26 April 2013

Buzz Kill: Putting Accountability and Transparency Into Action

By John Sauer, Water For People and Patrick Moriarty, IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre

A high word count on many websites, sustainability and transparency are aspirational buzz words thrown about by the international development community. Sadly this ease of use in sector buzz is not mirrored in practical application and they lack meaning to the people in communities where the manifestation of these words matter most.

For some governments, NGOs, and the private sector, however, nice buzz words are not enough. A growing set of tools and approaches now exist to anchor these words in reality.

The Millennium Water Alliance (MWA), for example, is now planning to use the Akvo FLOW monitoring tool with all of their partners in future work in Mexico and Central America. This is an exciting step and an important commitment from a significant coalition of NGOs.

IRC’s WASHCost has developed a set of tools to help governments and implementers track and benchmark the costs of providing services – not just for the initial construction, but for the whole service lifecycle. These are being used by a growing band of NGOs, donors, and governments to cost in the necessary ‘post-construction’ elements of providing services.

From another perspective, a model for tracking, monitoring, and including the voice of the disenfranchised is the women-led citizen journalist network, World Pulse. This is an excellent example of how to engage local communities in the process of reporting on issues that matter.

To ensure sustainability, international development organizations must build in (or join in) yearly reflection processes with partners including government, local NGOs, and the private sector. This process would allow organizations to review data and service delivery indicators to see how things are going and to determine where course corrections are needed. Water For People has developed this process with an accompanying tool called Re-imagine Reporting. This new tool looks to visualize and connect programmatic work to provable outcomes. At a different scale, the Government of Uganda’s annual sector report presenting the progress of the water and environment sectors honestly and unsparingly identifies stagnation in both coverage and sustainability in rural Uganda. The report also serves as the basis for an annual joint sector review that brings together all actors in rural water across the country.

Other tools that support and focus on customer feedback include Ushahidi’s platform, FrontlineSMS, and the sensor work being done by SWEETSense and mw4d. Of course tools are only as good as the way they are used. Principles to consider in ensuring that use is effective include:
  • Data and information must be used to learn and make changes to improve
  • Data doesn’t just come in or up; it also flows out and down
  • Transparency is not just about showing that money is spent as intended; it is also about producing outcomes and impact with those resources
  • To achieve impact at scale, tools must be in the hands of the end user (governments and community members).

Putting an end to buzz words in international development is long overdue. Thankfully today’s technological and interconnected environment leave no excuse not to program transparently and sustainably: we really can move from buzz to business!

Top News: 26 April 2013

Top stories from DAWNS Digest*

US Believes Chemical Weapons Used in Syria

The evidence that Assad has used chemical weapons against his own people has been mounting, along with pressure on the US to do something concrete about it. What remains to be seen is what the Obama administration will choose to do about it. “In an unclassified letter sent to senators, the White House says U.S. intelligence believes ‘with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin.’ …The White House said the assessment is preliminary and is not enough to change the U.S. ‘decision-making’ on the issue because ‘credible and corroborated’ facts are needed to guide U.S. policy.” (Voice of America http://bit.ly/10fu1Z0)

Security Council Approves Mali Peacekeeping Mission

After months of negotiations, the UN Security Council approved the creation of a 12,600 Mali peacekeeping force beginning July 1. “France, aided by some 2,000 troops from Chad, began a military offensive in January to drive out Islamist fighters, who had hijacked a revolt by Mali’s Tuareg rebels and seized two-thirds of Mali. The U.N. peacekeeping force – to be known as MINUSMA – will assume authority from a U.N.-backed African force deployed there to take over from the French. Most of the African force, known as AFISMA, is likely to become part of the peacekeeping operation, diplomats say.” (Reuters http://yhoo.it/ZRkd7K)

*I am going to try posting the top news stories from DAWNS each day. You should consider subscribing to stay up on the latest aid and development news.

25 April 2013

Poverty, Religion and the Need for a Creation Story?

Poverty needs a creation story say Martin Kirk and Joe Brewer, the duo behind /The Rules. They make the case in Think Africa Press that religions have a creation story and imply that is what builds a connection to a single cause.
One of the major discoveries from our research was that anti-poverty groups, both in North and South, rarely if ever explain where poverty comes from. This is a critical omission in the common sense of poverty. It means there is a gaping hole in the logic that stands in the way of commensurate action to tackle it. In other words, because there is no commonly understood creation story, there is no clear, logically robust understanding of (a) what causes poverty, (b) who the principal actors are, and therefore (c) a solution that can be readily and widely accepted. 
Every religion has a creation story. So does every tribe, nation and ideological camp. The creation story provides the original cause from which all else follows. For example, the Story of Original Sin from the Abrahamic religious tradition tells us where human fallibility came from – an apple plucked from the Tree of Knowledge by an unwitting woman in the Garden of Eden. It offers a historic context from which all evil sprang forth onto the world in a moment of human weakness. And it does so with such memorable visual concreteness that most of us can recite the entire tale thousands of years after it was first written down. 
Poverty, as we talk about it today, has no creation story. It lacks a commonly understood cause. And so there is no logical solution for how to end it. In other words, there is no mental architecture that helps us intuit and envision it ever being eradicated. To succeed at changing this common sense, anti-poverty groups will need to introduce a creation story.
They point to an article from earlier in April where they make the case that poverty was created by man. Their case is made on the ground of inequality and call out the tax havens that hide as much as 15% of all privately held wealth.

The argument raises two essential questions. First is whether there really is a poverty creation story. By modern standards the life of man has been one of physical and material poverty. More progressive poverty expert ask to look beyond simple wealth to see true poverty. In that case, poverty was long the status quo for the average person.

Secondly, the allusion to religion is interesting. Religion has been a powerful tool in and development for both better and worse. It can perpetuate is the idea of saving other people whether it be the soul or the physical person. Doing so can create an us and them dichotomy that fails to connect two groups of people.

These are some preliminary and quick thoughts. What do you all think about telling the poverty creation story? Is there one to tell? If so, should it be told as a 'creation story' or in a different manner?

24 April 2013

The Economic Power of Women

A report from Booz & Company shows that employing women in equal numbers to men could raise the United States’ GDP by 5%, Japan’s by 9%, the United Arab Emirates’ by 12%, and Egypt’s by a jaw-dropping 34%. "Even small increases in the opportunities available to women, and some release of the cultural and political constraints that hold them back, can lead to dramatic economic and social benefits," it says.
It feels like rather obvious finding, but it is always interesting to see it quantified. Fast Company's Ben Schiller highlights the findings of the study noting the negative impact of care-giving on economic participation.

Apparently women in developing countries spend 2.4 hours more in care giving roles than men do. That feels like a bit of a low number. I am interested in any other research into such disparities.

Read the full report here. (with thanks to Megan Dold for finding a working link)

23 April 2013

UNICEF Campaign: Like This Post...and Nothing Happens

Yup, UNICEF Sweden is telling its supporters to skip the like and make a donation. in that image and in this video. It is that simple. The push for direct giving and against overheads seems to be picking up steam.

HT @penelopeinparis

22 April 2013

US Supreme Court Case Determines First Amendment Rights of NGOs

Free speech and global health advocates will see their causes converge today at the US Supreme Court.

The case – Alliance for Open Society International vs. United States Agency for International Development (USAID) – is a challenge made by a number of aid organizations to USAID’s required anti-prostitution pledge.

The anti-prostitution pledge is part of the Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which was launched in 2003 by President George W. Bush. It stipulates that not only are international organizations that receive PEPFAR funds prohibited from supporting prostitutes, they must also pledge their opposition to prostitution and sex trafficking.

Opponents say the rule violates first amendment rights and undermines efforts aimed at improving safety within the sex industry. Proponents say it’s needed if we are to make progress against human trafficking and exploitation of women.

“The split is about whether you support the sex industry,” said Norma Ramos, executive director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, to Reuters.

Mie Lewis argued in the ACLU blog, “[T]he Constitution forbids the government from engaging in such moral compulsion. The First Amendment is, at its core, a shield against government intrusions into belief.”

Opponents of the rule argue that it is not a matter of explicit support for the sex industry and trafficking. They point to the unintended consequences that is now backed up by recent research. A research article in the Journal of the International AIDS Society took a look at how organizations reacted.

It found that organizations changed or retreated on HIV programs that targeted sex workers. Given that combating stigma is one of the most effective ways to reduce the spread of HIV, the change in policy by organizations contributes to continued stigmatization against certain groups.

continue reading on Humanosphere...

20 April 2013

Is the International Community Failing Syria?

British Red Cross chief executive Sir Nick Young tells the Guardian that the international response to Syria falls well short.
The criticisms of the international response to Syria have been warranted: it has been belated and it has been too little. While we have launched an appeal for Syria, progress has been slow, and we undoubtedly need much more aid and support. Our experience there has confirmed that building capacity must begin before disaster or conflict strikes. It has also confirmed that the Red Cross needs to work much harder at getting our role – as a neutral and impartial actor – fully understood not only among governments and their armies, but among the opposition. This will enable us to have greater impact and reach those that need us. Working there has been extremely dangerous, and we need more support from governments and opinion formers around the world to help reduce the dangers for aid workers.
With half of the money pledged disbursed, can countries and organizations turn the tide as refugees continue to pour out? That is a question I hope to answer in the coming days. Suggestions and ideas are welcome.

19 April 2013

UNICEF Innovation Pair Recognized by TIME 100

Celebrities often fill the pages of the annual TIME 100 list. The 2013 list fulfills that trend with the inclusion of Beyonce, Sheryl Sandberg, Jay Z, and Justin Timberlake. A more cynical article would gripe about placing musician Beyonce and skier Lindsey Vonn in the same ‘icon’ category as a woman who endured years of house arrest in an oppressive country (Aung San Suu Kyi) and a pair of women who survived assassination attempts (Malala Yousafzai and Gabby Giffords).

Heck, we here in Humanosphere are ones to do that more often than not. But I can’t help but remain fixated on the inclusion of two ‘pioneers’ from UNICEF, Chris Fabian and Erica Kochi. The two are the co-leaders of the innovation unit over at UNICEF. That’s right, one of the oldest development institutions has a group devoted to innovative solutions. Here is just a things the team is doing as summarized by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey for TIME:
More than half of the 6 million births each year in Nigeria are not recorded. Without a birth certificate, a child is much less likely to get educated, be vaccinated or receive health services. Two young UNICEF staffers — Erica Kochi and Christopher Fabian — moving fast within their 66-year-old organization, have made registering a birth as easy as sending a text. They’ve employed similar methods to prevent early deaths as well, creating systems to track the distribution of some 63 million insecticide-treated mosquito bed nets to stop the spread of malaria. Erica and Chris are using technology and accessible, intuitive interfaces to quickly transform the face of humanitarian aid and international development. The world will benefit from their continued efforts.
The most notable achievement by the pair is the open source technology tool RapidSMS.

continue reading on Humanosphere...

18 April 2013

Conversation with World Bank President Jim Kim on Climate Change and Energy

This report is based on an exclusive blogger call with World Bank President Jim Kim in advance of the Bank's annual meeting.
The World Bank unveiled its plan to end extreme poverty by 2030 recently.
The rapid progress of India, China and Brazil blazed the path towards exceeding the global Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015. Now the Bank wants to rid the world of extreme poverty forever.
Ending extreme poverty will require the acceleration of economic growth in developing countries and translating that growth into jobs while eliminating inequality, said World Bank President Jim Kim in a blogger call yesterday morning. Work must be done to mitigate the shocks caused by natural disasters and eliminate the insecurity linked to food, fuel and poverty, he added.
Linking all of these problems, for Kim, is climate change.
“Climate change is not just an environmental challenge. It’s a fundamental threat to economic development and the fight against poverty,” he said.
Achieving transformative change against poverty and its effects requires taking bold action against the problem of climate change, argued Kim. 130 countries requested the World Bank for assistance in climate-related work. Kim pointed to the provision of solar energy to 1.4 million Bangladeshi homes and the drought safety nets that support 7.8 million Ethiopians as examples of climate-related policies at work.
The World Bank is not the only body linking climate change mitigation and poverty alleviation. The UN Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Report warned that inaction against climate change could reverse progress against poverty.
“The number of people in extreme poverty could increase by up to 3 billion by 2050 unless environmental disasters are averted by co-ordinated global action,” said the report.
continue reading on Humanosphere

Beyond Borders: Illustrating Regional Connections in the United States

A Physicist named Dirk Brockmann used the money tracking site Where's George? to determine how far money travels in order to get a better sense of geographic regions within the United States. Brockman came up with the map above. The stronger the color blue line the stronger the division.

Then there is this map from Xiaoji Chen from MIT's Senseable City Lab that tracks phone calls between states using anonymous AT&T data.

Though close together, I can proudly claim to have lived in distinct regions according to both maps (two in the money one and three according to the phone one). I'd love to see something international, especially phone calls from migrants and diaspora back home.

Read much more about it over at NPR.

16 April 2013

A Reflection From Boston: Yankee in Soxland

Two bombs detonated at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday afternoon killing 3 people and injuring at least 144. Tom Paulson suggested that I provide a more personal take on the day's events from a personal and global context. I generally dislike writing more personally, but I went for it this time around given my rather tenuous relationship with the city of Boston and a reluctance to see it as home. Without further ado...
Boston is a mess of a city. People will talk about its great history, but it is a logistical headache to navigate on a regular basis. Highly populated areas lack proper access to the T and GPS a phone does not prevent one from getting lost.
Plus, it is home to the Boston Red Sox.
Growing up in New Jersey suburb of New York during one of the golden eras of Yankee baseball, Boston was the city that housed an also-ran team.  The Yankees kept winning. My dad and other adults kept telling me that the Red Sox were the rivals of the Yankees, but I was more worried about the Baltimore Orioles and the Atlanta Braves. Those were the teams that mattered come October, not the Sox.
That all changed in the fall of 2003. The Ying Yang Twins competed with Outkast’s ‘Hey Ya’ at  parties. Pedro Martinez was in his prime. Manny was – well – Manny and a new DH arrived from the Minnesota Twins with a swing perfect for peppering the Green Monster. Not that I was scared.
The upstart Sox put on a nice show for a few games, but taking it to a seventh with ace Pedro Martinez had this Yankees fan a bit less confident. Attending a New England Jesuit college proved to hostile territory for a Yankees fan. That less than significant team from up north had serious fans.
They unabashedly sang along to a Neil Diamond tune gleefully cheering, ‘So good! So good! So good!’ in support of a team that failed to win when it mattered for what was approaching a century. A lust for winning was matched with a persistent pessimism. When things went poorly for the beloved Red Sox the young fans turned sour.
“That figures,” I heard many times as friend would throw a remote after a heartbreaking loss.
20130415_121756I came to believe that the Red Sox was a fitting team for a miserable mindset. The utter lack of hope made it fitting that the team remain haunted by the sale of Babe Ruth and a ground ball that slipped between the long legs of a sure-handed first basemen in the fall of 1986.
Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Cecelia’ blasted from the computer speakers as we few Yankees fans sang and danced our way through each commercial break. Serious Sox fans sat glued to the television transfixed on the possibility of ending a dynasty and exorcising the demons of Ruth in on fell swoop.

15 April 2013

Getting Past False Dichotomies: Technocratic Humanists Exist!

Most people enjoy a good fight; some prefer bare-knuckle brawls while others want to see a verbal lashing that causes an audible, collective cringe. Those of us who follow development eagerly await the next Twitter barrage between development economists like Jeffrey Sachs and Bill Easterly. 

And, because people tire easily of old battlefields, they are on a constant search to find a new one – even if it’s a false plane, more virtual than reality. The latest battlefield is between the “technocrats and humanists,” as Hugh Roberts describes it at the Guardian PovertyMatters blog. It’s Bill Gates vs. Amartya Sen; the technocratic robot accountants vs. the humanistic touchy-feelies. 

That doesn’t feel right, though; it seems a false dichotomy, one that muddies, rather than clears, the waters. It’s a little like the “Trade Not Aid” debate in how it ignores the overlap between two things, when really the overlap is where the most interesting – and most important – work occurs.

And it seems that, in this case, the distinction is so faulty as to be almost meaningless. Let’s start with Roberts’s example of the prototypical “zealous technocrat,” Bill Gates – someone who advocates “technical, often technological solutions” and believes in “a science of human affairs.” That certainly sounds like a good description of the man and his work. (With the possible exception of Windows Millennium, which wasn’t, in any sense of the phrase, a “technological solution”)

But I doubt Gates wants to reinvent the toilet for bragging rights, and I don’t think he wants to eradicate malaria because it sounds like a neat thing to do. It seems far likelier that wants to reinvent the toilet because he understands the toll that unsanitary conditions have on children in much of the world, and that his desire to eradicate malaria stems from grieving those that lose their mothers, daughters, and selves their life to the disease. 

When Gates is described as a technocrat in Roberts’s model, it devalues the deep humanist impulse that drives his work; he may be in favor of technological solutions, but only in the service of humanitarian goals. 

Certainly, there are those that are more technocratic than others; Gates is an excellent example. But when we restrict our understanding of a person or an organization to the technocrat/humanist binary, we lose sight of the most salient fact: someone can be both a technocrat and a humanist – and one impulse often strengthens the other.

Technocratic humanists exist. Humanistic technocrats exist. 

Roberts uses Rwanda and Ethiopia as an example showing the supposed “faultline” between technocrats and humanists, arguing that if you are pro-growth – even at the expense of political rights and free speech – you are a technocrat, and vice versa for humanists. He makes a similar argument using the “randomistas” who favor randomized controlled trials (the technocrats) vs. the skeptics (the humanists). 

These aren’t helpful distinctions to make. Surely someone who leans technocratic can appreciate the concerns about rights in Rwanda and Ethiopia, and humanist-leaning individuals want to find out how effective an intervention is, at, say, increasing access to education. With these concerns in mind, someone who favors technological solutions could create a platform for anonymous posting of human rights violations, or to monitor the uptake of education in a community. 

Towards the end of the piece, Roberts begins an assault on the prevailing technocracy, arguing that,
“Ours is an age of technocrats. It has brought stupendous advances. And it has brought us to the edge of several abysses…. But there is now an urgent need to balance our technocratic approach with a new humanism. Otherwise we'll face our greatest challenges without our greatest intellectual resources, and the development community will be unable to reimagine itself for a dramatically changed world.”
But he doesn’t mention any such abyss caused by technocrats. And he assumes that our greatest intellectual resources are under-appreciated and silenced humanists; he makes it sound like disparate perspectives are drowned out by an overwhelming wave of randomized controlled trials, a flurry of metrics, and the entire results-oriented establishment. 

This doesn’t ring true to me. But even if it did, it’s still far from clear that the technocrat-oriented individuals would exclude all discussion of the “new humanism” Roberts espouses. A variety of perspectives – from those that lean technocratic to those that lean humanistic, and everything in between – is critical to the discussion of how to make development work. But there’s no need to create arbitrary teams and false fissures to do so. Sure, most people enjoy a good fight now and then, but let’s at least make it a fight worth having.

13 April 2013

The Pirate who Kidnapped the Maersk Alabama and Survived Seal Team Six

You may remember the story of the Maersk Alabama, a cargo ship that was hijacked off the Horn of Africa in 2009. I happened to be living in Kenya at the time and remember reading about the kidnapping, the take-down of the pirates by Seal Team 6 and the supposed heroics of the ships captain.

It's no surprise that this story is being made into a movie starting Tom Hanks as the ship's captain. However, one of the pirates survived the Navy assault. This documentary tells the story of how a 16 year old took part in the kidnapping of a giant cargo ship. An 8 minute trailer gives a glimpse into the whole story and that of Abdukhad Muse.

12 April 2013

Madonna Vs Banda Animated Taiwanese News Edition

Your lite fare for Friday.

HT @texasinafrica

A Much Closer Look at the Howard G Buffett Report on Rwanda, DRC and the UN Group of Experts

Howard G. Buffett is pushing the international community to fully restore aid to Rwanda.

When a UN Group of Experts (GoE) report found that Rwanda was supporting rebels fighting a deadly conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a number of countries including the U.S. and Britain cut or suspended foreign aid in protest.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame steadfastly denied supporting the Congo militias that have been wreaking havoc along the Rwanda-Congo border, but the evidence was strong enough to convince even some of Kagame’s biggest supporters that the Western powers needed to send a message of disapproval.

That didn’t include Howard Buffett, Warren Buffett’s son, and former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Buffett and Blair argued against the move, contending that reducing aid to Rwanda would just cause more harm than good to the unstable Great Lakes region of central Africa.

“Cutting aid does nothing to address the underlying issues driving conflict in the region, it only ensures that the Rwandan people will suffer — and risks further destabilizing an already troubled region,” Blair and Buffett wrote in a recent Foreign Policy article

This was followed by a report from the Howard G Buffett Foundation echoing the same points made in the Foreign Policy Op-Ed. The report went further by questioning the reliability of the GoE – the group that originally reported evidence the the Rwandan government was supporting rebels in the eastern DRC.

It’s worth noting that the Buffett Foundation report was written by unknown authors and using unnamed sources.

Families on the move to escape fighting, eastern DRC

The Buffett Foundation report attacks the UN experts and then makes the case that pointing fingers is counterproductive. Says the report; “Our Foundation is not interested in apportioning blame for what we view is a fundamental failure in the GoE process in 2012….”

“We will let the report – and the information on our website – speak for itself,” replied the foundation’s chief of staff, Ann Kelly when asked about the unnamed contributors.

Lake Partners Strategy Consultants and the Crumpton Group LLC are listed as organizations that worked with the Buffett Foundation on the report, but they too were unwilling to talk about the report or how they reached their conclusions.

So, I spoke with regional experts about the report both on and off the record and a consensus emerged. The Buffett Foundation report is simply inaccurate, they told me.

11 April 2013

Madonna in Malawi: In like a VIP, Out like an Average Joe

You probably heard this one before. It starts with Madonna going to Malawi…

In the past the story ends with her visiting on of her projects in the country or adopting a kid. Her trip this month featured a twist ending.

Madonna did spend her time in Malawi visiting the projects that her charity, Raising Malawi, with her children in tow. Being an international superstar and philanthropic activities, Madonna and her entourage entered the country like VIPs.

That means, according to the Telegraph, that they get to skip the immigration lines, have access to a special lounge and are provided limo service to and from their private plane.

Fast forward to the end of the trip. The rock star and her entourage get majorly dissed!

Here’s how it unfolded: Madonna is wrapping things up and decides to pen a quick letter to her pal Joyce who also lives in Malawi and was unable to hang out.
Dear Joyce, 
First and foremost let me Congratulate [sic] you on your position in Malawi! What an honor and what a huge responsability! [sic] I have always admired your strength and courage and have very fond memories of when we met and spoke and we interviewed you for documentary [sic] as you know I am in Malawi for the week. If you have any time in your busy schedule to meet that would be great if not know I am here to be of service and continue to do what I can to support the children of Malawi! If there is a project you can think of that we can join efforts on let me know! I wish you the very Best [sic]!!! 
Madonna (not actually signed) 
Best of Luck [sic] to you! 
Warm regards and great respect
continue reading...

10 April 2013

Infographic: Proposed US Budgets for Global HIV/AIDS

Shockingly High Maternal Mortality Rate in NYC

A Center for Research and Policy in the Public Interest report finds maternal mortality is up 30% in New York City over the past decade. The greatest burden falls upon black women with a rate of 79 deaths for every 100,000 live births.

Alanna Shaikh put that number into context:

If black women in NYC were a country, they would fall in the midst of this group of countries (ignore North Korea as it almost certainly grossly under-reports):

09 April 2013

Perspective on Global Poverty

The transfer of resources bit from poor to rich deserves some further attention in terms of how the numbers are determined, but it is an interesting video to watch just to see how much wealth is concentrated in so few people.

Data sources listed with the video:

Pollin, Robert. 2003. Contours of Descent: US Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Global Austerity. New York: Verso.

Questions Raised About Aid in Afghanistan Following FSO Death

American foreign service officer Anne Smedinghoff longed for the opportunity to work directly with Afghans, to win hearts and minds.

The 25 year-old was given such an opportunity when she joined the governor of Zabul Province in the innaguration of a new school in the capital city of Qalat. That trip was interrupted by a suicide car bomb that struck the convoy killing a civillian, three soldiers, four Americans and Smedinghoff.

“She particularly enjoyed the opportunity to work directly with the Afghan people and was always looking for opportunities to reach out and help to make a difference in the lives of those living in a country ravaged by war,” said her parents in remembering her daughter.

The death caused by a roadside bomb was lamented as a tragic end of a promising young career. Some say her murder by militants while delivering books is more than tragic.

The book delivery is evidence of the U.S. government’s naive and failed aid approach in Afghanistan, they argue.

Political officials commemorated Smedinghoff citing her dedication to foreign service. Secretary of State Kerry called her, “A selfless, idealistic young woman.”

“Only 25 years old, this brave young woman knew social justice was her calling, and selflessly lost her life while serving others in a war-torn country. She was devoted to protecting America and improving the lives of others,” said her home state of Illinois Governor Pat Quinn.The praise centered around Smedinghoff’s willingness to volunteer for such a tough assignment and her desire to improve the lives of Afghans, as evidenced through her participation in the book distribution.

“A brave American was determined to brighten the light of learning through books written in the native tongue of students that she had never met, but whom she felt compelled to help,” said Secretary Kerry.

Amidst the memoralizing of Smedinghoff have emerged questions about the role of the United States in Afghanistan. Particularly, there are some who are concerned with the fact that the United States continues to participate in book drops at all.

“While Smedinghoff’s death is tragic, what’s more tragic is why she was in Qalat at all. She died on a mission meant to prop up the American people in the eyes of a country that doesn’t want us here anymore,” wrote blogger Gary Owen, an anonymous development worker based in Afghanistan.

08 April 2013

Early Warning Systems and Drought Action

Experts knew it was coming. In March of 2011 the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net) warned that low rains in the Horn of the Africa would make parts food insecure through June.

“A poor season could result in a major crisis. Therefore, these areas require especially close monitoring over the coming months,” warned the report.

Despite the warnings of a potential crisis, little action was taken. When the rains did not come and the drought led to famine in parts of Somalia by July it was too late for some people. Food and fuel prices spiked. An estimated 11.5 million people needed immediate humanitarian assistance, said the UN, and tens of thousands died.

In just a span of 90 days, an estimated 29,000 Somali children died.

“The greatest tragedy is that the world saw this disaster coming but did not prevent it. Across Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti and Somalia this crisis has played out very differently, but common to all of them was a slow response to early warnings,” said former UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland last year.

The England-based Chatham House took a closer look at how countries respond to early warnings of famine and found that the case of the Horn of Africa is generally the rule, rather than the exception.

“All too often the link between early warning and early action fails and the opportunity to mitigate a gathering crisis is lost,” writes lead author Rob Bailey.

“This disconnect was starkly apparent in Somalia during 2010/11, when increasingly urgent early warnings accumulated for 11 months before famine was finally declared in July. Only after that did the humanitarian system mobilize.”

03 April 2013

End of Extreme Poverty By 2030? World Bank Says Yes

It’s déjà vu all over again! One global health leader says extreme poverty can be ended by 2030 while another group warns of declining funding.

Yes, you have already read about this. Last time it was Bono telling TED that the end of extreme poverty is in sight while the UN Development Programme played spoiler with a report pointing to significant development obstacles. 

This time it is the World Bank and it’s President Jim Kim who declared yesterday that extreme poverty can come to an end by 2030. Today, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says that official development assistance fell by 4% in 2012

“We are at an auspicious moment in history, when the successes of past decades and an increasingly favorable economic outlook combine to give developing countries a chance – for the first time ever – to end extreme poverty within a generation,” said Kim at Georgetown University on Tuesday.

This comes on the heals of the leaked World Bank document ”A common vision for the World Bank Group” that garnered quick criticism. Save the Children UK’s policy director Nuria Molina told the Guardian that the plan was ”very unambitious” when two weeks ago.

One of the missing parts was how to address inequality. The issue of inequality is gaining greater attention as development critics have been quick to point out that economic growth measured by GDP does not necessarily show overall growth for a country.

“The narrative is right, the terminology is right, but the devil is always in the details. You need to have a meaningful measure, and just looking at the bottom is not sufficient. It’s very important to look at the gaps,” said Molina.

01 April 2013

The Future of the BRICS: Hype or Hope?

A meeting of the major middle-income countries in South Africa garnered plenty of attention, but produced little in terms of actual policies.

Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) account for over 40% of the world’s population, 1/4 of the world’s GDP and are responsible for 55% of the global economic growth since 2009. The BRICS have raced onward in the face of the financial downturn and are poised to take a larger share of the global economy in the coming years.
What will this mean for development, for the global push to reduce poverty, inequity and the so-called north-south imbalance of power. Some experts think not much, because the BRICS are more a concept than a cohesive force.

The recently published United Nations 2013 Human Development Report says that the BRICS are on track to overtaking the economies of the longstanding Western powers.

“By 2020, according to projections developed for this Report, the combined economic output of three leading developing countries alone—Brazil, China and India—will surpass the aggregate production of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States,” says the report.

While the group has garnered much hype for their growing economies, increased investments in the African continent and dramatic gains against poverty, the relationships between the countries are not terribly cohesive.

Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill predicted a decade of massive economic growth by Brazil, Russia, India and China in a paper he published in November 2001. He argued that the changing landscape and the growing economies of the four countries gave reason to re-think the Group of Seven (G7) that is comprised of the major global powers.

The grouping recommended by O’Neill and the moniker BRIC stuck as the countries pursued a different avenue of cooperation outside of the G7. Its first formal BRIC meeting was held in Russia in 2009 and South Africa was granted membership in 2010.

“The grouping doesn’t make much sense, and any expectation that these countries will form a new geopolitical bloc is outside of O’Neill’s original intent,” argues economist Daniel Altman.

“Their political systems, population dynamics, and paths to economic growth are all different. Brazil and Russia both depend to a great degree on natural resources, and India and China must both use manufacturing to employ hundreds of millions of people.”