Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sanctions and changes in Cote d'Ivoire

A couple of new developments occurred yesterday for the ongoing political turmoil in Cote d-Ivoire. The armed forces for internationally recognized President Alassane Ouattara took control San Pedro. The port town is very important to the economy of Cote d'Ivoire because most of the cocoa exports are shipped out from San Pedro. The Ivory Coast is the worlds biggest exporter of the cocoa crop.

Secondly, the United Nations voted for sanctions against Cote d'Ivoire President Gbagbo. Laurent Gbagbo lost an election in October but refuses to step down. Gbagbo's refusal has led to the armed conflict and humanitarian crisis in the country.

First, on the change in control of Cote d'Ivorie's major sea port. Reuters writers Tim Cocks and Ange Aboa report from the embattled area.

Residents and combatants from both sides said the pro-Ouattara forces were in control and were patrolling the town, and that it was now largely calm apart from some sporadic shooting.

"We have taken the port of San Pedro. Gbagbo's forces have all left. We are in full control," a military spokesman for Ouattara's forces, Seydou Ouattara, told Reuters.

Resisting pressure from the African Union and the West, Gbagbo has refused to step down since a presidential election last November, which U.N.-certified results showed he lost to Ouattara by an 8-point margin, sparking a deadly power struggle.

"Shooting started at around 9 p.m. (2100 GMT on Wednesday) then we saw the rebels' vehicles drive into the town," said one San Pedro resident, who declined to be named for fear of reprisals. "Everyone's staying indoors, but we're still hearing a lot of gunfire."

Next up, we will get details on the new UN sanctions from the Voice of America and writer Margaret Besheer.

The U.N. Security Council has voted unanimously to impose sanctions on Ivory Coast’s defiant incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo, who, despite international demands, refuses to hand over power to the internationally recognized winner of the November presidential election.

Resolution 1975 calls on Mr. Gbagbo to respect the will of the Ivorian people and "immediately step aside," ceding power to Alassane Ouattara, whom the United Nations has certified as the winner of the election.

The resolution, approved Wednesday, urges the nearly 10,000 U.N. peacekeepers in Ivory Coast to use "all necessary means" to protect civilians under "imminent threat of violence," including to prevent the use of heavy weapons against the civilian population.

In a bid to increase pressure on Mr. Gbagbo, the 15-member Council also imposed an asset freeze and travel ban on him, his wife and three close associates.

France and Nigeria co-sponsored the resolution in the Council. French Ambassador Gérard Araud told reporters the situation in Ivory Coast is "worsening by the hour." "In a sense this resolution is maybe the last message that we wanted to send to Gbagbo which is very simple: Gbagbo must go. It is the only way to avoid a full-fledged civil war and maybe bloody violence in the streets of Abidjan," Araud said.

The U.N. says at least 462 people have been killed since the political crisis began in early December. Up to 1 million more have been displaced, with thousands of refugees fleeing to neighboring Liberia and Ghana.

Reports from Ivory Coast Wednesday said forces opposed to Mr. Gbagbo have seized the country’s administrative capital, Yamoussoukro, although Mr. Gbagbo’s troops still control the main seat of power, the commercial city of Abidjan. Pro-Ouattara forces also have seized several other towns and claim to control nearly 75 percent of the country.

Mr. Gbagbo’s government is calling for a cease-fire, but Nigerian Ambassador Joy Ogwu said it is only because he feared imminent action from the Security Council.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said Mr. Gbagbo has a choice. "Mr. Gbagbo and his supporters can continue to cling to power, which will only lead to more innocent civilians being wounded and killed, and more diplomatic and economic isolation. Or Mr. Gbagbo and his followers can finally reject violence and respect the will of the Ivorian people," she said.

She said that if the latter path is chosen, Ivorians can reclaim their country and rebuild a vibrant economy that once was the admiration of all of Africa.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Politics can be a problem for women in Zimbabwe

Women are growing increasingly frustrated with their government in Zimbabwe. The women want to have a political voice and involvement, yet they find that the government only wants involvement under their own terms.

An article from the Inter Press Service looks at this conflict in Zimbabwe. Women are courted for their support and involvement in issues the government itself wants. Whenever they speak up to criticize life or politics they are instead thrown into prison.

Writer Ignatius Banda talks to several women who chose to keep their identities secret for fear of government reprisal. They say that the double standard forces many women into silence and apathy.

Activists argue that politicians and "political correctness" have hijacked women’s push for equal opportunities. This, they say, has pushed to the periphery or even outlawed gender activism, save for the daredevils who tackle government head-on.

"Just look at how many women have ended up behind bars in the past few years for daring to take to the streets and speak out about the violation of their rights," Thelma Dube told IPS. Dube spoke in the wake of nationwide police bans on street marches planned for this year’s commemoration of International Women’s Day.

Women like Dube – a gender activist with a Masters degree - are now afraid to identify themselves as "feminist activists" because, she says, of the "backlash" this has invited from men.

"I do not see many women, educated or not, coming out in their numbers carrying banners and demanding to be heard even with this talk in government about respecting women’s rights," Dube said.

In February, Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) activists were arrested in Bulawayo before they even took to the streets, while others were arrested alongside prominent pro-democracy activist Munyaradzi Gwisai for treason early this month, allegedly for being part of a group that was plotting "Egypt-style" street protests.

According to a Mar. 1 WOZA statement, the women arrested in Bulawayo were held under appalling conditions with the rights group alleging that their arrested members were subjected to torture by the police.

Although the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development has been at the forefront of pushing for women’s economic empowerment and constitutional guarantees for gender equality, rights groups like WOZA say this is not enough.

"It is difficult for some of us to digest such messages as we are always arrested for marching and campaigning for the right to feed our children and send them to school," said a WOZA activist who also asked that her name not be used. She has already been arrested on several occasions in Bulawayo.

"Marches that are pro-government are allowed but not ours, which are basically apolitical, so it is difficult to take the gender affairs ministry seriously," she said.

Cote d'Ivoire civilians caught in fighting

Amnesty International is calling on United Nations Peacekeepers to protect 10,000 refugees in the west of Cote d'Ivoire. The large group of refugees are only three kilometers away from heavy fighting and are without protection.

Amnesty fears that the refugees could be caught in between the fighting. In January forty civilians were killed and many women raped when fighting began between troops supporting two political leaders.

President Laurent Gbagbo lost an election in October but doesn't want to concede power to internationally recognized winner Alassane Ouattara. Both sides have amassed armies in an effort to control the nation.

From Amnesty International, this statement helps to give us some much needed information on the crisis in Cote d'Iviore.

As many as 10,000 civilians are sheltering in the mission in the town of Duékoué, after fleeing fierce battles yesterday between forces supporting the internationally recognized elected President Alassane Ouattara and militiamen loyal to outgoing President Laurent Gbagbo.

“The UNOCI mandate in Côte d’Ivoire requires the peacekeepers to protect civilians at imminent threat of physical violence. They must act immediately to prevent further bloodshed,” said Veronique Aubert, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Africa.

“The UNOCI camp is only about 3 km away from Duékoué and we are urging them to use all means necessary to protect civilians against the violence taking place on their own doorstep.”

The situation in the west of Côte d’Ivoire has been volatile since the November 2010 contested presidential elections. All parties to the conflict have committed serious human rights violations including unlawful killings and rape and sexual violence against women.

Witnesses have told Amnesty International’s delegation currently in Côte d’Ivoire that yesterday, forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara took partial or total control of Duékoué and Daloa, two towns located in the heart of the western cocoa belt.

Sources said electricity in Duékoué has also been cut, apparently as a result of the fighting, depriving people in the area of water.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Today's biggest human rights crisis.... it's not Libya

The biggest human rights crisis going on now is not in Japan or Libya. Yet, the western press has largely ignored this other crisis. Over a million people have fled  and hundreds have been killed  in this other crisis. They flee because a politician who lost an election is trying to silence anyone who demands that he step down. Again, this is not in Libya, but is in the West African nation of Cote d'Ivoire.

Laurent Gbagbo remains in power despite losing an October election. Whenever people take to the streets to protest Gdagbo, he always sends police to fire on the crowd to disperse them. Alassane Ouattara is the internationally recognized winner of the election.

A blog post we found today provides an exhaustive reference source for what is going in Cote d'Ivoire. The blog Phil In The Blank hosts this great post titled Blog for Cote d'Ivoire. It contains links and snippets of stories from many news sources. As well as giving you a primer on the situation, the post also asks the question why the media isn't covering it, and gives you many links and resources to become more involved. Our snippet focuses on ways to spread the word about Cote d'Ivoire.

The people I spoke with in the doctor’s office yesterday did not know where Cote d’Ivoire was. Honestly, it’s hard to fault them. Education system does a poor job. Media is just as bad.

Talk to people. When most people hear the story they may envision some kind of tribal bush warfare.

Let them know that Cote d’Ivoire was once an economic powerhouse. 40% of the world’s cocoa is produced here and Abidjan has a skyline that looks like this. These facts are significant in the sense that they challenge common perceptions of Africa.

I’m not naive. I know that the fate of Cote d’Ivore rests in much larger machinery, namely the AU, ECOWAS, and the UN, or within the hands of Ivorians themselves. But allowing Cote d’Ivoire some space in our attention span does not take much effort, and with added eyes and hopefully, more news coverage, there is a chance that there will be less humanitarian crimes and of those that are committed, they will be widely seen and the people responsible will be held accountable.

In her blog Wait... What? Linda Raftree quotes this letter that she received from a friend working in West Africa. Her friend gives us the definitive reason why no one cares about Cote D'Ivorie and focuses on Libya instead.

Why this differential treatment? Well, the answer is fairly simple: Libya has oil, Cote d’Ivoire not. In the case of Libya the AU stood still and did not comment – not surprisingly as Khaddafi pays for most of half of all country memberships in the AU and has been a tremendous support for development in individual countries. In the case of Cote d’Ivoire they mobilized themselves to act but their negotiation missions all failed. It’s a crazy world. There is no interest from the international community in Human Rights. There is only interest in access and control over resources.”

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Global Corruption Index, in graphic form

Back in October, Transparency International released their latest Global Corruption Index. A great new info-graphic about the index has been put together by Graphic-is and it summaries the report quite well.

The info-graphic displays a map of the world to show the results of the survey on a color scale. The winners of the survey have the deepest shades of green while the losers have the deepest shades of red. The graphic also shows the most corrupt systems according to respondents with Political Parties leading the way.

Corruption is important when talking about poverty because the greater the corruption the more barriers exist for poor people to move up the economic ladder. When people live in a country where they have to continually pay bribes to police or other government officials it is impossible to get ahead.

Friday, March 25, 2011

New Food Security Project map from InterAction

InterAction has a great new tool on their website that helps to show the many food security programs around the world. The Food Security Map is an interactive tool that organizes all of the food and agriculture programs by country, the organization giving the aid, and a description of each project.

For example, you can click on the country Mauritania and see where the food security programs are concentrated at and a brief description of their work. In Mauritania ,World Vision conducts two out of the three programs, one providing support to farmers and another that helps to develop an entire community.

InterAction hopes the map will begin to create more cooperation between their member charities. They also hope that it will give donors more information on how to give to specific projects.

One striking bit of information found from this map is the glut of programs going on in Haiti. The map displays 104 different food security projects in the tiny island nation. The only other nation with that many is Bangladesh. Many say that it is the overwhelming amount of humanitarian aid received that keeps the nation from ever becoming self-sufficient. This map might give more evidence to that point of view.

The Food Security Map can be found at InterAction by hitting this link. Below is a screen-shot of the map.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Affordable drug supply will end with EU-India free trade deal

India has a generic drug industry that helps to provide Anti-Retroviral Drugs for AIDS patients around the world. India's government doesn't recognize drug patients so it has a allowed multiple companies to manufacture the same drug at a low cost. The low costs in turn have helped to provide those drugs to poeple in poverty who would not otherwise be able to afford them.

The low-cost drugs from India might all come to an end in April because of a free trade agreement with the EU. One of the terms of the agreement would force the generic drug makers to begin testing their drugs in order to make sure they don't violate patents recognized by the EU.

From the Inter Press Service, writer Ranjit Devraj details why health groups are against the deal.

"We hope that Indian negotiators will withstand pressures and ensure that the existing intellectual property rights regime is not tampered with to allow extension of patents, especially as a number of drugs are going off patent, this year," said Mira Shiva, a member of the All India Drug Action Network.

"The World Trade Organisation’s TRIPS [Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights] was bad enough but we are facing a TRIPS-Plus bilateral deal which may prove even worse for public health," Shiva told IPS.

If the India-EU free trade agreement (FTA) introduces TRIPS-Plus measures, people on HIV treatment, for example, may not be able to access second-line treatment when they become resistant to medicines they already are on, Shiva said.

By refusing to recognise patents and by leveraging its large domestic market India has, in the decades since 1970, been able to build up a powerful pharmaceutical industry known for its cheap and efficacious generic versions of patented drugs.

After 2005, India has been implementing changes mandated by the WTO, but these are less stringent than the EU intellectual property regime.

UNAIDS, the joint United Nations programme on HIV and AIDS, notes that the flexibility afforded by TRIPS has brought down drug prices and helped lower the cost of first-line generic anti-retrovirals (ARVs) by as much as 99 percent in the last decade.

The EU can be expected to demand data exclusivity on drugs as it has done in the case of all its other FTAs, said Shiva. Data exclusivity will allow drug manufacturers a monopoly, based on clinical test data generated on the safety and efficacy aspects of a new drug.

"What this means," explains Amit Sen Gupta, public health expert at the Delhi Science Forum, a voluntary organisation, "is that an Indian drug company planning to produce the generic version of a patented drug will have to conduct its own clinical trials before it can be licensed and marketed."

"Fresh trials would naturally add to the cost of the drug, and delay its introduction into the market," Sen Gupta said. Currently the EU grants up to 11 years of exclusive rights based on successful clinical trials and other test data.

Raising money for Japan... when they don't need it

The debate over giving money to Japan rages on. Charities and humanitarian aid groups are asking for contributions for money to be used to help the earthquake an nuclear meltdown victims. Yet, Japan isn't asking for much help. Except for a couple of specific needs, Japan is saying they have the resources to take care of it themselves. And we know they can, because Japan is the second richest nation in the world.

Many critics say there is no need to give money to Japan because they are rich and becuase they are not asking for help. Yet, what we find funny about the whole debate, is that we don't recall similar things being said after Hurricane Katrina hit the US Gulf Coast. Fund-raising for that disaster went through the roof, despite the US being the richest nation in the world. We certainly know that the need was great in the Gulf Coast, in fact it still is.

The best advice we have seen on this topic is what we pointed out in an earlier post. If you are moved to give, go ahead and do so. Just make sure your money isn't earmarked for Japan. This is just in case that Japan refuses the help and the organization deems the money can be better spent elsewhere.

The Anonymous blogger from Tales From The Hood gives his take on the whole debate.

I don’t know a single actual aid worker who is in favor of mounting an international disaster response effort in Japan. And I’m not just saying that – we do talk to each other, across agency lines, about this kind of thing. But I know scores of marketers and fundraisers and donor reps who have spent the past week + with humanitarian blue-ball syndrome over the revenue potential of this spectacularly dramatic high-visibility disaster.

Not that aid workers know everything. But just so that we’re all clear:

Those who actually make their livings designing, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating humanitarian aid interventions say that a relief effort in Japan is somewhere between unnecessary and a bad idea. But…

We’re all still fundraising. “Our donors expect us to respond…” says the marketing department. Right – so this is all about the donors, then, is it?

Japan itself has said – repeatedly – that it wants only very specific kinds of support (search and rescue dog teams, for example, in the initial days), and in very limited quantities. This is one of the wealthiest, most technologically savvy, and generally most well-organized countries on the planet. Japan is a major contributor to disaster response in other countries through institutional donors like JICA and a full array of locally based HRI-affiliates. Japanese NGOs have valiantly tried to resist to onslaught of Western good will, but against all rational logic, we’ve insisted on “helping.”

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Establishing a new health care clinic, by boat

Medecins Sans Frontieres has established a new clinic in Western Ethiopia. The Gambella Province clinic is in such a remote location that many of the people seeking health care have never seen a doctor before. During the building process, MSF had to ship in the supplies by boat because roads were impassable during the rainy season. The trip via boat to the clinic from the nearest city was 10 hours long.

From the Medecins Sans Frontieres website, we find this interview with Rebeckah Piotrowski who just returned from the new clinic.

How has MSF been able to reach them?

The program is located in a remote area of the province. We’ve set up a health clinic with an inpatient and an outpatient ward. We also send out teams of nurses in mobile clinics to help reach more people.

In the rainy season, all of the mobile clinics are by boats. In the dry season we can do it by car. We are reaching out to populations that have absolutely no access to very basic things, like health care and water.

Was it challenging setting up this remote project?

In the rainy season the project is 10 hours by boat to the nearest town. Everything had to come from the capital of the province because there was no market, food, or construction material where the health center was needed. The supply chain setup was initially a huge challenge.

Transportation is a continuing difficulty. Doing everything by boat during the rainy season is quite intense. MSF has never done this type of transport before, figuring out even basic things like fuel quantities or boat maintenance is an ongoing challenge.

What kinds of medical needs are MSF teams seeing?

The number of patients changes depending on dry or rainy season. When I left it was dry season and easier to travel so there was a peak in patient numbers. During the dry season we mainly see and treat malaria, malnutrition, and basic healthcare needs. We are also seeing cases of tuberculosis (TB) and HIV. Currently, MSF refers TB and HIV cases to the regional hospital in Gambella for chest X-rays and drugs. While it might change in the future, the project does not have the capacity to treat these types of cases.

MSF is also trying to expand maternal health care. We are trying to get mothers to come in for pre- and post-natal visits and also to deliver in our health center. However, we haven’t seen a significant increase yet.

The tangled web of Malawi, the IMF, and fertilizer

The many critics of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund say that their policies have prevented some economies from preforming better. The critics say how the WB and IMF prescribes one-size-fits-all free market solutions may not be the right remedy for each country. One example they often give is Malawi, who instead of using a free market approach to farming inputs, gives away fertilizer through a government distribution program.

Matt Collin from the blog Aid Thoughts has this reminder that it was through the help of the IMF that such a fertilizer distribution program was possible. The IMF had to help clean up the books of Malawi government before the program began.

Let’s rewind a bit to the beginning of multi-party democracy in Malawi, which also introduce a surge in inflation. The two-term presidency of the first democratic president, Bakili Maluzi, was marked by excessive government spending, poor macroeconomic management and a surge in corruption and theft of public funds.

Inflation is sometimes seen as a bit of a boogeyman, but there is very little that is pro-poor about a 40% annual inflation rate. It was only through the hard work of the Malawian government and the IMF (under the PRGF) that inflation was brought under manageable level, as was government spending. There were probably some negative consequences to this imposed austerity (many assert that the IMF’s pressure to keep the wage bill down hurt social programs in the country, although the evidence of this is mixed), but I think few people would consider Malawi’s position before the introduction of the PRGF to be sustainable.

In 2006 Malawi finally reach its HIPC completion point, resulting in a slashing of its debt burgen by nearly $3 billion dollars. The amount that Malawi saved on immediate debt from this relief nearly equaled the amount they chose to spend on fertilizer in the subsequent budget year, so the benefits of the relief are quite clear. Aside from the immedite benefits, being nearly debt-free gave the country the wiggle-room neccessary to pursue more expansionist fiscal policy, and it is highly doubtful that they could safely be spending so much on fertiliser today if they hadn’t behaved a little beforehand.

Mercy Corps takes a look at the destruction in Japan

The humanitarian aid charity Mercy Corps is beginning to move into Japan to provide emergency help. The Mercy Corps Blog has posted an interview with their Global Emergency Operations director Randy Martin on what he saw in Japan. In the interview, Martin makes a good point on why some donations are still needed for such a rich country as Japan. The country's government and Red Cross might still have plenty of resources at their disposal, but some local governments and emergency units were completely washed away by the tsunami.

Randy has been a first responder in many disasters over the last decade. And still after witnessing the damage in northern Japan, he remarked: "Every emergency is so remarkably different than all others." Responding in Japan is "a thoroughly unique context and challenge."

Though Japan has substantial economic and governmental capacity to respond to disaster, he emphasized that much of that ability has been undermined at the community level, where it's needed most.

"The normal responders to emergencies have themselves been devastated," he said. "Fire and police departments washed away, hospitals are overwhelmed with patients and also grappling with electric and water failures, and schools are taken over by the displaced."

Randy also notes, "Many of the responders themselves have lost their lives or are grieving the lost of loved ones. So the very institutions that are designed to respond are dramatically challenged to do so."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Poverty Over interactive map from Christian Aid

Christian Aid has a cool interactive map that shows how poverty has changed over the last 200 years. Using statistics from the United Nations' Human Development Index, the map shows how poverty has decreased over time. The map is good illustration of the great amount of progress that has been made in defeating poverty over the last 50 years. You can play with the interactive map, by clicking this link.

Guest Voices: Responding to the Urban Challenge – World Water Day

Continuing our series of posts from Concern Worldwide is a story that helps us to commemorate World Water Day. Writer Thomas Fergusson talks about the challenges Concern faced in bringing water and sanitation to victims of the Haiti earthquake.

The observance of World Water Day this year (March 22), with its spotlight on urban emergencies, comes at a time when many humanitarian aid and relief organizations are contemplating—in some cases, studying in-depth—the growing trend of large emergencies shifting from rural to urban settings.

Increasingly erratic weather patterns, which some link to man-made climate change, are causing droughts and floods that are driving millions to leave the countryside for cities.

In Haiti, in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake, Concern Worldwide had to tackle most of these issues in highly challenging circumstances, with Port-au-Prince qualifying as a highly impoverished urban setting experiencing a major emergency albeit in extraordinary circumstances. The city was one of the most challenging environments for water and sanitation before the earthquake; the massive disaster only made the situation exponentially more complicated.

We had to respond quickly and accurately, which was enormously difficult. Our efforts were hampered by huge logistical challenges, including impossible traffic and, especially toward the latter part of the year, unrest and frequent demonstrations, and the further challenge of the serious cholera outbreak.

The earthquake left countless people without access to basic services such as clean water and toilets. Today, the bulk of our beneficiaries live in camps, where the logistics of supplying water and sanitation are relatively straightforward. But the job is costly and cannot be sustained indefinitely. Families need to return home or be given temporary shelters that all need clean water and toilets.

Here are some numbers to show progress has been made: About six months ago there were locations in the city where a single latrine was serving 2000 people per day! Getting this down number down to below 800—to stave of serious disease outbreaks such as cholera—was a major struggle. Yet, we are now meeting the standard of 50 persons per latrine. For things to work long-term, we are putting a lot of focus on the engagement, training and capacity-building of local communities to take responsibility for the water infrastructure.

We currently supply an estimated 3,000 gallons a day via water truck to each of 28 locations in Port-au-Prince, serving 75,000 people; we are also in the final stages of 50 so-called block latrines—each with 12 doors—in multiple locations; we have responsibility for waste disposal for approx 540 latrines around the city. In the 18 camps where we work, we remove almost 400,000 gallons of waste every month.

The people’s suffering and our responsibility to come to their aid make up the real story. The fate of one family of eight has stuck with me in a powerful way. Parents Janice Simeone and Dieu Puissant and their six children—made homeless by the earthquake—were living in a ramshackle tent in the Place Boyer spontaneous settlement, smack in a downtown Port-au-Prince slum. Utter lack of hygiene and overcrowded, dirty sanitation led to four of the children and Dieu getting violently ill with diarrhea and vomiting—the warning signs of cholera. Luckily, we were able to get them all treatment in a hospital.

Kudos to the UN for putting the spotlight on these urban water facts:

Already half of the world’s population lives in the city. In two decades, their number will grow to 60 percent, or 5 billion people. And 95 percent of the urban population growth in the next decades will take place in the developing world, whose cities grow by an average of 5 million new residents every month! Every second, the world’s urban population grows by two people.

Urban slums pose a particular problem for the humanitarian aid community. The people there already suffer chronic poverty and all its attendant ills, including lack of reliable, consistent and convenient access to water and hygienic facilities, health care, and nutrition. Concern has embarked on a study of the slums in Kenya to develop and empirically test a set of emergency indicators for urban slum environment—to determine when chronic poverty becomes an urban humanitarian crisis.

This exploding urban population growth creates unprecedented challenges—with the supply of and access to safe water and proper sanitation being crucial for the maintenance of good health. Common massive killers of children under five in the city—malaria (once thought to be a strictly rural disease), pneumonia, diarrhea, worm infestation, and cholera—are linked to dirty and stagnant water. Across the board, around the world, 2 million tons of human waste is disposed of in water sources. Lack of wastewater treatment and drainage facilities—especially in the developing world—leads to dangerous pollution of the ground-and-surface water resources.

Crisis or not, the 827.6 slum dwellers in the developing world—62 percent of them living in sub-Saharan Africa—are often lacking adequate drinking water and proper sanitary facilities. Twenty-seven percent of the developing world’s urban population does not have piped water in their houses; and 493 million people in cities share their sanitation facilities—in 1990 that number stood at 259 million. Worldwide, one in four city residents, or 794 million people, lives without access to updated sanitation facilities.

To make matters worse, the poor pay more: someone in the slums in Nairobi pays 5 to 7 times more for a gallon of water than the average North American citizen. Elsewhere in the developing world the urban poor may pay up to 50 times more than their richer neighbors because they are forced to pay private vendors. Plus, an estimated more than 132,000 gallons of usable typically leaks away each year in the world’s mega cities—saving this amount of water would be sufficient for the yearly needs of 10 million to 20 million in such a mega city.

Our numbers in Haiti are but tiny figures against the backdrop of the growing global water crisis, of course. But not all is doom and gloom. The Third UN World Water Development report, published in 2009, insists that the world’s water problems are manageable, and that the required knowledge, experience and technology are already in place to create a durable water infrastructure, sanitation and waste disposal infrastructure, as well as the curbing of pollution and adequate protection against flooding. If only the world’s leaders would put their minds to it. At all levels of government—national, regional, local—water must become a priority.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Video: Violence continues across Bahrain

From Al Jazerra, a video on another political uprising in the Middle East, this time Bahrain. Warning, this video is pretty graphic.

World Bank admits some fault in forced evictions

The World Bank admitted some fault from a botched land title project in Cambodia. The project has led to thousands of forced evictions for people living in a slum that borders Boeung Kak lake. The slum is making way for a series of office towers and villas.

From the Inter Press Service, writer Irwin Loy decribes how a World Bank fact finding mission uncovered how their negligence resulted in the forced evictions.

"The claims of the Boeung Kak lake community are serious," Roberto Lenton, the chair of the panel, said in a statement. "The issues raised involve fundamental questions of their land rights and tenure security… the panel found that the evictions took place in violation of the bank policy on involuntary resettlement and resulted in grave harm to the affected families and community."

In a series of reports and statements the inspection panel ruled that a controversial bank-funded land-titling project failed to protect some 4,000 families living around Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak lake - a low-income community that had grown in the centre of the capital following the collapse of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime.

In doing so, the bank broke many of its own regulations meant to ensure its programmes would not cause inadvertent harm to local populations.

Many people in this Southeast Asian country still lack basic legal titles to their land, a legacy of the Khmer Rouge, who outlawed private ownership. The bank funded the Land Management and Administration Project, or LMAP, as part of a plan to address Cambodia’s lingering land problems.

LMAP has courted controversy by following the government’s policy to not issue land titles to some 4,000 families around Boeung Kak lake. The government declared the land to be owned by the state, even though many of the residents had lived there for years.

The government later leased the land to a developer. The Chinese-backed developer and local authorities have since told the residents that they must move to make way for a series of office towers and villas on the 133-hectare site.

The World Bank inspection panel ruled that the bank should have followed its safeguards - agreed to by the bank, donor governments and Cambodian authorities at the inception of the project - which would have allowed the residents to argue their cases for land titles. Instead bank management ignored the residents’ claims until it was too late.

"The harm the people have suffered as a result of the evictions and the following displacement… was evident to the panel team," the panel stated in its investigation report. "The panel found no record that bank management raised this issue with the government or project staff until 2009, when the situation had already deteriorated beyond repair."

Video: Firefighters spray Japan reactor with water

From Al Jazeera, a video on the latest in Japan. Firefighters are beginning to work on cooling the Fukushima nuclear reactor.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mobile money to help pregnant women get to health care

In the under-developed world a hospital can be miles away but the trip may seem like an eternity. For a mother having childbirth complications, the only transportation available to them may be walking. That task may be impossible for a pregnant mother experiencing pain. Cars are few and public transportation may be unaffordable for these women.

One mobile phone service helps to speed access to money for women who need help getting to medical care. M-PESA is a mobile app that is funded in part by the UK’s DfID office to improve maternal health.

From the Women's News Network, writers Eva Fernandez Ortiz and Shubhi Tandon explain the app to us.

Only half of Tanzania’s women can reach a clinic or hospital when they are in need during childbirth, but new specific programs are working to change this. Wayali hospital sees some of the most critical patients in the area. Maternal complications are high on the list, including women who have suffered from obstetric fistulas.

Obstetric fistulas are common in Tanzania. In childbirth they are caused by extended and prolonged labour, which eventually starts to tear the walls of the uterus. Most women suffering the condition also become completely incontinent as they are treated as outcasts by their family and community.

M-PESA, meaning “mobile money” in Swahili, is now providing on-the-ground mobile banking services in areas of health care for women in Kenya, Tanzania and Afghanistan. Efforts focusing on fistula health and maternal health are now on the table as M-PESA works to change lives.

Acting as an “easy access” mobile phone bank for women and their families, M-PESA is one of the most important global programs to help women reach health care facilities in rural Africa by providing quick cash for transportation to clinics and hospitals.

If a rural family without access to a bank needs cash to pay for transportation, the M-PESA program through Vodaphone, along with CCBRT – Comprehensive Community Based Rehabilitation in Tanzania, provides a way for money to be transferred quickly and directly to transportation companies via mobile phone text message. The families then pay back the small transportation loan later.

The streamline design of the program is genius, assisting at often very critical moments for women, especially during obstructed maternal childbirth.

Starting in 2003, with the financial support of the UK DfID, M-PESA began to work closely to help launch a mobile banking test program in Kenya. Finding marked success it later expanded to Tanzania. Another program for mobile phone banking, WIZZIT, has begun successfully also in South Africa.

2011 Kids Count Report released for Maine

The Annie E Casey Foundation has released a new Kids Count Report for the state of Maine. The report says that child poverty in the state went up slightly by one percent.

From this Associated Press article that we found at the Bangor Daily News, we learn more on what is contained in the report.

The Kids Count report being released Thursday says Maine’s child poverty rate was 17.5 percent in 2009, the latest year for which figures are available. That was 1 percentage point higher than the rate the previous year for children under age 18.

The report also says the median income for families with children slipped between the same two years, from $54,800 to $52,700.

The percentage of Maine children without health insurance was 5 percent, according to the study, well below the national average of 11 percent. The 5 percent figure means there were 15,000 children who did not have health insurance.

Video: Thousands displaced by Ivorian violence

From Al Jazeera, a video about the continuing violence in Cote d'Ivoire.

To give or not to give.... to Japan

There has been a lot of debate on giving to Japan after the earthquake/tsunami and now the nuclear meltdown. Many are moved by the images they see to donate money or goods to help out their fellow man. However, others are saying that the money could be better spent on other tragedies that are ongoing in the Ivory Coast or the Republic of Congo. They also point out that Japan is the third richest country in the world and has the resources to handle it themselves.

So how do we proceed? We have seen two of our favorite bloggers give some advice on this subject. First, Laura Freschi from Aid Watch says the following...

Our best advice for people who feel moved to give by the tragedy in Japan: Give generously, in cash, to an organization that you trust, and don’t restrict your donation. This way, your charity can use the funds for Japan if it turns out they are needed. If not, then it is free to use your donation for another purpose, like the dozens of under-reported, large-scale disasters that CNN isn’t featuring today.

Saundra Schimmelpfennig from Good Intentions Are Not Enough says something similar.

The public is clamoring to donate and do more for Japan, to do something to help. But currently there is a limited need for assistance. Yet other disasters or crises go under funded. This is one of the reasons it’s so critical not to earmark your donations. Don’t give to a specific project or country, instead donate to the general fund. This way, if it turns out it’s not really needed in Japan, they can use it to help with some of the forgotten disasters. Donating to the general fund allows nonprofits to use the money where it’s most needed and do the greatest good with your donation.

Video: IDPs' double blow

From NTV Kenya, a story about possible evictions to internally displaced families.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Video: Farmers in Eldoret, Kenya begin planting

From NTV Kenya, a video about the planting season beginning in Kenya. The story touches on the lack of fertilizer which is needed for farmers in Africa to improve yields.

Kenyan slum turns garbage into energy

In the slums of the under-developed world sanitation is a major problem. Garbage can pile up amongst the shacks because there is no way to dispose of it. There are very few toilets available so people have to go out in the open or into plastic bags that are just thrown out into the slum.

One community within the slum of Kiberia, Kenya has found a great solution to the problem. They have a community garbage burner that provides multiple benefits. It provides fuel to provide hot baths and can even cook meals. Some jobs are also provided for local youths to collect the garbage from the neighborhood.

From the IPS, writer Miriam Gathigah describes how the energy source cane into existence.

But when they presented their idea to Planning Systems Services Limited (PLANNING) - a group of international architects - to assist them in developing a design, their idea developed into a pilot project that has transformed the lives of many residents of Laini Saba village.

The architects proposed that instead of developing an incinerator that would only heat water for bathing, they could develop a community cooker where the locals pay a fixed fee to cook their food.

As fate would have it, the chairman of PLANNING, Jim Archer, had been developing a plan to address waste management in Africa and was determined to work together with the CBO.

"We therefore went back to the drawing board and bought 500 nylon sacks. We then approached the local chief with our idea and he helped us organise a meeting with the locals. During this meeting we communicated our intention to maintain cleanliness and also to build a community cooker," adds Asanya.

The sacks were distributed to the people with the instructions that once the sack was full the CBO, with the help of a group of young people would come by to collect the garbage in a wheelbarrow, immediately return the sack to the owner.

The garbage would then be deposited at the project site for sorting. "We don’t burn everything," Asanya says. "We sell some of the garbage as scrap and make money from it. Material that can be burnt is then channeled into the cooker and used to generate heat."

Video: Snow hampers Japan rescue

From Al Jazeera, a video on post-tsunami rescue efforts in Japan.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

New study projects 770,000 cholera cases in Haiti this year

A new study to be published tomorrow says there could be 779,000 cases of cholera in Haiti this year. The study will be published in the medical journal The Lancet and contradicts findings made by the United Nations. The authors of the study used data from Haiti's Ministry of Health to base their projections.

From MSN Health, writer Robert Preidt unpacks the study for us.

There could be nearly twice as many cases of the potentially deadly diarrheal disease -- an estimated 779,000 -- between March and November of this year, according to researchers at the University of California, San Francisco and Harvard Medical School.

The discrepancy is important because U.N. projections determine the allocation of resources to fight the disease, said the authors of the study, published March 16 in The Lancet.

"The epidemic is not likely to be short-term," Dr. Sanjay Basu, a UCSF medical resident, said in a university news release. "It is going to be larger than predicted in terms of sheer numbers and will last far longer than the initial projections."

The cholera epidemic erupted in Haiti after last year's devastating earthquake. Cholera -- spread from person-to-person through contaminated food and water -- can be deadly if untreated. In most cases, treatment for the diarrhea caused by the disease involves rehydration with salty liquids.

Late last year, the U.N. projected that a total of 400,000 people in Haiti would eventually become infected with cholera. They reached that total by assuming that cholera would infect 2 to 4 percent of Haiti's population of 10 million. But the U.N. estimate did not take into account existing disease trends, or factors such as where water was contaminated, how the disease is transmitted, or human immunity to cholera, Basu said.

Video: New Transit Camp Addition in Tunisia

From the Associated Press, a video about a baby born at a Tunisian transition camp with an uncertain future.

National Microcredit meeting begins in India

A national conference of microcredit lenders is underway in India. It's the first time that leaders have gathered together since the controversy in Andhra Pradesh. A year ago several microcredit borrowers in the Indian state committed suicide. Authorities alledge that the victims were over-indebted to microcredit and killed themselves because they were unable to pay their loans. The suicides began a government effort for more regulation over microcredit and many banking leaders say they welcome it.

From the Wall Street Journal, writer Vibhuti Agarwal describes collected some quotes from the conference.

Jayashree Vyas, of Sa-dhan, the industry association that sponsored the conference, also underlined the need to get “closer to the clients and ensure ethical lending and recovery practices.”

Many microlenders said it was vital to have national-level regulation.

In a report released in January, India’s Reserve Bank proposed certain measures that could form the basis of such regulation, including capping interest rates for loans to save borrowers from exploitation.

The Economic Survey that was released last month also directed the government to take steps to ensure that borrowers understand the terms of contract when they borrow from microfinance institutions.

Shashikant Sharma, a senior bureaucrat in India’s finance ministry, promised that microfinance was high on government’s agenda for financial inclusion.

“The sudden and rapid growth of microfinance institutions has given rise to lending malpractices. A strong and effective regulation of the sector is therefore imperative to put the sector on the path of providing inclusive growth,” he said.

Video: Rikuzentakata destroyed by tsunami

From Al Jazeera, a story about how an entire town of Rikuzentakata was destroyed by the earthquake/tsunami in Japan.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Aid begins to arrive in Japan

The international community is beginning to deliver aid to to earthquake ravaged Japan. Governments and international aid organizations are sending military assistance as well as food, water and other goods to help the victims of the earthquake and following tsunami.

For this post, we present a round up of some of the organizations accepting donations for Japan and a summary of the aid response. First up, the Acumen Fund gives us some recommendations on who to donate money to.

* Architecture for Humanity has been working in post disaster reconstruction since 1999, designing and building homes, schools, clinics and community facilities. Yesterday at South by Southwest, founder Cameron Sinclair pledged to donate 10% of his salary if the donation link is re-tweeted 100,000 times. You can make a personal, tax-deductible contribution there as well.
* The Japan Society has set up an earthquake relief fund for nonprofits working directly with victims in Japan:
* You can donate directly to the Japanese Red Cross and help locate missing persons on Google’s crisis response page:
* Give to the American Red Cross by texting REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10 via your phone bill if you’re in the US. Or give in other amounts at

Interaction provides this page that lists all of their member NGOs who are accepting donations for Japan relief efforts.

Finally, the Guardian has this story about the help that is beginning to arrive in Japan. Writers Liz Ford and Claire Provost note that some countries that just went through disasters of their own are helping out to.

Ninety-one countries and nine international organisations have so far offered to assist with relief efforts from last Friday's earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the government confirmed on Monday.

The number of countries pledging support increased over the weekend as the devastation wrought by the disaster became apparent. Fifty countries offered assistance the day the earthquake struck.

Among those offering support are countries that are still recovering from the consequences of their natural disasters, such as Pakistan and Bolivia.

China is among the 17 Asian states to offer support. It is providing $4.5m worth of humanitarian aid. The first shipment of emergency materials, including 2,000 blankets, 900 tents and 200 emergency lights, are due to be flown from Shanghai to Tokyo on Monday, the Xinhua news agency reported.

Seventeen Latin American countries, including Honduras, Ecuador and Brazil, and four African states – Djibouti, Morocco, South Africa and Tunisia – have also offered assistance. Reuters reported on Sunday that the mayor of Kandahar city in Afghanistan has pledged $50,000 to support relief efforts.

The World Bank, Unicef, Unesco and the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs are among the international organisations pledging support.

Pneumonia vaccine roll-out in Kenya

The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization is distributing free pneumonia vaccines to 19 different countries this year. The vaccine was recently distributed throughout Kenya where 30,000 children die for pneumonia each year.

From the IPS, writer Miriam Gathigah visited a clinic that was a part of the launch.

The Kenyatta International Conference Centre resembled one big nursery with parents and their crying babies. Hundreds of parents with their infants thronged the Centre where they received their first shot against pneumonia, and not even their tears as the shot broke through their skin could dampen the smiling faces of their mothers.

The mothers waited patiently for their infants’ turn to be vaccinated as the painful shot represents a chance to survive a disease that many children have not been lucky to withstand.

The vaccine, already available in various private hospitals, has remained out of reach for many children. A full dose costs about 188 dollars, which for the many Kenyans living on less than a dollar a day is too expensive.

Government figures reveal that an estimated 30,000 children die annually from pneumonia.

"We are delighted that our children will be vaccinated for free. I am happy with what the government has done today by helping us keep our children healthy. I cannot afford to pay for it seeing that on a good day I only earn three dollars washing clothes in people’s homes," explained an elated Belinda Otieno, a mother of two sets of twins below the age of six.

Despite the fact that new vaccine trials were carried out at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) for over a decade, the drug has remained inaccessible to thousands of children.

This has seen health experts continue to cry foul over what they saw as Kenyan children being used as guinea pigs for a crucial life-saving drug off-limits to them until now.

"We will provide this life-saving vaccine free of charge to every child less than one year old in public health facilities," said President Mwai Kibaki during the launch.

This pledge is literally a breath of life for many children, particularly among the poor, who constitute a significant percentage of the populace.

Video: Pitched street battle in Yemeni capital

From Al Jazeera, a video that tells us the latest on pro-democracy protests in Yemen.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Guest Voices: Hard Cash in Hard Times

Continuing our series of posts from Concern Worldwide is a story about giving cash instead of food aid in Zimbabwe. Writer Cormac Staunton says this is a big change from the traditional response to humanitarian aid and may be a big improvement.

Sophia Chitsatse was 65 when I met her in Nyanga, Zimbabwe, a widow looking after four orphaned grandchildren. Although she was a farmer, she struggled to grow enough food for her family to last from one harvest to another. As a result, she had been receiving food aid rations from the World Food Program (WFP) for several years.

This is the traditional response to a humanitarian crisis, to directly provide people with what they need most. It is hard to argue with the logic; if people are starving, they need food. If people’s belongings have been washed away, they need essential items like soap, cooking utensils, and clean water.

But in the last number of years there has been an increasing focus on improving the way in which the world responds to emergencies. In late 2009, Sophia Chitsatse benefited from a new approach: instead of receiving food aid, Sophia was given cash.

We do it all the time in the western world. We have state pensions, unemployment benefits, and child-welfare payments. There are differences and debates as to the extent to which these should be provided, but most people agree that the best way to provide this assistance is through money, rather than goods.

Taking the same approach to a humanitarian crisis has many advantages, backed up by numerous studies. For one thing, giving cash is generally cheaper. There are huge costs involved in trucking and shipping large quantities of commodities across the globe.

Cheaper, of course, does not necessarily mean better. But providing cash has been proven to be very effective, because it allows people to prioritize their own needs. Women like Sophia can now choose the food they want to buy for their families, and how much. They can also choose whether, in addition to food, they need soap or toothpaste, or a blanket. These aren’t always easy choices. But it is better that they are made by a family, rather than by a third party. Allowing them to make decisions gives power to the poorest and most vulnerable. It also results in the better outcomes, as each family purchases precisely what they need.

Of course, in some humanitarian crises, the goods that people need are simply not there. Providing cash in such cases is meaningless and can even be dangerous. The cost of scarce goods would sky-rocket and could make a bad situation worse.

However, often a crisis is not caused by scarcity, but because people cannot access the goods they need. Food might be available in a market, but people do not have money to buy it, or it is prohibitively expensive. This problem is made worse by the global rise in food prices. This points to another advantage to providing cash: the effect it has on the local economy.

Flooding local markets with free goods can undercut local suppliers and put local traders out of business. Cash, on the other hand, can stimulate local markets. When I met Sophia in Zimbabwe I was conducting a study to compare “multiplier” effects of cash versus food aid. The study—the subject of an upcoming Working Paper for Trinity College, Dublin—looked at food aid and cash transfers distributed by the WFP and Concern Worldwide in rural Zimbabwe in 2010. Building on previous work by the economist Simon Davies with Concern in Malawi, the study created a “Social Accounting Matrix” for the region where both cash and food distributions took place.

The model, quantifying how all the economic groups in the region interact, was used to calculate and compare “multipliers” for cash and for food aid. A multiplier measures the effects of injecting something into the economy, including benefits beyond the help given to the initial recipients of aid. The results showed higher multiplier figures for cash than for food aid.

Food did have some multiplier effects, for example, when it was used to barter for other items. But the majority of the food was consumed and where it was bartered, the deals that people got were often not very fair.

On the other hand, people like Sophia were now able to buy food from local producers and traders. Even though many people were suffering from a food shortage, some producers had enough to sell and local traders were able to respond to the demand for goods that the cash injection created. Prices did not increase significantly.

There’s more. Sophia was also able to use the money to pay school fees and keep her grandchildren in school. The money she and others spent on these fees also allowed teachers’ pay to be “topped up”. Others told us that they paid fees at local clinics that covered maintenance, carried out by local workers. The teachers and the laborers would spend these earnings, buying food from a local trader, who in turn bought suppliers from a local producer.

This is the multiplier in action. At each stage, the added value of the cash is increasing and the cycle continues until the money leaves the local market. The study showed that in Zimbabwe, as far as the local economy was concerned, cash had a much more positive effect than food aid. The benefits were felt by more people– many of whom were only marginally better off than the poorest that the programme was reaching– than just the initial recipients.

While the advantages of giving cash are becoming clearer, there is still much to work on. Agencies are increasingly looking at new, better and safer ways to distribute cash, including the use of mobile phones and smart card technology, which has been pioneered by Concern in various countries, most recently in Niger. There is a need to look at what happens when projects are scaled up to see if many of the positive impacts still hold. Caution is also needed to ensure that cash is only used in appropriate settings, and that agencies are fully able to assess the impact of cash.

But for women like Sophia–who now spends less time working on other people’s land and more time on her own, who’s grandchildren are staying in school and who is getting a fairer deal for the things she needs–it is clear that cash is a more appropriate, effective and empowering way to help people in times of crisis.

Video: Afghanistan: This is Our Reality

From Medecins Sans Frontieres, a video slideshow of some of the victims they have treated in Afghanistan.

Things to consider before giving money to help Japan

With the humanitarian situation unfolding after the Japan earthquake, many will be considering how to donate money to help out. One of our favorite bloggers, Saundra Schimmelpfennig of Good Intentions are Not Enough always re-posts her do's and don'ts of giving whenever such a disaster happens.

To sum up the do's and don'ts... Always give money, do not collect goods; because shipping the goods waste money and hurts the economy of the disaster area. When looking for who to give money too make sure the organization has prior experience in such a disaster. If you are considering how to help out Japan, give a look at the full list first at this link, our snippet includes the five of our favorites.

Do determine if the country is accepting international assistance
With all the photos and videos of destruction on the evening news, it may seem impossible that governments would not want outside assistance. However, just because there has been a disaster does not mean that the local government and local aid organizations are not capable of reaching and helping those in need. Before sending your donation find out what, if any, assistance the government is allowing. Check to see if the aid organization you’re considering donating to is offering that same type of assistance.

Do look at a variety of nonprofits before giving
There are hundreds of organizations that respond to most disasters, take the time to evaluate a few before giving. Also, just because they have name recognition does not mean they’re best able to respond to the disaster. Look for organizations that were operating in the country before the disaster, they will be able to respond quicker and know the local culture, politics, and needs better. Giving to local organizations is great, unfortunately they can be difficult to find and may not have a website or if they do it may not be in English.

Places to find lists of organizations involved in the recovery efforts include:

InterAction for many U.S. organizations for organizations from many different countries
Dochas for Irish aid organizations

Do look for organizations with prior experience and expertise
There is a great deal of money after well publicized disasters. The ease of raising money makes it tempting to respond even if the organization does not have prior experience in that area. After the 2004 tsunami, many organizations with no prior experience built boats or houses. I attended one handover ceremony where the boats actually sank during the ceremony because they weren’t properly sealed. There is a steep learning curve when nonprofits move out of their normal area of work, this may lead to mistakes and wasted money. Make sure the organization has prior experience in their proposed projects.

Don’t donate to a project just because it’s “sexy”
Recovery projects that are inherently attractive to donors – such as orphanages or boats – are easier to fund but may not be what is most needed. After the 2004 tsunami orphanages were built in excess of what was really needed, I had an orphanage approach me looking for orphans to house. So much money was given to orphanages in Indonesia that some families resorted to abandoning their children at the orphanages because they could not feed and clothe them. It would have been far better if the donations had supported the family so they could care for their children themselves. Boats were also heavily funded leading to far more boats built than were actually lost and a real concern for over fishing.

Don’t take up a collection of goods to send over
After the tsunami tons of used clothing were donated, much of it inappropriate to the climate and culture. There were winter hats, coats and gloves donated to southern Thailand and mountains of donated clothing dumped beside the road in India. Donated goods can clog ports and prevent more critical relief items from getting through. Ports can only hold and process so many goods and often the port authorities have difficulty sorting through everything arriving to get it processed and out the doors. Please do not take up collections of medicine, clothing, baby formula, or food for shipment, or show up on your own to hand out money or goods. Although well intentioned, this can actually make the situation worse as it adds to the confusion, diverts resources, and may lead to aid dependency.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Video: Gaddafi pushes back against rebels

From Al Jazeera, a video that brings us the latest details of the armed conflict in Libya.

Using business to prevent deforestation

The blog Next Million has introduced us to a business that tries to provide an income from the Amazon rain forest. Ouro Verde attempts to prevent deforestation of the Amazon by selling products made from Brazilian Nuts that grow deep within the forest. Entrepreneur Luis Laranja believes this is the best way to save the rain forest and says his company has already protected 1.3 million hectors from being burned down.

From Next Million, writer Tracy Elsen profiles Ouro Verde.

Laranja believes that the Mato Grosso's Brazil nut trees, combined with the power of small business, can help stop deforestation. A longtime environmental activist, Laranja left his job as a professor eight years ago and moved to the Amazon rainforest to start Ouro Verde, a sustainable Brazil nut company. Ouro Verde buys, processes and sells high-quality Brazil nuts and products, including Brazil nut meal, extra virgin oil, and butter.

Laranja's company is transforming the living rainforest into a source of income for Mato Grosso's rural residents. "I really believe that what we have to use to preserve the forests is the market," he says. "If the forest does not provide money for the people, it will be impossible to save it." Ouro Verde creates special relationships with local indigenous and small-holder farmer communities that collect and supply Brazil nuts. By eliminating the high profit margin "middle man" between the company and local suppliers, Ouro Verde can pay its suppliers fair wages and thus make the living forest more valuable than lumber exploitation or landclearing.

Ouro Verde also provides training to those involved in Brazil nut collection to help improve collection, storage, and transportation, ensuring the company receives premium quality and suppliers receive a premium price. Thanks to its practices, the company earned organic certification for its entire product line from Ecocert Brasil, including certificates that address the specific requirements of the Brazilian, European and American markets.

The economic value provided by Brazil nut trees also protects the surrounding trees. Brazil nut trees produce at their highest levels when they live in healthy, primary forests. Therefore, nut collectors are incentivized to protect entire forests surrounding Brazil nut trees in order to access the largest, best-quality crops.

Video: Congestion in Kiambu Hospital

From NTV Kenya, a look at a hospital that is grossly understafed and lacks basic services.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Malnutrition in Afghanistan steals away life expectancy

Malnutrition runs rampant in Afghanistan. Fourteen children die every half hour from preventable causes. The health system is unable to prevent the deaths due to alack of clinics staffing and beads.

Afghanistan's children are hit the hardest with hunger. Their mothers are often underfed too, so they are unable to supply infants with enough breast milk.

From the Pulitzer Center, writer Anna Badkhen tells the story of one infant who struggles with malnutrition.

Loose skin dangles around Mohammad Zakrullah’s angular pelvis and emaciated thighs when he squirms in famished discomfort. His newborn forehead and scalp glow ghostly purple, from the permanganate solution his mother, Chori Khul, has smeared on them, believing it would ward off hunger headaches. Next to his blue blanket, a rusted bukhari stove of soldered iron burns sharp coils of dry desert grass and donkey dung, and belches out more smoke than heat.

What can Chori Khul do for her son, 40 days old and already wasted, other than swaddle him in a hand-me-down shirt festooned with coins and two quilt coats that her other five children wore when they were infants? She squats by Mohammad Zakrullah, reaches inside her blue-and-white dress, and pulls out her right breast. Barren. No milk at all. Sucked dry by the gruel of life in the desert, by days of dividing up pittances of rice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner among her family of eight, who share the single room in a house raised with mud.

In Oqa, Chori Khul’s village of some 40 low houses that gape doorless at the endless desert of northern Balkh province, few have heard of the billions of dollars of international aid that has poured into Afghanistan in the decade since the U.S.-led invasion. Just as well. The money has made little difference in the lives of Afghanistan’s children, who continue to die at the second-highest rate in the world: Fourteen every half hour, largely from preventable causes such as acute malnutrition, of which Afghanistan has one of the highest rates in the world. Health care officials in Balkh province—population 2 million—estimate that levels of acute malnutrition among the children here range between 7 and 10 percent. This means that as many as 40,000 children in Balkh, mostly infants and toddlers, are teetering, like Mohammad Zakrullah, between life in destitution and death from hunger.

A few women, Chori Khul’s neighbors, cram into the room to nod at little Mohammed Zakrullah in a kind of unsurprised resignation. The room smells of urine, dust, manure, and straw. It smells of the acrid smoke from the bukhari and of the opium smoked here—a traditional pastime in this part of Afghanistan, where the narcotic is smoked and drunk with tea as a cure for hunger, the common cold, muscle aches, stomach cramps, and woe. I ask the women if they have seen babies this malnourished in Oqa before.

Oh, yes, yes, they nod. All our babies look like that.

How much weight has Mohammad Zakrullah lost since he was born? His mother shrugs. No one in Oqa owns a scale.

Even if Mohammad Zakrullah pulls through, a centuries-old lifestyle and modern wartime laws already have scripted his life in this village. As a boy, he will collect tumbleweed under an agonizing sun for sale as firewood in Zadyan. As a man, he will draw murky water by rope out of an open well 75 feet deep. He will never have enough to eat, and his wife will grow old by her second child. He will smoke opium to take his mind off his hardship. But current statistics suggest that his hardship will not last very long: Despite international promises of aid and prosperity, the average life expectancy of Afghan men and women remains 44 years.

Video: Ivory Coast crisis hits cocoa economy

From Al Jazeera, a video about Cote d'Ivoire cocoa farmers who are caught in-between the political impasse.

Kenyan Health Minister travels to the US for cancer treatment

Kenya's Health Minister created quite a controversy for himself when he flew to the United States to seek treatment for cancer. Because Professor Anyang Nyong'o is a government minister he has the luxury to go overseas to get the best treatment. It is a luxury that very few Kenyans can enjoy and a lack of a political will to fully fund health care may be partly to blame.

From the Inter Press Service, writer Miriam Gathigah describes how politicians throughout Africa have failed to fulfill commitments for health care budgets.

Nyong’o himself has admitted that most Kenyans battling diseases such as cancer have very few choices in as far as access to treatment is concerned. Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi is the only public hospital with the facilities - although poor - that can diagnose and treat cancer.

According to the hospital, the cancer waiting list is stretched to September 2011.

Health Budget Decreases

In June last year, the national budget was estimated at 12.5 billion dollars, the largest in the history of the country.

Despite a significant increase over the previous year for the health sector, the share of the budget fell.

Ten years after African Union (AU) member states agreed to spend 15 percent of national budgets on health in the Abuja Declaration, the pledge remains largely unmet by most African countries, with the exception of Botswana and the Seychelles.

Yet the Abuja Declaration remains one of the most vital signs of commitment African leaders can make towards health.

"In this regard, the national budgetary allocation becomes a key indicator of strides that the government is making towards improving the health sector," explains Pauline Amollo, a policy analyst and consultant in Nairobi.

The proportion allocated to the health sector for the current financial year stands at 6.5 percent, down from 7 percent in the previous financial year.

"The national budget is a significant indicator of how public policy is to be implemented and what the government of the day deems to be of national priority," adds Amollo.

"The fact that Kenya is yet to achieve even half of the expected 15 percent allocation of the budget to the health sector is a clear indicator that the sector (health) is yet to be treated with the seriousness it deserves."

NTV Kenya had this story of Professor Anyang Nyong'o returning to Kenya from his treatment in the US.

Out of Libya into joblessness

From IRIN, a story on Egyptians fleeing Libya to find that there are no jobs back home.

When violent unrest erupted in Libya recently, Ahmed al-Agouz, 25, was doing casual work in the Libyan city of Sabha. Realizing he had to flee, he managed to reach the Tunisian border, where he eventually boarded a plane to Cairo. “Coming back to Egypt was a dream, given the horrific things I saw on the road,” he told IRIN. “I can only describe the experience as a sickening thriller.”

But returning to his home village in the Egyptian Nile Delta Governorate of Sharqia, north of Cairo, has made one thing abundantly clear to al-Agouz and tens of thousands of other returnees: There simply are no jobs back home.

According to Abdurrahman Kheir, an expert with the Egyptian Labour Union, the returnees will find it extremely difficult to get jobs. “This means they will descend into poverty and unemployment... The economy will fail to offer these people jobs, at least in the near future.”

Since the 18-day protest which forced President Hosni Mubarak out of office on 11 February, hundreds of thousands of workers, especially in the tourism and construction sectors, have yet to resume work.

The protests in Libya, which started on 14 February, and subsequent widespread violence and fighting, have led hundreds of thousands of migrant workers - including over 68,000 Egyptians, according to the UN Refugee Agency - to flee the country.

“I didn’t even manage to bring back all the clothes I had in the wardrobe with me,” he said. “I know it’s impossible to find a job here. My neighbours are all unemployed.”

A few days ago, 27-year-old carpenter Mohamed Abdel Khaliq committed suicide at his home in the Nile Delta Governorate of Monofiya, after thugs apparently robbed him of his belongings on his way back home.

Aliaa al-Mahdy, a leading economist at Cairo University, told IRIN the current Egyptian government needed to tackle the budget deficit and encourage job creation through small businesses. “The government can encourage these projects by just telling small investors they’ll have tax exemptions,” he said. “The government can offer many other incentives to lure investors back.”

Meanwhile, 28-year-old returnee Mohamed Ahmed Bassiouny, who worked as a house painter in Libya, hopes the government will do something. When he came back he discovered the construction sector had ground to a halt. Now he fears for the future of his wife and three children. “There are no new buildings, and few people are ready to spend the little money they have on getting their apartments painted,” Bassiouny said. “Where will I work then?”

Spending cash in increase safety in Afghanistan

The US military is spending over $500,000 every ten days on on one rural community in Afghanistan. The money goes to grants, road improvements and employing young men with militia jobs.

The US says that they spend this money to prevent people from joining the Taliban out of despair over their poverty. However, development experts say that this practice does not do much to develop the economy but instead buys influence for the military.

From the Economist, we read more about how the military doles out the money.

HAD Patrick Lavoie strolled down the main bazaar in Marja a year ago, locals would have greeted him with sniper fire and roadside bombs. Today the American marine captain only has to step out of his base to be overwhelmed by turbaned men anxious to be his best friend.

All along the main road they try to catch his eye and beg him for money to spruce up their shops. As part of his campaign to smarten up the market, which is not especially shabby, Mr Lavoie is happy to oblige. But they must follow his rules, including putting up signs above their shop. Many are in dodgy English, in a town where few can even read Pushtu. One ten-minute conversation with some vegetable-sellers ends with Mr Lavoie agreeing to give them over $8,000 to fix up their stalls. “I’m like Santa Claus!” he says.

With their programme of small grants, goodies such as a surfaced road and street lighting, and a policy of putting many of the district’s “fighting-age” males on the payroll of a rash of new defence militias, the marines are spending $500,000 every ten days in a poor rural community of 250,000. The people have known only predatory government or Taliban rule.

It is the sort of splurge that horrifies development experts. They say it distorts the local economy and undermines longstanding if less lavish efforts to create a workable local government. Meanwhile, cynics who have seen this kind of thing before repeat the old saw that you can rent an Afghan, but you can’t buy him.

Yet nothing seems to get in the way of America’s big-money, industrial-strength counterinsurgency effort under way in Marja. The district, in a farm belt in the south-central province of Helmand, has become a test for the United States since President Barack Obama’s approval of a troop “surge” in Afghanistan. A year ago, when the launch of Operation Moshtarak marked the start of a new strategy against the Taliban, American generals ramped up expectations of a swift victory in Marja, followed by the installation of a “government in a box”. Neither happened. Stanley McChrystal, then the commander of American forces in Afghanistan, soon fretted that the place had become his “bleeding ulcer”.

Marines insist things are looking up at last. A senior officer claims that Marja is now “safer than Detroit”. The new, go-ahead district governor says he can drive all the way back to his family home in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah in an unarmoured car. In another encouraging sign, 1,100 residents turned up to register for a district council election of sorts which a British provincial-reconstruction team is promoting.

Video: IDP resettlement in Kenya

From NTV Kenya, a controversy about resettling displaced people. Refugees refuse to live in houses that were built for them by the Kenyan government.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

More shootings on peaceful protesters in Cote d'Ivoire

Protesters in Cote d'Ivoire continue to be fired upon by government security forces. Four women were shot dead as thousands of women marched in what began as a peaceful protest. This follows an incident several days ago where eight people were shot dead.

Cote d'Ivoire remains at a political impasse because Laurent Gbagbo remains in power despite losing a recent election. The protesters are demanding that internationally recognized winner Alassane Ouattara be installed as the country's leader.

From Reuters Alert Net, reporters Media Coulibaly and Tim Cocks give us the latest from the Ivory Coast.

Ever since Gbagbo rejected U.N.-certified results showing he lost a November presidential election to Ouattara, supporters of the latter have seen their attempts at protest met with violent repression.

These ones initially appeared to go more peacefully, but were swiftly followed by outbreaks of gunfire.

In the downtown retail district of Treichville, witnesses said security forces fired on pro-Ouattara youths near a church, killing three young men and a 21-year-old women.

"It was a sit in. We prayed, some Muslims some Christians, then we went to St Jean church. Then we heard firing outside," said Helene Sommet, a Ouattara activist who helped evacuate the dead from the scene and take the wounded to a clinic.

"We took in 14 wounded. I'm at the clinic right now," she said by telephone, adding that she saw a truck with some of Gbagbo's elite Republican Security Company in the street.

There was no immediate comment from Gbagbo's military.

In Port Bouet, near Abidjan's airport, witnesses said about 50 pro-Gbagbo youths armed with AK47 assault rifles and machetes turned up to disperse 200 women who tried to march there.

"They fired into the air to disperse the women. They had weapons to intimidate them, but they didn't hurt anyone," said Bernard Aurega, a Ouattara party member who saw the march.