Friday, July 29, 2011

Monday marks the 40th anniversary of the Concert for Bangladesh

Monday marks the fortieth anniversary of the Concert for Bangladesh. Preceding Live Aid by almost 15 years, it marks the first time that a Rock n' Roll staged a massive charity concert. George Harrison forged a lot of new ground to get the concert up and running and later, getting all of the money raised to the people who it was intended for. Harrison's successes and failures were used by future Rock fund raisers  to learn from.

From the Guardian, music writer Graeme Thomson takes a look at how effective the concert was.

Rather than vanish, it expanded. The Concert for Bangladesh raised $243,000 overnight, and spawned a single (Harrison's typically literal Bangladesh, specially written for the occasion), as well as a triple album and a film. It has since raked in $17m for Unicef, funding projects not only in Bangladesh but in trouble spots from Angola to Romania, and is currently the focus of a Month of Giving in aid of the famine in the Horn of Africa. But not everything it achieved can be so easily measured. In paving the way for popular music to explore what Americans like to call its "better self", it still encapsulates much of what is perceived to be the best and worst about rock fundraising: a pile of money, heightened awareness for a clear cause, and a rich cultural and musical legacy on the plus side; confusion, mismanagement, excess and ego on the other.

Having hosted the concert with entirely honourable intentions, Harrison stumbled into what has become a perennial problem: getting the cash to the intended destination. "I don't know how much money actually reached where it should have gone, early on," Boyd says, recalling that Harrison believed that some of it "went walkabout".

"It was uncharted territory, the scale of it," says Jonathan Clyde, of Apple (the Beatles' company, not the tech company), who oversees the Concert's legacy, alongside Harrison's widow, Olivia. "The money did eventually reach Bangladesh, although perhaps not in time to help the refugees at that point. The big mistake was that Unicef wasn't chosen beforehand, and so the IRS [the US tax service] took the view that because the charity wasn't involved in the mounting of the concert, they'd take their cut. This distressed George hugely, it really angered him. There was an ongoing tussle for years, but I'm afraid even now the IRS still take their slice."

Many of these lessons have been learned by those seeking to replicate Harrison's pioneering work, but raising cash through making music remains oddly inefficient. "It's simply unavoidable that there will be costs which must be recovered," says Brendan Paddy, communications director at the Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC), which received half the £1.3m proceeds from Everybody Hurts, the charity single released last year in response to the Haitian earthquake. "It's a balance between keeping those costs down and making it happen quickly, and the public finds that difficult to understand and accept. If your single concern is that every penny of your donation goes to the cause, then you may well find a more efficient way of giving, but that's not really the point."

So what is the point? For all its problems, the Concert for Bangladesh resonated because it united those two lightning rods for 60s idealism – Dylan and, in the form of Harrison and Starr, the Beatles – at a time when music was still regarded as a counter-cultural force powerful enough to change the world. The result, Clyde says, "put Bangladesh on the map. For the generation involved in the war of liberation it meant a huge amount. It helped their independence become recognised."

The Concert for Bangladesh did more than simply raise money, it left a deep imprint on the times. So did Live Aid, partly because it was the first major music event given blanket TV coverage, but also because Geldof, born in 1951 and very much a child of 1968, the high watermark of pop and politics, understood the relationship between the two and how it could be harnessed. In an age of defined ideological divisions, framed by the 1984/85 miners' strike, Live Aid tapped into a desire among musicians to address social issues, and a willingness among audiences to accept that.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Non-traditional donors steeping up for Horn of Africa relief

Something unique is being seen in the donations coming in for Horn of Africa drought relief. Arab nations are stepping up to play a larger role in contributions. In the past they played a secondary role with smaller donations that the west. Their increase from Arab nations ise sorely needed as the EU and US are unable to help as much as they have before.

From the Guardian, the latest commentary from Jeffery Sachs takes a look at some of the economic factors behind the donations.

The "traditional donors", including the US and the EU, have fallen far short of promises they made at the G8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy, in 2009 to assist smallholder farmers, including pastoralists. Both the US and the EU are in a deep political and financial crisis, meaning that neither is likely to step forward with the scale of emergency and long-term aid to the Horn of Africa that they should normally be expected to fulfill.

In this situation, it is heartening that the Gulf countries, including members of the GCC, have demonstrated a readiness to step up their assistance to the Horn of Africa, just across the Red Sea. These countries are experiencing an impressive rise in export earnings this year, giving them the opportunity to scale up their regional and global leadership as well. The Islamic Development Bank, the leading financing institution of the 57 countries of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC), has also shown impressive and inspiring dynamism as well as a commitment to the countries in crisis in the Horn of Africa.

New donors, in short, are stepping forward to help fill the urgent needs of the Horn of Africa. Time is extremely short and the needs are great. Generosity and speed are of the essence.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

G-20 food ministers attend emergency meeting on the Horn of Africa

France called for an emergency meeting of food and agriculture ministers to discuss the drought in the Horn of Africa. Minsters of the G-20 nations met in Rome to talk about how to best combat the crisis and drum up some more pledges of support.

From the BBC, we find out more about what went on at the meting.

The meeting of ministers from the G20 nations at the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation headquarters in Rome was requested by France, the current chair of the G20 group of powerful economies.

"Our meeting is a question of life or death for tens of thousands of people," Mr Le Maire said at the start of the meeting, AFP reports.

Bob Geldof and other celebrity activists are urging the international community to come up with more cash.

They accuse some countries - Italy, France, the Arab states and Germany - of contributing too little in proportion to their national wealth.
Ethiopia safety-net

Mr Le Maire told the BBC said the first aim of the meeting was to co-ordinate the aid and response to the crisis.

"The second goal is also to think about the future and the long-term perspective because what we see here in Africa is that people need to have their own food and to have their own agriculture," he said.

BBC Africa analyst Martin Plaut says many people at the heart of the current disaster - in Ethiopia - have emerged relatively unscathed.

This is because the government in Addis Ababa has such an extensive safety net in place, he says.

Another unresolved crisis: the Pakistan flooding

The floods in Pakistan last year destroyed over 1.5 million homes. A great percentage of the flooding victims are still homeless to this day. Aid organizations have been hampered in their efforts because of spy wars between the US and Pakistan. The wars have escalated since the death of Osama Bin Laden as Pakistan tries to stop any CIA activity in the country.

From the Guardian. writer Declan Walsh describes another long past crisis that remains unresolved.

With millions of flood victims still in urgent need of aid, western charities say their efforts are being hit by the fallout from Osama bin Laden's death as the government hunts for CIA spies. Stringent visa regulations and restrictions on movement by the military are causing long delays, increasing costs and affecting the delivery of aid to areas hit by floods and the conflict with the Taliban.

Last month a young American aid worker with Catholic Relief Services was brought to court for visa irregularities, imprisoned for nine days, then deported. British agencies say their staff have fallen under the microscope of Pakistan's spy service, the ISI, with officials visiting field offices and introducing restrictions on travel.

"We've seen gradual restrictions on movement and longer processing time for visas," said a spokesman for the Pakistan Humanitarian Forum, which represents 40 aid groups.

The crackdown started after CIA agent Raymond Davis shot and killed two Pakistanis in Lahore last January, and intensified after the killing of Bin Laden in Abbottabad on 2 May.

Aid workers in Sukkur, a southern city at the heart of flood relief efforts, started to complain of regular visits from intelligence officers and police. In Jacobabad, location of a sensitive airbase, agencies were told that visiting certain areas now required a "no objection certificate" – an official letter of permission.

"The authorities have started paying more attention to who is in the country and what they are doing," said Michael O'Brien of the Red Cross.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The donations are running low in Haiti

A year and a half has now passed since the Haiti earthquake. All of money pledged immediately after the quake is starting to run low. But there is still a lot of work to be done on the streets of Port au Prince.

From the Inter Press Service, writer Thalif Deen unpacks a UN report that examines all of the donations and how much is left to spend.

"The amount of debris still littering the streets could fill 8,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools," the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) said in a study released here.

Most of the rubble is still clogging the capital, Port-au-Prince, preventing people from moving back to their homes, resuming their lives and allowing the recovery process to truly take hold in Haiti's capital city.

The estimated cost of rebuilding Haiti is a hefty 11.5 billion dollars "and the organisations working in the country need continuous support," says UNDP.

In March 2010, U.N. member states pledged more than nine billion dollars to rebuild the country, including 5.3 billion for 2010-2011. Just 352 million dollars have been delivered to the Haiti Reconstruction Fund to date, with 237 million of that sum disbursed for 14 reconstruction projects, according to the fund's first annual report released on Jul. 22.

At least 600,000 people still live in tent camps, and more than 5,500 have died from the cholera epidemic that broke out last October.

Reconstruction efforts in Haiti are being led not only by donors from rich and poor nations but also by international organisations, including the United Nations, the World Bank, the European Union, the Inter-American Development Bank and IBSA, the coalition of three emerging nations in the developing world: India, Brazil and South Africa.

Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri of India, an active member of IBSA, told IPS his country had made a "modest contribution" of five million dollars in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake followed by 500,000 dollars to the U.N.'s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).

"We have also pledged to reconstruct one of the government ministries to be identified by the government of Haiti," he added.

Additionally, IBSA is planning to expand its joint Trust Fund waste management project to provide other basic amenities, such as shelter, drinking water and sanitation.

Currently, the three countries are spending over two million dollars in this effort, and also in the reconstruction of a community health centre in Haiti.

Why little effort goes into preventing the next crisis

We are seeing many comments today on prevention efforts for drought/famine with the news focused on the current crisis in the Horn of Africa. Weather patterns that occurred months ago predicted that this drought would happen. When the Horn of Africa began to dry up, none of the aid we are seeing pledged now moved into help. If climate change continues, another drought could occur in the region in a couple of years. We could see a repeat of everything we are seeing now shortly unless some money is put into prevention as well as emergency food.

Below is a round up on some of the prevention commentary. First, from the Guardian, columnist John Vidal talks about the repeting cycle the Horn of Africa seems to be trapped in.

Nor was the crisis unexpected. The rains failed early this year in Kenya and Ethiopia, and there has been next to none for two years now in Somalia. Aid agencies and governments have known for almost a year that food would run out by now. But it is only now, when the children begin to die and the cattle have been sold or died that the global humanitarian machine has moved in, with its TV shows, co-ordinated appeals and celebrities. Why did it not go earlier? Because it takes months to prepare properly for a disaster.

Just as in 2008, the war in Somalia is primarily responsible for the worst that is happening. As Simon Levine of the Overseas Development Institute says: "Wars don't kill many people directly but can kill millions through the way they render them totally vulnerable to the kinds of problems they should be able to cope with." In this case, he says, people have lost all their assets and can't access grazing grounds they need. But remember too, that Somalia has been made a war zone by the US-led "war on terror". It's our fault as much as anyone's.

But another, more insidious war has also been taking place across the region. This one is being waged by governments and businesses against the pastoralists. Over the years, they have been steadily marginalised and discriminated against by Ugandan, Kenyan and Ethiopian governments, and now they are further jeopardised by large-scale farming, the expansion of national parks, and game reserves and conservation.

For the politicians in Kampala, Nairobi or Addis, the lifestyle of these people seems archaic and outmoded. They are said to be outside mainstream national development, and to be pursuing a way of life that is in crisis and decline. So the politicians think little of taking away their dry season grazing grounds or blocking their traditional routes to pasture land. However, as seen in major international studies, the pastoralists produce more and better quality meat and generate more cash per hectare than "modern" Australian and US ranches.

Instead of starving the region's people of funds and then picking up the pieces in the bad years – as governments must do now – Britain, the EU, the US and Japan must help people adapt to the hotter, drier conditions they face. With better pumps and boreholes, better vaccination of cattle, help with education, food storage and transport, people can live well again.

The facts are that people donate money when they see suffering on TV. They don't donate money when someone tells them that there hasn't been enough rain lately. NGOs and governments fall into the same trap, they move into action in times of crisis, not during times of preparation. Reuters Alert Net reporters George Obulutsa and Katy Migiro, touch on why charities and governments do little towards development that could prevent the next disaster.

"We have to invest much more in countries that are vulnerable to drought," said the European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, Kristalina Georgieva.

"Droughts are going to come again and again."

In the northern district of Moyale, child malnutrition rates are half those of neighbouring districts thanks to investment in drought preparedness, Georgieva said.

At a cost of $20, it is ten times cheaper to identify and treat children who are at risk of malnutrition before they reach a critical state than to pay for life-saving therapeutic care.

"Prevention is not sexy. This is fundamentally what the problem is," she said.

"If out of this drought, we come with a commitment to look into the long term structural factors --if we are brave enough to talk about population growth, if we are brave enough to talk about adaptation to climate change -- then the people who are dying are not dying for nothing."

Finally, the Science and Development Network has an editorial that includes a host of links to stories they did months ago that pointed to the future disaster. We won't include a snippet here but suggest you read it at the following link.

Pad distribution program in Kenya

In a very conservative country like Kenya, even menstruation can prevent young girls from going to school. Especially if the girl comes from a poor family and cannot afford pads. Once class mates find out, they ridicule the girls to the point where they become emotionally scared.

Kenya's government has introduced a new budget item to keep girls in school. Starting this year, a four million dollar program will distribute pads to young school girls. From the Inter Press Service writer, Miriam Gathigah describes how women in the legislature put this on the government's agenda.

In their persistent lobbying, the women parliamentarians brought to the fore a problem that could have continued to hinder the education of young girls. Thirteen-year-old Dorothy Akinyi, a standard seven pupil from Kibera, which is arguably the largest slum in Africa, stays at home every time she menstruates.

"Without sanitary pads life at school is difficult. We are subjected to very embarrassing and humiliating incidences, especially from the boys. Tying a pullover around your waist to hide the soiled patch behind your uniform in case the tissue leaks is a dead giveaway. We choose to stay at home," explains Akinyi. But the situation is bound to change for Akinyi and other girls like her. But only if the money allocated for the sanitary wear is spent efficiently.

"This is gender responsive budgeting at work. Being sensitive to the distinctive needs of men and women, while allocating and spending public funds," explains Jacinta Nyachae, executive director of Kenya Aids Law Project and an advocate of human rights.

Her comments come just as Rwanda prepares to host a global high level meeting on increasing accountability and developing effectiveness through gender responsive budgeting in Kigali from 26 to 28 Jul. The meeting is held in conjunction with the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and the European Union.

But girls are not the only ones to have benefitted from a gender sensitive strategy. In a move that has seen women break socio-political economic barriers, the planning and budgeting for the establishment of the ministry of gender and children affairs remains government’s strongest show of its commitment to address gender inequality.

"But gender planning and budgeting is not enough, the rampant corruption across various government ministries is a clear indication that there’s need for tracking and monitoring how these funds are used," explains a source from the G-10 alliance, which is a coalition of women organisations fighting for women’s rights.

UN asks for another billion dollars for drought relief

The United Nations is asking for another billion dollars from its member countries to aid the drought in the Horn of Africa. The United States has so far given 28 million dollars for the humanitarian emergency.

From the Guardian, this Associated Press article details the plea for money from the UN.

More than 11 million people are estimated to need help in Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and South Sudan and particularly Somalia, which the UN World Food Programme executive director, Josette Sheeran, called the "epicentre of the famine".

Some mothers have had to make the "horrifying choice of saving the strongest" of their children while leaving the weakest behind to die as starving families make the long, desperate trek from Somalia to refugee camps across borders in search of food aid, said Sheeran.

Lady Amos, the UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said just under $1bn had been received from donors but "we need another billion".

Monday, July 25, 2011

Video: 'Worst drought in decades' hits Kenya

From Reuters Alert Net, this video gives us a summary of the events surrounding the drought in Kenya and Somalia.

IFAD says lack of ag investment contributes to high food prices

Food prices increased again in the month June. Many factors are blamed for the record high food prices such as climate change and biofuels. The United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development says today that a lack of investment in agriculture is also to blame.

From Bloomberg, writer Sungwoo Park relays the assessment from the IFAD.

“We are just depleting our stocks and now we have this high population growth,” Kanayo F Nwanze, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, said in an interview. “Prices won’t come down overnight. They are going to stay high for some time to come.”

Global food costs tracked by the United Nations increased in June for the 10th time in the past 12 months, staying near a record on higher rice, sugar and dairy prices, while meat reached an all-time high. Aid to agriculture dropped to 4.3 percent of total assistance in 2008 from 18 percent in 1979, according to IFAD data.

“Food price crisis, food price hikes or food price volatility is not just a simple consequence of shortage of food because of weather conditions and climate change,” Nwanze said in an interview on July 22 in Seoul. “A primary cause is we’ve disinvested in agriculture over decades.”

Nwanze has urged the global community for more investments in rural development to help meet growing food demand led by emerging economies including China, India and Brazil. The 165- member nation agency works to combat rural poverty and hunger by providing low-interest loans and grants to developing countries.

Misery continues at famine relief camps

A mass of misery is begging to collect at the refugee tent camps outside of the Somalia border. People are fleeing the famine-stricken and war-torn areas of Somalia hoping to find some relief at the camps. Overwhelmed with the amount of people arriving each day, aid and food distributions have been slow. The people who traveled far for relief and then have to wait longer once they arrive are beginning to get frustrated.

From the Guardian, writer Matteo Fagotto reports from one of the camps.

Several hundred people have gathered at the registration point at Daghaley, one of three refugee camps around Dadaab. The family-run businesses of these small farmers and cattle herders from Somalia have been wiped out by the worst drought in the Horn of Africa for 60 years. They patiently wait to be registered by agents of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Most came here after weeks on foot in the desert, unable to afford any transport. They walked for days at the mercy of bandits in the porous border area between Somalia and Kenya.

This year alone, more than 100,000 Somalis have fled from the lack of rain in their country to shelter in what has become the biggest refugee camp complex in the world. They are escaping a war zone. The Islamic militants of al-Shabab, who control much of the country outside the capital, Mogadishu, and are fighting an insurgency against the transitional federal government, have vowed to keep most international aid workers away, despite the situation.

The UN warns that 800,000 children could die from starvation, and last week declared a famine in some parts of the country. For thousands of desperate Somalis, the only solution has been a long march in the hope of reaching refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia.

Set up at the start of the 1990s for victims of the Somali civil war and designed for a refugee population of 90,000 people, Dadaab, some 60 miles over the border in Kenya, now hosts more than 380,000 refugees. According to Doctors Without Borders, the number could reach 450,000 by the end of the year. As more arrive every day, the camps are becoming appallingly overcrowded. Delivery of food has become erratic.

Tensions and frustrations have begun to spill over. Yesterday, angry young men stoned the UNHCR compound in Daghaley, enraged by the endless waiting and their place at the back of the queue. Many come every day, only to be told to return next morning. Given the enormous demands on resources, people are screened according to their vulnerability. Families with more than eight members and with old people are prioritised, said social worker Aden Sirat Olow, who works in the UNHCR centre in Daghaley. "They are first fed, then given food items, blankets and a tent. Single men and young people have to wait more because their cases are not as serious. We are registering more than 1,000 people a day in this camp alone."

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Video: UN to airlift food to famine-hit Somalia

From the Guardian, this video depicts the start of United Nations food aid operations in famine struck Somalia.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Why a lower-middle state is still really low

A big problem with international aid is that the classifications for countries do little to reflect the reality with their boundaries.

The World Bank classifies countries from low to hi income. Once a country graduates from low to "lower -middle" they no longer qualify for some of the grants and no-interest loans provided by the bank.

Increasingly, the countries in the "lower-middle" category have horrible governments or is just a failed state. That means that the government doesn't have much control or provides very little service for their people, sometimes the government doesn't care about the people at all. This type of country contains an ever growing number of people in poverty. They also have more wars and armed conflict than any other category..

From the Economist, we find out more about how the classifications fall short.

Why should it matter that a group of countries has crossed some arbitrary line separating poor from middle-income status? Perhaps, some may say, it shows that state failure is an extremely elastic term, embracing both countries in total collapse (Somalia, Chad) and those which merely contain large ungoverned spaces. In fact, the emergence of a group of middle-income but failed or fragile states is more than a curiosity. The group—call them MIFFs—includes countries crucial to the future of west Africa and South Asia. The new state of South Sudan (see picture), which combines oil wealth with instability and underdevelopment, will surely join its ranks.

The group matters for several reasons. Although its members may be semi-prosperous when measured by income per person, they contain a large and rising share of very poor people. Geoffrey Gertz and Laurence Chandy of the Brookings Institution, a Washington, DC, think-tank, calculate* that MIFF countries account for roughly 180m of the world’s neediest people (those living on less than $1 a day). That is 17% of the total number of the world’s poorest—more than the 10% who live in poor but stable countries. Anybody concerned with alleviating world poverty must reckon with the MIFFs.

The category has also grown fast. Failed states were once poor almost by definition. The World Bank’s fund for helping fragile states is called the Low-Income Country Under Stress fund; once countries stop being low-income, they no longer qualify as “under stress”, even if they are. In 2005, MIFF countries contained fewer than 15m people living on less than $1 a day, not even 1% of the world’s poorest. Since then, the group has expanded mostly because once-poor states have grown richer, but no more functional. It is rarer to find a middle-income state in which law and order once existed but later failed.

And that points to one broad lesson from the emergence of this new group. Indigent places are often racked by chaos; but somewhat better-off ones are not necessarily more stable. This year’s World Development Report (WDR)** showed that violence plays a greater role than once thought in keeping countries poor. Yet countries do escape poverty, and do not always grow more peaceable in the process.

Al-Shabab now denies lifting aid ban for Somalia

A spokesperson for the al-Shabab militant group says they are still banning any aid groups from entering famine stricken Somalia. The spokesperson was interviewed on a local radio station and denied that they have lifted the ban. Al-Shabab is even going as far as to say that there was no famine in the region.

From the Guardian, writer Xan Rice tells us about the denial.

The rebel group al-Shabab, which controls much of southern Somalia, had said earlier this month that it would allow all humanitarian groups access to assist with the drought response. But al-Shabab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage has told a local radio station that the ban on specific aid agencies, which was imposed in 2009 and 2010, still stands. At the time, the rebels accused various humanitarian groups, including the UN's World Food Programme (WFP), which is expected to lead the current drought response, of damaging the local economy, being anti-Muslim, and of spying for the government.

"Those earlier banned groups are not welcome to serve in our area of control," Rage said on Friday.

Successive poor rainy seasons have caused a hunger crisis across the Horn of Africa, where 11 million people urgently need food aid. The situation is most acute in Somalia due to the ongoing conflict between pro-government forces and the al-Shabab rebels, as well as the Islamists' mistrust of outside help. The UN this week declared famine in two regions, Lower Shabelle and Bakool, which are both largely under the insurgents' control.

In a media briefing on Thursday evening in Mogadishu, Rage accused the UN of ulterior motives, and said that there was no famine.

"We say [the UN declaration] is totally, 100% wrong and baseless propaganda. Yes there is drought, but the conditions are not as bad as they say. They have another objective and it wouldn't surprise us if they were politicising the situation."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

OXFAM says early warnings were ignored in Somalia famine

OXFAM says there were some early warning signs that could have prevented the massive loss of life happening now in Somalia. OXFAM spokesperson Anna Ridout does also put a lot of the blame on the el Shabaab militia group that blocked aid from arriving in the famine's early stages.

From the Inter Press Service, writer Isaiah Esipisu gives us OXFAM's view of the humanitarian crisis.
"The situation would not have been this bad if there was emergency response for prevention, despite the conflicts in the country," said Anna Ridout, Oxfam’s spokesperson.

"There has been a catastrophic breakdown of the world's collective responsibility to act. 3,500 people a day are fleeing Somalia and arriving in parts of Ethiopia and Kenya that are suffering one of the driest years in six decades. Food, water and emergency aid are desperately needed. By the time the U.N. calls it a famine it is already a signal of large scale loss of life," Oxfam said.

The organisation said that emergency aid was vital now to avoid people dying in massive numbers.

"Whenever there is an indicator of such a disaster, we must not only sit and wait for the emergency response. We can conveniently invest the funds by putting irrigation systems in place, vaccinating people, especially children, against anticipated diseases, and creating proper infrastructure to be used in case there is need for food supply," said Ridout.

Speaking from the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, Ridout said that refugees arrive daily and in huge numbers from Somalia. Nearly all the children are malnourished and women are weak and wasted after trekking for days in search of water, food and a chance to live.

"They tell of horrible experiences of children who died along the way, and even adults who drop along the way because they cannot make it to refugee camps, mostly in Kenya or Ethiopia," she said.

Video: Somalia famine

From the Guardian, this video contains an interview with Rajiv Shah, the director of USAid on the famine in Somalia.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Somali children suffer famine now, but suffer war always

Children are facing death in Somalia now because of the famine gripping the country. Amnesty International reminds us today that  danger is not new for those children. In the war that continuously wages in the country, children are often recruited to fight on the front-lines.

From Reuters Alert Net, writer Katie Nguyen relays the statement from Amnesty.

"As a child in Somalia, you risk death all the time: you can be killed, recruited and sent to the frontline, punished by al Shabaab because you are caught listening to music or 'wearing the wrong clothes', be forced to fend for yourself because you have lost your parents or even die because you don't have access to adequate medical care," Michelle Kagari, Amnesty's deputy director for Africa, said in a statement.

"This is a never-ending conflict where children are experiencing unimaginable horrors on a daily basis," she added. "They risk becoming a lost generation if the world continues to ignore the war crimes affecting so many of them."

Amnesty blamed both government forces and Islamist groups for recruiting child soldiers, a practice that has increased since fighting escalated in 2006.

Fear of recruitment was increasingly being cited by Somali refugees as a reason for fleeing the country, according to the report which is based on interviews with refugees in Kenya and Djibouti in 2009 and in Kenya in 2010 – before drought in Somalia reached emergency levels.

It said al Shabaab were sending children to recruit other children to its ranks, as well as luring them with promises of phones and money. The group were also using threats, raids on schools and abductions to bolster their numbers.

Children were also being trained to handle firearms, grenades and improvised explosive devices, Amnesty said.

"We either burn charcoal or die of starvation"

From IRIN, a story about one family who is struggling through the drought and livestock theft.

Veronica Erupe has lived in the village of Manyatta Chokaa, along the Isiolo-Samburu district border in northern Kenya, since 2008 when she fled drought and frequent livestock rustling at her Baragoi home, 600km away.

Erupe, a single mother of four, told IRIN how losing the family's livestock had forced her to flee her home and pushed her into a life of poverty selling charcoal.

"I was not born here; my family came to this village from Baragoi to escape the terror of bandits. It’s a miracle that we survived [so] many raids. The final raid, during which our 50 remaining goats were stolen, left us poor.

"It is sad that drought and livestock rustling uprooted us from our home. Baragoi was a place I loved; I had many friends [there].

"I still remember the journey; it took us eight days to reach here [Manyatta Chokaa].

"Life since 2008 has been full of hardships for me and my children; my husband quit the marriage.

"I have been relying on selling charcoal since my arrival here. It provided the first meal for my family and helped construct this house. I could buy food, paraffin and clothes.

"But now, life is expensive and it's difficult for charcoal traders to afford food and items like soap.

"[Recently], the population at our village and other settlements like it - Eremit, Attan, Manyatta Zebra and Ngaremara - has doubled with hundreds of desperate families, who have lost their animals to prolonged drought and cattle rustling.

"This village is now full of former wealthy livestock owners, who are now selling charcoal in Isiolo, so the price of a sack of charcoal has dropped to KSh600 (US$6.67) from KSh1,000 ($11.11) in January.

"But the cost of maize flour, cooking oil, vegetables, paraffin and transport to Isiolo, where we go for treatment, has increased.

"I have tried to adjust, but it's still tough. My children no longer take a bath; I have not bought them clothes this year. I give them bone soup once a month as they were used to eating meat.

"We have to walk over 30km to get good trees to make charcoal but we risk meeting dangerous animals like elephants along the way. Some women and young girls have been attacked, injured and killed.

"It’s meaningless to work for KSh600 a week [but] we have no choice. We either burn charcoal or die of starvation.

"Manual work is no longer available as those who used to employ us to do house chores are also affected. Some girls are selling their bodies, and it’s risky with HIV/AIDS.

"We need assistance to settle, start small businesses. Our children need scholarships to pursue an education, and they need health facilities.

"We [charcoal sellers] are considered a nuisance, enemies to the environment and our charcoal is often confiscated. But we deserve to be assisted rather than condemned."

Famine declared for two regions of Somalia

The United Nations is now declaring the drought in the Horn of Africa has reached a famine stage for two states within Somalia. The hunger and malnutrition in Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions of Somalia is so bad that the crisis has been upgraded to a famine. The UN's official definition of famine is two deaths per 10,000 people with malnutrition reaching more than 30%.

From the Guardian, writer Mark Tran records the statement from the UN humanitarian coordinator Mark Bowden.

He warned: "If we don't act now, famine will spread to all eight regions of southern Somalia within two months, due to poor harvests and infectious disease outbreaks.

"We still do not have all the resources for food, clean water, shelter and health services to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of Somalis in desperate need."

He added that the lack of resources is alarming. "Every day of delay in assistance is literally a matter of life or death for children and their families in the famine-affected areas."

UN humanitarian agencies have welcomed the recent statement by al-Shabaab, Islamist insurgents affiliated to al-Qaida, requesting aid in southern Somalia, but said the inability of food agencies to work in the region since early 2010 has prevented the UN from reaching the very hungry – especially children – and has contributed to the current crisis. The Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions are understood to be controlled by al-Shabaab. The UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, said it was seeking further security guarantees from the rebel group that it can deliver greater amounts of assistance in the area to prevent more hungry people from becoming refugees.

The drought in east Africa has left an estimated 11 million people at risk, but Somalia has been the worst hit country as it is already wracked by decades of conflict. The most affected areas of Somalia are in the south, particularly the region of Lower Shabelle, Middle and Lower Juba, Bay, Bakool, Benadir, Gedo and Hiraan, where the UN says an estimated 310,000 now suffer from acute malnutrition.

The Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) said the crisis represented the most serious food insecurity situation in the world today, in terms of scale and severity.

"Current humanitarian response is inadequate to meet emergency needs," it said. "Assuming current levels of response, evidence suggests that famine across all regions of the south will occur in the coming one to two months. A massive multisectoral response is critical to prevent additional deaths and total livelihood/social collapse and, most immediately, interventions to improve food access and to address health/nutrition issues are needed."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

MSF gives an eyewitness account of East African drought

As the drought continues in the Horn of Africa medical professionals are seeing more and more patients each day. Sometimes the doctors just provide the patient food to ward of malnutrition Other patients might to weak to eat and will instead require to be fed through tubes.

The poeple suffering through the drought in Somalia also have the armed conflict in the region to contend with. The war prevents most aid and food from being delivered to the people.

From Médecins Sans Frontières, Dr. Hussein Sheikh Qassim gives an eyewitness account from an MSF field hospital.

“In Marere, the situation is extremely dire. This is the only hospital in this part of Somalia. There are not any other clinics, not even mobile clinics, anywhere near here. People are coming here from all over the country. Word spreads.

Recently, the numbers have gone through the roof. Even on our quiet days, we are seeing twice as many people as we did on busy days before the drought. The hospital is absolutely full of patients. Some are sick, others just need something to eat. The malnutrition ward is beyond full of young children, most of them too weak even to eat, so we have to feed them through tubes.

Some of these children had to walk for over 600 kilometers [360 miles] to get here because their parents couldn’t afford transport and were too weak to carry them on their backs. There is an ongoing civil war in many parts of the country, with some towns and villages changing hands on a daily basis. These are dangerous areas and it is not safe to travel. But still the people come.

Those who are lucky and are still on their feet are admitted as outpatients, 300 yesterday, 400 last Friday. But lots of children have to go straight to the inpatient feeding center. It’s only lunchtime, and we’ve already admitted 151 children today.

Flooding and mudslides kill 80 people in South Asia

The yearly monsoon rains are necessary for the South Asian rice crops. However, too much of the downpours at once can have deadly consequences. Nepal and India are now the site of the latest humanitarian crisis as monsoon rains have proved to be too much for their land. 80 people have been killed by monsoon triggered floods and landslides. Over 200,000 people have been forced to leave their homes.

From Reuters AlertNet, writer Biswajyoti Das gives us the details.

South Asia experiences monsoon rains from June to September, which are vital for its agriculture. But the rains frequently affect millions of people in countries like India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal - devastating crops, destroying homes and sparking outbreaks of diseases such as diarrhoea and dysentery.

Officials in India's northeast oil- and tea-rich state of Assam described the situation as "alarming". Two days of incessant rains have inundated hundreds of villages and forced residents to seek refuge on higher ground. Hundreds also remain stranded.

"Our priority now is to rescue marooned people. The situation is really bad and if the rain continues, people in affected areas will have a tough time," said a senior government official in Guwahati, Assam's main city.

The official, who declined to be named, said four people had died in Assam and around 200,000 had been displaced after more than 200 villages in the state's Lakhimpur and Dhemaji districts were submerged. Thousands of hectares of paddy crops are estimated to have been damaged.

Across the border in Nepal, officials said at least 73 people had been killed by landslides and floods, and another 25 were missing, since the start of the monsoon season last month. Around 750 people have been evacuated due to the threat of more landslides in Rukum district in the west of the Himalayan nation.

"Some of them are housed in tented camps and in schools while some people are staying with their relatives because of the danger to their houses from landslides," said home ministry official Bal Krishna Panthi.

Relief and rescue workers in Nepal said they were on alert and had started planting red flags along parts of the Kosi river to warn villagers of the potential flood threat.

The Kosi river in eastern Nepal remains a key concern for both India and Nepal after it broke its banks in 2008 and changed its course, submerging swathes of land and affecting more than two million people in the east Indian state of Bihar.

Re-creating the education system in South Sudan

During the Sudan civil war, many children from the south did not go to school. Children had to bravely leave their homeland to receive an education from the people that were fighting against them. Once there, the students would be discriminated against for their color and would even have their lives threatened. Now that the south is independent, a push is on to make education a priority for the new country.

From the Inter Press Service, writer Protus Onyango talks about the need to re-create an education system in South Sudan.

South Sudan has three generations of children who have never seen the inside of a classroom. According to Dr. Michael Hussein, the minister for general education, the education sector suffered most during the civil war.

"Teachers were neglected, salaries were not regular, there was no training and many fled the war-torn areas. As a result, three generations lost the opportunity to go to school," says the minister.

The issue of education in South Sudan is so critical that most leaders are calling on the youth to go back to school.

Lieutenant General Daniel Akot, the Deputy Speaker of the national assembly is calling on his colleagues to pass relevant laws that will make it possible for all South Sudanese children to access education. "We have won the war with our enemy. Now the real war of fighting poverty, ignorance and hunger has started. We can’t achieve this when our children don’t go to school," he says.

Hussein is urging the government to dedicate at least 20 percent of its national budget to his ministry. He said his ministry wants to build 6,000 primary and 3,000 secondary schools respectively.

"We have some areas that have 120 pupils per teacher, making learning impossible. One textbook is being shared among five pupils. We want to recruit many teachers, train more of them. We welcome those of our citizens who fled the country and (were educated) around the world to come back and bridge the big gap of a lack of personnel," says Hussein.

Hussein says that by the end of 2010, South Sudan had 169 pre-primary schools with 47,266 pupils and 1,249 teachers. There are 3,195 primary schools with 1.3 million pupils and 2,912 teachers. And there are 168 secondary schools with 34,487 students and three functional teacher-training colleges with 2,310 trainees.

But there remains about two million young South Sudanese who have not attended school, against an acute shortage of teachers. The government is working with its neighbours, like Kenya, to provide it with teachers. Kenya has over 70,000 unemployed trained teachers.

Uneven growth in India leaves one state in a food crisis

India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, yet that growth has been very uneven. One state within India is still going through a food crisis because of repeated droughts.

From the Guardian, writer Nilanjana Bhowmick talks about the state of hunger in Madhya Pradesh.

Bundelkhand lies mainly in Madhya Pradesh, the second largest state in India and the one that contains the greatest concentration of hungry people in the country. The Indian State Hunger Index released in 2008 placed Madhya Pradesh in the "extremely alarming" hunger category. The state is a glaring example of everything that is wrong with India's poverty elimination efforts.

Of the 118 countries on the global hunger index, India ranks 98th, with 214 million people going hungry. Millennium development goal 1, which looks to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger and provide food security by 2015, is miles off.

In 1993-94, 44.6% of people were living at below the poverty line in Madhya Pradesh. If MDG targets are to be met, that figure must go down to 22.3% by 2015. Yet, according to new poverty estimates produced by a government fact-finding commission, poverty in the state has increased by 4% to 48.6%. A survey by a local NGO revealed 83% of children are undernourished and most families go to bed on an empty stomach.

A key factor in India's plight has been the government's espousal of development at the cost of agriculture - the mainstay of people in the rural areas. Nationally, agriculture provides 67% of employment. In the last financial year, the Indian government provided around 500,000 crores (US$112bn) of subsidies and exemptions to the industrial and corporate sector, which contributes just 22% to the employment sector, while government expenditure on agriculture declined by 4.3%.

India's hunger problem has also been compounded by the high price of food over the last couple of years. A report on consumption patterns in rural India by the National Sample Survey Organisation shows a decline of 1.97%. In 2005-06, an average of 11.9kg of food grain was consumed per month, per family member, at a cost of 106 rupees ($2.38). In 2006-07, that figure came down to 11.69kg, with the cost of food increasing to 115 rupees ($2.58).

One such scheme is the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGA), which came into being in 2005. The scheme ensures rural people livelihood security by guaranteeing them 100 days of work every year. Under the terms of NREGA, every rural Indian has the right to work within 15 days of requesting it and without having to travel more than three miles outside their village.

Dreze, one of the chief architects of the programme, says that it provides employment to 50 million poor people every year, but he admits that the implementation has been faulty.

"NREGA is a pro-worker law implemented by an anti-worker system," he says. "One manifestation of this is the systematic resistance of the administration to any sort of accountability. All the accountability provisions - unemployment allowance, compensation for delayed payments, penalty clauses - have been sidelined. This defeats the purpose of the act."

Monday, July 18, 2011

Still seeking economic justice in Egypt

Protests and strikes are still a daily occurrence in Egypt. The revolution in the country was because of poverty. Even after Hosni Mubarak was forced out of leadership economic justice has not come fast enough. So employees for textile, public construction, medical and other industries organize and strike to demand working rights.

One strike caught the attention of Associated Press writer Ali Gomaa when it came with deadly results. From a story that we found at NPR, when frustrated textile workers took to the streets, a policeman urged a truck driver to clear the protesters out of the way.

After working at the factory for 24 years, Hawas earned about $1.40 a day, or $50 a month. It was hardly a living wage, although not unusual in a country where the World Bank estimates that more than 40 percent of the population lives near or under the poverty line of $2 a day.

Her husband, a school administrator who moonlights at a pharmacy, brought in about $190 a month. Their combined income, assuming Hawas actually got paid, was never enough to cover their expenses.

Rent alone ate up a third of Hawas' family income. Almost all the rest went to the $165 a month they paid for private tutoring for their children, a standard for Egyptian households because of the shoddy education system. Then there was food and transportation — just getting to and from work cost Hawas 40 cents every day.

She was a quiet, devout woman who fasted from dawn to dusk four months out of the year instead of the traditional one month. But she came home depressed and angry most days, according to her husband, dragged down by the oppressive conditions at work.

As the years passed, management extended workers' hours to nearly 12 a day, they said. Overtime was calculated at 10 piasters, about a penny, an hour. Friday remained an official holiday, but workers said they were told they would be fired if they didn't show up. They were promised 35 cents for that day of work, but the extra money, like the basic salary, often went unpaid, along with all bonuses from 2007 through 2011.

Over the years, the minister of manpower intervened, as did the central bank governor. But in Mubarak's Egypt, assurances that were extended with one hand were brushed aside with the other.

June 7 began like almost every other day. Hawas woke before sunrise to offer a simple prayer: "We rely on God." Then she made breakfast for her family.

Hawas headed out of her apartment, her hair tucked under a headscarf, and hopped on a minibus for the short ride to the factory. She punched her time card and joined about 100 colleagues in a fleet of taxis and minibuses that shuttled them from Talkha to the United Bank in nearby Mansoura.

The mood on the short drive was subdued, the workers determined. They decided to draw as much attention as they could in front of the bank, and tried to close off one side of the street.


But traffic was building up and horns — the soundtrack of Egypt's roads — began to blare.
A truck driver climbed out to see what the commotion was about, and a frustrated policeman directing traffic goaded him on.

"Run them over. The blood money for each one is 50 pounds ($8)," the policeman said, according to several factory workers who witnessed the scene.

The driver climbed back into the cab of his truck. The engine revved, once, then a second time. On the third time, the truck lurched forward.

Hawas turned to Eissa, who was standing near her, and said: "We'll get our rights."

Not long after that, the truck rammed into both of them.

Eissa was dragged under it for about 50 yards before the driver stopped. Her right ear was shorn off, and two fingers on her right hand were broken. The friction from the tarmac shredded the skin on her back and shoulders.

By the time Hawas reached the hospital, she was dead.

Half a million children "at risk" in Eastern Africa drought

From IRIN, an update on the drought in Eastern Africa.

At least 500,000 malnourished children in the Horn of Africa's drought-affected areas risk death if immediate help does not reach them, Anthony Lake, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) executive director, has said.

These are the children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, whose clinical signs include swelling in the feet, legs or face caused by an extreme shortage of protein.

"This crisis is likely to deepen over the coming six months or so," Lake told a news conference in Nairobi on 17 July at the end of a visit to the northwestern Turkana region and Dadaab - home to thousands of Somali refugees - in the northeast.

Lake said: "I talked to a mother who was feeding her child pounded palm nuts, with no nutritional value, moistened in her mouth as the local wells have become saline."

Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) rates of 37 percent have been recorded in Turkana. Malnutrition is described as severe acute or global acute. A GAM value of more than 10 percent generally signifies an emergency.

Across the Horn of Africa, at least 10.7 million people in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia need urgent humanitarian aid due to the drought, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

In Somalia, thousands are fleeing the country or heading to the capital, Mogadishu. An estimated 3,200 Somali refugees are crossing into Kenya and Ethiopia daily.


Justin Forsyth, chief executive of Save the Children UK, said: "Over the past few days, I've seen first-hand the enormous suffering the drought is causing in the Daadab refugee camp and across northern Kenya. Families I've met are absolutely desperate for food and water, and we know that the situation in Somalia is even worse."

Humanitarian actors have welcomed a recent statement by the Islamist opposition group in Somalia, Al-Shabab, allowing humanitarian access to south-central regions. Lake said this "will help us to ramp up support".

On 13 July, UNICEF airlifted emergency nutrition and water supplies to Baidoa, southern Somalia, the first time in more than two years, Lake said.

In Mogadishu, doctors with the African Union peacekeeping Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) are helping to tackle a measles outbreak at a camp for the drought-displaced. Some 9,300 people, who fled their homes in the central and southern regions, arrived in Mogadishu in June, according to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR.

Lt-Col Kaamurari Katwekyeire, head of AMISOM's Civil-Military Cooperation, said: "The need is great and we can only make small emergency interventions. We hope that humanitarian organizations will take advantage of the improved security situation to come to the aid of the Somali people."

In Kenya, communities neighbouring the refugee camps are complaining about the attention given to the Somali refugees when they are not faring any better.

Lake said: "They [the drought-affected] are suffering what is a perfect storm due to the drought, rising food prices, shortages of the food pipeline... these people live on the edge in any case. This is not just a question about lives being threatened but a way of life being threatened."

The drought has hit pastoral communities in the arid and semi-arid parts of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia the hardest [ ].

On 17 July, the UK’s international development secretary, Andrew Mitchell, pledged £52.25 million (US$84 million) in emergency aid for at least one million people in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia.

The aid is in addition to previous support for 1.36 million people in Ethiopia, announced on 3 July. The Ethiopian government launched an appeal on 11 July saying at least 4.56 million drought-affected people needed help.

The new UK funds are for programmes to prevent and treat malnutrition and improve care for refugees in the Daadab and Dolo Ado camps in Kenya and Ethiopia, respectively.

Mitchell called for more international engagement in the Horn of Africa crisis, saying there was a need to prevent a disaster turning into a catastrophe.

"It is a horrible thing in our world today that a baby should die due to a lack of food," he said.

Opinion: Social business should not avoid politics

Social business tries to bring business solutions to fix socials ills such as poverty, climate change or poor education. People get into social business because they believe the free market can help to solve the world's biggest problems. Sometimes they believe in the free market so strongly that they avoid any involvement with government even when the state might help to cause the social ill.

An opinion piece in today's New York Times warns that social business should not avoid government and politics all together. Writer Anand Firidharadas says that social businesspeople will need to bring their results oriented approach to politics.

Many social entrepreneurs treat power as something to work around. They can be clearer in articulating what they are for than in stating what they oppose, and why. They often take the holes of the system as a given and do their best to plug the leaks.

When I put that notion to Rebecca Onie, the chief executive of Health Leads, a social enterprise that trains college students to operate as social workers in U.S. clinics and hospitals, she pushed back and offered an explanation: Ideally, the government would fund the kind of social work she provides. It does not. Rather than fight the government, her group is making the “business case” for the usefulness of social workers, by demonstrating what works and collecting data on it.

Likewise, in poorer countries like India, social entrepreneurs address real needs — bringing solar lamps to villages, teaching women to weave shawls and connecting them to big-city markets. But the elites attracted to such projects are often less interested in combating the underlying structural problems. The villages need solar lamps because the government fails to bring electricity. The women must weave from home because their husbands forbid them to leave.

These problems are not inefficiencies in need of smoothing. They are fights in need of picking. But picking fights is rarely the social entrepreneur’s way.

In the United States, social entrepreneurs have flocked to education, which they say is the key to sustaining American competitiveness. But they have tended to work from the outside, building charter schools beyond the public system rather than taking on the hard but unavoidable politics of improving schools while easing thousands of ineffective teachers out.

When a member of their spreadsheet-wielding tribe, Michelle A. Rhee, actually got involved with politics, by becoming schools chancellor in Washington, she arguably cost the mayor an election and was just as quickly out of a job. That is perhaps why people stay away.

Leslie Crutchfield, the author of “Do More Than Give” and an expert on the field, suggested that activism was part of the learning curve for social enterprises. “Sometimes it takes a while for social entrepreneurs to recognize that such activism is required,” she told me. However, she added, once they do, the best of them are “relentlessly focused on changing the underlying system while also trying to alleviate symptoms.”

Muhammad Yunus hopes to still do something for Bangladesh

Muhammad Yunus may have been ousted from the Grameen Bank but he is still keeping busy. Yunus still works to promote social business throughout the world including the launch of new institutes in Glasgow and Paris. His heart still is in Bangladesh as he seeks to still develop new social businesses for that country to help alleviate poverty.

The Guardian was able to obtain an interview with Yunus, one of the very few he has given since being ousted from his Grameen Bank by the government of Bangladesh. Writer Madeleine Bunting says that Yunus is still trying to be graceful even though he doesn't understand why the government started a smear campaign against him.
"I'm not hurt by the vilification in the press; I'm disappointed and I'm worried. I don't want to see an organisation which has come all this way and brought so much good to the country and brought power to the people, come to this. Many people are angry but anger doesn't solve anything," he says.

"I want to calm things down. If we are prepared, we can do damage control."

This is his first interview since the crisis broke early this year. Yunus is refusing to talk to the Bangladeshi media for fear of further inflaming the controversy, and he is adamant that he will not be drawn into speculating as to why the government has forced his recent resignation. He simply says: "I can't see the purpose, I can't see what the country gains, what the government gains."

There is certainly a lot to lose. Any bank depends on confidence and the last few months have been turbulent for Grameen's 22,000 employees and 8.36 million borrowers, 97% of whom are women. So far, repayment rates on the millions of small loans are holding steady and borrowers are not withdrawing deposits – either could bring the bank to collapse. Yunus's calmness in London is all about steadying the confidence of his Bangladeshi audience. As one of the most efficient and stable economic institutions in a desperately poor country, there are many who are hoping he will succeed and that Grameen will weather this storm.

"We never said microfinance was a silver bullet," he insists. "Or why would I bother to create 50 other companies ranging from agriculture to telecommunications? Job creation is the solution to poverty. Loans should only be given to fund enterprises. They mustn't ever be used for 'consumption smoothing' or how can people pay back the loans? It has to be about income generation."

"When microfinance spread across the world, some people abused it. Some went berserk. In my opinion, if there is any personal profit involved, it should not be called microfinance, which should be totally devoted to the benefit of poor people. People used the respect for microfinance. In every country where there was microfinance they needed proper regulatory authorities to oversee the sector and legislation to define it. I knew that the sector was crippled by an inadequate legal framework."

Yunus recognises there was some "overbilling" of microfinance, but sees that as part of the way you win donors' interest in a project. He certainly used powerful rhetoric to urge on efforts in tackling poverty. But beyond that he is unapologetic. He didn't oversell it; when he talked of putting poverty in a museum it was a "hope", he says, it was not a plan. And he is emphatic: "Microfinance does reduce poverty. Look at the people who have joined Grameen. It's the most intensively researched organisation in the world."

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Video: Drought crisis in Somalia: inside report

From Concern Worldwide, a video that gives us an eyewitness account of a refugee camp in drought stricken Somalia.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Women struggle for land ownership in Africa

Cultural norms have kept women from owning land in Africa. Women more often than men are farming the land while the title is often held by the men. Customs and biased attitudes are often written into African laws that keep women out.

From the Inter Press Service, writer Miriam Gathigah takes a look at another aspect of gender inequality.

The situation is worse for poor women who lack the economic muscle to fight for land ownership against a backdrop of gender-insensitive customary laws that continue to sideline them. Consequently, women still hold a negligible percentage of land title deeds. In Kenya, only a paltry three percent of women have land title deeds and in Tanzania only one percent own land.

"The economy of most African countries depends on women who are deprived of the right to own land. They toil all day on land that they have negligible control over. They sustain the breadbasket regions of many countries that are dependent on agriculture but their labour is unacknowledged and poorly remunerated," says Mwanahamisi Salimu, from Oxfam, Tanzania.

According to Elizabeth Nzioki, who has conducted research on women and land in Kenya: "A key development in Kenya land tenure reform was the issuing of title deeds in the name of the "head of the family". The problem with the legislation is that the titled land is being transferred almost exclusively to male individuals."

The situation becomes very complicated when a married couple separates because in Kenya, the Marriage and Property Act is silent on how land should be divided under these circumstances. In a separation or divorce, because title deeds are in a man’s name, he is usually awarded ownership of the property.

"In Tanzania the situation is not any different, with only about one percent of women with title deeds. It means that the rest of the female population, who form the bulk of the labour force in agriculture, break their backs but have no say in proceeds from the farm," Salimu expounds.

South Sudan's first female car mechanics

The culture of Sudan makes women subject to men in many ways. Women even have to kneel at the feet of their husbands when then they bring water to them.

Three young women are trying to break through the barriers of their culture by training to become mechanics. Once they graduate they will be the first women to work in this trade in Sudan's history.

From the Guardian, writer Laura Powell introduces us to the barrier breakers.

Nura Koleji rubs her toe in the ochre dust, hugs her knees to her stomach, and keeps her eyes firmly downcast – until we hit on the one topic she is bubbling to talk about. It is not how she fled her village of Lanya when AK47-wielding soldiers arrived from the north during the Sudanese civil war. Nor how they kidnapped her brother to train him as a child soldier; how she watched as they picked out victims and shot them; or how her two uncles were among those butchered in front of her.

It is not even the topic I am here to speak to her about – why she decided to train as a mechanic. What really riles Nura is men's dominance in the workplace. Last week South Sudan, became an independent country following a 22-year war that ended in 2005. And in this brand new country, women such as Nura are keen to see changes.

"We have a saying that one hand is not enough to clap. It's true," she tells me. "We need both sexes, not just one. There's an hereditary attitude in my village that women are weaker. I ignore those words and despise the people who say them because I have louder words in my heart telling me I am strong."

Nura is not an activist; she has never heard the word "feminist". She is a 20-year-old, softly spoken Sudanese girl, wearing oil-slicked blue mechanic's overalls. When she graduates next year she, along with three other female classmates, will have defied the odds to become the first women mechanics in South Sudan.

By the time we meet at 9am, I've dressed, had breakfast and negotiated the potholed roads of Juba, Southern Sudan's de facto capital, to reach the technical college, a secondary school where the 470 students (85% of whom are boys) train to become electricians, bricklayers, carpenters or mechanics. Nura, meanwhile, has collected water from a borehole, swept her family's compound, poured tea for her six younger siblings, revised, and picked mangoes before her two-hour walk to school. After classes finish at 3pm, she will sell the fruit at Juba market and put the earnings towards her £41-a-year school fees.

As her 16-year-old classmate Pamela Daniel says: "If you live here, everything is a struggle. But if you don't struggle, you may as well spend your life asleep because nothing will come to you."

Nura chose this profession partly because she loves cars, partly because she would love to drive (but has neither the money nor facilities to learn), and partly because she wanted technical skills and a trade, rather than a traditional academic education. One motive, however, supersedes the rest; Nura believes there are no female role models in Southern Sudan and her ambition is to become the first.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Video: How Sanitation Can Save the World

From the Gates Foundation, a video about the sanitation crisis in the under-developed world.

WFP tries to return to Somalia despite threats and fines

Last year, the World Food Programme pulled out of southern Somalia because of violent threats made against its workers by the al Shabaab Islamic rebels. Now with a severe drought hitting the region, el Shabaab is willing to allow the WFP back in. Still, the WFP is unsure of workers safety and there are even claims that el Shabaab will levy a large fee against WFP for coming back in.

From Reuters Alert Net, writer Megan Rowling reports on this angle of drought striking the Horn of Africa.

A week ago, insurgent group al Shabaab said it was lifting a ban it had imposed on some humanitarian agencies supplying aid in areas it controls in the Horn of African nation, mainly in the south.

Many Somalis are increasingly struggling to survive the compounding stresses of conflict and worsening drought. Thousands are abandoning their homes and streaming across the Kenyan and Ethiopian borders, seeking refuge in overcrowded camps.

An al Shabaab spokesperson told journalists that all aid agencies, Muslim and non-Muslim – "whose objective is only humanitarian relief" – are now free to help drought-stricken Somalis, once they have contacted its drought committee.

WFP spokesperson Greg Barrow told AlertNet from Rome that the agency has since reached out to the rebel group via the U.N. humanitarian coordinator, but has yet to receive a response.


The United Nations says some 2.85 million people in Somalia need emergency aid, and in the worst-hit areas one in three children is suffering from malnutrition.

But local analysts in Somalia told Reuters al Shabaab had lifted the aid ban in the south to generate money to fund its war effort. It has previously asked aid agencies to pay a hefty registration fee.

The international humanitarian community has welcomed the announcement with caution, saying the safety of aid workers must be assured.

"We are ready to scale up assistance in southern Somalia but need guarantees that humanitarian workers can operate safely and will not be taxed or targeted," U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos said in a statement on Tuesday.