The global water crisis is not driven by absolute water scarcity, but by a scarcity of governance: there’s enough water to go around, we just need to get better at managing it.
To meet the sixth sustainable development goal (SDG) we must learn from stagnation in the sector and make sure that water institutions – policies, laws, organisations and their financing frameworks – actually deliver the goods. If we don’t adopt fresh approaches to debug this institutional software, the global water goal – and the many SDG targets underpinned by better water management – will remain a mirage. Some of the priorities for change are:
In 2013, we led a systematic mapping of evidence on water institutions to find out what makes them work towards poverty reduction and sustainable growth. We examined around 30,000 journal articles and reports on the topic and found that only 38 (0.13%) showed clear evidence linking water management to these outcomes.
Inadequate knowledge about how and why water management delivers societal outcomes people would want means that efforts to improve performance in the sector lack direction, and will struggle to get financial support. It also leaves the sector vulnerable to politically or commercially driven fixes such as water markets, credits and offsets.
Radical improvements throughout the research-policy-action cycle are needed. For example, we need investment in new studies that track and compare performance on water management, as well as better standards and guidelines for commissioning, reviewing and reporting on research evidence.
2 | Accountability and system change, not sticking plasters
Development partners and INGOs often focus on place-based projects, extending the provision of services or managing water supply on behalf of beleaguered governments.
Although this can help to avert immediate humanitarian crises, it has long been recognised – not least by the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee – that the benefits of donor-led interventions which treat the symptoms rather than the root causes rarely endure. Instead, donors should prioritise approaches that hold water managers to account, help citizens get better services from their own governments and tackle things such as executive, legislative and judicial dysfunction, inadequate tax collection and mobilisation, overlapping ministerial mandates, power struggles, a vacuum of leadership and corruption.
As one example of a progressive response, we used social accountability monitoring, budget-tracking and evidence-based advocacy in our Fair Water Futures Programme. The initiative has helped more than 500,000 people in Tanzania and Zambia to obtain water rights, protect water resources and mitigate water-related disasters.
Early use of the standard by Olam International and Diageo has been shown to reduce the risks of pollution, interrupted supply and poor governance for production sites, supply chains, local communities and farmers. It’s now up to such progressive companies, responsible supermarkets and switched-on consumers to encourage other businesses to use the standard.
4 | Collaborative donor action, not competition
Despite the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and its principles of alignment and harmonisation, proper coordination in the water sector is rare. It’s still common to find multiple initiatives by multiple donors focusing on the same issues with the same people in the same places.
The Paris Declaration urgently needs to be lived and breathed. Improving the accountability of donors and how investments and impacts are tracked can help but this should be supported by shared progress indicators, such as one on good water governance (still strikingly absent from the SDGs).
Including targets on water resource management alongside taps and toilets under goal six of the SDGs is an important step towards recognising mutual dependencies, but these still need to come with a smarter, fit-for-purpose monitoring framework.
5 | Capacity building, not demolition
Building capacity through training workshops doesn’t work. Ad-hoc, one-off workshops rarely provide contextual relevance or inspire action. And consultant-led technical assistance is rarely effective in building long-term capacity; without the ownership needed for implementation, the plans and strategies created by consultants are often left to collect dust.
We urgently need new approaches to build professional capabilities. Contemporary theories of workplace motivationcould bear fruit here. Creating opportunities to learn by doing and receiving practitioner support from peers has been shown to yield the creativity and tenacity needed across the water sector. However, such models do not tally with the conditions of donor procurement processes, despite being stratospherically better value-for-money.
We also need to address the issues that cause so many skilled people to desert public sector water management roles in the global south, such as by improving civil service wages.
Global goals and targets might come and go but the pressing needs for improved water management in the real world don’t change. Let’s make sure that the ways we deliver it do.
Nick Hepworth is the director of Water Witness International. Follow @water_witness on Twitter.
Ten months ago, the UN’s 2030 Agenda laid out an ambitious set of Sustainable Development Goals to be met over the next 15 years as 193 countries committed themselves to “leaving no one behind” in the endeavour to end poverty and promote development.
Was this merely a lofty-sounding phrase or is it actually compelling countries to extend their commitments to the 65 million refugees and displaced people living within their borders?
First, the bad news: the xenophobia and nationalism dominating political discourse around the world threaten to undermine the inclusive spirit of the agenda, and perhaps even the relevance of the UN itself.
Brexit, the EU-Turkey deal, Kenya’s plans to close its largest refugee camp, Dadaab, extremist attacks inspired or directed by so-called Islamic State, the inward-looking, alienating nature of Republican nominee Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, have all contributed to a climate where governments are focused on acting individually to keep refugees and migrants out rather than on addressing their needs.
This doesn’t bode well for those hoping that concrete commitments towards a shared responsibility for the refugee crisis will emerge from the upcoming UN summit on large movements of refugees and migrants, or from US President Barack Obama’s separate Leaders’ Summit on Refugees, nor for hopes that countries will use their development agendas to prioritise the most vulnerable.
The latest draft declaration on the UN summit, to be signed by leaders in New York in September, is peppered with references to the 2030 Agenda.
“Words, of course, are cheap” – Peter Sutherland, UN special representative for international migration
The agenda, says the declaration, recognises migrants as “agents of change and as enablers for development in countries of origin, transit and destination”; endeavours to “reach the furthest behind first”; calls for facilitating safe migration and mobility; and “explicitly recognises the “needs of refugees, internally displaced persons and migrants”.
Its targets deal with issues specific to refugees and migrants, like “education, labour standards, human trafficking, exploitation of children, access to justice and the building of self-reliance and resilience”.
“Meeting a year after 2030”, the draft optimistically notes, “we pledge to realise the full potential of the agenda for refugees and migrants”.
But during a recent briefing at the International Peace Institute in New York, where panellists attempted to join the dots between the 2030 Agenda and the UN refugee summit, their repeated calls to counter xenophobic rhetoric towards refugees and migrants sounded a desperate note.
Peter Sutherland, the UN special representative of the secretary-general for international migration, warned that pervasive and increasingly dominant political rhetoric was giving rise to xenophobia and racism and “breeding the type of extreme nationalism that many of us hoped was left behind us 40 or 50 years ago”. The optimism many felt when migration made it into the SDGs has dissipated, he said.
Besides the “leaving no one behind” spirit of the agenda that calls for addressing the needs of the most vulnerable first, Goal 10 (reduce inequality within and among countries) specifically calls for the “orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people”, through “the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies” (target 7).
But as Sutherland said: “Words, of course, are cheap.” Rather than embracing the spirit of the global development agenda, political leaders are nurturing “a misguided belief that safeguarding sovereignty means acting unilaterally.
“They’ve resisted calls for collective action regionally and internationally,” he said.
What about IDPs?
Another negative, which emerged as a source of tension at the panel discussion, is that internally displaced people will be left off the refugee summit agenda. Member states demanded that IDPs be left out because “they are an issue of national sovereignty”, said Karen AbuZayd, the UN special adviser on the summit. A perfect opportunity for countries to commit to taking responsibility for both their own and other states’ displaced people appears to have been lost.
Of the world’s 65 million displaced people, more than 45 million are IDPs, pointed out Josephine Liebl, policy adviser at Oxfam. “For the summit to only focus on refugees and not look at IDPs is a huge omission for us,” she told IRIN. “In our programmes we’ve seen that IDPs receive very little protection and assistance.” This is, in part, she explained, because their movement may be less visible, because they are not crossing borders. Another reason, of course, is that IDPs are often caught up in the political conflict perpetrated by the member states themselves.
The good news
On the positive side, the 2030 Agenda does attempt to address many of the root causes that drive people to flee their homes, including poverty, climate change-induced disasters, and conflict. The wide-ranging and ambitious agenda has a better chance than the Millennium Development Goals, its predecessor, of tackling what drives migration in the first place, said Paul O’Brien, Oxfam America’s vice president for policy and campaigns.
O’Brien said the fact that three interest groups prevailed in developing the agenda – those wanting to finish the goals of the MDGs, nation states calling for more economic growth to sustain development, and those pushing for solutions to global challenges like climate change and structural inequality – has led to an agenda that is far better positioned to address the underlying causes of mass displacement of people.
Also, the 2030 Agenda is about universality. “It places obligations on countries accepting refugees and migrants to fulfill commitments regarding education, healthcare, job opportunities and everything else that the 169 targets cover,” said O’Brien. This, he told IRIN, “creates an avenue for accountability”. “There is nothing in the SDGs that says these commitments apply to countries’ own citizens only.”
Christine Matthews, deputy director of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) office in New York, told the panel that the 2030 Agenda’s call to “leave no one behind” was a landmark opportunity to strengthen the bridge between the humanitarian and development arenas, and for countries to incorporate building resilience and self-reliance of displaced people into their national and local development frameworks. Implementation of Goals 1 (no poverty), 10 (reduced inequalities), and 16 (peace, justice, and strong institutions), in particular, will stop people from leaving their homes in the first place, she said.
There is at least some evidence of progress in this regard. Jessica Espey, associate director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, cited Nigeria as an example of a country looking at “leaving no one behind” as a way to address conflict. And the needs of Syrian refugees comprise a central component of Jordan’s new development plan, for example.
The World Bank and other donors are also supporting a scheme where Jordan gives employment, entrepreneurial support, and education to Syrian refugees in return for trade benefits. While the primary intention may be to stop Syrians from moving to Europe, it is also a sign that the focus – both within and outside the UN – is shifting to more development-oriented approaches to tackling the refugee crisis.
Some political accountability
Many see the inclusion of Goal 16 (peace, justice, and strong institutions) as a big positive in addressing a major driver of mass displacement – conflict. “During the SDG negotiations, many member states didn’t want to take on humanitarian and peace and conflict issues,” said Espey. “They saw this as the responsibility of the Security Council.
“The problem then is that the SDGs don’t tackle a number of pressing issues to do with instability and conflict,” such as refugees and displaced people. “Goal 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions) ended up being the closest thing to a compromise.” Besides the political sensitivities, Espey pointed out that conflict and migration present an intractable and daunting challenge to an already overloaded and ambitious development agenda. “Adding governance to the agenda was just too big an issue to bite off,” she said.
Nevertheless, Goal 16 is being seen as an important “political placeholder for these crises”, as she put it, and, she agreed, for strengthening the humanitarian/development nexus. “The goal ensures that these issues of conflict and migration are being discussed as part of national priorities. And ‘leave no one behind’ gives leverage to tackle this goal.”
A final positive is the inclusion of “disaggregated” indicators: applying the different categories such as sex, race, and age to the population so that vulnerable people do not slip under the radar, as was the case with the MDGs. ‘Migratory status’ is at least one of these categories in the SDG indicators, stressed Casey Dunning, a senior policy analyst at the Centre for Global Development. Unless refugees and other displaced people are identified and counted they won’t be able to access services.
But in Dunning’s view, the interest for collecting this detailed disaggregated information is “just not there at the moment”. Not only, she said, are countries intent on looking inward and putting up fences, they are more focused on their own economic growth than on ensuring that no one is left behind.
July 6, 2016 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette
The House of Representatives unanimously passed the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act (H.R. 3766) last night, following unanimous passage by the Senate last week. This important, bipartisan legislation will now head to President Obama for his signature. The bill, sponsored by Reps. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ben Cardin (D-MD), will help to increase the accountability of U.S. foreign assistance resources so that they can be tracked, measured, and allocated to have the most impact.
Specifically, the bill requires that detailed foreign assistance information be regularly updated on the ForeignAssistance.gov website, and that development and economic assistance be rigorously monitored and evaluated. We are particularly pleased that the bill extends this transparency and accountability to some aspects of security assistance, specifically the International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement program, which is something that MFAN has long called for.
“We are deeply grateful to the bill sponsors for their tireless efforts to work together across the aisle and across chambers in order to see this bill passed into law. This legislation has been introduced in each of the last three congresses and marks an important step towards making U.S. foreign assistance more effective,” said George Ingram, MFAN Co-Chair and Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.
“By passing this bill, Congress has institutionalized the important gains that have already been made in the areas of transparency and evaluation. This legislation will help to ensure that our aid programs are being driven by evidence-based decisions and that our assistance is accountable to U.S. taxpayers and developing country stakeholders,” said Connie Veillette, MFAN Co-Chair and Senior Fellow at The Lugar Center.
“As the United States faces an ever-growing number of humanitarian and development challenges around the world, effective U.S. foreign assistance is more important than ever. Recognizing that our resources are limited, we must be doing all that we can to use them most effectively so that they can have the most impact on those in need around the world,” said Carolyn Miles, MFAN CO-Chair and President and CEO of Save the Children.
MFAN applauds and thanks the bill sponsors, as well as its partners in the development community, for all their work in getting this bill passed and to the President’s desk. With this legislation enacted, the progress that has been made on increasing transparency and improving monitoring and evaluation practices can be built upon when a new Administration and Congress are sworn in next year.
Even as the group has publicly celebrated its work, insider accounts detail a string of failures
by Justin Elliott, ProPublica, and Laura Sullivan, NPR
THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF CAMPECHE sprawls up a steep hillside in Haiti’s capital city, Port-au-Prince. Goats rustle in trash that goes forever uncollected. Children kick a deflated volleyball in a dusty lot below a wall with a hand-painted logo of the American Red Cross.
In late 2011, the Red Cross launched a multimillion-dollar project to transform the desperately poor area, which was hit hard by the earthquake that struck Haiti the year before. The main focus of the project — called LAMIKA, an acronym in Creole for “A Better Life in My Neighborhood” — was building hundreds of permanent homes.
Today, not one home has been built in Campeche. Many residents live in shacks made of rusty sheet metal, without access to drinkable water, electricity or basic sanitation. When it rains, their homes flood and residents bail out mud and water.
The Red Cross received an outpouring of donations after the quake, nearly half a billion dollars.
The group has publicly celebrated its work. But in fact, the Red Cross has repeatedly failed on the ground in Haiti. Confidential memos, emails from worried top officers, and accounts of a dozen frustrated and disappointed insiders show the charity has broken promises, squandered donations, and made dubious claims of success.
The Red Cross says it has provided homes to more than 130,000 people. But the actual number of permanent homes the group has built in all of Haiti: six.
After the earthquake, Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern unveiled ambitious plans to “develop brand-new communities.” None has ever been built.
Aid organizations from around the world have struggled after the earthquake in Haiti, the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country. But ProPublica and NPR’s investigation shows that many of the Red Cross’s failings in Haiti are of its own making. They are also part of a larger pattern in which the organization has botched delivery of aid after disasters such asSuperstorm Sandy. Despite its difficulties, the Red Cross remains the charityof choice for ordinary Americans and corporations alike after natural disasters.
One issue that has hindered the Red Cross’ work in Haiti is an overreliance on foreigners who could not speak French or Creole, current and former employees say.
In a blistering 2011 memo, the then-director of the Haiti program, Judith St. Fort, wrote that the group was failing in Haiti and that senior managers had made “very disturbing” remarks disparaging Haitian employees. St. Fort, who is Haitian American, wrote that the comments included, “he is the only hard working one among them” and “the ones that we have hired are not strong so we probably should not pay close attention to Haitian CVs.”
The Red Cross won’t disclose details of how it has spent the hundreds of millions of dollars donated for Haiti. But our reporting shows that less money reached those in need than the Red Cross has said.
Lacking the expertise to mount its own projects, the Red Cross ended up giving much of the money to other groups to do the work. Those groups took out a piece of every dollar to cover overhead and management. Even on the projects done by others, the Red Cross had its own significant expenses – in one case, adding up to a third of the project’s budget.
Where did the half billion raised for Haiti go? The Red Cross won’t say.
In statements, the Red Cross cited the challenges all groups have faced in post-quake Haiti, including the country’s dysfunctional land title system.
“Like many humanitarian organizations responding in Haiti, the American Red Cross met complications in relation to government coordination delays, disputes over land ownership, delays at Haitian customs, challenges finding qualified staff who were in short supply and high demand, and the cholera outbreak, among other challenges,” the charity said.
The group said it responded quickly to internal concerns, including hiring an expert to train staff on cultural competency after St. Fort’s memo. While the group won’t provide a breakdown of its projects, the Red Cross said it has done more than 100. The projects include repairing 4,000 homes, giving several thousand families temporary shelters, donating $44 million for food after the earthquake, and helping fund the construction of a hospital.
“Millions of Haitians are safer, healthier, more resilient, and better prepared for future disasters thanks to generous donations to the American Red Cross,” McGovern wrote in a recent report marking the fifth anniversary of the earthquake.
In other promotional materials, the Red Cross said it has helped “more than 4.5 million” individual Haitians “get back on their feet.”
It has not provided details to back up the claim. And Jean-Max Bellerive, Haiti’s prime minister at the time of the earthquake, doubts the figure, pointing out the country’s entire population is only about 10 million.
“No, no,” Bellerive said of the Red Cross’ claim, “it’s not possible.”
When the earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, the Red Cross was facing a crisis of its own. McGovern had become chief executive just 18 months earlier, inheriting a deficit and an organization that had faced scandals after 9/11 and Katrina.
Inside the Red Cross, the Haiti disaster was seen as “a spectacular fundraising opportunity,” recalled one former official who helped organize the effort. Michelle Obama, the NFL and a long list of celebrities appealed for donations to the group.
The Red Cross kept soliciting money well after it had enough for the emergency relief that is the group’s stock in trade. Doctors Without Borders, in contrast, stopped fundraising off the earthquake after it decided it had enough money. The donations to the Red Cross helped the group erase its more-than $100 million deficit.
The Red Cross ultimately raised far more than any other charity.
A year after the quake, McGovern announced that the Red Cross would use the donations to make a lasting impact in Haiti.
We asked the Red Cross to show us around its projects in Haiti so we could see the results of its work. It declined. So earlier this year we went to Campeche to see one of the group’s signature projects for ourselves.
Street vendors in the dusty neighborhood immediately pointed us to Jean Jean Flaubert, the head of a community group that the Red Cross set up as a local sounding board.
Sitting with us in their sparse one-room office, Flaubert and his colleagues grew angry talking about the Red Cross. They pointed to the lack of progress in the neighborhood and the healthy salaries paid to expatriate aid workers.
“What the Red Cross told us is that they are coming here to change Campeche. Totally change it,” said Flaubert. “Now I do not understand the change that they are talking about. I think the Red Cross is working for themselves.”
The Red Cross’ initial plan said the focus would be building homes — an internal proposalput the number at 700. Each would have finished floors, toilets, showers, even rainwater collection systems. The houses were supposed to be finished in January 2013.
None of that ever happened. Carline Noailles, who was the project’s manager in Washington, said it was endlessly delayed because the Red Cross “didn’t have the know-how.”
Another former official who worked on the Campeche project said, “Everything takes four times as long because it would be micromanaged from DC, and they had no development experience.”
Shown an English-language press release from the Red Cross website, Flaubert was stunned to learn of the project’s $24 million budget — and that it is due to end next year.
“Not only is [the Red Cross] not doing it,” Flaubert said, “now I’m learning that the Red Cross is leaving next year. I don’t understand that.” (The Red Cross says it did tell community leaders about the end date. It also accused us of “creating ill will in the community which may give rise to a security incident.”)
The project has since been reshaped and downscaled. A road is being built. Some existing homes have received earthquake reinforcement and a few schools are being repaired. Some solar street lights have been installed, though many broke and residents say others are unreliable.
The group’s most recent press release on the project cites achievements such as training school children in disaster response.
The Red Cross said it has to scale back its housing plans because it couldn’t acquire the rights to land. No homes will be built.
Other Red Cross infrastructure projects also fizzled.
A Red Cross effort to save Haitians from cholera was crippled by internal issues. “None of these people had to die,” said a Haitian official.
In January 2011, McGovern announced a $30 million partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID. The agency would build roads and other infrastructure in at least two locations where the Red Cross would build new homes.
But it took more than two and a half years, until August 2013, for the Red Cross just to sign an agreement with USAID on the program, and even that was for only one site. The program was ultimately canceled because of a land dispute.
A Government Accountability Office report attributed the severe delays to problems “in securing land title and because of turnover in Red Cross leadership” in its Haiti program.
Other groups also ran into trouble with land titles and other issues. But they also ultimately built 9,000 homes compared to the Red Cross’ six.
Asked about the Red Cross’ housing projects in Haiti, David Meltzer, the group’s general counsel and chief international officer, said changing conditions forced changes in plans. “If we had said, ‘All we’re going to do is build new homes,’ we’d still be looking for land,” he said.
The USAID project’s collapse left the Red Cross grasping for ways to spend money earmarked for it.
“Any ideas on how to spend the rest of this?? (Besides the wonderful helicopter idea?),” McGovern wrote to Meltzer in a November 2013 email obtained by ProPublica and NPR. “Can we fund Conrad’s hospital? Or more to PiH [Partners in Health]? Any more shelter projects?”
It’s not clear what helicopter idea McGovern was referring to or if it was ever carried out. The Red Cross would say only that her comments were “grounded in the American Red Cross’ strategy and priorities, which focus on health and housing.”
Another signature project, known in Creole as “A More Resilient Great North,” is supposed to rehabilitate roads in poor, rural communities and to help them get clean water and sanitation.
But two years after it started, the $13 million effort has been faltering badly. An internal evaluation from March found residents were upset because nothing had been done to improve water access or infrastructure or to make “contributions of any sort to the well being of households,” the report said.
The Red Cross says 91% of donations went to help Haitians. That’s not true.
Instead of making concrete improvements to living conditions, the Red Cross has launched hand-washing education campaigns. The internal evaluation noted that these were “not effective when people had no access to water and no soap.” (The Red Cross declined to comment on the project.)
The group’s failures went beyond just infrastructure.
When a cholera epidemic raged through Haiti nine months after the quake, the biggest part of the Red Cross’ response — a plan to distribute soap and oral rehydration salts — was crippled by “internal issues that go unaddressed,” wrote the director of the Haiti program in her May 2011 memo.
Throughout that year, cholera was a steady killer. By September 2011, when the death toll had surpassed 6,000, the project was still listed as “very behind schedule” according to another internal document.
The Red Cross said in a statement that its cholera response, including a vaccination campaign, has continued for years and helped millions of Haitians.
But while other groups also struggled early responding to cholera, some performed well.
“None of these people had to die. That’s what upsets me,” said Paul Christian Namphy, a Haitian water and sanitation official who helped lead the effort to fight cholera. He says early failures by the Red Cross and other NGOs had a devastating impact. “These numbers should have been zero.”
So why did the Red Cross’ efforts fall so short? It wasn’t just that Haiti is a hard place to work.
“They collected nearly half a billion dollars,” said a congressional staffer who helped oversee Haiti reconstruction. “But they had a problem. And the problem was that they had absolutely no expertise.”
Lee Malany was in charge of the Red Cross’ shelter program in Haiti starting in 2010. He remembers a meeting in Washington that fall where officials did not seem to have any idea how to spend millions of dollars set aside for housing. Malany says the officials wanted to know which projects would generate good publicity, not which projects would provide the most homes.
“When I walked out of that meeting I looked at the people that I was working with and said, ‘You know this is very disconcerting, this is depressing,’” he recalled.
The Red Cross said in a statement its Haiti program has never put publicity over delivering aid.
Malany resigned the next year from his job in Haiti. “I said there’s no reason for me to stay here. I got on the plane and left.”
Sometimes it wasn’t a matter of expertise, but whether anybody was filling key jobs. An April 2012 organizational chart obtained by ProPublica and NPR lists 9 of 30 leadership positions in Haiti as vacant, including slots for experts on health and shelter.
The Red Cross said vacancies and turnover were inevitable because of “the security situation, separation from family for international staff, and the demanding nature of the work.”
The constant upheaval took a toll. Internal documents refer to repeated attempts over years to “finalize” and “complete” a strategic plan for the Haiti program, efforts that were delayed by changes in senior management. As late as March 2014, more than four years into a six-year program, an internal update cites a “revised strategy” still awaiting “final sign-off.”
The Red Cross said settling on a plan early would have been a mistake. “It would be hard to create the perfect plan from the beginning in a complicated place like Haiti,” it said. “But we also need to begin, so we create plans that are continually revised.”
The Red Cross says it provided homes to more than 130,000 Haitians. But they didn’t.
Those plans were further undermined by the Red Cross’ reliance on expats. Noailles, the Haitian development professional who worked for the Red Cross on the Campeche project, said expat staffers struggled in meetings with local officials.
“Going to meetings with the community when you don’t speak the language is not productive,” she said. Sometimes, she recalled, expat staffers would skip such meetings altogether.
The Red Cross said it has “made it a priority to hire Haitians” despite lots of competition for local professionals, and that over 90 percent of its staff is Haitian. The charity said it used a local human resources firm to help.
Yet very few Haitians have made it into the group’s top echelons in Haiti, according to five current and former Red Cross staffers as well as staff lists obtained by ProPublica and NPR.
That not only affected the group’s ability to work in Haiti, it was also expensive.
According to an internal Red Cross budgeting document for the project in Campeche, the project manager – a position reserved for an expatriate – was entitled to allowances for housing, food and other expenses, home leave trips, R&R four times a year, and relocation expenses. In all, it added up to $140,000.
Compensation for a senior Haitian engineer — the top local position — was less than one-third of that, $42,000 a year.
Shelim Dorval, a Haitian administrator who worked for the Red Cross coordinating travel and housing for expatriate staffers, recalled thinking it was a waste to spend so much to bring in people with little knowledge of Haiti when locals were available.
“For each one of those expats, they were having high salaries, staying in a fancy house, and getting vacation trips back to their countries,” Dorval said. “A lot of money was spent on those people who were not Haitian, who had nothing to do with Haiti. The money was just going back to the United States.”
Soon after the earthquake, McGovern, the Red Cross CEO, said the group would make sure donors knew exactly what happened to their money.
The Red Cross would “lead the effort in transparency,” she pledged. “We are happy to share the way we are spending our dollars.”
That hasn’t happened. The Red Cross’ public reports offer only broad categories about where $488 million in donations has gone. The biggest category is shelter, at about $170 million. The others include health, emergency relief and disaster preparedness.
It has declined repeated requests to disclose the specific projects, to explain how much money went to each or to say what the results of each project were.
There is reason to doubt the Red Cross’ claims that it helped 4.5 million Haitians. An internal evaluation found that in some areas, the Red Cross reported helping more people than even lived in the communities. In other cases, the figures were low, and in others double-counting went uncorrected.
In describing its work, the Red Cross also conflates different types of aid, making it more difficult to assess the charity’s efforts in Haiti.
For example, while the Red Cross says it provided more than 130,000 people with homes, that includes thousands of people who were not actually given homes, but rather were “trained in proper construction techniques.” (That was first reported by the Haiti blog of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.)
The figure includes people who got short-term rental assistance or were housed in several thousand “transitional shelters,” which are temporary structures that can get eaten up by termites or tip over in storms. It also includes modest improvements on 5,000 temporary shelters.
The Red Cross also won’t break down what portion of donations went to overhead.
McGovern told CBS News a few months after the quake, “Minus the 9 cents overhead, 91 cents on the dollar will be going to Haiti. And I give you my word and my commitment, I’m banking my integrity, my own personal sense of integrity on that statement.”
But the reality is that less money went to Haiti than 91 percent. That’s because in addition to the Red Cross’ 9 percent overhead, the other groups that got grants from the Red Cross also have their own overhead.
In one case, the Red Cross sent $6 million to the International Federation of the Red Cross for rental subsidies to help Haitians leave tent camps. The IFRC then took out 26 percent for overhead and what the IFRC described as program-related “administration, finance, human resources” and similar costs.
Beyond all that, the Red Cross also spends another piece of each dollar for what it describes as “program costs incurred by the American Red Cross in managing” the projects done by other groups.
The American Red Cross’ management and other costs consumed an additional 24 percent of the money on one project, according to the group’s statements and internal documents. The actual work, upgrading shelters, was done by the Swiss and Spanish Red Cross societies.
“It’s a cycle of overhead,” said Jonathan Katz, the Associated Press reporter in Haiti at the time of the earthquake who tracked post-disaster spending for his book, The Big Truck That Went By. “It was always going to be the American Red Cross taking a 9 percent cut, re-granting to another group, which would take out their cut.”
Given the results produced by the Red Cross’ projects in Haiti, Bellerive, the former prime minister, said he has a hard time fathoming what’s happened to donors’ money.
“Five hundred million dollars in Haiti is a lot of money,” he said. “I’m not a big mathematician, but I can make some additions. I know more or less the cost of things. Unless you don’t pay for the gasoline the same price I was paying, unless you pay people 20 times what I was paying them, unless the cost of the house you built was five times the cost I was paying, it doesn’t add up for me.”
This story was co-published with NPR. Mitzy-Lynn Hyacinthe contributed reporting. Design direction by David Sleight, production by Hannah Birch.
Since cholera first broke out in Haiti five years ago, Doctors Without Borders estimates that it has killed as many as 30,000 people, and another 2 million have survived the disease.
Journalists and scientists have traced the disease back to a U.N. compound that was housing peacekeepers from Nepal. The cholera outbreak was sparked after the compound began disposing of raw sewage in a nearby water way.
The U.N. has never taken responsibility for the outbreak or the deaths, but Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has said the U.N. has “a moral responsibility” to help end the spread of the disease.
In a letter, the second highest ranking U.N. official promised the organization would fulfill “its human rights obligations” in Haiti, but U.N. efforts to fight the disease are less than 20 percent funded, meaning the disease is likely to continue to claim more lives.
“The U.N.’s position essentially hasn’t changed for five years now,” Katz says. “At the very beginning, they were extremely actively involved in a cover up — literally destroying evidence and putting out press releases disclaiming any possibility that they could be responsible, [all] based on evidence and assertions that just weren’t true.”
But Katz says that evidence has come to light that definitively links the U.N. to this deadly cholera outbreak.
Afghanistan’s women have made significant gains in recent years, with more girls attending school and more women working outside the home.
But fear still overshadows the lives of many.
A resurgent Taliban recently provoked outrage by publicly executing two women, but as this 101 Eastdocumentary shows, the greatest threat many women face comes from loved ones at home.
Activist Noorjahan Akbar talks about the challenges in overcoming conservative attitudes in the face of rising “anti-woman propaganda”.
Al Jazeera: How would you describe the current state of women’s rights in Afghanistan?
Noorjahan Akbar: Like the current state of the country, the current state of Afghan women is tumultuous and unstable. While – since the US-led intervention – Afghan women have made a considerable amount of progress, with [today’s] increased insecurity, economic inequality, and radicalism, we are afraid that our accomplishments will be threatened, and the few civil rights and individual freedoms we have will be taken away from us.
When I talk about the threat of violence, I don’t just mean the Taliban – even though they are largely responsible for targeting and killing female teachers, police officers, journalists, and activists.
On a daily basis, Afghan women face harassment in public spaces. In fact, nine out of 10 women say they have faced harassment at some point on the way to work or school, and out of those, 14 percent say they stopped going to school because of it. Eighty-seven percent of Afghan women have faced verbal, sexual or physical violence at home.
The vast majority of cases of violence against women, even the public targeted assassinations, are not met with any legal consequences.
Despite all this, Afghan women are teachers, ministers, parliamentarians, musicians, writers, journalists, photographers, vaccinators and more, and we are working hard to make things better for ourselves and the country.
But in order for us to really participate in rebuilding Afghanistan, our security should be a priority for our government. When our bodies are fair game, when it is always open season on women, when we are fearful of losing our lives on a daily basis, how can we move the country forward?
Al Jazeera: The Taliban recently publicly executed two women – one of them in an apparent honour killing – in northern Afghanistan, according to news reports. Are you concerned that this could signal a downward spiral for Afghan women?
Akbar: The harsh reality is that even though this case caught the eye of the international press, these ‘honour’ killings are not out of the ordinary. Whether by the Taliban or family members, Afghan women are killed regularly for the simple fact of being born female or choosing their own husbands. However, what these specific public executions tell me is that the rule of law has further deteriorated in Afghanistan and that is not good for anyone.
Al Jazeera: Many Afghan women suffer domestic violence at the hands of their family. How difficult is it to change attitudes towards women?
Akbar: It is extremely difficult to change attitudes towards women and decrease gender-based violence anywhere in the world, but in Afghanistan it is hard also because radicalism, Talibanism and gender-based violence at home are all related and perpetuate one another.
Especially in the last few years, there has been an increase in radical anti-woman propaganda in the big cities. Local mosques that were once moderate and somewhat accepting of women’s rights, now spend entire sermons on how women shouldn’t be allowed to work, study, or even speak in public.
In addition to using public executions to make a show of women’s punishment and terrorise women into silence and into the margins, today’s radicals use televisions, social media, sermons, and even schools to perpetuate and sanctify violence.
Al Jazeera: Impressive gains have been made in the number of girls attending school in Afghanistan. Is there a danger that these rights could be eroded?
Akbar: Yes, and we are seeing the erosion right now. In 2014, 163 schools were attacked in Afghanistan.
The majority of these schools were girls’ schools. This year, these attacks have increased. In January, a girls’ school was torched in Kabul – something that hasn’t happened in the capital city since the Taliban took power in 1996.
In February, the Ministry of Education said 700 schools were closed due to insecurity depriving thousands of girls and boys of an education. Just this week, 20 school girls were poisoned in Ghor province.
These attacks are terrifying, not just for those who have faced the violence themselves, but for the country as a whole.
Al Jazeera: International organisations have raised concerns that women’s rights activists are being deliberately targeted. How difficult is it for activists to stand up and demand change?
Akbar: I don’t know any human rights activist working for gender equality who feels safe in Afghanistan.
We have seen our sisters killed and asked for justice only to be threatened and sidelined more. We have called for the prosecution of those who killed Malalai Kakar, Hanifa Safi, Safia Ahmed Jan, Zakia Zaki and many more journalists and activists killed for being outspoken women and we have been told to shut up.
We are told on a daily basis that we shouldn’t talk about the issues we face, the rape threats we get, the violence women around us face because it will bring shame to our country.
The reality is that the fact that these injustices exist is a matter of shame – not people demanding an end for it.
Al Jazeera: Afghan women still face numerous challenges in their daily lives. Are you optimistic about the future?
Akbar: Yes. I am optimistic because I see the passion with which young women are working for change inside the country and because I know that despite the heartache, the threats and the disappointments this fight are worth it.
Being pessimistic will not help us. It will only discourage us from working. I prefer not giving up. Afghanistan belongs to me and my peers as much as it belongs to the radicals advocating for violence, and we will not surrender the country to them – not without a fight at least.
@liz_gooch, Liz Gooch is a journalist covering Southeast Asia.
Click here to watch the 101 East documentary, “Afghanistan: No Country for Women”.
Among the issues discussed was how the humanitarian sector could improve protection of civilians from violence. Jan Egelend, who heads the Norwegian Refugee Council and is also the Special Advisor to Staffan de Mistura, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, said that the international community needs to “blacklist” any group or Government that bombs civilians and civilian targets. Pictured, Baharka IDP camp in northern Iraq. Photo: OCHA/Brandon Bateman
– ipsnews.net, by Baher Kamal – 6/6/16 – – The humanitarian clock is now ticking away faster than ever, with over 130 million of the world’s most vulnerable people in dire need of assistance. But the most powerful, richest countries—those who have largely contributed to manufacturing it and can therefore stop it, continue to pretend not hearing nor seeing the signals.
The World Humanitarian Summit (Istanbul, May 23-24) represented an unprecedented effort by all United Nations bodies who, along with member countries, hundreds of non-governmental aid organisations, and the most concerned stakeholders, conducted a three-year long consultation process involving over 23,000 stakeholders, that converged in Istanbul to portray the real½ current human drama.
Led by the UN, they put on the table a “Grand Bargain” that aims to get more resources into the hands of people who most need them, those who are victims of crises that they have not caused. The WHS also managed to gather unanimous support to Five Core Responsibilities that will help alleviate human suffering and contribute to preventing and even ending it.
Around 9,000 participants from 173 countries, including 55 heads of state or government, and hundreds of key stakeholders attending the Summit, have unanimously cautioned against the current growing human-made crises, while launching strong appeals for action to prevent such a “humanitarian bomb” from detonating anytime soon.
In spite of all that, the top leaders of the Group of the seven most industrialised countries (G 7), and of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, have all stayed away from this first-ever Humanitarian Summit, limiting their presence to delegations with lower ranking officials.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hailed the Summit as a “turning point” that has “set a new course” in humanitarian aid. “We have the wealth, knowledge and awareness to take better care of one another,” Ban said. Photo: UNOCHA
Although several UN officials reiterated that it was not about a pledging conference but the fact is that massive funds are badly needed to start alleviating the present human suffering which, if allowed to grow exponentially as feared, would cause a human drama of incalculable consequences.
The notable absence of the top decision-makers of the most powerful and richest countries sent a strong negative signal with a frustrating impact on the humongous efforts the UN has displayed to prepare for the Istanbul Summit and mobilise the world’s human conscious– let alone the millions of the most vulnerable who are prey to human dramas they are not responsible for creating.
In fact, most of world’s refugee flows are direct results of wars not only in Afghanistan and Iraq—both subject to vast military operations by coalitions led by the biggest Western powers (G 7), but also a result of on-going armed conflicts in Yemen (also with the support of the US and Europe), and Syria where the Security Council permanent member states, except China, have been proving weapons to the parties involved in this long six-year war.
Other victims of the current humanitarian drama are “climate refugees”, those who flee death caused by unprecedented droughts, floods and other disasters resulting from climate change, which is largely caused by the most industrialised countries.
The sole exception was German chancellor Angela Merkel who addressed the Summit, though she reportedly went to Istanbul to meet Turkish president Recep Tayyib Erdogan to try to alleviate the growing tensions between Ankara and the European Union, who accuse each other of not fulfilling the refugee deportation deal they sealed in March.
In fact, the EU-Ankara deal is about deporting to Turkey all asylum seekers and also migrants arriving in Europe mainly through Turkish borders, once the European Union announced last year its readiness to host them but decided later½ to flinch. In simple words, the deal simply transforms Turkey into a huge â€œdeposit” of millions fleeing wars and other human-made disasters.
In exchange, Ankara should receive from the EU 3 billion euro a year to help shelter and feed the 3 million refugees who are already there. The EU also promised to authorise the entry of Turkish citizens to its member countries without visa.
At a press briefing at the end of the Summit, Erdogan launched veiled warnings to the EU that if this bloc does not implement its part of the refugees deal, the Turkish Parliament may not ratify it.
In other words, Turkey would not only stop admitting “returnees”, i.e. refugees repatriated by Europe, but would even open its borders for them—and other millions to come and go to EU countries. The “human bomb” is therefore ticking at the very doors of Europe.
That said, the Istanbul Summit has set us on a new course. “It is not an end point, but a turning point,” said the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon at the closing session.
Governments, people affected by crisis, non-governmental organisations, the private sector, UN agencies and other partners came together and expressed their support for theAgenda for Humanity, and its five Core Responsibilities, Ban added.
“Implementing this agenda is a necessity, if we are to enable people to live in dignity and prosperity, and fulfil the promise of last year’s landmark agreements on the Sustainable Development Agenda and Climate Change.”
Ban stressed that humanitarian and development partners agreed on a new way of working aimed at reducing the need for humanitarian action by investing in resilient communities and stable societies.
Aid agencies and donor governments committed to a ‘Grand Bargain’ that will get more resources into the hands of people who need them, at the local and national level, said Ban.
Unfortunately, when funding is sparse, the UN and partners have to reprioritize preventive and resilience-building actions to aid emergencies. In Sudan, women line up to receive food at the Tawilla site for newly arrived internally displaced persons (IDPs) fleeing Jebel Marra in Darfur. Assisting those urgent needs meant less funding for a nutrition project in Khartoum. Photo: OCHA
“And Governments committed to do more to prevent conflict and build peace, to uphold international humanitarian law, and live up to the promise of the Charter of the UN, he added. “I hope all member states will work at the highest level to find the political solutions that are so vital to reduce humanitarian needs around the world.”
According to Ban, ”Together, we launched a ground-breaking charter that places people with disabilities at the heart of humanitarian decision-making; a platform on young people in crises; and commitments to uphold the rights of women and girls in emergencies and protect them from gender-based violence.”
Ban also announced that in September this year he will report to the UN General Assembly on the Summit’s achievements, and will propose “ways to take our commitments forward through intergovernmental processes, inter-agency forums and other mechanisms.”
The WHS Chair’s Summary: Standing up for Humanity: Committing to Action issued at the end of the Summit states that “civil strife and conflicts are driving suffering and humanitarian need to unprecedented levels and serious violations of international humanitarian law and abuses of international human rights law continue on an alarming scale with entire populations left without essential supplies they desperately need.”
It adds that natural disasters, exacerbated by the effects of climate change, are affecting greater numbers of women, men and children than ever before, eroding development gains and jeopardising the stability of entire countries.
“At the same time we have been unable to generate the resources to cope with these alarming trends, and there is a need for more direct predictable humanitarian financing,” the statement warns.
“The Summit has brought to the forefront of global attention the scale of the changes required if we are to address the magnitude of challenges before us. The participants have made it emphatically clear that humanitarian assistance alone can neither adequately address nor sustainably reduce the needs of over 130 million of the world’s most vulnerable people.”
A new and coherent approach is required based on addressing root causes, increasing political diplomacy for prevention and conflict resolution, and bringing humanitarian, development and
peace-building efforts together, it adds.
“Global leaders recognized the centrality of political will to effectively prevent and end conflicts, to address root causes and to reduce fragility and strengthen good governance. Preventing and resolving conflicts would be the biggest difference leaders could make to reduce overwhelming humanitarian needs. Humanitarian action cannot be a substitute for political action.”
According to the Census Bureau, the percentage of Americans living in poverty is higher today than it was in the late 1960s. Last year I argued in these pages that these “official” poverty statistics are extremely misleading.1 When the United States first explicitly defined an official poverty line in 1969, it was supposed to be adjusted every year to ensure that it represented a constant standard of living. However, two problems arose and were never fixed.
First, the Consumer Price Index, which was supposed to be used to adjust the poverty line for inflation, turned out to have flaws that made it rise faster than the cost of living. Second, the official measure uses pretax money income to measure families’ economic resources; but anti-poverty measures enacted since then, such as the expansion of food stamps and then the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), made low-income families’ total economic resources increase faster than their pretax money income. As a result of these problems, roughly half the families now counted as officially poor have a higher standard of living than families with incomes at the poverty line had in 1969.
In $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer argue that what they call “extreme” poverty roughly doubled between 1996 and 2012. If they are right—and I think they are—the reader might wonder how I can still claim that poor families’ living standards have risen. The answer is that inequality has risen even among the poor. Half of today’s officially poor families are doing better than those we counted as poor in the 1960s, but as I learned from reading $2.00 a Day (and have spent many hours verifying), the poorest of the poor are also worse off today than they were in 1969. $2.00 a Day is a vivid account of how such families live. It also makes a strong case for blaming their misery on deliberate political choices at both the federal and state levels.
Kathryn Edin is a professor at Johns Hopkins University who has spent much of the past twenty-five years talking with low-income Americans about their lives.2 In 2010, when the national unemployment rate was over 9 percent, she began meeting parents who said they had no regular income whatever from work, from welfare, or from any other source. Their economic plight sounded worse than anything she had previously encountered, and she began pondering how to figure out what had happened, and why.
In 2011 Edin met Luke Shaefer, a young professor at the University of Michigan who had worked extensively with the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). This survey was the best available source of data on poor families, and Edin persuaded Shaefer to investigate what it showed about households with little or no income.3 To do that, they had to decide what criteria to use.
A single mother with two children was officially poor in 2011 if she reported an annual income below $18,123. If she reported less than half that amount, the Census classified her and her children as living in “deep” poverty. However, the Census had never had a term for families as poor as those Edin and Shaefer wanted to count, so they chose their own term: “extreme” poverty.
They also chose a third-world definition of who belonged in their new category. The World Bank counted third-world families as poor if they lived on less than $1.90 a day per family member. Edin and Shaefer rounded that up to $2.00.4 This cutoff was between 9 and 13 percent of the official poverty threshold for most American families. For a single mother of two, for example, Edin and Shaefer’s “extreme” poverty threshold was $6 a day while the “official” 2011 threshold came to just under $50 a day. Neither measure included noncash benefits or EITC refunds.
When Shaefer analyzed the SIPP data, he found that 4.3 percent of American households with children reported living on less than $2 a day per person for at least one month during 2011. When he looked back at the SIPP data for 1996, only 1.7 percent of parents had reported a month like that (see the first row of Table 1).
Edin and Shaefer were shocked by how much the SIPP estimate had risen, so they checked to see if other evidence pointed in the same direction. Their best comparison was with data collected by the Food Stamp Program. Families applying for food stamps must report their income to qualify for assistance, and they must then keep reporting it every year to remain eligible. The number of parents telling the Food Stamp Program that they had had a month without income matched the SIPP estimates closely in 1996 and 2005. From 2005 to 2012, however, the number of parents reporting a month without income rose faster in the Food Stamp Program than in SIPP.5 No one seems to know why the two trends diverged, but the divergence may mean that the 2011 SIPPestimates in Table 1 are too low.6
For reasons that will become clear momentarily, I now need to mention that Congress renamed the Food Stamp Program in 2008, calling it the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The name change reflected the fact that the program now gives recipients an electronic card instead of stamps to pay for their groceries. Outside Washington, D.C., however, most people still talk about food stamps, not SNAP. I will do the same, except when I discuss the SNAP card itself.
The most obvious explanation for the increase in extreme poverty between 1996 and 2011 is that jobs were harder to find in 2011, but that is only half the story. Until 1996 single mothers with no income were eligible for Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). Edin and Shaefer argue that extreme poverty rose after 1996 because Congress replaced AFDC with an even less generous welfare program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Because TANF benefits are much harder to get than AFDC benefits were, parents who cannot find a job are more likely to find themselves penniless.7
Prior to 1996 each state had its own AFDC program, with the federal government paying about half the cost in rich states and far more than half in poor states. States could set their AFDC benefits as high or low as they wanted, but in each state the eligibility rules had to meet a variety of federal requirements, one of which was that all legally eligible applicants were entitled to benefits. A state could not turn away eligible applicants because the legislature wanted to use the money for some other purpose or because a caseworker thought an applicant had loose morals.
All states still get federal money to cover part of TANF’s cost, but they now have more leeway in deciding how to spend such money. They can divert federal TANF funds to programs like financial aid for college students and pre-kindergarten programs, for example. Such programs are worthwhile, but they do nothing to help poor single mothers pay their electric bill or their rent. States also have almost complete freedom to decide what applicants must do to qualify for benefits and retain them. States can also shorten the federal time limit on TANF eligibility.
If states cut the cost of TANF by reducing the number of recipients, they can use the savings for other purposes. That gives state officials a strong incentive to discourageTANF applications. Potential applicants may have to spend weeks applying for jobs before they can apply for TANF. Or they may have to produce documents that they cannot find or do not know how to get. Understaffed welfare offices can create long lines that discourage applications. Many TANF applicants also report having been turned down with no explanation at all.
The opening chapter of $2.00 a Day describes a Chicago mother whom the authors call Modonna Harris. Harris graduated from high school and then took out loans to attend a private university. However, she got no financial help from her divorced parents, and when she hit her student loan ceiling at the end of her second year, she dropped out. Misadventures in love followed, and after her marriage broke up she had a child to support. The best job she could find was as a cashier, but after eight years her employer fired her because her cash drawer was $10 short. The store eventually found the missing $10, but it did not rehire Harris.
Harris looked for new jobs, without success. After her unemployment benefits ran out, a friend noticed that Harris had no food in her apartment for herself or her child and persuaded her to apply for TANF. The welfare office opened at 8:30 AM, so Harris showed up at 8:00. At least on that particular day, however, there were only enough appointment slots for applicants who had joined the line in the rain outside the welfare office before 7:30. After waiting most of the day, Harris left without having been given a chance to apply, convinced that TANF would never help her.
It is tempting to say that Harris was too easily discouraged. However, it is also tempting to say that in Illinois, as in most other states, TANF’s primary goal is not to protect children whose parents cannot find work by ensuring that their family has shelter, heat, light, food, and shoes, but to cut program costs by reducing the number of recipients. (California, which now accounts for a third of all TANF recipients, is a partial exception to this rule.)
State efforts to cut the TANF rolls have been quite effective. The overall unemployment rate, which is a fairly good proxy for how hard it is to find work, was almost twice as high in 2009 as in 1996. Yet the number of families getting TANF in 2009 was less than half the number getting AFDC in 1996.8 Edin and Shaefer write about meeting poor parents who said they didn’t know anyone who got TANF. Some parents thought welfare had been abolished, or that it was no longer accepting new applicants. This grim story deserves more attention than it has gotten, and Edin and Shaefer deserve a lot of credit for emphasizing it.
They also report a shift in social norms that may have made TANF shrink. When Edin interviewed single mothers in the early 1990s, they often told her that a good mother should stay home with her children. In 2012, even mothers who could not find work said they wanted a job rather than a welfare check, because a working mother set a better example for her children than a welfare mother did. This shift in attitude presumably encourages single mothers to keep looking for work, but it does not create more jobs for them. As a result, reducing access to TANF leaves more single mothers with neither a paycheck nor a welfare check. As Edin and Shaefer document in some of their saddest stories, such mothers often find jobs when times are good, but many of those jobs vanish when the economy slows. When single mothers can’t find work, they sell their plasma to hospitals and scavenge for cans and bottles in trash barrels. Sometimes they also sell sex or drugs. As a result, their income is usually meager and erratic.
One basic goal of welfare reform in the 1990s was to “make work pay,” and the Clinton administration created a new system that did just that. Instead of giving parents more help when they could not find work, the new system gives parents more help when they find and keep a steady low-wage job. When Modonna Harris worked as a cashier, Edin and Shaefer estimate that her take-home pay was about $1,325 a month. The government topped that up with another $160 a month in food stamps.
The Clinton administration also persuaded Congress to increase the Earned Income Tax Credit between 1993 and 1996, so when Harris was working she got a check from the US Treasury for about $3,800 a few weeks after filing her federal tax return. That check provided her with an additional $317 a month. Overall, the government supplemented Harris’s paycheck with benefits worth $477 a month. Once she lost her job, she stopped accumulating EITC benefits. Her food stamp benefits rose from $160 to $367 a month, but she was still getting $110 a month less than she had from food stamps and the EITCwhen she had a monthly paycheck.
Edin and Shaefer’s descriptions of families in extreme poverty are both convincing and deeply troubling. However, two potential objections to their analysis deserve discussion. First, the estimates of extreme poverty in $2.00 a Day almost never include the value of food stamps, rent subsidies, or EITC refunds for work during the previous calendar year. Those omissions mean that Edin and Shaefer underestimate the resources available to most families in extreme poverty.
In papers published elsewhere Shaefer and Edin show how their estimates of extreme poverty change when they treat the value of EITC refunds, food stamps, and rent subsidies like income. The second row of Table 1 shows that including these resources reduces the estimated prevalence of extreme poverty among households with children from 1.7 to 1.1 percent in 1996 and from 4.3 to 1.6 percent in 2011. Because the reduction is so much larger in 2011 than it was in 1996, the increase in extreme poverty between 1996 and 2011 falls from 2.6 to 0.5 percentage points. In other words, the growth of EITC refunds and noncash benefits offsets about four fifths of the decline in extremely poor families’ pretax money income between 1996 and 2011.
Edin and Shaefer argue that we should not view a SNAP card that buys $500 worth of groceries every month as equivalent to $500 in cash, because the SNAP card can only buy food, whereas cash can buy whatever a family thinks it needs most. That is true. But if a family of three were given $500 in cash and used it to pay the rent, they would have to depend on local soup kitchens and food pantries to eat. Such institutions do not exist everywhere, and they are not open every day even in the places where they do exist.
I think Edin and Shaefer’s objection to treating food stamps like cash derives from a more fundamental problem, which is that a single mother with two children needs more than $500 a month to survive. If Edin and Shaefer were to treat a single mother’s $500 worth of food stamps like money, food stamps alone would represent about $16 a day in income. Because they have set the extreme poverty threshold for a three-person family at only $6 a day, treating food stamps like cash would mean that, according to the standard they have set, no family that got food stamps could be in extreme poverty, even if they had no money at all for rent, heat, clothing, or other necessities.
That problem cannot be solved by replacing $500 worth of food stamps with $500 in cash. Unless a single mother with two children has a federal rent subsidy that limits her payments to 30 percent of her income, she will need both $500 in food stamps to eat and another $500 (or more) for shelter and other expenses. A more transparent approach would, I think, be to adopt a broader measure of economic resources that included the EITC, food stamps, and the rental value of subsidized or owner-occupied housing, and then to set the threshold for extreme poverty at something like half the official poverty line.
Another concern about Edin and Shaefer’s estimates of extreme poverty in $2.00 a Dayis that they include families whose income fell below $2 a day per person for even one month. If a single mother loses her job, has no relatives, no close friends, no romantic partner, and no assets she can sell or borrow against, one month without income can be catastrophic now that TANF is so hard to get. However, a single mother who has just lost her job often has some of those assets, as $2.00 a Day shows. When that is the case, her first month without income does not always mean that her family will go hungry, much less that they will all be put out on the street for not paying the rent. The longer she goes without income, however, the more likely she is to exhaust her relatives’ sympathy, her boyfriend’s willingness to bring over pizza for dinner, or the cash she had left from her EITC refund for her work during the previous year. There is no “one-size-fits-all” rule for deciding how long a family can survive without income, but for some, at least, one month need not be disastrous.
The fourth line in Table 1 shows that when Shaefer counted only those who had spent three or more months living on resources worth less than $2 a day, the prevalence of extreme poverty among households with children fell from 1.7 to 0.5 percent in 1996 and from 4.3 to 1.0 percent in 2011. This more stringent definition of extreme poverty among households with children clearly leads to a sharp reduction in its estimated prevalence. But it does not change the upward trend. The prevalence rises from 0.5 percent in 1996 to 1.0 percent in 2011, and the actual number rises from 189,000 to 373,000 households with children.
The best way to visualize how the economic lives of low-income families have changed since the 1960s is to track the flow of economic resources to households at different percentiles of the distribution. Figure 1 focuses on the bottom half of the resource distribution, showing changes at the second, fifth, tenth, and fiftieth percentiles. Each group’s resources are shown as a percentage of its resources in 1967. The labels for the lines identifying each of these four percentile are shown in boldface.9 I omit the top half of the resource distribution, because the rising share of income going to the top 1 percent is already so well known. I also omit the bottom 1 percent, because of doubts about the accuracy of the estimates.
Between 1967 and 1999 the resources flowing to the second and fifth percentiles grew by an average of two thirds, whereas the resources of the tenth and fiftieth percentiles grew by about half. As a result, inequality between the bottom and the middle of the resource distribution narrowed. This narrowing was driven primarily by the growth of food stamps and the EITC.
After 1999 this egalitarian trend reversed. The second, fifth, tenth, and fiftieth percentiles all suffered some reduction in their economic resources after 1999, whereas Figure 1 shows that the percentage decline was much larger at the second percentile than at the fifth, tenth, or fiftieth percentile. The fifth, tenth, and fiftieth percentiles also received about 50 percent more resources in 2012 than in 1967, but the second percentile received only 23 percent more, wiping out two thirds of its gains between 1967 and 1999.
Figure 1 supports my claim that Americans at the fifth and tenth percentiles are much better off today than they were in 1967. Those at the tenth percentile are counted as poor only because the poverty measure is flawed. However, the estimates in Figure 1 for the second percentile also support Edin and Shaefer’s claim that the poorest of the poor were a lot worse off in 2012 than in either 1996 or 1999. Had the federal government not handed their fate back to the states in 1996, these families might still be as well off as they were in 1999. That is not the kind of speculation that can be either verified or refuted; but it is worth serious consideration nonetheless.
About 1,000 Afghans have fled their homes due to fighting each day since the beginning of the year, and aid workers can’t reach many of them, the UN says.
Internal displacement due to conflict rose 40 percent from 2014 to 2015, and this year could see another increase. About 118,000 people fled their homes in the first four months of 2016, the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, said in a report yesterday.
“It’s been a rather alarming rise in the number of families displaced,” Stacey Winston, an OCHA spokeswoman in the Afghan capital, Kabul, told IRIN.
The northeastern province of Kunduz has been especially hard hit this year. So far, 22,400 people have been forced from their homes by fighting between the Taliban and government forces backed by international military.
Many of those displaced have been repeatedly forced from their homes.
The Taliban briefly took control of the provincial capital, Kunduz City, last October. In March, the insurgents surrounded the city, setting off improvised explosive devices that caused “widespread destruction” and sent 7,000 people fleeing into the homes of families and neighbours, OCHA said in its report. An assessment mission subsequently found as many as six families sheltering in one house.
On 15 April, the Taliban launched its “spring offensive” throughout the country, which was quickly followed by a counteroffensive by pro-government forces. Fighting has been raging in all seven districts of the province, with civilians caught in the crossfire, which has included the use of heavy artillery and airstrikes.
The situation is similar throughout much of the country. Of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, 24 have recorded some level of forced displacement this year, and a quarter of those displaced are in areas that are difficult to access.
Afghanistan’s rugged terrain adds to the challenges for agencies trying to provide humanitarian aid.
“We’re facing a double-edged sword,” said Winston. “We’re trying to reach people in remote areas, but also trying to reach people in conflict areas.”
For example, aid agencies know that 10,500 people are displaced in Dehrawud District in Uruzgan Province, but they can’t reach them. Agencies were initially able to conduct an assessment and found urgent health concerns, as well as food, water and shelter needs. But fighting has since blocked the road into the area, and displaced families have been stranded for weeks without help.
Likewise, the OCHA report notes, relief agencies have not managed to deliver aid to people displaced in districts outside of Kunduz City.
The situation doesn’t look like it’s going to improve anytime soon. Government security forces backed by their international allies are struggling to fend off the Taliban and other groups, while growing numbers of civilians are trapped in the middle.
All this has prompted some soul-searching among humanitarian agencies. The OCHA report asks: “In a year when the Taliban have gained more control of the countryside than ever before, is the UN and NGO part of the international aid community balanced to assist both sides of the conflict?”
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which announced last week it is pulling out of the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), is not the only organisation to feel anxiety about the event. When the summit launched, it promised to transform humanitarian action. Now it seems more likely the summit will confuse it to death.
Number four of the five core responsibilities set out for WHS, in UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon’s report One Humanity: Shared Responsibility, was that we should tear down the divisions between humanitarian and development work. He proposes merging the two, aligning humanitarian action behind the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and shifting its objective from delivering aid to ending need.
To most ears, I imagine that sounds pretty good. Inspirational, even; as thoughtful and as grand a dream as one can have. To my humanitarian ears, well, I hear alarm bells going off. And so did MSF.
The WHS misjudges the extent to which the distinctions between ‘humanitarian’ and ‘development’ form the lifeblood of the humanitarian endeavour. Making the SDGs the common overall results and accountability framework amounts to making over the ultimate goal of humanitarian action. Would you want ambulance teams to aim at strengthening the hospital system or improving nutrition? No. Shouldhumanitarians be held accountable for ending hunger? No. They should be held accountable for feeding people who are starving.
To be fair, the UN secretary general’s diagnosis of the problem strikes a depressingly accurate chord. The humanitarian/development divide imposes institutional divisions onto the real world of people in crisis. The urgency of food, water, healthcare or shelter needs in Syria or eastern DRC displaces but does not diminish the longer-term hopes and aspirations of people in terms of wanting economic progress, a functioning healthcare system or political empowerment. Short-term and long-term problems intermingle, perhaps especially in crisis situations and complex emergencies.
The aid system, for its part, functions in what research shows to be well-anchored structural, financial and cultural silos. Each are convinced of their own moral superiority and effectiveness, and the two sides do not talk to each other, often not even within the same organisation. Slap the label of “humanitarian crisis” on a situation and it becomes difficult to undertake development work. This has a particularly pernicious effect in protracted crises such as in South Sudan or eastern DRC, where humanitarian work resembles a 20-year series of one-year projects. The UN secretary general is right in thinking the system can and should do better. He is wrong in proposing convergence as the answer.
The humanitarian imperative is defined by the principle of humanity. In simple terms, its purpose is to fix the human being, not the system. Humanitarian action is thus defined as addressing the immediate needs of people caught up in crisis, by delivering relief aid and delivering it in accordance to the principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence. Ultimately, development and other long-term goods may be more important but to humanitarians they must remain goals of secondary value.
Why is this humanitarian specificity so important? Because the overwhelming majority of humanitarian needs are generated by war (the UN secretary general’s report puts the figure at over 80%) and war makes access tricky. To reach people in conflict, humanitarians have but one power, the power of trust. The people with the guns and bombs must be convinced that you seek to fix humans full stop. Distrust will flare if you come with an agenda to address the causes of their suffering, reinforce national authorities or stabilise fragile states. Building clinics for the Afghan government might support the SDGs, but the Taliban see it as part of a military and political strategy. That means not being able to reach millions of Afghans. Tragically, the perversity of war means that laudable goals on one side place humanitarians in the crosshairs on the other.
From dramatically different goals come dramatically different methods and approaches. In simple terms, maintaining neutrality and independence drives humanitarian actors towards “state avoidance” while development requires much more of a partnership approach.
Everyone should be frustrated with the travesty of humanitarian solutions being applied to protracted problems. A camp for displaced persons is a good place to find shelter, nutrition and (hopefully) safety; it is a terrible place to call home and raise your children. Similarly, it is unacceptable that in long-running crises like South Sudan or eastern DRC, decades of humanitarian response have left people no closer to functioning national services. But in the absence of those services, in the absence of development and peace and justice, humanitarian action is what keeps people alive.
The sensible solution is to let humanitarians deliver on the immediate needs, empower others to end those needs in the first place and ensure the two work better together. Folding humanitarian action into development, as WHS aims to do, is not the answer.
Marc DuBois is an independent consultant and researcher currently working with Here-Geneva. He is the former executive director of MSF-UK, and blogs here.
The “Grand Bargain” is the name for a package of reforms to humanitarian funding, launched at the World Humanitarian Summit. Thirty representatives of donors and aid agencies produced 51 “commitments” to make emergency aid finance more efficient and effective.
To some it hasn’t gone nearly far enough. Others say, given a few short months, the bureaucracies did well to find so much to agree on. To overhaul the complex budgeting and contracting of emergency aid is, according to Lilianne Ploumen, the Dutch development minister, “much more complicated than many people think”.
“It could be the Grand Bargain for business-as-usual unless there are more specific actions”, said Christina Bennett of London think tank, the Overseas Development Institute. “We need timelines and targets” or else it will be just “tinkering around the edges”.
A director at the World Bank, Colin Bruce, also said follow-up was a “big issue” to be taken up urgently. The Grand Bargain currently has no institutional home and future arrangements would likely be taken up in late June, he told IRIN.
Analyst Antonio Donini told IRIN it wouldn’t change “the power dynamics in the system,” being drawn up with “only the presence of “the oligopoly”. The group included just 15 donors and 15 aid agencies – together commanding the lion’s share of the world’s emergency aid spending.
The Grand Bargain agreement is not simply a cost-saving measure, but will produce annual savings of US$1 billion within five years, according to the group. This would represent only some five percent of current spending.
The process hasn’t been all smooth sailing. There was some “heat” in the negotiations, according to one participant. Another senior NGO official said some reforms had gradually been watered down in the negotiation process. For example, using cash to help people gets only a lukewarm endorsement in the final text. He explained that, for one, the US Congress was unlikely to embrace it, and (like many others), preferred a style of aid that produced “things you can take pictures of”, like tents, or a water well.
Some things are hard to change. A funding analyst said the big donors have little choice but to spend the bulk of their budgets through large multilateral UN agencies, which handle the largest grants in emergency aid. “Their job is to disperse money,” he said. This weakened donors’ ability to extract UN reforms, he said. However, there are few civil servants in aid ministries, partly because of economic, parliamentary and media pressure to reduce overheads. “The bilateral agencies [donors] have no choice but to dump massive amounts of money into the multilateral system,” he said.
Some of the measures to reduce bureaucracy and paperwork in the Grand Bargain may appear prosaic, but the relief from form-filling burden could be significant.International Committee of the Red Cross president Peter Maurer said “it was absurd to spend so much time and money for reporting that no one would read”. USAID administrator Gayle Smith noted ironically that she had recently received a “standing ovation” for talking about the topic of “uniform reporting requirements”.
Of the ten areas covered, two have gone further than others: transparency and funding of local and national aid agencies. Those hoping for major reform on cash-based aid and needs assessments are generally disappointed.
On transparency, the group committed to publish their financial data in a common open format within two years. Nils Carstensen of Local2Global protection, an NGO policy unit, said the current data situation “is so bad, it can only get better”, saying there are “huge unknowns” in the most basic tracing of funding flows.
Local NGOs too emerge winners. IRIN asked southern NGO activist Degan Ali, a driving force in the creation of the new NEAR Network, for a brief comment on the Grand Bargain. She simply said “25%”. She was referring to a target for local NGOs to get a quarter of international humanitarian funding by 2020. This would be many times more than the current proportion, and making a dent in the dominance of giant UN agencies and international NGOs. A greater embrace of local capacity would build “a culture of respect… of trust” and “shared risk”, said International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Secretary-General As Sy.
The pledge: “publish timely, transparent, harmonised and open high-quality data on humanitarian funding within two years”. The agreement notes that the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) data model is likely to be the agreed format. Several major donors already publish at least some of their information in this format. This should help accountability both upwards to the donor and downwards to the recipients of aid.
National and local responders
Since the latest figures indicate only 0.4% of emergency funding goes direct to local and national operators, the target of 25% by 2020 (even if “as directly as possible”) is high. Southern NGOs will likely receive more funding, on better terms, but will not easily shake off the sub-contracting relationship with the UN agencies and big international NGOs.
It’s a major disappointment to cash advocates that the Grand Bargain has no firm targets for the expanded use of cash, despite studies saying it is now beyond question that it works. The text is contradictory. On one hand, it says “using cash helps deliver greater choice and empowerment to affected people and strengthens local markets, but remains underutilised”. On the other, the paper calls for further research “to better understand its risks and benefits”.
Reduce duplication and management costs
While donors want their grantees to trim costs, recipient aid agencies also blame donor bureaucracy for adding friction to their transactions. “Reducing management costs depends upon reducing donors’ and aid organisations’ individual reporting requirements and oversight mechanisms,” the document states. Donors should “harmonise” boilerplate grant agreements. Aid agencies are obliged to be more open about their real costs “by the end of 2017” and meanwhile find savings from sharing back-office costs such as transport, logistics, IT and insurance.
The question of needs assessment is fraught. Critics say the aid agencies too often get to define the scale of the problem, pick where they wish to intervene and set their price tag. The Grand Bargain text tackles only a part of the problem of overlapping and duplicative assessments by involved aid agencies. It says donors and aid agencies will “provide a single, comprehensive, cross-sectoral, methodologically sound and impartial overall assessment of needs for each crisis to inform strategic decisions on how to respond and fund thereby reducing the number of assessments….” De-linking assessment from response, by example by commissioning independent assessments, was floated in earlier drafts but not the final text. Assessment specialists ACAPS call this a “Grand Step Sideways”.
A “participation revolution”
The end customers of aid often have little choice or influence in the services they get, and feedback mechanisms so far have had little impact in changing programme delivery. The Grand Bargain states that “we need to provide accessible information, ensure that an effective process for participation and feedback is in place and that design and management decisions are responsive to the views of affected communities and people”. The agreement invokes two different sets of guidelines for this, the Core Humanitarian Standard and the IASC Commitments to Accountability to Affected Populations. Donors will have to agree that programmes can change as a result of community feedback, while aid agencies have to show how they incorporate it into their programmes.
Multi-year planning and funding
In long-running crises, aid agencies often find themselves presenting similar programmes to donors year after year that have no longer-term goals and waste time and effort. The greatest proportion of humanitarian finding is issued on a 12-month cycle. The Grand Bargain target is for five countries to trial multi-year planning and funding by the end of 2017.
Donors typically earmark funds to specific projects, but it can become wasteful and encourage micro-management. The Grand Bargain suggests that various varieties of pooled funding mechanisms will expand. The UN’s CERF fund, which is a funding source for UN agencies from multiple donors, is likely to rise to one billion dollars a year. The goal to reduce earmarking is worded without much promise of enforceability: “The aim is to aspire to achieve a global target of 30 percent of humanitarian contributions that is non-earmarked or softly earmarked by 2020.” Measurable progress on this will depend heavily on classifications of earmarking, so the first action point is to determine what constitutes earmarking or “soft” earmarking. Interestingly, aid agencies who hope to enjoy less strings attached to their monies will also have to pass down the benefit – the smaller NGO sub-grantees of a major UN agency or NGO should also get less strings attached. Crticis note that an earlier initiative to reduce earmarking, Good Humanitarian Donorship, is not mentioned in the Grand Bargain text and has not been fully implemented.
The text is relatively straightforward, and puts more onus on the donors: “simplify and harmonise reporting requirements by the end of 2018 by reducing its volume, jointly deciding on common terminology, identifying core requirements and developing a common report structure“.
Enhance engagement between humanitarian and development actors
Combining emergency and development funds and agendas is a hot-button issue. Attempting to find a delicate balance, the text says “it is about working collaboratively across institutional boundaries on the basis of comparative advantage”. The general intent is broad (the Red Cross Movement has distanced itself from this section): “use existing resources and capabilities better to shrink humanitarian needs over the long term with the view of contributing to the outcomes of the Sustainable Development Goals. Significantly increase prevention, mitigation and preparedness for early action to anticipate and secure resources for recovery. This will need to be the focus not only of aid organisations and donors but also of national governments at all levels, civil society, and the private sector.”
Off on your first mission as an aid worker? Learn from the many, many mistakes of those who have gone before you
All aid workers have been there. Stepping off the plane, squinting into unfamiliar light, a freshly signed contract clutched in our jet-lagged hands – freshly minted aid workers arriving on our first ever mission. Just as at home – whether you’re national or international staff – you’re desperate to impress. But forget getting stuck in the lift or spilling coffee down your new shirt, aid environments provide entirely new ways to screw up on your first day. Even when knee-deep in post-typhoon mud, first impressions are everything. So here’s our toolkit for not putting your newly-sandalled foot in your mouth.
Getting ready to go
The eternal question is what to pack? The art of second-guessing what you’ll need in three weeks time takes on a different dimension when, by then, you might be halfway up the Congo river. You need to be extra careful with your baggage allowance. I’d suggest not, for example, panic-buying a child’s mattress, especially one in Barbie doll print, just because you heard en-route to post-tsunami Aceh in Indonesia that colleagues were sleeping on the floor. How my colleagues laughed when they showed me to my room, complete with a bed, in an actual house.
All I suffered was piss-taking, unlike my ecoconscious friend who took organic bug repellent to Sierra Leone. “Needless to say, I was down with malaria within a few weeks,” she remembers. But at least we did some research, unlike the American friend who, deployed to Russia, packed shot glasses. Or another headed for Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo who packed a tin of sweet potatoes. “I always cook Thanksgiving dinner wherever I am,” she says, in her defence. “I was worried about getting the ingredients.”
Oh, and one more thing: do actually sign the contract before you leave. Don’t just believe the nice man who tells you over the phone that they’ll sort it when you get to Haiti/Nepal/complete-as-applicable, or you could end up in a crisis zone with no medical insurance, no allowances, a salary half that of your colleagues – and a six-month fight to rectify it all.
Wrongly guessing the look at your destination is a classic error and easily done, no matter how hard you try. “Trying to be culturally appropriate my first day in Sudan, I wore what I thought were tasteful billowy clothes for a 50C summer day,” remembers one friend. “The head of human resources asked me if I was Amish.” On the other hand, blending in too well is also an issue. Another friend recalls landing in a remote area, jumping out of the helicopter, “and realising that, from a distance, my trousers and top looked exactly like the uniform of the militias that had been harassing people in the same area.”
Whatever you wear, though, do remember to bring more than one outfit. One friend – not even a rookie – was deployed to Aceh after the 2004 tsunami with only one pair of trousers packed. When, after two weeks of constant wear in the heat, he finally got a new pair, his long-suffering colleagues were so relieved they included it in the UN daily situation report, in bright pink, 24-point type. As proofreading was not a top priority at that point in the response, it wasn’t removed and landed up on desks from Downing Street to Canberra.
The moral of the story? Ask in advance. And always pack spare trousers.
Once arrived, get settled in. “On my first night in Kosovo, I had just got into the shower at the hotel when gunshots went off right outside my window,” remembers one colleague. “I turned off the lights, hit the deck, shimmied along the floor to get some clothes and went immediately down to the bar – where no one else had even noticed … My introduction to happy fire.”
Guesthouses can also be traps for the unwary. One colleague, who had never seen a generator, confesses: “I had to be told what the ‘roaring’ sound was.” Another, deployed to Myanmar after cyclone Nargis, came unstuck when she tried to do a little tidying up using some outsized rubbish bags she found. “It was only when I asked why the binbags were too big that a colleague told me they were actually bodybags,” she remembers.
All offices have their quirks, but field stations in particular can be more Heart of Darkness than David Brent and, generally speaking, challenging the boss never ends well. “In Gabon, in my first two weeks, I sat at the head of the table at the first all-staff meeting without thinking about it. It was the only empty chair left. You could almost hear the gasps, as if I, the only white westerner in the place, was deliberately trying to usurp ‘Madame’, the resident representative. It was downhill from there.”
Another useful tip: If you’re working in communications, as I was in my first posting, it’s best not to tell the head of the UNDP that they can’t put ‘capacity building’ into a press release because “it doesn’t mean anything”.
And finally, you might want to note that the requirement for everyone to have VHF radios and communicate with a central radio room basically means the end of privacy. To take another colleague’s experience: if you inform the radio operator – as per protocol – that you are going to a bar with the rest of the office and everyone checks back in when they are home except you and the logistician who reports his position as being in a hotel “with guest”, everyone – including all the drivers – will know what you were up to by the morning.
Public Health Comparisons:
U.S.: 60 percent
Hopital Albert Schweitzer: 125 percent
U.S.: 6 infant deaths per 1,000 live births
Haiti: 54 deaths per 1,000 live births
U.S.: 21 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births
Haiti: 350 deaths per 100,000 live births
Births accompanied by skilled attendants (%)
U.S.: 98.5 percent
Haiti: 37.3 percent total; 24.6 percent in rural Haiti
Sources: World Health Organization, UNICEF, HAS
Fleurilus Vilton Melyse trudges up and down miles of rugged, goat-track trails every week to deliver critical medical updates to some of Haiti’s most remote mountain communities.
Her primary directive this summer: Teach and motivate rural Haitians — most of whom lack electricity and Internet access — to thwart the spread of Zika, the mosquito-borne virus declared by the World Health Organization to be an international public health emergency.
Melyse, 45, is among 142 community health workers trained to do medical outreach for Hopital Albert Schweitzer, a 60-year-old institution in Haiti’s Artibonite Valley with Pittsburgh origins and a Strip District-based administrative staff.
Its 610-square-mile service area of about 350,000 people has combatted deadlier diseases in recent years, including HIV/AIDS and cholera, and mosquito-borne illnesses such as dengue and chikungunya, which causes debilitating joint pain and is carried by the same mosquito type that transmits Zika.
Yet, to Melyse, who was born in these rural mountains and is a mother of five, Zika elicits a heightened sense of trepidation and urgency because of its link to severe brain damage in babies whose mothers carry the Zika virus during pregnancy.
“I won’t always be here. The children, the next generation, they will be here to support Haiti,” Melyse said in her native French, translated for the Tribune-Review by a hospital official. “It’s really important for us to prevent this, because if it has a negative impact on the children, it has a negative effect on all of Haiti.
“I don’t want that for my country.”
Bracing for an outbreak
Mosquito-breeding season has begun in Haiti. June is typically its wettest summer month.
“It’s upon us, and that’s not anything we can change the schedule on,” said John R. Walton, board chairman for HAS, which has scrambled since January to develop a three-year, prevention-focused strategy for addressing Zika. “We’re very nervous.”
International observers and local health care officials are bracing for a potential outbreak that could further devastate the poorest country in the western hemisphere.
Zika is transmitted primarily by Aedes aegypti, a species of mosquito that thrives in tropical areas and exists in the southern United States, surfacing in warmer months.
The threat of widespread disease in Haiti is exacerbated by deficient water and sanitation systems, a severely under-resourced health care system and infrastructure that was weak or lacking even before the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 220,000 people and displaced millions.
Haiti has had more than 2,000 suspected cases of Zika since Jan. 15, about a dozen involving pregnant women, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. As of last week, HAS facilities alone had logged 684 suspected cases of Zika.
“Women who are already pregnant are more scared,” Melyse said. “Women who aren’t pregnant, there is a sense of worry.”
‘Prevention is priority’
The CDC concluded in mid-April that Zika causes birth defects including microcephaly, an affliction in which babies are born with smaller than normal heads and often smaller, improperly developed brains.
Not all women infected by Zika have babies with microcephaly; however, there is no known cure, and experts estimate it could take 18 months to two years before a reliable vaccine becomes available.
“We can’t wait two years to deal with this,” Walton said. “The thrust of our work is to try to prevent women from being pregnant when they get bit the first time.”
Nearly 6,000 rural Haitians — about 5,000 of whom were women — attended 185 education sessions on Zika hosted by HAS community health workers in the past three months. The HAS staff members stand out in their approach because they also tap into a network of more than 300 matrones, the less formally trained but well-trusted birth attendants embedded within rural communities.
Community workers go over the symptoms of Zika — joint pain, itchy rash, red eyes — and urge anyone experiencing them to get to a health post for evaluation. They stress the importance of eliminating unnecessary standing bodies of water and protecting pregnant women from mosquito bites.
Basic protectants in the United States like screens on windows of air-conditioned homes are practically nonexistent for these Haitians, who must collect and purify their own water supply and clear their own trash.
Some standing water is merely a factor of subsistence farming.
“If you’re working in a rice paddy, it’s hard to say you’re going to eliminate the standing water; it’s not going to happen pretty much,” Walton said.
Women are being urged to participate in family planning and hold off on pregnancy if they want to minimize risks.
“The faster we can react and get people the family planning materials and information they need,” said Jayson Samuels, major gifts manager for HAS, “the more successful we can be at stemming the tide of this thing.”
The hospital’s Zika response plan — developed in January and revised this month — focuses on strengthening the health care system’s outreach capacity, increasing data collection and building partnerships with organizations that work with children with disabilities. It calls for increased training to ensure any pregnant woman who has contracted Zika receives an ultrasound 18 to 20 weeks into pregnancy.
The nonprofit health care group is heeding close attention to the budding development of low-cost tests, vaccines and so-called Zika kits — packs advocated by the CDC that include the likes of a bed net, insect repellent, standing water treatment tabs and condoms.
The hope of HAS officials is that if the region can hold off a major outbreak for two years, a majority of the population will develop antibodies making them immune to the disease.
HAS, whose roots date to 1956 as the brainchild of public health pioneer and Pittsburgher Larry Mellon, has a $6 million annual budget, with 550 Haitian employees and five based in the Strip District.
It has succeeded in stemming deadlier problems than Zika, namely the cholera epidemic that infected 8 percent of Haitians through contaminated water and killed more than 9,000 between 2010 and 2014. HAS, which treated nearly 5,000 people at the height of the problem in 2011, had less than 30 cases last year.
“We’re hoping to see the same kind of impact here with Zika,” said Walton, “so that if women have already been exposed and then become pregnant, it won’t be an issue.”
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514 or .
Problems in countries far from home can somehow seem far easier to solve, says Courtney Martin. Far better to lean in and embrace complexity
Let’s pretend, for a moment, that you are a 22-year-old college student in Kampala, Uganda. You’re sitting in class and discreetly scrolling through Facebook on your phone. You see that there has been another mass shooting in the US, this time in a place called San Bernardino. You’ve never heard of it. You’ve never been to the US. But you’ve certainly heard a lot about the gun violence there. It seems like a new mass shooting happens every week.
You wonder if you could go there and get stricter gun legislation passed. You’d be a hero to the American people, a problem-solver, a lifesaver. How hard could it be? Maybe there’s a fellowship for high-minded people like you to go to the US after college and train as social entrepreneurs. You could start the nonprofit organisation that ends mass shootings, maybe even win a humanitarian award by the time you are 30.
Sound hopelessly naive? Maybe even a little deluded? It is. And yet, it’s not much different from how too many Americans think about social change in the global south.
If you asked a 22-year-old American about gun control in this country, she would probably tell you that it’s a lot more complicated than taking some workshops on social entrepreneurship and starting a nonprofit. She might tell her counterpart from Kampala about the intractable nature of the legislative branch, the long history of gun culture in this country and its passionate defenders, the complexity of mental illness and its treatment. She would perhaps mention the added complication of agitating for change as an outsider.
But if you ask that same 22-year-old American about some of the most pressing problems in a place like Uganda — rural hunger or girls’ secondary education or homophobia — she might see them as solvable. Maybe even easily solvable.
I’ve begun to think about this trend as the reductive seduction of other people’s problems. It’s not malicious. In many ways, it’s psychologically defensible; we don’t know what we don’t know.
If you’re young, privileged, and interested in creating a life of meaning, of course you’d be attracted to solving problems that seem urgent and readily solvable. Of course you’d want to apply for prestigious fellowships that mark you as an ambitious altruist among your peers. Of course you’d want to fly on planes to exotic locations with, importantly, exotic problems.
The reductive seduction is not malicious, but it can be reckless
First, it’s dangerous for the people whose problems you’ve mistakenly diagnosed as easily solvable. There is real fallout when well-intentioned people attempt to solve problems without acknowledging the underlying complexity.
There are so many examples. As David Bornstein wrote in the New York Times, over four decades of westerners working on clean water has led to “billions of dollars worth of broken wells and pumps. Many of them functioned for less than two years”.
One classic example: in 2006, the US government, the Clinton Foundation, the Case Foundation, and others pledged millions of dollars to Playpump, essentially a merry-go-round pump that produced safe drinking water. Despite being touted as the (fun!) answer to the developing world’s water woes, by 2007, a quarter of the pumps in Zambia (pdf) alone were in disrepair. It was estimated that children would need to “play” for 27 hours a day to produce the water Playpump promised.
We are easily seduced by aid projects that promise play. The Soccket, an energy-generating soccer ball, made a splash in 2011 when it raised $92,296 (£64,300) on Kickstarter. Three short years later, the company that created it wrote to its backers: “Most of you received an incredibly underwhelming product with a slew of manufacturing and quality control errors … In summary, we totally f*#ked up this Kickstarter campaign.”
Reading their surprisingly candid mea culpa, I couldn’t help but wonder where the equivalent message was to the kids in energy-starved areas whose high hopes were darkened by a defunct ball. In some cases, the reductive seduction can actively cause harm. In its early years, Toms Shoes — which has become infamous for its “buy one give one” business model, giving a pair of shoes for every one sold — donated American-made shoes which could potentially put local shoe factory workers out of jobs.
Second, the reductive seduction of other people’s problems is dangerous for the people whose problems you’ve avoided. While thousands of the country’s best and brightest flock to far-flung places to ease unfamiliar suffering and tackle foreign dysfunction, we’ve got plenty of domestic need.
In a chilling essay, CZ Nnaemeka calls this underserved American demographic – single mothers, veterans, the elderly – the “unexotic underclass” and argues that entrepreneurs have missed a huge opportunity. “The unexotic underclass has big problems, maybe not the Big Problems – capital B, capital P – that get ‘discussed’ at Davos. But they have problems nonetheless.”
Poverty in the world’s largest economy remains far from being eradicated, with a US Census Bureau report revealing that nearly one in three Americans experienced poverty for at least two months between 2009 and 2011. Photograph: Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images
There is tremendous need and opportunity in the US that goes unaddressed. There’s a social dimension to this: the “likes” one gets for being an international do-gooder might be greater than for, say, working on homelessness in Indianapolis. One seems glamorous, while the other reminds people of what they neglect while walking to work.
I understand the attraction of working outside of the US. There’s no question that the scale and severity of need in so many countries goes far beyond anything we experience or witness stateside. Why should those beautiful humans deserve any less of our best energy just because we don’t share a nationality?
And I’m not arguing that staying close to home inoculates kids, especially of the white, privileged variety, like me, from making big mistakes.
But don’t go because you’ve fallen in love with solvability. Go because you’ve fallen in love with complexity.
Don’t go because you want to do something virtuous. Go because you want to do something difficult.
Don’t go because you want to talk. Go because you want to listen.
Don’t go because you loved studying abroad. Go because, like Molly Melching, you plan on putting down roots. Melching, a native of Illinois, is widely credited with ending female genital cutting in Senegal. But it didn’t happen overnight. She has been living in and around Dakar since 1974, developing her organisation, Tostan, and its strategy of helping communities collectively address human rights abuses. Her leadership style is all about finely calibrated moments of risk – when she will challenge a local leader, for example – and restraint – when she will hold off on challenging because she hasn’t yet developed enough trust with him. That kind of leadership doesn’t develop during a six-month home stay.
There’s a better way. For all of us. Resist the reductive seduction of other people’s problems and, instead, fall in love with the longer-term prospect of staying home and facing systemic complexity head on. Or go if you must, but stay long enough, listen hard enough so that “other people” become real people. But, be warned, they may not seem so easy to “save”.
“This is the latest in a long history of U.S.-sponsored programs which have destabilized Haiti’s agricultural sector,” deplored the campaigners. | Photo: Reuters
Ostensibly a donation, flooding Haiti with peanuts could wipe out the country’s struggling domestic producers.
As part of its “Stocks for Food” program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to ship 500 metric tons of peanuts to Haitian schools, which could destroy Haiti’s peanut market and the livelihood and income of 150,000 peanut farmers and their families, warned the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, a non-profit based in Boston, Massachusetts.
“This is the latest in a long history of U.S.-sponsored programs which have destabilized Haiti’s agricultural sector, further impoverishing the nation and increasing its dependence on foreign aid,” the group said in a statement, noting that “President Clinton had to apologize for one such misguided program in the 1990s.”
Echoing a message from the “Haitian diaspora,” the human rights group urged U.S. citizens to call their representatives and demand them to pressure the Department of Agriculture to immediately call off the program.
Meanwhile, other voices are speaking out against renewed U.S. interference in Haiti’s political crisis after U.S. proconsul Kenneth Merten visited the country last week.
Merten, U.S. State Department’s special coordinator for Haiti, discussed with various political leaders and members of the civil society the situation in the country, as an ad hoc independent commission was recently set up in order to evaluate serious allegations of massive fraud in the results of October first round elections.
“We hope it is very, very quick and does not change the results of the election,” Merten said.
Washington will have to “look very carefully at what we do moving forward” if there appears to be any manipulation, he said.
The election was postponed in January after sometimes-violent protests over allegations of fraud in the first round.
The results of the first round in October put Jovenel Moise in first place and Jude Celestin in second for a runoff, but Celestin and other candidates rejected the outcome as fraudulent. An interim government has been running the country since the last president’s term ended in February.
On Thursday, a top election official said Haiti willnot meet a deadline to complete its presidential election by April 24, without giving a new date to hold the already delayed vote in the impoverished Caribbean country.
Various political parties and organizations called for mobilizations on Wednesday in order to pressure an investigation into election fraud and to denounce U.S. interference in the political process.
The author is an Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of ESCAP. She has been the UN’s Sherpa for the G20 and previously served as Governor of the Central Bank of Pakistan and Vice President of the MENA Region of the World Bank. The full Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2016 may be downloaded free of charge at http://www.unescap.org/publications/economic-and-social-survey-asia-pacific.
BANGKOK, Thailand , Apr 28 2016 (IPS) – The Asia-Pacific region’s successful achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development needs to be driven by broad-based productivity gains and rebalancing of economies towards domestic and regional demand. This is the main message of the Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2016, published today by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. Such a strategy will not only underpin the revival of robust and resilient economic growth, but also improve the quality of growth by making it more inclusive and sustainable.
How should Asia-Pacific policymakers go about implementing such a strategy? Approaches by developing Asia-Pacific economies that are tilted more towards reliance on export-led economic recovery will be ineffective under the current circumstances. Despite extraordinary measures, global aggregate demand remains weak and China’s economic expansion is moderating. The impact of further loosening of monetary policy is also likely to remain muted, and is not advisable. The key reason is a confluence of macroeconomic risks that are clouding the economic outlook, such as low commodity prices affecting resource-dependent economies, volatility in exchange rates, as well as growing private household and corporate debt, the impact of which is likely to be complicated by the ambiguous path of interest rate increases to be pursued by the United States.
The contribution of export-led economic growth to overall development of economies, supported by low interest rates and rising private debt, seems to have plateaued, with economic growth in developing Asia-Pacific economies in 2016 and 2017 forecast to marginally increase to 4.8% and 5% respectively from an estimated 4.6% in 2015. This is considerably below the average of 9.4% in the pre-crisis period of 2005-2007.
Along with the economic slowdown, progress in poverty reduction is slowing, inequalities are rising and prospects of decent employment are weakening. At the same time, rapid urbanization and a rising middle class are posing complex economic, social, and environmental and governance challenges. Such conditions can undermine the significant development successes of the region in recent decades, making it more difficult to deal with the unfinished development agenda, such as lifting 639 million people out of poverty. Had inequality not increased, approximately 200 million more people could have been lifted out of poverty in the three most populous countries of the region alone.
To overcome these challenges, revive the region’s economic dynamism and effectively pursue the 2030 Agenda, policymakers are advised to use all available policy levers, including countercyclical fiscal policy and supportive social protection measures, which critically calls for raising domestic resources. Such interventions would not only support domestic demand but also strengthen the foundations for future productivity-led growth by targeting areas such as: labour quality, including knowledge, skills, and health of the workforce; innovation through trade, investment and R&D; adequate infrastructure in transport, energy and ICT; and access to finance, especially by SMEs.
Fiscal measures, underpinning such initiatives, should be accompanied by sustained reforms towards efficient and fair tax systems which deliver the necessary revenues for the required investment in sustainable development
Sustained increases in domestic demand will also require steady growth in real wages. This requires linking labour productivity more closely to wage levels. Strengthening the enabling environment for collective bargaining is one necessary component in the policy arsenal of governments, with the enforcement of minimum wages as another important policy tool.
After increasing significantly over the last few decades, productivity growth has declined in recent years. This is worrying not only because wage growth has lagged behind productivity growth, but also because wage growth ultimately depends on productivity growth. Specifically, compared to the period 2000-2007, annual growth of total factor productivity has declined by more than 65% in developing countries of the region, averaging only 0.96% per year between 2008 and 2014; labour productivity growth has declined by 30%, reaching just 3.9% in 2013.
The recently-adopted Sustainable Development Goals provide an entry point to strengthen productivity. For instance, raising agricultural productivity and thus lifting rural households income must be the center of the focus to end poverty (Goal 1), to end hunger and achieve food security (Goal 2). This is because agriculture accounts for one in four workers in the region and more than half of the region’s people live in rural areas. Efforts to eradicate poverty and increase agricultural productivity would also foster development of the rural sector and encourage industrialization (Goal 9).
Higher levels of productivity in agriculture will also free-up labour, which would be available to work in the non-agricultural sector. It is therefore imperative to consider a broader development strategy that moves towards full and productive employment (Goal 8) to accommodate the “agricultural push” of labour. This will require mechanisms to provide, particularly those with low skills, access to quality education and lifelong learning (Goal 4).The need to provide quality education cannot be overemphasized in view of the skills bias of modern technology, which reduces the pace of absorption of unskilled labour released from the agricultural sector.
Thus, whereas the Goals will contribute to strengthening productivity, importantly, strengthening productivity will also contribute to the success of a number of the Goals, creating a virtuous cycle between sustainable development, productivity and economic growth.
The pastoralists of Ethiopia’s Somali region are forced to move constantly in search of pasture and watering holes for their animals. Credit: William Lloyd-George/IPS
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 28 2016 (IPS) – Ten presidents and prime ministers from around the world will work together to resolve the growing global water crisis amid warnings that the world may face a 40 percent shortfall in water availability by 2030.
The figures continue to be staggering: despite improvements, at least 663 million still do not have access to safe drinking water.
And projecting into the future, the United Nations says an estimated 1.8 billion people – out of a total world population of over 7 billion – will live in countries or regions with water scarcities.
The crisis has been aggravated by several factors, including climate change (triggering droughts) and military conflicts (where water is being used as a weapon of war in several war zones, including Iraq, Yemen and Syria).
The High Level Panel on Water, announced jointly by the the United Nations and World Bank last week. is expected to mobilise financial resources and scale up investments for increased water supplies. It will be co-chaired by President Ameenah Gurib of Mauritius and President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico. The other eight world leaders on the panel include: Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australia; Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh; János Áder, President of Hungary; Abdullah Ensour, Prime Minister of Jordan; Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands; Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa; Macky Sall, President of Senegal; and Emomali Rahmon, President of Tajikistan.
At a UN panel discussion last week, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson of Sweden said water lies at the nexus between sustainable development and climate action.
“If the water service fee is beyond a household’s ability to pay, it is a human rights violation.” — Darcey O’Callaghan, Food and Water Watch.
Referring to the two extremes in weather patterns– droughts on the one hand and floods on the other – Eliasson said one of his colleagues who visited Pakistan after a huge flood, remarked: “Too much water and not a drop to drink.”
When world leaders held a summit meeting last September to adopt the UN’s post-2015 development agenda, they also approved 17 SDGs, including the elimination of extreme poverty and hunger and the provision of safe drinking water to every single individual in the world – by a targeted date of 2030.
But will this target be reached by the 15 year deadline?
Sanjay Wijesekera, Associate Director, Programmes, and Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at the UN children’s agency UNICEF, told IPS: “As we enter the SDG era, there is no doubt that the goal to get ‘safely managed’ water to every single person on earth within the next 15 years is going to be a challenge. What we have learned from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is that water cannot be successfully tackled in isolation.”
He said water safety is compromised every day from poor sanitation, which is widespread in many countries around the world, particularly in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
Currently, nearly two billion people worldwide are estimated to be drinking water which may be faecally contaminated.
As a result, UNICEF and others working on access to safe water, will have to redouble their efforts on improving people’s access to and use of toilets, and especially to end open defecation.
“As we address water, sanitation and hygiene, we must also take into account climate change. Droughts, floods, and extreme weather conditions all have an effect on the availability and the safety of water,” said Wijesekera.
He also pointed out that some 160 million children under-5 live in areas at high risk of drought, while around half a billion live in flood zones.
Asked how best the water crisis can be resolved, Darcey O’Callaghan, International Policy Director at Food and Water Watch, told IPS the global water crisis must be addressed in two primary ways.
“First, we must provide clean, safe, sufficient water to all people because water is a human right. Affordability is a key component of meeting this need. Second, we must protect water sustainability by not overdrawing watersheds beyond their natural recharge rate.”
“If we allow water sources to run dry, then we lose the ability to protect people’s human rights. So clearly, we must address these two components in tandem,” she said.
To keep water affordable, she pointed out, it must be managed by a public entity, not a private, for-profit one. Allowing corporations to control access to water (described as “water privatization”) has failed communities around the globe, resulting in poor service, higher rates and degraded water quality.
Corporations like Veolia and Suez — and their subsidiaries around the world—are seeking to profit off of managing local water systems, she said, pointing out that financial institutions like the World Bank and regional development banks often place conditions on loans to developing countries that require these systems to be privatized.
“But this is a recipe for disaster. Profits should not be the priority when it comes to providing water and sanitation services to people”, said O’Callaghan.
Asked if the public should pay for water, she said there is no longer any question that water and sanitation are both human rights. What the public pays for is water infrastructure upkeep and the cost of running water through the networks that deliver this resource to our homes, schools, businesses and government institutions.
“The UN has established guidelines for water affordability –three percent of household income—and these guidelines protect the human right to water. If the water service fee is beyond a household’s ability to pay, it is a human rights violation.”
One approach that has shown promise are public-public partnerships (PPPs). In contrast to privatization, which puts public needs into the hands of profit-seeking corporations, PPPs bring together public officials, workers and communities to provide better service for all users more efficiently.
PUPs allow two or more public water utilities or non-governmental organizations to join forces and leverage their shared capacities. PPPs allow multiple public utilities to pool resources, buying power and technical expertise, she said.
The benefits of scale and shared resources can deliver higher public efficiencies and lower costs. These public partnerships, whether domestic or international, improve and promote public delivery of water through sharing best practices, said O’Callaghan.
How would it sound, if African media reported US elections in the same tone as Western media report on polls in Africa and elsewhere?
Pressure is mounting on the Obama regime to allow international observers and peacekeepers after tribal violence marred election campaigns in the troubled north American nation.
In Addis Ababa, an emergency meeting was called by African leaders to demand a return to rule of law in America, after pro-regime militants attacked a rally addressed by popular opposition leader Donald Trump in Chicago.
“Unless America allows independent international groups to monitor the poll and for peacekeepers to move in and restore order, the poll is a sham and cannot be declared free and fair,” the African Union said.
America refuses to allow independent observers in, only inviting a small observer mission from the EU, a known crony of the regime. “We will only allow friendly states to observe our polls, not hostile nations that come here with predetermined positions,” the White House said.
Bloody clashes have been witnessed in St Louis, a city with a long history of tribal and sectarian conflict.
Raising fears of an escalation of tensions, Trump has threatened to mobilize his youth militia to disrupt the rallies of rival Bernie Sanders, an aging socialist candidate.
Explaining the weekend’s clashes, America experts – based at Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, Mozambique, Southern Africa – say Illinois has longstanding, deep-seated ethnic and sectarian tensions that are sure to boil over if the Obama regime does not allow UN peacekeepers before the hotly contested polls in November.
Witnesses said the militants bused in to attack the Trump rally could be heard chanting “Alright”, a racially charged anthem popular among the minority black tribes. The rap song is by Kendrick Lamar, a radical dissident musician from the restive enclave of Compton.
African leaders have also urged contestants to end hate speech and tone down on any rhetoric likely to incite violence. They cited hate speech by Marco Rubio, a member of the Cuban tribe, targeted at Trump’s manhood. Critics say such remarks may lead to an escalation of tensions and cause violence.
The election has also been marred by reports of widespread voter fraud. Sanders has complained of voter fraud after a controversial narrow loss in the Iowa region to party rival Hillary Clinton, wife of former regime leader Bill.
Trump himself has claimed voter fraud in the region of Florida, raising serious concern in the international community about the credibility of the forthcoming poll.
There are also concerns over blatant attacks on media freedom. The International Committee for the Protection of Journalists condemned attacks on journalists during the campaign. One reporter covering the violence had been arrested, in a clear attempt by the regime to cover up the sham poll.
Trump is appealing to nationalist sentiment by accusing the Obama regime of allowing too many immigrants through the country’s porous southern border. His nationalist message has resonated with many among the majority white ethnic group, and especially with the red neck tribes of the impoverished southern parts of the country.
Amid surging support for Trump, many leaders of the Republican Party are plotting to disregard the votes of party supporters and block Trump’s candidacy.
“Republican party leaders must accept the will of the people,” the African Union said in a statement.
The grass is always greener elsewhere for western expats, says one development worker.
‘Many of the aid workers I met seemed to be trying to escape something but not quite succeeding.’ Photograph: Narendra Shrestha/EPA
If I had to describe the western expat aid workers I’ve worked with in one word, it would have to be ‘hyper’. Most of the time they’re running around the office – hardly ever on the ground in the communities they’re meant to work in – checking, controlling, advising, shouting, trying to help, working late into the night. I’ve seen locals stare at them like they are a TV show on fast forward.
My first real field experience was in Nepal, in a village in the middle of nowhere, where I shared a flat with Nepalese colleagues. We had a rule that there would be no work talk after 6pm – and we all stuck to it. The village was tiny and there was nothing else to do other than having dinner and a couple of beers once a week in the only local restaurant. I was always careful not to drink too much and shock my Nepalese colleagues.
Kathmandu, on the other hand, was a different world. I’d travel there every couple of months to dive into the real expat world – the hyper one, as I would call it. Almost all the expats I met there were Europeans or Americans, always on a sort of high from their field experience. Even after 9pm, they couldn’t stop talking about work, issues they encountered, failed aid, and how things could be improved. I hardly heard of their families and friends there or back home.
Don’t get me wrong – sitting in a pub and talking to people who shared cultural references with me was great. But I couldn’t help think that the high concentration of expats was rather weird. All of them were full of energy until their last drink – alcohol seemed the only way to get them to turn off. They would find any possible way to invent a crazy adventure – such as hiring a rickshaw at 3am for the equivalent of the average Nepalese weekly wage, driving it drunk and risking their lives in doing so. They were teenagers on a trip to Nepal by night, slightly cocky aid workers by day.
After Nepal, I travelled to a number of other countries, mainly staying in capital cities, and while I encountered some expats who had really tried to integrate into their host communities, most of the rest lived completely detached lives from the country they were working in. You know the stereotype; they have a fancy house with a cook and guards, earn twice as much as the yearly local GDP in a single month, and sneak off to parties at the UN compound during curfew hours.
I sound judgmental here because this is not how I’d like a foreigner to live in my country when they come to help or support. I understand they need to decompress, particularly when working in an emergency setting, but how you do that is something I have always questioned.
What I also found weird is that most of these men and women seemed unhappy. Whining is a favourite sport of the usual expat: everything in the management is wrong, the office is not right, things do not work in the organisation, in the system, in the country, in the world.
They all seemed to be trying to escape something but not quite succeeding. Everything needed to be fixed constantly, no matter if it was work, the home, the friendship or the relationship. No matter where you were or what was improving, the grass was always greener on the other side – hence the constant need to hop to another disaster, another country.
Of those I became closer to, I often learned of incredibly painful family histories, and saw little recognition that they might be escaping one desperate situation to solve another distant one – one with people they could never really get attached to.
For many aid workers, returning home too is difficult. Whenever an aid worker friend of mine returns home from Somalia to southern France he feels like fleeing: family reunions and shopping malls give him panic attacks.
This is not unusual. When I returned home, I also wondered if I had actually been one of the hyper aid workers I’ve just described, looking for an escape. It took me two years to finally stop dreaming about Afghanistan or Congo, to withdraw from the adrenaline, the high you get, and the constant feeling of having to fix anything I could see. It also took me the same amount of time in therapy to realise I could live back home, face some of my issues and even enjoy a gentler pace of life without trying to prove myself all the time.
Of course, there are many aid workers who might not always have been like the expats who frustrated me. But more recently I’ve started wondering whether for some, choosing a career as an aid worker might be the hidden symptom of earlier trauma in life and not solely the beginning of an adventure. They can’t deal with their own issues, so they make it their mission to desperately try to put a stop to everyone else’s pain.
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