31 July 2013

Instragram becomes propaganda tool of choice for Syria's Assad

What do you do when you are in the midst of a brutal civil war where the international community is arming your rebel opponents?

Join Instagram, of course.

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad joined the social media network to provide a glimpse into the personal life of the embattled leader. Images so far feature him walking amid his supporters and doing serious work behind his presidential desk.

His wife Asma al-Assad also appears in photographs that show the softer side of the regime. She can be seen in one photo (above left) wiping the tears away from a young boy.

Another picture features the president holding the bloodied hand of a severely injured man in the hospital. Viewers to the images will get the sense of a well loved leader going about life as normal. He holds popular rallies and visits with important leaders.

Pictures featuring Asma are less political. They try to show that life is not really disrupted. She takes a break from hanging out with young Syrians to give a thumbs up sign and helps children with their painting project.

Viewers get a glimpse into the war through pictures of injured at the hospital and humanitarian work done by Bashar and Asma, but the tone of the images so far is one of relative normalcy.

Meanwhile, the fighting continues in Syria. Observers accuse the government of using the chemical weapon sarin on a small scale. The UN estimates that 100,000 people have died during the civil. More than 1.85 million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries to seek refuge.

The UN and other humanitarian organizations are mounting a response to the needs of the refugees, but underfunding is leading to some significant challenges for the effort. Persistent requests to access people in Syria affected by the violence proceed in fits and bursts of setbacks and gains.

Differences between the United States and Russia over how to address the problem in Syria have proved to be a major roadblock to action. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said immediate action is needed, last week. He referenced the planned joint peace conference led by the US and Russia.

“Military and violent actions must be stopped by all the parties and it is thus imperative to have a peace conference in Geneva as soon as possible, as initiated by Mr. Kerry and Mr. Lavrov,” said Ban.

In the world of Instagram the Assad family continues on with regular life, while thousands die each month and the humanitarian community tries to figure out how to respond to a continuously growing problem.

This originally appeared on Humanosphere

HT Lina

29 July 2013

Why WFP is Making a Facebook Push to Raise Awareness

The World Food Programme (WFP) is the largest humanitarian organization in the world. It manages to feed 100 million people in 80 countries every year.

The folks at WFP need a lot of money and support to do their life-saving work. Social media like Facebook has been touted as a tool to get just that - money and support.

World Food Programme
As we noted a while ago, UNICEF Sweden crafted a clever campaign on Facebook that urged supporters to skip the 'like' button and just make a donation. The WFP is also using Facebook to raise awareness and money - but with a twist to UNICEF Sweden's approach:

"You will NOT feed this hungry child by liking the World Food Programme on Facebook," reads the latest campaign.

"...but our partner Royan DSM will."

Social media has its limits, explained WFP Social Media Editor Justin Smith to Humanosphere. The problem is that many campaigns were designed without taking the limitations of social media into account.

"The euphoria about social media’s potential to solve the world’s problems has faded," said Smith. "That’s probably a good thing, because it wasn't realistic. But it’s given way to a scepticism about whether online activism can achieve anything meaningful at all."

The donation from Royal DSM, a science and health company that works on nutrition, is an important part of the new campaign, but the heart of the effort is to raise awareness and grow support for the global hunger problem. No matter how well the campaign does, Royal DSM committed to provide at least 40,000 meals through WFP. Donations will continue if the campaign works and people like the WFP Facebook page.

WFP believes that getting people to like it on Facebook provides a point of access for their work. Staff and partners with WFP are on the frontlines of crises around the world. Smith says that the Facebook page is a place where stories and pictures are shared. The people who like the WFP Facebook page will see these updates on their timelines creating another point of interaction between an individual and WFP.

Continue reading on Humanosphere...

25 July 2013

More discussions on second hand clothes in Haiti

I noted an article yesterday that made the case that second hand clothes are flooding Haitian markets and damaging small businesses.

The twist in the story is that the influx of used clothes is in some part linked to the rise of clothing production in Haiti for consumers in the United States and elsewhere. The clothes that some Haitians are producing for people in other countries are hurting local tailors.

The article took a critical view of the sale of secondhand clothes. Another article published earlier this month sees things differently.

Reporter Tate Watkins writes in Medium about his personal journey from being a critic of the trade of used clothes, known as pepe (pè-pè) in Haiti, to a supporter. He argues that Haitians like the clothing, based on his discussions with people in Haiti. Further, the ability to purchase higher quality clothing and brand names at extremely low prices is advantageous to Haitian consumers.

It is a similar to the argument over Walmart. Opponents decry the way that the mega shopping centers can destroy local businesses by undercutting item prices and paying people poor wages. Supporters say that the lower prices are a good thing and are a competitive market working correctly.

The average person benefits from the arrival of a Walmart in his or her community because other businesses have to compete when it comes to selling food, electronics, clothing, etc. That savings for someone living in poverty or the middle class can add up and allow someone to pay for important services like healthcare or a better vacation.

continue reading on Humanosphere...

Also read this smart follow up from Tate Watkins that rightly points out the difference between textiles for domestic sales verses export.

24 July 2013

UN doubles down on refusal to accept Haiti cholera lawsuit

The United Nations again refused to take responsibility for the cholera outbreak in Haiti caused by a peacekeeping unit from Nepal.

Legal claims against the UN were again rejected as the body reaffirmed its stance that it is a ‘political and policy matter.’

The cholera outbreak that started in October 2010 has killed nearly 8,200 Haitians and infected an estimated 665,00 people. More evidence, including a study published this month, shows that the cholera was imported from Nepal by a peacekeeping unit and was spread due to improper waste disposal into a nearby river.

A letter from the UN addressed to Brian Concannon, Director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), refused to consider mediation and said that “there is no basis for such engagement in connection with claims that are not receivable.” Patricia O’Brien, Under Secretary-General for Legal Affairs for the UN’s Legal Counsel, also refuted claims by IJDH that the UN has not lived up to its obligation to the victims of he cholera outbreak. She includes excerpts from recent remarks by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

“Since the outbreak of the disease, the United Nations, in cooperation with other partners, has taken several steps to contain and combat the epidemic and prevent future outbreaks,” said Ban. “These efforts have helped to decrease the rate of new infection by 90 per cent since the outbreak began. The mortality rate has been brought down to around 1 per cent. Still, further progress must be made.”

The UN invoked Section 29 of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN to say that the claims of the victims of the cholera outbreak made on their behalf by IJDH were not receivable, in a February 21 letter. IJDH responded on May 7 to the UN arguing that the international law requires the UN to “consider and settle claims filed by third parties for injury illness and death attributable to the UN or its peacekeeping forces.” It gave notice to the UN that the lawyers representing the victims would pursue a lawsuit in national court if an appropriate response is not received in 60 days.

US Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) and eighteen of her colleagues wrote to Ban in late May calling for him to use his powers to ensure that the UN takes responsibility for the cholera outbreak. They say that the evidence that UN peacekeepers were responsible for bringing cholera into Haiti compels the UN to take responsibility, issue an apology and compensate the victims.

“We are concerned by the United Nations’ rejection of the claims made by 5,000 Haitian cholera victims and families of victims, who sued the United Nations,” wrote Waters and her co-signers.

Continue reading on Humanosphere...

How the sale of bonds are helping increase access to vaccines

Public health emergencies arise around the world on a regular basis.

Humanitarian and aid organizations need to act quickly, but they need money to get work done. An emergency appeal for millions, if not billions, of dollars can take time to fulfil.

So what if the money was already available? With the money in place, an organization can respond to an emergency immediately.

The International Finance Facility for Immunisation Company (IFFIm) does just that for the GAVI Alliance, a public-private global health organization that increases access to immunizations in poor countries by working with governments, donors and the private sector.

IFFIm sells bonds to private investors in order to raise money for GAVI’s vaccine work. When GAVI needs money a request is made to IFFIm’s board to disburse the needed funds. For vaccines, a health solution that requires early action, gaining access to needed funding quickly has a big impact on programs like the eradication of polio.

“Having predictable, long-term funding in place will help us ensure that the world’s most vulnerable children have access to healthcare, and that is a critical step in achieving the goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030,” said Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank.

The GAVI Alliance is a sort of middleman between donors (Gates Foundation, United States, etc), pharmaceutical companies (GSK, Merck, Pfizer, etc) and governments (afghanistan, Eritrea, Haiti, etc). It negotiates on behalf of countries to access lower vaccine prices and donations. The money provided by donors allows GAVI to assist poor countries in purchasing vaccines.

The money supplements the cost further and countries take on more of the cost as the country improves. A country graduates out of GAVI once the gross national income (GNI) per person exceeds $1,550.

IFFIm raised $700 million earlier this month through a new three-year floating rate bond issue. Investors in the bond earn a competitive return on their investments while providing money that will increase access to lifesaving vaccines.

“For us, this is the perfect high social-impact investment, says Benjamin Bailey, Fixed Income Manager, Praxis Mutual Funds. “You’re helping immunize millions of children through an investment that fits comfortably in our mutual fund portfolio. What could be better than that?”

continue reading on Humanosphere...

17 July 2013

Can Natural Resources be an Anti-Poverty tool in Africa?

outdoor money exchange
Natural resources could be the next great development financing tool. It is quite simple. Take the money that a government makes from the sale of oil, gold, copper, etc. and give citizens a cut.

Giving direct cash will help out the people that need it most and it could spur on development as people will then spend the money on local businesses and services. Additionally, it will reduce corruption and let the average citizen hold his or her government accountable for how money is spent.

That is the basic case made by Todd Moss of the Center for Global Development in his Oil-to-Cash initiative. A new working paper from leading World Bank economists Shanta Devarajan and Marcelo Giugale takes the idea and applies it to resource-rich African nations. They come up with some theoretical ways that countries can design schemes that will turn natural resources from a curse to a blessing.

It matters now because more African countries are discovering major reserves that will significantly alter their trajectories. A look at the history of established resource-rich nations like Nigeria and Angola reveals a worrisome trend, say the authors. They too can turn things around by adopting direct dividend payments (DDPs). Governments can follow the example of Alaska and the Canadian province of Alberta who developed schemes that distribute a fixed proportion of resource revenues to all citizens.

Giving a modest amount of natural resource revenues to citizens can contribute significantly to the elimination of poverty in some countries.

“A transfer of about 10 percent of oil revenues in Angola, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, distributed universally, would be sufficient to close the poverty gap in these countries,” write Devarajan and Giugale. “For larger countries such as Mozambique and Nigeria, the transfer would cover about half the poverty gap.”

Governments were initially resistant to DDPs for three reasons:
  1. Too hard and costly to identify citizens;
  2. No incentives for present leaders to give up resource revenues;
  3. Cash-strapped governments cannot afford to give away valuable revenue that pays for public services.

Continue reading on Humanosphere...

NYT Editorial Board Supports Power Africa, Leans on Obama Administration's Africa Engagement

For too long, the international response to poverty, war, famine and dictatorial leaders in Africa has consisted largely of humanitarian aid. Today, there are still many problems, but they are increasingly offset by positive trends; six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies are in Africa.
That is the New York Times editorial board discussing Power Africa, President Obama's $7 billion initiative to increase access to electricity in sub-Saharn Africa, in an OpEd yesterday. The team is enthusiastic about the promise of the program and investment in Africa. They include a bit of caution, but stress the importance of the Obama Administration investing in the continent and play catch up to his predecessors and other investing countries like China.

US Agency for International Development Administrator Raj Shah discussed how limited access to energy prevents economic growth with Nancy Birdsall of the Center for Global Development.

"Our decision to focus on the issue is very much driven by an evidence-based process where by we identified this as the core constraint," says Shah.

Here is a clip from a much longer conversation between Shah and Birdsall:

This originally appeared in Humanosphere

16 July 2013

Raj Shah's Continued Hope for Food Aid Reform

USAID Administrator Shah chats with CGD's Nancy Birdsall about the US partnering with Africa. In the above clip, Shah says the current food aid system "is both deeply inefficient and crushes local farmer incentives." He expresses some level of optimism that food aid reform can take place and more money will be available in the form of cash as opposed to US goods and services.

Watch the full conversation here.

10 July 2013

The lifestyles of the rich and corrupt exposed

Nine cars were sold off at an auction in Paris raising $3.6 million. Luxury names took the stage including Porche, Bugatti and Bentley.

The owner: Teodorin Obiang, son of Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodor Obiang. The cars were seized in 2011 when the younger Obiang was charged with embezzling public funds in France to buy real estate in Paris.
A dapper Teodorin Obiang emerges from his luxury car.
It is quite the collection for someone who earned an official salary of $7,000 a month during that time. He has also managed to purchase a $30 million home in Malibu and liberated an €18 million art collection from the walls of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.

The money comes largely from the oil that the country produces. The sale of oil makes it way into the smooth rides and stylish suits worn by the Obiang family.

Corruption may feel like a problem in a far off nation, but it is much closer to home than one expects, says Global Witness co-founder Charmain Gooch.

“Corruption is made possible by the actions of global facilitators,” says Gooch.

Banks and business in the United States and France played a role in Teodorin Obiang’s purchases.
He did business with global banks. A bank in Paris held accounts of companies controlled by him, one of which was used to buy the art ,and American banks, well, they funneled 73 million dollars into the States, some of which was used to buy that California mansion. 
And he didn’t do all of this in his own name either. He used shell companies. He used one to buy the property, and another, which was in somebody else’s name, to pay the huge bills it cost to run the place.
Continue reading on Humanosphere... 

Just how brutal is force-feeding for Gitmo prisoners?

To make the plight of the ‘detainees’ at Guantánamo Bay a bit more high-profile, it may help to stick a tube down the nose of a celebrity.

Actor and musician Yasiin Bey (you may know him better as Mos Def) demonstrates how prisoners on hunger strike are force-fed. Strapped into a chair and held down by multiple men, Bey has a tube inserted through is nose and down to his stomach so that food can be pumped into his body.

The video (see bottom) is a piece of activism from the British human rights group Reprieve. Human Rights groups argue that prisoners have the right to choose whether or not to eat. Their aim is to show the brutality of force-feeding.

Detainees in Guantánamo Bay prison continue to fight for their right to undertake a hunger strike – as a means to more broadly protest their detention (which some contend violates international law). Current rules at the prison do not allow for hunger strikes. The staff at the prison must force-feed the prisoners who are refusing to eat. Lawyers for four of the detainees filed legal proceedings to stop the practice last week. From the Guardian:
Lawyers acting for four detainees on hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay have accused the US government of preparing to operate a “force-feeding factory” in the camp during the holy month of Ramadan. 
In a new legal filing lodged with a federal court in Washington, lawyers for the men argue that the feedings during Ramadan will lead to mass use of restraint chairs, require hundreds of staff to administer and could be dangerous for the health of detainees. “If this can even be achieved, Guantánamo Bay will become a veritable force-feeding factory,” the lawyers write.
Continue reading on Humanosphere...

Warning: Some may find the video difficult to watch.

08 July 2013

Is the tide turning against emerging markets?

When the global economy took a massive hit in late 2008 it was the emerging markets, countries like India, China and Brazil, that picked up the slack for the older Western powers. These countries managed to maintain strong growth and attack plenty of attention from investment and development experts.

Nearly five years later the same countries are showing continued growth while the United States, UK, France and more trudge along. One would suspect that investors would look to the strong growth of emerging markets for financial gains.

Turns out the opposite is happening. As the US begins to get back in order money is rushing out of emerging markets, reports the Wall Street Journal.
“It feels like the party is ending,” said Howard Wong, managing director at Doric Capital Corp. in Hong Kong. 
Facing the loss of foreign capital, central banks in these emerging markets have attempted to prop up their home currencies.
India recently took actions to prop up its falling currency and Turkey is now looking to gain investments after turning away money for the past four years. Problems are found elsewhere. The South African rand is down against the dollar, so is the Brazilian real.

Only a few months ago investments were streaming in. So what happened?

continue reading on Humanosphere...

World is Ill-Prepared for Rapid Urbanization, Warns UN

More than 6 billion people will live in cities by 2050 and the world is not prepared. Development gains could be lost if steps are not taken today to deal with rapid urbanization, says the UN.

The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs World Economic and Social Survey 2013 warns that current trends could increase the number of people living in slums who do not have access to basic needs like sanitation, healthcare and electricity from one billion to three billion.

“Rising inequalities, the food, fuel and financial crises, and the breaching of planetary boundaries have made clear that a mere continuation of current strategies will not suffice to achieve sustainable development after 2015,” say the report authors.

Global population will grow from 7 billion today to 9 billion by 2050. An estimated 80% of urban dwellers will be located in Africa and Asia. More must be done to meet the basic infrastructure and health needs of people living in cities in order to sustain development gains, says the report.

The findings are a part of a closer look at the three drivers of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental. Sustainable development was the featured topic at the Rio+20 conference in Brazil last year. The aim of the event was to determine how to ensure that improving people’s lives is done in a way that can lead to continued advancements for countries, individuals and the planet.

Sustainable development expands the conversation to consider the impacts that development, such as people leaving the countryside for cities, will have on the environment.

continue reading on Humanosphere...

02 July 2013

Guest Post: Should your birthplace determine your future?

By Jacob Lief, CEO, Ubuntu Foundation

Often, when a government decides to withdraw its development aid to country, we expect that it’s because a country’s economy has improved to a level in which foreign assistance is no longer needed. Sounds great, right? Yes, but as we often see, this doesn’t always mean a country has fully risen out of extreme poverty. Great Britain recently announced they would be cutting their £19m a year aid program to South Africa. Justine Greening, the UK’s DFID secretary said "South Africa has made enormous progress over the past two decades, to the extent that it is now the region's economic powerhouse and Britain's biggest trading partner in Africa.” Greening further explained that the country had transitioned from “apartheid to a flourishing, growing democracy.” So this begs the question, in South Africa, how far have we truly come?

As CEO of Ubuntu Education Fund, an organization working in the township of Port Elizabeth, South Africa, I can attest that South Africa has made great progress in the 20 years since apartheid. Just two decades after the country inherited bankruptcy and a split society, it has had four democratically elected presidents and a strong civil society. Pretty remarkable.

However, South Africa still faces immense challenges ranging from high HIV rates to significant disparity in wealth. In fact, South Africa has the second highest wealth disparity gap in the world, behind that of Brazil.

So while progress has been made, there is a long way to go. It is my belief that organizations like Ubuntu are necessary to help provide communities with many of the services needed to move the needle on poverty. With that in mind, organizations must adjust their models and funding sources to ensure the people continue to benefit from critically needed programs.

Ubuntu cannot solve all the problems alone, but we have developed a model that works and that has been proven to bolster the economy of Port Elizabeth by investing in youth. Through our localized model focused on transforming the township of Port Elizabeth, we have been able to help provide more than 2000 children and their families with the resources needed to create a more prosperous future. We provide services from cradle to career addressing the issues of poverty ranging from prenatal care all the way through university. To us, your birthplace should not determine your future and it’s up to organizations like ours to make this a reality.

Take Lwando Nteya, a young boy who was born into the shanty town of Port Elizabeth South Africa. Statistically, his birthplace was meant to determine his future. But it didn’t. And, we believe, it shouldn’t. I met Lwando when he was 11 years old, living in a shack and struggling with the daily challenges of extreme poverty. Lwando joined our Ubuntu family and is today a graduate of Cape Town University with big dreams for the future. It’s success stories like Lwando’s that prove the strength of Ubuntu’s localized model and an approach that can help South Africa thrive despite decreased international funding.

As organizations continue to face funding challenges, it’s time to get creative and find new models that lead to lasting and transformative change. Should your birthplace determine your future? No and it’s up to organizations like Ubuntu to make sure it doesn’t.

01 July 2013

Catching Up: Ikea Innovates Refugee Shelters, Interview with Jina Moore, Podcast about Haiti, Cholera & the UN

I published three new pieces on Humanosphere on Friday that are quite different and all that I found to be really interesting. Most of my work these days is over there, so be sure to check it out.

First up is a conversation with reporter Jina Moore. She just published a cover story for the Christian Science Monitor on AIDS in South Africa. I had the chance to ask her five questions that go a bit beyond her reporting and even touch on what is coming next from her. A clip of one of Jina's responses:
There’s been a lot of progress regarding so-called “vulnerable groups,” in particular sex workers, men who have sex with men and intravenous drug users. And just a few days ago, the US Supreme Court struck down a plank of PEPFAR that required agencies using its funding to sign a pledge that they won’t “support” prostitution — a rule that had the effect of excluding sex workers from PEPFAR-funded interventions.
I then wrote about a new initiative from the IKEA foundation that developed new refugee shelters. The program will be piloted in the coming months in some of the most challenging locations. The Swedish furniture maker brings flat-packing and some neat innovations to the humanitarian field. From what I am told, it will cost in the ballpark of $5,000 for the units. Right now it seems they are trying to see if they will work.
It also comes packed with some neat innovations. A screen on the top of the shelter that provides 70% solar reflection during the day to keep the shelter cool and acts as insulation to keep heat in at night. Solar strips sit on top to capture energy that powers the shelter. Steel holds up the house, but the plastic sides are a new polymer that allows light to stream in during the day, but does not cast shadows from inside at night. This provides families with the privacy that they desire.

Finally, I caught up with Brian Concannon of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH). His group is responsible for the lawsuit that is being brought against the UN for its role in bringing cholera to Haiti. The recorded conversation spans Concannon's early work as a UN volunteer, the nature of the outbreak and the direction of the case. It is packed with a lot of information, but I'd highly recommend listening if you want to learn more about what happened and his case for bring a lawsuit against the UN.

Listen here.