Thursday, September 30, 2010

Study finds a new reason for the high rate of AIDS in Africa

When we talk about the prevalence of AIDS in Africa, many reasons are given for it's cause. Some of factors often cited are lack of education, sexual promiscuity and poverty. A new medical study out today points to a difference in immune cells from African women to those in the rest of the world. The new research says that an immune system already weakened by malaria could be more susceptible to contacting AIDS.

From this SciDev.Net story that we found at All Africa, David Njagi And Naomi Antony unpack the new study for us.

Researchers who compared immune cells in the genital tracts of women in Kenya and the United States, found that Kenyan women had more "activated" cells, which are more vulnerable to attack by HIV. Cells can become activated as a reaction to infection.

It is the first time that scientists have shown that immune cells in the genital tract are more activated in African women, though higher activation elsewhere in the body has already been demonstrated. The activation may be an "important additional contributor" to the high infection rates in African women, according to the scientists, led by Craig Cohen, of the University of California, San Francisco, in the United States.

"We believe that these findings should also start to dispel some of the preconceptions and stigma surrounding HIV acquisition among young women in Sub-Saharan Africa," said the authors, writing in the journal AIDS.

The scientists compared CD4 cell counts - an indicator of immune system strength - of women aged 18-24 years in San Francisco, with those from Kisumu, Kenya. They found that Kenyan women had more activated CD4 cells. The researchers controlled for other genital infections and sexual behaviour, which are therefore unlikely to be an explanation of the increased activity.

They say that it is possible that other "systemic" infections, such as malaria, that affect the whole body, might cause the increase. Another possible cause is schistosomiasis and similar infections that occur at other mucosal sites in the body. It is also possible that there is a genetic cause.

"Although it has been suggested that reasons for the discrepancy in HIV seroprevalence include higher prevalence of sexually transmitted infections ... as well as structural and sociocultural factors, for the first time our observations suggest that differences in the genital tract immune milieu may be an important additional contributor," said the team.

A Blog round-up, on Cuba and coffee

Two good blog posts from this morning caught our attention, so we will combine them into one post. One describes improvement in Cuba, and another describes improvement for small farmers in Ethiopia.

First up is Cuba, who has quietly made great strides in meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Impartial observers say that Cuba is one of the best performing countries in meeting the MDGs. Most of the country's residents have equal access to health care and education, so this helps to remove some of the barriers to finding good work.

From the Guardian's Poverty Matters blog, contributor Jonathan Glennie asks an economist friend why Cuba is doing great.

According to a new MDG Report Card by the Overseas Development Institute, Cuba is among the 20 best performing countries in the world. The key question for development experts who want to learn from this success is this: How is progress being made when the economy appears to be in such turmoil? I posed this question to a young Cuban economist friend of mine and his answer is worth reflecting on (I will let the fact that he doesn't want his name to appear, despite saying positive things about the government, speak for itself regarding freedom of expression):

Hello Jonathan. How is it possible to sustain spending despite economic difficulties? Good question!

The Cuban economy is planned and we redistribute income from the most dynamic sectors, which generate most foreign exchange, towards those that are less dynamic but necessary for the country. That's how we maintain a budget to keep health and education high quality and free of charge to the user.

Although many see this as "social spending", some economists, of which I am one, see it as a long-term (if costly) investment. It is part of the country's economic strategy in the long run to have human capital which can easily adapt to new economic conditions, including the development of trade in services. So costly investments are made, and wages in these sectors are kept relatively high. Since 2004 Cuba has indeed increased exports of services in precisely these sectors (health and education), mainly to Latin countries.

Small coffee farmers in Ethiopia are making strides to improve their product to sell to internationally. Small farmers often lack the technology skill or time to quality control their beans. But if the farmers co-operate, they can pool their resources to make their product more appealing to the big international buyers.

From Duncan Green's Poverty to Power blog, he visits some coffee growers in Ethiopia who have made strides to improve their product and get more money from it.

Here are some of the ways the farmers are facing up to the challenge:

1. Organization and scale: They set up the Limmu Innara Union of cooperatives in 2006, which now comprises 41 coops, with 30,000 households. Strengthening the management capacity and market linkages of the union will be crucial to getting the coffee to market.

2. Quality control: success will depend on improving the quality of the beans. That means making sure that every family member or day labourer picks the red beans, and not the green ones, and that every stage of transport and processing minimises impurities. One of the key ways to achieve this is actually through a fascinating ‘functional adult literacy’ programme and a focus on women’s rights – more on that tomorrow.

3. Access to working capital: the union needs to pay the farmers up front for their coffee, otherwise their desperate need for cash will force them to sell to private traders even though they pay less. It takes time to build up that capital, and access to credit is hard until they have assets they can put down as collateral, so Oxfam has part-funded the building of a new warehouse that can both clean up the coffee chain, and simultaneously act as collateral for bank loans.

4. Learning to navigate the value chain: the coffee value chain is complex (see diagram), and requires different skills as you move from selling to local traders at the farmgate to doing international deals. Oxfam is working with a team from Accenture to find organizations that can work with the union to set up those links.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

WHO cites improvement in battling AIDS

A new study from the World Health Organization points out the great strides made in recent years in combating HIV/AIDS. Increased funding to the US PEPFAR program, and the Global Fund have helped to improve testing, survival, and transmission. In the last couple of years, contributions to those two programs have either flat-lined or decreased. This study gives more evidence to how important continued donations of aid can be in helping people live through AIDS.

From the IPS, writer Susan Anyangu-Amu focuses on how mother to child transmissions of AIDS have improved in recent years.

According to a new report Towards Universal Access, the proportion of pregnant women in Sub-Saharan Africa who received an HIV test increased from 43 percent in 2008 to 51 percent in 2009. The report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS assessed HIV/AIDS progress in 144 low- and middle-income countries.

It found an estimated 24 percent of the approximately 125 million pregnant women in these countries received an HIV test in 2009, an increase from 21 percent in 2008 and eight percent in 2005. Fifty-four percent of HIV-positive pregnant women in Sub-Saharan Africa received antiretroviral drugs to prevent transmission to their children in 2009, up from 45 percent in 2008.

Speaking to IPS during the launch of the report in Nairobi on Sep.28, UNICEF regional director Elhadj As Sy said the progress made in the prevention of mother-to-child transmission is testimony of the fact that virtual elimination by 2015 is achievable.

"What we need is strong political leadership, funding, good programs and activism. If we build on the progress and with renewed commitment we are well on our way to achieving virtual elimination by 2015," Sy said. However, despite the progress there are still challenges with disparities between regions and within countries.

Four countries in the region report providing HIV testing and counselling to over 80 percent of pregnant women. They are South Africa, Zambia, Namibia and Botswana. These countries have already reached the target set at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS). This is the target of providing 80 percent of pregnant women in need of treatment with antiretroviral drugs to reduce transmission to their children.

Despite the marked progress, countries in Eastern and Southern Africa fared better than their counterparts in West and Central Africa. In Eastern and Southern Africa, 50 percent of pregnant women received HIV testing and counselling, an increase from 43 percent in 2008. In Western and Central Africa, coverage increased from 16 percent to 21 percent between 2008 and 2009.

"While the figures in Western and Central Africa are low, this does not mirror failure on their part. The burden of HIV/AIDS has leaned heavily on Eastern and Southern Africa and this is where most interventions have been directed. Western and Central Africa are just beginning to pick up the problem and their burden of the epidemic is lower," said Dr. David Okello. Okello is director, HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Cluster at the WHO regional office for Africa.

Why vote when you live in a tent?

Elections will be held on November 28th in Haiti, but many are planning on not voting. Those not voting don't suffer from your typical apathy, they are the people who still live in tents, long after the January 12th earthquake.

A story from Inter Press Service finds that a majority of those who live in the tent camps will not vote in November. The people who are still homeless don't think that new politicians can do anything to improve their conditions. In our snippet, writer Judith Scherr asks for some opinions. Click on the link to the full article to read about a popular political party that is being excluded from the elections.

David Bazil now makes his home in Barbancourt2, near Port- au-Prince's international airport, a crowded camp of 310 families living in sweltering tents and tarp structures in various states of decay. A stream of water from the showers and rainstorms meanders between the rows of tents, spilling into a pool of mosquito-infested water that abuts the dwellings of several families.

Stinking latrines await the company charged with cleaning them. Adding to the misery, the owner of the property where the camp is located wants his land back.

IPS asked Bazil, vice president of the camp council, if electing a new government might offer hope to weary residents.

"The situation we experience here every day in this camp, we don't see why we would even participate in an election," Bazil said, speaking through a Creole translator. "The problems we're having are now; solutions need to be now. Politicians just make promises about what they'll do in the future. We cannot wait for the future."

In Camp Noailles, just outside Port-au-Prince, no one IPS spoke with planned to vote. A new president should come with plans to bring schools and jobs, "but most people come with a plan that doesn't work," one resident said.

Eric sells used clothes from the United States in downtown Port-au-Prince. Business is bad; people don't have the money to shop, he said. As for elections, "They cannot do anything for the country; our problems won't be solved in an election," he said.

KOMAZA: protecting topsoil in Kenya

We were introduced to a social business from the Just Means website that brings tree farms to Kenya. The social bushiness KOMAZA believes they can help protect the soil for small farmers in Kenya. The already weak soil needs trees to protect it, yet many trees are cut down to sell the wood. The trees are usually cut when a farm doesn't produce enough to give income for the entire year.

From Just Means, writer Harry Stevens introduces us to KOMAZA.

What if the American Dustbowl could have been prevented by social enterprise? KOMAZA, a social enterprise which just won the 2010 SVN Innovation Awards, is trying to do just that in Kenya. The farmers in Kenya's eastern Kalifi District, where KOMAZA operates, work semi-arid, degraded land not unlike the American prairies of the 1930s. Many of the region's farmers cannot grow enough food to survive and are forced to supplement their income by cutting down trees to sell as charcoal. Without trees, topsoil erodes, desert swallows the land, and families either starve or become environmental refugees.

KOMAZA, Swahili for "encourage growth, promote development," provides a solution to this potential disaster in the form of drought-resistant, high-profit tree farms. Unlike seasonal crops, which often fail for lack of water, trees are able to survive for months without water and can effectively use whatever rain water is available. KOMAZA employs a model which it describes as "microforestry," providing smallholder farmers with the tools required to make tree farming profitable on only a half-acre of unutilized land.

After each harvest cycle, KOMAZA processes the lumber from farmers' trees into a variety of products including firewood, electricity poles, sawn lumber and even luxurious floorboards. The company then sells the products on markets that would normally be completely inaccessible to smallholder farmers. KOMAZA projects that each microfarm will return over $3,000 to each family at the final harvest, a huge sum for families accustomed to living on less than $300 a year.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hundreds feared dead in Mexico mudslide

Hundreds of people are feared dead because of a mudslide in Mexico. The mudslide took place in a remote mountain region of southern Mexico. Authorities are trying to get support to the area, but the unpaved roads that wind through the mountains are delaying their arrival.

Mexico is going through its toughest rainy season in recent memory. The rains have already caused floods that have killed 20 people.

From the Guardian, writer Jo Tuckman describes this latest disaster.

The state's governor, Ulises Ruiz, said heavy rains had caused a 200 metre (656ft) wide chunk of hillside next to the town of Santa María Tlahuitoltepec to collapse.

"There could be 500 or 600 people [dead] – perhaps 1,000," Ruiz told the Televisa television channel, adding that between 100 and 300 homes had been buried by the landslide.

It happened at about 4am when most people were asleep in their homes, potentially increasing the scale of the tragedy.

Donato Vargas, a local official, said 500 people were missing.

"We were all sleeping, and all I heard was a loud noise ... when I left the house, I saw that the hill had fallen," he said, adding that he had called the Mexican army and state officials for help.

"It has been difficult informing authorities because the road are very bad and there isn't a good signal for our phone."

Ruiz said rescue workers were on their way to the area by air and should be able to provide a more accurate estimate of the area affected and the number of casualties when they got there.

"We haven't reached the location yet," he said, explaining that bad weather and blocked roads were hampering the rescuers.

New malaria vaccine in final phase of testing

A meeting to discuss malaria prevention begins in Washington today. Scientists attending the meeting are expected to announce good news about a new malaria vaccine. Experts believe that a new malaria vaccine called RTS,S will be in use within five years to treat a deadly form of the disease.

From this AFP article that we found at Google News, we read more about the final phase of testing for the vaccine.

One of the stars at the meeting will be the RTS,S malaria vaccine, which has been developed by GlaxoSmithKline and the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, with funding from the philanthropic foundation set up by Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda.

RTS,S is in Phase III trials, which test a vaccine's safety and efficacy on a large scale, in seven African countries -- Burkina Faso, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania. Enrollment is targeted to reach 16,000 children and infants.

Results of Phase II trials, which were announced in 2008, showed RTS,S was 53 percent effective against clinical falciparum malaria in young children, the most vulnerable to the mosquito-borne illness.

In infants, the vaccine was up to 65 percent effective.

If successful, the Phase III testing and licensing of the vaccine would make it a "first generation malaria vaccine that is at least 50 percent effective against severe disease and death, and that lasts more than one year," the Malaria Vaccine Initiative has said.

"This vaccine has been 25 years in the making and it's taken people from all walks of life to pull it together to make it happen," said Oosterbaan.

Hiding the poor from the Commonwealth Games

The Commonwealth Games are about to begin in New Delhi, India. In preparing for the games, New Delhi has tried to clean up the city as best as possible, but some of those efforts have infringed on the rights of the poor.

The city's clean up went as far as erecting barriers so slums can be hidden behind them. New Delhi also began an aggressive campaign to sweep beggars of the streets, but that part of the clean up had to be stopped by judges.

From The Times Live, this Associated Press article explains how far New Delhi has gone to clean up before the games begin.

Officials launched a drive against beggars, slum neighborhoods and the homeless earlier in 2010 that was so aggressive - demolishing thousands of slum homes and arresting or displacing thousands of people, rights group say — that the courts finally stepped in to stop them.

“You cannot just take bulldozers anywhere and demolish anyone’s house in the name of the Commonwealth Games,” a New Delhi court said after city officials tore down a series of homeless shelters and shanty towns. “We think you want to show the foreigners coming for the Commonwealth Games that there are no poor people in India.”

New Delhi, of course, is not the first city to try to hide its rougher edges. The Chinese government tore town and rebuilt large parts of Beijing in the years before the 2008 Olympics, demolishing entire blocks of housing and forcing thousands of residents to move.

But Indian officials like to point out that they govern the world’s most populous democracy — unlike China, its main regional competitor for economic power — and that the needs of normal people need to be taken into account.

But the common man is getting little from these games. Just ask him.

“The government is just trying to hide its ineptitude,” said a now-homeless man named Ilyas, a civil servant who said he’d moved to New Delhi a month ago after a bitter family feud and a battle with depression. He had been living on the streets, near a mosque where free food is regularly distributed. But now he’s hiding in a city park and sleeping in the bushes.

“The police tell us to get off the streets, so we come back here.” P. Sainath, an Indian journalist who often writes about India’s growing economic divide, said he was not surprised by the government’s actions.

“All this captures the elite of India very well,” he said, referring to the government’s proud recitations of its booming economic growth and increasing consumerist culture. “India is not really about ’Slumdog Millionaire.’ It’s about slumdogs versus millionaires, and that’s what you’re seeing in Delhi now.” But on Monday, on a New Delhi street corner, some things continued as they have for years.

Video: Blessing Baskets

From KTVI, a story about the non-profit Blessing Baskets. Proceeds of the sale of each basket are used to improve the lives of the artisans who live in the under-developed world.

Catching butterflys for Cambodian tourists

The Siem Reap area of Cambodia is a tourist attraction, but it is also one of the poorest regions of the country. People travel to Siem Reap to see the ornate temples, but the money made from the tourism goes to the government and an oil company. Some people make a living by supporting the tourist industry, but few of the tourist's dollars go back into the area.

From the Guardian, writer Ben Doherty visited two boys who work to supply the tourist industry in a unique way.

The butterflies they catch – usually between 60 and 100 between them – they bring to the Butterflies Garden Restaurant in Siem Reap town. They are released inside the restaurant's massive net, to flutter around the diners sitting in the garden café. For their toil, the children are paid about 5,000 riel (80p) each.

"But still, we don't all go to school," Boa says. "Some have to stay home to help the family. But everyone has to help catch butterflies."Despite the annual flood of international tourists to the Angkor temples and the estimated £380m they are predicted to bring this year, Siem Reap remains one of the poorest parts of Cambodia.

More than half of all families live below the poverty line, surviving on less than 80p a day. Four villages in 10 have no access to safe drinking water and 53% of all children are malnourished. Literacy rates are some of the lowest in the country, at 64%, and just 10% of children finish high school. "Siem Reap is one of the poorest provinces of Cambodia, which is a bit weird seeing the number of tourists going there," said Philippe Delanghe, the head of the UN's culture unit in Cambodia. "I only hope that in the future we might be able to help people living around Angkor Wat to improve their livelihoods, which hasn't really been the case until now."

The majority of tourists' money is spent with foreign-owned hotels, tour companies and restaurants. Many package tourists spend a week in Siem Reap without visiting a local business.

Monday, September 27, 2010

A new wrinkle to the unemployment problem in South Africa

South Africa is cracking down against textile factories that are paying less than minimum wage, but authorities are getting some unexpected resistance from the workers who make the low wages.

Poor timing of a raise of the minimum wage during the global recession has only complicated an unemployment problem in South Africa. A problem that was already compounded by years of apartheid. After apartheid ended, South Africa saw little growth in unskilled jobs. Now those jobs are instead decreasing because the jobs are going to other countries that have cheaper labor.

From the New York Times, writer Celia Dugger describes the scene at on textile mill closing.

The sheriff arrived at the factory here to shut it down, part of a national enforcement drive against clothing manufacturers who violate the minimum wage. But women working on the factory floor — the supposed beneficiaries of the crackdown — clambered atop cutting tables and ironing boards to raise anguished cries against it.

“Why? Why?” shouted Nokuthula Masango, 25, after the authorities carted away bolts of gaily colored fabric.

She made just $36 a week, $21 less than the minimum wage, but needed the meager pay to help support a large extended family that includes her five unemployed siblings and their children.

The women’s spontaneous protest is just one sign of how acute South Africa’s long-running unemployment crisis has become. With their own industry in ruinous decline, the victim of low-wage competition from China, and too few unskilled jobs being created in South Africa, the women feared being out of work more than getting stuck in poorly paid jobs.

In the 16 years since the end of apartheid, South Africa has followed the prescriptions of the West, opening its market-based economy to trade, while keeping inflation and public debt in check. It has won praise for its efforts, and the economy has grown, but not nearly fast enough to end an intractable unemployment crisis.

For over a decade, the jobless rate has been among the highest in the world, fueling crime, inequality and social unrest in the continent’s richest nation. The global economic downturn has made the problem much worse, wiping out more than a million jobs. Over a third of South Africa’s workforce is now idle. And 16 years after Nelson Mandela led the country to black majority rule, more than half of blacks ages 15 to 34 are without work — triple the level for whites.

“The numbers are mind-boggling,” said James Levinsohn, a Yale University economist.

Tuberculosis success in Nepal

Nepal has one of the most successful tuberculosis fighting programs in the under-developed world. In 1990, only 45 percent of people were cured of TB, now it up to 90 percent. In addition, Nepal has also seen improvements in other health factors such as malaria, maternal health, and AIDS.

Nepal achieves this health success through a centrally located strategy from its government. Instead of having several NGOs run their own programs within the country, Nepal asks for them to instead donate the money to their own health program.The Doctors in charge of the program also demand constant improvement in health results.

From the Guardian, writer John Donnelly is traveling with the World Health Organization to report on Nepal's progress.

Here, however, the government announced just last month that it would be working with donors in a new way – with three groups, DfID, the World Bank, and the GAVI Alliance – funneling money directly into a pooling arrangement for better maternal and child health. The hope is that the arrangement will reduce duplication and lead to better health outcomes. (And the government could even improve its performance: In the past year around 30 health ministry workers, including senior leaders, have attended workshops put on by the Ministerial Leadership Initiative for Global Health on how to better negotiate with donors).

In TB control, the government has cooperated closely with partners for several decades. But it wasn't until 1996 that things started to work well. That's when Nepal became one of the first countries in Asia to introduce the DOTS strategy, which calls for health workers to observe patients take their TB medicine every day for at least six months. It wasn't easy in a country as poor with so many remote villages, but strong central leadership at the time from the energetic Dr Dirgha Singh Bam and Dr Ian Smith, who later became WHO's first medical officer in Nepal – helped to build a national programme.

In the early 1990s, just 45% of TB patients were cured; today, that figure has doubled to 90%. Twenty years ago, a couple of hundred health facilities oversaw TB treatment; today, more than 4,000 sites, including tiny health posts in the mountains, administer the anti-TB drugs.

That's all positive, but health leaders remain concerned about new problems. There's HIV-TB co-infection; an estimated 40,000 people each year contract TB, which isn't much less than 15 years ago; and those with multiple-drug resistant (MDR) and extensively drug resistant (XDR) types of TB can't go to isolation wards because there are none.

So patients with MDR and XDR-TB walk into centres every day, and then go back into the community. Authorities wouldn't allow that to happen in London, or in many places around the world.

Digging into the past to spin the present

China is the chief exporter of minerals from Africa. This fact has brought with it many accusations of China "colonizing" Africa and exporting the resources out for their own needs without giving much in return. To combat the accusations, Beijing has started a new arm of government that will find archeological evidence of an ancient relationship between Africa and China.

From IPS, Antoaneta Becker introduces us to the China-Africa Research Centre

Chinese archaeologists have been sent to hunt for a long-lost shipwreck off the Kenya coast to support claims that China beat white explorers in discovering Africa. Meanwhile Beijing is preparing to fund more research on the continent to aid its companies and banks' quest for expansion there.

Last month saw the launch of the new China-Africa Research Centre under the Ministry of Commerce. The centre's aim is to "provide a theoretical basis for the Chinese government's Africa-related decision-makings," Huo Jianguo, president of the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation under the ministry said at the opening. It will also provide consultation services for companies with plans to expand their businesses to Africa, he added.

"For a long time our Africa strategy resembled our strategy for economic development -- 'crossing the river by feeling the stones', says He Wenping, director of African Studies under the Institute of Western Asian and African Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "We were not well prepared to go to Africa and had to pay a high price, learning from our mistakes. But now we are consolidating our strategy and there will be a new focus on learning about Africa and speaking for ourselves."

Much hope is being placed on the treasure hunt conducted by Chinese and African archaeologists in Kenya. They are searching for an ancient shipwreck and other evidence of commerce between Africa and China dating back to the early 15th century. The sunken ship is believed to have been part of an armada commanded by Admiral Zheng He, a Muslim eunuch from the Ming dynasty who the Chinese claim reached east Africa 80 years before the Portuguese seafarer Vasco da Gama.

The three-year exploration project was launched in July and it is symbolic of China's intensified efforts to present its modern-day conquest of Africa as a continuation of Zheng He's "journey of peace and friendship" in the ancient world.

Chinese records speak of Zheng He's fleet of 300 ships and thousands of sailors that sailed the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Starting in 1405, Zheng He made seven journeys to Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

He is said to have reached the coast of Kenya as early as 1418 loaded with goods and gifts from the Chinese emperor. The sunken ship archaeologists hope to find is believed to have been shipwrecked as it returned to China carrying among all a giraffe handed by the Sultan of Malindi as a present to the Chinese court.

"His trip is truly symbolic of what China's intentions towards Africa were then and what they are now," insists He. "The Chinese that reached Africa did not colonise, they went as traders and explorers."

Friday, September 24, 2010

$63 Billion pledged during Clinton Global Initiative

From the Voice of America, a story on the conclusion of this year's Clinton Global Initiative meetings.

The Clinton Global Initiative has concluded its annual meeting in New York with multi-billion dollar commitments from participants to help address problems of poverty, disease and injustice around the world.

Former President Bill Clinton told the CGI's final plenary session that the organization has garnered more than 1,950 commitments now valued at $63 billion impacting just under 300 million lives in about 170 countries.

Former Microsoft chairman Bill Gates told Mr. Clinton on stage he is worried rich countries may cut back on foreign aid in the aftermath of the global economic crisis.

"The money they spend, let's say, on Millennium Development goals - AIDS, medicines, vaccines, food, those things - will that suffer disproportionately when there's a change?"

CGI's ambitious global agenda seeks, among other things, to help empower women, to prevent human trafficking, to spread knowledge through computer technology, to fight global warming and support public health, including the removal of stigmas in some countries attached to such diseases as cancer.

Poverty of knowledge was mentioned at several CGI forums. Speaking at a news conference on the empowerment of women, Ann Cotton, director of Camfed International, said computers can address the lack of awareness that underpins many social problems.

"Give people technology and they will run with it," she said. "They will be excited by it, it improves their status; it particularly improves the status of girls and women."

The keynote speaker at the final CGI plenary, First Lady Michelle Obama, devoted her entire speech to American military veterans. She called on CGI participants involved in non-governmental humanitarian aid to hire veterans. She said they face serious social problems of their own, including unemployment, noting they leave the military with excellent experience.

"They go on regular humanitarian missions throughout the world, providing everything from food aid to medical care to help with construction," she said.

President Clinton ended the meeting with a discourse on optimism and pessimism by drawing an analogy to physics. He said supercolliders have shown there are more positive particles on a subatomic level than negative ones. He said people owe it to the next generation to make certain positive human forces outweigh the negative ones of violence and squalor.

Hitching a ride on a "peace caravan"

From IRIN, a story about hitching a ride on a "peace caravan" traveling through Kenya.

In an effort to stem the endemic violent banditry and cattle-rustling that plagues pastoralist areas in northern Kenya, professionals and community leaders from various ethnic groups have been criss-crossing the region in “peace caravans”.

IRIN hitched a ride with one such caravan, which held meetings bringing together members of the Samburu, Rendile, Borana, Gabra, Turkana, Pokot, Somali and Meru communities.

“I get sad that the only reports from my Samburu community and our neighbours are all about killings and deaths,” said one member, TV news anchor Naisula Lesuda.

“The morans [young men] who raid our neighbours are thieves, killers. The women must stop singing praise songs for them or accepting stolen animals as dowry,” she added.

“Our elders must ensure that morans who kill or steal are punished, they must not be honoured with bracelets on their hands for killings and raids,” said Juma Lekaruaki, an accountant.

There were some 412 violent deaths in northern Kenya in 2009, according to Pastoralist Voices, a publication of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Resolving differences

Francis Merinyi, who campaigns to promote the rights of children, said: “The number of orphaned and desperate children without access to education in Laikipia, Samburu and Pokot is increasing at an alarming rate.

“Nobody is helping them, they get killed as they attempt to change and get themselves out of poverty and own livestock, the only source of livelihood known to them.”

Sam Kona, a peace and conflict resolution expert with USAID, which together with the Kenyan government and Development Alternative Initiatives supports the caravans, said: “We are forging unity, informing our people that we are not permanent enemies. We have disagreed, but the differences can be resolved without the killings and stealing of animals,” added Kona, from the Turkana community.

“We have reduced our population and increased the number of poor families as we fight over pasture. Many smart brains, [potential] doctors, pilots, teachers have died while stealing animals or in raids,” he said.

Pokot and Samburu youths often clash over water and pasture with perennial drought exacerbating raids.

“Several attempts have been made in the past to end rivalry between us but failed... they all involved the use of force. Our approach is different, our people listen to us and I am confident they will accept our messages,” James Teko, a banker from the Pokot community, told IRIN while addressing a peace meeting at Naisunyai, Wamba, Samburu district, attended by morans, women and elders.

“Northern Kenya has always been like a war zone. The situation has worsened in recent years. It is shameful that we always meet to plan funerals and raise money for the injured while professionals from other parts of Kenya meet to discuss development issues,” added Teko.

Women’s work

Another member of the Waso caravan, Fanny Mohamed, said women had a crucial role in conflict resolution, but were rarely given the opportunity.

“We must monitor our children and discourage our boys from stealing livestock,” said Mohamed. “Somali women in Isiolo no longer sing praise songs for livestock thieves. We now use the same songs to encourage our people to educate their children.”

So-called peace warriors, morans who have renounced cattle-raids, are also part of the peace caravans. Some lamented the lack of income and insecurity posed by other morans still bearing arms.

“We ask to be assisted to buy and sell animals, start small businesses or be employed in the tourist hotels,” Lodukasho Lesiamo said.

A Maasai elder in Laikipia, Lekupai Logelan, said cattle-raids had subsided in his area since the introduction of ceremonies to “curse” youths who took part. “Our boys no longer steal livestock; they are involved in crop farming, we also produce a lot of honey,” Logelan said at a meeting in Leparua, along the Isiolo border.

According to the Samburu East District Commissioner, Daniel Nduti, government programmes in school construction and provision of bursaries are helping more children access education.

Abduba Jattani, an engineer who heads another peace caravan that works with families displaced by clashes, said he and his fellow travellers were working “to restore harmony among our people. It’s a daunting task but I am confident that our people will soon start to inter-marry like in the past.”

Mary Alubei, a programme officer with the Arid Lands Resource Management Peace Support Programme, said a holistic approach to peace, reconciliation and disarmament comprising improved security and alternative livelihood sources was required.

“The use of force will not resolve conflicts in this region, it’s important to understand factors which influenced our communities to acquire guns,” she said, referring to operations aimed at forcibly disarming communities in the north.

A bereaved school teacher, Mohamed Jamaa, said money had to be an ingredient in any recipe for lasting peace and reconciliation.

“I am still bitter, my father was killed, 29 head of cattle and a donkey taken. He left behind orphans. This peace campaign will not succeed until those responsible, the government too for failure to offer protection, agree to compensate us,” he told IRIN.

Two views of the Obama speech to the UN

When he gave his speech to the United Nations earlier this week, President Barack Obama laid out a new strategy for US Development Aid. The speech was lacking details on how this will be done, but those details will be released next month.

Obama says his administration will elevate development to be right alongside defense and diplomacy in foreign policy importance. The State Department will explain exactly how this will happen in its Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review due out in October.

Here are a couple of stories that cover the speech from Wednesday. First, a critical view of the Obama speech from the Inter Press Service. Writer Aprille Muscara talked to a few people who wished the speech presented more details.

Economist Jeffrey Sachs – who has argued that poor countries are almost always stuck in a "poverty trap" unless substantial amounts of foreign aid, coupled with a tailored and complex development approach, are provided – gave IPS a less-than-enthusiastic reaction to the president's speech, which he pointed out lacked specific details of the plan and contained no new funding commitments.

"It was a little bit of a letdown and there was puzzlement in the room," Sachs told IPS, "Most people in the hall were a little bit scratching their heads in the end asking what was new, because there was kind of a build-up beforehand."

However, Sachs, who is U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's special advisor for the MDGs, acknowledged that the policy was still in its early stages.

"I think the intentions are good: to make sure that development has its proper place in U.S. foreign policy," Sachs told IPS. Still, "I didn't hear a lot of path-breaking innovation."

Although the long-called for Global Development Strategy has been largely praised – Save the Children called it a "winning formula" in a statement, while Oxfam America president Raymond Offenheiser called it a "real breakthrough" in a press conference – Sachs's bewilderment has also been widely echoed.

"We need Obama to explain how he will turn his words into action over numerous agencies and departments," Offenheiser said. "The tri-legged stool of defence, diplomacy and development – DDD – still has a bit of a wobble in it. Exactly how Obama plans to balance it… remains an open question," he added, predicting, "It will be a political battle."

Key to the policy is selectivity: targeting sectors that have been shown to produce favourable outcomes – Obama mentioned health, education and women's empowerment – as well as places that show promise. According the president's speech, these include countries that expand trade or promote democratic institutions, but also those that are transitioning from war to peace.

For more of a positive view of the possible changes in US development aid, we go to the Associated Press. In this piece hosted at Google News, writer Anita Snow talked to people who warmed to the speech.

"Traditionally, foreign aid wasn't very popular in the United States and no one thought it was important," said the Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, an advocacy group that urges lawmakers to end hunger at home and abroad.

"Helping developing countries is really important to the United States for security and moral reasons," Beckmann said Thursday. "(It) will provide a rational and more coherent policy that will work to reduce global poverty and ensure economic growth in poor countries."

The most important part of the administration's new focus is that it puts poor people in other countries in charge of their own development, said Gregory Adams, director of aid effectiveness for Oxfam America.

"There is misconception in America that people are poor because they don't have stuff and that if we give them enough stuff: food, schools, medicine, they won't be poor anymore," Adams said. "But if you don't get people involved in their own development they won't escape poverty."

To illustrate how the new U.S. policy would work, Oxfam's Adams gave the example of financing construction of a rural school in sub-Saharan Africa.

"You can measure what you have done by gathering all the receipts for the building materials and labor," he said. "But if you come back in three years, you might find that it is empty, unused, because the government couldn't afford teachers or textbooks. "

But the new U.S. development focus, which Adams said is similar to Oxfam's, would give the community a stake in the school by involving them in its construction, help train teachers and provide textbooks. Success would be measured not on what was spent, but how many girls graduated three years later.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"Richest man in the world" tries philanthropy

Bill Gates is no longer the richest man in the world, don't worry about him though. Carlos Slim has made billions in Latin America through tele-com, banking and construction. Slim is now putting some of his money into philanthropic efforts to improve education and health. He has found that doing good has its own set of unique challenges and has had to change or even scale back efforts.

From the Business of Giving blog at the Seattle Times, author Sandi Doughton introduces us to the newest philanthropist.

The fledgling Carlos Slim Health Institute has pulled back from its original, ambitious goal of targeting all of Latin America, a representative said at the Consortium of Universities for Global Health meeting in Seattle this week.

"Now, we're working largely in Mexico and Central America," said Victoria Márquez-Mees.

It's not clear how much Slim is devoting to health projects, but he has pledged a total of $6 billion for all three of his foundations, including ones targeting education and economic development. Forbes estimated his net worth at $53.5 billion, compared to $53 billion for Gates and $47 billion for Warren Buffett.

Among Slim's health priorities are improving maternal and child health, reducing the burden of chronic diseases and bringing innovation to primary health care, Márquez-Mees said. As a man who made much of his money in telecommunications, Slim is pushing the use of wireless and mobile technology to bring health care to remote areas.

The institute is also funding genomic research on diabetes, cancer and kidney disease, focusing exclusively on Latin Americans.

The question of who will benefit is one that the institute asks about every proposal, Márquez-Mees said.

Education is a major focus to promote healthy lifestyles.

"We're trying to get away from doctors and help people understand how they can take of their health without the use of a doctor," she said.

What the leaders should take away from the MDG summit

Now that the Millennium Development Goals summit at the UN is completed, here comes the commentary on it.

The leaders will go away from UN thinking they accomplished something, that they showed they care, that they pledged to do something. The problem with these good feelings is that they subside and morph into inaction.

From the Guardian's Poverty Matters blog, writer Larry Elliott points to several recent studies that world leaders should keep in mind long after the summit is over.

Let's just examine a few pieces of evidence that have emerged in recent weeks. Exhibit number one comes from the International Monetary Fund, which, in a study it prepared for the New York summit, noted that the economic crisis of the past three years has been a setback in the fight against poverty. The IMF estimates that 71 million fewer people will have escaped absolute poverty by 2020 than would have been the case had the financial meltdown not occurred.

Exhibit number two was a report from Unicef highlighting the gulf between the life chances of rich and poor children, not only between developed and developing countries but within developing countries themselves. In the least-developed nations of sub-Saharan Africa, a child born into one of the most impoverished families is three times more likely to be underweight than a child growing up in the richest 20% of families in the same country.

Inequality, in other words, is everywhere.

Exhibit number three is the recent sharp increase in food prices, up almost 17% in the past year according to the Economist. In part, this is due to the impact of financial speculators, but there is a structural reason why hedge funds are buying up farms in poor countries. The rapid industrialisation in China is leading to much higher demand for food than the shrinking agricultural acreage can cope with. The dependency of China, now the world's second biggest economy, on imports of food to feed its 1.3 billion people is growing inexorably, and that is ratcheting up prices.

President Obama addresses the UN

US President Barack Obama finished off the United Nations' Millennium Development Goal summit with a speech yesterday. President Obama talked about the need for more effective aid to give countries a chance to sustain themselves instead of being dependent on others.

Another theme in Obama's speech was how international aid is really in the givers self interest. The country giving the aid can benefit long term through increased trade. International aid can also benefit the wealthy countries with greater safety, for productive educated people are less likely to become militant.

From the Washington Post, writer Scott Wilson describes the policy behind the speech.

On Wednesday, while outlining changes in how the United States will pursue international development, Obama challenged rich nations to view assistance to poorer ones as a vital part of their national security strategy.

"I suspect that some in wealthier countries may ask, 'With our economies struggling, so many people out of work, and so many families barely getting by, why a summit on development?' " Obama told an audience of several hundred people in the U.N. General Assembly hall. "The answer is simple. In our global economy, progress in even the poorest countries can advance the prosperity and security of people far beyond their borders, including my fellow Americans."

The administration has been working to redefine development aid as a national security tool, and the strategy the president outlined Wednesday seeks to more closely coordinate the nearly two dozen government agencies involved in aid policy.

U.S. development aid extends to more than 100 countries, although much of it in recent years has been concentrated in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama said his administration will begin assessing development policy by how successful it is in helping countries move "from poverty to prosperity," not just by how much money, food or medicine it distributes.

"Our focus on assistance has saved lives in the short term, but it hasn't always improved those societies over the long term," the president said. "Consider the millions of people who have relied on food assistance for decades. That's not development, that's dependence, and it's a cycle we need to break."

A pro viewpoint on the international financial tax

The United Nations summit on the Millennium Development Goals did have one concrete policy mentioned. French President Nicolas Sarkozy brought up the tax on international financial transactions. This new tax would be on the currency transactions that are made to make money off of rising of falling currency prices.

AIDS activist Matthew Kavanagh offers a pro-viewpoint of this new tax in a piece for the Huffington Post. Kavanagh says the tax will help to bring some regulation this form of trading, and bring a lot of help to those in poverty.

When President Barack Obama was running for his office he pledged $50 billion over 5 years to the Global Fund and an increase of at least $1 billion per year to the U.S.-bilateral PEPFAR program. But instead the White House has requested essentially flat funding and a $50 million decrease this year to the U.S. contribution to the Global Fund.

AIDS activists have been heartbroken watching as momentum in the fight against AIDS begins to falter. The disconnect between science and policy is drastic: reaching all those in need of antiretroviral treatment could drastically slash infection rates and save millions of lives. One study shows as much as 92% reduction when the HIV+ member of a couple is on AIDS treatment! The newest models show that if we invest now we can halt the pandemic in its tracks--we can end HIV for the next generation. Or we can flat-line and the devastation returns.

I am told by people within the Obama administration that they are thinking about making the first ever multi-year pledge to the Global Fund from the U.S. My question is whether this will turn out to be a cynical "as little as we can get away with" moment or a transformation in U.S. policy. A small increase would be a catastrophe because pandemics don't wait around for small progress but need serious commitment and leadership--which will pay off. But if the U.S. pledged more like $5-$6 billion over the coming three years it could transform the debate. It would pressure other donors to do more and the Global Fund could have what it needs to craft a bold, winning strategy.

This week the French and Spanish presidents both came out strongly for a tiny tax on financial speculation that could raise hundreds of billions of dollars each year. Congressman Pete Stark has put forward a bill in the U.S. congress to do just that--a 0.005% tax on currency speculation by the big banks.

The currency markets have reached $4 trillion per day. Yes, that's trillion with a "T," worth of just trading money back and forth between currencies in a gamble to try to make fast cash off changing exchange rates. We're not talking about you or I traveling and needing to change cash or migrant families sending home needed money--for that we already pay huge percentages to the banks. But the speculators--those with millions to just move around from account to account--they do so without being taxed at even a miniscule rate.

At the U.N. this week all we heard from wealthy-country officials was what difficult budget times we were living in and how we should stop bothering them about financing. Well at least President Sarkozy is paying a bit of attention. He's noticed that the mammoth, untaxed financial sector isn't doing its part. And he's figured out that all the arguments against this idea don't hold water--it's doable, and it would raise billions each year.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Two successes of the MDGs

Many agree that the Millennium Development Goals will not be reached by the target year of 2015. Despite possibly falling short, the Goals have done something positive in giving the world benchmarks to measure progress. Even though the goals may be unrealistic, they still gave many something to strive for.

An article in today's Christian Science Monitor tires to relate what good the Goals have done. The Monitor article from Drew Hinshaw gives the top 5 MDG success stories. For our snippet, we are limited to giving you the top 2. Liesbet Steer of the Overseas Development Institute in London provides some quotes for Hinshaw.

1. Africa's future

There's one sector where Africa has undoubtedly soared: Education.

The percentage of children in school desks leaped from 52 to 74 percent since 1990. The continent started the race with many of the lowest enrollment rates, but even in absolute terms, Africa boasts nine of the top performers on boosting enrollment. Look at Madagascar – the country was temporarily overthrown and ruled by a disc jockey last year, but has managed to put 99 percent of its kids in school.

2. Ghana, Ethiopia, and Africa’s success stories

Viewed through the unflattering lens of bad governance, Africa’s less-than-stellar performance on poverty reduction during the financial crisis makes sense, says Steer. The continent’s poverty rate has dropped only 12 percent in the past 18 years. Infant mortality has barely fallen at all.

But the first decade of the new millennium hasn’t been a complete wash for the earth’s oldest continent, Hay says.

"Sub-Saharan [Africa] is moving more slowly, but it’s moving,” he offered.

The West African nation of Ghana stands out as a success story. It's cut hunger levels by 75 percent since 1990.

Across the continent, in Ethiopia, the percentage of people scraping by on $1.25 a day cascaded from 60 percent to 16 percent.

Angola and the Senegal have already halved their poverty rates.

Clinton Global Initiative receives new aid pledges

Another high level meeting is taking place in New York City, this one tries to drum up pledges from the public as well as private sector. The Clinton Global Initiative led by the former President has already gathered some pledges from Proctor and Gamble, Google and others.

From this Bloomberg article on the meeting, writers Peter S. Green and Lisa Kassenaar detail some of the pledges.

Clinton said that, by the end of this session, the global initiative will have collected over its five-year history 1,946 pledges worth more than $63 billion.

The former president announced a plan by the Stamford, Connecticut-based aid group AmeriCares to build a safe haven for 1,000 adolescent girls in earthquake-ravaged Haiti to protect them from sexual assault.

Clean drinking water, a leading cause of disease and death among mothers and small children, will be a major focus of this year’s meeting along with help for Haiti, Pakistan and the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Procter & Gamble Co. Chief Executive Officer Bob McDonald said the Cincinnati-based consumer-products company will distribute 2 billion packets of a water purification product called “Pur” free in developing countries. Clinton said the packets would save at least one life every hour.

“We think it’s good business as well as good philanthropy,” McDonald said. “Consumers around the world today want to know what they are buying into when they spend dollars to buy our products.”

“It all comes down to women,” said Melinda Gates, who started the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation with her husband, Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates. “You have to put the power in their hands” to help break the cycle of maternal deaths, a key factor keeping women in poverty in the developing world.

The Gates foundation has been focusing on safer childbirth in countries including Nigeria, India and Ethiopia. About 350,000 women die in childbirth each year.

Eric Schmidt, Google Inc.’s CEO, pledged $1 million to help Pakistan recover from floods that devastated the country, including a Web-based computer application that helps rescuers find people missing in natural disasters.

New maternal and child health strategy announced at UN

An announcement of a new initiative has been made from the UN's Millennium Development Goal summit. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon announced this morning the formation of the Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health to improve the survival of infants and new mothers.

$40 billion dollars has been raised to fund the Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health. A coalition of governments, philanthropists and corporations have pledged the cash to fund the strategy.

From this Associated Press article that we found at Google News, Tim Witcher details the goals and donors aof the strategy.

Cutting the unnecessary deaths of women during pregnancy and childbirth and stopping the premature deaths of children under five are the two most slowest moving goals of the eight key development targets set a decade ago.

The UN said spending on women and children reduces poverty, stimulates growth and is a fundamental human right.

Some 140 world leaders and heads of state have attended the summit, and US President Barack Obama will close the meet.

Countries from Afghanistan to Zambia -- but also including Australia, Britain, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Russia and the United States -- have contributed to the drive.

The foundations of the world's richest men, Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim and Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates, were among the contributors. They joined rights groups such as Amnesty International and multinationals such as LG Electronics and Pfizer.

A UN statement said the deaths of more than 15 million children under five would be saved between 2011 and 2015 through the initiative.

It added that it would prevent 33 million unwanted pregnancies and 740,000 women from dying from complications relating to pregnancy and childbirth. It estimated that 120 million children would be protected from pneumonia.

The UN Children's Fund, the World Health Organization and the World Bank re among international bodies that will help mobilize support for Ban's drive.

It was unclear how much of the 40 billion dollars announced is a new spending commitment.

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe addresses the UN

Some of the controversial world leaders gave speeches yesterday at the UN's Millennium Development Goals summit. The speech from Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is gaining a lot of attention from the American press. We are going to ignore his speech for now and focus on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

From the Voice of America, writer Ntungamili Nkomo and Blessing Zulu covered Mugabe's accusatory speech to the UN.

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Tuesday, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe again blasted the West for maintaining sanctions on him and his inner circle, charging that the restrictive measures were keeping the country mired in poverty.

Mr. Mugabe’s U.N. broadside coincided with the arrival of a Zimbabwean delegation representing all three political parties in Harare's national unity government, which was to take up the sanctions question with U.S. officials in keeping with an ongoing bilateral re-engagement process, official Zimbabwean sources said.

President Mugabe told world leaders that “the debilitating sanctions” were hindering Zimbabwean progress toward U.N Millennium Development goals on poverty and hunger, among others.

But he said that despite the sanctions imposed by the United States, Europe and others, Harare had made great progress fighting HIV/Aids and maintaining quality basic education. He said Zimbabwe as in the past continues to have the highest literacy rate in Africa.

With him in New York was a so-called "re-engagement delegation” comprising Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa of ZANU-PF, Energy Minister Elton Mangoma of the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, and International Cooperation Minister Priscilla Misihairambwi-Mushonga of the MDC wing of Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara.

The three arrived in New York early Tuesday for the bilateral discussions.

Misihairambwi-Mushonga told VOA Studio 7 reporter Ntungamili Nkomo that the trio will open talks Wednesday with U.S. officials led by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johhny Carson.

But political analyst Rejoice Ngwenya said the Zimbabwean delegation should not expect much in the way of concessions from Washington on sanctions as Harare has not implemented a range of political and economic reforms urged by the U.S. administration.

Meanwhile, Mr. Mugabe has come under fire for spending more than US$2 million on his trip to the U.S., from which he was scheduled to travel on to Ecuador. He was accompanied to New York by an entourage of 80 officials, according to the U.S. Embassy in Harare. Sources at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said a request for two million in funding went to the Treasury.

Political analyst Charles Mangongera told VOA Studio 7 reporter Blessing Zulu that Mr. Mugabe’s travel budget shows insensitivity to the plight of ordinary Zimbabweans struggling to survive.

U.S. Embassy spokesperson Sharon Hudson Dean said that contrary to Zimbabwean press reports saying that visas had been denied to central intelligence organization head Happyton Bonyongwe and Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corp. reporter Reuben Barwe, both of those individuals were granted U.S. visas.

From New York Mr. Mugabe is to head to Ecuador to accept an honorary doctorate from that country's Anglican Church in recognition of 30 years of "outstanding leadership."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Reducing disaster impact in slums

From IRIN, a story on the work to reduce the impact of disasters in slums.

The disproportionately high risk of disaster faced by a billion slum-dwellers across the world could be significantly reduced with prudent investment, states a new report.

"We cannot stop urbanization but we shouldn't be naïve; a trend does not mean destiny, disasters can be prevented," Matthias Schmale, the Under-Secretary-General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said in Nairobi at the global launch of the 2010 edition of the World Disasters Report.

Schmale said solutions for disaster risk reduction and preparedness "need to be found in dialogue with the affected people; moving from the bottom upwards".

The World Disasters Report 2010 focuses on urban risk, with the IFRC warning that 2.57 billion urban dwellers living in low- and middle-income nations are vulnerable to unacceptable levels of risk fuelled by rapid urbanization, poor local governance, population growth, poor health services and a rising tide of urban violence.

The estimated one billion urban dwellers now living in crowded slums will rise to 1.4 billion by 2020, the report says, adding that Africa, which is often considered predominantly rural, "now has an urban population (412 million) larger than North America (286 million)".

"Urban is the new rural," Schmale said. "We know that it is better to give seeds than food... we should invest more in preparedness as shown by the recent disasters in Haiti and Chile where the magnitude was worse in Chile but the impact was worse in Haiti."

According to IFRC, urban poverty and disaster risk are often closely intertwined and the links between them will be increased by climate change.

"In any given year, more than 50,000 people can die as a result of earthquakes and 100 million can be affected by floods and the worst-affected are most often vulnerable city dwellers," IFRC said.


James Kisia, deputy secretary-general of the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS), said there was a need to rethink the definition of social development.

"The average African man in a rural area will not live in a single room with his children but this is increasingly becoming the norm in informal settlements in urban areas; we seem to have left such social issues at the mercy of economic development," he said. "Leadership cannot be left to the government alone, we must partner together to create an enabling environment for social development."

Good urban governance is a recurring theme in the World Disasters Report 2010, with the IFRC stressing that it is essential to ensure that people are empowered and engaged in the development of their urban environment and are "not marginalized or left exposed to disasters, climate change, violence and ill health".

IFRC quoted David Satterthwaite, lead writer of the report and senior fellow at the International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED), as saying: "The crisis of urban poverty, rapidly growing informal settlements and growing numbers of urban disasters arises from the failure of governments to adapt their institutions to urbanization.

"It stems also in part from the failure of aid agencies to help them [governments] to do so - most aid agencies have inadequate or no urban policies and have long been reluctant to support urban development at a sufficient scale."

Hillary Clinton introduces new cookstove alliance

Hillary Clinton announced a new program to bring environmentally-safe and non-toxic cooking stoves to the under-developed world. The US government will contribute 50 million dollars to Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. The alliance has a goal of providing 100 million stoves by the year 2020.

From the New York Times, writer John Broder describes the new project.

Although the toxic smoke from the primitive stoves is one of the leading environmental causes of death and disease, and perhaps the second biggest contributor to global warming, after the industrial use of fossil fuels, it has long been neglected by governments and private aid organizations.

The World Health Organization says that indoor air pollution caused by such cooking methods is the fourth greatest health risk factor in developing countries, after unclean water and sanitation, unsafe sex and undernourishment. The gathering of fuel is mainly done by women and children, millions of whom are exposed daily to dangers in conflict-torn regions. The need to forage for fuel also keeps millions of children out of school.

Although researchers have been aware of the health and environmental risks caused by carbon-belching indoor cookstoves for decades, there has been little focus on replacing them until recently, and it is not clear that the alliance’s high-profile initiative can pay the intended quick dividends. An estimated 500 million households depend on burning biomass for cooking and heating, some in the remotest places on earth, and it will not be easy to reach them with affordable and acceptable alternatives.

Even if the alliance’s goal were fully met, it would address no more than a fifth of the problem, according to its sponsors.

Stoves that are coming on the market for as little as $20 are 50 percent more efficient than current cooking methods, which are often simply open fires or crude clay domes, backers of the project say. A $100 model can capture 95 percent of the harmful emissions while burning far less fuel to produce the same amount of energy.

Reid Detchon, vice president for energy and climate at the United Nations Foundation, one of the founding partners of the alliance, said that the plan was not simply to use donations to buy millions of new stoves and ship them out to the developing world.

Rather, he said, the group hopes to create an entrepreneurial model in which small companies manufacture or buy the stoves close to their markets, taking into account local fuel choices, food consumption patterns and methods of cooking. This microproject model is expected to provide business opportunities for women while reducing the fuel-gathering burden of women and children around the world.

“The idea is how to create a thriving global industry in cookstoves, driven by consumers’ desire to have these products at a price they can afford,” Mr. Detchon said.

Asian Maternal and Child health stats from Save The Children

A new report from Save The Children gives us statistics on child and maternal health in Asia. The report shows an uneven balance of child deaths from urban to rural areas. Urban children have a better chance of survival than those in rural areas.

Save The Children says there is improvement in child survival rates, but they fall short of what is needed to meet the Millennium Development Goal for child mortality. MGD number 4 has a goal of cutting child and maternal deaths by two thirds by the year 2015.

From the Inter Press Service, writer Marwaan Macan-Markar gives us country-by-country statistics.

A recent report by Save the Children, entitled ‘A Fair Chance At Life’, shows that Cambodia has seen a 32 percent drop in child mortality figures among the country’s "richest 20 percent", but only an 18 percent reduction in child mortality among the "poorest 20 percent".

Indonesia, the region’s giant where 16 percent of its 225 million people live below the poverty line, has recorded "equitable progress," noted the 37-page report. The poorest 20 percent has seen child mortality figures drop by 29 percent, while the richest 20 percent has witnessed a nine percent decline.

Military-ruled Burma, also known as Myanmar, lags behind all with the worst child mortality figures. It reportedly has 104 children under five years dying for every 1,000 live births. Cambodia, by contrast, has 82 deaths of children under five years of age per 1,000 live births. Laos, the third of this region’s poorest countries, has 75 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Child rights groups have hailed Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam as being well on course to meeting the 2015 targets. The region’s richest country, the city-state of Singapore, has been singled out in a study by ‘The Lancet’, a British medical journal, as leading all countries in the world in child mortality rates, having reduced it by 75 percent since 1990.

The inequity in child mortality rates in countries like Cambodia and the Philippines, which has 32 deaths per 1,000 live births, is "partly an urban-rural divide," said Phillips. "There is no conscious discrimination, but a natural tendency for nurses and doctors to work in cities."

At times, the distance to a health care is a day away, making it costly and time consuming for a family to take a newborn to treat illnesses that lead to child deaths, such as pneumonia, diarrhoea and sepsis.

"If you live more distant from a health centre, you will be reached later unlike those who live closer to health care workers," said Basil Rodriques, regional adviser for your child survival and development at the Asia office of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). "The MDGs saw the ‘low hanging fruits’ reached first."

It's not only the drought that causes hunger in Tanzania

Tanzania has also been suffering their worst drought in recent memory. What has made the drought even more painful is the lack of resources in dealing with it. Meteorologists predicted the drought, but many small villages do not have have any TV or radio to be warned about the weather. Now that the drought is drying crops, it is hard to get food to the people in need due to impassible roads.

From Reuters Alert Net, writer Kizito Makoye describes some of the factors that compounds the effects of the drought.

Shabaani Chilumba, 46, normally works at a teaching job, as well as farming to feed his five children. But his $70 a month salary has not been paid in two months as a result of logistical problems, and now his crops have dried up as well.

The stocks of cassava he had set aside ran out in May and since then he and his family have survived by eating vigongo, a wild bitter yam.

Southern Tanzania is experiencing prolonged drought, a problem weather forecasters accurately predicted. But a lack of basic infrastructure in the region - from working roads and electrical supply to radio ownership, which might have alerted more people to the coming problem - has helped turn hardship into hunger.

In the Nanyumbu district of Mtwara, it is easy to see the scale of the growing hunger problem, with many farming families forced to turn to collecting traditional roots and fruit to survive. Local ward councilors estimate over 60,000 people in remote parts of Mtwara and Lindi regions are suffering serious food shortages.

John Kikowi, one Nanyumbu resident, said his children often get sick after eating little but vigongo root, a wild traditional food that his family dries and pounds into a flour-like powder used to cook porridge.

"I feel sorry for my family but this seems to be the only way out for the time being," he said. Like many, he said the food shortage had come as a surprise.

According to experts from the disaster management department of the Prime Minister's Office, who assessed the situation in the affected areas, the problems drought-affected farmers face are expected to worsen because of difficulties delivering relief food in the remote region.

They estimate that at least 40,000 metric tonnes of grain are needed to help the most-affected regions in southern Tanzania get through the next year. The government has been trying to sell grain from its strategic reserves at a subsidized price to help people in the area, but deep poverty means many lack funds to buy even subsidized food, local officials said.

Lindi and Mtwara are some of the most underdeveloped regions in southern Tanzania, lacking highway and energy infrastructure despite the 2003 completion of a bridge linking the regions to the rest of the country.

Reselling of subsidized grain is another problem facing the region. While government-supplied maize sells for 5 cents a kilogramme, private shops in Lindi were offering bags of the subsidized maize at 20 cents a kilo during a reporter's visit.

A chart on the US poverty level

The blog Carpe Diem gives us this chart that helps to put a historical perspective on the US poverty level.

Tax on financial transactions brought up at UN

A world wide tax on financial transactions was mentioned during a couple of speeches at the United Nations yesterday. While world leaders meet at the UN to talk about the Millennium Development Goals this idea to drum up some financing for development projects was brought up to its widest audience.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero asked the UN members to decide on implementing the new tax on global financial transactions. Many business leaders are opposed to the tax saying that it could prevent such transactions from being exchanged with the under-developed world.

From, writer Steven Edwards gives us this angle of the events at the UN.

While the leaders of several developed countries have pressed the idea of launching a global finance tax before, speaking about it anew at such a widely attended summit gives it added weight.

The idea has also garnered growing attention as numerous developed countries, such as Canada, have announced plans to limit upcoming foreign aid transfers against the backdrop of the global recession.

"We can decide right here; why wait?" said Sarkozy. "Finance has globalized, so why should we not ask finance to participate in stabilizing the world by taking a tax on each financial transaction?"

Zapatero said alternative financing was needed that is "not as vulnerable" as rich-country budgets during a recession.

"My government is committed to defending the new tax, and making it a reality . . ." he said. "It appears sensible, just, and logical that we ask (for this) minimum effort to take millions of people out of misery."

Zapatero's government cut its development aid in the face of the financial crisis. By contrast, Canada's aid budget for the new fiscal year is — at $5.165 billion — at a record level ahead of the announced freeze next year.

The three-day conference aims to review the world's progress in achieving eight development goals meant to halve levels of poverty and dramatically increase living standards among the world's poor by 2015.

Monday, September 20, 2010

First pledge of new aid comes from France

The first pledge has been announced from the United Nations Millennium Development Goals summit. France President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged to increase aid by 20 percent to the world's poor. Sarkozy urged world leaders to join him in increasing aid and not to fall back into "old habits."

From this Associated Press article that we found at WOI-TV in Des Moines, writer Edith Lederer gives us this round-up of the mornings speeches.

"We have no right to do less than what we have decided to do," Sarkozy told the assembled leaders. He also said the world body should join in creating a small international tax on financial transactions that would go toward ending poverty and meeting other millennium goals.

Sarkozy said France currently donates 10 billion euros a year.

"The financial crisis is severe in the rich countries, it creates deficits," he said, "but its consequences are far worse for the poor countries."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the summit with a call to the assembled presidents, prime ministers and kings to use their power to meet U.N. goals to help the world's poorest by 2015.

Ten years after world leaders set the most ambitious goals ever to tackle global poverty, they are gathered again to spur action to meet the deadline - which the U.N. says will be difficult, if not impossible, in some cases.

General Assembly President Joseph Deiss called the session to order, saying: "We must achieve the Millennium Development Goals. We want to achieve them. And we can achieve them."

For centuries, the plight of the world's poor had been ignored but with the turn of the new millennium, leaders pledged to begin tackling poverty, disease, ignorance and inequality.

Israeli President Shimon Peres said peace and full stomachs were key to erasing poverty.

"We share the burden of saving the world from war and hunger. Without peace, poverty will remain. Without food, peace will not prevail," he said.

One troubled Millennium village in Kenya

A project that the United Nations has spearheaded in an effort to meet the Millennium Development Goals is the Millennium Villages. Selected villages in Africa receive a lot of aid and effort, as the UN brings in technology and specialists to try to bring the entire village out of poverty.

The project has obtained some success as village residents are healthier and the children receive education. However, critics call it a waste of money and say it is impossible to replicate any success through the whole continent.

From this Associated Press article that we found at Google News, authors Jason Straziuso and Malkhadir Muhumed tell us more about one of the villages in Kenya.

About 70 percent of Dertu's people earn less than $1 a day, and most depend on food aid. The two-room hotel charges $1.25 a night. Generators and solar energy provide some basic needs, like charging cell phones, but the school's nine donated computers aren't yet connected to the Internet.

Not surprisingly, the advent of Millennium Village status four years ago generated exaggerated expectations, and now some villagers feel disappointed. There is also sharp debate between supporters and detractors about whether the idea can be "scaled up" into sweeping solutions for the world's poorest region.

Yet improvements can be seen in Dertu: four new health care workers, free medicines and vaccines, a birthing center and laboratory under construction, bed nets to ward of mosquitoes. In 2006, 49 percent of 916 individuals tested had malaria. That rate has dropped to 8 percent.

School attendance has doubled for boys and tripled for girls, there are high school scholarships and a dorm for boys. Each village gets $120 in spending per person per year, half from the villages project, the rest from the government or aid groups.

As a result, Dertu, which barely existed until UNICEF dug a well here 13 years ago, has become a magnet for surrounding villages.

"A lot has to be done still to meet the Millennium Development Goals. A lot has been done and for that we are thankful," said Ibrahim Ali Hassan, a 60-year-old village elder with dyed red hair who waves a cell phone in his hand as he talks.

Of the complainers, he remarks: "They think now that we are a Millennium Village they will be built a house with an ocean view."

Mohamed Ahmed Abdi, 58, heads the Millennium Village Committee, liaison between the project and the villagers. He gripes that there are too few teachers, and that the well water is salty and unhealthy.

"There is a difference between what we have been told and what really exists. We have been told that 'Your village is the Millennium Village.' We have been told that 'You will get roads, electricity, water and education,'" he said.

The Millennium Villages are the brainchild of Jeffrey Sachs, the Columbia University economist who is special adviser to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the Millennium Development Goals.

Sachs readily acknowledges that Dertu hasn't made a breakthrough, calling it "one of the most difficult venues on the whole planet." But he points to other advances in lifting villages out of extreme poverty.

"I think on the whole they've been a tremendous success, not only in what they are accomplishing on the ground but also opening eyes to what can be accomplished more generally," Sachs told The Associated Press. "They're a proving ground of how to create effective systems in health, education, local infrastructure, business development and agriculture."

Millennium Development Goal summit begins today

The big Millennium Development Goal summit begins today at the United Nations. Over 140 world leaders will attend the summit. The meetings will feature speeches from U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

From this Associated Press article that we found at Google News, we read about UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon's take on the proceedings.

In advance of this week's summit, diplomats from the 192 U.N. member states agreed on the document to be adopted by the leaders which spells out specific actions to accelerate implementation of each of the eight Millennium Development Goals, known as the MDGs, in the next five years.

"We are convinced that the Millennium Development Goals can be achieved, including in the poorest countries, with renewed commitment, effective implementation, and intensified collective action by all member states and other relevant stakeholders at both domestic and international levels," it says.

Many recent reports show that the world's poorest countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, have made little progress in eradicating poverty. And in Africa, Asia and Latin America there also has been a lack of progress in reducing mother and child deaths, providing clean water and sanitation, and promoting women's equality.

"Many countries are falling short, especially in Africa," Ban warned, and "inequities are growing within and among countries," a problem compounded by the global economic crisis.

"I know there are skepticisms, but my role as secretary-general is to fight against this skepticism and make this action plan deliver," Ban said in an interview with The Associated Press. "There will be some hurdles. Nobody said it is an easy plan, but I think that it can be done."

Amnesty International, which says world leaders have failed more than a billion of the world's poorest people, plans to unveil a Maternal Death Clock in Times Square in the heart of New York City on Monday to count maternal deaths around the globe while world leaders are meeting.

Maternal mortality remains high and the clock will begin at 5,317,280, the number of women Amnesty says have died since the MDGs were adopted in September 2000. It predicted about 3,700 more women will die during the summit, which ends Wednesday.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Guest Voices: Improving Income Opportunities for Zambian Farmers

Next in our series of guest posts from Concern Worldwide, Zambia Country Director Rakesh Katal shares some experiences of Concern's work in Zambia.

Our organization works in the remotest areas of Zambia where the terrain can be rough and reaching program participants means crossing rivers, wetlands and vast swathes of sandy territory. In some cases, apart from the lower level government structures, Concern is the only development organization addressing the needs of the community.

Doing this is both a challenge and a delight. A challenge because the needs of the people, arising from the high levels of poverty, obviously overwhelm our human and financial capacity; but a delight because we are glad to be at the service of the people who desperately need development to change their way of life.

It brings us joy when a farmer tells of how his household food security and income has improved; how a person living with HIV has been empowered with information and a means of livelihood and is now able to live a healthy and productive life; how a community has been capacitated to deal with disasters, and generally how people now see themselves as participants in development, rather than passive onlookers of it – all because of Concern’s interventions.

We may not provide everything to a community, but just the fact that we have helped set the people on a path of development is a wise first step which we think is a long-lasting effort. We work with the people and for the people.

Our partnership with local organizations gives us a grassroots reach critical to understanding the priority needs of the people. Empowering communities to identify challenges and propose solutions has taught us that people have the innate ability to take stock of their situation and chart their destiny, if provided with only a little boost. Concern may not be in one community forever, but the seeds of hope we are planting will in future bear the testimony of our efforts.

We may not have the money to undertake all the programs we could envisage, but I have read and heard that a good name is better than riches. I can proudly say our good name has earned us respect and recognition in the communities where we work, among our peer agencies and the government.

Our communities respect us because we tell them that we will not provide them with an illusory comfort by pouring money into their communities (which we don’t have, anyway), but we will assist them in leaping to their own development by offering them a springboard – and that springboard is working together with them to address the challenges we identify together.

We endeavour to do more for our people, but we are alive to the fact that our resources are never enough to enable us to reach all in need. We are also aware that we operate in a crowded space where competition for resources is huge and this means continuous improvement of the quality of our work to attract those with the means to help us.

All the challenges notwithstanding, we have continued to empower the communities and we are glad that the little we are doing is helping the thousands of our people, who are our concern as Concern.

Confronting HIV&AIDS, creating advocates of change

HIV and AIDS is one of the biggest challenges Zambia faces. With 14.3% of the country’s estimated 12 million living with HIV, the problem has created far-reaching social and economic consequences. Western Province, where Concern operates, is hard-hit and nowhere would the intervention have been more relevant than this area where the prevalence rate has recently risen from 13% to 15.2% in the past year, high above the national average. Concern’s program involves supporting people living with HIV and spreading prevention messages.

Charles Ngandu, 49, is one of the beneficiaries of the program. As part of the program activities, Concern and its partner, Development Aid from People to People (DAPP), conducted training on positive living in one of the areas of Mongu, the provincial capital. Now equipped with new skills in a variety of subjects such as the basic facts on HIV and TB, the importance of good nutrition, treatment and adherence, care and support, and hygiene, Ngandu went back to his community to spread the word.

His passion and skills have also been recognized by the local health centre in his area where he is invited to deliver HIV lessons to mothers that attend antenatal sessions.

“I am passionate to teach so that we do not lose lives. I am happy that I was trained in positive living,” says Ngandu.

Speaking publicly in his community about his HIV status and the benefits of knowing one’s HIV status, Ngandu is an advocate of change, thanks to the support from Concern.

It is such stories that give us the impetus to work one more day every day to reach those we can and help shape their destiny.