere.

Grace Takawira, 46, arrived on the same bus as Muswere after travelling from Western Cape, where she had been employed as a domestic worker for the past four years. "I just packed my few belongings and hitch-hiked to Johannesburg, where I boarded a bus to Harare," Takawira told IRIN.

"I had seen several Zimbabweans and other foreigners being attacked shortly after the World Cup ended. Many foreigners who feared for their lives sought shelter at police stations, but I could not stand the idea of living as a refugee." She has decided to try cross-border trading to feed her three children.

"Hundreds of Zimbabweans are crossing back to Zimbabwe on a daily basis as they flee xenophobic attacks," said the bus driver, who plies the Harare-Johannesburg route but declined to be identified.

Burdening a weak economy

"Most of them are in a desperate situation, as they don't have enough money for bus fares. Some of them only managed enough money to come as far as Beitbridge [on the Zimbabwe side of the border] and are squatting in that town," he told IRIN.

"The South African government should improve on its policies, so that more jobs are created and there is greater literacy among citizens of that country," John Makumbe, a Harare based political analyst, told IRIN.

"It is clear that high levels of unemployment, widespread poverty, and low levels of skills are contributing to xenophobia among South Africans, who see foreigners as the main cause of their problems."

Innocent Makwiramiti, an economist and former chief executive officer of the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce, expected problems. "The economy is still weak and the return of Zimbabweans from South Africa will push up unemployment. While those that are returning might have skills in their respective professions, it will be difficult for them to start their own ventures because they don't have the capital."

Video: constructing shelter in Haiti

From Concern Worldwide's YouTube channel, a video showing the construction of some shelter in Haiti.

Survey finds people still fear Congo rebel groups

From this Oxfam press release, a survey finds that communities still fear Congo rebel groups who use rape and forced labor as weapons. OXFAM is an international Non-Governmental Organization that operates advocacy, education and emergency assistance programs to help those in poverty.

Congo Army a threat in all but one community surveyed – reform needed before peacekeepers can withdraw

Civilians in eastern Congo are facing an increased risk of rape and forced labor as a result of internationally backed military operations against rebel groups, according to new research released today by aid agency Oxfam.

The survey of 816 people living in 24 communities in North and South Kivu revealed that 60 percent of those surveyed feel less safe than last year, with women and boys feeling particularly at risk. The survey covered areas affected by the Amani Leo (‘Peace Today') offensive – supported by the UN – against the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) and other rebel groups.

Some 75 percent of women surveyed said that they felt in more danger than a year ago, with this rising to 99 percent in the parts of South Kivu at the centre of Amani Leo operations. Likewise, 65 percent of boys surveyed said they were less safe, with this rising to 100 percent in areas where operations were ongoing. Women said that rape had increased in 20 of the 24 communities surveyed, while boys said schools were often raided to provide forced labor.

Respondents in 19 out of 24 communities said that despite the offensive the FDLR and other militias were still responsible for extreme acts of violence including rape and the burning of villages. In some areas the offensive had led to increasingly brutal FDLR reprisal attacks on civilians.
Widespread impunity

The Congolese army was also identified as a main perpetrator, with soldiers a threat to civilians in 23 of the 24 communities surveyed. Although 11 communities mentioned examples of soldiers protecting people, such as by conducting night patrols and securing the release of people abducted by the FDLR, only one community had faced no abuses from soldiers. In some areas, crimes committed by the army were so extreme - killing, torture, burning houses and gang rape - as to be indistinguishable from the worst excesses of the FDLR. Three quarters of communities reported looting, with soldiers taking everything from cash and mobile phones to livestock and food. A separate survey in Kabare, South Kivu, found that 15 army checkpoints in the area may be making as much as $18,000 a month through extortion.

Despite the anger felt at such abuses, many civilians also said the Congolese army lived in pitiful conditions - often deployed without rations, and wages paid irregularly or stolen by commanders. "It's shameful for a government soldier to have to beg, so instead they steal," said one respondent. All communities said that if soldiers were paid on time it would improve the security of civilians. The Congolese government introduced a zero tolerance policy for abuses by its troops last July, but as the survey reveals, people still feel there is widespread impunity and no functioning system of justice or reparation.
Attacked from all sides

Marcel Stoessel, Head of Oxfam in Congo, said:

"The military operations are having a devastating effect on Congolese communities, who are being attacked from all sides. The army is supposed to protect people, but until real root and branch military reform takes place the risks this offensive poses to communities are just too high. Deploying troops without pay or rations virtually guarantees abuse against civilians, and turning a blind eye while soldiers commit crimes just encourages others to commit more. It's clear that those affected by these abuses are crying out for army reform."

Such behavior is extremely alarming given the recent calls for United Nations peacekeepers to leave the country. The UN Security Council will review the current configuration of troops this October. Oxfam said that while peacekeepers are not a long-term solution, they are still needed until the Congolese army can offer better protection to civilians.

The results of the survey suggested that the operations have had mixed results in addressing the threat of the FDLR. In some areas FDLR attacks were now less frequent but increasingly brutal when they happened. In the Petit Nord region the FDLR justified burning down a village "because you chased us away." In the northern part of South Kivu abductions have become so common that entire villages were said to have relocated. Communities spoke of increasing instances of women being abducted, repeatedly raped and then only released after a ransom is paid. One community reported 16 girls abducted and raped by the FDLR in three months.
Communities want political solutions

Three quarters of communities surveyed were against continuing the Amani Leo military action, instead calling for political solutions such as integrating militia fighters into the army, and opening up political space in Rwanda to allow FDLR rebels not involved in the genocide to return.

The offensive is also having a grave impact on local youth and education. The survey found that sections of the army often targeted schools to find boys able to porter their goods. Classes have been suspended or schools have had to relocate to reduce the risk to students. Those who tried to resist faced beatings and even murder. Boys said they were also frequently accused of being militia fighters, with simply sporting a tattoo enough to get young men beaten up, arrested or even murdered as a suspected rebel.

Notes to Editors

1. Oxfam's protection staff and partners interviewed 816 ordinary people across 24 communities in North and South Kivu affected by the Amani Leo ("Peace Today") offensive against the FDLR and other militias. The majority of interviews took place in focus groups, but staff also undertook in depth interviews with individuals. We have kept the locations confidential to safeguard the security of the brave individuals who were willing to tell us what their communities were experiencing.

2. The survey focused exclusively on areas currently affected by military operations. It does not claim to be representative of the situation of civilians throughout the Kivus.

3. A briefing note on the survey – ‘Women and children first: on the frontline of war in the Kivus' – is available.

4. This is the second year that Oxfam has examined the humanitarian fallout of military offensives in the Kivus. A 2009 survey of 569 civilians in North and South Kivu found evidence of widespread suffering as a result of the previous Kimia II offensive. There were reports of increased rape, forced labor, looting, torture and reprisal attacks.