25 November 2014

The cycle of failure to bring water to one Tanzania village


In part two of our reporting on water in Tanzania, Jacob takes us to Lupeta where a cycle of failed water access continued until NGO WaterAid stepped in to fix a recently broken water source. It also comes with a, if I do say so myself, pretty sweet interactive map from the Broad Street Maps team (capture seen above). Read an excerpt below and the full story here.
When residents learned in 2004 they were slated to receive a brand new system — a WSDP pilot project — they were wary. But they rejoiced when the project successfully brought a source of water directly to the village.

“People were so happy they were dancing,” says Msumu. The new system delivered water right to the center of the village — reducing dozens of hours each family spent fetching water every week.

“That (extra) time we used for people to farm, for children to attend school instead of fetching the water,” says Msumu. “Children go to school for many more hours now, many more days.”

The water flowed for six, fruitful years. But then it slowed. “The place where they were building a new intake, the water was not enough,” says Msumu. Seven years after the system was built, the water stopped altogether.

“We had no water for nine months,” says Msumu. For the third interval since Tanzania’s independence, the residents of Lupeta “were going to another village, 10 kilometers (away), with a bucket on their heads.”

Msumu tried to raise money to build a new water intake, which an assessment by water engineers estimated would cost $92,000. The small fee of 20 shillings (about 1.2 cents) that community leaders had been collecting for each bucket of water consumed was not nearly enough.

He was unsuccessful in getting the Tanzanian government to make up the difference. At last, the private water relief NGO WaterAid answered the call, furnishing a $92,000 gift to build a new intake and replacing some of the old pipes.

24 November 2014

A deep dive into Tanzania's failed $1 billion water project


Today marks the publication of the first of a four part investigation into Tanzania's World Bank-backed endeavor to increase access to clean water, by myself and Jacob Kushner. It is the culmination of now more than a year looking into why it took more than 5 years for the project to start showing meaningful results and why the gains are tenuous in the long term. The story begins with the scene depicted in the above image I took while reporting from Tanzania last fall. Mary Slosson, then of GOOD, and I were curious why the pump located at the nearby school was not working.

Here is a clip from part one. You can expect the second and third parts to publish this week and the finishing part next week.
To date the drive has attracted more than $1.42 billion in funding from various donors and the Tanzanian government, an incredible sum for a single project in a small country like Tanzania. The initial goal was ambitious: to bring improved access to water to 65 percent of rural Tanzanians and 90 percent of urbanites by 2010, and continue until each and every citizen had safe drinking water.

By all metrics, the project has failed categorically: When the project began, only 54 percent of Tanzanians had access to what is called an improved water source — a water point, like a well or water pump, that is protected from contamination. Seven years into the project, that figure has actually decreased — now at 53 percent, according to the latest World Bank Data. Coupled with Tanzania’s rising population, today 3.8 million more Tanzanians lack access to improved water than did before the project began.

The Tanzanian government and the World Bank admit that only 20 to 30 percent of rural water projects that were due to be completed by this summer were actually built. Although the pace of the program has picked up over the past year, with 28,246 rural water points either built or rehabilitated, there is no accountability mechanism to ensure that these sources will remain operational in the years ahead.

Already, some of the earliest water points created under the program’s pilot initiative are no longer being maintained and have stopped working. Others are at immediate risk of failing as communities find themselves unable to raise the money to fix and maintain them. Experts across Tanzania’s water industry say the program is failing to address the fundamental challenges that have plagued Tanzania’s water sector for decades.

“They are only trying to intervene for a short time — ‘let’s keep the system working for a couple years,’” says Herbert Kashillilah, chair of Water Witness Tanzania. “If I am from the World Bank, it is easier to count new projects than try to ensure people are running their own systems.”
The World Bank defends the program, arguing that despite its slow start and the likelihood that some water points will stop working, it is better than doing nothing.

“The problem of providing rural water around the world hasn’t been cracked,” said Philippe Dongier, World Bank country director for Tanzania. “You could say, ‘if that’s not going to be sustainable, why should we build it?’ But that could be said all over the world.”
Read part one here

Creating a culture of reading to ICTs and Libraries

This video shows how Bhutan is supporting the growth of literacy through libraries and ICT initiatives. While not descriptive in respect to the how, it is neat to see how newer technologies and long-standing practices are working together on the same issue.

21 November 2014

An uncoordinated Ebola response

A rather damning article from Donald McNeil for the NY Times on the problematic Ebola response in Liberia.
American military helicopters ferrying doctors to remote areas were forbidden to fly back not only patients but even blood samples; recently samples from a village had to be walked to a road four hours away. At Monday’s meeting, according to the minutes, Dr. De Cock called this “unacceptable,” adding, “This has to change this week.”

Dr. Hans Rosling, a Swedish epidemiologist and consultant to Liberia’s Health Ministry, said that the helicopter order came “from somewhere in America.” In an interview, he cited problems not listed in the minutes: one Asian and two European donor countries are insisting on building new Ebola field hospitals in Monrovia, where hospitals have empty beds, rather than in remote counties where beds are desperately needed; they insisted because they announced those plans two months ago, he said. The national case count was not reported for two days recently because the government employee compiling it went unpaid and stopped working. The minutes of the Incident Management System were made available along with PowerPoint files and other documents by an expert who said the disorganization of the Ebola effort should be made public.
Read the full story here, it is well worth it. 

19 November 2014

The Jaden and Willow Smith interview: wisdom or nonsense?

An interview of Jaden and Willow Smith, the teenage children of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett- Smith, is garnering a lot of attention and mixed reactions. Here is an excerpt from their discussion with the New York Times Magazine:
What are some of the themes that recur in your work?

JADEN: The P.C.H. being one of them; the melancholiness of the ocean; the melancholiness of everything else.

WILLOW: And the feeling of being like, this is a fragment of a holographic reality that a higher consciousness made.

JADEN: [bursts into laughter] As soon as me and Willow started releasing music, that’s one thing that the whole world took away is, okay, they unlocked another step of honesty. If these guys can be honest about everything, then we can be more honest.
I have no opinion to offer here, other than just amazement at the conversation. I am curious what others think. 

Neat interactive tracking of actions by Ebola response donors from ONE

The ONE Campaign took their initial research on how donors are faring when it comes to funding the Ebola response to the next level. Today saw the release of the interactive Ebola Tracker. Here is how donor countries compare:


Sorry that it is really small. The UK comes out on top for pledged money as a percentage of GNI. Here is how the US is doing:


Go play around with it here.

17 November 2014

Blur/Gorillaz frontman on the problems with Band Aid and frames of Africa


"It starts to feel like it's a process where if you give money, you solve a problem. And really, sometimes giving money creates another problem," says Damon Albarn.

13 November 2014

Mapped: the trans-African highways

Usual caveats apply when it comes to things like this passed around the internet, but it is pretty neat. As someone who likes road trips, this is full of enticing opportunities.

via Ben Nwomeh

Alex de Waal sharply criticizes the use of military in global health

This week saw the launch of the first US Ebola hospital in West Africa. There was plenty of debate over the use of the US military to respond to the crisis. Now Alex de Waal of Tufts University weighs in for the Boston Review. In short, he is not a fan of the idea:

The only rationale for sending the troops is that they and their equipment are available and already paid for, and would be doing nothing of significance otherwise. And, as a supplementary justification, that the U.S. Congress and taxpayers are ready to spend vast amounts of money on the military over modest amounts on global health.

This argument has a dreadful circularity; we are in this trap because we have paid for a bloated military and a threadbare global health system. It would be sickeningly wrong for the army’s role in responding to Ebola—inefficient, largely ineffective, but nonetheless better than nothing—to become a justification for why the Pentagon should continue to consume limitless resources. Soldiers can perform some useful tasks in West Africa. But their role should be brief, limited, barely visible, and subordinate to civilian control.

Militarizing public health is a strategic error. Security and public health experts know this and have tried to steer global health and security policies in a direction that is informed by the best evidence and analysis. But somehow, the beguiling metaphor of sending soldiers to fight pathogens still wins out, fueled by our deepest fears of disease, and by our uncritical acclaim for soldiery. It is time to discard misleading military metaphors and spend real money on real global public health.

11 November 2014

New campaign wants a better UN Secretary General

Who will replace this guy in 2016?
The time is now to end the backroom deals that produce the Secretary General of the UN, says a group of NGOs and the UN association of the UK. The coalition launched a new campaign, called 1 for 7 Billion, with an open letter addressed to UN member states to reform the selection process.

The term for current UN SG Ban ki-Moon comes to an end in 2016. With more than a year until the next election, now is the time to initiate reform, says the letter.
The importance and complexity of the office has changed radically during the last 69 years, as have the threats and challenges to the entire UN system. The leadership of successive UN Secretaries-General – as chief administrative officers, diplomats, mediators, and representatives of the UN purposes and principles –has been fundamental in shaping the work of the United Nations. They have provided a critical public international voice on key issues of peace and security, development, and human rights.
Signatories include leaders from Amnesty International, CIVICUS, and the World Federation of UN Associations. They say that the last time reform efforts targeted the UN it was too late, hence the present launch of the campaign. They outline their reform recommendations in a press release:

  • A process that aims to produce the best possible candidate
  • Formal selection criteria that reflect best practice in equality and diversity
  • Greater transparency, including a clear timetable and official shortlist
  • Open sessions that enable all states, and other stakeholders, to interact with nominees and have input in the process
  • Candidates to submit vision statements and to undertake not to make promises on specific appointments prior to their confirmation
  • More than one candidate to be put forward by the Security Council
  • A single term of office to help the Secretary-General pursue longer-term aims without the disruption of re-election campaigning
The basic ideas set forward seem pretty reasonable. Will the campaign succeed in initiating reform ahead of the next SG elections?

Also see the Guardian's report on the campaign.

06 November 2014

UNICEF brings in the tiny reinforcements to dispel Ebola myths

A new UNICEF video uses kids to help explain why Ebola is bad and what can be done to stop it. The premise is to make it so simple that even a five year-old can understand. The humorous approach is an interesting way to both attempt to raise money for the Ebola response and knock down some myths about Ebola that seem to be spreading across the US.

There are definitely a few funny parts in the conversation. What I appreciate here is an attempt to be creative with providing information and reaching new audiences. Simply telling people facts about Ebola is not working. Just look at the reactions across the US to children and teachers traveling to non-endemic African countries. Reason is not necessarily winning out, so new ways to reach people are necessary.

05 November 2014

A helpful Ebola map for people who think Africa is a country

Recently traveled from a non Ebola endemic country in Africa? Use this map to quickly dispel the fears of people who still think Africa is a country:


Map by Anthony England.

04 November 2014

Meet Liberia's Ebola responders and survivors

Daniel Berehulak photographed people involved in and affected by the Ebola crisis in Liberia. The photo essay published in the New York Times provides a glimpse into the lives of the people on the frontlines and their experiences with Ebola. It is short, visually striking and filled with hope. I am personally a fan because it brings a diverse group of mostly Liberians to the forefront.


The Pippa Middleton of development advice

The latest edition of the Core Humanitarian Standards looks a lot like the kind of advice one would find in Pippa Midleton's book. That is not a good thing. Sandrine Tiller, Humanitarian Advisor for MSF UK and Arjan Hehenkamp, MSF Director discuss the problems in a recent blog post.

The opening paragraphs are too good not to share.
When Pippa Middleton’s published her book on entertaining friends and family, it contained gems like: “Make a checklist—it’s otherwise too easy to forget essentials, and it’s useful to have when you arrive home to make sure nothing is missing” and “A really late start warrants brunch, in lieu of lunch.” This kind of painfully obvious advice was mercilessly lampooned on the internet as being plain common sense, sold to a gullible and unquestioning public.[1]

It was Pippa’s advice that came to mind when we read the latest incarnation of the Core Humanitarian Standards. With classics like: “Communities and people affected by crisis receive coordinated, complementary assistance” and “Staff are treated fairly and equitably, and are supported to do their job effectively,” it makes us wonder, with all the major crises happening around the world, is this all we can commit to?
Read their full analysis here.

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