18 August 2011

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