Development Issues

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Development: NGOs and the shock of the new

By Elizabeth Blunt, LONDON, 16 June 2014 (IRIN)

The big international aid agencies have been hugely successful. Organizations that were once small civil society operations – groups of friends with a passion to make the world a better place – now have thousands of staff members, multi-storey headquarters buildings and multi-million dollar budgets. But insiders fret that they have become too big and have lost the flexibility and responsiveness they once had.

They also worry about the future, and whether big international agencies are still the best way of doing things. It’s hard to imagine a world without Oxfam or Save the Children, but 20 years ago it would have been hard to imagine a world without Kodak film and cameras, or multi-volume editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Now both have gone, swept away by technological change they were slow to see coming.

In Britain a lot of soul-searching is taking place inside what is known as the START Network (once called the Consortium of British Humanitarian Agencies), which brings together 19 major NGOs and their worldwide partner organizations. The Network’s Director, Sean Lowrie, thinks the way the sector works is cumbersome and old fashioned. “NGOs are stuck in a Victorian model, which requires people to suffer and die to get on the front page of newspapers, and the newspapers trigger public donations and that triggers political will. It’s a reactive model,” he says.

It’s also very slow. The START Network is explicitly looking for a new and better way of working, and has made a beginning with the START fund, a pot of money provided by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and Irish Aid, which can be mobilized immediately in a crisis and channelled to whichever organization, international or local, is best placed to use it. The key is that the money is already there – it doesn’t have to wait for a crisis to get on the television news. Smaller emergencies or slow-onset crises may never give rise to that kind of money-generating publicity.

Olivia Maehler, START’s business manager, said they aim to consider proposals and release funds within 72 hours of receiving an alert. “We could get an alert on a Tuesday and the funding could be going out by Friday morning,” she told IRIN.

This demands a collaborative way of working, and an unusual degree of selflessness on the part of member organizations, who may in the past have competed for funding and public profile. The principle is that the money goes to whoever can make best use of it straight away, and so far over half the money has gone directly to local implementing partners.

The fund is still in its ‘design and build’ stage, but has already been able to respond to the violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar, and to one of the sudden spikes in conflict and displacement in South Sudan. Until now the meetings to allocate funds have taken place in London. “We are hoping that for future project selection we will be able to do the decision-making in the field, at the local level,” Maehler says.

But the tools that make this kind of devolved, collaborative way of working possible also threaten to disrupt the traditional roles of the big NGOs and perhaps bypass them altogether. At a public debate in London, linked to START’s first annual conference, speakers presented the kind of innovations that have the power to shake up humanitarian action.

“Across the world now, there’s a bubbling sense of democracy on the march. You will only be able to transform the humanitarian sector if it becomes part of that. Otherwise, the sector is doomed”

Paul Skinner, whose organization, ‘Pimp My Cause’, matches marketing volunteers with charities and social enterprises that need their skills, spoke of the need to harness people’s underlying participatory spirit, and “make a humanitarian of everyone”.

“Whereas the NGO of the past may have been something you chose to support, maybe in quite passive ways, the NGO of the future is likely to be something you will turn to because they can help you achieve something worthwhile yourself,” he said.

From your armchair 

Luis Morago, of the online campaigning organization, Avaaz, described getting involved in a form of international activism which can bypass conventional NGOs altogether by using the example of Cyclone Nargis, which struck Myanmar in 2008.

The government was blocking aid flights so Avaaz’s online followers rapidly raised US$2 million and sent it via a network of Buddhist monks who had been appealing for help online. “I didn’t leave my armchair,” Morago said, “But still I was feeling very happy and it cost me ten dollars… But it’s what happens after the clicks that matters – how we use that support. That’s what can bring incredible change.”

Other speakers in the debate included Laura Walker Hudson from Frontline SMS, which has created tools to conduct mass campaigns using basic mobile phone technology, and Harry Wood from Humanitarian OpenStreetMap, a free collaborative mapping project that came into its own during disasters like the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

The possibilities presented were exciting but also unsettling for many in the audience. Powerful new tools for mobilization, like Avaaz, could be used for good purposes, said Frances Stevenson of Help Age International, but also destructively. “Just imagine if they had been around in the 1930s,” she said. “It could be used either way, so I suppose we had better grab it before the other side does!”

John Borton, a senior research associate in the Humanitarian Policy Group of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), a UK think-tank, was struck by the way all this fizz of innovation was happening outside the established humanitarian NGOs. “They create their own organizations, and that makes me uncomfortable. I guess it’s all part of the sector becoming more diffuse, expanding from dozens of organizations to hundreds,” he said. “There’s something here about the way that the established organizations embrace technology.”

That concern got short shrift from Ken Banks, author of ‘The Rise of the Reluctant Innovator’, which covers the stories of 10 people who solve unexpected problems. “Money kills innovation,” he says bluntly. “Look at Ushahidi [a non-profit open-source software development company]. Why didn’t the Red Cross build Ushahidi? They should have done. The Red Cross needed something like Ushahidi many times in the past. I think people taking their ideas to the bigger NGOs would absolutely kill them, and drive them [innovators] to despair!”

The message is clear. Change – disruptive change – is inevitable, and the humanitarian sector needs to be prepared to work differently, and also to play a very different role in the future. What can’t be predicted is whether change will kill their traditional business – as it killed the traditional business models of Kodak and Encyclopaedia Britannica – or whether – as in the case of digital publishing – it will give the sector a new lease of life.

Either way, says Luis Morago, change is coming. “Across the world now, there’s a bubbling sense of democracy on the march. You will only be able to transform the humanitarian sector if it becomes part of that. Otherwise, the sector is doomed.”

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Development: Maafushi Island Shows the Way for Inclusive Wealth Creation through Tourism

Maafushi Island Shows the Way for Inclusive Wealth Creation through Tourism

SUBMITTED BY SANDYA SALGADO ON THU, 05/29/2014

The success story of Maafushi, an island in the Kaafu Atoll in the Maldives, dates back to 2009 when the government liberalized its policy on local tourism. A visionary entrepreneur, Ahmed Naseer, lost no time in starting a four roomed guest house in 2010, to kick start the concept of local tourism in his home island Maafushi. And the rest is history!

Maafushi’s expansion from one guest house in 2010 to thirty guest houses to date is a remarkable success story which I was privileged to witness firsthand last week.

An island with 2000 locals had welcomed 600 tourists last year. They were coming in search of an affordable, simple holiday, just for the sun and sea experience, living amongst the islanders while experiencing theiruniqueculture and lifestyle. Maafushi’s model of attracting local tourists has provided an alternative to the high end tourism that Maldives is known world over for.


Asim Mohamed, better known as ‘Simbe’ of Maafushi Dive

I was curious to know what factors contributed to this amazing story of growth of local tourism on one solitary island in the archipelago.

“Proximity to Male, ease of transport, a well-functioning sewage system and a water treatment plant definitely helped us” said Simbe, the beaming thirty two year old owner of Maafushi Dive.
What he didn’t say was that the unique entreprenurial spirit of the islanders coupled with their warm and friendly nature with which they welcomed the guests, making them feel at home and comfortable at all times definitely added to their success.

A Norwegian diving instructor I met in the island said “people of Maafushi are very different in nature to some of the other islanders,” and confirmed that the success of Maafushi could also be largely attributed to this unique characteristic of its people. Having spoken to many different groups in the island, I would definitely think she knew what she was talking about.

What was most intriguing for me was how the islanders had demarcated a special area for the guests to enjoy the sun and sea, without encroaching into each others’ lives. The palm leafed fence beautifully separated the privacy of both the guests and the islanders who believed in a ‘live and let live’ philosophy to help with the growing local tourism in the island.

The success of this island is not limited to development of its guest houses, but the growth of complementary services which makes the model sustainable, inclusive and beneficial to a larger group of islanders. Some of these services include transport, laundry service, internet and cable TV services, restaurents, handicrafts, engineering and maintainence services, construction work, carpentary, garbage collection, motorbike repairs, traditional music and dance, fishing, diving and water sports and still growing…


 Unattended waste management

As any form of development is bound to have challenges, Maafushi is conscious of theirs. Sea erosion is a primary concern which will badly affect the booming industry if timely intervention is not forthcoming. The other pressing issue is the escalating consumption of electricity and beyond affordable rates that seem unsustainable with the increasing business needs. Waste management is another growing problem that hasn’t found a solution yet. The entrepreneurs are hopeful that the government will provide them with solutions to these three major threats that will determine the growth and sustainability of this remarkable development success story that has helped Maafushi in wealth creation and shared prosperity.

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Haiti, Development: Four Years after Earthquake, Housing, Sanitation, Health Care are Still Pressing Needs in Haiti

Center for Economic and Policy Research

“International community’s response remains misplaced,” CEPR Co-Director Says

Washington, D.C., January 9, 2014 – Four years after an earthquake devastated Haiti and killed some 220,000 people and displaced 1.5 million, housing, sanitation and health care remain woefully inadequate, Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) Co-DirectorMark Weisbrot said today. Weisbrot noted that while some 200,000 people are still stuck in internally displaced person (IDP) camps, and many others have beenforcibly evicted onto the streets – and while under-funded sanitation and health care allow a cholera epidemic to continue to ravage the country — many of the urgently-needed funds meant to assist the people of Haiti have gone instead into the pockets of contractors, or have been used to fund projects that benefit foreign corporations far more than they do Haitians.

“The lasting legacy of the earthquake is the international community’s profound failure to set aside its own interests and respond to the most pressing needs of the Haitian people,” Weisbrot said. “Four years of exposés in the international media, appeals from the U.N. and international aid groups, and pleas from the Haitian government, Haitian grassroots groups and many others have failed to change the misplaced priorities of the international response to the earthquake and the cholera epidemic.”

Weisbrot applauded the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act, introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee and cosponsored by 34 other legislators, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives last month. The Act is meant to foster greater transparency in U.S. government contracting in Haiti through regular progress reports to Congress.

Much of the U.S. government aid earmarked for Haiti following the quake has gone to foreign contractors, providing little benefit to Haitian businesses, organizations or workers. 67.1 percent of USAID contracts has gone to Beltway-based firms, while just 1.3 percent has gone to Haitian companies. The Haitian government has also largely been bypassed as aid funds have gone to foreign contractors, international agencies and the many groups that populate what is known as the “republic of NGOs.” Of the $6.43 billion disbursed by bilateral and multilateral donors to Haiti from 2010-2012, just 9 percent went through the Haitian government.

Weisbrot noted that although the massive displacement of people from their homes was one of the most visible and damaging aspects of the earthquake, four years lateronly 7,515 new houses had been built. A U.S. government plan to build 15,000 new houses has reduced its goals by over 80 percent.

The cholera epidemic, brought to Haiti by U.N. troops, has killed 8,500 people and sickened over 695,000. While the U.N., the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Haitian and Dominican governments launched a $2.2 billion plan to eradicate cholera over a year ago, it remains woefully underfunded, and the U.N. itself has pledged just 1 percent of the funding needed, even as the U.N.’s mostly military and police mission in Haiti costs over $572 million a year.

Projects such as the Caracol industrial park, meanwhile, continue to receive additional funding, with the Inter-American Development Bank announcing last week that it would commit another $40.5 million for the facility’s expansion. The project has come under scrutiny over poor working conditions and low pay for garment workers; theWorkers Rights Consortium [PDF] found that “On average, workers were paid 34% less than the law requires” at Caracol.

“The least that the U.N. and international community could do is to clean up the mess that they themselves made,” Weisbrot said. “This means providing the infrastructure for clean water, as quickly as possible, to get rid of the deadly cholera bacteria that U.N. troops – who did not come to Haiti for earthquake relief – brought to the country.

“The millions of dollars brought to contractors and big NGOs have often not been used to meet the urgent needs of the Haitian people.”

For more background on the state of reconstruction in Haiti four years after the quake, see CEPR’s “Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch” blog.

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Development: Global hunger falling, index shows

From subsistence to fast-food – fried fish on menu in Lesotho street market

LONDON, 16 October 2013 (IRIN) – Every year for the past eight years, the Global Hunger Index has mapped the world’s nutrition. Over time, the maps demonstrate progress: The dark red splashes across Africa that signified “extremely alarming” levels of hunger have mostly faded to orange, and much of the orange is now yellow, meaning “serious” but not “alarming”. Ghana is now light green, meaning it has “moderate” hunger, an improvement from the “serious” level of 2006. Similarly, many countries in Asia have shown great improvement.

The 2013 Index, which launches this week, shows yet further improvement. The organizations that compile the Index – the International Food Policy Research Institute (IPFRI), Concern Worldwide and Welt Hunger Hilfe – say that 23 out of the 120 countries they track have made significant progress, improving their scores by 50 percent or more over the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) baseline from 1990. Among the top 10 in terms of progress are Angola, Ethiopia, Malawi and Niger, along with Bangladesh, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Lawrence Haddad, the director of the Institute of Development Studies, who worked on this year’s Index, says the trends they have documented may overturn stereotypes. “An interesting twist on this,” he said, “is that in 2000 South Asia actually had a better score than sub-Saharan Africa, but now Sub-Saharan Africa has a better score than South Asia. We always default to thinking that bad news is coming out of Africa, but at a regional level Africa has been doing better than South Asia over the past 10 to 15 years. So that’s great.”

But amid the general improvement, many countries are still struggling. Burundi, Eritrea and the Comoros are still deep in the red zone. Swaziland, where the hunger is not as extreme, has nonetheless suffered a severe decline in nutrition; the Global Hunger Index estimates that hunger in Swaziland has increased by 38 percent since 1990.

Dominic MacSorley, the chief executive of Concern Worldwide, told IRIN, “I think there are different factors. HIV/AIDS in Swaziland is one of the key contributors. There are other countries where [hunger rates change] in relation to urban density, and we know now that poverty, with the tip-over into more people living in urban environments, is a significant contributing factor.

“And I think this is what’s interesting, that our ideas about where we always think the poverty is – in the Sahel, in the non-urban areas – is now being challenged, which is going to force a change in how we work.”

Guiding programmes 

One of the main strengths of the Index is that it goes beyond measuring the overall availability of food in a country and tries to see whether that food is reaching those who need it. It uses three component indicators: the proportion of undernourished people as a percentage of the population, the proportion of children under five who are underweight for their age, and the under-five mortality rate, which is closely tied to inadequate food intake.

It does have its weaknesses. The compilers can only work with the data they have. In the case of the 2013 Index, they point out that the most recent available country-level data for the three indicators range from 2008 to 2012. The Index, they say, “is thus a snapshot not of the present, but of the recent past.” And for certain countries, the data are simply not available, and some of these – Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia, for example – are likely to have some of the worst scores of all.

Even so, the Index is proving its usefulness. Lynne Featherstone, deputy minster at Britain’s Department of International Development (DFID), hailed it as a “most fantastic tool.”

“I think it enables all of us to have a benchmark to work to and to understand where we are going,” she said.

“We always default to thinking that bad news is coming out of Africa, but at a regional level Africa has been doing better than South Asia over the past 10 to 15 years.”

And Kate Franks, from the Innocent Foundation, told IRIN her organization uses the Index frequently. “We use it as one of the measures that we look at to work out what our geographical focus should be for funding projects to tackle hunger. Because it’s straightforward, because it’s objective, when we are benchmarking proposals from a number of different organizations, it helps us make decisions.”

Resilience 

The report that accompanies this year’s Global Hunger Index focuses on “building resilience to achieve food and nutrition security”.

Although it is clear that broad-based economic growth plays the leading role in reducing hunger in countries like Ghana and Vietnam, Concern’s MacSorley says that an emphasis on resilience can address hunger in deeply impoverished areas as well.

“What we are really pleased about in this Hunger Index,” he said, “is the emphasis on resilience, and the application of a resilience approach in countries which largely have been forgotten other than for the provision of short-term emergency aid. We are now, in Niger and Kenya, Haiti even, [and are] two to three years into designing programmes that are starting to show some traction and some real results.”

One of those programmes, in Kenya’s northern Moyale District, has attempted to strengthen resilience through diversification of livestock, the introduction of new crops, rangeland and water management, conflict resolution and the strengthening of the capacity of local government. When drought struck the area in 2011, rates of severe acute malnutrition in the neighbouring Marsabit and Wajir North districts rose by 285 percent and 386 percent respectively; in Moyale those rates dropped.

Victor Odero, one of Concern’s programme managers in Kenya, says the people in Moyale have embraced the concept of resilience. “When you talk to them, they will not say the word ‘resilience’,” he says, “but certainly the meaning of resilience is something that’s well understood by the community there. It’s essentially how they have survived in such a harsh climate for all this time.”

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Media, Development: Launching “A Burmese Journey”

GlobalPost Special Reports, Open Hands Initiative and GroundTruth are teaming up to bring you along on “A Burmese Journey.”

Five teams of top, young journalists set out from Myanmar’s commercial hub of Yangon to better understand how the country is changing under a reform-minded government. Travel along with these 20 reporters — 11 Burmese and 9 American — as they journey the ancient Burma Road, through the country’s capitals past and present, down the Irrawaddy Delta, onto Inle Lake and across Yangon itself at a critical time in the country’s history.

Read more about “A Burmese Journey” on GlobalPost Special Reports HERE.

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