31 December 2013

A Year in Review

Rather than collect favorite stories or topics, I am simply going to share some of my favorite pictures from the last year. It covers travels and stories covered, plus some friends in family.

Without further ado, this was my 2013, in pictures (well, mostly gifs):

16 December 2013

From Vietnam to Dorchester to Yale, George's Story

Boston Globe journalist Bill Baker reported the story of George and Johnny Huynh two years ago. The brothers the children of Vietnamese immigrants who live in Boston's worst neighborhood and face immense challenges in their day-to-day lives.

Today, Baker revealed some good news about George...

I never say this, but it is well worth your time to read about this story.

12 December 2013

Does the first rung out of poverty exist?

The following is a response from Gregory Gamble to a post from last month. Comments are off on this blog due to spam issues. Comments and ideas are always welcome here. I will gladly share responses and ideas that a post elicits.

On November 7, 2013 you detailed the story of Mary Anyango, a Kenyan woman who has received many different levels and types of aid from the Millennium Villages Project (MVP) and other aid sources, but still finds herself living in extreme poverty. Thanks for bringing this to the attention of the International Economic Development community, because although this is only one case there are probably many others just like Ms. Anyango, who despite receiving aid are still in a poverty trap. 

Ms. Anyango benefited from bed nets which help reduce the spread of malaria in her village; she also benefited from agriculture by way of improved seeds and fertilizer, and farming instruction; she benefited from microfinance loans to get seeds after free seeds were no longer available; she also received aid from the local community development fund; she received assistance from an NGO to help send her children to school; she received a sewing machine that allowed her to sell items for additional income, and also make clothes and uniforms for her children; and she also has a provided water pump on her farm. 

Sachs identified the many different types of capital that the poor lack, all of which Ms. Anyango was assisted with; it appears that all bases were covered. However, with all of this assistance Ms. Anyango still finds herself living in extreme poverty

In The End of Poverty, author Jeffery Sachs detailed what a poverty trap was, and how best to break the cycle of poverty to allow aid recipient countries or individuals get on the first rung of the development ladder. He stated “that when poverty is very extreme, the poor do not have the ability, by themselves to get out of the mess”. His recommendation to get out of poverty traps were to help the extreme poor get on the first rung of the ladder, by providing enough aid, not to make them rich, but enough to allow them to get on the ladder. He also stated that all good things tend to move together at each rising rung. 

This sounded great, and he gave some great examples such as India and China, where this has worked. But as we can see from Ms. Anyango’s story, even getting on the first rung may not get you out of a poverty trap, or that we may not know what the first rung is, or what happens when even the first rung is too high.

Maybe the next question for the development community is not whether poverty traps exist, but instead does the first rung exist?

Gregory Gamble is pursuing his PHD in Public Affairs at Rutgers University in Camden, NJ.

The effective altruist revolution is changing the philanthropy game

It’s the giving time of the year. 

A combination of the emerging winter and holiday season converge into a moment of fleeting caring in the US. It also happens to be the end of the tax year.

Charities make a significant amount of money during this time. An estimated 18% of all money raised during the year happens in December, that is more than double nearly every other month.

American University student Scott Weathers wants to know that his donations have the greatest impact possible.

The second year student (he shuns the label Sophomore since he plans to graduate in three years) began his philanthropic journey in high school.

His teacher would email leading humanitarians in order to engage his students. One such outreach to Howard G Buffett, son to Warren Buffett and agriculture philanthropist, led to an invite for Weathers and sixteen fellow students to fly out and discuss poverty with Buffett in person.

The experience of charitable giving inspired him to raise money for groups like Partners in Health. It also led to some questions about why he was supporting certain organizations. He wondered whether he was making an informed decision about his giving.

“I want people in high school to give the charity and do it to places that work,” he said.

There is an emerging trend in the business of doing good. Donors are starting to ask whether programs actually work. Charity raters are casting aside using administrative costs to evaluate charities, but donors are asking for more.

Some are going as far as to ask what is the most effective way to give. They want organizations to show that what they are doing is having an actual impact.

“A lot of people are excited about evidence-based giving,” said Michelle Hutchinson, executive director of Giving What We Can.

Giving What We Can brings together young people to create a life-lifelong culture of giving. Starting to think about giving away a certain percentage of one’s income at an early age makes it easier to continue doing so later in life, said Hutchinson.

An important part of the program is to encourage effective altruism. Giving to charities is one thing, but it is important to give in a way that maximizes impact. Doing so means that even the smallest donations can make a difference.

11 December 2013

Katz on what Kristof gets wrong about aid in Haiti

The often debated topic of whether or not foreign aid has done good reappeared in this weekend’s column by Nick Kristof for the New York Times.

By featuring the story of one young girl’s struggle to go to school, Kristof shows that aid works. Even in Haiti.

Jonathan Katz, he reported from Haiti during the earthquake and cholera outbreak, saysthe argument has some major holes.

“When you consider these facts, it gets pretty difficult to argue that whatever is going on right now in Haiti—including aid—is working, and much harder to dispute the claim that “dedicated and ethical” or any other foreigners are doing harm,” wrote Katz for the Beacon Reader.

Haiti, the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, as an example of where critics make their attacks and where he sees hope. Kristof uses the example of a Haitian-led private school called the SOPUDEP school. A total of 836 pre-K through twelve students are served by the school. Many come from low-income families who cannot always pay for tuition.

Enter foreign aid (or Exhibit A, as Kristof might say).

The school founder Rea Dol happened to have made friends with a teacher from Los Altos school in California. The students went on and raised $200,000 for SOPUDEP and its students. It all ties together with the story of a young girl named Darline who stopped going to her previous school due to high fees.

Thanks to SOPUDEP and its donors, Darline is back in school. The Haitian economy is outpacing the US, kidnappings are down, the infant mortality rate is down and the manufacturing industry is up. Because of these gains, concludes Kristof, aid works.

Also, read Katz's full piece here (paywall).

05 December 2013

Amazon is talkin' about Drones, the UN is using 'em

Amazon hopes drones may soon take over the retail world. The UN hopes drones will help peacekeeping work.

The UN’s first unmanned and unarmed aircraft took flight in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Tuesday. They will patrol airspace over the region to track rebel groups along the border with Rwanda and Uganda.

Limited infrastructure and large forests have made it hard for Congolese and UN MONUSCO peacekeepers to patrol the region. The UN hopes the drones will help with their work in the Congo and elsewhere.

“One can observe the movements of the armed groups, movements of populations and can even see the arms carried by people on the ground, and it is also possible to see people in forested areas,” said MONUSCO Force Commander General Santos Cruz.

Continue reading on Humanosphere...

04 December 2013

It's Complicated: The history and research behind Cash Transfers

Decades ago, some of the biggest NGOs simply gave away money to individuals in communities. People lined up and were just given cash.

The once popular form of aid went out of fashion, but it is now making a comeback.

Over time, coordination became extremely difficult. Traveling from home to home costs time and money for the NGO and the same problem exists for recipients when they have to go to a central location. More significant was the shift in development thinking that said giving hand outs was causing long term damage.

The backlash against ‘welfare queens’ in the US, UK and elsewhere during the 1980s was reflected in international development programming. Problem was that it was all based on unproven theories of change and anecdotal evidence, rather than hard evidence.

Half a decade later, new research shows that just giving people money can be an effective way to build assets and even incomes. The findings were covered by major players like NPR and the Economist.

While exciting and promising, cash transfers are not a new tool in the development utility belt.

Various forms of transfers have emerged over the past decade. Food vouchers were used by the World Food Programme when responding to the 2011 famine in the Horn of Africa. Like food stamps in the US, people could go buy food from local markets and get exactly what they need while supporting the local economy.

The differences have sparked a sometimes heated debate within the development community as to what the findings about cash transfers mean going forward. A Technology Salon hosted conversation at ThoughtWorks in New York City last week, featured some of the leading researchers and players in the cash transfer sector.

The salon style conversation featured Columbia University and popular aid blogger Chris Blattman, GiveDirectly co-founder and UCSD researcher Paul Neihaus and Plan USA CEO Tessie San Martin. The ensuing discussion, operating under the Chatham House Rules of no attribution, featured representatives from large NGOs, microfinance organizations and UN agencies.

Research from Kenya, Uganda and Liberia show both the promise and shortcomings of cash transfers. For example, giving out cash in addition to training was successful in generating employment in Northern Uganda. Another program, with the backing of the Ugandan government, saw success with the cash alone.

Cash transfers have been argued as the new benchmark for development and aid programs. Advocates in the discussion made the case that programs should be evaluated in terms of impact and cost-effectiveness against just giving people cash.

Continue reading on Humanosphere...

Note: I am finally coming up for air after a many month deep dive into cash transfers. Expect more substantive pieces to come out in the near future.

02 December 2013

AIDS Tipping Point Nears Amid Flagging Support

We’re not there yet, but the fight against AIDS is reaching a tipping point.
The number of new cases of HIV are falling while the number of people receiving life-saving treatment is going up. If current trends holds, the two trends will meet by 2015, says a new report.

That is the tipping point for beating AIDS.

The 2.3 million new HIV infections recorded in 2012 is the lowest number since the 1990s, says the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). The cost of treatment for AIDS is down dramatically from roughly $10,000 per person per year in the 1990s to $140 today.

However, Attention and financing for AIDS is wavering as the world nears this crucial moment. UNAIDS estimates that as much as $24 billion will be needed each year by 2015.

It is expected that The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria will not reach its goal of raising $15 billion next month. It should have more money than its last replenishment of $10 billion and Global Fund reforms will ensure it is better spent.
Beginning of the end of AIDS
The inflection point, called “the beginning of the end of AIDS” by advocates, could very well be the tipping point that will accelerate the world towards the defeat of AIDS. Reaching it will be a landmark moment.

“The disease is beating us essentially. Every year we have been outpaced by it,” said Erin Hohlfelder, Global Health Policy Director for ONE. “This will be the first time we will will get ahead of it.”

A report released ahead of World AIDS day by ONE uses updated data on infections and treatment to show that the estimated inflection point has moved up from 2022 to 2015.

The improvement is the result of new data that shows things were better than previously reported and the acceleration of progress by countries beset by AIDS, explained Hohlfelder.

Prevention has been a key part of why things are getting better. Male circumcision has proven to help reduce the spread of HIV, but it is only now starting to be pushed as a key intervention.

Continue reading on Humanosphere...

25 November 2013

Americans Don't Like Foreign Aid

A new survey shows that Americans know little about the US foreign aid budget and would support cutting it to save money.

The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) is back with its annual survey on foreign aid. It again finds that people overestimate the amount of money spent each year.

More than three-fifths of people surveyed said the US spends too much money on foreign aid. When told that foreign aid only accounts for 1% of the federal budget, support swung in favor with two-thirds saying the US spends too little or the right amount on foreign aid.

Support is stronger for global health spending, but when it comes to cutting budget deficits, foreign aid is on the cutting room floor. Foreign aid one of the first things Americans want to see cut, even before government employee salaries, social programs or defense spending.

Talking about global health specifically appears to get more support from people surveyed, but there is not a significant increase in support as compared to foreign aid. The majority of people continue to say that the US cannot afford to spend more money on global health. It is a trend that is relatively constant dating back to March 2009.

Political leanings are also reflected in attitudes towards foreign aid and global health spending. Self-identified Republicans tend to think too much is spent on global health by the US and what is spent won’t lead to meaningful progress. Democrats are more favorable and Independents stake out a middle space. It further affirms that Democrats are more likely to be allies in the rallying cry for foreign aid.

Continue reading on Beacon Reader...

07 November 2013

Struggling to leave extreme poverty

Yala, Kenya  - The world's leaders want to reduce extreme poverty to three percent by 2030. Mary Anyango would like to see progress now.

Getting to the overall target means halving the number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide by 2020 to nine percent, World Bank President Jim Kim said earlier this month.

“Our strategy calls for more investment in fragile states, and it also calls for working on a variety of fronts to combat climate change; and to improve health and education systems, especially for the benefit of girls and women,” said Kim at the Bank's annual meeting.

But it is one thing to talk about lifting people above the $1.25 line; it is, of course, another thing to do it.

The Millennium Villages Project (MVP) is an initiative aimed at showing how and it started in Sauri, Kenya in 2005. By providing a series of opportunities and interventions, the MVP was designed to meet some of the Millennium Development Goals and create an environment that would tackle problems like extreme poverty.

It has managed to help some improve their lives, but Mary Anyango still struggles. She has benefited from the assistance of the MVP, but her income continues to slide following the death of her husband in 2000. Getting her out of extreme poverty is proving to be difficult.

DSC_0049She built her current home by hand ten years ago. The mud structure shows some cracks around the edges, but features a metal roof. She and the four children that stay with her (two are hers and two are grandchildren) sleep under bednets provided by the MVP to protect against malaria.

The farm is the most significant drive of income for Anyango. She says she used to use local seeds and no fertilizer for her crops. At that time she could only count on one bag of maize per season. Now, thanks to improved seed and fertilizer, she has more than four bags sitting in her bedroom.

“I have benefited a bit from the program,” she said.

Beans are now grow on her two small plots to return nitrogen to the soil. When planting maize, Anyango follows the improved farming methods recommended by the MVP staff by planting two seeds every seventy-five centimeters.

Farmers used to be provided inputs for free by the MVP, but it weaned people in the cluster off slowly and transition them to microfinance loans. The poorest are provided the seed and fertilizer in exchange for one bag at harvest.

Two thousand woman in the MVP cluster, including Anyango, are considered indigent. They are the the most vulnerable and a majority are women who are widowed or abandoned by their husbands. Besides the MVP, Anyango received from the local Community Development Fund and FHI360.


School fees for her children cost 53,000 KSH per year. A sum that Anyango cannot afford. NGO support reduces her annual fees to just 5,000 KSH each year. Without support from FHI360, her children would not be in school.

Some small sewing helps to bring in additional money, but most of it comes during the Christmas season. She uses a sewing machine provided by the MVP to also make school uniforms and other clothing.
The white skirt and blouse that she put on for our arrival was made by Anyango. She enjoys the sewing and wishes she could do more. However the resources to expand are not available.
“If I had a shop I could increase my machines and begin trainings,” she said.

Further support from the MVP is evident on the property. Aside from the farm, bednets and the sewing machine, there is a water pump. The program has helped Anyango and possibly kept her from the brink, but getting her out of poverty remains incredibly hard.

Earlier rains make it harder for Anyango's crops to grow. A child who fell ill from a school deworming tablet adds another concern. However she remains hopeful.

One of her children, she says, dreams to be a lawyer and another a journalist. She never imagined her children would have such lofty goals. Describing it brings a visible sense of pride to her face.

“I leave it to God,” she says.

06 November 2013

From food to cash: raising chickens in Kenya

DSC_0121Visitors to the farm of Francis Ondier, 52, must wash their hands and shoes before coming onto the property.

“I don't want you to bring any diseases from other farms here,” he says.

Ondier is used to having visitors from across Kenya come and see his farm. They want to learn how a small-holder farmer can raise chickens as a business. Things are going so well for the former train mechanic that he recently turned down a salary job in Nairobi.

Most families around western Kenya own a chicken or two. The few eggs produced are collected and usually fed to the children. The chicks that do survive may be sold or eventually eaten. For most families, a chicken is a source of food. For Ondier, it is money.

“Few people realize this is an income generator,” he said as he pointed at a group of new chicks.

DSC_0131They are kept in a tiered coup on the side of a shed to keep them out of danger from hawks. Without the ability to provide artificial warmth, Ondier collects the chicks in a ventilated cardboard box to spend the night on the kitchen counter. Squeezing them in together provides the warmth they need overnight.

In the morning, he returns the birds to their rows to warm up in the morning sun. The location was picked so that the chicks can warm up as the day begins. When the chicks grow they make it to a larger coop before finally getting to go outside once they are too big for flying predators to take away.

Ondier's inspiration is Nelson Mandela. The South African leader's quote, “It only seems impossible until it's done,” can be found around the farm.

He knows that hardship well. When he started raising chicken for selling he did terribly. The 120 chicks that were initially born saw a mortality rate of 70% to 80%. He did not know how to protect them and keep them healthy.

Opportunity came through a training event outside of Nairobi. Put on by Winrock International and the Millennium Villages Project (MVP), the goal was to train farmers in chicken rearing methods so that they can put the knowledge to work and train fellow farmers.


Ondier was not supposed to go. The MVP initially completely paid for farmers to attend such trainings. Community members traveled well, had food covered and stayed in nice hotels, he said. By the time Ondier was farming, the MVP only supported transportation costs.

Continue reading on Humanosphere...

A Project Worth Supporting: Tiny Spark

There needs to be more reporting in the humanitarian industry. Especially the kind that raises questions about the status quo.

Amy Costello is an amazing reporter who is using Kickstarter to continue investigating the business of doing good. She wants to raise $25k to do more reporting herself and pay for others to contribute. She launched the campaign yesterday and has managed to raise nearly $10k. Go here and scroll down to hear some of Amy's stories on Toms Shoes, volunteering in Haiti and anti-malaria bednets. In the video below she explains her reporting and idea.

05 November 2013

School tries to profit from farm project

Yala, Kenya - It is not often that a greenhouse is found on the property of a primary school in Kenya. Muhando primary school in Nyanza province has one.

It is a part of an agriculture program at the school supported by the Millennium Villages Project (MVP).

With successful crops and involvement by students and teachers, the project holds the potential to support some of the most vulnerable. Though it is still early and the teachers are not exactly sure what they will do with the profit.

One teacher asserted that it the money made from the farm must support the needy children in the school. Another said it could be used to improve lunch. School meals are available at the school for children that pay or are determined to be vulnerable. Maize and beans are cooked in giant cookstoves installed by the MVP.

The MVP is the brainchild of Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs.

The program seeks to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by tackling poverty from many different angles including education, health and agriculture. The program's work at Muhando covers the full range of areas.

DSC_0174The program's fingerprints are all over the school. It bought the cow that produces twenty-four liters of milk every week. It built the rainwater storage tank that collects rainwater from the roof of the school building. It established a computer lab by providing the computers for the school. It even used to provide kale, fruit and other foods to stimulate participation in the meal program.

It's role now is mostly to check in. The meal support was pulled and transferred over to the parents who contribute with food or money. It is how the program generally operates. It identifies areas of need, provides immediate support and transitions control quickly to the community, individual or establishment.

Continue reading on Humanosphere...

04 November 2013

A Kenyan milk farmer dreams of a pick up truck

DSC_0413Sauri, Kenya - George Aronyi dreams of one day buying a pick up truck. He is a planner who was laughed at when he told his father that he would build a nice home.

"One day I will get out and put up a good permanent house," he said to his father.

The father of seven children managed to turn a challenge into an opportunity. After losing his job, he took advantage of the resources of the Millennium Village Project (MVP) and struck out on his own. With a growing business of selling milk and maize, he is not far off from getting that pick-up.

A telecoms worker in Nairobi, Aronyi was laid off in 2008. He returned to his home to the west unsure what to do next. His wake up call came in the form of a son being sent home for school over 100 KSH in missing school fees.

He decided to find a job to provide for his family, but was dissuade from doing so. Nevertheless, Aronyi secured employment as a landscaper. This is where things turned around. Having done such a great job as a landscaper, one of his customers thanked him by giving him a cow.

Milk from the cow and maize from his acre of land supplied enough of an income to get by, but he needed to expand. The MVP provided free inputs to his plot in 2005. It is how he learned to use fertilizer and improved seeds. By 2008 the subsidy was not available and more land was needed.

So he leased some. The seemingly simple solution was not common practice. Aronyi again saw resistance from family, friends and neighbors, but the results stood from themselves. He went from producing 5 bags of maize per season to producing 100 bags and hiring two workers.

"I feel like I pioneered by leasing out land," he said.

Continue reading on Humanosphere...

01 November 2013

Mobile money unlocks opportunities for Kenyan farmers

Kisumu, Kenya – The picture of a farmer with a cell phone checking market prices is nearly ubiquitous.

Cell phones connect people to each other as families and businesses. However, it is mobile money that may be formalizing Kenya's small businesses.

The oft-touted M-PESA cash transfer system pioneered in Kenya is changing business just as it did banking. Small businesses are using e-payments to not only collect money from customers, but expand their services.

Cell phone technologies are no longer simply places to make phone calls and check market prices. They are supporting small business growth in Kenya.

Nahashon Mugi, 46, is one business owner doing just that. His Macnut Farms sells fruit tree seedlings across Kenya. His customers make their orders and he sends a text message with information on how to pay by phone. Once the payment is received, he ships the seedlings to the customer.

“Using M-PESA is convenient and more accurate for me,” he said.

Continue reading on Humanosphere...

31 October 2013

Tanzanian journalist refuses to be intimidated

Arusha, Tanzania - Press freedom isn't usually ranked too high on the aid and development agenda.

In fact, it's usually ignored. Even as many laud efforts by the Tanzanian government to improve the lives of its citizens through agricultural reform and other development aims, journalists here are finding it increasingly difficult to do their work, informing fellow Tanzanians.

The government recently shut down two Swahili-language papers, Mwananchi and Mtanzania, at the end of September. Internal documents reveal that a story published Mwanachi with the new government salary structures was the cause for the closure.

Tanzania's relatively democratic government does not attract international headlines. It is in part due to its steadily improving economy and a president who plays nice with Western countries.  However, press freedom in the country are slowly eroding to the point that it is increasingly dangerous to do independent reporting in the country.

Freelance journalist Erick Kabendera, 34, is a case in point. Kabendera has become more cautious over the past few years.

Kabendera carries around his own wifi point in order to ensure the security of his computer. When at home, he uses a separate IP address from his wife in order to protect his family and their identity. Rumors spread recently that his wife is a nuclear scientist. Kabendera believes the government was behind it.

Continue reading on Humanosphere...

30 October 2013

Changing climate threatens Tanzanian farmers

Broken water pump. Mlanda, Tanzania
Arusha, Tanzania - The stretch of road from Morogoro to Iringa cuts through Mikumi National Park before traversing the Udzungwa mountains. Dead baobab trees stand gray and fat against the seemingly endless stretches of dirt.

Changing rainfall patterns and a lack of overall water access is making life increasingly harder for Tanzania farmers. The country hopes to improve food security, nutrition and food production, but it may be impossible if things stay the same. The problems of climate change are playing out on the backs of the nation's small-holder farmers.

The once white-capped heights of Mt Kilimanjaro are now scattered with patches of earth that are evident when passing by plane. The WWF estimated a 55% glacier loss on the peak between 1962 and 2000. That in turn results in a reduction of cloud forests which means less water for the 1 million people living around the mountain.

It is possible that the snows of Kilimanjaro could be a fond memory by 2020.

The importance of water is visibly evident when rivers provide much needed water to nearby soil. Trees thrive and crops grow for a stretch of a few hundred feet alongside the water before returning to the vast dead landscape. The higher hills fare well due to the proximity the clouds

Continue reading on Humanosphere...

29 October 2013

How land ownership can impact women's nutrition

Mwanza Bora member. Morogoro, Tanzania.
Arusha, Tanzania - Alfred Mufuga, 63, a farmer living outside of the town of Iringa, a few hour drive from Morogoro, does not think it is good for women to own land.

"The man is the head of the household," Mufuga said. "He ensures the prosperity of the family."

He did not say that his three wives would maintain ownership of his plot if something were to happen to him. Lack of land ownership, one of many forms of discrimination against women, is not just an economic and cultural inequity. It can be deadly.

An estimated 20% of maternal deaths in Tanzania are due to anemia, caused by malnutrition and lack of an adequate diet.

As Humanosphere reported last week, gender discrimination against women and girls often translates into malnutrition, higher disease and death rates. With Tanzania and other developing countries taking a greater investment in food security, women and girls need to be at the forefront of the conversation, says a new report.

"The needs of agricultural and rural women workers must be taken into account in recognizing their rights as workers in the food chain and ensuring their right to adequate food and nutrition," writes Sue Longley, international officer for agriculture and plantations at the International Food Union.

Continue reading on Humanosphere...

28 October 2013

Maasai boys struggle with malnutrition

Uwiro, Tanzania - A drought in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in northwest Tanzania claimed the lives of more than 200 children in 2011. The dry season and unsure rains mean that the Maasai children that live in the region are still at risk.

It may be the boys who are at the greatest risk.

Girls fall behind at an early age compared to their male peers around the world. The semi-nomadic Maasai tribe of Kenya and Tanzania are known for their male warriors, the morani. The masculine culture would lead one to conclude that the problems start with the girls, but it is the Maasai boys who are in trouble.

Boys traditionally take care of the cattle during the day, leaving them with little to eat for a day that requires a lot of walking and work. An analysis of the body mass index (BMI) of school-age boys and girls (between seven and nineteen years old) in the region shows a stark divide. Malnutrition is striking at a point of vital development for all children.

"We held a community meeting and people had no idea," said Silvia Ceppi, scientific adviser for the Italian NGO Oikos.

DSC_0095The hidden problem is in part due to the cultural structure of the Maasai. The girls are the ones who bring in money for a family when they are married. That means that they hold higher immediate value than their brothers for a family. Ceppi hypothesizes that this may contribute to a greater early investment in girls than in the boys.

It could also be a function of gender roles in the community. While the boys are out all day tending to the cattle in the fields, the girls are doing the work at home which includes cooking.

Continue reading on Humanosphere...

25 October 2013

A perfect storm of farming interventions

Malala, Tanzania - If there is an Eden for international charities in Tanzania, it might be a small plot in the Malala sub-district of Nambala.

Goats feed from green grass while standing on elevated enclosures. The cows are close behind in their own pen that sits directly next to a bio-gas generating system, across from caged chicken and surrounded by elevated key-hole gardens.

The site benefits from support from Heifer International (the goats), the Global Service Corps (bag and key-hole gardens) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church (bio-gas). All coalesce to a verdant space where local farmers can gather, under a grass-roofed outdoor structure, to listen to programming from the Canadian-based NGO Farm Radio International.

The exceptionally green plot stands out as an outlier compared to the surrounding area. In a time of little rainfall for the majority of the country, Ndetaniswa Zadok Kitomary has a thriving plot of land thanks to an NGO perfect storm.
Ndetaniswa Zadok Kitomary (l) and Japhet Emmanuel, Director of Farm Radio International Tanzania
She and her husband run a sort of school for local farmers to learn about new techniques and implement the lessons learned form the radio program. By appearances, the work is further supported by the other NGOs that operate in the same region near Mount Meru in northern Tanzania.

Beginning in 2000, Ndetaniswa cultivated the plot for herself and to teach her neighbors. Members now pay 25,000 Tanzania shillings each year to participate. They learn about the latest techniques in organic farming and pest management.

"The farm requires constant monitoring and attention to watch for pests," she said.

Mint and other natural pest deterrents are planted along side greens to keep away the bugs that will cause harm to crops. The organic farming is likely influenced by the work of the Global Service Corps, but does not matter much for the local market. Buyers and customers still do not care whether or not crops are organic nor is it easy to differentiate between organic and non-organic foods.

The weekly radio show also gives cause for the group to gather each week. Airing on Friday evenings, with Sunday repeats, Farm Radio International's programming offers an opportunity for the members to learn about improved techniques and opportunities regarding vegetables. Funded by the Gates Foundation, the program hopes to each about new technologies and inputs for farming.

"The way that GMO and hybrid seed are presented to people is that they are unsustainable and expensive," said Japhet Emmanuel, country director for Farm Radio International.

"Radio will help a lot in providing mass education. I've seen farmers change their mindsets."

Japhet described as the transition away from traditional seeds to new technologies as 'inevitable.' For farmers like Ndetaniswa, the time is not now.
She still uses traditional seeds for her farm, citing concerns about the chemicals in alternative seeds and the expense at buying them. Japhet remains optimistic because the results prove the necessity of making the change. He said that the few farmers that are making the switch are seeing better yields and increased profits, more than enough to buoy their continued purchase of GMO and hybrid seed.

Farm Radio International was established to fill a gap discovered by the founder George Atkins, a farm radio host for the CBC, in the 1970s to inform smallholder farmers. Today, it provides support to 500 radio stations across sub-Saharan Africa. Program scripts are mostly developed in country for agriculture programs aimed at smallholder farmers. The shows are mostly traditional talk shows with guest speakers and the opportunity for farmers to call in and participate.

Elembora Essi, 65, and Nancy Joseph, 37To make it more interactive, the program includes a voting component for the farmers. When a question is asked, the farmers are given two numbers to call. One for yes and the other for no. They can call, wait for it to ring and then hang up. The missed call registers a vote for the farmer and costs nothing for the caller.
While agriculture radio programming in the 197os targeted commercial and large scale farmers, the trend is changing. Other major radio stations now include radio programming in Tanzania. The format is mostly the same and also includes an interactive component using phone calls and text messages.

The difference for Farm Radio International could be its direct outreach to the community and support for farm listening groups. Solar/hand-crank radios are sold to groups for $50 (subsidised from $100). The larger radios come with the ability to record the 30 minute program for playback during a later meeting or re-listening.

Elembora Essi, 65, and Nancy Joseph, 37, never listened to the radio about farming before learning about the programming. They say there is not much of a difference between the show offered by Farm Radio International on Radio 5 and the government supported alternative.

Meeting with the group has made a difference for Elembora. Her husband provides little for the family income, disappearing for as long as two months at a time. She said she used to earn 20,000 TSH per month and is now making 50,000 to 70,000 TSH per month. The gains could be due to the lessons learned from the school, or it might be the benefit of sitting in the eye of an NGO perfect storm.

Tom Murphy reported this story in Tanzania as a fellow with the International Reporting Project (IRP). 

24 October 2013

How solar is powering business in rural Tanzania

Lumanyaki SimionOldonyo-Sambu, Tanzania – It takes only an hour's drive from the major Tanzanian city of Arusha to arrive in Oldonyo-Sambu. While the distance connecting the small village famous for its giant market and a national hub, electricity has yet to arrive for the villagers.

The Italian conservation organization Oikos helped establish a solar energy program for the village in 2009. Technicians were trained, a building was built next to the market, residents led the business and sales begun. With its work done, Oikos stepped aside to allow the established business to run itself.

Now there are 300 customers for the solar panels, including five primary schools, two health centers and one secondary school. Bringing electricity to the schools provides light for the students and in one case allowed for the introduction of a computer.

“We haven't used the information age enough to solve our problems,” said Ramadhani Kupaza, Director of Oikos East Africa, speaking of Tanzania.
SImion enters his home that is powered by solar cells.Accomplishing that takes electricity. The Community Energy Center sells varying sized solar cells to community members and businesses ranging from twenty watts to one-hundred and forty watts. Options also exist for batteries to story the power captured by the cells.

Oikos staff stay in touch with the program, but have nothing to do with it at this point. With the proper set up, available materials and a technician who can repair broken parts, the project is running as its own business.

Continue reading on humanosphere... 

23 October 2013

Can business solve Tanzania's agriculture problem

DSC_0275-e1380999665533-300x451Iringa, Tanzania - In center of this East African nation, two organizations are working with poor farmers to prove that business, rather than traditional aid, is the key to making sustainable gains out of poverty.

The idea is a popular one in the development community, and seemingly obvious, but moving from concept to reality has it challenges.

The government of Tanzania and foreign donors are intensely focused on improving food security. Two foreign firms, Cheetah Development and the One Acre Fund, are promoting market-based solutions to farmers that they contend are more productive and sustainable than charity or hand-outs.

It is worth noting, perhaps, that both are non-profit organizations that depend upon charity and donations in the West to catalyze their for-profit business solutions in Africa. But more important is that One Acre Fund is monitoring and evaluating its projects; Cheetah simply assumes if people buy-in to its small for-profit venture here, that's proof enough of its impact.

The two organizations are neighbors in Iringa, a small agricultural community in a very dry part of the country. The rains have not yet arrived and red dust coats the withered maize stalks.

Though located literally next door to each other, Cheetah and One Acre Fund take significantly different approaches to the needs of Tanzanian farmers. Cheetah takes a page from the business handbook, having launched a for-profit subsidiary that tracks sales of products - like its newly launched solar food drying system - to determine what is or is not working. One Acre Fund (OAF) offers loans, does farmer training and evaluates progress each step of the way.

The number of people reached by the two may reflect their respective tactics. Reservoir, a business under Cheetah that sells solar drying racks to farmers, has reached only 55 farmers so far this year. OAF worked with 1,150 farmers in the 2012 growing season, its first in Tanzania, and will enroll more than 3,000 for the upcoming planting season.

Continue reading in humanosphere...

22 October 2013

Bringing better nutrition to Tanzania's farmers

Abdullah Muhammad in his home.
Morogoro, Tanzania - Abdullah Yahya's farm sits above the dirt road that is unfriendly to cars after it rains.

Corn stalks remain in the ground, withered by a lack of recent rains. The morning rain is a good sign. Abdullah will soon uproot the failed crop and plant wit the hopes of a successful harvest.

He lives in a two-room home with his wife Zainabu, their four year-old son Idrisa and one year-old daughter Ailat (rhymes with violet). Another son lives with Zainbu's brother. Idrisa is tiny and shy. By appearances he looks smaller than the average boy his age. Ailat, on the other hand, is full-faced and engaging with everyone around her.

Zainabu says the difference is because she continues to breastfeed her daughter, but did not do so for the boys. She learned through the Mwanzo Bora Nutrition Program (MBNP), implemented by the NGO AfriCare, that she should continue breastfeeding for the first two years of Ailat's life.

While the measurable impact of the scheme on stunting is not available, the participants appear to be happy with the program so far. Mothers said their children are gaining weight, reported breastfeeding infants longer and said their children are noticeably healthier.

One measure is getting better. Child weights are improving from month to month over the past year. Six percent of children were characterized as wasted (critically below healthy weight for the appropriate age group) in September 2012. Last month, that number reached zero after a steady decline. More children are considered on target now than a year ago by more than 10 percentage points.
Zainabu Muhammad holds her daughter, Ailat.
"We fed the other babies differently," said Zainabu as she held a restless Ailat. Malaria led to a hospitalization for Idrisa in June, but Ailat has yet to experience any illness beyond the common cold.

However notable gaps exist. The government does not ask health workers to collect information on heights. When asked for the recent information on stunting, the nurse-midwife at the Towero Clinic was unable to produce data. A pilot program is underway, said a Mwanzo Bora staffer, but measurements for children should not transition to country-wide until next year.

Abudullah points out his one acre plot up in the mountains.Mwanzo Bora also had little information to provide. A piece of paper posted on the office wall accounted for regional coverage. Sixty-one percent of health facilities in the region are covered by the nutrition program. Yet no information is available on how the program is improving farms and increasing nutrition.
Zainbu learned about the program after seeking pre-natal care at the government-run Towero Clinic. There, women were provided education about the importance of nutrition for their children and themselves. Mwanzo Bora is funded by the United States for International Development's Feed the Future program. It sets out to reduce childhood stunting and maternal anemia by 20% respectively.

Groups of twelve to fifteen men and women were formed across the region. More than 700 groups have been wormed, reaching nearly 8,000 people. Behavior change is one of the core goals of the program. MBNP uses different strategies to improve nutrition for families.

Mothers were not only taught how to feed their children better, but were encouraged to plant more nutritious foods. A community plot was established a year ago with some other families. The small parcel of land grows crops such as kale, onions, tomatoes and sweet potatoes. Labor is divided every Friday when the group meets. The harvest is divided up among the families and money earned from the sale is used to buy more seeds for a new round of planting.

The lessons from the plots are then applied to farms at home. Crops like sweet potatoes, rich with the valuable vitamin A, are now grown on family farms. Some of the work got started in the community garden and was transferred directly to the individual farms, making it a sort of nursery for the families.

An informal credit and savings scheme exists within the group. Money is held by the treasurer who offers 3 month loans at 5% interest. A bank account is of interest down the line, but the present goal is to get the loans repaid and back out quickly.

"The money is not held for long," said the group leader."We try to borrow as soon as it comes in."

Situated in the Uluguru mountains, Morogoro is located in the southern highlands of Tanzania. The city is right in the middle of the Southern Agricultural Corridor of Tanzania, a focal point of Tanzania's agriculture and nutrition improvement efforts.
Community garden plot.
The city itself is at the base of the mountains, but may farmers live along the hillside. Abdullah has a main cash-crop situated higher in the mountains. He says that the rain and irrigation are better up there. For his home plot, Abdullah relies on regular rains, controlled irrigation ditches that wind down the mountain and a running river that lies a few hundred feet below the property.

Fertilizer, bought at the nearby university and carried by head back up the mountain, has helped Abudullah's crops. He says yields are up two to three times since he started using the manure-based fertilizer on his farmland. Raising rabbits helps to further diversify the family's income generating opportunities, but all is reliant upon the crops.

Is Mwanana Bwanzo helping to improve Abudullah's fields and the health of Zainabu and Ailat? It is hard to know for sure, but they think things are better.

"Yes, we are doing better than our neighbors," whispered Zainabu when asked how their farm compared to others since joining the program.

Tom Murphy reported this story in Tanzania as a fellow with the International Reporting Project (IRP). 

21 October 2013

Tanzania makes agriculture a top development priority

This originally appeared on Humanosphere.

(Dar es Salaam) - Tanzania may be newly rich in natural gas reserves, but government officials say improving agriculture is the number one priority to reach middle income status by 2025.

The East African country's Kilimu Kwanza (Farming First) program is proof that while the country expects to benefit overall as a gas producer, many see agriculture as critical to improving the lives of the average citizen.

More than 40 percent of all Tanzanian children experience stunted growth, an indicator of serious malnutrition and a statistic many here are determined to change.

“You will see the issue of the lack of nutrition in this country,” said Christopher Chiza, Minister of Agriculture for Tanzania.

Africa is awash with talk about how to improve agriculture, ensure food security and reduce the toll of malnutrition. Tanzania is one of a few countries where population growth continues to exceed reductions made in malnutrition and maternal anemia.

These concerns were targeted by an effort known as the Scaling Up Nutrition partnership. Tanzania's 40 percent rate of stunting in children, combined with a 25 percent malnutrition rate and 58 percent maternal anemia rate adds up to a significant food problem here.

It gets even worse in rural areas where more than half live in poverty. In response, the government of Tanzania is focusing on an agricultural corridor that extends from Dar es Salaam on the middle coast south-west to neighboring Zambia. Called the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT), the government is betting that this region can see a major boost in production that will propel the overall development of Tanzania.

An agricultural plan presented by President Kikwete at the 2011 World Economic Forum led to a blueprint for the SAGCOT private-public partnership. It seeks to increase the production of maize, rice and sugar to the point that the farmers can not only feed Tanzania, but sell in neighboring countries.

As recent as last year, the Agriculture Ministry imposed export bans as a way to ensure that food produced in Tanzania reaches Tanzanians. The measures failed as they led to food spoilage due to disrupted crop prices and the inability to sell what was harvested.

With the bans lifted, the government is courting international players and businesses to invest in agriculture in Tanzania. Chiza made it clear that he does not want it to be a corporate social responsibility program for a major corporation. He wants to work with the companies who see Tanzania as an opportunity to make money and do business.

There are concerns that the move will lead to land grabs seen in other parts of Africa. Chiza spoke of the importance of small-scale farmers, but only 10% have land ownership rights. He said that determinations were done at the village level and shrugged off the need to enshrine land ownership for each family.

“We put in corrective measures so that large scale and small-scale farmers can work together,” he said.

The government, for its part, wants to step aside. Chiza said that past attempts to centrally plan agriculture growth failed. Partnering with the private sector represents the shift away from planning. Though there still is an active role for the ministry. It will involve itself in the partnerships, push certain farmers to use certain crops and continue to tout the benefits of fertilizer.

Chiza even alluded to legislative action that would compel farmers who are unwilling to change the crops they grow to make changes. The need to improve roads, an area Chiza admits the country neglected, adds yet another layer to the requirements for improving agriculture in Tanzania.

100 nutrition officers will soon be deployed for a country of 48 million people. They will work as a part of a nation-wide behavior change effort, said Obey N. Assery, the Director of the Department of Coordination of Government Business. Nutrition is more than just a health issue, he said, but was unable to name what the country is doing to deal with the immediate problem.

The United States is working to improve agriculture through its program, Feed the Future. Established in 2009, Feed the Future was born out of a pledge by President Obama to commit $3.5 billion to agriculture development during the G8 summit in Italy.

The Tanzanian government's commitment to improving agriculture influenced the implementation of FTF for $350 million over five years. It is the largest non-health program that the US runs in Tanzania and is in response to a lull in agriculture support during the 1990s.

Once a strong investor in agriculture, the United States drew down its spending on international agriculture programs during the 90s. When the 2008 financial crisis hit and food prices spiked, it became apparent to many that agriculture investments were vital to a nation's development.

“Greater production will lead to higher incomes that can stimulate economic growth,” said Tom Hobgood , Team Leader for Agriculture and Food Security at USAID Tanzania.

The program is focusing on rice, maize and horticulture to achieve its growth goals. Rice is meant to provide income opportunities for farmers and horticulture will provide valuable nutrition to families through foods like tomatoes.

Hobgood says that it is a really important area because women not only are a significant part of the agriculture labor force (~80% make their living through agriculture), but they are the ones who make the nutrition decisions for their children. Like the Tanzanian government, USAID is increasingly aware of the connections between agriculture and nutrition.

“Unless you improve nutrition and agriculture you aren’t going to grow in away that helps people,” he explains.

Tanzania, on the other hand, is not quite on board. There were mentions of women and their connection to nutrition, but programs that are aimed at women through the Ministry of Agriculture were hard to name for Chiza.

FTF has its sights set on improving the food security in 200,000 households, reaching 1 million people. Other goals in the target areas include reducing the poverty rate by 6 percentage points, increased crop yields, improved market access and the reduction of maternal anemia and childhood stunting by 20%.

The plans created by Tanzania stand out to donors like the United States government. While the US is pushing for some changes within the government, such as changing tax rules, the goals of Kilimu Kwanza and Feed the Future are directly aligned. Whether they can achieve their intended goals remains to be answered.

Tom Murphy reported this story in Tanzania as a fellow with the International Reporting Project (IRP). 

28 September 2013

Reporting from Tanzania and Kenya for the Next Month

I am off tonight for Dar es Salaam as a part of a reporting trip with the International Reporting Project. I will be joining a small group of journalists to see what is happening in Tanzania on the side of agriculture. Then I am sticking around on my own to go to Kenya.

I will visit the Millennium Village Project in Sauri, One Acre Fund in Kakamega, see LifeStraws in action, see the inner workings of Innovations for Poverty Action, meet with GiveDirectly recipients and more.

My stories will appear over at Humanosphere. Also be on the lookout for some more CGI and UN Week related stories early next week. As a part of the trip I will be using social media to document and report as I go along. I will try to update this blog as best I can, but your best bet is to follow me on Twitter and read my stories here: http://www.humanosphere.org/author/tmurphy/.

Please feel free to suggest ideas. If you are based in Kenya or Tanzania, I'd love to get together while I am bouncing around from place to place. I will be in Dar, Arusha, Nairobi, Kisumu and Kakamega.

21 September 2013

Gettleman's Profile of Kagame is too Balanced (and Rwanda is not happy)

Credit: WEF
Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Jeffrey Gettleman finally got the opportunity to sit down with Rwanda’s controversial president Paul Kagame.

The three hour conversation was used in an article published in the New York Magazineprofiling Kagame. The piece caught attention for a less-than-flattering depiction of the Rwandan president and even generated a bizarre response from the Kagame office.

Gettleman’s piece covers the range of views on Kagame. He is the leader who turned around Rwanda in the wake of a horrific genocide that should have sent the country in a tailspin. He is also the autocrat who stifles opponents in Rwanda and is accused of inciting rebellion in the neighboring DR Congo by supporting rebel groups.

Yolande Makolo, the communications director for the Presidency in Rwanda, responded critically to the article in allAfrica. She said that she turned down Gettleman’s previous requests to interview Kagame, but was convinced by a mutual acquaintance to allow for the conversation. When it did happen, Gettleman went well beyond the hour that he was allotted to speak with the president.

The article itself was disappointing to Makolo. She acknowledged that her contacts and colleagues considered the report to be balanced. That was not good news to her ears.

“I am sorry but “balance” hurts Rwandans, and Africans,” she wrote.

“Even when stories reflect more positives than negatives, the positives don’t carry as much weight overall as the negatives, which chip away at the agency we are working to accumulate. Balance thus erodes our reputation and standing in the global pecking order, keeping us on a pedestal that says we are and will perpetually be second class.”

Continue reading on Humanosphere...

20 September 2013

God (and evangelicals) Loves Uganda, The Impact is Serious

Uganda has emerged as a focal point of US evangelical efforts in Africa. A new film, God Loves Uganda, shows how the efforts to bring Jesus to Ugandans is also spreading hate against gays. Specifically, it has enabled the progress of legislation that will imprison gay Ugandans.

Film director Roger Ross Williams debuted the film at the Sundance film festival earlier this year and it will hit US screens in October. The main character is Reverend Kapya Kaoma, an Anglican priest from Zambia and doctoral candidate at Boston University. His 2010 research paper showed how a new form of evangelism took shape in Africa starting in the 1970s and 80s that impacts the trend of anti-gay laws across the continent.

“African allies of the U.S. Christian Right echo their friends in deriding African and Western human rights campaigners as pursuing a neocolonial agenda,” says the report. “To better support the communities, allies around the world need to be more attuned to the complexity of theological and institutional ties between Africa and the U.S. Christian Right.”

Kaoma issued a range of recommendations including dispelling the myth that human rights advocacy is a form of neocolonialism and making it clear to Africans what the US Christian Right actually stands for. Those shifts coupled with a rights-based progression in individual nations could tip the scale away from bigotry and towards respected rights.

Continue at Humanosphere to see the rest of the article and the movie trailer...

Controversy follows gender-based violence campaign in India

A new ad campaign in India is using venerated Hindu goddesses to call attention to gender-based violence. It caught a lot of attention when it launched two weeks ago, but the group behind the campaign says it is not affiliated with it.

The images were commissioned by Save the Children India’s Save our Sisters campaign. Its work is focused on eliminating the trafficking of young girls and women in India. Save commissioned Taproot India to put the campaign together.

There were nearly 250,000 reported crimes against women in India last year. The Abused Goddesses campaign shows photographs of models as figures like Saraswati.

Viewers of the ads are encouraged to ‘Save our Sisters’ by calling a hotline to report incidents of violence. However, Save the Children India is now distancing itself from the campaign after it gained attention earlier this month.

Continue reading on Humanosphere...

19 September 2013

Are video games the next global health frontier?

This is my first article for the Beacon Reader. Described as the Netflix of journalism, you can subscribe for only $5 a month and get exclusive content from me, Tristan McConnell, Kate Cronin-Furman (aka 1/2 of Wronging Rights), Joshua Foust, Barry Malone and many more. Try it for two weeks today (click 'fund his work').

Gaming may be the next frontier for global health innovation. If mobile health is the new and cool kid in school, then games for health is the awkward youngest sibling with few friends. It is the parents who see the potential in their youngest child and are willing to support his development.

Heather Wipfli is one of those parents. She is the Associate Director at the University of Southern California Institute for Global Health. USC also happens to be home to the Game Innovation Lab, a strength at the university and a natural place to explore gaming solutions to global health problems.

Advocacy initially interested she as a potential for gaming, but now she believes that games can do much more. A game like Free Rice combines learning, play and giving by automatically donating advertisement revenues to the World Food Programme.

“Integrating information with play could be a way to dispense important lessons,” she says.

One of her initial projects was a game called 1,000 Days, created in collaboration with the Global Alliance and ABC News. The game, played on Facebook, was designed to build awareness about the importance of a child’s first 1,000 days. With only $10,000 to build the game, Wipfli worked with a group of students to build the game.

Continue reading at the Beacon Reader...

DAWNS Debut e-book: Who Shot Ahmed?

I am proud to announce the first DAWNS-published ebook: Who Shot Ahmed? A Mystery Unravels in Bahrain’s Botched Arab Spring by Elizabeth Dickinson. I am biased because I was a part of the production, but Beth's reporting is excellent and it is a compelling read. Buy it today at the Amazon Kindle Store or Smashwords.

The story recounts the murder of a 22-year-old videographer, killed in cold blood in the dead of night at the height of Bahrain’s Arab Spring revolution. On a small island Kingdom swirling with political, economic, and sectarian tensions, Ahmed’s murder epitomized everything that had gone wrong since 2011, when pro-democracy protesters took to the streets in droves.

Drawing on dozens of testimonies, journalist Elizabeth Dickinson traces the tale of Ahmed’s death and his family’s fearless quest for justice. Darting between narratives and delving into characters, it is a tale of a life lost and the great powers—from Washington to London, and Riyadh to Manama—that did nothing to stop the crisis. 

“For those of us in the business of recording history as it unfolds, it is inspiring to read the sad but ultimately uplifting story that Elizabeth Dickinson offers up regarding a young Bahraini cameraman, Ahmed Ismail al-Samadi, who was shot dead by police during pro-democracy protests he was filming," says ICG CEO Joost Hiltermann.

"Be it in Bahrain, in Egypt, in Syria, or any other zone of conflict and contestation, the role of the media is critical, and it should therefore come as no surprise that the person holding the camera to document events — for the record, for justice, for posterity — becomes a target. In telling Ahmed’s tale, with its bittersweet ending, Dickinson reaffirms the continuity of recording history, despite a regime’s attempt to break it by killing the messenger.”

Dickinson has a deep knowledge of the region, but she brings a story from a foreign land straight back home: Ahmed could be any of our sons.

Who Shot Ahmed? is available for purchase in the Amazon Kindle Store or Smashwords (for non-Kindle users and people living in Kindle unfriendly countries).
Elizabeth Dickinson is an American journalist based in Abu Dhabi. Reporting from five continents, she has served as assistant managing editor at Foreign Policy magazine, Nigeria correspondent for The Economist, as well as contributing Editor at World Affairs and correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor. Her work has additionally appeared in The National, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Washington Monthly, The Atlantic, and The New Republic. This work is based on her independent investigation and does not represent the views of her employers. Who Shot Ahmed? was edited by Sandra Allen.

What do the poor want after the MDGs?

What do the poor want in the global fight against poverty?

Well, at least in Egypt, Brazil, Uganda and India, the poor got a chance to say.

In June and July, surveyors in these countries sought feedback from the poor on what should follow in the wake of the expiration of the anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals in 2015. Each of the groups outlined different ideas in recently published communiqués.

The Egypt group stressed more attention to the issue of self-sufficiency. Uganda’s urged for sustainable development and India’s recommendations focused on equality. Finally, the panel in Brazil outlined what it called a ‘global life plan’ that illustrates the interconnectedness of everyone in the world.

“We consider that “Self-Sufficiency” is one of the main issues to concentrate on at the national as well as at the international level because it is a direct factor contributing to the protection of Human Dignity. Every person will have Self-Sufficiency when “he doesn’t look or wish to have what other people have,” write the Egyptian panel.

The communiqués build off of a series of recommendations were published earlier this year from a UN High-Level Panel led by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and President of Indonesia Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Recommendations from the country-level discussions and the High-Level Panel (HLP) find points of accord and disagreement. Inclusion is seen as an important part of the process of moving people out of poverty, but the communiques talked less about how it can apply to issues like gender (though Uganda does talk about women’s empowerment) and energy as opposed to the HLP.

Continue reading on Humanosphere...

18 September 2013

Differing views on the UN chemical weapons report

The much anticipated report from United Nations chemical weapons inspectors in Syria was finally released on Monday. The group’s findings pointed towards the use of chemical weapons by Syrian armed forces. The US and UN made strong statements about Syria’s use of the weapons. Russia is again the dissenter.

However, the Syrian government is not directly assigned blame. Rather the information provided in the report strongly indicates that the attacks were carried out by Syrian government troops.

“The environmental, chemical and medical samples we have collected provide a clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent Sarin were used,” conclude the inspectors.

The attack was deadlier that it may have otherwise been due to the fact that it was launched in the cooler morning. The report says that air moving down to the ground made it easier for the gas to spread once deployed and more easily enter the lower levels of buildings.

People who were at the scene of the attacks told the inspectors that they experienced symptoms ranging from blurred vision and shortness of breath to vomiting and loss of consciousness. Those that ran to help described people laying on the ground dead or unconscious. They too began to experience some of the effects of the nerve agent.

US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said there is no doubt that chemical weapons were used in Syria on August 21.

Continue reading on Humanosphere...