Development Issues

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Media, Development: Calls for media freedom to be included in post-2015 development goals

NEW YORK, 4 July 2014 (IRIN) – In the debate over the inclusion of media freedom and access to information in the post-2015 development agenda, it is perhaps fitting that it all comes down to language.

A growing international coalition has come together in the belief that sustainable development cannot be achieved “without public access to reliable information about health, education, the environment, and other critical development areas – and that requires independent monitoring of that data by media and civil society,” as William Orme, UN representative for the Brussels-based Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD), characterized the stakes to IRIN. But will this notion be enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals, currently under discussion in a series Open Working Group meetings? And if so, what will the precise wording be?

The matter is controversial, noted James Deane, director of policy and learning at BBC Media Action, speaking during a panel discussion on 5 June.

“Any discussion of having some kind of goal around governance is already contentious,” he said. “Having a discussion that mentions the word media, especially if it’s associated with anything called freedom, immediately creates a dynamic in the development discussion where a lot of developing countries – and I think particularly the Chinas of this world – become increasingly uncomfortable, feeling that this is a Western agenda, an excuse to compose a conditionality on developing countries, their values, that it will be interpreted in ways that are damaging to their interests and it just immediately becomes – it takes the discussion out of a development context into a much more politically charged set of arguments and discussions.”

“This is not a North vs. South debate, as some have wrongly portrayed it,” said Orme of GFMD. “Many African, Asian and Latin American countries have strongly backed the inclusion of ‘A2I’ [Access to Information] targets in the continuing UN discussions about the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In contrast to the Millennium Development Goals, the new SDGs are intended to apply to all countries, to the North as well as the South. And there is no country where the public availability of independently evaluated development information cannot be improved.”

Last year, the Report of the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons, co-chaired by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, and UK Prime Minister David Cameron, suggested five ways “to ensure good governance and effective institutions” in the post-2015 framework. One was to “ensure people enjoy freedom of speech, association, peaceful protest, and access to independent media and information”. Another sought to “guarantee the public’s right to information and access to government data”.

At the same time, the Open Working Group (OWG), which is made up representatives of 69 member countries, began meeting to develop its own recommendations for the SDGs. In April 2014, the OWG released the Focus Area Document, which asked nations to “improve access to information on public finance management, public procurement and on the implementation of national development plans”. It also advocated removing “unnecessary restrictions of freedom of media, association and speech”. Many media-freedom advocates regarded the document as a regression from the high-level panel’s work.

Stronger wording 

But aided by the advocacy of more than 200 organizations led by GFMD and Article 19 (an NGO dedicated to press freedoms), OWG released a Zero Draft on 2 June that contained much stronger wording than the Focus Area Document. It proposed that SDG No. 16 to “achieve peaceful and inclusive societies, rule of law, effective and capable institutions” include subgoals to “improve public access to information and government data” and “promote freedom of media, association, and speech.”

“Having a discussion that mentions the word media, especially if it’s associated with anything called freedom, immediately creates a dynamic in the development discussion where a lot of developing countries … become increasingly uncomfortable”

Jan Lublinski, a project manager for the German international media development agency DW Akademie, said he was “delighted” that the first version of the Zero Draft included passages on media freedom and access to information.

“More and more people are becoming aware that these issues need to be included in the future framework of SDGs,” he told IRIN. “So I am quite optimistic that we will see these important elements in the final document.”

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Media, Development: Guide to Apps for Social Change

One of the main goals of this site is to help practitioners, students, and scholars network, connect, and share best resources. This guide will look at some of the key issues and considerations around using apps in peace and development work, as well as offer some examples of how they are being used.  An app, which is short for (software) application, is  software that is used on a mobile device or smartphone (Android, iPhone, BlackBerry, iPad, etc.).  With the boom in use of smart phones, we have seen a corresponding growth in number of available apps, some of which are being leveraged for social change. According to Forbes, as of December 2013, there are 1,000,000 apps available in the Apple store, with 25,000-30,000 apps being added every month.

This guide is not specifically an endorsement of any particular product/company, but rather some resources you might find useful in your work and research. Before downloading any resource on your device of choice, we highly recommend ensuring the download is safe, spyware and virus free and also appropriate for your operating system.  We encourage others to suggest additional tips and resources in the comments.

When thinking about using or developing an app for your program, here are some key issues to consider:

Does the tool fit the objective?  While apps show a lot of potential in our field, it is important to think about whether or not the technology matches with the goals and means of the project.  Some questions to consider:

  • Do people have access to smart phones? 
  • Will their identities and data be protected? 
  • How will data be monitored, used, and/or put into action? 
  • Are people expecting a response? How will the app meet those expectations and needs?
  • Is there an easier way to meet the same objective(s)?
  • How expensive will it be to develop an app?  Will the app be offered for free?
  • How do you verify accuracy of information and reporting?

There are many questions to ask yourself before deciding that an app will be the most effective tool for your project/program/organization.  Feel free to add additional considerations in the comments below!

Examples of Apps

Apps are being developed in a number of ways.  Some apps focus on sharing and disseminating knowledge and information. Others focus on increasing transparency and accountability by allowing users to submit texts reporting human rights violations, bribery, crime, etc.  There are apps to monitor public health and water quality, apps to promote local commerce and trade, apps to educate girls, apps to educate others about the need to educate girls, and more. Below are just a few examples of the types of apps available to users.  Click on the link for more information about each one.  A reminder: PCDN is not endorsing  any particular product/company. Please make sure the download is safe, spyware and virus free and also appropriate for your operating system before downloading anything.

Source for Infographic: http://www.thinkcomputers.org/infographic-smartphone-trends-for-2013/

Apps for Transparency, Accountability, and Reporting- apps that are used to report crime, incidences of violence, traffic violations, each time they pay a bribe, etc.

Apps disseminating Knowledge and Information- apps that share news sources, videos, educational materials or tutorials, indexes, data, etc.

  • App to strengthen women’s human rights by making the texts and content of UN and other international agreements, resolutions and documents about women’s human rights more easily accessible.
  • United Nations Handbook 2013-14 details how the UN works.
  • Red Flag is a guide to working in high-risk areas that educates businesses about potential human rights violations.
  • IRIN News is a daily humanitarian news and analysis service offered by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs with a wide network of locally-based writers in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
  • The OECD Info app allows users to access and comment on news, publications, videos, and indexes, as well as participate in discussions, from the OECD.
  • World Bank finances app gives the general public access to mapping, contracts, and procurement data for World Bank projects, loans and grants.
  • Better World Flux lets users look at progress made towards the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, both by indicator and by country, using World Bank Open Data.
  • People Power App, produced by the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC), gives users access to ICNC’s educational and research materials, information on activities, current events/news related to nonviolence, lectures, interviews, webinars, and an online resource library.

 Apps in Action- apps that are used as a part or whole project/program themselves, in which organization put the information gained from their app into action.

  • Circle6 is an app that allows users to prevent sexual assault by alerting their  close friends through a series of icons that quickly and easily lets their “circle” know where they are and how they can help.
  • UNMAS Landmine and ERW Safety allows individuals to report hazardous areas and items to UNMAS using photos, GPS coordinates, and any other descriptions they can provide.  UNMAS will then use this information to coordinate with the appropriate agency and handle the hazardous areas and items.
  • mWater monitors and maps the quality of drinking water in Tanzania.
  • Ustad Mobile, also known as Mobile Teacher, uses audio and video tutorials to teach users mathematics and two languages (Dari and Pashto). Using phones for education overcomes the lack of computers and increases access to education for women and those in rural areas.
  • KivaLender App users can send micro loans to those in developing countries, scrolling through the latest loan requests on Kiva.org by sector or country, as well as track the progress of individuals they have previously loaned to.
  • Dialogue App- allows citizens to discuss ideas and strategies for improving their communities through an online platform.

  Apps for Philanthropy- apps that are used for charity, philanthropy; creating awareness, support, and funds.

  • Feedie For every photo of food that is shared, The Lunchbox Fund donates actual food to children in need.
  • Charity Miles Users can choose a charity to which a certain amount of money is donated based on how long they run, walk, or bike, tracked by the GPS on the app.
  • Human Rights Campaign’s Buying for Equality App lists brands and products from businesses that support LGBTQ equality.
  • Amnesty InternationalAiCandle allows users to light a virtual candle, take part in international campaigns, and sign petitions.

 Putting yourself in their shoes- apps that are geared to help others understand the perspective of those in circumstances different than their own by allowing them to experience or see things from alternate viewpoints.

  • My life as a refugee is a game that creates awareness by role playing the tough decisions and events that real refugees face on a daily basis.
  • Get Water! Is a game that creates awareness about the struggles girls face when trying to access education.  Users have to help Maya collect clean water quickly so she has time to go to school and study.
  • One Day’s Wages raises user’s awareness of global poverty, allowing them to calculate one day’s wages in different areas of the world.
  • UNESCO Bangkok’s Flood Fighter App is a game that teaches about flood safety.

 Conclusion

Funding opportunities for apps and technology for change are rapidly increasing- with challenges to Silicon Valley being made by Kofi Annan, Bill and Melinda Gates, Bob King’s Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies, Google Ideas, the World Bank, and more.

If you are interested in learning how to code or build your own app, check out Code Academy’s free online courses,Forbes’ list of cloud-based tools, and/or this list of 9 resources for building your own app. Nextgov offers someguidelines on building a better app, and reviews apps used and produced by the US government.

As noted in this Foreign Policy article, while technology offers us hope and the promise of a brighter future, it is unrealistic to think it can solve all world problems.  In fact, some of the better solutions come from simple projects, rather than overly-ambitious and unnecessary technological inventions (FP compares a $99 dollar soccer ball that will generate power after being kicked around to a more economical and useful $10 solar-powered lamp).

 

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Development: Killer Facts on Global Poverty and Development

oxfamblogs.org

Please steal these killer facts: a crib sheet for advocacy on aid, development, inequality etc, by Duncan Green

Killer Fact attack

Development Success

Income Poverty

Worldwide, the proportion of people living in extreme income poverty (< $1.25) has more than halved, falling from 47% to 22% between 1990 and 2010. (Source UN Millennium Progress Report 2013)

Between 1993 and 2008, Vietnam reduced the proportion of people living below the national poverty line from 58% to just 15%. Source ODI.

79% of the world’s $2 a day poor currently live in Middle Income Countries. Over time, the proportion in Fragile and Conflict Affected States (some of them middle income) will rise, although the extent of the shift is hotly disputed (see this blog)

Be cautious on global numbers. The May 2014 release of the World Bank’s new (2011) International Price Comparison dataset appeared to overnight reduce extreme poverty by more than half to 8.9%, according to an initial calculation by CGD. We will have to wait for this to be confirmed/replaced by the Bank.

Health

Nepal’s maternal mortality ratio (MMR) fell by 47% between 1996 and 2006. Source ODI.

Globally, the mortality rate for children under-five deaths fell by 41 per cent—from 87 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990. Source UN In absolute numbers, Under-five deaths have fallen from 12.6 million in 1990 to 6.6 million in 2012. Source UNICEF

Education

In Ethiopia, approximately 3 million pupils were in primary school in 1994/95. By 2008/09, this had risen to 15.5 million – an increase of over 500%. Progress has been through government-led efforts to reduce poverty and expand the public education system equitably, backed by substantial increases in national education expenditure and aid, as well as improved planning and implementation capacity at all levels. Source ODI.

Watsan

Uganda (Water and sanitation): Following reforms and sustained investment in water infrastructure, Uganda increased the proportion of people in rural areas with access to an improved water source from 39% in 1990 to 64% in 2008. Source ODI

Agriculture

With agricultural growth averaging more than 5% a year during the past 25 years, Ghana is one of the top 5 performers in the world. This has contributed to major reductions in poverty and malnutrition. Having raised food production per capita by more than 80% since the early 1980s, Ghana is largely self-sufficient in staples, owing in part to large increases in cassava and yam production as well as improved varieties. Source ODI

Social Protection

India has the largest rights-based employment guarantee programme in the world (NREGA), providing over 4 million households a year with 100 days work. With a strong focus on the poorest and most excluded, the programme is contributing to reduced vulnerability to seasonal and household shocks, as well as improved food security and use of basic services. Source: NREGA website

Finance for Development

From 1990-2011, total international resource flows to developing countries grew from US$425 million to US$2.1 trillion. Much of this has been driven by rapid expansion in foreign investment in developing countries, growing remittances, and increases in lending. Source Development Initiatives.

ODA remains the main international resource for countries with government spending of less than PPP$500 per person per year. Source Development Initiatives

Remittances to developing countries reached an estimated US$436 billion in 2014, over 3 times global aid flows. Source World Bank

Locally generated revenue: Government spending in developing countries is now US$5.9 trillion a year, over 40 times the volume of aid. Source Development Initiatives

Tax: Natural resources accounted for 40% of total tax revenue in Africa from 2008-2011. Source: Eurodad

While non-ODA flows account for over 90% of the total resource receipts in upper-middle income countries (UMICs), these flows account for only one third in least-developed countries (LDCs). Source OECD

Humanitarian

Conflict

According to the OECD, half the world’s poor live in conflict-affected or fragile states (Source: OECD DAC); by 2030 it may by two-thirds (Source: Brookings Institution).

In most yearsall the worst humanitarian crises are in conflicts like Syria, Pakistan, Somalia (Source: Global Humanitarian Assistance).

In 2014 the world will spend $8 billion on peacekeeping (Source: UN), compared to $1745 billion total military spending in 2012 (Source: SIPRI) (i.e. peace merits less than half of one percent of war).

Link to climate change:

  • According to research by International Alert, 46 countries with a population of 2.7 billion could face a high risk of conflict as climate change increases tensions, for example over scarce resources (Source: International Alert).
  • Syria’s conflict started in the fourth consecutive year of severe drought, after decades of falling precipitation, which had, in 2010 alone, driven 300,000 rural families from their land (Source: UN).

Disasters

An estimated 258,000 people died in Somalia from famine and food insecurity between October 2010 and April 2012.

The number of weather-related disasters reported has tripled in 30 years (Source: Oxfam).

By the 2030s, large parts of Southern Africa, South and East Asia will see greater exposure to droughts, floods and other hazards; 325 million people in extreme poverty will live in the most exposed areas (Source: ODI).

In the last 20 years, the impact of disasters has been devastating: 4.4 billion people affected, 1.3 million people killed, US$2 trillion in economic losses.

As well as mega disaster, smaller, localized disasters often go unnoticed: The attrition of small-scale disasters affects the poorest families, and accounts for significant disaster impact: 54% of houses damaged, 80% of people affected, and 83% of people injured.

Low-income and lower-middle income countries have accounted for only 33% of disasters, but 81% of all deaths.

Climate is responsible for three-quarters of all disaster events; the IPCC’s Special Report on Extreme Events suggests climate change could result in “unprecedented extreme weather and climate events.”

 

Humanitarian action

2013 saw the smallest proportion, 62%, of needs (as set out in UN appeals) met for a decade (Source: OCHA). Emerging donors aren’t yet filling the gap (Source: Global Humanitarian Assistance).

For all the talk of building long-term resilience, the world spent $532 million to prepare for and prevent disasters in 2011 – and $19.4 billion to respond (so 40 times more spent on cure than on prevention). (Source: Oxfam)

Yet prevention is value for money: every $1 spent in disaster resilience in Kenya has saved $2.90 in reduced humanitarian spend, reduced losses and development gains. (Source: Oxfam)

 Inequality and taxation

The 85 richest individuals in the world have as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population. Source Oxfam report.

In Namibia and Bolivia, the richest ten per cent earn 100 times more than the poorest ten per cent. Source: Oxfam.

Governments around the world lose around £100bn a year in tax from rich individuals using tax havens. Source Oxfam.

In Indonesia, ending corporate tax dodging could help 3.5 million farmers provide food for their families. Source UNEP.

Inequality and Health & Education

More than 1.5 million lives are lost due to high income inequality in rich countries alone, according to a study in the British Medical Journal

In the UK, health care and education are worth as much to the poorest 20 per cent of people as their entire post-tax income. Source: Office for National Statistics.

For the poorest 20 per cent of families in Pakistan, sending all children a private low-fee school would cost approximately 127 per cent of that household’s income. Source: academic paper.

On redistribution

Brazil has achieved success comparable only to the New Deal, through a combination of social policy (Bolsa Familia, minimum wage), good economic management and job creation. Source Oxfam

If South Africa decreased income inequality by just 10 percentage points, this would lift 1.5 million people out of absolute poverty. But if inequality levels remain static, there will still be more than eight million South Africans living in poverty by 2020. Source: Oxfam report.

On work and wages

Tea pickers in Malawi are living below the extreme poverty line of $1.25 a day, even though they are earning the minimum wage. Source Oxfam.

Cocoa farmers receive as low as 3.5 per cent of the price of a chocolate bar, compared to 18% in the 1980s. Source Fairtrade Foundation.

Only 8% of global garment workers belong to a Union. Source Oxfam.

Food and Climate

Climate Change and Hunger

Climate change could increase the number of people at risk of hunger by 10–20 per cent by 2050, compared to a world with no climate change. Source: IPCC.

There could be 25 million more malnourished children under the age of 5 in 2050, compared with a world without climate change – that’s the equivalent of all the children under 5 in the US and Canada combined. Source: Oxfam, based on IFPRI, UNICEF

Food Prices

Food price spikes can be a matter of life and death to many people in developing countries, who spend as much as 75 per cent of their income on food. Source: World Bank.

In 2012, the worst US drought in 50 years reduced the maize crop by 25 per cent, contributing to global maize price rises of around 40 per cent. Source OECD

That same year was the UK’s second wettest on record, leading to the lowest wheat yields in 20 years. Source: Met Office

Climate Change and Agriculture

Kenyan-grown flowers air-freighted to the UK are six times less greenhouse gas-intensive than Netherlands-grown flowers shipped to UK. Source: IPL Poverty footprint.

Climate Change and Fossil Fuels

Some 60–80% of the fossil fuel reserves of companies listed on global stock markets is ‘unburnable’ if the world is to stay below +2°C. At the current rate of capital expenditure, the next decade will see over $6trn allocated to developing fossil fuels Source: Carbon Tracker

Fossil fuel subsidies cost over half a trillion dollars ($500 bn) globally in 2011. Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan and Venezuela, spend at least twice as much on fossil fuel subsidies as on public health. Source: ODI.

Climate Change and Finance

At the Copenhagen summit in 2009, world leaders promised to provide $100bn per year by 2020 to help poor countries adapt to a changing climate and reduce their emissions. $100 billion is less than 5% of the wealth of the world’s top 100 billionaires. Source: Oxfam

They also committed to providing $30bn of ‘Fast Start Finance’ between 2010 and 2012, balanced between adaptation and mitigation.

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Development, Haiti: Bill, Hillary and the Haiti Debacle

Mary Anastasia O’Grady, Wall Street Journal, May 18, 2014

The news website Tout Haiti reported last month that two prominent lawyers have petitioned Haiti’s Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes, demanding an audit of Bill Clinton’s management of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC). There are powerful interests that won’t want to see the petition succeed and it may go nowhere. But the sentiment it expresses is spreading fast. {snip}

Four years after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake toppled the capital city of Port-au-Prince and heavily damaged other parts of the country, hundreds of millions of dollars from the State Department’s U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), allocated to the IHRC, are gone. Hundreds of millions more to the IHRC from international donors have also been spent. Left behind is a mishmash of low quality, poorly thought-out development experiments and half-finished projects.

Haitians are angry, frustrated and increasingly suspicious of the motives of the IHRC and of its top official, Mr. Clinton. Americans might feel the same way if they knew more about this colossal failure. One former Haitian official puts it this way: “I really cannot understand how you could raise so much money, put a former U.S. president in charge, and get this outcome.”

{snip}

The Clinton crowd has a lot of experience in Haiti. After President Clinton used the U.S. military to return Jean Bertrand Aristide to power in 1994, assorted Friends of Bill went into business to milk Haiti’s state-owned telephone monopoly. Telecom revenues were one of the few sources of hard currency for the country so the scheme hurt Haitians. (See Americas columns Oct. 27, 2008, and March 12, 2012.)

Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck sheds light on Mr. Clinton’s most recent Haiti adventures in the 2013 documentary “Fatal Assistance.” Mr. Peck uses footage from an IHRC meeting in December 2010, when 12 Haitian commissioners confronted co-chairmen Mr. Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean Max Bellerive, complaining that the commissioners had been marginalized.

The full letter they read from that day includes the charge that “the staffing and consultant selection” excluded Haitian board members. “No documentation on hiring criteria or candidate selection was sent to inform board members. The same is true for selected consultants; the Haitian board members don’t even know the names of the consultants who work for the IHRC nor their respective tasks.”

Obviously the Haitians didn’t understand. That was the job of the Clinton machine, which controlled the bankroll and could award the lucrative contracts.

{snip}

The “Fatal Assistance” film features shoddy housing projects plopped down where there is poor infrastructure and few job prospects. The GAO report cites other housing snafus. USAID underestimated funding requirements. Its budget went up by 65%, and the number of houses to be built came down by 80%. “Inappropriate cost comparisons were used”; and Haitians, it turns out, prefer flush toilets.

Foreign aid is notoriously wasteful and often counterproductive. Even when the money is not going directly to Swiss bank accounts it is rarely allocated to its highest use because the process is fundamentally political. Contractors with all the wrong training and incentives but the right connections have the best chance of winning jobs. No surprise, the GAO says that USAID’s Haiti reports have been incomplete and not timely.

{snip}

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Media, Haiti, Development: Sean Penn Accuses the Media of Ignoring Haiti’s Progress. But He’s Ignoring a Few Uncomfortable Facts, Too.

New Republic, June 19, 2014, By Jonathan M. Katz

These days, when U.S. media outlets are looking for an update on the state of things in Haiti, one of the top experts they turn to is Sean Penn. That isn’t meant as a joke. The star of Mystic River and Milk has long since established himself as a serious player in the Caribbean republic, founder of an influential nongovernmental organization, credentialed as an ambassador, and a reputedly close friend of the nation’s president and prime minister. After four years working on, and in, the country at the highest levels of international power, Penn has as much or more claim to the slippery mantle of expertise as plenty of other foreigners who took more traditional paths.

Still, the relationship remains a bit awkward between the media and policy worlds on the one hand and the square-jawed actor on the other. Case in point: Penn’s op-ed on Haiti’s “tremendous progress” in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal.

The outlines of his argument seem straightforward at first blush. Penn primarily wants to highlight the work his aid group and allies in the Haitian government have done since the catastrophic earthquake of January 2010, which left an estimated 100,000 to 316,000 people dead and the country’s political and economic center in ruins. “The people of Haiti have come a long way,” he writes, which is fine as far as it goes, if perhaps conflating his organization and political allies with the national body politic.

But as you keep reading, the basis of Penn’s argument becomes decidedly less clear. Penn seems to see the enemy of this clear progress as his old bête noire, the media: “Headlines continue to spin Haiti as a dark, poverty-entrenched no-man’s-land. … Such cynicism sells papers and entices people to click, but at the cost of Haitian lives.” This kind of coverage is destructive, he argues, because it scares away the one group of people whom Penn seems to believe are the last great hope for the salvation of the Haitian people: foreign investors.

The mechanics of this are a bit hard to fathom. Does Penn suppose that investors, whose primary missions are to make money and beat the competition, depend solely on mass-media accounts of political and social problems? Is he alleging that the problems described in those unnamed reports are untrue; or just that, had journalists a bit more loyalty and tact, foreign businessmen simply wouldn’t know about them?

And what media are he talking about? Though Penn doesn’t name her, his op-ed must in some part be a response to WSJ editorialist Mary Anastasia O’Grady, who last month penned another entry in her ongoing narrative of Haiti and the world, which boils down to the personal malfeasance of Bill and Hillary Clinton. (This has been O’Grady’s take on all things Haiti for more than a decade.) O’Grady’s recent characterization of a post-quake recovery “debacle” is likely to have rubbed Penn the wrong way, or at least prompted someone to ask for his rebuttal. But it seems strange that Penn would complain about the airing of Haiti’s troubles in papers like the Wall Street Journal, since he goes on to spend the next six paragraphs airing Haiti’s troubles in the Wall Street Journal.

Moreover, the problems Penn expounds on—a continuing post-quake housing crisis and an ongoing cholera epidemic—are real, but the way he chooses to describe them do them, if anything, a disservice. Penn focuses his housing critique on the persistence of a few remaining post-quake encampments, settlements that, in a testament to the ingenuity and resilience of the people who built them, have since early on tended to be indistinguishable from other shantytown neighborhoods across Haiti, except for the fact that someone—usually the state or a powerful landowner—wanted them gone. The problem, which Penn hints at but never specifies, is that the vast majority of Haitians who have returned to pre-quake housing are living in houses as vulnerable as the ones that collapsed on January 12, 2010.

He also neglects to mention that the preponderance of evidence shows that the cholera epidemic was started by the negligent sanitation of United Nations peacekeeping soldiers, who dumped their waste in Haiti’s primary river system. Or that the U.N. and member nations including the United States steadfastly continue to refuse to pay for a cleanup, presumably because they don’t want to and nobody can make them, not because a columnist somewhere told them to beg off.

And this is where the contradictions really hit home. Penn is not, as the Journal identifies him, simply “an actor, director and the founder of J/P Haitian Relief Organization.” If he were just an outside observer, he’d likely have mentioned that one of the biggest crises in the country—and one of the ones most likely continuing to scare off investment, for what that’s worth—has been the failure of his friend, President Michel Martelly, to hold municipal and legislative elections since taking office in 2011.

Nor is he strictly a journalist. (A fact-checker would have noticed that, contrary to his claim, the cholera epidemic that erupted in Haiti in October 2010 has already spread to Mexico; and an editor would have prompted him to note that Haiti is flailing along with the rest of the hemisphere in the face of another epidemic, of the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus, and that his boasting of Doctors Without Borders’ ongoing work in Haiti is especially misguided given that the organization only works in emergency areas with little infrastructure, a particularly concerning fact for Haiti since they have been there since 1991.) But at the same time, no one hosting all-star fundraisers featuring the U.S. ambassador to Haiti and Anderson Cooper, or publishing critical op-eds in the Wall Street Journal, can fairly claim to be outside the media himself.

None of that is disqualifying. Who is without contradictions, after all? It just reaffirms the question anyone should ask when encountering such an opinion piece: Who is writing this? What do they want? Who, right now, is Sean Penn?

Jonathan M. Katz is a freelance journalist and the author of The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster. Follow him on Twitter @KatzOnEarth.

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