31 August 2011

DAWNS Digest Latest Draft

This is the final draft* of the DAWNS Digest before we have our soft launch next Tuesday.  Based on your feedback, we have made further changes to make it easier to read and more informative.  Please continue to share your thoughts and we hope that you will sign up for the official start next week.  By the end of the week I will post more information about where and how to sign up.  Right now, Mark and I present the DAWNS Digest for August 31, 2011.

Top Stories

Libyan Rebels: “The stage is set for a final showdown.”   

The Libyan rebels set a Saturday deadline for Kadhafi loyalists in the last remaining stronghold of Sirtre, a city of 100,000.  Some 10,000 loyalists are said to have fled to Sirtre after Tripoli fell to rebels last week. “The National Transitional Council has been in touch with leaders and tribal elders in the seaside city to avoid more "bloodshed, destruction and damage," chairman Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, said at a news conference, but he added that that "window of opportunity" closes Saturday.” Perhaps most worrisome, journalists are not allowed within fifty miles of the city.  Source: Miami Herald. http://ow.ly/6h7Al  

Kenya Loses Bid to Stop ICC Proceedings

Those responsible for sectarian violence following the disputed election in Kenya in 2007 are one step closer to facing international justice. An appeals chamber of the International Criminal Court in the Hague rejected the Kenyan government’s bid to halt the proceedings against individuals who directed attacks that lead to the deaths of 1,300 people.  This decision has potentially “enormous implications” for the Kenya’s next presidential election in 2012. Two of the suspects, William Ruto, a former education minister, and Uhuru Kenyatta, the current finance minister, are set to run for president next year. Source: Al Jazeera English.  http://ow.ly/6h7go  

Human Rights Watch Blasts International Response to Crisis Facing Women in Haiti IDP Camps   

How bad is the situation for women and girls in post-earthquake Haiti?  Very according to a new Human Rights Watch report.  “‘Nobody Remembers Us’: Failure to Protect Women’s and Girls’ Right to Health and Security in Post-Earthquake Haiti,” is an exhaustive investigation into the state of maternal and reproductive health care for the estimated 300,000 women still living in IDP camps.  Researchers interviewed over 100 women and girls who were pregnant or gave birth in IDP camps and found “serious gaps in access to health care services” and “aid efforts that lack effective mechanisms for monitoring and reporting shortcomings compound the problem.”   Source: Human Rights Watch  http://ow.ly/6gZgs  

Horn of Africa Crisis

UNHCR is concerned by the number of NGOs handing out aid and cash in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp.  Officials believe that such actions may cause unintended consequences.  CBC: http://ow.ly/6gYIN

The World Bank is planning to contribute $87 million for long term drought relief in Kenya. Voice of America:  http://ow.ly/6gYlQ  


Cholera is “soaring” the Lake Chad region, reports IRIN. It has killed at least 1,200 people so far this year in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. IRIN:  http://ow.ly/6gZ09  

The United Nations is reviewing the security assessment for the UN compound in Abuja, Nigeria.  A car-bomb killed 23 people and injuring 73 at the site that was believed to be a low-to-medium threat. Bloomberg:  http://ow.ly/6gYH6

50 people have been arrested in Nigeria in connection with Friday’s UN compound bombing. Vanguard: http://ow.ly/6gZrH

Sectarian violence in Jos, Nigeria leaves 13 people killed.  AFP:  http://ow.ly/6gZ9i  

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch report that the Sudanese Armed Forces continue to bomb civilians living in South Kordofan.  All Africa:  http://ow.ly/6gZ35

Valerie Amos on the crisis in South Kordofan:  “The Government of Sudan has denied permission to international aid agencies to replenish stocks and deploy personnel for six weeks. Essential supplies have been completely depleted in many parts of South Kordofan, leaving many people in a life-threatening situation without any prospect of relief.”  OCHA : http://ow.ly/6gYyt  

27 people are confirmed dead after a landslide struck Bulambuli District, Uganda. Uganda Red Cross:  http://ow.ly/6gZJ2

A violent storm destroyed nearly 50 tents in West Darfur’s Garsila camps on Sunday. Radio Abanga http://ow.ly/6huuZ
After 28 years, a “state of emergency” will be formally lifted by the Sri Lankan government. Voice of America:  http://ow.ly/6gZu5
Typhoon Nanbadol was downgraded to a tropical storm as it struck eastern China on Tuesday. Xinhua:  http://ow.ly/6gZTK

A suicide bomber killed 10 people in Southwest Pakistan this morning as people were leaving from their Eid prayers. Voice of America: http://ow.ly/6huXn
Yemen's defence minister has survived an explosion after his convoy drove over a land mine killing two people and injuring four.  Alert Net: http://ow.ly/6gZXD
Israel is considering providing teargas and stun grenades to West Bank settlers in preparation for next month’s Palestinian protests. Al Jazeera:  http://ow.ly/6h0c9
In Syria, four anti-government demonstrators were killed when protests began shortly after people left prayer in the northern towns of al-Hara and Inkhil. Alert Net:  http://ow.ly/6h0AV
The Americas
The powerful chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the United States introduced legislation that would effectively eliminate American dues payments to the United Nations in favor of a system of voluntary contributions. Bloomberg:  http://ow.ly/6h1YR
Four months after suffering from catastrophic flooding, the Colombian government has implemented only half of is planned prevention programs, says Refugees International. Alternet: http://ow.ly/6h7UY
The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund is donating an additional $1.4 million. The bulk of the funds are for training engineers to manufacture steel frame houses and other construction training programs.  Voice of America: http://ow.ly/6hulE
Anti-contraception often gets lumped in with pro-life efforts.  Michael Gerson, A former speechwriter for George W Bush,  says that advocates have it backwards and argues that family planning is pro-life. He writes in the Washington Post:

The very words “family planning” light up the limbic centers of American politics. From a distance, it seems like a culture war showdown. Close up, in places such as Bweremana, family planning is undeniably pro-life. When births are spaced more than 24 months apart, both mothers and children are dramatically more likely to survive. Family planning results not only in fewer births, but in fewer at-risk births, including those early and late in a woman’s fertility. When contraceptive prevalence is low, about 70 percent of all births involve serious risk. When prevalence is high, the figure is 35 percent. 
Support for contraception does not imply or require support for abortion. Even in the most stringent Catholic teaching, the prevention of conception is not the moral equivalent of ending a life. And conservative Protestants have little standing to object to contraception, given the fact that they make liberal use of it. According to a 2009 Gallup poll, more than 90 percent of American evangelicals believe that hormonal and barrier methods of contraception are morally acceptable for adults. Children are gifts from God, but this does not require the collection of as many gifts as biologically possible... 
Contraceptives do not solve every problem. But women in Bweremana want access to voluntary family planning for the same reasons as women elsewhere: to avoid high-risk pregnancies, to deliver healthy children and to better care for the children they have. And this is a pro-life cause.

Link: http://ow.ly/6h2ly
Mistakes were made when the millennium development goals were created in 2001.  With the end nearing it is time to start thinking about what targets will be set after 2015 has passed. Alicia Yamin, professor of International Affairs at the New School, shares how to ensure the next round is an improvement on the first.  She writes in the Guardian Development:

The successor goals and targets must consider lessons from the current set of MDGs, which are extremely narrow. They focus on sub-sections of certain social sectors and selective human needs. Greater balance could be achieved by including such challenges as creating decent work, reinforcing social protection, and increasing productivity; addressing climate change and its disparate impacts on the poor; ameliorating risks of global financial and commodity market crises; ensuring fairer trade rules; and, finally, reducing gaping inequalities within and between countries, based on class, gender and ethnicity, among other factors.  
The MDGs are global targets; they must be adapted at the national level to reflect each country's specific capacities, constraints and challenges..."one size fits all" targets make no sense when countries have vastly different starting points. In some, the targets are not ambitious enough, in others, they are unfeasible... One of the principal failures of the MDGs has been a lack of accountability for meeting goals in an equitable, transparent and participatory manner that promotes sustained institutional change. The absence of quantifiable commitments for trade, debt, aid and technology transfer has made it particularly difficult to hold the international community to account...  
[T]he MDGs have not had the strong "ownership" and "buy-in" from civil society and national governments they might have. Nor have they been informed by the experiences of those most directly affected by poverty and the denial of human rights. The initial reactions of many civil society groups to the MDGs were critical. A decade on, many of these groups have converged in broad-based global coalitions and networks to make constructive proposals from different but complementary perspectives, including those of indigenous, environmental, feminist, social justice and human rights movements. As a survey of more than 100 southern civil society groups recently affirmed, "the process of deciding what comes after the MDGs will be as important as the framework itself" (pdf)...  
[C]onsultations will require time, involving local, national, and regional debate. They must involve key stakeholder groups, including national governments, national and international civil society organisations and networks, the private sector, and bilateral and multilateral development agencies. Time is short for this process if it is to be meaningful.
*Any formatting errors with this blog post are the result of importing the document to blogger. Unfortunately this is bug in the blog design that I cannot help. Please forgive any odd spacing. I have done my best cleaning it up, but it would take a long time to find what part of the code needs to be fixed. Rest assured that these errors will not appear when they are sent via email.

30 August 2011

The Haiti Narrative

For starters, always use the phrase 'the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.' Your audience must be reminded again of Haiti's exceptional poverty. It's doubtful that other articles have mentioned this fact.

You are struck by the 'resilience' of the Haitian people. They will survive no matter how poor they are. They are stoic, they rarely complain, and so they are admirable. The best poor person is one who suffers quietly. A two-sentence quote about their misery fitting neatly into your story is all that's needed.

On your last visit you became enchanted with Haiti. You are in love with its colorful culture and feel compelled to return. You care so much about these hard-working people. You are here to help them. You are their voice. They cannot speak for themselves.

Don't listen if the Haitians speak loudly or become unruly. You might be in danger, get out of there. Protests are not to be taken seriously. The participants were probably all paid to be there. All Haitian politicians are corrupt or incompetent. Find a foreign authority on Haiti to talk in stern terms about how they must shape up or cede power to incorruptible outsiders.
That is how Ansel kicks off his piece on how to write about Haiti in Haiti ReWired. Read the full thing to get a sense of the narrative that has played over and over for the past year and a half.  The same template can be used for just about any other disaster, relief and recovery writing.  Haiti holds a special place due to the proximity to the United States, but the point boils down to making everything seem as simple as possible.

Foreigners are the ones who provide the assistance and locals are either incapable, incompetent or desperate.  What is unfortunate is that those three adjectives can be found every where in the world.  Innovative, courageous, and successful are equally as easy to find but seem to not be as present in the context of Haiti.  Only with the assistance and guidance of outsiders can this be accessed.  It gets redundant to post about this, but it happens too often.  Let's dispel this single story and embrace multi-layered or series or stories that tell about all that is happening.  Not just the parts that elicit guilt.

29 August 2011

A Story Not on the Evening News

A report on the Liberian Women's Sewing Project.

HT Scott Gilmore

Helping 'The Help'

In her review of The Help, the popular book about a young woman who writes the story of life as seen by black maids, Martha Southgate describes the problem with continuing to tell narratives of persons with privilege being the agents of change. This section towards the end can be quickly edited to discuss how the global South is portrayed.
Implicit in The Help and a number of other popular works that deal with the civil rights era is the notion that a white character is somehow crucial or even necessary to tell this particular tale of black liberation. What's more, to imply that what the maids Aibileen and Minny are working against is simply a refusal on everyone's part to believe that ''we're all the same underneath'' is to simplify the horrors of Jim Crow to a truly damaging degree.

This isn't the first time the civil rights movement has been framed this way fictionally, especially on film. Most Hollywood civil rights movies feature white characters in central, sometimes nearly solo, roles. My favorite (not!) is Alan Parker's Mississippi Burning, which gives us two white FBI agents as heroes of the movement. FBI agents! Given that J. Edgar Hoover did everything short of shoot Martin Luther King Jr. himself in order to damage or discredit the movement, that goes from troubling to appalling.

Why is it ever thus? Suffice it to say that these stories are more likely to get the green light and to have more popular appeal (and often acclaim) if they have white characters up front. That's a shame. The continued impulse to reduce the black women and men of the civil rights movement to bit players in the most extraordinary step toward justice that this nation has ever known is infuriating, to say the least. Minny and Aibileen are heroines, but they didn't need Skeeter to guide them to the light. They fought their way out of the darkness on their own — and they brought the nation with them.
I have not read the book, so I will refrain from any additional commentary and allow those who have read it to include their thoughts. Now that it is a major Hollywood film, the story will not reach an even larger audience than the bestseller did.

26 August 2011

Weekend Tunes: Coltrane

How to make Coltrane's music dance? Just watch the notes flutter by as the saxophone rolls through each with ease. Brilliant. Beautiful.

Happy Friday.

Analyzing Internally Driven Aid Models In Haiti

The following is a guest post by Nathan Yaffe who works with the Haiti Justice Alliance. For questions about partner groups or the work of the Haiti Justice Alliance, feel free to contact him at nathan.yaffe@gmail.com.

Last week, Tom highlighted three exciting internally driven aid organizations contributing to the famine relief effort in the Horn of Africa. This week, he graciously invited me to discuss the work of a few established internal aid efforts in Haiti.

I came to know these organizations through my work with the Haiti Justice Alliance (HJA) over the past two years, which partners with the groups discussed here (among others). The goal of this post is not simply to promote the work of these grassroots organizations, but to discuss their work in light of the broader dialogue about best practices in aid and development.

SOPUDEP: On the Responsiveness and Flexibility of Internally Driven Aid

SOPUDEP is a grassroots social organization that was founded by Réa Dol in 1994. It currently focuses on two main projects: providing free education and micro-credit services to the residents of Pétionville, Port-au-Prince.

The education project, initiated in 2002, has grown from a small adult literacy program to an accredited K-12 school serving more than 560 students. As an example of successful grassroots organizing in an environment that would challenge any organizer, this effort deserves recognition and support.

What I found uniquely inspiring about Réa Dol’s work through SOPUDEP, however, is her ability to respond to evolving community needs. The sequence of events following the earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010 illustrates this perfectly.

As Réa reports in this NYT video on her post-earthquake work, her neighborhood in Pétionville, Morne Lazarre, was receiving no aid after the earthquake. She stepped up to fill in the void.

This demonstrates one of the potential strengths of internally driven aid. As these actors establish networks of social and economic resources, they can rapidly respond to negative shocks. What began as post-earthquake food distribution evolved into a whole new SOPUDEP program: a women’s micro-credit initiative that has helped 150 women find jobs in 10 months. Réa described her motivation for the program to us as follows: “I told the women who came to me, you can either have another bag of rice or you can have a loan to start doing your own business.”

Invoking the parable about “teaching a man to fish…” may draw a yawn from seasoned aid workers. However, I believe the evolution of SOPUDEP to include food distribution and then micro-credit highlights another potential strength of internally aid efforts. That is, aid actors closer to the ground are likely to be more flexible than external aid actors.

Although internal aid actors may not be best positioned for all aid activities, they don’t capture a big enough share of aid flows.

The What If? Foundation and BAI/IJDH: External Actors Supporting Internal Efforts

This brings us to the work of three organizations that demonstrate a novel approach to shifting the balance of resources toward internal aid actors. The first is the What If? Foundation, a feeding and education program. The latter two, both human rights law organizations, are the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH).

The What If? Foundation arose from the vision of Father Gerard Jean-Juste, a Haitian priest and social justice activist. He inspired a visiting American, Margaret Trost, to return to the US and fundraise for him to start a feeding program in 2000.

The feeding program has grown to distribute more than 3,000 meals per week. In the meantime, it added a scholarship, summer camp, and after school program to its mix of community development activities.

In contrast to widely criticized external food aid efforts both before and after the earthquake, the Foundation’s approach to food sourcing reflects awareness of its market impact. What If? therefore uses its purchasing power to support local produce farmers, and is attempting to transition to all-local rice acquisition as well (at 5,000 lbs. per week) to help rejuvenate Haiti’s struggling rice industry.

BAI was formed in 1995 by a network of human rights lawyers in Haiti led by Mario Joseph. Their most prominent case was the Raboteau Trial, which saw the prosecution of 57 individuals who committed crimes as part of Haiti’s paramilitary government of 1991-1994. In 2004, however, a US-backed coup led to the opening of the prison doors, at which point all the Raboteau prisoners were released. Brian Concannon – an American and one of the lead lawyers working on the Raboteau prosecution – made a decision about how he could most effectively engage.

He returned to the US and founded IJDH, which still partners on major projects with BAI, but which focuses on reforming US policy toward Haiti. As Mr. Conconnan tells it, his thinking went: “If the US can step in and undo all our work with a single stroke,” then the best way to support BAI was by targeting US policy. Also, because the coup government saw the return of many former paramilitary to power, BAI stopped receiving funding from the government. IJDH stepped in to pick up the slack: almost all of BAI’s funds today come from IJDH. Since the earthquake, IJDH and BAI have been the best resource for IDPs in the tent camps whose rights have been violated.

In that sense, Brian Concannon does through a separate “affiliated” organization what Margaret Trost does from within the What If? Foundation. They’re both funneling resources toward internally driven aid efforts.

I’m not suggesting that internally driven aid is a panacea. Aid is complex, and doing it well is difficult whether the actors involved are local or foreign. Yet the narratives associated with these are instructive, because they illustrate some of the potential benefits of, and creative approaches to, supporting internal aid efforts.

Want to write a guest post for AVFTC? Send your ideas to murph@aviewfromthecave.com. I cannot offer any sort of remuneration, but I promise to bring you fame beyond your wildest dreams (arms sweeping open in a mechanical motion with a forced grin). Submissions are welcome and encouraged as I want to develop a space for discussion and ideas.

25 August 2011

WFP Horn of Africa Map

This is one of the most informative maps I have seen as of yet. It is not perfect, but definitely is a model for organizations. It gives rapid information for people interested with notes about how the WFP is operating in different places throughout the Horn of Africa.

I would love to see a similar map that pulls together the information from all of the NGOs working in the region with data about money raised and what they are doing. Any data nerds or grad students want to pull it together?

Good Intentions Gone Wrong: Part 2 - Malaria Bed Nets

In part 1 of Good Intentions Gone Wrong, I offered the example of how new research about the association of the color pink with breast cancer awareness has a negative impact on women getting checked and contributing to the campaign. In the second and final part, I will present the case of insecticide treated bed nets.

The WHO says that there are two methods of vector control for malaria. The first is insecticide treated bed nets and the second is indoor spraying with residual insecticides. This advice, particularly the first, has been headed by individuals and groups who aim to reduce the burden of a disease that killed nearly one million people worldwide in 2008. Economically, the WHO estimates that malaria can decrease the GDP of a nation by as much as 1.3%. From both an aid and development perspective, the elimination of malaria is of the utmost importance.

Some of the most popular stories that fill up the malaria section of Google News are about students who have raised money to provide bed nets in a country of choice. Often they involve a young person who is motivated after learning about the impact of malaria on the lives of people in Sub-Saharan Africa or India (though it is not only only prevalent in those two areas) and is able to raise a significant sum of money through a basketball tournament or coin collection scheme.

The idea is quite simple. Mosquitoes come out most often during the evening and morning. The times when people are sleeping. A fine net will keep the mosquitoes out. Treating it with insecticide, harmless to the people sleeping under but deadly to the mosquitoes, ensures that they are no longer a problem. Easy to use and cheap to produce, insecticide treated bed nets have been a cause around which many can rally.

Recently released research from Senegal shows that the story is not quite so simple. Published in The Lancet, the study ran by Dr Jean-Francois Trape ran four years from January 2007 through December 2010. Beginning in July 2008, people in Dielmo village, Senegal were offered longlasting insecticide (deltamethrin)-treated nets (LLINs).

The study noted a decrease in malaria rates until August 2010 when rates jumped back up to pre-bed net levels from before the distribution of the LLINs. Additionally, "37% of Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes were resistant to deltamethrin in 2010, and the prevalence of the Leu1014Phe kdr resistance mutation increased from 8% in 2007 to 48% in 2010."

The BBC reports:
"These findings are a great concern since they support the idea that insecticide resistance might not permit a substantial decrease in malaria morbidity in many parts of Africa," they write.
It is valuable to note that the study was very small and it seems to indicate that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. More research will ensue that will provide a better understanding into what may be happening. What this does illustrate is that there are unintended consequences that should be recognized when introducing an intervention.

24 August 2011

Vaccines Should Not Be Funny

...but they are when Penn and Teller* are the ones discussing them. Not that this will convince skeptics, but this short serves as a pretty darn good illustration as to why vaccines have been an important step in the development of Western nations.

*If you are not a fan of Penn and Teller, they curse a lot on their show. So it might not be a good idea to watch at work or in a public place without headphones.

Good Intentions Gone Wrong: Part 1 - Breast Cancer Awareness

One of the things that I try to point out here is that some of the best conceived plans can lead to unintended consequences.  Even when the work has been done to prepare for all conceivable outcomes and hurdles things can still go wrong.  It is why I am such an unabashed fan of improving evaluations, supporting donor education, and call for a healthy dose of conservatism when starting new initiatives and ideas.

The goal is not to shut people out or to discourage innovation.  Innovation should take place and be encouraged, but let's not confuse redundancy with innovation.  Making the same mistakes over and over is troubling.  Improving evaluations coupled with better transparency will help to lead to a better informed public and sector.

This brings me to two recent studies which reveal the unintended consequences of an advocacy campaign and a health program.  In the first case, the color pink being used by breast cancer advocates may in fact harm their efforts to raise money.  The second example will be of the long term impact of insecticide treated bed nets in Senegal.  A decrease in malaria rates has not sustained and rates are not higher than they were at the beginning of the distribution of nets 2.5 years ago.

Turned off by Pink

On Mother's Day, you will see David Ortiz, the giant teddy bear of a DH for the Boston Red Sox, holding what looks like a pink toothpick between his massive frame. After striking out (Yankees fan, what can I say?), Derek Jeter steps to the plate, much smaller than Ortiz, with a bat of a similar pink hue. The bases upon which he runs after hitting a single off Josh Beckett are also pink as are the batting gloves he takes on while at first base and even the armband that wipes the sweat from his brow. The explosion of the color pink on the day is raise awareness about mother's day and one of the most deadly diseases affecting women: breast cancer.

There was once a time when gender norms determined that boys would wear pink and girls blue. After being flipped in the 1940's the color pink has been attached to women and preppy twenty-somethings who pop their collar. Using the color that is associated with women to advocate for a diseases that overwhelmingly affects women seems to have made perfect sense; or so it seems.

A group of researchers decided to take a look at attitudes associated with the color and the campaign and have published their findings in the Journal of Marketing Research (PDF).

The Society Pages blog summarizes the findings:
Stefano Puntoni and his colleagues found that when women were exposed to gender cues, like the color pink, they were less likely than women who had not been primed with a gender cue to think that they might someday get breast cancer and to say that they’d be willing to donate to the cause. Pink, in other words, decreased both their willingness to fund research and the seriousness with which women took the disease.

Puntoni explains this finding with a common psychological tendency. When people are faced with a personal threat, they tend to subconsciously go on the defensive. In this case, when women are exposed to information about breast cancer at the same time that they are reminded that they, specifically, are vulnerable to it, they subconsciously try to push away the idea that they’re vulnerable and that breast cancer is something that they, or anyone, needs to worry about it.
Given the ubiquity of pink ribbon's, it is likely that a significant amount of women are aware of the campaign and are being negatively affected by the way that it is presented. With the goal to raise awareness and get checked more frequently, it is possible that it is causing more damage than good.

What we do now know is that what seemed to be the obvious choice may be wrong. If research, like this study, was done prior to the campaign it may have lead to a different approach. So what is next? It is not likely that the color pink will be abandoned because of a single study. Who knows. Maybe next season the bases on the ball field will remain white all year long and arm bands will correspond to the uniform of the player's team.

Intention to do good undone by the use of the color pink. Use to show why it is important to do research before and that unintended consequences come in many different forms.

In part 2, tomorrow, I will discuss the recent malaria study from Senegal.

23 August 2011

Book Review: Kicking Ass and Saving Souls

My friend is fucking badass.

That is the short summary of David Matthew's biography, Kicking Ass and Saving Souls: a True Story of a Life Over the Line, of his good friend Stephan Templeton. It also echoes the tone and language of the book. Matthews writes directly and foul language ebbs and flows throughout Stephan's adventures like the waves of a hurricane.

Matthew's, who first came on to the scene with the memoir Ace of Spades, spins a tale that makes the reader question if it has been written in hyperbole or James Frey is trying out a pen name. Fortunately, the writing is far superior and Matthews is aware of such concerns. He uses the epilogue to outline the research he did for each part of the story.

The quick 255 page biography tells the story of a young man born to a Norwegian mother and an American father. Stephan's mother is depicted to be a free-spirited nymph who traipses throughout Europe to experience an unimaginable life of privilege and castles. His father, a Vietnam veteran, is hard-nosed, lives in Baltimore's toughest neighborhood, and trains his son in Tae Kwan Do. No surprise that the torrid love affair which lead to Stephan does not last.

As he grows up in two different world, Stephan becomes the baddest mofo in Baltimore and the Renaissance man in Europe. He kicks ass, learns multiple languages, rides horses, and beds young French women, including friends of his mother. All by the age of sixteen. Seeking the next adrenaline fix, Stephan leaps from training in diving school to stealing jewels. Finally, it is the fix of 'saving souls' which is where he finds redemption and fulfillment.

The book becomes hard to believe and Matthews's style can be abrasive from time to time, but it creates a pull on the reader. As Stephan continues to make terrible mistakes that lead to problems or fortunate outcomes, the want to know more and find out what happens next pulls further.

The humanitarian side is saved for the last few pages and is not fleshed out. We learn that Stephan has a disdain for NGOs. It is no surprise since everything portrayed in the book is just a little bit below him. The red tape stands in his way and he has no patience for dealing with the bureaucracy that is a part of the humanitarian field.

Stephan got his first taste in the Sierra Navada with the Arhuaco Indians. Matthews writes, " Excitement--danger--made even better by doing some good. He'd have gotten off on just the guns and the hourse part. But if he was being honest with himself, what he got off on the most was the power. He had doled out justice on behalf of those who could't seek it for themselves in Baltimore ghettos and Oxfordshire streets. Now he could dole out salvation." The prodigal son returns as a Christ-like character.

That passage, and the other points on Stefan's humanitarian endeavors, bothered me. The use of the phrase 'saving souls' tipped things off, but the savior dynamic is invoked when discussing the humanitarian work done by Stephan. The comments about his motivations are added by Matthews, so it is hard to know if it is the author trying to impose his ideas on Stephan or if it is based on what Stephan said to his childhood friend. Stephan saves people.

This dynamic is problematic as it continues to set forth the idea that people living in poverty are helpless. Because the section is so short, what is told are the stories of saving young children.*

Matthews does his best to make Templeton likable, but it is a hard feat. It is not because he was a criminal for long spells, rather it is the way that people are treated in his life. He falls in love with different women and moves along to the next because of the thrill of infidelity. His wife is met while doing work in a bar that he often frequented with his daughter from a long-term girlfriend. People in his life have been impacted by his actions, but there is little discussion of that culpability. The extremes of fighting, fucking and saving are intentional and abrasive. Living such a way will invariably help and hurt some people along the way.

Based on the storytelling and the over-the-top story, this is something we will probably see on the big screen in a few years. The story will be boiled down further and it will be something more like a dude version of "Eat, Pray, Love" with the title "Kick Ass, Steal, Fuck."

I should commend Matthews. He could have painted a completely romantic image of his friend that would have made his actions acceptable. To some extent he tries with the comparisons to famous characters James Bond and Jason Bourne, but he practices restraint and honesty. Stephan Templeton is incredibly imperfect. Who isn't? Biographies do not generally appeal to me, but the style and story made this a very interesting read. This will interest anyone who wants a fast and exciting read. For humanitarians this may be a bit grating, but it best read as a biography of a kid from Baltimore rather than a disaster relief worker.

*J. and Linda will both be writing reviews of the book soon. I am not sure what they will say, but I feel confident that they will expand on the humanitarian side of the book, so I will leave it to them to speak based on their own experiences.

Disclosure: A review copy of the book was provided to me at no cost. The opinions of this review are entirely mine.

Apologies: For the language. It is not something I like when writing, but I feel that it is warranted considering the tone of the book and the emphasis made by the author. Rest assured, if this review made you at all uncomfortable than take it as a fair warning if you consider reading the book.

22 August 2011

Reattaching the Strings to Aid

My favorite patriotic think tank has come out with a brilliant idea: the United States needs to exact more control over aid recipients. Nations who receive aid from our great government are more likely to vote against us in the UN. This must stop!

It is not enough that trade restrictions are included with loans and goods are purchased from outside the country. We should expect complete fealty as a way of thanking us for our abounding generosity. Loyalty has a price and it is in the amount of the next commitment of funds to Africa.

The problem is with laws:
Despite the potential to positively influence U.N. voting through the disbursement of U.S. foreign aid, current law does not specifically link U.S. aid to U.N. voting or even instruct the State Department to include U.N. voting when considering foreign assistance. Congress should link disbursement of U.S. development assistance to support for U.S. policy priorities in the U.N. and instruct the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to inform aid recipients of this policy through their missions in New York and explain that opposing U.S. priorities at the U.N. will make Americans, especially Congress, less inclined to continue providing aid.
Call your congress person and demand that assistance be linked to voting. While you are at it, tell them that welfare and entitlement recipients in the US have to do the same since they are getting money from the government. They least they could do is vote for those who give them free stuff like healthcare, food stamps and housing.

In fact, why not just take away voting rights since they really do not know better. Anyone who needs our money is unable to take care for him or herself. If they can't hold a job or run a government, why should either a country or a person receiving our benevolence be able to vote? Anyone who does not cooperate will lose everything until they agree to everything that we decide for them.

That is the American way!

Note: To get ahead of anyone who thinks this is serious; it is not. It is hastily written satire with a tinge of frustration that such a poorly conceived report could ever be published. Thank you, Heritage Foundation, for continuing to lower the bar. Unfortunately the limbo bar is too low for anyone to pass (except ants, they might have a shot).

Breaking Down the Humanitarian Report Formula

Paragraph 1: Tell the story of the hardship faced by an individual. It is best if it is a women, better if a mother.
Paragraph 2: Explain larger problem in a paragraph.
Paragraph 3: Commend those who are providing aid, make a plug for what you are supporting (ie. your choice government agency or NGO).
Paragraph 4: Say not enough is being done to address the given situation, give a call to action, and say how to support.

Rinse and repeat.

The formula is tried and true. Used recently by Jill Biden and Former Sen Bill Frist, the formula was applied to their recent visit to Somalia. Under the cringe-worth headline "Jill Biden, Bill Frist: Let's save starving Somalis," the two political figures lend their collective clout to raise awareness and funds for people affected by the drought in Somalia. Despite the formulaic style and terrible headline, there is something to like about the column. These paragraphs:
Yet we must also confront the broader challenge of food insecurity that leaves so many people vulnerable to droughts like this one. That's why America has been helping nations such as Ethiopia and Kenya develop innovative and improved crops and irrigation methods, and new ways for farmers to market and transport their products. The goal of our aid is simple: to help create the conditions where such aid is no longer needed.

That, ultimately, is how we can help prevent the kind of suffering we see in Somalia today.
I would argue that the word 'development' needs to be added to the statement about aid eliminating the need for aid, but the goal to get to a point where aid is no longer needed should be said over and over. Heck, if the formula of how a humanitarian topic is here to stay can't we add a section about eventually ending aid before the call to action?

I get that there is a reason that articles are written as they are. The Biden/Frist article is concise and does enough to get people motivated. What gets me is not the article per say, but the fact that so little is done to move past the same narrative. The goal should be to move from this article to one that has more nuance such as this one from More Altitude.

The trick is how to move the conversation forward so that more people will be interested in learning more. Like an infant being introduced foods slowly into her diet, it has to be a well planned and slow process. Strawberries too soon will create an allergy. The same can be said for giving too much information. Every person will not develop the same palate and set of food preferences. However, they move well beyond a diet of only milk.

Why is it that many continue to be coddled and breastfed by simple stories from NGOs, media outlets, and political leaders? Let's star getting some solid food into the diet.


After writing this draft, I came across Frederick Allen's post in Forbes which argues the same point. He says (emphasis added is mine):
The news from the Horn of Africa today is horrific: Drought and famine are spreading throughout the region, exacerbated by the derailment of aid shipments by the militant group al-Shabab, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths with little resolution in sight. As global citizens we need to know this. But I’m worried about the way we are learning it—from reports with the news truncated the same way I just presented it. Though the facts may be accurate, their wholly negative and abbreviated presentation unwittingly creates a future for the region that is overly linked with its past. Let’s change the conversation and help create a new future...

There is enormous opportunity here to rewrite the long, sad story of famine and turn it into something much more promising and much more accurate for the Ethiopia of today as it becomes the Ethiopia of tomorrow—using Ethiopia’s own resources. Ethiopia is not Somalia, but all of the countries in the Horn of Africa are being lumped together in the current headlines in a devastating manner, in part by association and in part because the very real drought does cut across national lines. The Horn is a region of more or less than a million square miles with between 100 million and 200 million people, depending on how you define it. The region’s entire story is much more complex and ultimately hopeful than just the famine. Focusing on only the famine is like saying that all of Europe is financially and morally bankrupt just because of the recent doomsday chatter about Italy.

Let’s enter the conversation and shift its direction by being specific and addressing the region’s potential while bearing witness to the horrific...

19 August 2011

Weekend Tunes: Kings of Leon

Before they were big, the Kings of Leon knocked out tunes like The Bucket; a song which foretold of mainstream success. A simple pair of riffs played by two guitars, this is them are their most simple and best.

Happy Friday.

Food Prices Still Very High; Not Only Famine Culprit

It looks like global food prices remain quite high. The latest food-price index from the World Bank is concerning in light of the current Horn of Africa famine. Bloomberg reports:
The bank’s food-price index was 33 percent higher in July than a year earlier, with maize, sugar and wheat contributing to the increase, the Washington-based lender said today. While prospects for food supply have improved, low stocks and expected volatility in some commodity prices, such as oil, may boost prices in coming months, it added.

“Persistently high food prices and low food stocks indicate that we’re still in the danger zone, with the most vulnerable people the least able to cope,” World Bank President Robert Zoellick said in an e-mailed statement. “Vigilance is vital given the uncertainties and volatility that exists today. There is no cushion.”

...In Somalia, prices of locally produced cereals have exceeded their 2008 peaks, the Food Price Watch report said, with red sorghum 30 percent to 240 percent higher. Prices of imported commodities such as rice and sugar are also higher than a year ago, it said.

Nonetheless, the bank’s average food price index for the three months through July was about 5 percent below its February peak, with wheat prices declining after good winter yields in Europe and the U.S. and the end of a Russian export ban, the bank said.

On the subject of the famine and food prices, one important fact to highlight is that "increases in the price of key staples have not been consistently higher in the famine declared areas than in the nonfamine area." As has been pointed out before, the factors leading to the present famine are complex and include the drought, the lack of government, the role of al-Shabaab and others. Be on the lookout for reports that will try to directly tie food prices to the famine.

Hopefully more knowledgeable people like Calestous Juma and Marc Bellemare will chime in on the role of food prices and agriculture.  In the meantime, do read the report from the World Bank as it provides a lot of information about present trends and what trends to watch.

18 August 2011

Internally Driven Aid

The discussion of aid is often one framed in the context of external actors providing support. In the case of the Horn of Africa drought and famine a lot of aid is coming from the same external actors, but some internal initiatives are showing that the aid landscape is starting to change. The following three examples are reason to be encouraged:

Kenyans for Kenya was borne out of the present drought and famine in the Horn of Africa. Coordinated by Safaricom, ICRC Kenya and the Kenya Charter Bank the sms based campaign gives Kenyans the opportunity to help out fellow Kenyans by donating air time. With donations starting at 10/- (less than $0.25 USD), anyone can provide support. Presently, the campaign has garnered $4,302,569.60 in cash pledges and already raise $2.3 million of it.

CNN reports:
"This is a purely Kenyan effort ... finding African solutions to African problems," [Bob Collymore, CEO of Nairobi-based Safaricom] said. "All the aid was coming in for Somalia, but there were also a lot of Kenyans going through a drought."

The first food shipments have already gone to the region, Collymore said.
While food remains a priority, some funds will go toward building boreholes in the region to provide water all year, he said.

"We don't see ourselves as the right people to fix the problem in the long-term," Collymore said. "However, we want to make sure our efforts leave behind a sustainable legacy ... and set the tone in the nation for years to come."

The campaign will culminate at month's end with a telethon.

During the last big famine Bob Geldof and Midge Ure brought together the world's biggest artists to sing and raise money for those in need of assistance. They produced the embarrassingly neo-colonial tune Do They Know It's Christmas? that we will forever have to endure each December. This time around, musicians like Sauti Sol, Sara Mitaru, Juliani, Nameless, Just A Band, The Villagers, and Julie Gichuru are coming together under the banner of Africans Act 4 Africa. With a twitter account and a facebook page, the group hopes to lend their collective voice to encouarging fellow Africans to support the 12 million people at risk. So far, they have raised $2 million via text message donations averaging $3 per text. Additionally, Kenyan firms have pledged $4 million.

Andrew Andasi has set out the goal to raise $13 million for Somali children after learning about the ongoing famine when watching TV. What's so special about Andrew? He just happens to be an 11-year-old from Ghana who plans to reach his target during his 8 week holiday from school. The Save the Somali Children from Hunger campaign* will consist of Andrew spending all of his free time asking for people to contribute to support his cause. He met with the WFP director in Ghana who suggested that he raise money rather than send food. From the BBC:
"If they send it to Somalia they can buy it [food] somewhere around Somalia… because if we gather the food items it will take a long time and the plane will cost a lot," he said.

*Yea, the name could be better, but he is only 11. What is more important is that he heeded the advice of the WFP officer and shifted the campaign to raise money.

DAWNS Digest Version 0.3.168

This is the second public release of the Development and Aid World News Service (DAWNS) Digest. A collaboration between myself and Mark Goldberg, this is meant to be a daily digest of news and events from around the world aimed at people who work in aid and development. The goal is to eventually release a consistent digest that can make its way to your inbox each morning for a very small monthly fee. In order to make this as optimal as possible, we are tweaking the format to make this as useful to you as possible.

This version has been released at 8AM GMT. The hope will be to provide an early addition for those across the pond in places like London, New Dheli, and Nairobi. An edited version for the Americas would then be released before 9AM EST. As before, please share your feedback.

Top News...

UN Pulls Staff from Syria; 5,000 Palestinian Refugees “Missing”

If you want to know whether or not the international community believes President Assad will ease up on the violence any time soon consider this: the United Nations announced that it is pulling 26 non-essential staff members from Syria. According to the UN, the relocation is only “temporary,” but it’s surely a sign that the international body considers that the crack down will only get more fierce in the coming days. In the meantime, UNRWA says that at least 5,000 Palestinian refugees in the port city of Latakia have gone missing after Syrian forces attacked a refugee camp in the city. Link: http://ow.ly/667c2

DFID Chief: 400,000 Children are at Risk in Somalia

The last time a UK minister visited Mogadishu was 1992 -- that was long before before al Shabaab, Dadaab, or even Black Hawk Down. From the Somali capital today, DFID chief Andrew Mitchell proclaimed that 400,000 children could die of starvation if the humanitarian response is not ramped up. Money quote: "The stark fact is that in southern Somalia the situation is deteriorating by the day. We could face deaths on a similar scale to those seen in 1991-92 if we do not act urgently now. This is a race against time. Evidence of malnutrition is not just in the camps and feeding centres but on every street corner." Mitchell also announced another $41 million in assistance for UNICEF programs in Somalia. Link: http://ow.ly/662dV

Yet MORE Flooding in Pakistan

One year ago this summer, Pakistan suffered one of the worst natural disasters ever. Millions were displaced and billions of dollars worth of agricultural production was swept downstream. Well, it’s monsoon season -- and once again flooding is poised to devastate swaths of Pakistan. 30 people were killed and nearly 1 million people have been affected after a massive rainfall. This latest deluge inundated Sindh province, which was among the hardest hit during last year’s epic floods. Link http://ow.ly/662ei

Horn of Africa Crisis

At a press conference on Wednesday, OCHA head Valerie Amos said that reports of aid diversion in Mogadishu were exaggerated, “No more than 1 per cent of aid was being diverted, according to WFP,” she said. Link: http://ow.ly/661Dj

Oxfam UK has called upon African nations to step up their support for the 12 million affected by the ongoing drought. So far, only the governments of South Africa, Namibia, Kenya and Sudan have contributed. Link: http://ow.ly/6623l

Turkey hosted a meeting of the 57 member Organization of the Islamic Conferences to coordinate a response the famine in Somalia. The Turkish prime minister and his family are scheduled to visit Mogadishu tomorrow. Link: http://ow.ly/66242

Quick Hits

Police used teargas and water cannons to disperse protesters in a Kampala, Uganda suburb who were rallying in support of opposition political candidates. Link: http://ow.ly/661tB

The UN News Service tells the harrowing story of a Hugarian peacekeeper in Darfur who was abducted and chained to a tree for three months. For real. Link: http://ow.ly/6620n

Taiwan announced that its fertility rate has fallen below one birth per woman. At 0.9, Taiwan now holds the worlds lowest fertility rate. Link: http://ow.ly/661mW

The UN Refugee Agency began distribution of new Smart ID cards, packed with a chip that contains biographical information, to refugees in India. Link: http://ow.ly/665lo

The government of Venezuela has come to an agreement with private hospitals to freeze fees to alleviate the pressure of an annual 25% inflation rate on the poor. Link: http://ow.ly/6625X

Donors, including the Clinton Foundation, are beginning to pull funds for HIV/AIDS programs in Zimbabwe over concerns of the abuse of funds by the National AIDS Council. Link: http://ow.ly/66276

The road to stability in Cote D’Ivoire just got a little less crowded thanks to the announcement by the government that 10,000 gunmen will be disarmed by the end of the year. Link: http://ow.ly/661J6

Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of New Dehli in support of an anti-corruption activist who is on hunger strike. Link: http://ow.ly/6628a

According to a Ugandan health minister, over three million people in Uganda are at risk of getting river blindness. Link: http://ow.ly/662k6

Once a huge recipient of American aid, the Egyptian military is actively blocking Egyptian civil society organizations from receiving grants through USAID. Link: http://ow.ly/6629S

The Oxfam Haiti director has stepped down after reports of misconduct lead to the suspension of some staff. Link: http://ow.ly/665ez

In Syria, Assad’s forces have arrested hundreds in the port town of Latakia; forcibly removing them from their homes and holding them in the town’s stadium. Link: http://ow.ly/662cw

Healthcare reform in South Africa could mean better access for the poor and less profits for domestic insurance companies. Link: http://ow.ly/662do

In Senegal, malaria rates have risen above the levels from two and a half years ago. What is striking is that a malaria program was carried out during that period that had lead to a significant reduction in the rate of infection. Link: http://ow.ly/665Ag


David Roodman has mixed feelings about the recently released DFID report on microcredit. In his post he covers where he agrees and disagrees. He writes:
How I feel about the text is unimportant in itself, but I do think it points to a problem with the work that matters a bit for the public and for the public agency that funded it. It seems to ally itself with the current stream of vociferous criticism of microfinance, led by another Brit, Milford Bateman—whose book “has very little time” for academic research. Strange that the authors seem to make common cause with someone who views with nihilism the work to which they are devoting their careers, at least as it relates to microfinance. And it seems to distance itself from researchers, notably Jonathan and me, whom the report portrays as wanting to believe that microcredit reduces poverty despite the lack of evidence, .

Similarly, the report perceives a “high risk of bias” in the Karlan and Zinman randomized study of microcredit in the Philippines. Here too the argument seem so illogical that I can’t help wondering whether some deep-seated animosity or bias lies behind it. This is mildly unfortunate in a government-sponsored report.

The fundamental conclusions of this report are that a) we have almost no credible evidence on the average impact of microcredit on poverty and b) what little we have puts the impact at 0. In the current battle royale over whether microcredit is good or bad, that seemingly puts the report right in the middle. Yet in naming intellectual allies and opponents, the report appears to pick sides in a way that departs from the evidence it so thoroughly critiques. This invites the public to spin the report in a certain way, to confuse absence of evidence with evidence of absence, as has already happened in the Bangladeshi press (“Microcredit is a mirage, says UK study“).
Still, this is an intelligent critique of the evidence and anyone interested enough to read it will learn from it. I particularly like the point that “advanced econometric techniques will not be able to control for poor quality data,” which wisely summarizes my experience replicating the complex Pitt and Khandker study.
Link: http://ow.ly/665fl
DFID Report (PDF): http://ow.ly/665gJ

The use of the word ‘genocide’ by then Secretary of State Powell when speaking about Darfur became one of the most important developments in the ensuing advocacy campaign and political actions taken by the U.S. government and other international actors. In the Atlantic, Bec Hamilton uncovers what went into the decision to use the word and how its use was interpreted by U.S. government officials. Jina Moore adds additional commentary and perspective to the report and why it is so important. She writes:
Hamilton focuses on the State Department investigative team whose work in Darfur in the summer of 2004 led to Colin Powell's declaration of genocide in Senate testimony that fall. This was a Really Big Deal: Exactly ten years after the State Department dithered on calling the unfolding massacres in Rwanda genocide, its top officer was using the word to describe a place most Americans, at that point, hadn't heard of.

For a staff at State that remembered the Rwanda decision -- some people in the legal affairs office during the Darfur determination had been there during the Rwanda debate -- and the shame that followed, this was perhaps even a moment of institutional activism...

But there were all these other fussy things interfering with hope -- not the least of which, Hamilton suggests, was the credibility Powell had lost by testifying about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the UN in 2003. Statecraft doesn't happen in a vacuum.

Her conclusion that has much broader implications -- think Congo minerals or LRA Act or, perhaps, Libya. Hamilton writes that the Clinton Administration's decision to avoid the genocide label during Rwanda's genocide, and the Bush Administration decision to use the label during violence in Darfur, were both...
"influenced more by what they believed a genocide determination would mean in terms of action rather than by a strict interpretation of the evidence they had before them. The results to date suggest that neither Rwandans nor Sudanese have been well-served by such instrumentally-motivated avoidance, or use, of the g-word.

What lessons should be taken from this bleak history? One lesson is that it is time to question the assumption that whatever the U.S. government says (or does not say) will determine outcomes on the ground. Another is that it is unwise to place so much stock in a label - even one as potent as genocide."
Let's bold that first one: "It is time to question the assumption that whatever the U.S. government says (or does not say) will determine outcomes on the ground."
Link: http://ow.ly/665hV
Bec’s Atlantic article: http://ow.ly/665jb