Economic and Social Development Issues

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DEVELOPMENT: Secret aid worker: is humanitarian work a career for escapists?

By:       23 February 2016      TheGuardian

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.

Do you have a secret aid worker story you’d like to tell? You can contact us confidentially at globaldevpros@theguardian.com – please put “Secret aid worker” in the subject line. If you’d like to encrypt your email to us, here’s instructions on how to set up a PGP mail client and our public PGP key.

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DEVELOPMENT: Secret aid worker: who will save the white saviours from themselves?

I see subtle forms of racism all around me. Others call it charity

‘This is Africa’ has become an excuse to do what we damn well please. Photograph: Matthew Simmons/WireImage

When one lives surrounded by well-intentioned, yet gravely mistaken colonialists, missionaries and aid workers, you settle into a jaded state fairly quickly. I live in a town full of westerners who don’t integrate. Fraternising with the natives is next to unheard of – unless, of course, you are sleeping with them. There are western restaurants, and local ones. The signs outside don’t say “no blacks allowed” but the prices do.

Many westerners come to my town to adopt an African child, yet hate Africa. They complain about the circumstances and culture for as long the adoption takes before they whisk their new child off to the land of the free and the brave.

I have seen this interaction labeled as a form of the modern day slave trade. It seems extreme to parallel the two. Adoption can be healing for so many children. However, more often than not westerners are coming and buying children at an exorbitant price. Children that are adopted internationally are often not the ones that truly need it, and more importantly they are not given a choice in the trauma that comes from uprooting one’s entire culture and identity. Instead, through their new parents’ actions and attitudes, they are told that Africa is a bad place and in need of saving. Some even grow to resent their own roots, thinking their biological family and country of origin failed them.

The evidence is right in front of us. It is racism. Yet we call it charity. We tie it with a big, red “Jesus loves you and so do I” bow and pat ourselves on the back. Our actions are reckless. Most give little thought to those we are “helping”, “serving” or, worse of all, “saving”. We are set on our own agenda of self-gratification.

We post on social media about the gallant acts of saving Africa – one child at a time. We post victims of rape, child abuse, and worse, all in the name of “sharing the heartache and heartbreak of Africa”. Because Jesus wants you to know about this broken place.

I worry that in Christian aid worker circles the lack of regulations and the exaltation of the white saviour complex is the perfect storm for a development disaster. Standards that most aid organisations hold themselves to do not apply to missionaries, simply because they believe they have been sent by God. Who needs degrees when one has been called and commissioned? This belief drives those who are ill-equipped to travel here to “save” others, an act applauded back home, but those living in poverty deserve better.

We know how large Africa is, yet we know that our admirers in our home countries don’t. We spoon feed them the story of a broken, yet beautiful, continent (or country depending on your cultural intelligence) knowing they will hang on our every ostentatious word.

While this is racism, in this form it is harder to detect. There are no sit-ins, protests or rallies. We have made it seductive, sexy even, through victimising those we are helping.

Instead, our white guilt has fashioned this new face of racism, equally as dangerous and scarily subtle. Often the beneficiaries of our aid and mission sit idly by because they know speaking out could cost them their job, their support, their stability. To brush aside this as an issue is the epitome of what racism is.

In this town of more than 100 NGOs I know of only a handful who are respectful to local staff. If we are truly here to help we should support our local staff to be leaders, who can stand up to foreigners without fear that they might lose their income or supportive services.

The day I knew I had succeeded was the day my staff told me I was wrong. I had the humility that day to listen – I hope this is something other aid workers can do.

This article was amended on 26 April 2016 to remove personal details.

Do you have a secret aid worker story you’d like to tell? You can contact us confidentially at globaldevpros@theguardian.com – please put “Secret aid worker” in the subject line. If you’d like to encrypt your email to us, here’s instructions on how to set up a PGP mail client and our public PGP key.

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DEVELOPMENT: Expat wages up to 900% higher than for local employees, research shows

A survey of 1,300 local and expat workers found a wage gap that ranges from 400-900% and causes significant resentment among local workers

A perception of inequality between local and expat workers causes resentment and disillusionment. Photograph: Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images

Imagine finding out that your colleagues earn five times more than you. Not only that, but they get all sorts of benefits you’re not eligible for.

They take a month of leave; you get 12 days. Your employer pays for their accommodation, health insurance and even their children’s school fees; you don’t get any of that.

But you have comparable skills and qualifications. You do the same work. In fact, you understand the context of your work better than your higher-paid colleagues.

So why are they earning so much more than you? What if you found out it was simply because of your nationality?

In the humanitarian aid and development sector, this is the reality. Local staff are paid far less and receive fewer benefits than their expatriate colleagues, even when they do similar work and have similar qualifications.

We’ve studied the effects of the wage gap between local and international staff working in lower-income countries in an ESRC-funded project called Addup (Are Development Discrepancies Undermining Performance?). We call this differential treatment the dual salary system.

Expatriates are often quick to dismiss dual salary systems as a non-issue. But local workers told us a different story. They said disparities created significant feelings of workplace injustice. They felt less valued than their expatriate colleagues.

Wage disparities are often a taboo topic, especially when power relations are involved. Socially responsive and accountable research such as the Addup project can “speak truth to power”. This is especially important because differential treatment between international and local aid workers may undermine international aid programs.

She warns that large pay gaps “may be undermining poverty-reduction initiativesbefore they even reach the community”.

The OECD wants wealthy countries to spend 0.7% of their gross national income on foreign aid. While the UK met this target two years ago and enshrined it in law, Australia’s aid budget has been slashed. The Lowy Institute says the former Abbott government’s cuts to foreign aid were the largest ever and will mean Australia’s aid expenditure falls to just 0.22% of gross national income.

With the aid program already under pressure, the negative effects of pay disparities may be making it even more difficult for programs to achieve their goals.

Causes of the wage gap

The wage and benefits gap cannot be explained by differences in experience or skills. Addup compared local and expatriate workers doing similar work with equivalent skills and experience. Rather, dual salaries exist because expatriates originate from higher-income economies and labour markets.

Appropriately enough perhaps, dual salaries are popularly referred to in some Pacific countries as “economic apartheid”. Having this kind of nomenclature in the aid sector is ironic considering its poverty-reduction aim.

The dual salary system is a difficult structural inequity that makes it hard for many workers in aid and development – both local and international staff alike – to work together, support each other and achieve project goals.

How big is the gap?

Our research measured the size of the wage gap and its effects on workers in six lower-income countries: India, China, Malawi, Uganda, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.

We surveyed nearly 1,300 local and expatriate workers from around 200 organisations. These organisations were drawn from the aid, education, government and business sectors of the six countries. Participants worked in a range of job roles, from teachers, to engineers, to doctors and managers, with expertise in areas such as microfinance, child labour, program administration and much more. The organisations draw aid funding from governments and donors around the globe.

Across the Addup sample, local staff were paid four times less on average than their international counterparts. This was despite having similar education and experience. In Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, the average rose to nine. In individual cases the difference was far greater. Alarmingly, 80% of local workers said that their pay was not sufficient to meet their everyday needs.

Disparities are not limited to salaries. They include accommodation allowances, vehicles, household staff, school fees, insurance and other benefits. These commonly form part of expatriate packages that are not available to local staff.

And while Addup is to date perhaps the most detailed study of pay disparities in the humanitarian sector, research from the corporate sector has had similar findings. A study of local and expatriate managers in multinational companies in Singapore, for example, found salary disparities were causing resentment and dissatisfaction among local managers.

The Singaporean study found that dissatisfaction relating to disparities ultimately reduces productivity and encourages high staff turnover.

Local brain drain

Our research also found that dual salary systems were contributing to a brain drain because talented local staff often leave their home countries for higher-paying jobs overseas.

This may make it hard for the humanitarian sector to achieve its goals of building capacity in aid recipient countries and increasing local ownership of development initiatives.

So what is the solution? Many NGOs are aware of the issue and concerned about it. Together with NGO umbrella organisation CHS Alliance (formed by the merger of Hap International and People in Aid) and Birches Group, we are working to develop evidence-informed good practice in the domain of sustainable livelihood and living wages for aid and humanitarian workers.

This partnership named ProjectFair hopes to identify wage policy options that align with local workforce aspirations and can ensure sustainable human services in the aid and development sector.

The new round of global development goals – the sustainable development goals (SDGs) – has highlighted the importance of decent work, reducing inequality and enabling sustainable livelihoods for the eradication of poverty everywhere.

If the SDGs are to avoid the criticisms of their predecessors, the millennium development goals, we will need to vertically integrate global goals with local, everyday workplace practices. This project, focused as it is on everyday workplaces and organisational policies, is an example of that kind of process, in an area we can all make a difference.

Stuart C Carr ia a lecturer in the industrial and organisational psychology programme at Massey University in New Zealand. Ishbel McWha-Hermann is an early career fellow in international human resource management at the University of Edinburgh

This article was originally published on the Conversation. Read the original articlehere.

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DEVELOPMENT: What the Panama Papers Mean for Global Development

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage     IPS

Tax justice campaigners in Kenya. Credit: Zahra Moloo/IPS

Tax justice campaigners in Kenya. Credit: Zahra Moloo/IPS

UNITED NATIONS, Apr 12 2016 (IPS) – The financial secrecy and tax evasion revealed by the Panama Papers has an extraordinary human cost in developing countries and threatens the realisation of the UN’s ambitious Sustainable Development Goals.

The ongoing leak — made public by media outlets including German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, theInternational Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) – has already prompted protests and investigations around the world. The papers connect thousands of prominent figures to secretive offshore companies in 21 tax havens and reveal the inner workings of the offshore finance industry.

The documents focus on Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, with its 210,000 entities, and has led to allegations that the firm aided public officials and multinational corporations to avoid taxes. Mossack Fonseca say that media reports have misrepresented the nature of their work and its role in global financial markets.

In one case, leaked emails contained in the Panama Papers suggest that the Heritage Oil and Gas Ltd Company (HOGL), sought help from Mossack Fonseca to sidestep tax laws in Uganda. According to ICIJ, upon the sale of an oil field, the company received a tax bill of $404 million. In an effort to avoid paying the taxes, the entity fought the Ugandan courts and meanwhile tried to relocate to Mauritius, according to the leaked emails.

Mauritius has a double tax agreement with Uganda, allowing companies such as HOGL to only pay taxes in one of the two countries. In 2000, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) listed Mauritius as a preferred location for companies due to its minimal tax laws.

These havens deny developing countries such as Uganda of much needed tax revenue for essential services, Oxfam’s Senior Tax Policy Advisor Tatu Ilunga told IPS.

“Tax havens are at the heart of a global system that allows large corporations and wealthy individuals to avoid paying their fair share, depriving governments – rich and poor – of the resources they need to provide vital public services and tackle rising inequality,” said Ilunga.

In Uganda, approximately 37 percent live on less than $1.25 per day. The East African nation also has one of the highest rates of maternal and under-five mortality rates in the world. According to the World Health Organisation(WHO), Uganda is one of the top ten countries that account for the majority of global maternal deaths.

In a country that lacks access to health services, HOGL’s $404 million in taxes represents more than the country’s health budget.

Former governor of Nigeria’s oil-rich Delta State James Ibori was also implicated in the Panama Papers,allegedly using Mossack Fonseca as an agent for four offshore companies in Panama and Seychelles. These entities provide anonymity, hiding true owners’ names and actions and thus allowing for finances and assets to be undeclared and untaxed. 

Though he was detained in 2012 for diverting up to $75 million out of the country, Nigerian authorities estimate that Ibori stole and stored over $290 million in tax havens.

Like Uganda, Nigeria ranks low in health indicators, contributing to some 10 percent of global maternal, infant and child deaths. Poverty has increased in the country with 61 percent living below the poverty line, according to the most recent Nigerian Bureau of Statistics report.

The Niger Delta region in particular, despite being a significant contributor to the country’s economy through oil production, remains the poorest and least developed region in Nigeria. In Ibori’s Delta state alone, 45 percent of people live in poverty. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) report found that the majority of people in the region lack access to potable water, electricity, health facilities and infrastructure including roads and telecommunications.

“Have you seen any taps here?…Water used to run in public taps, but that had stopped 20 years ago. We basically drink from the river and creeks…hygiene is secondary,” a Niger Delta Resident told UNDP.

Though Ibori’s stashed money represents only a slice of Nigeria’s budget, it is indicative of a global and pervasive problem that goes beyond Mossack Fonseca.

Transparency International’s Senior Policy Coordinator Craig Fagan told IPS: “If you think about the millions of files that have been released and the number of high profile individuals [in the Panama Papers], this is just one law firm in Panama.” .

“We can be certain that there are many other law firms whether in London, Hong Kong, New York, Miami that are operating similar structures,” he said.

According to Oxfam estimates, at least $18.5 trillion is hidden in tax havens worldwide. The organisation found that two thirds of this offshore wealth is hidden in European Union related tax havens while a third is in UK-linked sites where it is left undeclared and untaxed.  Oxfam said that their estimate is a conservative one.

The Swiss Leaks, also released by ICIJ in 2015, revealed how over 106,000 clients from Venezuela to Sri Lanka hid more than $100 billion in Swiss HSBC bank accounts.

Another analysis from Tax Justice Network (TJN) reveals that between $21 to $32 trillion is being diverted into offshore companies.

This has enormous effects in developing countries, costing poor nations over $100 billion in lost tax revenues every year, according to Oxfam. The charity also found that tax dodging by multinational corporations alone costs the developing world between $100 billion and $160 billion per year. Added with profit shifting, approximately $250 billion and $300 billion is lost.

This “missing” money could lift every person above the $1.25 per day poverty threshold three times over, according to Brookings Institution calculations.

Oxfam added that for every $1 billion lost through commercial tax evasion, 11 million people at risk across the Sahel region could have enough to eat, 400,000 midwives could be paid in Sub-Saharan Africa which has the highest maternal mortality rates, and 200 million insecticide-treated mosquito nets could be purchased to reduce child mortality from malaria.

In addition to lost development finance, Ilunga also noted to IPS that such actions have exacerbated inequality in the world, stating: “This is the same rigged system that has created the situation where…the wealth of the richest 1% surpasses the combined wealth of the rest of the world.”

Though the use offshore companies is not illegal, Ilunga asserted that the legality of such actions is precisely the issue.

“Tax dodging exists in a legal gray area with some activities clearly violating the spirit of the law even though those activities are not technically illegal. But the fact that these activities are legal is precisely the scandal we are most concerned with,” Ilunga said.

Fagan told IPS that it does not matter whether it is legally acceptable to have tax avoidance schemes.

“Just because it’s not illegal does not mean it is not a form of manipulation, form of corruption,” he said.

Ilunga and Fagan noted that the Panama Papers are a wake-up call and urged governments to end harmful tax practices and close loopholes. They highlighted the need to institute a public registry which lists companies’ true owners, where money is being earned and how much is being earned.

Ahead of the United Kingdom’s anti-corruption summit to be held in May 2016, Oxfam and TJN also called on the U.K. to lead the fight by halting their large network of tax havens including in the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands.

“The anti-corruption summit provides an opportunity to dismantle the financial secrecy that threatens the [Sustainable Development Goals’] progress against poverty before it even begins,” said Oxfam Policy Advisor Luke Gibson and TJN’s Director of Research Alex Cobham in a briefing paper.

Cobham told IPS that though global reforms are essential, domestic stakeholders must ensure that tax revenues will be used to help meet the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Included in the SDGs are commitments to reduce illicit financial flows and corruption by 2030 and to strengthen domestic resource mobilization including improving capacity for tax and revenue collection.

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DEVELOPMENT: How to reduce humanitarian need

20 Apr 2016  By: Stephen O’Brien, UNOCHA and Kevin J. Jenkins, World Vision International  Original

A woman carries her child in a camp sheltering internally displaced people (IDPs) next to the M’Poko international airport in Bangui, Central African Republic, February 13, 2016. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola

In the next decade, most of the world’s acutely vulnerable people will be living in fragile and conflict-affected cities and States. If current trends persist, conflict will continue to consume 80 per cent of humanitarian funding, setting back development by trillions of dollars. In 2014, over 13 per cent of the global economy was drained away by violence and war. The costs of protracted violence and deepening fragility will lead to lost childhoods, lost lives and lost opportunities. We must find a better way to not only save lives now, but also to address the root causes of fragility and build resilience over the long term.

Doing so must be underpinned by strong political leadership to resolve and prevent conflict. The human and financial costs of not doing so are simply too high. In the absence of political solutions from Syria to Iraq to the Central African Republic, there are severe limits to what principled humanitarian action can achieve.

When it comes to addressing fragility, international leaders, the United Nations and civil-society partners made history with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development when they pledged to leave no-one behind and to reach those furthest behind first. In doing so, international leaders promised to put the needs and priorities of the most-vulnerable people at the forefront of all development efforts. Turning this promise into action is fundamental to realizing the UN Secretary-General’s vision for the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit on 23 and 24 May in Istanbul: to commit to moving from delivering aid to ending need.

To end need, we must stop thinking about relief and development as a sequence. Instead, we must find new ways to comprehensively reduce vulnerability and risk while in tandem meeting pressing humanitarian needs in line with humanitarian principles. This shift will disrupt our current model, in which humanitarian, development, peace, security and other institutions simultaneously work on different projects to different time frames and budgets within the same communities. Instead, wherever operationally possible, national Governments, humanitarian and development agencies, civil society and the private sector will need to work together to set common goals and outcomes over multiple years.

This will require us to work transparently to develop a common understanding of the risks and vulnerabilities people face in each context and prioritizing how to address them together. It will require each of us to overcome institutional barriers and plan our work based on each institution devoting their best services, skills and experience, context by context.

We look to an end to the short-term projects, launched year after year, which have dominated humanitarian response for the past decades and provided little strategic vision for focusing on results for the people we serve. In the cases of DRC, Somalia and Sudan, annual appeals have been repeated for 13 years running. People do not want simply to survive; they want to improve their life prospects and those of their children. Long-term improvement requires genuine partnerships with local partners built on trust, sustainable support, and sharing of resources and knowledge.

Partners must, where appropriate, support existing national and regional capacity, scaling it up and complementing it when necessary, rather than replacing national systems with heavy international ones. This should be done without impinging on the humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality, independence and humanity.

In the right context, humanitarian cash-based programmes should become the norm, not the exception, and they should build on national and regional safety nets that can strengthen social-protection systems. World Vision and many others offer assistance in the form of cash in responses as diverse as Lebanon and Jordan, South Sudan and Nepal. Going forward, cash assistance will be increasingly crucial to promote the resilience and dignity of children, families and communities affected by disasters.

We must also transform the way that we invest in reducing vulnerability. It is common sense to act early to reduce risk rather than waiting for full-blown crises to play out. Predictable multi-year funding would enable better strategic planning for impact, rather than the current model that focuses on agencies’ outputs. We need the transparency of medium-term goals for assessing whether we are truly reducing needs. To achieve all this, we must stop supporting isolated projects that prolong the fragmentation of services and the chaos after a crisis.

Businesses, civil society, faith groups and youth each have a vital role in bridging the divide between relief and development. OCHA and World Vision are engaged in relationships with a variety of partners that are giving better outcomes. Examples are diverse and include the private sector in East Africa, faith groups in West Africa as part of the Ebola response, and civil-society leaders and youth in the Central African Republic. We are sure that as we scale up these relationships around the world, we will increase the quality, reach and effectiveness of our responses.

Starting with the commitments we make at the World Humanitarian Summit, we must all agree to stop simply providing supplies to the world’s most exposed, defenseless people. Instead, we must listen to them and their calls for self-sufficiency and help in reducing their vulnerability over the long term.

At the Summit, World Vision will put forward bold commitments relating to financing, urban response and innovation, child protection, peacebuilding and partnerships. The UN Secretary-General is calling for strong commitments from global leaders, donors, business, investors and aid agencies to make the necessary changes that leave no one behind, and which close the relief-to-development divide once and for all.

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DEVELOPMENT: Global inequality may be much worse than we think

By:   Friday 8 April 2016

Protesters in the Phillipines were dispersed by police as they demonstrated over inequality in 2011.

How do we measure inequality? From some angles, things appear to be improving, but from others the situation is getting worse and worse

It’s familiar news by now. Oxfam’s figures have gone viral: the richest 1% nowhave more wealth than the rest of the world’s population combined. Global inequality is worse than at any time since the 19th century.

For most people, this is all they know about global inequality. But Oxfam’s wealth figures don’t quite tell the whole story. What about income inequality? And – more importantly – what about inequalities between countries? If we expand our view beyond the usual metrics, we can learn a lot more about how unequal our world has become.

The first thing to say about Oxfam’s numbers is that they present a very conservative picture. Given that the rich hide so much of their wealth in tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions, it is impossible to know how much they really have. Recent estimates suggest that up to $32tn is stored away in tax havens – around one sixth of the world’s total private wealth. If we were to add that to Oxfam’s metrics, inequality would look much, much worse.

But that’s wealth. Many analysts object that we shouldn’t be measuring wealth inequality, but rather income inequality. This has been a major criticism of Oxfam’s numbers. And when you look at income inequality, it doesn’t seem so bad. At least not according to the dominant narrative. Branko Milanovic, one of the world’s leading experts in global income inequality, argues that while inequality is getting worse within countries, on a global scale it is actually getting better.

We can measure income inequality with the Gini index. A score of 0 represents total equality and a score of 1 represents total inequality, where one person has everything and everyone else has nothing. According to Milanovic, the global Gini index has decreased slightly, from 0.72 in 1988 to 0.71 in 2008. So perhaps we shouldn’t be overly worried about inequality.

The Gini index is a troublesome measure, though, because it only captures relative changes. If the incomes of the rich and the poor increase by the same rate, then the Gini index remains the same, even though absolute inequality is increasing. In other words, if person A has $10k and person B has $100k, and then both of them double their income, the Gini remains the same, even though the income gap will have grown from $90k to $180k.

Economist Robert Wade argues that this is a highly misleading measurement, as it obscures the true extent of inequality. We should be using the absolute Gini index, he says. So what happens if we do that? We see that inequality has exploded over the past few decades, from 0.57 in 1988 to 0.72 in 2005.

But hold on, you might say. Income inequality among individuals might be getting worse, but surely the gap between poor countries and rich countries is narrowing. The international development industry is helping to bridge the chasm between the west and the rest, right? This is a common opinion; I hear it all the time from students at the London School of Economics, where I teach. After all, “convergence theory” holds that, because poor countries grow at a faster rate than rich countries, over time the gap between the two will automatically diminish.

Unfortunately, it’s not true. In fact, history shows exactly the opposite. Inequality between countries has been increasing by orders of magnitude over the past two hundred years, and shows no signs of slowing.

There are a few ways we can look at this. Probably the most common way to think about global inequality is to measure the gap between the richest and poorest countries in real income per capita. Using data from the Maddison Project, we see that in 1960, at the end of colonialism, people living in the world’s richest country were 33 times richer than people living in the poorest country. That’s quite a substantial gap. But then by 2000, after neoliberal globalisation had run its course, they were a shocking 134 times richer. And that’s not counting extreme outliers, like small oil-rich kingdoms in the Middle East or tiny offshore tax havens. This isn’t convergence. To quote Lant Pritchett, it’s divergence, big time.

If we look at it in absolute terms, it’s just as bad. From 1960 to today, based on the data from the Maddison Project, the absolute gap between the average incomes of people in the richest and poorest countries has grown by 135%.

Of course, this metric overstates inequality by focusing on countries at either extreme. We can correct for this by looking at regional differences. The best way to do this is to measure the gap, in real terms, between the GDP per capita of the world’s dominant power (the United States) and that of various regions of the global South. Using World Bank figures, we see that since 1960 the gap for Latin America has grown by 206%, the gap for sub-Saharan Africa has grown by 207%, and the gap for South Asia has grown by 196%. In other words, the global inequality gap has roughly tripled in size.

Over the past few decades inequality has become so bad that, in 2000, Americans were nine times richer than Latin Americans, 72 times richer than sub-Saharan Africans, and a mind-popping 80 times richer than south Asians. These numbers give us a sense for how unfairly the global economy distributes our planet’s wealth.

It doesn’t matter how you slice it; global inequality is getting worse. Much worse. Convergence theory turned out to be wildly incorrect. Inequality doesn’t disappear automatically; it all depends on the balance of political power in the global economy. As long as a few rich countries have the power to set the rules to their own advantage, inequality will continue to worsen. The debt system, structural adjustment, free trade agreements, tax evasion, and power asymmetries in the World Bank, the IMF, and the WTO are all major reasons that inequality is getting worse instead of better.

It’s time we face up to the imbalances that distort our global economy. There’s nothing natural about extreme inequality. It is man-made. It has to do with power. And we need to have the courage to say so.

  • This article was amended on 7th April 2016. Due to a mathematical error an earlier version said that “since 1960 the gap for Latin America has grown by 306%, the gap for sub-Saharan Africa has grown by 307%, and the gap for South Asia has grown by 296%. In other words, the global inequality gap has roughly tripled in size”. The gap has indeed tripled, but the percentages should read 206%, 207% and 196%.
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DEVELOPMENT: Secret aid worker: Why do expats earn more than the rest of us?

People riding on British pound banknotes in sky above city.

Aid agencies are all about empowering the communities they serve, but overlook equal treatment of staff in their own organisations. Photograph: Alamy

Is it hypocritical for an aid agency to come to a developing country looking to improve local lives, yet economically discriminate against local staff within their organisation? Or is there a line that separates extremely poor citizens targeted as beneficiaries from the average working citizen? Are their needs, such as equal treatment in the workplace, irrelevant?Perhaps local staff are seen more as tools to implement aid programmes without the expertise to make the big decisions. But local staff have knowledge that cannot be learned at any institution and many are highly educated with years of experience in their field, so why don’t they have the salary to match?

I am a local aid worker at an international humanitarian NGO in an east African country. Given my foreign qualifications, I negotiated hard for my salary of over $1,500 (£1,000) a month, making me one of the highest paid local staff. On average, a local employee receives a third of that, (if they are lucky) as my organisation reminds me on those times I dare to raise my head above the parapet.

On the other hand, expatriate staff receive between $3,000 and $8,000 a month. This is not uncommon in the international NGO (INGO) world. In fact, in a particularly renowned UN programme, the highest paid local employee receives less than the international intern.

In most companies, if two people who did the same role and had the same amount of experience got paid vastly different salaries, there would be uproar. Not so in the NGO world. I recently asked around my aid worker friends for their own stories of inequality in the workplace. One told me how when an expat programme director left their country office, a national staff member was hired. She was paid half his salary despite having both superior academic qualifications and experience.

Do I, as a local, not deserve the same standard of living? I pay my own rent, in the cramped, cheaper outskirts of the city. I would love to have a car that allows me to explore my country and visit its famous sights that expat workers enjoy but I only dream about. I wake up extremely early to board the cramped public minibuses to get to work on time, paying with my own money. A personal vehicle would be a great privilege. While the children of expat colleagues go to the country’s top schools, I struggle to pay the fees for my kids attending schools of a standard I can afford. I guess this economic imbalance will perpetuate into the next generation.

Do expat colleagues deserve these privileges more than I do? Must I accept unequal treatment because they are bringing in goods and services that are otherwise unavailable? I am not advocating that every NGO worker should receive mansions and cars, a pure wastage of funds that should be channelled into the community. Rather, none should get such royal treatment.

Even more double standards can be pointed out regarding per diems, rest and recuperation (R&R), and consultants. When a foreign employee travels here, they are given per diem double what we are given when we travel within the country. This usually results in a separation of groups at mealtimes – with expats fine dining and citizens grabbing something from the local joint. In challenging locations, foreign employees are given high hardship allowances and extra monthly leave days to visit home, travel expenses paid. Usually, local employees do not receive R&R. International consultants live on another planet entirely. Usually the upper limit is $800 a day, but I have encountered short-term consultants being paid up to $3,000 a day. One consultant I know was flown in for 12 days and earned $36,000, six times the average annual salary of a local employee.

The discrepancies in compensation and benefits reflect the difference in value assigned not only to needs, but to the capabilities of local versus expat staff. Foreign “experts” are assumed to know more about how to improve local lives than the locals themselves. This means that the highest positions in INGOs are almost all held by foreigners from the country in which the INGO is headquartered.

And so, with foreigners holding the power and the money, the neo-colonialist legacy continues. We locals, who are lucky enough to be employed by INGOs bite our tongues and accept our relative privilege over fellow citizens, not daring to risk questioning the inequality within the workplace lest we lose our jobs.

 

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DEVELOPMENT: Where does the $8bn UN peacekeeping budget go?

By:   6 April 2016  The Guardian

The United Nation’s budget seems healthy, but across the world missions are facing alarming shortfalls.

United Nations peacekeepers face a credibility crisis. Photograph: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images

There are more than 100,000 peacekeepers wearing the blue helmet in 16 missions across the world, from Kosovo in eastern Europe to western Sahara in north Africa. Faced by multiple crises across the world, the UN will spend in excess of $8bn on its peacekeeping missions this year, an increase of 17% on 2015.

But with criticism of operations in Congo mounting, and a sex abuse scandal dominating stories about the mission in Central African Republic, UN peacekeeping faces a crisis of credibility. In light of this, we thought it was time we looked at where the money from peacekeeping goes. Here’s what we found.

The overall budget is equivalent to 1% of US defence spending

The first thing to note about the peacekeeping budget is how small it is, at least when compared with the defence budgets of national governments.

At $8bn, the entire peacekeeping budget is equivalent to one month of US military spending in Afghanistan at the height of the conflict in 2010, or just 1.4% of the current US defence budget, which stands at $573bn.

So what are the reasons for this disparity? For a start, the UN has far less manpower than the US. The US has 1.3 million military personnel worldwide and, in 2014, despite significant cuts, it had 450,000 troops on active duty.

Today, the UN peacekeeping force stands at a little over 100,000. That might sound like a lot, but the US currently has 40,000 troops in Germany, almost double the size of the UN peacekeeping force in Congo – a country that has seen decades of continuous fighting.

But the main reason for that disparity lies somewhere else, according to Alexandra Novosseloff, a senior visiting fellow at the Center on International Cooperation in New York. “Historically, peacekeeping operations are not considered as purely military interventions,” she said. “The assessed contributions are paid through civilian budgets by each and every member state. These budgets are more limited.”

There are also differences in equipment. While the US was able to spend the equivalent of the entire peacekeeping budget on 34 F35 joint strike fighters last year, the relative lack of funds at the UN has left some missions overstretched.

A review of peacekeeping by the high-level independent panel on UN peace operations (Hippo), published in June last year, found that missions lacked “the specific equipment, intelligence, logistics, capabilities and specialised military preparation required” to engage in military counter-terrorism operations.

Further questions have been raised about certain missions’ abilities to carry out their mandates. In December 2014, Reuters reported that due to a lack of funding and personnel, peacekeepers in the country were “struggling to contain a growing humanitarian disaster” in DRC’s mining region. Relief eventually came in the form of more troops to bolster the 451 soldiers in the affected region, but the story gives an indication of how overstretched peacekeepers are.

In the last years of his presidency, Barack Obama has looked to bolster the UN’s force by pledging new equipment, including desperately needed attack helicopters, and specialist troops, but for the time being shortfalls remain.

Medical spending

The budget for all medical care for the missions in 2016 stands at a little over $47m. To put that in context, a little known project known as “enterprise resource planning project” is budgeted for $31m this year, the equivalent of two-thirds of the medical budget. The project, which has proved controversial with UN officials due to delays and cost overruns in the buildup to its launch, has the stated aim to “streamline administrative practices and boost efficiency throughout the organisation”.

Medics in peacekeeping missions have long found themselves overstretched and underfunded. A 2009 audit of the UNmil mission in Liberia (UNmil) found inadequate training, no standard operating procedures, and lack of quality drugs being provided. Audits in 2009 and 2011 of the Ivory Coast mission (ONUCI) also found a lack of basic training.

More recently, a report by the International Peace Institute entitled Healing or Harming? United Nations Peacekeeping and Health noted there was a problem “of peacekeepers providing healthcare to the local population in situations where the quality of medical care provided to the mission’s own personnel is not always in accordance with WHO guidelines”.

Monusco: Decades old, with few results to speak of
The costliest UN mission is in Congo, where thousands of uniformed personnel are facing off against numerous warring factions. It’s a situation that hasn’t changed much in the years since the mission – previously Monuc but known as Monusco –came to be.

Monusco has a budget of $1.3bn this year. This pays for the 19,784 UN peacekeepers who are currently stationed in the country, 18,232 of which are military personnel. These forces face a fight with dozens of armed groups, predominantly from the east of the country, and operate in a country the size of western Europe.

Maria Lange, a director at International Alert, says that recently security has deteriorated in the region. “The current security context in the eastern part of the DRC is marked by a sharp rise in intercommunal violence and the proliferation of new, albeit small, armed groups,” she explained.

But with limited resources and a poor record of protecting civilians, criticism of Monusco has been frequent and vicious. On Twitter, the hashtag #MONUSELESS crops up whenever the mission hits the news, as it did earlier this when investigators found that UN peacekeepers had failed to prevent a recent massacre in the east of the country by Hutu rebels.

This year, the mission will spend $1.3m on consultants – outside groups, including NGOs, tasked with doing research and others tasks for the mission – and $8m on official travel. Medical expenditure counts for just under $2.3m.

An angry crowd parades a man wounded as regional peacekeepers tried to evacuate Muslim clerics from a in Bangui, Central African Republic, in 2013.

An angry crowd parades a man wounded as regional peacekeepers tried to evacuate Muslim clerics from a in Bangui, Central African Republic, in 2013. Photograph: Jerome Delay/AP

Minusca: CAR sees huge cash injection, but problems remain
While Monusco is the most expensive operation, Minusca, the mission in Central African Republic, received the biggest increase in funding in 2016; rising 220% to over $800m, amid an intensification of fighting in the country.

Military and police personnel costs have increased by more than 300% to more than $350m, while spending on consultants, has increased by over 1,000% to $462,600. Medical spending increase to $9m, up 712% on the previous year, but this dwarfed by the $20m spent on communications, an increase of 37% on 2015.

But despite the increase in funds, the missions faces numerous problems, not least the sex abuse scandal currently making headlines across the world. Since last year, stories have emerged of UN peacekeepers abusing women and children in the country, often in exchange for food and clothing. The latest development in the scandal came in January, the UN human rights office found six more cases of UN peacekeepers allegedly abusing children in the country, with a seven-year-old girl among the victims.

Last month, Amnesty International warned that, despite the increase in funding, the UN mission in Central African Republic still had “severe weaknesses”, including a lack of training and equipment. One senior Minusca official reportedly told Amnesty: “When there’s gunfire, we can only send the guys in armoured vehicles. But several of these are currently out of service.”

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DEVELOPMENT: My career’s biggest lesson: no women, no development

More than two decades after the Beijing conference, the absence of women’s perspectives and voices in global forums has slowed progress on development.

Patricia Morris: ‘Bringing grassroots woman and girls’ priorities to global decision-making forums matters’. Photograph: Women Thrive Worldwide

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, I’ve been reflecting on current efforts to change the course of history for women and girls.

What I’ve learned from more than 20 years working in international development is that we must grow and embrace grassroots development led by women. We should actively look for ways to amplify women and girls’ priorities and solutions for development. We should ensure that no discussion or decision happens without their input. And, perhaps most importantly, we should put money and resources behind their priorities and solutions so that they can lead the gender equality movement and propel anti-poverty efforts to the next level.

I’ve always believed that when women come together, there’s no stopping us. At the fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, this principal felt truer than ever. The energy coming out of Beijing was electric. I felt lucky to be among the thousands of women who excitedly discussed women’s rights and ways to finally achieve gender equality.

For the first time in UN history, it wasn’t just western bureaucrats crafting the conversation and determining the agenda. Women in every corner of the globe were consulted and our priorities were included in the agenda. Women in the most rural villages in the poorest countries were convened to build the Beijing Platform for Action (pdf), a global women’s agenda that will benefit men and boys as much as women and girls, when it is realised.

Beijing didn’t accomplish all it set out to, though. The necessary political will and funding did not follow. Now, some 20 years later, that collective diversity of women’s voices is needed desperately. Global decision-making circles are still missing grassroots women’s perspectives, priorities, and solutions, and we’re all losing out because of it.

The millennium development goals (MDGs) are a good example of this missed opportunity. Leading to the launch of the MDGs in 2000, a largely white, western-based group came together with the best intentions to address global poverty. The resulting eight goals set a broad agenda for tackling gaps in education, child mortality, maternal health, and more. But as the MDGs came to a close last year, some 62 million girls remained out of school, 830 women were dying each dayfrom preventable causes related to child birth, and 5.9 million children under age five had died that year alone.

Today, one in three women around the world are victims of physical or sexual violence; discrimination against women persists through laws and policies, gender-based stereotypes, social norms, and practices; women around the worldearn 24% less than men for the same work; and women constitute only 22% of the world’s parliamentarians.

We’ve made progress in cutting poverty, combating violence, and reducing inequality. But I believe that the statistics might be different – had women and girls’ concerns and ideas been part of establishing the MDGs. Instead of addressing the symptoms of poverty, we might have rooted out its causes.

The process of getting to the sustainable development goals (SDGs) was better. Those who developed the new global goals listened to and engaged with women from developing countries, including those in communities most affected by gender disparities in education, health, and employment.

In part, the SDGs are more inclusive and representative than their predecessors because grassroots women collectively pushed decision-makers to create goals that are community-led and -driven. Civil society organisations ensured that goal 4: quality education, for example, was based on real-world issues facing teachers, parents, students and community members.

In some ways, the SDGs feel very close to the Beijing Platform for Action. Both inherently understand that gender is integral to health outcomes, education gaps, environmental needs, armed conflict, and just about every other global development challenge. Both were built by a diverse coalition of perspectives, attitudes, and world views. Both have mobilised millions to advance the cause. And, at the foundation of both, is driving out inequality.

Bringing grassroots women and girls’ priorities to global decision-making forums matters and the results are policies and policy priorities that are stronger because they are built by diverse voices and ideas.

As the global community moves to financing the SDGs, my hope is that more resources will go to the grassroots women and advocates who will ensure the new global goals are implemented effectively and who in a real sense will be responsible for their success. The money and the political will must follow. Anything less and we know what will happen because we’ve seen it before. Without women, there will be no development.

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DEVELOPMENT: Life Amid Conflict In Yemen: ‘Everyone has forgotten us’

By: Karl Schembri   21 March 2016The Guardian 

More than 80% of the population is now in need of humanitarian aid. On a visit to the capital Sana’a, Karl Schembri spoke to families struggling to cope.

A Yemeni child stands inside his house in Sana’a, damaged in an airstrike. Photograph: Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images

The first thing I noticed was the destroyed airport. I flew in to Yemen on a small aircraft chartered by the UN Humanitarian Air Service with a handful of other aid workers – at the time the only way for foreigners to make it to Sana’a. It felt surreal landing among other destroyed aircraft and the skeleton of what was once an international airport terminal.

On the way to the city, it was the types of places that had been bombed that really struck me: fuel stations, bridges, roads, factories. Instead of coffee kiosks the streets are now lined with mobile fuel sellers, as the Saudi-led blockade has made Yemenis turn to the black market for their essential daily needs.

Government and military buildings have become regular targets in the daily air strikes. Even when the attacks do not target civilians directly, it is always the innocent families who get hit in one way or another, and the effects are always devastating.

That’s what happened to Mahmoud Zeid last June. He was queuing to get cooking gas when an airstrike hit. Rushing to his home, he found his two-room house overwhelmed with fumes, all windows destroyed, part of the roof gone. His frail wife, Sabah, who suffers from kidney failure, had passed out. His children were terrified, trying to revive their mother while thinking of where to flee. There was shrapnel everywhere, kilometres away from the bombing site, and hundreds of families staggering through the rubble towards some place of safety.

A building destroyed during recent fighting in Yemen’s south-western city of Taiz. Photograph: Anees Mahyoub/Reuters

Zeid and his family walked to a school a few kilometres away, where they took refuge for months, sleeping in a classroom with other displaced families. On their first night, they slept on the floor, until they came by some blankets. The mother lost some of her kidney dialysis sessions, leaving her weaker.

I met them back in their house, where they returned after a few months, the windows still broken and the damaged parts of the roof patched with wood. They told me they’ve never been poorer. Zeid used to work as a tailor before the war and blockade started a year ago, but with no electricity in Sana’a and people having lost most of their spending power, the business had to close down.

“I can create anything: shirts, trousers, bags, but there’s no work right now,” he told me in tears. “As a father, as the head of the family … I can’t deal with this.”

Since the war started, they have had to pay for all of his wife’s medications, services and medical disposables used for her dialysis. She is weaker than ever, and keeps missing dialysis sessions when they don’t have money for the transport.

The Norwegian Refugee Council, together with support from United Nations World Food Programme, provides them with food aid, but they don’t even have the fuel to cook their dinner. While we spoke, Sabah was burning cardboard pieces, plastic and whatever they could find in streets, so that she could cook for the family.

Family in Yemen

Mahmoud Zeid, his wife Sabah and their son. The family has now returned to their damaged house. Photograph: Karl Schembri/NRC

As if Yemen – already the poorest country in the region – was not marginalised enough, the escalation in the conflict and blockade over the last year has pushed it even further out of sight but also further into poverty and desperation.

So much of what I saw during my 10 days in Sana’a reminded me of Gaza, where I lived for four years. The blockade and the massive poverty brought overnight because of it. The attacks on civilian infrastructure – from hospitals and schools to bowling alleys. And the sheer impunity with which all this happens. The air strikes at night keeps everyone guessing what the latest target is. But there is also a touching, overwhelming warmth that makes the Palestinians in Gaza and the Yemenis so similar. The more people are forcibly cut off from the rest of humanity through man-made barriers, the more they value the little details that make us human.

I cannot but admit failure in my job, in helping in any way to bring Yemen closer to the lucky, wealthier side of humanity. Even for those obsessed with raising walls and closing borders in Europe, Yemen doesn’t even feature because barely any Yemenis make it to Europe. There are 21 million people now in urgent need of humanitarian aid, more than 80% of the entire population. Half of them are suffering from hunger. But figures don’t move people.

As our driver Ziyaad took me back to the airport at the end of my stay, he asked a painful question: “I understand your job is to bring attention to our situation, but how do you do it? Nobody cares. We’ve been in this war for almost a year and everyone has forgotten us.”

Karl Schembri is Middle East regional media adviser for the Norwegian Refugee Council. Follow @Karl_Schembri on Twitter.

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DEVELOPMENT: Secret Aid Worker: Buzzwords Are Killing Development

Tuesday 8 March 2016

All I knew about the organisation was what was written on its website. A small NGO with high quality graphics? Smiling babies? Empowerment? Sold. Photograph: Ben Curtis/AP

Words like ‘human-centred’ and ‘grassroots’ aren’t helping communities, they just make donors feel better about patronising neo-colonialist practices.

International development professionals love their buzzwords. Empowerment. Agency. Community-based. Human-centred. Equal partnership. Grassroots.

I work for an NGO in sub-Saharan Africa that uses all of these words on its beautifully designed website, full of high-resolution photos of smiling African babies. We are all about “empowering the community” with a battle cry of “Healthcare for everyone!” We take every chance we can find to let you know that we, like apparently no other humans on earth, believe that health is a human right.

When I was offered the chance to work here, all I knew about the organisation was what was written on its website. I was impressed. A small NGO with high quality graphics? Smiling babies? Empowerment? Sold. They spouted all the words I had learned about community-based development in class, so they had to be doing things correctly, right?

Wrong. Oh, so so wrong. Here’s what I have found.

We talk about empowerment, yet our patients and our staff members, many of whom are beneficiaries of the organisation themselves, have zero input into how decisions are made. In fact, many of our lowest-paid employees are expected to use their own salaries to pay for work-related costs, leaving them effectively with no salary at the end of the month.

We talk about agency, and yet our board of directors is 100% white. Not one person of colour or from the beneficiary country.

We talk about grassroots development, and yet many of our programmes are defined by the whims of American “experts” thousands of miles away.

We talk about equal partnership, yet the local government offers few to no resources to our health programmes. What motivation will they ever have to provide these necessary services to their own population when foreigners are continuing to provide it for them?

As a person of colour, I cannot help but see how my parents must have felt in the post-colonial country they grew up in. People who do not look like you, who do not come from your socioeconomic background, who do not share any of your life experiences are the same ones who are making decisions for your people. And it’s difficult to question these practices when you know you are receiving services that would otherwise be unavailable. I know I am part of the problem.

We Americans continue to make decisions, citing positive feedback and eternal gratefulness from African beneficiaries as justification for not involving them in the decision-making process. They’re happy having access to the healthcare we gave them, so why take the time to involve them in decisions that directly concern their lives?

Empowerment and agency and human-centricity have come to seem like euphemistic ways to get donors to feel like they are not engaging in neo-colonial practices by defining and determining the presence of healthcare for populations worlds away from their own.

To address this issue, we know we should be actively searching out local leaders in the community, hiring should be more diverse, and foreigners should be taking the role of support staff, not local. So why don’t foreign NGOs make these changes, when they know that they should? Crude pragmatism is the most often used excuse. “We’ll have an American in this role now, but eventually, we’ll hire local staff.” Or perhaps, “We’re doing our best, and it was just too difficult to find anyone else who could do this job.” Or, as all NGOs state, “We did not have enough funding.”

However, practices such as seeking out diversity and being intentional about the role of foreign staff often does not require additional resources. It does, however, require a commitment to critical reflection and to a constant, rigorous analysis of whether practice is truly reflecting the intention of the buzzword. And “doing our best” cannot be good enough when the future of communities and countries are at stake. Yes, perhaps it will take longer to train local staff to do the jobs young Americans can do with their fancy university degrees, but it is the responsibility of organisations who have taken on this work to do it correctly, or at the very least, in the way they say they are doing.

Sure, formalised colonialism is over. But now we have to make sure we aren’t implementing an even more insidious, neo-colonial system that gives white, rich people around the world the power to make decisions for countries that are not their own.

Do you have a secret aid worker story you’d like to tell? You can contact us confidentially at globaldevpros@theguardian.com – please put “Secret aid worker” in the subject line. If you’d like to encrypt your email to us, here’s instructions on how to set up a PGP mail client and our public PGP key.

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AFGHANISTAN/DEVELOPMENT: Afghanistan’s surprisingly predictable economic crash

By Jared Ferrie  Asia Editor  14 March 2016 IRIN

People lined up at the passport office in Kabul

Afghanistan’s economic collapse was sudden, surprising, and entirely predictable.

When the United States withdrew around 60,000 soldiers just over a year ago, much of the money propping up the crippled economy left with them. Their departure was part of the end of a NATO mission that at its peak included 100,000 US troops and 30,000 from other nations.

The mass withdrawal was scheduled years ago. But nobody – neither the previous Afghan government nor international donors – came up with a comprehensive plan to ease the blow of the economic shock that would surely follow.

“I have not seen anything that would indicate that we developed any programmes anticipating this tremendous negative impact on the economy,” John Sopko, the Special Investigator General for Afghanistan Reconstruction who reports to Congress on how US aid money has been spent, told IRIN.

“Shame on us,” he added.

Likewise, Afghan officials in former president Hamid Karzai’s administration seemed oblivious of the economic catastrophe that was bearing down on them.

“Not enough people grasped the meaning of it and looked at the macro and micro economic impact that it might have on Afghanistan,” said Omar Samad, a senior advisor to the current government and former ambassador to Canada and France.

“People assumed that it would be business as usual.”

It wasn’t though. Instead, a lot of business left with the Americans.

In comments included in a January report by Sopko’s office, SIGAR, President Ashraf Ghani said at least 100,000 jobs were lost in the transport sector alone, which had contributed about 22 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP. The construction sector and services connected to it had been driven by US military contracts and accounted for 40 percent of GDP.

The loss of the money flowing into the economy from jobs and contracts connected to the US military had an immediate effect. Economic growth plunged to 1.3 percent in 2014, down from an average of 6.9 percent from 2007 to 2012, according to the World Bank. The average yearly income per person fell from $730 in 2013 to $680 the following year.

Afghanistan economic growth rates

World Bank Afghanistan economic growth rates

Who’s in charge?

IRIN requested comment from the US Agency for International Development, the State Department and the Department of Defense about the current economic crisis, the lack of preparation for it, and failures that SIGAR has uncovered with American aid projects. Only USAID responded.

“In advance of the drawdown of international troops and the 2014 election, USAID developed a transition plan to guide our support for agriculture-led economic growth, with a particular focus on supporting the Afghan government’s ability to generate the revenue needed to support the Afghan private sector,” said Larry Sampler, who works with the agency on Afghanistan and Pakistan affairs.

As an example, Sampler cited USAID’s development of an electronic payment system for customs duties on imports. Previously, payments would be collected in cash, which would then be driven to the bank in an armoured car. The electronic payments are quicker, safer and allow the government to more efficiently collect customs duties, a key source of revenue.

Sopko said many US-funded programmes were successful, but overall reconstruction has been characterised by mismanagement and waste. Such a scattershot approach has led directly to the current economic crisis. While USAID and other agencies may have had their own strategies to ease Afghanistan through the transition period, there seems to have been little coordination and no overarching plan.

Afghanistan’s Finance Ministry also declined to comment.

What went wrong?

The US alone has pumped at least $113 billion in reconstruction aid into Afghanistan since helping to overthrow the Taliban at the end of 2001, according to SIGAR. That does not include having the US military on the ground fighting, which would bring the cost to almost a trillion dollars, but it’s more than America spent on the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after the Second World War.

Despite that staggering investment, Afghanistan in 2016 looks nothing like West Germany 14 years after the end of the Second World War. So what went wrong?

Quite a lot, as it turns out.

SIGAR has published a series of reports exposing waste, corruption and mismanagement of programmes led by USAID, the Department of Defense, and the State Department.

They include an investigation into the DoD spending $486 million on cargo planes for the Afghan Air Force, which found that “those aircraft could not even meet operation requirements in the Afghan setting”. Eventually, 16 of them were sold for scrap metal at six cents a pound, fetching $32,000.

Another investigation showed that the DoD’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations spent almost $150 million on housing for staff members who oversaw “unfinished, poorly planned, and ill-conceived projects”. They included a $6 million plan to import nine Italian goats to stimulate a cashmere industry. The Task Force has been disbanded and the fate of the goats remains unknown.

Not all projects were failures, of course, and there’s no doubt that Afghanistan’s economy is better off now than it was under the Taliban. But the overall approach to rebuilding Afghanistan was haphazard, say insiders.

“There were problems with aid being asked to be spent too quickly, and too much of it, and not directed at the longer term,” said Bill Byrd, who was country manager and economic advisor at the World Bank in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2006 and is now with the United States Institute for Peace.

Byrd and others, including Samad, said donors neglected the key sector of agriculture, as well as other important areas like water management and infrastructure development. Samad said the main focus had been on security, while development planning was “erratic”.

“Every year, or every other year, everybody got together and changed course, changed priorities,” he said. “We were not very consistent with follow-up and implementation.”

That lack of focus meant that some sectors of the economy and some people benefited greatly, while others were left behind. A World Bankreport shows that the poverty rate stayed at 36 percent between 2007 and 2012 even as there was strong economic growth, including an astonishing 21 percent in 2009. Instead of raising living standards for the majority of Afghans, inequality increased.

A shoeshine boy in Kabul

Jim Huylebroek/IRIN Many poor families send their children to work like this boy shining shoes in Kabul

What now?

It’s not all bad news. The World Bank predicts economic growth to rise steadily for the next few years. There have been major successes in health and education, as well as training and equipping the Afghan military, which is now facing a rising insurgency from not only the Taliban, but from other groups including the so-called Islamic State.

Worsening security is feeding the economic crisis, and fractures in the government are not helping, said Byrd.

Afghanistan’s National Unity Government was created as a way out of a political crisis, after the disputed results of 2014 elections threaten to tip the country into another armed conflict. The UN oversaw an extensive audit, but the results were never made public. Instead, Ghani was appointed president, while the new position of Chief Executive Officer was created for his challenger, Abdullah Abdullah.

“It seemed almost like the NUG agreement was a recipe for inaction, and that is a problem,” said Byrd. “The National Unity Government needs to act more like a unified government that’s responding to what by consensus is a national emergency.”

There are indications that the NUG can be decisive. Byrd pointed to the government’s success in getting tax hikes approved by parliament and improving tax collection, which increased government revenue by more than 20 percent last year.

“I think it’s an example that its not impossible for the government to function and it achieved a credible and significant success,” he said. “The situation would have been worse if the hemorrhage of revenue had continued in 2015.”

Samad said it’s impossible to disentangle poor security and governance from the economic crisis, and improvements in those fields are key. He downplayed divisions in the NUG and pointed to Ghani’s widely heralded commitments to fighting corruption, as well as efforts by the government to create political space for peace negotiations with the Taliban.

Even if the government’s anti-corruption strategies and peace negotiations are successful, it won’t be any time soon.

“Nobody’s holding their breath for peace tomorrow,” said Samad.

Voting with their feet

Many Afghans have grown tired of waiting for things to get better. Instead, they are leaving the country in higher numbers than at any time since the Taliban. Afghans comprise the second largest number of arrivals in Europe after Syria, making up almost a quarter of asylum claims, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.

The Tahiri family, for instance, is packing up shop and heading to Europe – anywhere in Europe – despite the considerable costs and dangers.

Standing outside the central passport office in the capital, Kabul, Ahmad Tahiri (not his real name) explained that sales at his fabric shop have been so slow over the past year that he can barely support his wife and three children.

“Now we have come to a conclusion that if we stay things will even get worse,” said his younger brother, Abdullah. “That’s why we will spend everything we have to reach a better place – if not for us at least for our next generation.”

(Nisar Ahmad contributed reporting from Kabul. Cover photo: Afghans line up at the central passport office in Kabul in August 2015)

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DEVELOPMENT: The Empowerment of Women Will Be Central to Realising Sustainable Global Development

By Mary Robinson   original

Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland,(1990-1997) and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997 to 2002).

DUBLIN, Mar 4 2016 (IPS) – “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality” – the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day serves as a timely reminder that, despite incremental progress of recent years and the ambition of the new global development agenda, we must redouble efforts to achieve a world underpinned by gender equality. All women must be empowered to realise their full and equal rights. But what does it actually mean to step it up for gender equality?

Mary Robinson

Mary Robinson

For me, this requires targeted approaches to ensure that all women have a voice in the formulation of decisions that impact upon their lives. This is particularly important when it comes to facilitating the engagement of grassroots women. To realise the “leave no-one behind” approach called for in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the commitment “to reach the furthest behind first”, grassroots women must be recognised as key actors in global sustainable development.

Grassroots women around the world hold a wealth of knowledge which we will need to manage the impacts of climate change and accelerate sustainable development. However, in order to properly value this knowledge and put it to use, women must be allowed to participate meaningfully in the design, planning and implementation of policies and programmes that impact on their lives. Ensuring women’s voices are heard and their needs acted uponis central to advancing climate justice.

The impacts of climate change are different for women and men.

Grassroots women are more likely to bear the greater burden in the face of climate change, particularly in situations of poverty. Climate change exacerbates existing patterns of inequality, including gender inequality. Grassroots women have limited access to productive resources; restricted mobility and little voice in decision makingleave them highly vulnerable to climate change. Climate policy, to be effective, must understand these underlying inequalities in order to address the different ways in which climate effects grassroots women.

Enabling the meaningful participation of women is not just the right thing to do, it is also the smart thing to do. The global development sector has learned, sometimes the hard way, that programmes designed for vulnerable communities, without engaging with the women of the community, rarely achieve their desired outcomes. This important lesson is reflected in the Sustainable Development Goal 5 https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg5 (Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls) which includes a target to: ‘Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life’. This need is particularly acute in the case of grassroots women. Unfortunately, the importance of including women in decision making and promoting women’s leadership is less well understood by the climate regime. Yet the majority of those on the front lines of poverty and climate change are women.

Some progress has made under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In 2012 the Parties to the Convention adopted the Doha Miracle (Decision 23/CP.18), a decision to enhance the participation of women in climate change negotiations.Parties will review progress against the ambition this decision at COP 22 in November. When they do, however, they will see that only slight gains have been made in terms of equality of representation at negotiations. For instance, the latest UNFCCC Gender Composition Reporthighlights that only 36% of delegates were women at COP 20, and this figure drops to 26% when considering heads of delegations. In Lima Parties agreed to commence the Lima work programme on gender, a two year exploration of the gender dimensions of climate change and the Paris Agreement on climate change recognises the need for gender equality and women’s empowerment.

These are all signs of progress, but a lot more needs to be done to be done in order for women’s voices to be thoroughly included in the formation of climate action. A key next step is investment in training and capacity building for grassroots women in order to enable full and effective participation. This is captured in SDG 13 (Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts) which includes a target which calls on States to promote capacity building mechanisms in small island developing states and least developed countries to assist women, youth and local and marginalised communities to take part in climate change-related planning and management. Operationalising this target will be critical to achieving a harmonised and people centred approach to both the sustainable development agenda and the new climate agreement.

In 2015, the global community laid a foundation upon which we can build a safer world with opportunity for all. In concluding the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change, world leaders signalled a willingness to change course – to leave behind the unequal and unsustainable traditional development models and move towards a future free from poverty and want, with abundant clean energy and a healthy environment.

In 2016 we begin to plan and implement these two ambitious, universal international processes; we must ensure that women’s voices, and human rights, inform our actions. Grassrootswomen must not be seen simply as passive recipients of climate assistance. They are key actors in achieving their right to development. By acknowledging grassroots women as agents of change within their communities, valuing their knowledge and building their capacity to adapt, decision makers can develop sustainable, long term climate solutions at a local level which will strengthen whole communities.

As we “step it up for gender equality”, I call on all those in positions of influence to provide the platforms for grassroots women to speak to for themselves. Listening to, and valuing,theirknowledge and experiencewill help to shape progresstowards 2030 that is good for people, the planet and gender equality.

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AFGHANISTAN/DEVELOPMENT: Afghanistan’s Path to Women’s Rights Is Paved With Risk, but Built on Hope

Women in the Afghan National Army. U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Laura R. McFarlane/Released. Creative commons.

For Afghan women, the systematic repression and violence of the Taliban era was replaced by opportunities, but also fear and insecurity in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion of their country.

Today gender politics in Afghanistan are more complicated than ever, with victories in some areas qualified by setbacks in others.

Since the beginning of this year the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team has been nominated for the Noble Peace Prize, while Sumaya Ghulami won gold in taekwondo at the South Asian games held in Guwahati and Shillong, India, an achievement unthinkable during the Taliban era.

But women have been among the greatest victims of the intensifying Taliban insurgency and a rise in criminal violence that neither the frail government in Kabul nor the shrinking American military contingent on the ground have been able to contain.

Read and weep

The age of social media has shone a spotlight on some of the most egregious examples of violence against women in recent times.

Last November, in a Taliban-controlled village in Ghor province, central Afghanistan, a 19-year-old woman, Rokhshana was stoned to death for adultery.

The adultery charge was technical in nature — an escape from a marriage that had been forced on her — and the viral video of the stoning seemingly filmed on a cell phone inspired widespread disgust across Afghanistan’s growing online networks.

Ghor province’s  former governor Seema Joyenda, only the second woman governor to be appointed in Afghanistan, became one of the main champions for justice for Rokhshana.

But Joyenda herself was eventually pushed out of office after conservatives led a successful — if not uncontested — campaign to remove her from office.

Rokhshana’s stoning came just months after another horrific incident that attracted the attention of the world, when a mentally ill woman, Farkhunda, was beaten to death and burned for allegedly setting a Koran on fire.

One of the most horrible incidents of gender-based violence in the post-2001 period took place at the very end of last year.

Pajhwok Afghan news reported that eleven men, including four policemen, gang-raped a girl of nine in the country’s northwest, where the government and the Taliban are vying for control.

Afghan women in the spring

But the news is not all bad.

This month Sumaya Ghulami returned to Afghanistan to a hero’s welcome after her taekwondo gold in 2016 South Asian Games. She was publicly congratulated by President Ghani and widely lauded in the press.

Ghani’s wife, Rula Ghani, recently announced plans to build the country’s first women-only university with funding from the government of Turkey, a move seen as key to guaranteeing women’s access to higher education.

Meanwhile, over a hundred Italian MPs suggested the Afghan women’s cycling team for the Noble peace prize earlier this month. The nomination thrilled the Afghanistan section of Twitter.

Such events are symbolic of a growing visibility for women in public life. In the parliament, women make up 28% of the seats — a bigger proportion of women than in the US Congress.

However, no woman has headed the parliament, indicating that a female presence in domestic politics can expand without necessarily translating into real power.

A clear example of this was Ghani’s attempt to include a woman judge into the national high court council, which was swiftly blocked by a parliament where conservatives are gaining ground.

Long road to respect

The Afghan woman’s position in society is thus subject to flux, varying from community to community.

Hazara women have seen a particularly fast-paced change in their lives, influenced possibly by higher rates of female education relative to other ethnic groups in the post-Taliban era.

Among Afghanistan’s most influential women are Sima Samar Head of the Afghan Human Rights Commission and Afghanistan’s first female governor Habiba Sarabi of Bamiyan province, both ethnic Hazara.

Laila Haidari, another Hazara, is a woman social volunteer who has found the Mother Camp which treats drug addicted men.

But women across groups in the country remain prejudiced by Afghan civil law, which reserves the right of divorce exclusively for men, while family matters remain under the control of the head of the family in most cases.

And critically, the Taliban is gaining ground across the country, even as the movement itself splinters, while hardline clerics have continually decried women’s rights as a Western imposition.

In such a fluid environment, women are locked in a contradiction: they enjoy more space for participation than they did 15 years ago, but are also most likely to be a lightening rod for the inevitable conservative backlash.

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DEVELOPMENT: The Great Land Rush Series: Ethiopia: The billionaire’s farm

The Great Land Rush

Across the globe, investors are betting billions on land. Tom Burgis reports from Ethiopia, where a tycoon has planted a vast rice farm in soils tainted by years of conflict

1. THE HARVEST

As an orchestra of mosquitoes and crickets greeted the dusk, Bedlu Abera looked out over fields of rice stretching across the Ethiopian lowlands towards the horizon. A flicker of contentment crossed his face. “It’s satisfying,” he said. “We are making progress.”

Mr Bedlu was overseeing Saudi Star Agricultural Development’s first substantial harvest. Every few minutes he answered a crackling query on his walkie-talkie. There was urgency to his farmhands’ work. The land here is almost too fertile. It must be cleared and planted again swiftly, before the rains return.

The deepening darkness formed a canvas for an orange flame in the distance, beyond the perimeter of the farm. A hunter had set a fire to send prey scurrying from the undergrowth into his snares. Closer at hand, parked beside an irrigation canal, stood a combine harvester, at rest after a day in the rice fields.

This remote spot is a frontier in a contest for land that stretches from Myanmar to Saskatchewan. Investors are betting billions on an asset that is both more abundant and more fiercely contested than any other. The struggle playing out in the Ethiopian lowlands is a glimpse of others to come in a crowded, warming world.

Mr Bedlu, pictured, is 40, stocky and thoughtful. He wore hobnail boots and a scruffy goatee. He took over as Saudi Star’s farm operations manager in 2014. He made light of the hardship, but swapping the pleasant warmth of his home in the highland capital city of Addis Ababa for the fly-blown humidity of the lowlands had been tough. His family had yet to join him.

Saudi Star’s proprietor, a Saudi-Ethiopian tycoon named Mohammed al-Amoudi, has spent more than $200m turning a swath of bush into a farm the size of 20,000 soccer pitches. That puts the sheikh, as he is known, in the vanguard of the global land rush.

As the populations of better-off nations move to cities in ever greater numbers, the gap between the amount they grow and the amount they eat widens. Agricultural trade has long filled this gap. But a price shock in 2007, when staple crop prices doubled in a few months, demonstrated that global markets for food can break down. Then the financial crisis created demand for investments that were not linked to volatile equities and bonds. Governments, multinational companies and institutional funds started to pour millions, then billions, into other countries’ land.

From Southeast Asia to Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, investors are seeking to profit not simply by trading the fruits of the earth — the rice and the coffee, the oil and the gold — but by controlling the land itself.

Few countries have attracted such attention from land-hunters asEthiopia. A nation plagued by famine now envisages vast commercial farms pumping food around the region. But for millennia, land has been the source both of great advances and of bloodshed. Saudi Star’s patch of earth is no different.

Back in the cabin that houses his office after sundown, Mr Bedlu cradled a few grains of the farm’s rice in his palm. Saudi Star’s agronomists have bred Indian and Pakistani seeds into 62 varieties, testing each for their fecundity, resilience and flavour. Mr Bedlu spoke with relish of his three favourites. Two of them, Midroc 1 and Midroc 7, were named after Mr al-Amoudi’s conglomerate, the latest additions to a business empire that extends from Swedish oil refineries to Saudi defence contracts and has made him what Forbes estimates to be an $8.5bn fortune. The third, Gambella 1, took its name from the poor region in whose soils the sheikh has planted his grains.

Some of the variations are bred for the domestic market. Others are blended to suit the tastes of the wealthy rice eaters across the Red Sea. The price crisis exposed the vulnerability of countries that import what they eat, none more so than Saudi Arabia. It is said that Saudi Star was born after Mr al-Amoudi presented a sack of Ethiopian rice to King Abdullah. The monarch, delighted by its quality, gave his blessing to the sheikh’s plan for a vast farm across the sea.

In 2009, Saudi Star took a lease on 10,000 hectares in Gambella for 50 years. Later it added 4,000 more hectares when it bought an adjacent state farm. But the project struggled at first. The site is remote, the roads mostly unpaved and the locals are sceptical, even hostile.

Saudi Star’s was one of the most high-profile projects of an investment drive in which Ethiopia’s government leased 2.5m hectares, an area slightly smaller than Belgium. More than the same again is on offer. The government’s goal was to bring in modern farming technology to generate exports that would help a serious balance-of-trade problem and, some say, cement the ruling elite’s control over the fertile lowlands.

November’s harvest, covering only a portion of the allocated land, was long overdue. It was initially forecast to yield 10,000 tonnes of rice but Saudi Star halved the outlook after poor rains. The company plans to spend another $100m by 2018 completing 21km of irrigation canals, levelling the ground using lasers and bringing in more machinery. That would double the farm’s yield, allowing annual production of 140,000 tonnes, more than enough to supply the entire Ethiopian market.

Mr Bedlu, who studied plant science at university in Egypt, blamed the farm’s initial troubles on mistakes by inexperienced managers and consultants. He was part of a team that Mr al-Amoudi installed in 2014. It has brought expertise of large-scale commercial farming and is trying to improve community relations. The 4,000-strong staff includes 1,300 locals: 300 on permanent contracts and 1,000 seasonal labourers.

Temesgen Desigew, a rangy 23-year-old from a nearby town, has already risen to the position of agricultural supervisor. He joked that he wanted Mr Bedlu’s job one day. Asked whether his father, who grows maize on the family plot, used a combine harvester, Mr Temesgen’s eyes widened. “No, no,” he said. “An ox.”

Temesgen Desigew, who works as a supervisor at Saudi Star

Temesgen Desigew, who works as a supervisor at Saudi Star

Education in Gambella is rudimentary for most, so local hires are trained from scratch. In the rice-processing plant housed in a vast hangar rising from the scrub, a Pakistani technician took pride in the skills he was imparting to his local charges. “It’s difficult,” he admitted, his grin unwavering. “There are 86 languages in this country.”

Mr Bedlu was learning the language of the Anuak, the main ethnic group in the area, one of the two biggest in Gambella. Their livelihoods are rooted in farming and some have found work at Saudi Star. But armed guards on the perimeter were a reminder of what happened on April 28 2012, when decades of lowlander grievances were unleashed on the sheikh’s farm.

Guards on duty at Saudi Star's farm

Guards on duty at Saudi Star’s farm

A group of gunmen, widely held to have been Anuak militants, opened fire at the company’s compound. They killed at least five employees before fleeing. Reprisals followed. According to Human Rights Watch, the military rounded up villagers, beating the men and raping the women.

The attack was a lesson for the new lords of the land, whether in Gambella or Brazil, Madagascar or Scotland. They can come with the promise of jobs, technology and progress. But land is like the lion that prowls near Saudi Star’s farm: hard to tame.

2. A NATION OF FARMERS

From the air, most of Ethiopia looks like a vast patchwork of tiny plots, each a slightly different shade of ochre or green.

This is a nation of smallholders: 85 per cent of employment is in agriculture and 95 per cent of all agricultural produce comes from small farms, typically the size of a couple of football pitches.

Of that, 80 per cent is consumed by the households that produce it; only 20 per cent is sold. These farmers rely on their hands, some rudimentary tools and the fickle rains.

A mere 5 per cent of agricultural output comes from big commercial farms. Yet they form an important plank in the government’s strategy to complete a journey from famine to prosperity by the middle of the century

Hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians have starved to death in periodic famines. Another 8m were declared at risk by the UN in November. Nonetheless, a country once synonymous with deprivation has found its swagger. Official figures in this country of 97m people show more than a decade of double-digit growth, with strong exports of coffee, livestock and cut flowers.

Some analysts question the numbers, especially when they are accompanied by famine warnings. But there is physical evidence of advancement too: the smooth new roads, the telecoms infrastructure, the dams — and Barack Obama, who in July last year became the first sitting US president to visit Ethiopia. The country is a self-styled “developmental state”: a nation, like China, Singapore or Rwanda, where an authoritarian government sets a strict economic path.

The ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front took power when it toppled the communist regime in 1991. Dominated by highlanders, as those from central and northern Ethiopia are known, it established a record for economic competence and intolerance of dissent. A surge of opposition support ahead of 2005’s elections prompted a crackdown: government forces violently dispersed protests against alleged rigging. In last year’s polls the party and its allies won every seat in parliament. Resistance to government high-handedness has boiled over in recent weeks into protests that have drawn a deadly response from the authorities. Ethiopia sits in the bottom 25 of Freedom House’s press freedom rankings, close to Russia and Saudi Arabia. Under a counter-terrorism law that human rights activists and lawyers say is used to stifle criticism, dozens of politicians, protesters, journalists and bloggers have been jailed, along with critics of the land deals.

For years, the EPRDF was opposed to the idea of starting big commercial farms. That changed about a decade ago as donors encouraged foreign investment in agriculture. Since then, Ethiopia has been at the forefront of a global phenomenon.

Lorenzo Cotula, a senior researcher at the UK’s International Institute for Environment and Development, has tracked the evolution of transnational land deals. “Land might be seen as an asset class by a fund manager,” he says, “but for many rural people it is a foundation for social identity and food security.” Most “wild west” deals failed after the food price shock of 2007, Mr Cotula says. Still, in a report published last year, he noted that momentum is again building. “Demographic growth, climate change, urbanisation and changing consumption patterns are widely expected to continue . . . compounding pressures on valuable lands.”

Ethiopia has tried to make itself the most attractive destination for land investment. More than 50 foreign investors, from India, Turkey, Pakistan, China and Sudan as well as Saudi Arabia, have leased Ethiopian land. The rents are often very cheap. Saudi Star’s contract stipulates an annual rate of less than $3 a hectare. Investors enjoy tax holidays and access to guaranteed credit.

Yet only 35 per cent of the leased land has been developed, according to official figures. That is partly because of the sheer difficulty of getting agricultural machinery and skilled manpower to the most remote corners of a landlocked country. The government has cancelled seven leases after investors failed to deliver on their promises. Some of the domestic investors, who cumulatively have taken much more land than the foreign ones, have simply stripped their plots for charcoal and left them idle.

The biggest lease, taken by Karuturi Global of Bangalore, has not fared well. The Indian group had sought to diversify into food from its multinational roses business but struggled with flooding and debt. Initially 300,000 hectares, the government cut the lease area to 100,000 hectares. Abera Mulat, head of Ethiopia’s land investment agency, wrote to Karuturi in December, saying its lease had been terminated because it had failed to bring its plot in Gambella into cultivation. Karuturi declined to comment but its boss was quoted saying the company would challenge the cancellation.

In an interview in his office in Addis Ababa in November, Mr Abera insisted that, despite allegations from activists, no one with a rightful claim had been forcibly moved to make way for investors. “There have been cases where people have come and said: ‘This is my land.’ If we are mistaken, then we will leave that land.”

There have, however, been forced relocations under the government’s separate “villagisation” programme. This, the government says, is designed to group scattered communities into larger settlements to make it easier to deliver basic services. Some Anuak, including victims who spoke to human rights activists, have reported beatings and rapes by the soldiers who enforced their resettlement. One Anuak activist notes a bitter irony: that some of those who were self-sufficient before they were moved now depend on food aid.

Mr Abera stressed that “the point of resettlement is not to clear land for investment”. He added, however: “After the land is vacant and we have done surveys, then why not?”

3. RESISTANCE

Okello Akway Ochalla had been in exile for a decade when he checked in to a hotel in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, in March 2014. An Anuak, his homeland lay across the Ethiopian border in Gambella, where Saudi Star and other flagship ventures of the Ethiopian government’s land drive have their farms. But Mr Okello could not go home.

He had been the governor of Gambella in 2003, when mobs of highlanders set about slaughtering the Anuak, after Anuak assailants allegedly staged a deadly ambush on a government vehicle carrying highlanders. According to testimony gathered by human rights groups, the Ethiopian military joined in the massacres. More than 400 people died.

The government claimed the deaths arose from inter-ethnic clashes between indigenous groups in Gambella. But Mr Okello refused to peddle the official line. Threatened with arrest or worse, he fled. He was granted asylum in Norway but maintained contact with Anuak scattered across east Africa, some of whom, according to his associates, were involved in the small resistance groups that have taken up arms against the authorities.

In exile, Mr Okello developed twin agendas, says Gora Ojulu, an Anuak refugee in Kenya who worked as a finance official in his regional government. “One, to have a strong political organisation that can oppose the government. Two, advocate around land: be against the narrative from the government that ‘we must move you to a place where we give you infrastructures, then we give this land for investors’.”

For Mr Okello as for many other Anuak, the dispute over the land deals has fused with their people’s century-long struggle to claim their rights from British colonialists, Haile Selassie’s Ethiopian empire, a communist dictatorship and, most recently, a federal government dominated by highlanders.

Ethiopia receives more food aid than any other country. But starvation’s domain is the highlands, where the soils are thin and the droughts unforgiving. The lowland arc that has Gambella at its centre is bountiful, watered by the Nile and its tributaries. The Anuak would typically clear a patch of forest, cultivate it for 5–10 years growing maize, sorghum and groundnut, then move on to a fresh patch. If the crop in one area failed, those with a fuller harvest would come to the rescue.

It is in the lowlands, perennially resistant to highlanders’ diktats, that the vast majority of the land deals have been struck. Federal officials stress that many of the deals were agreed by local authorities. Opponents counter that local leaders who signed off on them were often stooges of the powers in Addis Ababa.

Whatever the motives of the land policy — and its proponents argue passionately that they have locals’ interests at heart — the sorry history of the lowlands was always going to colour the programme.

In March 2014, Mr Okello embarked on a tour to organise Anuak resistance. He went to Eritrea, Ethiopia’s sworn enemy, then on to South Sudan, home to many thousands of Anuak. On March 22, two South Sudanese security agents entered the hotel where Mr Okello was staying.

According to a relative who was with him, Mr Okello was led away with four other Anuak men who had been visiting him. They were taken to a military prison near the airport. All were flown to Addis Ababa. Mr Okello has been in prison since. He faces charges under the counter-terrorism law. The maximum penalty is death.

4. ‘A BLESSING FOR ETHIOPIA’

Jemal Ahmed quivered with anger. “Some of the figures are mind-blowing,” the chief executive of Saudi Star said one morning in November. Sitting in his office on the 15th floor of the Midroc skyscraper in Addis Ababa, he rattled off some of the wilder claims of profiteering that critics of the Gambella rice farm have cited. “It makes my blood boil.”

Mr Ahmed was a leading Ethiopian cooking-oil trader when he formed an agro-business partnership with Mr al-Amoudi in 2008. In 2014, the sheikh asked him to turn round the troubled Saudi Star project.

“I’m an African,” Mr Ahmed began. “And whenever I read my history, when I see how our forefathers suffered . . .” He broke off to tell the story of his grandfather. The 23-year-old man who looked out proudly from a black and white picture on Mr Ahmed’s phone was killed days after it was taken, fighting off Benito Mussolini’s Italian colonisers.

“After colonisation and slavery, Africans are still not able to use their resources,” Mr Ahmed went on. “Take Gambella. That land is infested with mosquitoes. The indigenous survive by eating roots from the forest. They don’t have food shortages but their mortality rate is so high. They don’t go to school. The only thing you see when you fly is not factories or businesspeople: you see NGOs.”

He was resentful that, when a company such as Saudi Star tried to invest, it would come under attack from foreign activists. “I get happy when I see an Anuak boy operating a Caterpillar machine the way an American boy would do on the Mississippi delta.”

Saudi Star has tangled for years with activists from the Oakland Institute and Human Rights Watch, who have compiled detailed reports on Ethiopia’s land investment programme and the heavy-handed ways in which, they allege, the government shifts locals out of the way. Mr Ahmed flatly denied such claims. “No one was living in this area,” he said of Saudi Star’s plot.

On the wall of Mr Ahmed’s office hung a framed picture of him and Mr al-Amoudi, whose closeness to the ruling party has exacerbated resentment among Gambellans. Mr Ahmed objected to attempts to portray the sheikh as “a man who came to take advantage of Ethiopia’s resources at the expense of the indigenous people, to take their ancestral land”.

Instead, he argued, the farm made economic sense. “Saudi Arabia is a rich country and imports food. We have rich lands but we need capital. If Saudi hunger for food lets us bring in capital, that is a blessing for Ethiopia.”

‘If I had invested $200m in Thailand, we could easily have produced more rice. Why do we do it in Gambella, with no roads, no electricity, no skilled workers? Because if we don’t, no one else will’

Contrary to press reports, Saudi Star had yet to export a single grain of rice, Mr Ahmed added. Higher prices at home meant that it was more profitable to sell domestically. Saudi Star’s rice production would cut Ethiopia’s import bill by up to $100m, Mr Ahmed forecast, and generate more foreign currency through exports. That hard currency is precious: Ethiopia’s trade deficit stood at $8bn in 2013 and, the International Monetary Fund forecasts, will be twice as big by the end of the decade.

Despite the early setbacks, Mr Ahmed was contemplating expansion. He had his eye on as much as 100,000 hectares in the area around Saudi Star’s farm that he expected to come free as the government cancelled failed leases.

“If I had invested $200m in Thailand, we could easily have produced more rice,” Mr Ahmed said. “Why do we do it in Gambella, with no roads, no electricity, no skilled workers? Because if we don’t, no one else will. The Indians came but they could not do it. We have a sentimental attachment to our people. Gambellans are Ethiopians too.”

By now, Mr Ahmed had calmed down. The view from his window is spectacular, taking in the national stadium and, beyond, the capital’s fast-rising skyline. For him, the land venture in Gambella is part of a plan to drive Ethiopia into the 21st century.

“All the indigenous groups have had a rough time,” he said. “They need more investment. And better governance. And civilisation.”

5. EXILE

In the cramped living room of a one-storey house on the mud-spattered outskirts of Nairobi, 14 of the men and women scattered by the long tussle for land and power in Gambella gathered one recent afternoon. A picture of an Anuak woman torn from a calendar adorned a wall.

One after another, the refugees recalled when they had fled Gambella. Some arrived recently, driven by evictions linked to the villagisation programme. Others, such as Omot Oluwoch, 37, came to Kenya after the pogroms of 2003.

“I was taking tea on a veranda and I heard a gunshot,” Mr Omot recalled. “I saw soldiers shooting Anuak. They saw that I was Anuak. I decided to run — but I can’t run.” Mr Omot’s leg was damaged when he was small and he walks with an awkward shuffle. “Because I am disabled they did not shoot because they thought they could catch me and kill me with their hands.”

Omot Oluwoch, who escaped to Kenya via South Sudan

Omot Oluwoch, who escaped to Kenya via South Sudan

He limped as far as a nearby empty house, went inside, locked the door and hid in the roof. He heard the soldiers taunting him that the land of Gambella was theirs. They called him “tyre”, a highlander term for darker-skinned lowlanders. Eventually they lost interest. Mr Omot crawled out of a window. He spent two days in the bush before he hitched a lift to South Sudan. From there, he came to Nairobi.

“The reason why we are being killed is because of the land,” Mr Omot said, to nods of agreement from other refugees. “Because the government look down on us, they don’t want us to live there. They don’t consider us, because we have dark skin. It is like what happened under apartheid.”

Anuak leaders who had opposed Addis Ababa were simply swept aside. “Some have fled, some have been taken to prison, some have been killed. So [the government] can come and sell the land,” Mr Omot said.

Some of the refugees had known Mr Okello in Gambella. Since his arrest, the former governor’s supporters have lobbied the government of Norway, his adopted home, to intercede on his behalf. Norway’s foreign ministry says the country did not interfere in the judicial process abroad but that the embassy in Addis Ababa was monitoring the case. Diplomats visited Mr Okello early in his detention but were prevented from doing so again last year, the ministry says. It added that the embassy planned to contact Ethiopian authorities about Mr Okello’s allegation that he had been subjected to violence during interrogations. A judge in the terrorism trial has concluded that the prosecution case is compelling. A verdict is due on March 7.

The refugees rattled off names of other Anuak intellectuals consigned to Addis Ababa’s jails. In some cases, the detentions appear directly linked to criticism of the land deals. One prisoner is a relative of Mr Omot’s. Pastor Omot Agwa worked as a translator for a World Bank inspection team that investigated allegations of forced evictions and other abuses in Gambella. The pastor was arrested in March last year and faces what Human Rights Watch called “spurious” charges of terrorism.

Gora Ojulu, a former finance official in Gambella, now exiled in Nairobi

Gora Ojulu, a former finance official in Gambella, now exiled in Nairobi

Akoth Adhom, a woman in her sixties, claimed she knew of villages in Gambella that had been forcibly relocated. Asked who controlled the land now, she said: “Al-Amoudi.” Yet there was little evidence, even anecdotally, of evictions specifically to make way for investors.

No one challenged the thrust of Saudi Star’s argument that there was enough land in Gambella to accommodate some big farms. But the Anuaks’ claim to their land was not based on title to this or that specific plot, explained Ojunni Ojulu Ochalla, a former nurse who escaped the 2003 massacre.

“It does not mean that there is someone on every piece of land. Even in the bush, you have demarcated land. Areas for hunting, fishing, conserving the forest, farming. The narrative that this place is empty: if you take the whole world, you are living only on a small part. But that doesn’t mean that, in the rest of it, someone can just walk in and decide they can do what they want to do.”

In Abobo, the last village before the checkpoint that marks the start of Saudi Star’s farm, the school and most of the houses are made of mud. Four-wheel-drives bump along the road, carrying farm staff or aid workers ministering to refugees from the war across the border in South Sudan.

When one passed recently, half a dozen children raced alongside, waving giddily at the windows. They wore Ethiopia soccer kits. Both the national flag and that of Gambella fluttered outside the ramshackle town hall.

A faultline of history — or, perhaps, of modernity — has opened up in Gambella. The forces of global markets have smashed up against the instinct to preserve a homeland. Some of the youngsters in Ethiopia kits might find themselves spurred to resist the government, like Mr Okello and the Nairobi refugees. Others might embrace a job at Saudi Star, maybe rising to run the farm. But it is hard to see how any will do both. If a global land rush is at hand, Gambella’s rift will not be the last.

Project manager: Christine Spolar
Design and production: Kari-Ruth Pedersen
Editors: Christine Spolar, Sue Matthias, Orla Ryan and Chinny Li
Maps: Steve Bernard
Graphics: Christopher CampbellWith support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

Across continents, big investors are pouring in billions into one of the world’s most precious resources – land. They promise progress. But their arrival can upend livelihoods and spark life-and-death struggles.Read more

Read more

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ON DEVELOPMENT: Aid work: an insult to the poor? – poem

A Zimbabwean aid worker shares his reflections on the NGO sector through a poem

By: Admiral Ncube  original

Zimbabweans collect grain distributed by World Food Programme (WFP) on November 25, 2013 in East Mashonaland, Zimbabwe.

‘Where there was need, a hand would help.’ Photograph: Xinhua/Landov/Barcroft Media

Decades ago, I heard life was simple and it was so
Where there was need, a hand would help
Where there was a tear, a heart would ache
Willing hands and hearts would meet the lack
Charity they called it, for it was so
Now an industry of sorts – an insult to the poor

Now in my day I see things do change
Experts have risen who have not been poor
Whose studies and surveys bring no change
Whose experiments and pilots insult the poor
Whose terms and concepts, tools always change
An industry of sorts – an insult to the poor

What greater insult could there be
When a fellow man calls me just a beneficiary
When our pictures of desperation are used for marketing
When our dignity is insulted just for fundraising
When trainings and awareness are imposed on us
When the life of another is planned by another
When the gift we got is never disclosed
When overheads are deducted before we know
When we smile for pictures we never see
When our children seek to change our ways
When we waste our lives responding to assessments
Indeed an industry sorts – an insult to the poor

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ON DEVELOPMENT: The future of aid: will international NGOs survive?

There was a lot of soul-searching, with multiple inter-agency initiatives aimed at responding to the critics and making the sector more accountable, more humane and responsive. But they failed to stem the tide   of discontent that was beginning to wash over the sector.

Twenty years later and INGOs – humanitarian, human rights, development and environment – are all facing a set of far more critical and far-reaching crises. Their very legitimacy is in question from all sides: governments, southern partners, donors, and even their own staff.

The critiques are myriad. Southern organisations and governments argue that INGOs are unaccountable and have too much power; humanitarian agencies, meanwhile, fail to consult beneficiaries and local groups effectively, and it’s unclear where donors’ money goes. At home some politicians argue that INGOs shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds them by campaigning while receiving government grants. Conversely, they’re accused of not campaigning enough; that they are apolitical, and too close, in some cases, to the corporate sector. Add to this list concerns about overheads, aggressive fundraising tactics, gender representation, and the failure to win key campaigns on critical issues such as climate change.

In spite of what some perceive as great successes of the sector – reaching the 0.7% foreign aid targetor international debt relief – there is no backing away from the view that the sector needs, at the very least, a tune-up, if not a wholesale revolution to enable it to face modern times.

Because in addition to the critiques, the sector is facing a rapidly changing, complex, and increasingly demanding environment, with new conflicts and climate change and colossal political, technological, and demographic transformation. The world bears little resemblance to what it did in the sector’s heyday of the 80s and 90s. Seven of the largest development organisations in the UK (Oxfam, Christian Aid, Action Aid, Cafod, World Vision, Tearfund, Save the Children) now have a combined income of more than £1bn, but is their influence and impact commensurate?

Social innovation seems to be rising up around INGOs, making them appear out-dated and static in comparison. Social enterprises are rapidly occupying the service delivery space where INGOs once led, with a fresh wave of philanthro-capitalists seeking out “beyond charity” solutions to poverty. Meanwhile, new social movements from Occupy to UK Uncut are highlighting the issues of inequality and social justice and inspiring young people more than ever before. Digital technology has bred a new rise of campaigners, from 38 Degrees, to350.org, which seem to be more effective at rapid mobilisation, both on and offline.

It’s an exhausting list, and one that threatens to send even the most die-hard of INGO thought leaders into a dark closet, never to be seen again. I suspect a few are already there.

If INGOs were companies, most would shrug the critics off – “haters gonna hate” – and continue on as they were. But they’re not, nor can they afford to bury their heads in the sand. Historically, INGOs have gone through periods of growth and retrenchment, and no doubt these patterns will continue.

The sector’s traditional approach to challenge has been to develop codes of practice, joint charters, or training schemes. Some go further: Action Aid and Oxfam have shifted their headquarters to the global south. But such approaches feel a bit like changing a warning sign on a poorly engineered aircraft – they still have a high likelihood of failure.

It is unlikely that INGOs will survive, at least in their current form, without a direct full-frontal assault on the sector. With the external trends coming at rapid-fire pace, they will need to respond by innovating in an equally rapid-fire fashion. So the question is: how will INGOs face the issues of today, and what will they look like when they come out the other side?

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ON DEVELOPMENT: The stealth aid raid: militarising Britain’s development budget

By: Diane Abbott  Mon, 29 Feb 2016 17:38 GMT  original 

Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

When David Cameron last year committed Britain to spend 0.7% of its GDP on aid, he bought his ruling Conservative Party an air of sanctity. He is now exploiting this sanctity to push through some rather unholy changes to how Britain spends that budget.

The public conception of development aid does not include paying the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to train militaries the world over to find and kill people they have determined are terrorists.

But as of this month, people will find themselves to be sadly mistaken in thinking that the £12 billion they pay each year in taxes towards Britain’s aid budget is deployed only to reduce poverty in the developing world.

Following a successful lobbying campaign by the British government – and against the arguments of more sensible and less militarised donor nations such as Sweden – the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD has widened the definition of overseas development assistance (ODA) to allow for aid to be used for military purposes.

Helen Clark, head of United Nations Development Programme, said last week the rule changes would hurt and possibly even destabilise poor countries.

CHANGING PURPOSES

The government’s militarisation of the aid budget makes a mockery of Britain’s legal commitment to use aid only to reduce poverty and will inevitably divert development aid away from those most in need.

This is just the latest step by the government of the most radical change to how Britain spends its aid budget since 1997, when the Department for International Development (DFID) was set up by Labour.

Once out of the hobbling coalition with the Liberal Democrats, the Conservative Party moved swiftly to expand the proportion of the aid budget allocated for security projects, allocating at least half of the aid budget to fragile and conflict-hit states.

At the same time it signalled that from now on Britain would spend aid only on projects that serve its own financial and security interests.

To finance its new security strategy, the government has beefed-up the Conflict Pool – a pot of cash for security-related projects worth £180 million in 2014 that constituted 1.5 per cent of the aid budget – into a new pot called the Conflict,Stability and Security Fund (CSSF). The CSSF will be worth £1.3 billion by the end of this parliament – around 11 per cent of the aid budget.

LACK OF TRANSPARENCY

At the same time the government has empowered the MoD and the Foreign Office to spend more and more of Britain’s aid budget at the expense of the DFID: over the course of the parliament the amount of aid spent outside DFID will triple to around £5 billion in 2020.

Neither the MoD nor the Foreign Office report on their projects in a systematic way, unlike DFID which reports on projects month by month. We have not had project-level data, for example, from the Foreign Office since the May election.

Transparency aside, spending aid in conflict zones on security projects has a bad precedent. The U.S. development agency USAID spent billions in post-2001 Afghanistan which was embezzled or spirited out of the country. The British government is once again falling into the American trap.

The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI), the government’s own aid watchdog, has criticized the government’s failure to learn lessons from the past, adding that its security initiatives are “naïve” and perform “poorly” in terms of both effectiveness and value for money.

In summary, the government is spending more of the aid budget, less transparently in conflict-hit states that it thinks serve the British interest. This is a thin euphemism for a raid of the aid budget to finance costly folly in the Middle East and North Africa, most of whose nations are middle-income.

WRITING ON THE WALL

The government’s lobbying of the OECD redefinition of aid is only the latest step of a wider agenda by this government to use the aid budget to top up Britain’s military and diplomatic budget.

It is not for no reason that the refrain “Can we ODA that?” is now common in the corridors of the Foreign Office and the MoD.

The trend of allocating more and more aid for security projects in conflict-hit areas with an eye on what such spend can do for Britain’s own interests is an extraordinarily dangerous direction of travel.

Should we, for example, be using our aid budget to train in counter terrorism the security services of our allies who routinely commit human rights abuses? This would appear to sit comfortably in the remit of the government’s new aid strategy.

Counter terrorism goes hand in hand with the routine abuse of human rights as security services surveille, detain, torture and even execute those in civil society who object to their style of rule under the banner of fighting terror.

I fear that by spending our aid on militaries in fragile, often undemocratic states, we are at considerable risk of using taxpayers’ money to make these countries more fragile and more undemocratic.

My concern is not simply hypothetical.

Until 2014 UK aid was financing on a project to train  Ethiopia’s quasi-military police force. The project was eventually pulled amid reports from rights groups including Amnesty International which found allegations of torture and rape by the very security services Britain was financing.

At the same time Britain was funding the police of the Democratic Republic of Congo for nearly a year after reports first emerged that the force “summarily executed” civilians. The project was only pulled when the United Nations released a report on the killings.

Perhaps we should not be surprised. The permanent secretary at the Foreign Office, Simon McDonald, revealed in October that human rights were “not one of the top priorities” for this government.

Diane Abbott is a Labour Party lawmaker for Hackney North and Stoke Newington and opposition spokeswoman for international development

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ON HAITI: As drought hammers countryside, many in Haiti go hungry

by David Mcfadden The Associated Press, 2 min read, original
dt.common.streams.StreamServer

This Feb. 20, 2016 photo shows the dry, cracked lakebed of Trou Caiman, in Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti. A drought worsened by the El Nino weather phenomenon has driven Haitians who were already barely getting by on marginal farmland deeper into misery. An estimated 1.5 million people are going hungry as crop yields fall to lowest levels in 35 years in a country where two-thirds of people eke out a living from agriculture. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)

“We get a little bit to eat and drink each day, but it’s never enough to get our strength back. I don’t know what to do anymore,” she said, her voice hoarse as she cradled her toddler twins, their hair brittle and taking on a yellowish tinge, a sign of malnutrition.

For the last three years, a punishing drought has driven Haitians who were already barely getting by on marginal farmland even deeper into misery. Last year’s crop yields were the worst in 35 years in a country where more than two-thirds of people eke out a living from agriculture, many using archaic hand tools.

Many Haitians routinely go to bed hungry, and are heartbreakingly accustomed to privation and natural disasters. But the cumulative impact of this drought is so severe that Haiti is facing “unprecedented food insecurity,” according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Over the last year, it’s worsened significantly with a strong El Nino weather phenomenon that’s been disrupting weather patterns across the globe, leaving many places in Latin America and the Caribbean stricken by drought. Cuba suffered its worst drought in over a century in 2015 and water rationing was ordered in Puerto Rico and elsewhere.

But few places are more vulnerable than Haiti, where 3.6 million of its 10.4 million people can’t afford the minimum daily calories, according to the U.N. World Food Program. Of those, 1.5 million are in urgent need of assistance, meaning they’re getting significantly less nutrition than what they need and are so underfed they become weak. That category of “severely food insecure” people has doubled in Haiti over the last six months, the agency said.

“This drought is a very dangerous situation. The pressures on people keep increasing,” said Haitian economist Kesner Pharel, noting that buying food makes up more than half of an average Haitian family’s budget.

Pharel said local agricultural production has contracted so severely over the last two years that 70 percent of the crops consumed in Haiti are now imported, up from roughly 50 percent in the past. With the local currency losing value, the cost of imports is rising, making everything pricier.

Officials say more rural families are being forced to join the decades-long exodus to cities. And diminishing calories means more children are vulnerable to infections like measles and any number of other diseases.

Wendy Bigham, country director of the U.N. World Food Program, said a growing number of farming families have been eating seed stock, seeking loans and selling items such as livestock and tools to get cash for food.

But “coping mechanisms such as reducing food consumption, selling assets and borrowing money are more and more difficult to sustain as the drought continues year after year,” she said.

In the wind-swept mountain town of Oriani in southeast Haiti, Joseph knows this all too well. About a year ago, her husband left to seek work in the neighboring Dominican Republic and he hasn’t returned since. She was forced to sell off her chickens and then her other meager possessions to buy food.

On a recent afternoon, Associated Press reporters met her at a town health clinic crowded with other women cradling children and waiting their turn to be seen. Her 2-year-old twins, Angelo and Angela, have missed developmental milestones such as taking their first steps or uttering their first words. On this day, she left with only deworming tablets because the facility was again out of nutrient-dense peanut butter.

At her family’s stone-and-timber shack, Joseph’s two older children, 10-year-old daughter Junel and 12-year-old son Stevenson, sprawled listlessly on a straw mat as her hungry twins tried to breastfeed. Joseph is so underfed and dehydrated that she can’t produce milk. “I only nurse them to comfort them,” she said.

To get emergency aid to people like Joseph and her children, the World Food Program is seeking $84 million in donations to distribute cash and food to roughly 1 million drought-affected Haitians. The U.S. has boosted its emergency aid to Haiti, awarding $11.6 million to nonprofits to address nutritional deficiencies for over 135,000 people.

The challenges of getting emergency food aid to struggling communities, even those accessible only by foot or donkey, is easier than finding elusive solutions to Haiti’s chronic hunger problems.

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ON DEVELOPMENT: It’s Not a Food Truck. It’s a Mobile Kitchen Feeding Refugees

globalvoices.org, by Public Radio International, Feb. 13, 2016, 3 min read, original
CROPGhafoorFazel-800x450

Ghafoor Hussain and his brother Fazel stand outside Ghafoor’s bus-turned-mobile kitchen. They’re supplying 3,000 hot meals a day, and 10,000 cups of tea. Credit: Adeline Sire. Used with PRI’s permission

This article by Adeline Sire for The World originally appeared on PRI.org on February 10, 2016, and is republished here as part of a content-sharing agreement.

No matter where they are located, most refugee camps need an army of volunteers to help with distributing blankets, clothing, and especially food and water.

Listen to this story on PRI.org »

Some of those volunteers are particularly committed.

For years, Ghafoor Hussain has been offering his time to help feed and clothe the needy. Last fall, he traveled from his home in Stockton-on-Tees in northeast England to migrant camps in Croatia, Slovenia and Austria.

But when he was in at a camp in Austria, he saw that refugees were given cold sandwiches. And he decided they needed hot food — and that he would be the one to deliver.

Now he doesn’t just bring himself to camps, he brings a bus, which he bought online last December and retrofitted with special equipment.

“We took it back to the garage where I work and we stripped it all out and my nephew gave me some help to kitty it all out into a full mobile kitchen,” says Hussain, who’s 44.

The bus is a rolling professional kitchen equipped with two prep tables, a double-drainer sink, five commercial gas stoves and a 260-gallon water tank. Gas containers and storage are in the back and underneath. Buying and retrofitting the bus cost him about $9,000 but he got help from friends and colleagues.

“Everyone started chipping in and we got a fund going,” he says. “People have donated food and clothing and everything. And they also gave me donations, as in money, so this morning we went out to the warehouse and bought two pallets of water.”

Since mid-January, Hussain’s mobile kitchen has been stationed at the Grande-Synthe migrant camp near Dunkirk, in northern France. His brother-in-law drove it over from the UK. Hussain had originally planned to stop at camps along the route of migrants traveling up through Central Europe, but he got a phone call telling him the living conditions at the French camp were bad and that they needed his help. He left his son in charge of the family garage to give his full attention to his mobile kitchen.

Now Hussain supplies about 3,000 hot meals per day for people living in tents at the camp. Hot drinks too.

“We do about 5,000 cups of tea in the morning; then we do another 5,000 cups of tea in the evening,” he says. “As you can feel, the temperature is very cold, and this morning everything was frozen. And there’s no hot beverages anywhere in this camp apart from what we supply.”

As for meals, Hussain says they cook rice, lentils, chickpeas, red kidney beans, black-eyed beans, pasta and porridge. Truth be told, porridge didn’t go over too well in this camp of mostly Kurdish refugees. Because most of the people here are Muslim, like Hussain, he cooks vegetarian meals to avoid the need for Halal meat. It’s expensive and hard to get in this small French town.

Preparing 3,000 meals a day cost him about $450, but he’s not worried about running out of money. He says he’s getting donations from all over Europe, as well as Abu Dhabi and Pakistan, where he was born.

“The way the things are going with my friends and family,” he chuckles, “I don’t think my funds will run out. They’re very kind.”

And he says he is in it for the long run, as long as he can get the backing. But what does his family think about him being away?

“They think I’m a bit mad,” he says with a laugh, “but I have the full support of my family. I’m hoping to go back [home] for a few days next week, and then come back again and keep going.”

In fact, Hussain just bought another bus, soon to be a fully-equipped kitchen, to meet the growing demand at the camps for hot meals.

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