Thursday, December 06, 2012

Philippine delegate breaks down and cries at U.N. climate change talks

A delegate from the Philippines broke down and cried yesterday during the United Nations climate change talks. Naderev Sano is negotiating with the world on how to combat climate change while his nation recovers from another severe storm. Typhoon Bopha killed hundreds of Philippine residents and thousands more are now left homeless. Locals say it was a storm that was stronger than usual and traveled farther south than usual. The Philippines loses five percent of their annual GDP to storm damage and recovery.

From the Guardian, writer John Vidal has this excerpt of the speech that led Sano to tears.

Madam chair, we have never had a typhoon like Bopha, which has wreaked havoc in a part of the country that has never seen a storm like this in half a century. And heartbreaking tragedies like this are not unique to the Philippines, because the whole world, especially developing countries struggling to address poverty and achieve social and human development, confront these same realities.

"Madam chair, I speak on behalf of 100 million Filipinos, a quarter of a million of whom are eeking out a living working here in Qatar [as migrant labourers]. And I am making an urgent appeal, not as a negotiator, not as a leader of my delegation, but as a Filipino …"
At this point he broke down.
"I appeal to the whole world, I appeal to leaders from all over the world, to open our eyes to the stark reality that we face. I appeal to ministers. The outcome of our work is not about what our political masters want. It is about what is demanded of us by 7 billion people.

"I appeal to all, please, no more delays, no more excuses. Please, let Doha be remembered as the place where we found the political will to turn things around. Please, let 2012 be remembered as the year the world found the courage to find the will to take responsibility for the future we want. I ask of all of us here, if not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?"

"Thank you madam chair."
The hall rose and applauded.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Typhoon death toll in the Philippines reaches 283

The death toll continues to rise in the Philippines after the biggest typhoon to hit the island nation in a year. Officials say 283 people are dead from Typhoon Bopha. The rains were strong enough to cause mudslides traveling down the country’s mountains. In some areas, the rain and mudslides caused water reservoirs to collapse, further adding to the strength of the water.

Last year, Typhoon Washi killed 1,500 people in the Philippines. 

From Reuters Alert Net, reporter Eric de Castro gives us the latest update.

Hardest hit was the southern island of Mindanao, where Bopha made landfall on Tuesday. It triggered landslides and floods along the coast and in farming and mining towns inland.
Interior Minister Manuel Roxas said 300 people were missing.
"Entire families were washed away," Roxas, who inspected the disaster zone, told reporters.
Most affected areas were cut off by destroyed roads and collapsed bridges and army search-and-rescue teams were being flown in by helicopter.
Power was cut and communications were down.
According to tallies provided by the military and disaster agency officials, 283 people were killed.
Thousands of people were in shelters and officials appealed for food, water and clothing. Dozens of domestic flights were suspended on Wednesday.
The governor of the worst-hit province, Compostela Valley, in Mindanao said waves of water and mud came crashing down mountains and swept through schools, town halls and clinics where huddled residents had sought shelter.
The death toll in the province stood at 160. In nearby Davao Oriental province, where Bopha made landfall, 110 people were killed.

The Flawed NGO; Zoe's Ark

Sometimes an act of charity can be a bad idea and cause more harm than is intended. People who are moved to do something about poverty can do the wrong thing if careful planning is not done first. They need to talk with the people who would be the recipients of this help and make sure it is something they really need. Spending some time in the far flung places they have only seen in the media can go a long way to making sure the help is effective.

We have heard the stories about free t-shirts and shoes, what follows is a story about a bad idea surrounding orphans. From the Guardian writer Simon Allison details the flawed NGO called Zoe's Ark.
My personal favourite terrible international aid idea comes courtesy of French NGO Zoe's Ark, whose founders saw a terrible problem and an easy solution. In 2007, with war raging in Darfur, they realised that the orphans left stranded by the conflict would need a new home. They also realised that there were plenty of French families who wanted to adopt, but were struggling due to France's complicated adoption system. So they hired a plane, flew to Chad and rounded up some orphans from a refugee camp near the Sudanese border, the costs covered by the cash advances paid by eager potential parents.
This is where the problems began. Before the plane could return to France, the Zoe's Ark crew were arrested by unhappy Chadian authorities, who quite rightly pointed out that the NGO should have complied with Chad's own adoption laws. Also, the Chadians noted, most of these Sudanese orphans were neither orphans nor were they from Sudan; they were local kids lured in by Zoe's Ark's false promises of a trip to the clinic or a better school (this was subsequently confirmed by UN agencies and the Red Cross). Blinded by their ignorance, moral righteousness and end-justifies-the-means mentality, Zoe's Ark was only just prevented from kidnapping dozens of children, all in the name of doing good.
They didn't escape unpunished. A court in Chad sentenced members of the group to eight years in prison, and ordered them to pay €6.3 million in damages to parents of the children. Shortly afterwards, they were transferred home and pardoned by Chad's president, Idriss Deby, probably thanks to extreme diplomatic pressure from France. The damages have yet to be paid.
This was not the end of the affair. In France, 103 expectant parents, all of whom had forked out between R25,000 and R50,000 (about £1,750 to £3,500) to Zoe's Ark, did not receive the little Sudanese orphan that had been promised them. This amounts to fraud, some claimed, and French authorities launched an investigation. On Monday in Paris the trial began of six members of the NGO, who have been charged with illegal involvement in adoption procedures, attempting to bring minors into the country illegally, and fraud. With its sensational, noxious mix of international intrigue and na├»ve idealism, the trial is receiving huge attention in France.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Typhoon Bopha the strongest to hit the Philippines in a year

The latest typhoon to hit the Philippines is the strongest to hit the island in a year. Typhoon Bopha is said to have killed 40 Philippine residents. Early evacuation efforts are being credited for keeping the death toll low. Agriculture experts expect that recently planted rice and corn crops should not be affected by the typhoon.

From Reuters Alert Net, we get more details on the latest weather emergency. 
About 40 people were killed or missing in flash floods and landslides near a mining area on Mindanao, ABS-CBN television reported, saying waters and soil had swept through an army post.
A television reporter said she saw numerous bodies lined up near the army base. A military spokesman earlier said about 20 people, including six soldiers, were missing.
Disaster official Liza Mazo, said more casualties were expected to be discovered as search and rescue teams fanned out.
Media said dozens of people were injured by flying debris, falling trees and swept away by swollen rivers and flash floods.
But the relatively low death toll was due in part to an early evacuation. More than 155,000 people were in shelters late on Tuesday.
 Farm Minister Proceso Alcala said on Monday he expected minimal damage to rice and corn crops as they had only recently been planted and could be replaced quickly if damaged.

The new female leader of the African Union

The African Union is celebrating the appointment of its first female leader in the organization’s fifty year history.  Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma rose to the title after years of cleaning up South Africa's home affairs department. Dlamini-Zuma is credited with cleaning up the crime and corruption that have long plagued the department. She now moves on to the AU which has its own share of mismanagement that needs to be cleaned up.

From the Guardian, writer Elissa Johnson interviews Dlamini-Zuma.
Dlamini-Zuma says the biggest challenges facing the continent are underdevelopment, poverty and the inequitable distribution of wealth. Since taking over as chairwoman in October, she has repeatedly stressed the need to ensure that peace and security issues – which she believes take "a lot of time, a lot of energy and a lot of resources" – are balanced with development.
"It's important to understand that development is not a 'nice to have', it's essential for peace, for stability and for progress in the world," she says. "To me those are two sides of the same coin – if you don't develop your country, if people don't feel [there is] an equitable distribution of wealth, you are actually threatening peace."
"If you look at Africa today," she says, "we have more than a billion people, and more than 60% of those are young people; that has certain implications." Those "implications" were clear on the streets of Tunisia and Egypt almost two years ago – the high level of youth unemployment was chief among the triggers of the Arab spring. Africa's population growth means that 1m new jobs are needed every month and, like many of the leaders she now serves, Dlamini-Zuma is conscious of the problems that could lie ahead if the continent's youth don't have access to education and the skills necessary to earn a decent living.
Infrastructure is another priority. "We have to get roads, rail … our transport on the high seas [and] we have to get telecommunications infrastructure – everybody's going broadband and Africa should not be left behind," Dlamini-Zuma insists. This, she believes, will enable African states to trade among themselves and develop inter-continental tourism.
At the same time, she'd like to see the continent explore ways of accelerating the process of industrialisation. "Our GDP is growing but its growing mainly on raw materials – and that's not sustainable growth," she says, adding that Africa needs to export more processed goods "so that we can get more value for our products".

Money for neglected disease research up by half a billion dollars

A new study looks into funding research on neglected diseases and finds some changing patterns in how the money is given and spent. The amount of money being contributed has increased over the last five years by half a billion dollars. Seventy percent of all the money contributed is made by only a few organizations; including the National Institutes of Health, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The fact that a few groups from the United States make a vast majority of research funding is worrying to the authors of this report.

From the Inter Press Service, writer Carey Biron looks into the research.  
Although overall funding for neglected diseases has gone up by 443.7 million dollars, to about 2.9 billion dollars, since 2007, both public and philanthropic shares have gone down substantially. This is worrisome given that the public sector continues to make up around two-thirds of international funding for such research, almost all from high-income countries, and more than half of the top 20 governments cut their funding for such research in 2011 alone.
While the U.S. government remains the single largest public funder of research into neglected diseases (following only the Gates Foundation), Washington too cut its outlay in 2011, down 2.2 percent to around 30.6 million dollars.
“Some governments now appear to be in it for the long haul, which is great,” Dr. Mary Moran, one of the report’s authors and the executive director of Policy Cures, a London-based research group that published the G-FINDER, said Monday in unveiling the report.
“But we’re worried that their investment model seems to be shifting back to the ‘bad old days’, where the public sector funded basic research leaving product development to industry or philanthropy – and consequently almost no medicines, vaccines or diagnostics for neglected diseases were developed. This model doesn’t and can’t work for truly neglected non-commercial diseases.”
According to findings by Policy Cures, over the past five years, public money for basic research has increased by more than a quarter, to around 124 million dollars, and currently makes up about a third of all public investment in neglected diseases. Meanwhile, public investment in the costly and uncertain product development has actually gone down slightly.
Moran compares this model to putting a man on the moon, for which one needs both scientists to do the research and someone to actually build the physical rocket.
“Governments need to bite the bullet,” she says. “If they want products for neglected diseases, they need to fund product development as well as basic research, and their funding needs to be linked to what’s happening in product pipelines and to be prioritised based on need.”

Monday, December 03, 2012

Gross National Happiness

Most of the world uses gross domestic product as a measure of development. The tiny country of Bhutan uses a completely different measure called gross national happiness. Bhutan measures happiness through how healthy, educated and environmentally conscious their citizens are.

The world is meeting now in Doha for United Nations climate change talks. Bhutan's approach is getting some serious consideration as a way to combat global warming. Still, the happy tiny country still has mounting challenges with poverty and climate change.

From the Guardian, writer Annie Kelly explains Bhutan's GNH.
Since 1971, the country has rejected GDP as the only way to measure progress. In its place, it has championed a new approach to development, which measures prosperity through formal principles of gross national happiness (GNH) and the spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of its citizens and natural environment.
For the past three decades, this belief that wellbeing should take preference over material growth has remained a global oddity. Now, in a world beset by collapsing financial systems, gross inequity and wide-scale environmental destruction, this tiny Buddhist state's approach is attracting a lot of interest.
As world leaders prepare to meet in Doha on Monday for the second week of the UN climate change conference, Bhutan's stark warning that the rest of the world is on an environmental and economical suicide path is starting to gain traction. Last year the UN adopted Bhutan's call for a holistic approach to development, a move endorsed by 68 countries. A UN panel is now considering ways that Bhutan's GNH model can be replicated across the globe.
As representatives in Doha struggle to find ways of reaching a consensus on global emissions, Bhutan is also being held up as an example of a developing country that has put environmental conservation and sustainability at the heart of its political agenda. In the last 20 years Bhutan has doubled life expectancy, enrolled almost 100% of its children in primary school and overhauled its infrastructure.
At the same time, placing the natural world at the heart of public policy has led to environmental protection being enshrined in the constitution. The country has pledged to remain carbon neutral and to ensure that at least 60% of its landmass will remain under forest cover in perpetuity. It has banned export logging and has even instigated a monthly pedestrian day that bans all private vehicles from its roads.
"It's easy to mine the land and fish the seas and get rich," says Thakur Singh Powdyel, Bhutan's minister of education, who has become one of the most eloquent spokespeople for GNH. "Yet we believe you cannot have a prosperous nation in the long run that does not conserve its natural environment or take care of the wellbeing of its people, which is being borne out by what is happening to the outside world."
Powdyel believes the world has misinterpreted Bhutan's quest. "People always ask how can you possibly have a nation of happy people? But this is missing the point," he says. "GNH is an aspiration, a set of guiding principles through which we are navigating our path towards a sustainable and equitable society. We believe the world needs to do the same before it is too late."