Friday, November 30, 2012

Barclays bank to stop participating in food price specualtion

There are three things that contribute to high food prices that should be stopped. Land grabs, speculation and using food for bio-fuels. We often report on land grabs and bio-fuels, but he have a hard time finding the issue of speculation in the news. That could be the speculation is done behind the doors of big institutions that secure their inner workings tightly.

Today, a major player in food price speculation has announced that they will stop doing it.  Barclays bank is the latest bank to swear off food speculation following a few other major European banks. We hope that the banks in the U.S. will begin to follow this trend.

From Reuters Alert Net, writer Astrid Zweynert relays the announcement. 

The Financial Times website reported that the British bank is looking into withdrawing from agricultural commodities trading as part of its drive to rebuild its reputation after a series of scandals.
The FT said such a possible retreat was part of a strategic overhaul by the bank’s new chief executive, Antony Jenkins, who is screening the reputational impact of every business line Barclays operates in.
“If I decided to stop trading soft agricultural products it is not driven by regulation,” the FT quoted Rich Ricci, chief executive of corporate and investment banking, as saying.
“It is because it doesn’t sit socially well with the large constituent of our customers,” Ricci said at the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards on Wednesday.
Financial speculation in staple foods, such as wheat, maize and corn, fuels dramatic spikes in food prices, pushing food beyond the reach of the world’s poorest people, campaigners say.
 “Barclays appears to be relying on the police force of public opinion to tell it that speculating on food prices is wrong, rather than acknowledging its own moral responsibility,” said Deborah Doane, chief executive of the World Development Movement.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Big Pharma improves access to medicine

The Big Pharmaceutical companies are slowly improving access of drugs for everyone. After decades of accusations of looking after profits more than the public's health, Big Pharma has taken some positive steps. Some companies are introducing tiered pricing systems that give discounts to poorer nations. They have also been taking steps to give the discounts for a wider range of products.

An annual survey rates how well each pharmaceutical company is doing, and the latest edition has just been released. The Access to Medicine index rakes each company on a range of access issues. Glaxco Smith Kline, Johnson and Johnson and Sanofi rank at the top. you can download the entire report from this link.

Guardian reporter Sarah Boseley has this introduction to the report.   
While British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), whose chief executive Sir Andrew Witty has announced moves to increase access to medicines in the developing world, continues to top the league table, its lead on the rest has shrunk. Two other major pharmaceutical companies, Johnson & Johnson and the vaccine manufacturer Sanofi, are now close behind.
The index ranks 20 leading pharmaceutical companies and is published every two years by the Netherlands-based non-profit Access to Medicines Foundation. It has become an authoritative guide, with input from the World Health Organisation, governments, universities, NGOs and institutional investors.
Drug companies are scored on a range of measures, from their willingness to discount prices in poor countries, to research on neglected diseases of poor people to lobbying, transparency and conduct in clinical trials.
This is the third index and it finds a much greater focus on drug access within drug companies – where it is now often an issue for the board.
"This year's index shows that companies are becoming more organised internally in their approach to access to medicine and that those who do this best tend to perform well across the other aspects we measure. The leaders are really raising the bar," said Wim Leereveld, founder of the index. "It's also clear that companies that do not continue to step up their efforts tend to be overtaken by their peers."

Corruption in Mozambique’s public health service

Corruption in Mozambique occurs at the last place that it should happen… in the health sector. Sick people wait for hours upon hours outside of public health centers because they don't have enough money for bribes. The people that have money or connections are treated right away. The low wages earned by nurses and receptionists is believed to be the cause of the corruption.

From IRIN, this story looks into how the corruption effects the health of the public. 
Eulalia Laichela caressed her six-year-old son, Leosio, who lay on the pavement, coughing from beneath a blanket. They had been waiting in the park outside José Macamo, one of the largest hospitals in Mozambique's capital Maputo, since early morning.

Laichela hoped her sister-in-law, who works at the hospital, would help find a doctor to attend to Leosio before the end of the day. Waiting in the queue at the hospital's reception area was not an option, she said.

"If you don't have extra money to pay the doctor, there is no point in doing that. There are many people outside waiting, and they sit there hour after hour without being attended to," she told IRIN.

Ansina was among the patients waiting in the queue. She feared she had malaria but lacked family connections or money for a bribe. "Something is wrong. I have number 142, and they are calling 188. I have been waiting here since this morning," she complained to the man next to her. He told her that it is patients’ money that determines who goes first, not their medical conditions.

"That´s why we are still here," he said. Ansina agreed.

Corruption is rife in Mozambique's public health sector. According to a 2006 study by the Centre for Public Integrity (CIP) in Maputo, corruption is present at all levels in the system: from the reception to the laboratory, during appointments with doctors, and even at the morgue.

A 2011 regional household survey by Transparency International found that nearly 40 percent of Mozambican respondents had paid bribes for medical services in the past year - the highest such figure in the region. In Mozambique, it was second only to the percentage that had paid bribes to the police.

Poor pay

The CIP study identified low salaries as one of the main causes of health sector corruption. A doctor identified as Cossa*, who has worked at hospitals in Maputo over the last 18 years, agreed. Doctors earn between US$700 and $1,000 per month, and the lowest paid nurses earn just over $100 - no more than a domestic worker.

Cossa maintained that most bribes are paid to the nurses and other workers who see patients before they reach a doctor. But he added that doctors earn additional income in other ways. For example, most public-sector doctors also work at private clinics; according to the CIP study, this makes them chronically tired. The study links the deterioration of public sector health care to a 1998 government decision to allow public-sector doctors to also work in the private sector.

Cossa noted that by 10am, the majority of doctors have already left the city's public hospitals for their private-sector jobs.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The warring factions in global development

More and more we see two maybe three different sets of methods of global development waring against each other. China, the west, and sometimes Brazil fight to prove who is doing the most good.

China will help countries develop as long as they get something in return. The West demands changes to other countries so their markets will soon see something in return. While Brazil seems intent on showing other nations what has worked for them. They are new to this process, so we have yet to see what they will get in return.

We see this contrast in a big way in the country of Angola. China develops fast, yet few
Angolans are pleased with their work. Brazil cooperates with the Angolan people on development, yet it makes it harder for them to do it on their own. Inter Press Service writer Mario Osava gives us this on the ground viewpoint. 
Today, 35 years later, it is the excesses and glaring contrasts that shock the visitor to this city in southwestern Africa. Shiny new cars on brand-new roads and highways lined by thousands of still-empty or half-built office buildings, apartment blocks and residential towers stand in sharp contrast to the sprawling slums around the city.
Signs on construction sites written in Chinese clearly reflect the Asian giant’s high level of participation in the construction of today’s new Angola.
The most ambitious project carried out by companies from China is the Nova Cidade de Kilamba (Kilamba New City), a huge development designed to house half a million people, 20 km south of downtown Luanda.
When it is completed, the new neighbourhood will have more than 80,000 apartments built for large families – the norm in Angola – in buildings five to 13 storeys high. The development is also to be fitted out with dozens of schools, child care centres, health clinics and shops.
Nearly one-quarter of the buildings have been completed. But almost all of them are empty, even though more than 3,000 apartments were already available when the development was inaugurated in July 2011.
Also involved in building the new city are Brazilian firms, especially construction giant Odebrecht, which is in charge of key projects like electricity and water grids and the construction of roads.
The foreign presence in the massive new developments “is not something to be admired, because it shows that there are no national companies with the capacity to build them,” said one of Angola’s most prominent writers, Artur Pestana, better known as Pepetela, who is also a professor of sociology.
“The Chinese build faster, they work round-the-clock shifts, and they offer almost interest-free long-term loans,” he said. But they employ few Angolan workers and “there are many complaints about the quality of their construction work,” he added.
Meanwhile, Brazilian companies “apparently learned their lesson from a few initial fiascos which made them the butt of national jokes, and they now stand out for the quality of their work,” which enables them to compete with the Chinese, said the author, who has published many historical novels that are critical of the government of José Eduardo dos Santos, president since 1979.
It was the first non-oil company from Brazil to begin to operate in Angola with a “long-term outlook,” said Victor Fontes, director general of the Angolan company Elektra, which specialises in power and water grids. He said this had the positive effect of attracting other firms also interested in the long haul, instead of just short-term opportunities.
The director of institutional relations at Odebrecht Angola, Alexandre Assaf, told IPS that the consortium is committed to “continuity” in Angola, above and beyond the effects of wars or the global economic crisis.
Five years ago, only nine percent of the “strategic posts” in the company were held by Angolans – a proportion that has risen to 41 percent, he noted, to illustrate the company’s commitment to local development.

New AIDS cases worldwide still too high says ONE

The ONE organization has released a new study that looks into new AIDS cases worldwide. The charity says that new cases of AIDS are still to high to meet the Millennium Development Goal of 2015. The study says that there were 2.5 million new cases of AIDS in 2011. That is more than double the amount needed to meet the MDG.

From Reuters Alert Net, writer Anna Yukhananov gives us more on the study's content.
Progress over the past decade has cut the death toll for the disease, mainly due to better access to drugs that can both treat and prevent the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) which causes AIDS, the United Nations said in its annual report last week.
But while access to treatment has improved, in 2011 there were 2.5 million new cases of HIV. That is more than double the target of having only 1.1 million people newly infected each year, said ONE, a charity co-founded by Irish rock star Bono, that is dedicated to fighting poverty and preventable disease.
There were 34 million people living with AIDS at the end of last year.
At current rates, the world will not reach targets to reverse the spread of AIDS until 2022, seven years behind schedule, according to ONE.
"We recognize the world has done wonders in (fighting AIDS) in the last 10 years. But 2015 is around the corner," said Michael Elliott, ONE's chief executive.
"Here's a moment to put your pedal to the metal and go for it."
Much of the gap is due to funding cuts in major donor countries. The UN estimates there is about a $6 billion AIDS funding gap each year. Countries also have not coordinated a global strategy to tackle the AIDS epidemic, such as targeting treatment to groups at highest risk.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

War and corruption in the Congo

The future for Africa does look bright except for a couple of trouble spots. One of the most troubling is the Republic of Congo. War has plagued the nation for many years, and there is some suspicion that neighboring countries are contributing to the fighting.

Also creating trouble in Congo is the terribly corrupt government that is supported by western aid money.

A couple of stories today help explain what is going on in the Congo. First, we look at how western aid has failed the country, then a story on how corruption has kept the population of Congo hungry.

For the western aid angle, we turn to the Guardian and this commentary by Richard Dowden.

The knee-jerk reaction of Britain and other western countries is therefore to give Congo aid. And the only way of spending 0.7% of our GDP on aid is to give it to governments. But has Congo got a government? In 1997 the remnants of the Mobutu regime were pushed out by the armies of Rwanda and Uganda. They replaced him with Laurent Kabila, a former revolutionary and cafe owner, living in exile. When he rejected the Rwandans' tutelage, they had him murdered and replaced him with his son, Joseph.
To legitimise Joseph Kabila the aid donors paid for and organised two elections, each costing more than a billion dollars. In 2011 that came out of a national budget of £4.6 billion ($7.3 billion). The elections satisfied the western political need to give Kabila international legitimacy so he could now receive aid. But the elections in Congo divided rather than united. The losers saw them as fraudulent.
After the election supporters were rewarded, opponents shunned but they live in different parts of the country so a small war broke out. At the very moment when the country needed to come together, the western solution deepened the divisions. It also handed total political and economic power to a greedy elite incapable of constructing a viable state – even, as one Congolese academic said, in their own narrow interests.
What has wrecked the Congo is not lack of aid. It is politics. Aid has probably made things worse by offering development which may never be delivered. There is no state capable of delivering it. If ever there was a case for a country to be under a UN mandate, it is Congo. The United Nations' current half-baked, ill-thought-out mandate was cruelly exposed last week as UN troops stood back to allow rebels to take the city of Goma in eastern Congo.
But there was a second, even more catastrophic contradiction in western policy. After the Rwandan genocide, western governments, ridden with guilt, supported the incoming Rwandan regime, a rebel group led by the charismatic Paul Kagame. He now runs a capable state – perhaps too capable. Rwanda is a tightly controlled dictatorship, with almost no press or political freedom. But it uses aid well, it is not stolen. A succession of British aid ministers from Clare Short to Andrew Mitchell see Kagame as the saviour of Africa. They gave him money – currently £83m a year, knowing it will be spent on education, health and other good things.
Next, a story on how corruption within the Congo government is causing inflation and hunger from IRIN. 
The Republic of Congo, which imports over US$240 million worth of food a year, has seen sharply rising staple food and fuel prices since the beginning of 2012, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and a local consumer rights body.

A 25-litre tin of vegetable oil which sold in January 2012 for the equivalent of $32, is now going for $50, while less than 5kg of cassava has gone up from $1 to $2.6, according to Dieudonné Moussala, chairman of the Consumer Rights Association.

He also said the price of a litre of kerosene had risen from 70 US cents to $2.6 on the black market in the same period.

"I now buy a kilo of meat from the slaughterhouse for 3,500 CFA francs [$7], whereas it used to cost less than 2,000 [$4],” Carine Moutombo, 32, a mother of three, told IRIN.

"It is difficult to get by and eat one’s fill. The cooking money is no longer enough," said Moutombo.

"All the prices of imported frozen products have increased because of corruption in the supply chain [from entry at the port of Pointe-Noire to small retailers]," said Moussala.

"There are too many unofficial taxes and too many checkpoints in the supply chain. Retailers and other importers are corrupt at all levels. In the end, they pass on any losses to poor consumers - hence the surge in commodity prices," said Moussala.

"While we have not found the solution to all the problems [related to imports]… We still have a long way to go. That is why our country’s struggle against food insecurity is key in terms of public policy," said Minister of Agriculture and Livestock Rigobert Maboundou in April. According to him the Congo is a "food-deficit country".

To limit imports and ensure food security, Congo launched in 2010 a US$26 million project to build "new agricultural villages". With this project, "we have halved the import bill for eggs. We produced 6.6 million eggs in 2011, while imports are estimated at 13 million eggs per year," said Maboundou.

In 2011, Congo also leased 180,000 hectares of arable land to a group of South African farmers who have managed to plant 1,200 hectares of maize.

"The Congo imports almost half of the essential commodities it needs. You need to know this to understand current soaring prices. Imported products contain imported inflation,” André Kamba, chief of staff at the Ministry of Trade and Supply, told IRIN.

Saving newborns in Burundi

A country that once suffered a long civil war has surpassed a milestone in health.

Burundi had a long civil war that lasted over a decade. Even though the war ended in 2006, many people still have untreated injuries from the war. Medicines Sans Frontiers set up a hospital in Burundi's capital to help treat these injuries, but found that more women were showing up than former soldiers. MSF then decided to turn the clinic into a maternal health ward.

The hospital's work has helped to contribute to Burundi's improving record on maternal health. The country has now surpassed the Millennium Development Goal on maternal health, cutting mortality rates by 75%.

From the Guardian, writer Clar Ni Chonghaile tells us more about the hospital.
In a report (pdf) released last week, MSF said the €1.8m (£1.5m) project in Kabezi, just outside Bujumbura, and a similar programme in Sierra Leone, had cut maternal deaths by up to 74% by providing free access to emergency obstetric care 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
In 2011, maternal mortality in Kabezi fell to 208 per 100,000 live births, compared with a national average of 800 per 100,000 live births. In Bo, Sierra Leone, the rate declined to 351 per 100,000 compared with 890 per 100,0000 in the rest of the country – a 61% decrease.
This means that in Kabezi, the millennium development goal – of reducing maternal mortality by 75% from national rates in 1990 – has already been achieved. MSF is confident it can replicate that success in Bo. "You do not need state-of-the-art facilities or equipment to save many women's lives," says Vincent Lambert, MSF's medical adviser for projects in Burundi.
In Kabezi, MSF provides an ambulance referral service for women suffering complications during labour or pregnant women at risk. The women used to be brought to the MSF Curgo clinic in Kabezi but since floods threatened the facility in November, the team has been based in CMCK. They hope to move back to Kabezi in a few weeks.
The cost works out at just over €3 per person in the Kabezi area, which is home to around 600,000 people. The Curgo clinic registers about 3,000 births per year, with 50% coming from caesareans.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Urban Agriculture in Dakar

Even in the midst of supercities agriculture is thriving. In Senegal's Dakar over 6,000 people work in agriculture and the harvests are growing each year. Agriculture within urban areas does have its own set of unique challenges. Farmers are unable to expand their operations with more land. Loans are hard to come by for the farmers as some are working on land they do not own.

From the Inter Press Service, Koffigan Abigbli looks at one thriving farm. 
Watering cans in hand, men and women move back and forth between the wells and water storage tanks and the crops they’re watering: carrots, onions, tomatoes, cabbage, and potatoes, as well as fruit trees like palm, coconut, papaya and banana trees. Growers like Ahmadou Sene are working tirelessly to produce vegetables in and around the Senegalese capital.
Sene, in his forties, has a one-hectare plot. For three months of the year, he has a dozen young people to hoe and weed the garden, and for four months a group of 20 women work to harvest and sell his produce.
“Vegetables make up more than 80 percent of my crops,” he said, gesturing towards his garden. He cultivates his field year round, and harvests nearly 12 tonnes of vegetables each quarter.

But while urban farming is growing, farmers are facing difficulties linked to access to land, the marketing of vegetables, the recycling of water for irrigation, and access to financing.
Even as the cultivated area is growing, some farmers are struggling to find land to expand their operations.
“In 2010, I had an 800 square metre field. I was able to turn a profit of 600,000 CFA (about 1,200 dollars). But this year, I’ve only got 350 square metres to farm, because the government has taken over a large portion of my land for a dam to hold water,” said Cheikh Mor Ndiaye, a grower at Cambérène, one of the sprawling suburbs on the outskirts of the capital.
The president of the administrative council of the Federated Cooperative of Horticulturalists of Senegal (CFAHS), Cheikh Ngane, told IPS that while garden farming provides livelihoods for a good number of Senegalese, it is undermined by the recurring problem of access to land.
“Most horticulturalists are working with land that belongs to the state. To develop horticulture, it’s important to resolve the problem of land,” he said, adding that the problem is aggravated by competing claims from developers working on residential housing developments.
The issue of land ownership can also lead to problems obtaining credit. “For example, if someone has their own plot, assigned to them by the rural community, bankers are not confident when they ask for a loan,” said Cheikh Ngane.

Big Business, meet small farmer

 For most small farmers in the under-developed world the only maket they had access to was local. The fair trade movement began a process that helped small farmers gain access to worldwide markets. When it works right, it is supposed to be a win-win for the farmer and the market. The farmer should be able to sell more, and the world has another source for food.

What many are wondering is what this relationship would look like when big agri-businees begins to invest in the small farms of the under-developed world. Would the small farmer impove financailly, or would they be exploited? From the Guardian, writer Matthew Newsome attended a conference that covered this subject.
This month more than 500 private-sector representatives, government officials, donors, civil society representatives, farmer organisations and academics met in Ethiopia for a conference organised by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Co-operation. They discussed the role of the private sector in upgrading smallholder agriculture to meet demand from foreign and emerging markets in developing countries. Investment interest is underscored by the IMF's forecast of 5.7% economic growth in 2013 for sub-Saharan Africa, which is being driven by rising commodity prices.
Rising food prices suggest global demand is still outpacing farmers' productivity, and resource-constrained smallholders need greater market access, training and technology to increase their agricultural production, according to the experts at the meeting in Ethiopia.
Development organisations are promoting the merits of a mutual partnership between large corporations and small farmers. John Moffett, director of policy and strategy for Self Help Africa, has been working with small-scale cashew nut farmers and those who commodify the nut in Benin, with support from PepsiCo, to supply Europe's markets. "Strengthening smallholder value chains is really about helping farmers to move from being subsistence based to enabling them to make a better profit," says Moffett.
Moffett says the role of NGOs is starting to change: he sees them playing more of a temporary role in facilitating trade between small-scale producers and the private sector. Once the supply chain links are in place he says, "the NGO will shift to being a watchdog".
"Development is now really focused on the economic development of Africa through trade," Moffat adds. "It is moving away from the constant injection of aid funding into Africa and focusing on something which, over time, should be more sustainable." Africa's population is expected to reach 2 billion by 2050, so some argue it cannot afford to be short-sighted when dealing with investors.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The western world is on both sides of the corruption battle

The west talks a good game in wanting the corruption in poorer countries to  stop. Our leaders often use their pulpits to bully the poorer nations into cleaning up their act. The leaders of the poor nations that score some victories gain our respect and aid money. Still there are many systems in the western world that support the corruption.

Paul Collier's latest opinion piece for the Guardian points out that those perpetrators of corruption often turn to the western world for help. The thieves hire lawyers and public relations firms from New York, Paris or London. Their dirty money often flows thru the western world without anyone stopping it. Collier is calling on western leaders to do more to stop helping the thieves. In this snippet, he mentions Guinea leader Aissatou Boiro who was gunned down last Friday by supporters of the very thieves he was trying to catch.

With the US election out of the way, it is time for American companies to face this reality. To date, their response to the Cardin-Lugar amendment requiring transparency in their transactions has been to mount a legal challenge. Rather than this doomed and demeaning strategy of pushing back, they would be well advised to push forward. Cardin-Lugar is being imitated: this month the European parliament is likely to adopt it across Europe. Canada, home to the world's main financial market for second-tier resource extraction companies, is about to become an aberrant laggard that is surely not beyond the reach of influence.
The success of decent African governments in their struggle against corruption is not only in our interest, it is partly our responsibility. Inadvertently, we are currently providing much of the capacity needed for corruption to fight back. We are not, of course, complicit in the murder of Boiro, though her blood should remind us that brave people are putting their lives on the line. But the sharp lawyers and slick public relations consultants who counter the effort for clean governance are not based in countries such as Guinea: they are in London, Paris and New York.
Similarly, the clandestine flows of dirty money essential for corruption, which Boiro was trying to trace, depend on an army of facilitating lawyers, accountants and bankers. They are the people who establish shell companies and nominee bank accounts to conceal true beneficial ownership, and whip money across borders far faster than the lumbering process of inter-governmental legal co-operation. Governments such as Guinea's bear the brunt of these ethically wretched activities, but they are beyond their capacities to address.
They are not, however, beyond our own capacities. We could turn the system of mutual legal assistance, whereby governments are supposed to co-operate to prise information out of suspected criminals and witnesses, from a sham into a reality. We could require the documents that establish shell companies and bank accounts to carry the names of the lawyers and bankers who executed them. These people could then face legal liability to ensure that the authorities could readily establish beneficial ownership. Our governments and our associations have an obligation to rein in the unscrupulous tail of our professions.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ebola continues to spread in Uganda

A month ago, Uganda declared itself free of their latest Ebola outbreak. Since then, three people have died of Ebola virus. Two of the three were from the same family. All of these new fatalities occurred near the capital of Kampala.

From Reuters Alert Net, we find out more about the continued spread of the virus.
The first case involved a driver of a Boda Boda - motorcycle taxis common in Uganda - who died on Oct. 25 while the second victim, a 25-year old woman who nursed the driver, died on Nov. 10. Lab tests have not yet been completed on the third case.
Ebola and Marbug are both highly infectious, spread mostly through contact with body fluids, and have high case fatalities.
Symptoms include bleeding, diarrhoea and vomiting and while there is no cure for both diseases, some patients survive through treatment of symptoms.
A total of 16 people died from the last Ebola outbreak and the frequency of infections has been rising in recent years.
Uganda has managed to avoid a repeat of its worst episode of Ebola, in 2000, when 425 people were infected and more than half died.

Over 2 billion dollars in diamonds stolen from Zimbabwe

Yesterday we had a post on how the oil riches from Nigeria were stolen from the people. Today, we see how riches of another kind are stolen in Zimbabwe.

A few people loyal to Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe have benefited greatly from the Marange diamond fields. A new study says that at least 2 billion dollars have been taken by Mugabe and his supporters, and that is a very conservative estimate. All of that money should be going into Zimbabwe's national treasury, but instead it has been stolen away. As long as this continues, the nation will be rife with poverty. No amount of aid will be able to cure this.

From the Guardian, writer David Smith unpacks the report for us.  
The Marange fields in eastern Zimbabwe were discovered in 2006 and are one of the world's biggest diamond deposits. But funds from diamond sales have not reached the state treasury, says a PAC report, published on Monday to coincide with a Zimbabwe government conference on the diamond trade in Victoria Falls. Instead there is evidence that millions have gone to Mugabe's inner circle.
"Marange's potential has been overshadowed by violence, smuggling, corruption and most of all, lost opportunity," says PAC.
"The scale of illegality is mind-blowing" and has spread to "compromise most of the diamond markets of the world."
The report, Reap What You Sow: Greed and Corruption in Zimbabwe's Marange Diamond Fields, describes the $2bn lost to the Zimbabwean treasury since 2008 as a "conservative estimate".
Tendai Biti, the finance minister, said in his latest budget he had been promised $600m in diamond revenue for the national treasury to help rebuild neglected hospitals, schools and other public services. Only a quarter of that pledge has been received, he claims.
The PAC names Obert Mpofu, mines minister since 2009 and a key Mugabe ally, as perhaps the biggest winner. He has amassed an unexplained personal fortune and is linked to a "small and tight group of political and military elites who have been in charge of Marange from the very beginning" and who are personally benefiting from the diamond sales, the report alleges.
Mpofu spent more than $20m‚ "mostly in cash"‚ over the past three years, the report says, and owns vast swaths of land. "While Mpofu is not the only Zanu official benefiting from Marange's riches, his role as the chief guardian of Marange raises the most concern," the report says.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

New director and direction for the Global Fund

The Global Fund to fight AIDS TB and Malaria will announce the appointment of their new director tomorrow. The last director was ousted early this year because of a misallocation scandal.

The scandal has caused one of the leading organizations on global health to rethink their strategy. The Global Fund will begin to focus funding projects in the most vulnerable areas, instead of both poor and middle income areas. This is partly necessary because the scandal has caused a big drop in donations to the fund.

From the Inter Press Service, writer Sarah McHaney tells us more.

They need to do reform 2.0 which focuses on better measurement and accountability on actual disease results,” Amanda Glassman, director of global health policy at the Centre for Global Development, told IPS.
“We focus too much on paperwork being consistent instead of on what we want the paperwork to achieve,” she said.
The former executive director, Michel Kazatchkine, resigned at the beginning of this year after the AIDS Health Foundation wrote a report in September 2011 urging him to step down amidst a funding misallocation scandal.
More than a year later, the Global Fund is still attempting to recover from that experience, which saw millions of dollars go unaccounted for in four African countries.
“The Global Fund has a terrific record of saving lives, but they are being asked to bring on a new manager to completely redirect them,” Deb Derrick, the president of Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, told IPS.
“They are going to cut their staff by 20 percent and operate under a tightened budget. But I think a good manager is very well-positioned to do even more with the resources at hand.”
The vast majority of that money, 95 percent, has come from the public sector. The United States leads donations, followed by France, Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom.
For this reason, however, the global financial crisis has hit the Global Fund hard, resulting in a large decrease of public sector donations. In May 2011, the Fund stated that it was 1.3 billion dollars short of its proposed budget for 2011-13.
The Global Fund gives grants based not only on need and vulnerability, but also on the results that recipient countries are able to show. Countries apply for each new round of funding and measure their results against the goals set by previous grants.
In November 2011, the Global Fund was forced to cancel its 11th round of funding due to inadequate resources from donors.

Yellow Fever kills 107 in Darfur, and drugs are still a month away

A yellow fever outbreak in Darfur could lead to a major health catastrophe throughout the Sudan. 107 people have died from yellow fever so far in Darfur. There are signs that the disease could be spreading past the embattled region as one case has been confirmed in the city of Kharthoum.

The spread is not likely to be stopped anytime soon because vaccinations are still a month away. There is a shortage of the vaccine currently. That shortage is affecting the speed of getting the drugs to Sudan. Officials say it could be another two weeks before the vaccine arrives and another week before they can begin administering the drug.

For more we turn to Reuters Alert Net writer Katy Migro.

“This is a terribly serious situation,” Paul Reiter, professor of medical entomology at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, told AlertNet.  “If things really were to start moving rapidly, we really would not be able to do very much. It all balloons very quickly… We have very little means at our disposal for combating an epidemic in the case of yellow fever.”
Yellow fever is a viral infection that is transmitted by mosquitoes in tropical regions. The majority of patients in Darfur have experienced fever, bleeding and vomiting, according to the WHO.
War has ravaged Darfur since rebels took up arms in 2003, saying the central government had neglected the region. Conflict has continued despite the presence of the world's largest peacekeeping operation, the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), and humanitarian workers have often been attacked.
There is no specific treatment for yellow fever, only supportive care to treat dehydration and fever, and blood transfusion if needed. Vaccination is the main preventative measure.

WHO is waiting for vaccines to be imported from the International Coordinating Group on Yellow Fever Vaccine Provision, which manages the global pool of the vaccine, before it can start a mass vaccination campaign in Darfur.
“Logically speaking, we will be talking about three weeks to a month,” Anshu Banerjee, the WHO representative in Sudan, told AlertNet. “One week for the vaccine to arrive. One week for the vaccine to get to Darfur, then the training.”
Sudan requested 3.6 million doses of the vaccine but is being given only 2.4 million.
There are regular shortages in the global supply of the yellow fever vaccine due to unpredictable demand and its relatively short shelf life.

We now know how Nigeria loses so much money in oil revenues

It has long been a mystery exactly how Nigeria could be rich with oil yet so very poor. We know corruption within government to be the culprit, but we have little evidence as to how all the money is stolen. A leader in the Nigerian government who has had success in tackling corruption was charged with investigating what happens to oil revenues. Nuhu Ribadu, head of the Financial Crimes commission has completed his work and we finally have some evidence on the graft. Already politicians from both sides who are suspected of being the thieves are trying to discredit the report.

From the Guardian, writer Simon Allison details some of the corruption that Ribadu uncovered. 
Some of the highlights include: the state oil firm selling oil to itself at ridiculously low prices, short-changing the treasury to the tune of $5-billion; failing to collect royalties from the likes of Shell and Sinopec, creating a $3-billion black hole in accounts; "losing" hundreds of millions of dollars owed to the government as signatures bonuses on new deals; and allowing oil ministers to award contracts at their own discretion, without even an attempt at a tender process.
The most damaging allegation involved the state oil firm and oil companies Shell, Total and Eni, which together owned a subsidiary company called Nigeria LNG. This company acted as a middle man, buying oil on the cheap from the government and selling it on to international markets at a vastly inflated price. Ribadu's report estimates that if the government had just sold the oil at market price, they would have made an additional $29-billion.
Predictably, Ribadu's report was not exactly met with enthusiasm by other officials in the Nigerian government. Particularly harsh criticism has come from two members of the committee that helped draft it. They say the report is based on incomplete, unverified data and that Ribadu makes claims that cannot be sustained by evidence. Unfortunately for the credibility of these two critics – Steve Oronsaye and Bernard Otti, both senior government officials – they were both offered and accepted lucrative positions on the board of the state oil firm while continuing to sit on the committee investigating it. Nigerian media has largely dismissed their criticisms as a failed attempt at damage control.
"The reservations of some members of the Task Force must not be allowed to cast any shadow over the urgent need for the security agencies to bring all those indicted to justice," wrote the influential Leadership newspaper. "We thank the Ribadu committee for showing the nation some of the reasons why Nigeria is a rich nation with poor people."
Having received the report, Jonathan is now under increasing pressure to act on its findings. Whether he can do so – and whether he can in turn make a Nigeria a rich nation with moderately less poor people – will be the ultimate test of his administration.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Canada works on trade instead of aid

Under the administration of Stephen Harper, Canada's government has made a big change on how it interacts with Africa. Simply put, they have concentrated more on trade than on aid. The focus on trade has ignored some African countries at the expense of others. Canada is doing trade primarily with resource rich nations such as Ghana and Nigeria for their minerals and oil. Meanwhile, the poorest countries on the continent are almost ignored by Canada. Still, such an approach can only accelerate Africa's economic growth.

From the Inter Press Service, writer Fawzia Sheikh takes a look at the pros and cons of each approach.

The Canadian International Development Agency ended bilateral programming in countries where aid efforts are hindered by high operating costs, including Rwanda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Niger. The agency also decided to reduce and concentrate its bilateral programming in five states, including Mozambique, Ethiopia and Tanzania.
Yet last month, after years of viewing the continent as mainly a foreign aid recipient, the Conservative government announced a trade mission slated for next January encompassing the extractive resource industries and the infrastructure sectors related to energy, power generation and mining.
The new-found attention is not that surprising, given that Africa appears to be in the midst of an upswing.
Between 1995 and 2010, Africa’s annual average GDP growth was 4.3 percent a year, making the continent one of the fastest-growing regions of the world, Rudy Husny, press secretary to Ed Fast, the Canadian minister of international trade, wrote in an email to IPS. Solid economic growth is expected to continue this year and in 2013, he noted.

According to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development issued earlier this year, the drop in Canada’s overseas development assistance since 2011, as well as a decision to zero in on fewer countries that are predominantly middle income, “may undermine the support (Canada) has given in recent years to poor countries with weak capacity, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.”
In 2011, Canada’s net overseas development assistance fell to 5.3 billion dollars, a decrease of 5.3 percent from 2010, states the peer review published by the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee.
In the report, the OECD advised that Canada and other nations must ensure that development objectives and partner country ownership are key to the programmes it supports, and that there is “no confusion” between development aims and the promotion of commercial interests.

North Korean harvests improving

North Korea made headlines a couple of years ago when it asked for food aid. The isolated country finally had to break out to prevent its population from starving.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization recently returned from a trip from North Korea to give an assessment on the country’s food security. The F.A.O. finds that harvests have improved over the last couple of years but not enough to prevent malnutrition for many.

From Reuters Alert Net, we read the latest on food security in North Korea.  
The U.N. organisation forecast a 10 percent increase in the main 2012 harvests and 2013 early season crops compared with a year earlier, and said production was expected to hit 5.8 million metric tons.
The country faced a staple food deficit of 207,000 metric tons, the lowest in many years, but 2.8 million people remained vulnerable to undernutrition, the FAO added.
"DPR Korea still needs international help," Kisan Gunjal, FAO economist and the mission's co-leader, said in a statement. "The new harvest figures are good news, but the lack of proteins and fats in the diet is alarming."

Niger will pitch new food security plan to international investors

The country of Niger is about to present a new plan for agriculture to international investors. Titled 3N or Nigeriens Nourish Nigeriens, the plan includes 11 different programs to help the country feed itself. The programs range from improved irrigation, storage and transfer of milk, and diversifying seeds.

From the Guardian, reporter Liz Ford talked to 3N commissioner Hassane Mamoudou about the project.

Speaking to journalists in Brussels this week, Mamoudou said local civil society and grassroots organisations in the country's 266 municipalities can propose ideas for how the money is spent in their areas. "All actions will start at the grassroots," he said.
"We have to target where projects are implemented. Sorghum and millet will only grow in regions where there's enough rain. If a region does not have enough rain, we don't produce it [there]. Some areas will be for livestock breeding only. If fisheries are an activity in one region, we will focus on fisheries there. We won't do everything everywhere."
A proportion of the resources will be reserved for people from marginalised groups, who are sometimes excluded from programmes. All project proposals must come with an environment and social impact study, to prove sustainability and ensure they do not have a negative impact on the environment.
The 3N initiative has been in development since 2011, when the country's president, Mahamadou Issoufou, established an action plan and called on donors to help respond to the looming food crisis following a poor harvest. This swift action helped prevent a crisis becoming a famine.
Two-thirds of Niger is desert, and only around 11% of the land is suitable for farming. "The main problem is water. Water to drink, of course, water for agriculture, for animals. And now, we have food crises recurring [video]," said Mamoudou. "We used to have a food crisis every 10 years; now every seven, every five, every two years we have a crisis. They come closer and closer and are bigger and bigger."

Monday, November 12, 2012

Dissapointing test results for anti-Malaria drug RTS,S

The highly anticipated anti-Malaria drug RTS,S has completed its third round of testing. Some of the results were disappointing but not bad enough to stop development of the drug. The tests find that the drug reduces malaria illness by a third in infants. That fell short of expectations for the drug because RTS,S now has the same effectiveness as mosquito bed nets. The manufactures of the drug say that the results mean that RTS,S will have to be given to children a couple of times, once at birth and a booster shot later on.

From the Inter Press Service, writer Carey Biron describes the reaction from the test results. 
The study, funded largely by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is part of the largest malaria trial ever conducted, taking place in seven African countries. Results were published Friday in the New England Journal of Medicine, a U.S. publication.
While still significant, the results were disappointing in having followed surprisingly positive findings last year, when a similar study suggested that RTS,S was almost twice as effective (47-56 percent) on slightly older children, those five to 17 months old.
If this most recent phase could replicate that level of efficacy among infants, researchers had hoped that RTS,S doses could become incorporated into the standard round of initial vaccinations commonly given to newborns – an approach that has now been proven safe.
“It’s a little frustrating that we’re seeing different levels of protection in different age groups compared to last year and this year,” Andrew Witty, the CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, a major drugs manufacturer and one of the central partners in developing RTS,S, told journalists Friday from London.
“As it turns out, this phase of study was not the final step that I think many people might have hoped. But it’s an important step and takes us further forward towards the goal we’ve been working toward over the past 50 years … this remains the lead and most encouraging candidate vaccine.”
Indeed, the new research constitutes the first time that scientists have found such high efficacy for an anti-malarial vaccine for infants. Witty notes that if the two rounds of study had been reversed, the psychological impact would be far different and the findings would undoubtedly have been widely lauded.
Further, the higher efficacy among the slightly older cohort remains extremely important, given that scientists have found that this age category has greater susceptibility to severe cases of malaria than do infants. While the ease of a single early vaccination would have been the most efficient scenario, researchers say they will now be looking into additional strengthening options, such as giving toddlers a booster later on.
“Two things are very, very encouraging,” Witty says. “One, the trial is successful, despite the fact that it doesn’t achieve quite the high level we would have hoped. Two, the benefit we’ve seen is higher than bed nets, which themselves deliver about 30 percent gain over nothing.”

Broken aid promises continue, this time with climate change

The recent history of development aid is full with broken promises. Over and over again rich nations have promised to give more money, but the donations often fall short of what they promise. This is playing out again when it comes to aid for climate change and its related storms.
At a United Nations summit in 2009, rich nations including the United States promised 100 million dollars in new aid money, specifically for climate change and weather protection. A few years later, most of the nations have yet to spell out how they will give this much. Many fear that donations will remain the same or even drop. Some critics warn that the money might be taken from other development aid projects.

From Reuters Alert Net, writer Alister Doyle and Nina Chestney preview U.N. meetings in Doha, Qatar that will discuss this issue.

"Finance is key to agreeing on a package at Doha," said Pa Ousman Jarju of Gambia, chair of the 48-nation group of least developed countries. He expressed hopes for "renewed U.S. action on climate change" after Obama's re-election.
Small island states want "scaled-up, new and additional, predictable and adequate climate finance" from 2013, said Samoa's ambassador to the U.N., Aliioaiga Feturi Elisaia.
Developing countries want at least new cash for a fledgling, still-empty U.N. Green Climate Fund that is meant to channel aid towards developing nations
Christiana Figueres, the head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, said that aid would not fall.
"Governments ... will at least maintain the current funding and they will in Doha look at the path along which they will ramp up to reach the $100 billion of mixed-sources of funding," she told Reuters in Singapore.
Some analysts are not so sure.
"At the very best we are looking at a flat-lining but we fear we will see a fall compared to the fast start finance," said Tim Gore of development group Oxfam. He said Spain, Italy, Greece and eastern Europe would all cut.
Under the U.N. plan, all nations will agree by 2015 a deal to slow climate change that will enter into force by 2020. China, the United States, the EU, India and Russia are the top emitters of greenhouse gases.

The handicapped smugglers of Benin

The tiny African nation of Benin has poorly secured borders. This makes smuggling goods out Nigeria a major problem for both countries. Nigeria is one of the biggest producers of oil in the continent. They also subside the price of oil so it is about half of the price as it is in Benin. So it is oil and gas that is often smuggled over.

A story from the Guardian this morning tells us that the handicapped of Benin have used the situation to their advantage. They hack their wheelchairs so they can store oil within them or with attached trailers. Because they are disabled, the border agents don't hassle them. The smuggling provides good income for the handicapped in a country where they have little else to do.

Guardian writer Monica Mark describes this practice. 
A childhood polio survivor, Isaac chose one of the few careers available to wheelchair users in Benin: smuggling.
When night falls, a host of ingenious home-made vehicles emerge on the sandy roads that connect this little lick of land with its giant oil-producing neighbour, Nigeria. From rusting trays on wheels to wagons cobbled together from spare parts, each is designed to lug as much fuel as possible.
Among the improbable vehicles are modified scooters designed to be driven by disabled people – and hide four 50-litre jerrycans at the same time. They provide a financial lifeline for thousands in a country where disabled people face social exclusion as well as one of the world's highest rates of poverty.
"Because of our handicapped condition, the border agencies don't bother us. Nobody asks us any questions, and we can cross the borders easily," said Isaac one recent evening as a friend helped him on to his Vespa near the frontier.
Tiny west African neighbours Benin and Togo have long been havens for smugglers, who slip easily through poorly policed frontiers and shorelines. Cocoa, frozen poultry and second-hand clothes are the main trafficked goods, border agencies say. But the trail is dominated by a network of illicit fuel traders. They fill up on cheap, subsidised Nigerian fuel before returning to sell it at a rate that undercuts official prices in Benin's filling stations.
"So many do it that recently the customs officers have started asking even [disabled people] for a cut of our profits," Isaac said as an uninterested border guard waved him through the first checkpoint.
Most nights of the week, Isaac will make a two-hour round trip to a Nigerian border town, jostle his way to the front of large crowds at fuel stations and return with enough fuel to fill up four 4x4s. Three nightly trips brings in around $75 profit.