31 January 2013

Gates Takes Letter Tour to Colbert

Bill Gates continues his 2013 letter tour and makes his latest stop on the Colbert report.

Meanwhile Ed Carr challenges Gates' idea on measurement in a blog post today. He argues that a strong aversion to failure makes it hard to accomplish much of anything.
I agree completely with the premise that better measurement (thought very broadly, to include methods and data across the quantitative to qualitative spectrum) can create a learning environment from which we might make better decisions about aid and development. But none of this matters if all of the institutional pressures run against hearing bad news. Right now, donors simply cannot tolerate bad news, even in the name of learning. Certainly, there are lots of people within the donor agencies that are working hard on finding ways to better evaluate and learn from existing and past programs, but these folks are going to be limited in their impact as long as USAID answers to a Congress that seems ready to declare any misstep a waste of taxpayer money, and therefore a reason to cut the aid budget…so how can they talk about failure?

Can Aid Blogs Impact Aid Innovations and the Sector Itself?

Ben Ramalingam says yes in a recent post:
I think there is a special role for the aid blogging community in asking such questions and demanding answers. We have seen in the past few years how bloggers have mobilised in a largely self-organised fashion to push back against various poorly considered ideas. 
I know there are many bloggers who want to engage with innovation in a serious fashion, and who are dismayed by the current hype surrounding it. We should be able to highlight the good and bad of what we see emerging from the aid innovation agenda. And aid agencies should be willing to open their ideas up to the views and scrutiny of this emerging, globally networked, community of thinkers and analysts. This kind of effort has, in other distributed sectors, developed into new crowd-sourced marketplaces for innovation such as Innocentive. There’s no reason why the same couldn’t happen in our sector.
On the whole, I do think Ramalingam is right. Aid blogs are not a solution by any measure and should be seen as a space that can and should set major agendas. However, they can serve as areas to raise questions about innovations, programs and ideas. Journalism, the traditional watchdog of sorts for an industry, has failed on the question of aid. The reasons are numerous and pointing fingers is a wrongheaded exercise. What it does mean is that there is space for openly pushing on ideas.

If aid blogs succeed in that manner they can be effective much in the way that Ramalingam outlines.

30 January 2013

A Former Peace Corps Volunteer Explores Identity

A former Peace Corps volunteer has set out to write a memoir of her experiences while in Cote d'Ivoire a decade ago. For translator and travel writer Raven Moore, the experience altered her perception of identity. The basis for the writing represented both old and new motivations for memoirs about living in Africa. So, I asked Raven a few questions about her project to learn more about why she wants to share her experiences with a larger audience.

AVFTC: How did serving in the Peace Corps in Cote d'Ivoire influence you?
Raven: Peace Corps makes you strong in exactly the way you want to be strong. . . . . because you will have to learn to pick and choose your battles. Nonsense happens on an everyday basis in life and when you're living in another country it becomes an everyday minute. Some things you used to think were so important just can't be important anymore if you are going to survive abroad. Straight up.
Speak a bit about this idea of identity and how your understanding of it was altered while living in RCI (Côte d'Ivoire)?
Let's just say that my idea of identity was one way before Côte d'Ivoire and now it's very different. When you find out what "Padre" means, you will know how I feel about identity. I'm not making a reference to Spanish. The "Padre" I speak of comes from a language in Côte d'Ivoire.
It has been a decade since your PCV experience in RCI. Why write this book now? What has happened in the time since that led to the writing of this book?
It takes a very long time to write a book, even when you are working on it 8 hours a day. After the Peace Corps, I went back to Japan (lived there during university also) through the JET Program for two years to teach English and freshen up my Japanese. I went to grad school for linguistics and hated it. I've worked at big, corporate companies as a multilingual translator and interpreter. Going from grass roots to teaching to corporate is hard to do but, I finally relapsed back into Raven reality and realized that there is no me without writing. Some years, my book just sat on my computer all but forgotten and a tension headache every time I thought about the fact I wasn't working on it. You get a good job making a little money and you are temporarily content.
I would say, consolidated, that I've spent a total of 3 years, 65 hours, 45 minutes, and 2 seconds on writing this book. It was originally a bunch of scraps of paper that I would tear off in a moment's inspiration - an ice cream wrapper, a tiny brown piece of paper formerly filled with spices that came with the eggs I bought off the street during transport. I don't do diaries well. One day, I bunched up all my bits of paper together of sentences that reminded me of events or other impressive happenings and typed all of them up. Then, I began to see that it made more sense to put the jog-your-memory sentences into an outline. That outline turned into 15 or more pages. I slowly fleshed out each part of the outline over the years and to my amazement it ballooned, without much effort other than time and memory, into 500 pages on its own. I moved chapters around, paragraphs around, deleted entire sections that I originally thought were amazing, and got the number down. It's definitely not that big anymore and I'm glad I took as long as I did because Peace Corps is not the type of experience that you can understand overnight. Maybe even ever.
There is no shortage of memoirs of travelers in Africa or aid workers. What makes yours different?
There is no middle-classed, female, African-American version of the Peace Corps volunteer experience but, even still, the main point is that the focus is not going to be on me. It's a memoir but, it's written as an experience that anyone who loves adventure, identity exploration, and finding new ways to love and laugh, can relate to.
I have seen you say that the book 'must be heard.' Why?
This book 'must be heard' because it's the lives of people that are seldom heard - regular people like you and me who happen to have a very different life experience and so it gives them a unique point of view that we can all use to better navigate our own lives. Who am I? What am I? Why do I think this way? Why does she think that way? These are all things that people ask themselves everyday so why not continue the conversation with some different input?
Humor appears to be one of the important tools you will utilize in telling the story. What influenced this decision?
I'm a humorous person but, I forget that sometimes. When something weighs down on you, it's pretty hard to suddenly laugh about it but, if you don't, you can't move on. I want to tell this story and move on. What I experienced in the Peace Corps was very shocking, at times very painful, and revealing about who I am just as a personality. But, you can always look back at something and laugh at it and that's what I've managed to do with "Padre." In the end, I was there to help other people, not focus on my own difficulties.
Rather than work through traditional publishing means, you are raising money through Kickstarter and self-publishing. Why go in this direction?
I think self-publishing is reality. You can see what you're made of and see what you can learn. If the meter for success in this effort is millionaire success then it's not realistic on a first go round to self-publish but, if your focus is becoming a prolific author then self-publishing works just fine. I would love to be a "successful" writer but, who knows what other people will think of my writing. It's great to have a guide in a new realm, in this case publishing but, it shouldn't feel like parenting where you can't sign off on your own field trip. You should feel like the bird getting pushed out of the nest.
You choose a jazz song for your Kickstarter video. In what ways does jazz influence or represent your writing?
Jazz to me is happy. Even through the jazz music that seems to be screaming in sorrow, you can hear a fight and will to survive. I want people to take in the Peace Corps experience, or any other volunteer experience, for what it really is and then still celebrate the characters that play in it. Find a connection with Ivoirians and decide to work with them or get to know them the same way you get to know England or Japan or Brazil on a holiday trip. Regardless of their current, post-colonial, discombobulated state, there is as much order in who Ivoirians have always been originally as there is in any other country. That 'must' be highlighted and preserved.
Raven explains her project further in a video she made for her Kickstarter campaign (click through if you are having trouble opening the video):

29 January 2013

Further Attention on the Drawbacks of Voluntourism

Dorinda Elliott traveled to Haiti to seek answers about voluntourism. She works with the the Fuller Center for Housing’s Global Builders project and recounts her experiences and observations in an article for Conde Nast Traveler.
At the Grace/Fuller project, though, I am wrestling with the subtle social implications of volunteering. I am heartened by the fact that the Haitian homeowners and we Americans are working side by side. But to my alarm, I learn that the construction work stops each time the Americans depart because of lack of funds—leaving the Haitians waiting around until another group of “saviors” arrives.
Elliott's article is the latest in what seems to be a slow growing trend of reporting that looks critically at voluntourism. Most readers of this blog will not find the reporting to be revelatory or earth-shattering. Not too much time is spent speaking with experts or going deep into the issue. However, the article is notable because it appears in a place that would often tout the positives of voluntourism.

Regardless of how you feel about the issue, there are problems with voluntourism. Some groups do a terrible job and others are better. At the very least, it is important to disabuse people of the notion that voluntourism is itself a good thing. That can help to make would-be volunteers deliberate when choosing where to go and what group to work with. 

Elliott concludes by noting that some are serial voluntourists and posits that good intentions may be doing more harm than good.
After an exhausting day, we all climb into a van and head back to our dorm, where I ask the others, over beers and peanut M&Ms somebody brought from home, why they are here. Many of them, it turns out, go on Habitat or Fuller “builds” all over the world several times a year. “Look, I have been blessed. I have a great job and a nice house,” says Kaye Hooker, the team leader. “I’m here because there are so many people in the world who can’t even meet their basic needs.” Adds John Stanford, a retired heart surgeon: “I’d rather practice my hammer stroke than my golf stroke.”

These are kind, generous people. So why do I feel uncomfortable? Something is nagging at me, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.

I learn much more valuable lessons on my trip to Haiti than how to handle a hammer or sift gravel: I learn the surprising amount of damage that can be done with the very best of intentions.

Bill Gates Declares Evaluation Love

On Wednesday, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will officially release Bill’s annual letter.

You can sign up here to get it yourself, or just read the Wall Street Journal op-ed published last week in which he pretty much says the same thing:

“In the past year, I have been struck by how important measurement is to improving the human condition. You can achieve incredible progress if you set a clear goal and find a measure that will drive progress toward that goal.”

No surprise here. But there’s measurement and then there is evaluation. They aren’t always the same thing.

Bill Gates loves evaluations and measuring outcomes.

His idea boils down to “setting clear goals, choosing an approach, measuring results, and then using those measurements to continually refine our approach.” It is more or less what he has been doing with the Gates Foundation. The Gates Foundation continues to be one of the leaders in investing in evaluation-based programming. They establish an area of interest, invite people to apply with innovative ideas, put money into things of interest, require strong data and measurements and then they fund what works or can be improved.

26 January 2013

The Arc of Complexity

This probably works just as well if you change it to say "How complex you believe ending poverty is"

Credit SMBC

25 January 2013

The ABBAs are Coming Back!

I considered letting them die this year. But the ABBAs are coming back. Nominations open next week for the best in aid blogging.

Go here to see the results from the 2011 edition.

Now would be the time for the crowd to make suggestions on ways to make it better this time around. Last year there was a problem of diversity. It is something I hope to rectify this year and will look to you for some help.

Also, there will be changes. I know that, for example, Chris Blattman will not be in the running for best blog. He won it to years in a row and it is time to move along. I would bet he could win it again this year, and for good reason. One thought is to form a panel of sorts with the past winners and have them account for half of the vote with the other half determined through an audience poll. That could protect against it being a popularity contest while still being influenced by the crowd.

Suggest away. I am all ears. I have tried not to take this too seriously, but the criticisms from last year force me to at least think a bit more about it this time around.

The Problem With Only Telling Good News

Telling good news, success stories, is the latest trend for many in the aid and development community.

Good stories especially need to be told about Africa, says Oxfam Great Britain, to document the progress being made amid all the problems

“In order for people to understand what’s happening in Africa, we’ve also got to tell the good stories, and there has been good news in Africa,” said Oxfam GB head Dame Barbara Stocking in an interview about the campaign for SkyNews.

Stocking contends the media and many charities tend to mostly focus on negative stories of conflict and suffering, neglecting the good news stories and creating a distorted view. Oxfam GB is the latest to change its marketing angle towards telling good stories based on the belief that people need to see evidence of progress.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation operates along similar lines, funding media to do success stories and recently launching a grant program specifically supporting communications projects aimed at showing that humanitarian aid is working.

Continue reading on Humanosphere

24 January 2013

Go Figure, WASH will Eliminate Cholera

The elimination of cholera from countries does not require a new solution, say Drs. Ronald Waldman, Eric Mintz and Healther Papowitz in the New England Journal of Medicine. The United States and Northern Europe were able to defeat cholera without vaccines and antibiotics by ensuring improved sanitation and safe water access for all citizens. While the solution may be easy in theory, it is much harder in practice.

Ensuring safe water and improved sanitation is a difficult proposition. The technological problems are manifold — rapid urbanization and growing megacities are outstripping the existing municipal waterworks, which cannot keep up with construction and maintenance demands. In rural areas, treating drinking water with point-of-access and point-of-use solutions, including chemical and solar disinfection and safe water storage in the home, must be further expanded as an interim measure toward providing access to safe water sources. 
The costs of improving and maintaining infrastructure in order to meet the MDGs can be daunting, depending on the technologies used; some estimates put these costs at well over $50 billion per year. To justify the expenditures that will be required, we need cost–utility analyses that are based on the best data possible, not just those that are readily available. These calculations should take into account the direct benefits of reducing diarrheal diseases and accompanying mortality and also other benefits, such as improved nutrition of children and lower rates of helminthic infection, hepatitis, and other diseases transmitted by the fecal–oral route.
Analysis continues on Humanosphere 

Blair's Curious Choice for Good Governance Example

Britain’s former Prime Minister Tony Blair wants to end aid dependence by fostering better governance, especially in Africa.

Since moving off the geopolitical center stage, Blair has inserted himself into several new supporting roles that could generally be lumped together as world betterment consultant.

For one such role, there is Blair’s African Governance Initiative. One of his shining examples of good African governance is Rwandan President Paul Kagame — a leader widely credited with reviving Rwanda’s economy over the past 15-plus years and building up strong domestic institutions. Unfortunately, Kagame is also increasingly becoming widely ‘celebrated’ for fueling warfare in neighboring DR Congo, acting like a dictator at home and committing various human rights violations.

“At the Africa Governance Initiative (AGI), we believe that the developed world has been quick to act against bad leaders, but slow to support good ones,” writes AGI head Kate Gross in the Stanford Social Innovation Review recently. She then proceeds to talk about the work that the AGI has done with Kagame, describing how it has “fundamentally shaped our model.”

Continue reading on Humanosphere...

23 January 2013

American Evangelicals Meddling in Uganda

I have been writing over at Humanosphere lately. I will do my best to alert you to when my writing appears elsewhere. Here is a clip from my latest post. Go here to read the full thing.

It’s so bizarre it can seem funny. But, for some, it’s deadly serious. Uganda’s parliament looks likely to pass a new law that would make homosexuality illegal.

The original bill went so far as to include the death penalty. The controversial nature of Uganda’s proposed anti-gay legislation has attracted some media attention globally, but only now are more details trickling in regarding the influence some American conservative Christians have had in promoting the bill and the anti-gay agenda of some leading Ugandan politicians.

The details are emerging thanks to a lawsuit that has been brought against Massachusetts evangelical Scott Lively, founder and president of Abiding Truth Ministries, for his anti-gay activism in Uganda.

The suit says that Lively’s actions have gone beyond free speech and that he incited the prosecution and limiting of the rights of gays in Uganda. An opponent to homosexuality, Lively once told the Daily Show that homosexuals were ‘exceptionally brutal and savage’ and said that is why they were used by Hitler for fighting.

The organization Sexual Minorities Uganda sued Lively in early 2012 under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). ATS allows non-US citizens to bring forward cases that involve violations of international law and human rights abuses.

22 January 2013

Countries at Greatest Risk of Coup

What countries are most likely to see a coup this year? Political Scientist Jay Ulfelder (if you are not already regularly reading his blog, go there now and subscribe) unveiled an index that attempts to answer that question early last year. With the mixed reports about a possible coup attempt in Eritrea yesterday, Max Fisher penned a post today (worth reading in full) that uses Ulfelder's data on which countries are at the greatest coup risk.

What stands out is the visualization of the data on a map done by Fisher. Africa lights up the map with quite a few countries that make it into the top portion of the list. Ulfelder explained his index in Foreign Policy after successful coups in Guinea-Bissau and Mali last year.
In fact, most countries in the top 20 land there because they are poor and have competitive authoritarian or partially democratic political regimes. Unsurprisingly, coups also turn out to be a recurrent problem; the risk is higher in countries that have experienced other coup attempts in the past several years, a factor common to the top eight countries on this list. Active insurgencies also increase the risk of a coup, and this factor affected the 2012 forecast for countries like Ethiopia, Mali, and Sudan. Ditto for civil wars and popular uprisings in regional neighbors and slow economic growth, common themes in several regions, including West and Central Africa.
It is no surprise that the two countries are high on the list for 2013. Ulfelder is often quick to point out the flaws of any index. However, his larger point is to show where risks may lie and provide some clarity when coup rumors start to emerge in countries that are relatively stable.

OECD Likes Innovation; Who Doesn't?

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) took the bold step of calling for inclusive innovation as a solution to tackling the problem of inequality in development. Innovation is one of the emergent buzz words thrown at development challenges over the past year or so. The word often is often used to talk about technical advancements that support development gains such as a re-designed toilet or treatment as prevention from the spread of HIV.

The argument that innovation will address the problem of inequality falls a bit short. The United States is bustling with innovation and entrepreneurship while income inequality steadily widens. Research from Acemoglu, Robinson and Verdie finds a link between inequality and entrepreneurial effort. “[S]ome countries will opt for a type of “cutthroat” capitalism that generates greater inequality and more innovation and will become the technology leaders, while others will free-ride on the cutthroat incentives of the leaders,” they write.

The findings by the authors show that innovation is not necessarily the problem. It is not hard to find examples of innovations that come out of low-income countries. Mobile phone take-up continues to rise across sub-Saharan Africa and the private sector is offering new products that make clean water possible in a slum.

A conversation about innovation is important when focused on what encourages and prohibits innovations. If a farmer in Malawi develops a new irrigation method, but is unable to connect to markets or is restricted by banking services his idea may never see the light of the day. “[H]ow is innovation going to solve the problems of developing countries when global governance has no political will to solve them," asked Alexis Habiyaremye, assistant professor of economics at Antalya International University in Turkey, in his remarks to SciDev.Net.

Tackling the barriers to innovation is where development should be focused. A girl who dies young due to disease cannot even begin to think about innovation. Nor will a boy who faces layers of corruption find a path to success. Innovation despite these challenges shows that it is happening, but is not properly supported.

18 January 2013

Who is the Real Paul Farmer?

An article by freelance journalist Ansel Herz for Counterpunch recounts his meetings with the PIH co-founder over the past few years to tell of a Farmer who has become the "useful idiot" for Bill Clinton and the UN.
“Oh, he adores Clinton,” a senior member of Partner in Health, told me as our plane approached the Haitian coastline. “I don’t get it.” 
It was March 2012. By chance, our seats on the flight to Port-au-Prince happened to be next to each other. We’d struck up a conversation. 
She said Paul had changed over the years and that now she represents the “left-wing of PIH.” But the organization had taken a decidedly non-political turn. 
I told her how disappointing it was when PIH had refused to sign on to a petition to protect Haiti’s displaced from forced evictions not long after the quake. She wasn’t surprised. 
The petition was addressed to Bill Clinton, the UN Envoy to Haiti, among other authorities. And Clinton is “close to Paul,” the petitioners were told by Donna Barry, PIH’s Advocacy and Policy Director.
Herz cites examples of Farmer softening prior stances. Farmer opposed plans to provide low-paying textile jobs and was critical of the growth of NGOs in Haiti. However, he now is more silent on the labor issue and Herz describes attending a fundraiser for the start up NGO Students of the World where Farmer delivered remarks.

Averting Blindness with Vitamin A

The deficiency of vitamin A in a child has the ability to lead to blindness and possible death. A new book by Wilmer Eye Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Professor Richard Semba tells of the importance of vitamin A. I had the chance to speak with Dr Semba about his book, The Vitamin A Story: Lifting the Shadow of Death, and why vitamin A deficiency is such an important issue.

AVFTC: What makes vitamin A so important to the health of people?
Richard Semba: Vitamin A is essential for the immune system, growth, reproduction, and vision. Vitamin A-deficient children have weakened immune systems and are at greater risk of death from infectious diseases such as diarrhea and measles. Vitamin A deficiency is primarily a problem among poor families in developing countries and is a classic case of health disparities.
How did you become interested in this line of study?
In the late 1980s I began working with vitamin A-deficient children at the Cicendo Eye Hospital in Bandung, Indonesia. It seemed ironic to encounter so many children going blind and dying from vitamin A deficiency in the lush, green tropical island of Java. This experience generated many questions and a search for solutions.
What accounts for the vitamin A deficiency in some people?
Vitamin A deficiency is the companion of poverty. The main cause of vitamin A deficiency is not eating enough liver, eggs, cheese, whole milk, as well as dark green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, papaya, and mango. As to the former, liver and dairy products are usually beyond the financial means of poor families. In regard to the latter, very large amounts of vegetables and fruit must be consumed each day to meet nutritional requirements for vitamin A. Is any child going to eat six to nine cups of spinach every day? Thus, here we have a conundrum for poor families in developing countries.

17 January 2013

Studying the Aid Blogosphere

How powerful is the aid blogging community? A working paper from Ryann Manning at the Harvard Business School uses the case study of the 1 Million Shirts flap to examine the networks. Based on the way that aid bloggers engaged with Jason Sadler when he formed his idea and the ensuing changes affected by their influence, Manning concludes that the aid blogosphere "combines features of a public sphere, in which people convene to discuss issues of public interest, and an invisible college, in which experts create, verify, and legitimise knowledge and expertise."

The first part of the findings are based on a systematic reading and following of many of the top aid blogs (see Appendix A in the paper for a list). Manning read many of the usual suspects including Chris Blattman, WhyDev, Texas in Africa and Wronging Rights. She analyzes and groups the blogs based on the number of authors, style of blogs and tone. The last table is interesting as it breaks down the snark divide between those who support and oppose its use as an aid blog style.

The idea of blogging as an invisible college that Manning cites was first mentioned by economics blogger J Brad DeLong in a 2006 article (gated) for the Chronicle of Higher Education. DeLong writes, ‘It's a brilliant intellectual community, this little slice of the world that is our visible college... But I am greedy. I want more. I would like a larger college, an invisible college, of more people to talk to, pointing me to more interesting things. People whose views and opinions I can react to, and who will react to my reasoned and well-thought-out opinions, and to my unreasoned and off-the-cuff ones as well… With the arrival of Web logging, I have been able to add such people to those I bump into – in a virtual sense – every week.’

Supporting Ethical Clinical Trials in Developing Countries

How can HIV researchers conduct ethical clinical trials in developing countries? 

At TEDxGoodenoughCollege, Cameroonian researcher Dr. Boghuma Kabisen Titanji begins with the story of a housewife in rural Cameroon who participated in a HIV clinical trial, but was unable to remain in it due to her inability to afford the bus fare to travel to the clinic.

This story illustrates the tension, to Titanji, between determining whether potentially life-saving drugs work and the greater needs of trial participants.
I do not stand here today to suggest in any way that conducting HIV clinical trials in developing countries is bad. On the contrary, clinical trials are extremely useful tools, and are much needed to address the burden of disease in developing countries. However, the inequalities that exist between richer countries and developing countries in terms of funding pose a real risk for exploitation, especially in the context of externally-funded research. Sadly enough, the fact remains that a lot of the studies that are conducted in developing countries could never be authorized in the richer countries which fund the research.
She recommends improving clinical trials a few ways. First, by improving informed consent procedures. That means that participants must fully understand the trial. To do so, information should be presented in a way that maximizes understanding. A written form makes little sense when signed by someone who is illiterate. Second, she calls for a careful examination of the standard of care for the control group. "It is important to assess the potential risks and benefits of the standard of care which is to be provided to participants in any clinical trial, and establish one which is relevant for the context of the study and most beneficial for the participants within the study," she argues.

Third, transparency and local accountability will help to ensure that clinical trials are done ethnically. Her last point stresses the importance of thinking of the participants beyond the study. She advocates for studies to consider ways to maintain effective levels of treatment for participants after the study concludes and to look at ways to support the wider community.

Titanji concludes by issuing a challenge to the audience members and the research community saying, "If you are a researcher, I hold you to a higher standard of moral conscience, to remain ethical in your research, and not compromise human welfare in your search for answers. If you work for a funding agency or pharmaceutical company, I challenge you to hold your employers to fund research that is ethically sound. If you come from a developing country like myself, I urge you to hold your government to a more thorough review of the clinical trials which are authorized in your country."

16 January 2013

The Daily Show Investigates the Decline of International Investigative Journalism

Farm Subsidies, Haitian Farmers and Development Policy

A lot of critical reporting on Haiti has focused on the republic of NGOs and unmet aid pledges. Maura O'Connor highlights the damage caused by US farm subsidies in Foreign Policy.
While this prospect is a bleak one for the domestic rice industry, others view it as a long-overdue change. For years, organizations from Oxfam to the Cato Institute have harshly criticized American rice subsidies for enabling the United States to dump its product in developing countries at depressed prices, making it difficult for small-scale farmers to export their own rice or compete in their local markets. As these critics see it, taxpayer dollars have inflated America's competitiveness in global markets while destroying agriculture sectors in countries from Ghana to Indonesia.

Perhaps the most devastating example of this trade distortion, critics say, is Haiti. Since 1995, when it dropped its import tariffs on rice from 50 to 3 percent as part of a structural adjustment program run by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, Haiti has steadily increased its imports of rice from the north. Today it is the fifth-largest importer of American rice in the world despite having a population of just 10 million. Much of Haiti's rice comes from Arkansas; each year, Riceland Foods and Producers Rice Mill send millions of tons of rice down the Mississippi river on barges to New Orleans, where the rice is loaded onto container ships, taken to port in Haiti, and packaged as popular brands such as Tchaco or Mega Rice. Haiti today imports over 80 percent of its rice from the United States, making it a critical market for farmers in Arkansas.
O'Connor does a nice job covering the problem at hand and the challenges to rectify it. In short, subsidize rice in the US undercuts the Haitian market which helps in terms of food security, but harms the growth of agriculture in the country. Cutting the farm subsidy could help Haitian farmers out, but it also can lead to a sharp price increase and leave the door open for a country like Brazil to flood the Haitian markets with cheap grains.

15 January 2013

Horton Tweets Code of Conduct for Ethical Research Publication

Lancet Editor Richard Horton sent a series of tweets outlining what he called a Code of Conduct for Research Publication while listening to Rwandan Minister of Health Agnes Binagwaho at the Global Maternal Health Conference 2013 in Tanzania.

A Civil Debate on Lessons from Kony 2012

A discussion during the Congo in Harlem event held last October featured a panel of experts and advocates to talk about Kony 2012. For two hours, the group, let by Elliot Ross of the Africa is a Country blog, dug into the concerns raised in response to a campaign that was led by the most viral video of all time.

They manage to cover a real wide range of issues such as the ethics of depicting victims of trauma to the appropriateness of the policy prescriptions advocated by the video. Representatives from Invisible Children and its partnering organizations participated in what was a civil and informative exchange.

It is long, but worth a listen. Roughly the first hour is opening statements from each panel member. It is a good way to hear some of the ideas that come from advocates and critics alike. Though Ross says he wants to stay in the middle, his introductory remarks suggest some further questions about the video and what it says about the audience that received it so well.

Listen below and see the list of participants further down. For further reading, also check out Kate Cronin-Furman's recent reflection post on the event over at Wronging Rights. She adds a bit of an addendum to her own remarks by describing her concerns regarding the consequences of advocating for prosecution through the ICC. "The international criminal justice system was set up to deal with the political that is also criminal – to ensure that human rights abusers don’t get away with murder because they happen to occupy positions of political power. But is it equally well-suited to dealing with the criminal that is also political?" asks Cronin Furman in conclusion.

Moderator: Elliot Ross, Africa is a Country

Milton Allimadi, Publisher and Editor-in Chief, Black Star News
Kate Cronin-Furman, Human Rights Attorney & Blogger, Wronging Rights
Richard Mark Ochaka, Uganda Program Mentor, Invisible Children
Michael Poffenberger, Co-founder & Executive Director, RESOLVE
Laura Seay, Assistant Professor, Morehouse College & Blogger, Texas in Africa
Amanda Taub, Adjunct Professor, Fordham University & Blogger , Wronging Rights
Bukeni Waruzi, Africa & Middle East Program Manager, WITNESS


Is India’s New Aid Program a Game-Changer? (Guest Post)

By Mike Miesen

On January 1st, India began a pilot program that could revolutionize the way it provides aid to its considerable impoverished population, one that could stretch every rupee spent further. Along the way, it would provide an incentive for India to scale its identification program and significantly increase access to banking for the poor. If the program can get over the logistical hurdles inherent in scaling a government program in a country with 1.2 billion people it will be a game-changer.

Known as the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) program, its aim is to move away from subsidizing “living goods” through government-run shops – a system that has long been disparaged for being ineffective and fuel for corruption – to simply providing assistance in the form of cash via direct transfer to the poor. Initially, the program plans to enroll about 245,000 poor Indians, with plans to scale significantly if it is successful.

Cash assistance to refugeesThis would completely upend the current state, which is good news for India’s budget and bad news for the 50,000 government shops through which $1.4 billion (1% of India’s GDP, roughly) in subsidized goods are currently funneled; it is believed that, due to corruption throughout the supply chain, only about 41% of grain meant for the poor actually gets to them. Moving away from this system will stretch a rupee further, allowing more money to go directly into the pockets of the poor. Other state-run cash transfer programs – like Mexico’s Opportunidades – have been shown to improve health, and the concept is being used by a number of countries.

There are significant ancillary benefits, too; the new system’s success is predicated on the ability to identify the poor, which India is attempting through biometric scans paired with an identification number. Such a system would allow for more accurate headcounts of cities and states, and could have a significant impact on the accuracy and efficacy of voting transparency, vaccination campaigns, and more. It’s an audacious, never-before-tried project, and the DBT program would add urgency to its rollout and success.

It would also force the Indian government to figure out a way to increase access to banking for the poor; after all, they need to have bank accounts to receive DBT funds. This would provide millions of Indians the opportunity to put their savings in a bank, which is a step towards increasing financial inclusivity; more savings in banks also means a larger supply of credit to lend, which would likely benefit the poor and middle class. 

So, the benefits are clear: aid money is used more effectively, the Indian government is able to better identify its population, and access to banking increases significantly. Unfortunately, these are significant benefits precisely because they are such large issues to begin with; signing up the population for biometric identification requires a Herculean effort, and in three years only 220 million Indians have been given a twelve-digit number. The poor in slums and rural villages are likely to be the most difficult to identify, adding another layer of complexity to the task. 

Even with the identification issue solved, the poorest Indians still need to have a bank account. That is a gargantuan logistical challenge in itself, when only about one-third of the population has one – and in the poorest quintile that number falls to about one-fifth. 

One route would be to leverage the existing telecommunications network, which is what the Kenyan government has allowed Sarfaricom to do with M-PESA, the mobile banking platform widely used there. Unfortunately, only about 564 million Indians have a mobile phone, and as this World Bank Policy Research Working Paper shows, Indian bank regulations are holding back innovations in mobile banking. 

Put it all together, and it’s no surprise that only 4% of Indian adults used a mobile phone for banking. India will likely need to reduce these regulations, incentivize banks to offer a mobile banking platform, or opt to significantly expand currently-existing brick-and-mortar banks if for the DBT program to have a shot at succeeding. 

All told, the current evidence indicates that the DBT program will be a game-changer – just not anytime soon, and only after the main concerns are dealt with. The logistical issues involved will ensure that the roll-out is slow and arduous, and the identification system will likely take years to complete and be sustainable. Once ready, though, India’s DBT program has the potential to significantly alter the way India’s poor receives assistance from the government, and could serve as the model for future reforms the world over.

Mike Miesen is a healthcare consultant and a graduate of UW-Madison. Currently, Mike is a Project Lead at Kissito Healthcare International, working on an initiative to halve the maternal mortality rate at Mbale Regional Referral Hospital in Mbale, Uganda. He writes about health policy and development at http://mikemiesen.com and you can follow him on Twitter @MikeMiesen

14 January 2013

Syrian Refugees Fleeing Sexual Violence, Says IRC Report

Syrian refugees fleeing the violence caused by the civil war are facing further challenges once they leave Syria. An estimated 600,000 Syrians have fled to neighboring countries, but camps are struggling to meet the basic needs of the refugees. “Current assistance levels are drastically insufficient to address existing needs, let alone the barest requirements to respond to a lengthy humanitarian emergency and post-conflict recovery,” says the International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) Commission on Syrian Refugees in a report, Syria: A Regional Crisis, released today. 

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has repeatedly attempted to gain access to some of the hardest hit areas in Syria, but has been met by serious challenges. ICRC President Peter Maurer said that the situation in Syria was getting worse in mid-December even though the organization was able to expand services in country. The nature of the fighting forced ICRC staff to react to events and deliver services when possible rather than set up a permanent response. 

The IRC report confirms many of the same challenges to reach Syrians citing a continually moving frontline of fighting and intimidation tactics used against medical professionals. Syria is deploying “a systematic campaign to restrict access to lifesaving care through the strategic bombing and forced closure of medical facilities,” said physicians to IRC. 

Violence extends beyond fighting found IRC. A significant number of the Syrian refugees interviewed for the report citied rape as a reason for fleeing the country. A 28-year-old woman from Dara’a described hearing an attack on her neighbor. “When they raided the house next door, we could hear the rape of my neighbor, my friend,” she told IRC. “And then they arrested my brother and tortured him for days. He survived but they scarred his body and destroyed his genitals. We stayed at home, even when we were running out of food. We were too afraid to go out.” 

She fled to Jordan after the armed men beat her husband and threatened to arrest him. The rapes are rarely reported due to stigma associated with it. Those interviewed by IRC expressed concerns ranging from retribution by perpetrators to honor killings by family members. 

However, the refugee camps provide little in terms of physical safety and mental resources for the women. “Many of these women have experienced rape and torture in Syria, but as refugees can’t find the support they need to heal their physical and emotional scars—let alone provide food and shelter for their families,” explains Sanj Srikanthan, IRC Emergency Field Director. 

Though refugees have escaped the violence in Syria, life in camps in Iraq, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon remains challenging. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) estimates that 600,000 Syrians have fled the country and expects the number to rise to 1 million in 2014. 

Save the Children and other NGOs raised concerns in November about the lack of shelter and clothing for refugees as winter approached. The warnings have appeared to come true as evidenced by recent events. Countless reports this past week describe refugees without winter clothing, flooded tents, and unsanitary camp conditions

The IRC report recommends that countries continue to keep their borders open for refugees. Lebanon turned back internal opposition and said it will allow refugees to enter the country, but called on the members of the Arab League to provide financial support for the estimated 200,000 Syrian refugees in the country. 

While a good amount of reporting focuses on the refugee camps, an estimated 70% of Syrian refugees live outside of the camps. IRC urges donors to increase their funding to meet the needs of the refugees and says that the response must make the urban refugees who are not in the camps a priority. 

“Donors need to step up, recognize the severity of the humanitarian crisis in and around Syria and face the virtual inevitability that this is going to get much worse and last much longer than initially anticipated,” says IRC-UK Board of Trustees Co-Chair, Sir John Holmes.

So, is Africa Rising or Not?

The discussion over a rising Africa is not all that new, but it picked up some steam thanks to cover stories from Time Magazine and The Economist. It is so popular that Nick Kristof wrote about it and Harvard anthropologists Jean and John Comaroff are teaching a course on the subject (though it is focused on evaluating the idea rather than championing it). Despite the trend, everyone is not necessarily in agreement that Africa is rising in the first place.

"All in all, though, Africa is becoming more democratic, more technocratic and more market-friendly. Yet Americans are largely oblivious to the idea of Africa as a success story," wrote Kristof in June. The reason that people are unaware of Africa's rise, argues Kristof, is in some part due to journalists tendency to report on disasters.

Time Magazine wrote put the phrase "Africa Rising" on its cover 14 years earlier and it also appeared as the title of an article by the magazine in 2001. The correspondents traveled to Mozambique, Eritrea, Mali and Ghana to tell of examples of improvements across the continent. A decade later, Mali is in the midst of a civil war.

Boosters of a rising Africa point to steady growth as measured by GDP. However, this may be misplaced. PhD candidate Rick Rowden wrote in Foreign Policy earlier this month that the idea of Africa rising was a myth. Malawi, for example, has experienced strong growth as measured by GDP, but it does not mean it's economy is transforming, argues Rowden.

"Malawi may have earned higher export earnings for tea, tobacco, and coffee on world markets and increased exports, but it is still largely a primary agricultural economy with little movement towards the increased manufacturing or labor-intensive job creation that are needed for Africa to "rise,"" he writes.

A key component to development is industrialization, says Rowden. A 2011 U.N. report and a report from the African Development Bank show that many African countries are struggling to industrialize. To Rowden, that lack of progress gives serious concern for future development of African countries and leads to questions about the claims that the continent is rising.

Charles Robertson and Michael Moran pushed back against Rowden a few days later in Foreign Policy. They agreed on the importance of industrialization, but dissented from Rowden's pessimism. Countries must first focus on their primary sectors before moving to industrialization, say Robertson and Moran citing World Bank economist Justin Lin.

The rising cost labor in China, a more education population and business-friendly governments together show that the pace of industrialization will speed up in sub-Saharan Africa, they conclude. One example provided is Kenya, a country with a distinct government vision for improving its industrial capacity. "Kenya is not unique -- many governments now have 10-20 year development plans -- and we agree that nothing in them guarantees they will be effectively implemented, or implemented at all," they warn.

Both articles presented ideas about the claim that Africa is rising, but neither put an end to the conversation. In fact, Rowden differed with the analysis explaining why he felt Robertson and Moran were wrong in the comments section of the article. Africa rising is a story that returns in cycles and is bound to return into mainstream conversation after the current debate dies down.

How Cost Effective is Treatment As Prevention of HIV?

It turns out that using ARV treatment to prevent the spread of HIV between partners is cost effective as defined by WHO guidelines, but is less so than other interventions like medical male circumcision.
Till Barninghausen, David Bloom and Salal Humair have recently published the results of such a modeling exercise for South Africa, assessing “whether TasP is indeed a game changer or if comparable benefits are obtainable at similar or lower cost by increasing coverage of medical male circumcision (MMC) and antiretroviral treatment (ART) at CD4 <350 a="a" href="http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/12/05/1209017110.abstract" microliter="microliter" see="see">here
, gated). The authors find that MMC is significantly cheaper than TasP in terms of cost per infections averted – $1,096 versus $6,790. Further, they find that most benefits result from high levels of ART coverage using the CD4 <350 blockquote="blockquote" criteria.="criteria." microliter="microliter" nbsp="nbsp">
Barninghausen et al conclude that the most cost-effective HIV prevention strategy in South Africa is first to increase MMC coverage, and then to scale up ART: this strategy would achieve comparable incidence reductions to TasP and cost $5 billion less, a figure comparable to total Global Fund expenditures on AIDS over a five year period.
Read Amanda Glassman's full explanation on the CGD blog and the paper here. She argues that the research is important given the challenges of financing HIV interventions. Getting to zero new infections will involve utilizing the most cost-effective interventions.

12 January 2013

Successes and Challenges in Post-Earthquake Haiti

Three years since a massive earthquake struck Haiti, the country continues to recover and rebuild. Significant gains and serious setbacks make for a changing evaluation of the nation's progress. Trying to determine whether the recovery has been successful or not has been a relatively hard question to answer.

An estimated 80% of all the debris has been cleared, 200 new schools have been built and roughly 3 million children have received vaccines against polio, measles and rubella championed UN Foundation CEO Kathy Calvin in a press call on Wednesday.

Challenges remain. Over 350,000 Haitians are still living in tents and many of the aid pledges made in the wake of the earthquake remain unfulfilled. Some are apt to point out the failure of the response over the past three years.

"[I]t is evident that many good intentions imploded at the expense of the people they were meant to help," wrote journalist Ian Birrell in the Guardian at the end of December. "Haiti stands as the latest sad example of how self-aggrandising assumptions of the global aid industry can backfire so badly. The humanitarian business should reflect hard on the failures."

The participants on the press call were more optimistic. Jessica Faieta, Deputy Assistant Administrator and Deputy Director, at the Regional Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, UN Development Programme (UNDP), said that the debris removal was still a problem, but pointed to successes like the creation of 300,000 jobs of which 40% have gone to women.

Haiti - Alison McKellarAlthough the UN peacekeeping mission has transformed from one that provides security to one that provides relief, UN Department for Peacekeeping Operations Public Affairs Officer Andre-Michel Essoungou said that Haiti has regained stability in the areas of politics and security. “Almost everyone who has visited Haiti agrees that there has been tremendous progress over the past few months,” said Eileen Wickstrom Smith, Deputy Coordinator for Assistance in the Office of the Haiti Special Coordinator, U.S. Department of State, in agreement with Essoungou.

This is at a time when some donors are rethinking their aid to Haiti. Canada's Minister for International Cooperation, Julian Fantino, said that the country was putting its aid to Haiti 'on ice' citing a lack of progress. “The fact is that Haiti is still in poor condition — will we continue to do the same thing in Haiti? I think not! Because we are not seeing the progress which Canadians are entitled to expect,” said Fantino in an interview with La Presse.

When asked to react to the decision by a Canadian journalist, Faieta said she was 'saddened' by the news. Both she and Smith pointed out that progress would be slow. "We need to look into the contest as to where the country is coming from," said Faieta. Smith added, "Haiti is not going to become a middle-income country overnight...We would like to see the Canadian government continue its progress."

The mixed progress is harder to evaluate due to the murky spending situation. Some $9 billion has been donated to Haiti and the NGOs that are working there, says a report from Vijaya Ramachandran and Julie Walz of the Center for Global Development. The two found that it was hard to know what exactly happened to the money once it was disbursed to the NGOs and private contractors that actually implement programs.

The problem is twofold. First, there is not a proper level of transparency that makes it possible to determine where the money is going. Second, the money going into Haiti is largely bypassing the Haitian government. Ramachandran and Waltz recommend that improved transparency measures and partnering with the government may help ensure that the aid money going into Haiti is effectively used.

“Right now what we’ve got is a process dominated by donors and NGOs,” Vijaya said in a recent interview. “The government is almost a bystander. If we can pilot some projects where the government can seek the services of NGOs through contracts, I think that would help increase the accountability of NGOs and private contractors providing the services. It would also enable the Haitian government to build some control over the process of how much services are delivered, reduce replication, and maybe increase efficiency and accountability in the long run.”

Haiti faces further challenges following the recent hurricane season. Crops that were rebuilding were destroyed through the storms and a recent drought. USAID is investing in 100,000 farmers in northern Haiti with the goal of increasing crop yields and incomes. At the same time, it is prepared to distribute food aid to the families that were impacted by the weather.

11 January 2013

Who Gets a Cut of the USAID Contract Pie?

GovTribe looked back as far as possible to see what contractors won the most awards from USAID. Chemonics comes out on top by quite a reasonable distance.

HT John Paul Fawcett

Katz Talks Haiti Relief with NPR

AP reporter Jonathan Katz was in his home outside of Port au Prince when a the massive earthquake struck in Haiti. His new book, “The Big Truck That Went By: How The World Came To Save Haiti And Left Behind A Disaster" recounts the immediate aftermath of the earthquake and the ensuring relief and recovery effort by Haiti and the international community.

Katz spoke with Robin Young on Boston NPR station WBUR's program Here and Now. One part of the discussion touches on the initial coordination challenges that were hampered by a great outpouring of people sending stuff.
People were just sort of doing whatever seemed right, or whatever their own protocols were, or whatever they had done in some very different circumstances in a very different part of the world.” [Robin: "Boxes of Danish hand puppets came!"] “You can imagine somebody in Denmark thinking these poor children, I see the pictures, they’re crying, if only there was something there that could bring them some comfort. And that’s a great notion, but it doesn’t really work unless you’re coordinating – someone can actually sort out the hand puppets from the food from the bandages. It’s very obvious in hindsight, but some of these things were even very clear at the time. Nobody was really taking the time to stop and think about it.
Listen to the full conversation:

Disclosure: Katz and I co-authored an article in Foreign Policy last month.

10 January 2013

Reflections on Traveling in the World's Poorest Countries

An interview with Mark Weston about his new book, The Ringtone and the Drum. The book is an account of Weston's travels through the West African countries of Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and Burkina Faso. All three countries rate in the bottom 15 countries of the Human Development Index. I am in the middle of the book and moving at a snail's pace. However, that is not due to Weston, but my own lack of discipline.

What appeared early on to be a book that edged on naval-gazing has turned out, so far, to be a compelling study on the complexities of some of the world's poorest countries as well as Weston's ability to adjust to what he is experiencing. The success in the book is that the subject is Weston, but he makes the book less about himself than what surrounds him.

Kate Cronin-Furman summed it up well back in December when she wrote:
For a journalist or a human rights advocate, the consequent loss of objectivity might be disastrous, but the travelogue format gives Weston the leeway to engage his breakdown directly. Instead of minimizing it, or alternately, presenting West Africa as the monolithic “thing that drove him crazy,” he uses it to shrink the distance between himself and his subjects, generating real insight into the emotional lives of the individuals with whom he interacts.
The video is a good way to get a better sense of the book in Weston's words.

More Money Does Make You Happier

We find that well-being rises with income, whether we compare people in a single country and year, whether we look across countries, or whether we look at economic growth for a given country. Through these comparisons we show that richer people report higher well-being than poorer people; that people in richer countries, on average, experience greater well-being than people in poorer countries; and that economic growth and growth in well-being are clearly related. Moreover, the data show no evidence for a satiation point above which income and well-being are no longer related.
That is Daniel Sacks, Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers in a new paper that analyzes previous research on the connection between money and well-being. No matter how you cut it, more money makes people happier. Maybe GDP is a good measure of well-being...

09 January 2013

Shifting Away from GDP to Measure Growth

Rob Dietz and Dan O'Neill make the case for no longer using GDP as a measure of well-being in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.
Gross domestic product has become the most watched and most misinterpreted of all economic indicators...

And while the United States leads in GDP, it also leads in military spending, the number of people in prison, and the percentage of people who are obese. These other first-place finishes seem at odds with America's position atop the GDP standings—that is, until you realize that spending on war, incarceration, and disease, as well as other "defensive expenditures," all count toward GDP. The arithmetic of GDP doesn’t consider what the money is actually being spent on, and over time, we’ve been spending more and more money on remedial activities and calling this "progress."

...So long as the economic system calls for growth, GDP will continue its reign as the primary economic indicator, a situation that sets up a chicken-egg conundrum. On the one hand, consigning GDP to the dustbin of history would help shift the focus of the economy away from growth and toward human well-being. On the other hand, shifting the focus away from growth would impart a demand for adoption of better measures of progress.
The post is a promo for their new book, Enough is Enough, in which they "lay out a visionary but realistic alternative to the perpetual pursuit of economic growth—an economy where the goal is not more but enough."

GDP and well-being both matter in a development context since the former can be linked with the latter. Critics will point out that economic growth driven development can lead to higher inequality that does not translate to significant gains in well-being.

Is it possible to move away from GDP as the main benchmark? Francios Lequiller said no in an interview with the OECD Observer back in late 2004. "The times of major change, such as the one to include non-market production in GDP some 30 years ago, have passed, so do not expect any radical upheavals," he argued.

Lequiller may have been wrong to some extent. Joseph Stiglitz chaired ‘The Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress’ in 2009 that produced a report outlining how to better measure well-being. Stiglitz wrote in the Financial Times:
GDP will, of course, continue to be used as a measure of market activity – though hopefully the reforms that we propose will make it a better measure of that. But there will be increased focus on sustainability – on what is happening, for example, to broad measures of society’s wealth, including its natural assets. When it comes to measuring societal welfare, we will have to look to other metrics. Some already exist; others will have to be constructed. Our report provides guidance on what is required.

Too often, we confuse ends with means. One of the criticisms of our economies in the years prior to the crisis is that they did exactly that – a financial sector is a means to a more productive economy, not an end in itself. Even worse is to confuse an improvement in a measurement of well-being with an improvement in well-being itself. Our economy is supposed to increase our well-being. It, too, is not an end in itself. Hopefully, the work of our commission will have increased the impetus to align the metrics of well-being with what really contributes to quality of life – and, in so doing, help us direct our efforts at those things that really matter.
Of course it is always worth giving a mention to the Bhutan Gross National Happiness index.

Banda's Push for Women's Empowerment Through Health and Education

Malawian president Joyce Banda sat down with CSIS to chat about how to support women's empowerment in Malawi. She points to the importance of ensuring that women are healthy and have adequate services as a key part of supporting their empowerment.

“It is only when a women is economically empowered that she begins to make critical decisions about her health...I have found in the many years I have worked with women that when a women is economically empowered that she can negotiate at household level with her husband about the number of children that body of hers can have,” explains Banda.

The interview features scenes from across Malawi of women going about their daily lives. A key area is prevention of deaths of mothers and young girls. "It is not possible for me to sit back and watch every 690 women die out of every 100,000, giving life. That's not acceptable," she asserts.

An additional contributing factor, says Banda, is the high drop-out rate among girls in secondary school. It then puts them on a path towards earlier marriage which places their bodies in danger by giving birth too young.

To protect the woman, to provide a good life for her, to provide health for her, to provide education for the girl-child is a must," says Banda.

The Problem with the NRA's Guns Proposal

A proposal by the NRA in response to calls for increased gun control has sparked a public conversation. The post-Sandy Hook statement by NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre called for the provision of armed guards in every American school. A public debate has ensued over the response to the tragedy. However, a small line about financing the plan has garnered little attention.

“With all the foreign aid, with all the money in the federal budget, we can't afford to put a police officer in every school?" asked LaPierre in his prepared remarks."Even if they did that, politicians have no business — and no authority — denying us the right, the ability, or the moral imperative to protect ourselves and our loved ones from harm."

Credit: AP/Alex Brandon
His rhetorical question makes two political points. The first questions the spending on foreign aid and the second makes an argument that the federal budget is bloated and filled with waste. The two together act to say that foreign aid is an example of wasteful spending by the US government.

Putting an armed guard in American schools would be a costly endeavor. There are 98,817 public schools across the United States. An armed guard at each school who commands the average American salary of $43,000 will cost $4.24 billion. Police officers make an average of $55,000 a year which would mean that the cost could be even higher. Adding in other administrative and implementation costs could take the program to somewhere near $4.5 billion.

When it comes to funding new programs or making budget cuts, foreign aid is near given in the discussion. Senator Rand Paul unsuccessfully tried to block US aid to Egypt, Pakistan and Libya in October and responded by launching an attack advertising campaign. A budget passed by the House of Representatives in the midst of the 2011 debt ceiling standoff included a $6.4 billion cut into the State Department budget.

Supporters of US foreign defend cuts on a few fronts. First, they say that the budget is already small. US foreign aid represents under 1% of the entire federal budget. Making cuts into foreign aid will not make much of a dent into budgetary problems or the national debt. Second, aid is a tool of US foreign policy. It engenders better relations with countries and supports American interests around the world. Third, when money is distributed effectively aid can save lives.

Aid works best not when it aims to achieve such sweeping goals as democratization or economic growth, but when it’s channeled into things that can actually yield tangible results," wrote Charles Kenny of the Center for Global Development in a Businessweek article that analyzed the stances of the 2012 Presidential candidates. "In fact, foreign aid has helped save millions of lives, been instrumental in getting millions of kids into school, and helped build water and sewage lines, roads, and electricity networks."

Kenny argues that aid has not worked in terms of promoting better governance by citing research by NYU's Bill Easterly. However, there have been many major gains that can be attributed to foreign aid spending including the reduction in deaths caused by malaria, the slowing spread of HIV and the reduction in deaths by children under five years old. India passed one year without polio in 2012 as the disease is nearing complete eradication.

Guinea worm will disappear from the planet as well thanks to a concerted effort by former President Jimmy Carter's foundation. Only two diseases, smallpox and rinderpast, have been eradicated ever. 3.6 million people were affected by guinea worm in 1986, the point when the Carter Center began its work to eradicate the parasite. There were only a few hundred cases in 2012. The eradication of guinea worm is expected to be accomplished this year and is in some supported by the funding through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

USAID Administrator Raj Shah explained the direct cost of cutting the foreign aid budget during the debt ceiling debate in 2011 saying, "We estimate, and I believe these are very conservative estimates, that H.R. 1 (the proposed legislation) would lead to 70,000 kids dying." The United States provided $30 billion in aid during 2010. Moving $4.5 billion from the foreign aid budget to fund the NRA proposal would result in a roughly 15% cut into a part of the budget and exact a similar toll to that estimated by Admin Shah in 2011.

A recent OpEd from the Seattle Times made the argument for keeping foreign aid off the table for potential cuts related to the fiscal cliff negotiations. Over the past decade, 4 million people have been treated for HIV; 50 million for malaria. Millions more have received family-planning help to prevent unintended pregnancies. Baby deliveries are safer, too. But health advocates describe these advancements as extremely “fragile,”" wrote the editors.