Issues & Analysis
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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 THE MEDIA:What Everyone Should Know About Filming (And Sharing) Injustice on Social Media

What Everyone Should Know About Filming (And Sharing) Injustice on Social Media

Image Credit: Getty Images

Armed with mobile devices and social media, citizen journalists around the world have become essential agents of democracy, bearing witness to criminal behavior and abuses of power that might otherwise remain obscured and unseen. That genie’s not going back in the bottle. But the next time you happen upon an unfolding scene of injustice — particularly when police are involved — there are some things you need to know before you hit record.
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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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AFGHANISTAN/ON THE MEDIA: Pressure Like Nowhere Else in the World: Journalism in Afghanistan

By: Bismellah Alizada   p

First female journalists trained in Afghanistan in more than a decade, and first ever trained in digital media, produce a documentary as part of a groundbreaking training program for Afghan women journalists supported by The Asia Foundation, a leading non-governmental organization active in Asia since 1954. The hour-long documentary captures the stories of women in Afghanistan, describing both their lives under the Taliban and their hopes for the future. www.asiafoundation.org. (PRNewsFoto/The Asia Foundation)

First female journalists trained in Afghanistan produce a documentary as part of a groundbreaking training program for Afghan women journalists supported by The Asia Foundation. Photo by PRNewsFoto/The Asia Foundation, Creative Commons

With the collapse of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan almost 15 years ago, a democratic government with a relatively liberal constitution emerged that made allowances — in theory — for freedom of the press and expression. But ensuring the basic security of media workers in the country has been somewhat harder. Media outlets grew exponentially after the anti-press Taliban was toppled, thanks in part to generous funding coming from NGOs, international organisations and foreign countries.

But as foreign troops withdrew, funding for these operations began to wane and only a handful remained commercially viable as many others closed down.

Threats affecting journalists are numerous. Media workers are targets because they highlight the brutality of the insurrection led by the Taliban and other militant groups, while pinpointing the shortcomings of the government and the misdeeds of warlords and parliamentarians alike.

According to a report published by Deutsche Welle in January 2015, there were 125 incidents of violence against journalists reported in 2014, marking the year the “most violent year on record for journalists in the country” as thousands of troops from the US-led coalition withdrew from the country.

Things have not improved since. In August 2015, Pajhwok News Agency’s Azizullah Hamdard was shot and injured in Kabul by unidentified assailants after she reported an incident of electoral fraud.

But it was in autumn last year that things truly took a turn for the worse for the country’s media, as the Taliban dramatically seized the strategic northern city of Kunduz, one of their biggest coups in recent years.

As noted in a recent report by International Media Support (IMS), a non-profit that advocates for media rights and safety across the world:

In the months leading up to the attack, the Taliban had exhibited increasing hostility towards media workers following a spate of years in which the terrorist group had built up stable relationships with mainstream media, providing regular press statements from spokesmen and utilising social media with great effect to broaden their outreach. In September and October 2015, this strategy changed abruptly, as the Taliban proceeded to openly target journalists during the terrorist group’s capture of the Northern city of Kunduz. According to the IMS-supported Afghan Journalists Safety Committee (AJSC), the Taliban actively sought out journalists, searching and raiding the offices of media outlets.

Among the outlets to feel the Taliban’s wrath is TOLO News, a dynamic organisation owned by the MOBY media group that has gained the trust of large parts of the Afghan public by providing 24-hour coverage that includes some of the most dangerous and inaccessible areas of the country.

On January 21, TOLO News staff were targeted by a suicide bomber in Kabul, who killed seven of their workers.

The Taliban had been particularly angry with TOLO News for what it described as a vilification effort after the outlet described incidences of violence and rape towards Kunduz’s civilian population during the month of October.

The subsequent attack on the channel sparked public outrage.

In response to the Taliban’s attack, some journalists suggested a boycott of coverage of future attacks, depriving the group of a vital source of publicity.

Accordingly, the February 1 bombing in Kabul that claimed 20 lives was not covered by TOLO TV and TOLO news.

However, the initiative received mixed responses.

Government officials meanwhile try to force corruption, embezzlement, land usurpation, and human rights abuses off the media’s agenda.

On his first day in office, President Ghani allowed New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg, who had been expelled by Afghan government on allegations of undermining Afghanistan’s national interests, to return to the country, showcasing his administration’s commitment to free press and freedom of expression.

He also signed into law the Access to Information Law earlier passed by the parliament which states that government-held information should be available to the public, “except in cases that would threaten national security, compromise privacy, or interfere with a criminal investigation”.

Ghani’s administration, however, has failed to deliver on those promises.

The government’s controversial Media Violation Investigation Commission (MVIC), which has been in effect since 2005, has summoned leading daily newspapers on many occasions.

Hasht-e Subh Daily, Daily Open Society, and Etilaat-e Roz Daily are amongst those whose editors-in-chiefs called in by officials as a result of critical reporting.

Moreover, when the anonymously-run satirical Facebook page Kabul Taxi poked fun at Ghani’s powerful security chief Hanif Atmar, Atmar began an unsuccessful witch hunt to try and find out if any prominent media workers were behind the page. It was eventually shut down.

Although television is attracting a significant audience throughout the country, radio still remains the primary source of news for the bulk of the population.

Print media readership is low, but social media usage is on the rise and Internet connections are becoming faster and more accessible.

Accompanying these trends are citizen journalism and blogging, which are increasingly appreciated by a young educated readership.

The phenomenal growth of an independent media in post-Taliban Afghanistan is one of the few major achievements that a government still stricken by graft and incapable of providing many public services can point to.

Despite all manner of pressures, the media is fulfilling its duty and defending the public interest. Although the sacrifices it has been forced to make in order to achieve that goal have been far too many.

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Help us screen these Haitian-made films in May – Haitian Heritage Month

OOF-HPF DVD CoverWe need your help to organize screenings of Owning Our Future – Haitian Perspectives in Film during Haitian Heritage Month – in May.

We can be there with you to help present the films;  We’ve got all the materials you need – posters, flyers etc…  We just need your help with gathering the audience. Please call (617-834-7206) or email (michael@csfilm.org) to help us make a big Haitian splash during the month of May.

These ten Haitian-made documentaries provide a very unique opportunity for your community, school, college, church or organization to experience Haiti as it is lived by street vendors, business women, artists, farmers and more.  Their stories nourish an understanding of Haiti that goes beyond its man-made and natural disasters.

Your audience will come away with a completely new understanding of the economic and social challenges faced by Haitians and so many others in countries struggling against inequality and injustice.

 

 

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ON THE MEDIA: Oscars: Examining Gender Bias in the Documentary Categories

By: Addie Morfoot   FEBRUARY 18, 2016 | 10:30AM PT   original

Gender Bias in Documentary Filmmaking

The institutional bias against minorities and women within the Academy has been widely discussed. However, encouraging Oscar docu statistics as well as an impressive roster of female nonfiction gatekeepers suggest that women in the documentary arena are not only breaking down barriers but also successfully steering the ship.

Not so, according to a number of the communities’ leading female directors, producers and executives.

Unlike the narrative world, where hardly a week goes without a prominent actress or director making headlines by blasting Hollywood for treating women as second-class citizens, public discussion of gender inequality in the nonfiction community is not often spotlighted.

But recently the issue came to light thanks to entertainment attorney Victoria Cook, who reps leading doc directors including Oscar nominees Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady, Marshall Curry, Amy Berg and Liz Garbus.

In early January, Cook wrote a 634-word Facebook entry about gender bias in the documentary world. In the post, Cook said there is a “misperception that the (feature) documentary category is more inclusive, less sexist and less racist than the other categories.” The entry went viral.

In the post Cook addressed a “pervasive problem in the documentary category,” citing just two female doc feature filmmakers — Laura Poitras (2014’s “Citizenfour”) and Zana Briski (2004’s “Born Into Brothels”) — winning the Oscar documentary feature category in the past 20 years.

In spite of that grim stat, there is no denying that female feature documentarians have a better Oscar track record than their fiction counterparts. Case in point: In the past 10 years, 13 female helmers have been nominated in the feature docu race. (Poitras was nominated twice in that period.) They made up 30% of the nominations.

Through 1992, nominations and awards in docu categories went to producers, not directors. If directors were also classified as producers, they received the award. In total, 11 female directors have won the feature doc kudo, including two-time champ Barbara Kopple, who won for 1976 and 1990.

Compare that to the past 10 years of the directing race, where there’s been only one female nominee — Kathryn Bigelow, who went on to make history by becoming the first woman to win. In the past 88 years, 12 best picture nominees have been directed by women. Out of those 12 films, only three were nominated for a directing kudo.

Despite the promising Oscar numbers, prominent nonfiction female filmmakers attest to gender bias in the community even after winning a little golden man. “Learning to Drive” screenwriter Sarah Kernochan has won two Academy Awards for her nonfiction work, the first for 1972 feature “Marjoe” and the second for 2001 short “Thoth.”

I think it’s crucial that … people are increasingly aware of whatever unconscious biases they bring to the table when hiring or deciding whose film to finance or distribute.” LIZ GARBUS – “WHAT HAPPENED, MISS SIMONE?”

“My co-director on ‘Marjoe’ was a man, Howard Smith,” Kernochan says. “He was good about thrusting me forward so people would have to deal with me as well, because they would automatically talk to him (about the film) and often I was the one with the answers. When I split up with him, there were no opportunities for me, but there were definitely opportunities for him.

“The Oscar didn’t get me anywhere at all because it was assumed that Howard did all the work and I was just the tag-along. The second Oscar, it had absolutely no effect. I think one person asked to meet with me. One! And it was just a meet and greet. It didn’t lead to a job. That would have never happened with a man. Especially a young man.”

In a recent essay for Medium.com, “What Happened, Miss Simone?” helmer and two-time Oscar nominee Garbus recalls fighting for a credit she rightfully deserved.

“On one of my earliest projects, on which I worked many, many years, for next to no money (the usual), my deal with my male filmmaking partner was that we would share producer and director credit,” Garbus wrote. “Three years later, after I had brought in one of the two financing deals, spent nearly two years in the field and a year in the edit room, and maxed out a personal credit card in order to get the film finished, as we were doing the credits in post this fellow suggested that we share just the directing credit, but the producing credit rest solely with him.”

Garbus ultimately kept her producing credit, but contribution questioning is not unique to her. Female directors point to gender disparity in all facets of the documentary process in spite of prominent female gatekeepers including HBO’s Sheila Nevins, Netflix’s Lisa Nishimura and A&E’s Molly Thompson as well as a lower barrier of entry into the field.

As a woman you have to make the case each time you want to make a film why you should be trusted.” DAWN PORTER – “TRAPPED”

Problem is, many women in the field do not feel comfortable going on the record about it.

Emmy nominated docu helmer Dawn Porter agreed to speak about the issue. Porter has three high-profile feature docs under her belt. Her latest project, “Trapped” premiered last month at Sundance and won the special jury award for social impact.

“The problem is a different kind of problem than the fiction world,” Porter says. “In documentaries it’s definitely not a problem of access and filmmakers getting greenlit, because documentaries don’t necessarily work that way. We are not an industry of commissions, so we don’t really have to wait for greenlights. But as a woman you have to make the case each time you want to make a film why you should be trusted. People assume that you, being a woman, don’t necessarily have an infrastructure. I don’t get the sense that people ask (male documentarians) those kinds of things. Or when working with a crew you aren’t familiar with — you get people challenging you in ways that I’m positive they don’t challenge guys. For instance, they think you never shot an interview before.”

For “Mavis!” director Jessica Edwards, Cook’s post “really hit a nerve.” Three years ago Edwards decided to make her first feature about the life of living music legend Mavis Staples.

Despite choosing a popular, historically well-funded nonfiction topic (“Amy” and “Miss Simone?” are about notable female singers Amy Winehouse and Nina Simone) for her first feature, Edwards did not receive any outside funding. Instead she was forced to self-finance, using credit cards, savings and asking family members for loans. (HBO acquired the film in April.)

Arguably project undercapitalization is a problem for both male and female documentary filmmakers, but Edwards says it’s worse for women and people of color.

Making documentaries is tough all over but when shit gets tough all over, ultimately the first people who get what they need to get to get going are white dudes.” JESSICA EDWARDS – “MAVIS!”

“Making documentaries is tough all over, but when sh– gets tough all over, ultimately the first people who get what they need to get going are white dudes,” says Edwards. “The only way it’s going to change is to talk about it and hire more women.”

Garbus agrees. “I think it’s crucial that we’re having these conversations (and) that people are increasingly aware of whatever unconscious biases they bring to the table when hiring or deciding whose film to finance or distribute.”

Despite being the only female nominee in the doc feature race this year, Garbus says she does not feel like the underdog.

“(‘What Happened, Miss Simone?’) has had an extraordinary year, and has gotten incredible responses from audiences and terrific support from (Netflix),” the helmer says. “I feel I’m representing for female doc filmmakers — some of whom I had hoped would be my fellow nominees — but it feels more like an honor than a pressure.”

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AFGHANISTAN: Afghanistan war: Just what was the point?

By Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Updated 5:43 AM ET, Thu February 25, 2016, original

Afghan troops pull out of Helmand districts

Afghan troops pull out of Helmand districts

Nick Paton Walsh is a CNN Senior International Correspondent who has reported from Afghanistan frequently over the last 10 years.

(CNN)It is worse in Afghanistan now than I ever could have imagined. And I was a pessimist.

Fatigue was always going to be the decider. Western fatigue with the horrors their troops saw, and with the violence inflicted daily on Afghans themselves. The fatigue of the financial cost, where a power station that was barely ever switched on cost Uncle Sam a third of a billion dollars.

And the other fatigue — the one felt by the Taliban — mostly distinguished by its absence; they felt only the tirelessness of their cause.

Meet Afghanistan's Romeo and Juliet

Meet Afghanistan’s Romeo and Juliet

Sometimes the occasional jolt reminds the world that the war is still ongoing. The conflict, begun initially to oust the Taliban that sheltered al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S., has cost the lives of more than 3,500 Coalition service members and tens of thousands of Afghan civilians.

This week, Afghan troops, after months of fury at poor supplies and low morale, fell back from two vital positionsin the volatile Helmand province. It leaves Lashkar Gah and Sangin as the major strongholds the government still holds, and a sense of foreboding that the opium-rich southern region will eventually entirely belong to the Taliban.

The war also moved back into focus three weeks ago with the death of Wasil Ahmad. Wasil learned firearms and commanded a unit of anti-Taliban fighters briefly, before Taliban gunmen on a motorbike mowed him down as he bought food for his mother and siblings. Wasil was just 11 years old.

Before the Coalition came

Known as the “graveyard of empires,” Afghanistan has a reputation for humiliating would-be conquerors. Both the Soviets, in the 1980s, and the British, during the 19th century, were forced to beat bloody retreats from Afghanistan, deprived of what looked, on paper, to be easy victories.

Time has changed the definition of what people nowadays call an “empire,” but not this perception. The U.S. military liked to feel wise as they repeated the maxim that they had the “fancy watch, but the Taliban had the time.” In truth, the American watch ran out of batteries, leaving the Taliban owning both the aphorism and the clock.

READ: Young Messi fan wearing plastic bag jersey found in Afghanistan

The rise of the Taliban before 9/11 owed much to the country’s ethnic divides. In the civil war that followed the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989, Pashtun forces swept in from the south, towards the capital Kabul, and pushed the Tajiks back to the north.

Time passed. The U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003. The Taliban found its feet again. The U.S. began to get mired in Iraq. The insurgency picked up. The Afghan government started losing ground. By 2008, it was a full-on emergency and the U.S. realized — even from the liberal anti-war perch of President Barack Obama — that this was the “just war” that it must fight.

And then, the war ramped up

For about three years, there was intense focus. First came the surge. Up to 100,000 U.S. troops (as part of a NATO force) at one point, pressing into the darkest Taliban valleys. Holding ground — spending millions every month to maintain a presence in tiny dusty villages in faraway places like Kandahar to show the insurgency the U.S. had the resolve.

READ: Top U.S. general in Afghanistan: 2016 ‘possibly worse than 2015’

But it was never going to last. In fact, that was always an advertised part of the plan: the U.S. and NATO would hold the land for a few years — until they thought the Afghan troops were ready — and then they would pull out. The Taliban had to hope the Afghans wouldn’t be ready, and just wait. It seems they did.

Secondly, came the budgets: $110 billion spent in the largest reconstruction effort in U.S. history. Some new roads that made life in some towns viable again, but also buildings that always stood empty, and an injection of cash into Kabul so unrealistic, unprecedented and absurd that the cost of living became almost reckless.

At one point the World Bank suggested more than 90% of Afghanistan’s total budget was aid-dependent. (I got a very quick call from the U.S. Embassy telling me this wasn’t true — no alternative figure was offered). Housing for Afghans became more expensive — some rents have now dropped by almost half. From behind the concrete blast walls where foreigners mainly lived, a (small) can of black market Heineken at one point cost $10. America had no shortage of cash, just a shortage of viable ways to spend it, resulting in some daft projects and a brief pocket of total imbalance in the Afghan economy.

Thirdly came the leadership. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates fired the military commander of the NATO-led security mission in Afghanistan ISAF, David McKiernan, in 2009 and replaced him with Stanley McChrystal, a special forces veteran.

McChrystal’s bleak assessment of the war was damning enough to suggest the Green Beret knew the scope of the challenge. He had a plan — and it was leaked quickly enough to back the White House into a corner that involved a large commitment of resources. It involved talking to Afghans, and winning them over. Troops would get out and meet people. For a moment, it seemed to work.

Then the bizarre happened. Eyjafjallajökull, a volcano in Iceland erupted in 2010, scattering ash into the atmosphere and grounding aircraft. McChrystal and his team were among those delayed, along with a Rolling Stone reporter. They spoke their minds, found themselves in print, and McChrystal was fired. From that point, the war felt like it changed. Forever.

READ: Opinion – Sanity prevails on U.S. troops in Afghanistan

David Petraeus swept in that year as McChrystal’s successor — a career general, mindful that the clock was ticking on the surge. The campaign focused on the message and that clock. Petraeus was succeeded by another Iraq veteran, John Allen, whose role was about cleaning up. The surge had almost worked, but been interrupted, caught short, and now America was leaving.

Between January and May 2012, every day seemed to bring a new calamity to the U.S. military presence. From Qurans burned apparently in error; to the corpses of Taliban fighters urinated on by Marines who filmed themselves as they did it; to a massacre by an American soldier in a Kandahar village. Even the most footsure NATO spokesman seemed to lose faith.

So what was achieved?

Well, at one point, al Qaeda was said to be in its mere hundreds in Afghanistan — hiding away in the eastern hills. Bin Laden had been killed in Pakistan. A few thousand Afghans became absurdly rich on the U.S. presence. Far many more thousands (there is no real, reliable figure) died or were injured.

Women saw a brief moment when Western aid programs and ideals let them think about lives outside of the home, where they could flourish. (They still can think about that, but now risk more than ever brutal reprisals from conservatives). The West flooded the country with money and weapons to the point that it is now a land of warlords on steroids.

READ: Opinion – How Afghanistan can succeed

The Afghan army, briefly, swelled. But it could never hold the ground NATO did. NATO advisors would swear blind that you were wrong, that the ramshackle units you saw could defeat a hungry and angry local insurgency. But it became clear they were misinformed. That an inner malaise — corruption — would undo the Afghan National Security Forces, whose upkeep has cost the U.S. taxpayer well over $60 billion, and whose brave losses continue now at an unprecedented speed.

In Afghanistan, portrait of a tragic failure of humanity

In Afghanistan, portrait of a tragic failure of humanity

 Two stories stick out of Afghans who are not where the West told them they would be. The first is Gulnaz, the woman who was raped, then jailed for adultery because her attacker was married, then told she would have to marry him. International pressure led to her release into a shelter for women, but three years later I found her living with her attacker, and married to him — the only way Afghanistan’s at times backwards world could find to reconcile the crime against her.

Second is Wahid. He commanded an Afghan army unit, fighting fiercely in Kunduz against the Taliban. They had little support, he alleged, even ammunition, and the dead bodies of their fallen comrades were left to rot in their besieged base. So he fled — dodging bullets in Iran, taking the boat to Greece, and enduring tear gas near Hungary. He is exactly the sort of Afghan the West promised a future to and needed to stay where he was — defending his country. We found him eating a muffin in a café in Munich, Germany.

Where are we now?

The dissent in the ranks of the Taliban has led to ISIS becoming a radical, brutal and attractive alternative to the country’s disenfranchised youth, for whom the old insurgency isn’t moving fast enough.

Haunting pictures of Kunduz MSF hospital

Haunting pictures of Kunduz MSF hospital

 According to the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR — the U.S. government’s money watchdog there), the Taliban hold more territory now than at any time since 2001. There are about 10,000 U.S. troops left, who can hunt extremists, but not hold territory. And it seems neither can the Afghan army at times. It is losing fast in Helmand. It lost Kunduz temporarily in October. If you suggested either of these losses were remotely possible two years ago, most NATO advisors would accuse you of mild insanity.

In terms of Western goals — things are right back where they started: needing to keep Afghanistan free of extremists and a viable country for its people. Without that the result is thousands of refugees in Europe, and ISIS gets a new safe haven. What is left is a country where the West is discredited as unwilling to stay the course; where most fighters are meaner, better armed, and more chaotic than they were in 2001; and whose name causes opinion-formers in the West to try and change the subject.

It was dubbed the Just War, then the Forever War. Now many want it to be the Forgotten War.

But it is still a war, and the West owns a lot of it.

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AFGHANISTAN: Afghan teacher among top 10 finalists for $1 million Global Teacher Prize

By KHAAMA PRESS – Sat Feb 20 2016

A female Afghan teacher has been nominated for the Global Teacher Prize by Varkey Foundation and is among the top 10 finalists to receive the $1 million prize.

According to a statement by the organization, the top 10 finalists were announced on Wednesday, representing 5 continents, and 9 countries.

The winner of the prize is expected to be announced on 13th March in Dubai and each of the top 10 finalists will be featured by the organization.

Aqeela was forced to leave Afghanistan in 1992 due to the civil war and shifted to Pakistan along with millions of other Afghans.

Shocked with the deeply conservative Afghans refugees in the camps who were regarding education with suspicion preferring to put their children to work, Aqeela started her first school in a borrowed tent, spending as much time educating parents on the benefits of education as their children.

“There was no money and no equipment: her first pupils spelt out their work in the dust of the tent floor. Careful to be sensitive to religious and tribal sensibilities, word spread amongst both the Afghan refugees and the local Pakistani families who started to send their daughters to Aqeela’s school. She gained the trust of the community and was rewarded increased attendances,” according to a feature published about Aqeela on The Global teacheer Prize organization.

Today, over 1500 pupils are enrolled in her schools of whom 900 are girls. Her graduates are carrying the message back home – two of her former pupils have opened schools for girls in Afghanistan and other have started businesses, become doctors or government employees .
“I am particularly proud of those who have made their decision to return to Afghanistan and become active agents of change at a time when their country needs them most”, she says.

Aqeela’s school has produced over 1,000 graduates (mainly Afghan refugee girls, but also local Pakistani children). Some have become doctors, engineers, government officials and teachers in Afghanistan.

She was also presented with the UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award in 2015.

http://www.khaama.com/afghan-teacher-among-top-10-finalists-for-1-million-global-teacher-prize-0121

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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
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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 HAITI: Haiti Rises-A Time for Solidarity

22 February 2016, Nia Imara and Robert Roth – Haiti Action Committee
“Reflecting on struggles everywhere, we came to the conclusion that a people can’t be sovereign if they don’t have the right to vote. No people can retain their dignity if their vote does not count.”From a Statement Issued by 68 Haitian Grassroots Organizations, Jan 22, 2016

The voice of Haiti’s popular movement at this critical period in the country’s history has never been clearer.  For the past several months, since the discredited legislative and presidential elections of last August and October, mass, vibrant protests for the right to a free and fair vote and against foreign intervention have been a relentless force, in the face of heavily-armed and well-financed adversaries and mounting repression. The influx of articles and editorials in recent weeks by leading U.S. media outlets depicts the situation in Haiti as a confused, incomprehensible, morass of violence and dysfunction, with all sides being equally unreasonable in their demands. This misleading portrayal of Haitian politics and culture—indeed, of Haitian people—by American mainstream media is not new. Rather, it is a continuation of a historical pattern of obfuscating the underlying reasons for the grievances of Haiti’s mass movement, which has consistently denounced foreign intervention and the suppression of Haiti’s sovereignty.

The popular revolt in Haiti has forced the postponement of the January 24 presidential run-off election, to the dismay of the U.S. State Department and the current Haitian government of Michel Martelly, whose handpicked candidate had been declared the frontrunner.  And now, on February 7, it has forced the end of the rule of Martelly himself, who has had to step down rather than oversee the next stage of the electoral process.

These are major victories for the people’s movement in Haiti. But already there are signs that the next round will be just as difficult as the fight has been already.  The popular movement has made it clear that they have no interest in a top-down solution that excludes the participation and voices of the tens of thousands of Haitians who have risked their lives nearly every day in the fight for democracy.  They have raised the fundamental question: How can elections proceed to a second round if the first round was hopelessly illegitimate? How can elections move forward without a thorough investigation and repair of the fraud that already took place?  These are the critical issues being fought over today as Haitians celebrate the end of the Martelly dictatorship.

Background to the Revolt: Twelve Years Since the Coup, Twelve Years of Occupation

The revolt in Haiti has not emerged overnight. It is now almost twelve years since the U.S.-orchestrated coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and removed over 8,000 elected officials, and exiled, jailed, raped and murdered thousands of supporters of the Fanmi Lavalas Party.  The coup was enforced by a United Nations military occupation that still exists today.  It has been five years since Michel Martelly, a supporter of the brutal Duvalier dictatorships and their death squads, was selected as president; only 17% of eligible Haitian voters turned out in an election that excluded the most popular political party, Fanmi Lavalas. Hillary Clinton, then the U.S. Secretary of State, flew to Haiti to dictate to Haitian officials that Martelly be placed in the election runoff after initial results had left him only in third place. His U.S.-backed reign has featured one corruption scandal after another, intimidation of the judicial system, the return of death squads, torture of political prisoners, selling off of oil and mineral rights to foreign corporations, and rule by decree.

Haitians have had enough of this.  As they watched this latest election being stolen and a Martelly minion emerge as the leading vote getter, they took to the streets by the tens of thousands. As they saw ballot boxes burned and “observers” with 900,000 government-issued credentials vote over and over again, they declared the election an “electoral coup.” As they were turned away from one polling place after another, and told that they were not eligible to vote, they declared fraud.

While they joined the demonstrators in the streets, Fanmi Lavalas and its presidential candidate, Dr. Maryse Narcisse also filed a petition with the National Office of Electoral Litigation to challenge the results. All major opposition condemned the fraudulent elections and announced a boycott of the scheduled presidential run-off on January 24.  As the demonstrations grew in size and scope, the Haitian government responded with increasing violence.  Police fired into peaceful protests, and beat and tear-gassed those in the streets.  Much of this has been met with silence by the international media.

When it comes to Haiti, the United States’ homegrown illness—racism—is cast outward.  Just as the voting rights of Black people have been abused throughout American history, the US Government, through financial and diplomatic coercion, abuses the voting rights of Haitians.  Just as the basic human rights of Black people—decent education, housing, healthcare, physical safety—are regularly undermined here, the US Government has directly and indirectly made efforts to extinguish fundamental civil and human rights in Haiti.  Just as the State of Michigan forced the majority Black population of Flint to drink contaminated water while the EPA did nothing, so did United Nations troops dump their excrement into Haiti’s water supply with impunity, bringing cholera to the country with no reparations.  The U.S. Government—from the Bush Administrations, to the Clinton and Obama Administrations—have routinely demonstrated, as a matter of policy, that Black lives matter in Haiti as little as they do in America.

The State Department: Talking Democracy, Promoting Fraud

The U.S. role throughout the electoral crisis is as predictable as it was after the 2010 earthquake, when the State Department sent then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to handpick a well-known misogynist and supporter of the Duvalier dictatorship, Michel Martelly, for president.  With one hand, the U.S. State Department denounces the “violence” surrounding the elections, while the other hand has never ceased stoking the fires of electoral fraud and corruption.  With one face, the US State Department encourages fair, free elections and discourages voter intimidation; with the other, it upholds electoral fraud and threatens the leadership of Haiti’s most popular movement.

The U.S. State Department has been the chief promoter of both the Martelly government and the fraudulent elections that Haitians have called an “electoral coup.”  It has maintained its pro-Martelly stance despite the reports of independent human rights investigators that Martelly’s PHTK Party intimidated voters, stole ballots, burned ballot boxes and attempted to terrorize voters and suppress voter turnout in both the August 9 and October 25 legislative and presidential elections.

Now that the popular movement has finally brought these fraudulent elections to a temporary halt, the State Department has made its displeasure even more clear. On January 24, it issued a warning to demonstrators in Haiti against “electoral intimidation, destruction of property, and violence,” saying this runs “counter to Haiti’s democratic principles.”  This is the same racist and paternalistic tone it has always used in Haiti—from the time of Haiti’s Revolution, to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Haiti from 1915-1934, to the two coups that overthrew the democratically elected Aristide administrations in 1991 and 2004. This from the same State Department that was silent when peaceful protesters were killed, tear-gassed, beaten or arrested, or when Martelly’s agents terrorized voters and burned down polling places.

Hidden From The Headlines: Fanmi Lavalas and Dr. Maryse Narcisse

In addition, there has been near-silence about the remarkable campaign run by Fanmi Lavalas and its presidential candidate, Dr. Maryse Narcisse. A medical doctor and long-time Lavalas militant, Dr. Narcisse helped establish health clinics in rural communities. At the time of the 1991 coup, like many Aristide supporters, she went into the streets to protest the military and was briefly forced into hiding. When President Aristide was reelected in 2000, she joined his administration.  Exiled after the 2004 coup, she returned in 2006 to help rebuild Lavalas and continues to serve as Aristide’s spokesperson.  Day after day throughout this campaign, she has been in the streets with the people. Her campaign has emphasized “dignity”—that the Haitian people cannot be bought or sold, that, as President Aristide has said, “If we don’t protect our dignity, our dignity will escape us.”

The progressive achievements and agenda of Lavalas—setting up health clinics in poor urban and rural communities, advancing the fight against HIV/AIDS, promoting equality for women, literacy education for all Haitians, living wage employment, taxing the rich, and abolishing the Haitian Army—have made it the party of the poor majority in Haiti.  The organized collective of dozens of grassroots organizations that compose Fanmi Lavalas make it much different from the elite political parties we are familiar with in the U.S.  Fanmi Lavalas grew out of a nationwide mass movement to force out the American-backed dictator, Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, and to instill truly participatory democracy after years of rule by the elite and foreign intervention.  In 1986, after decades of sacrifice and struggle against repressive regimes, Haitians succeeded in forcing out Duvalier and bringing about the nation’s first democratic elections.  It was a hard-fought, hard-won victory when the great majority voted into presidential office Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1990.

Since then, the US organized two coup d’états against the Aristide administration, which again received an overwhelming mandate in 2000.  Following each coup—in 1991 and 2004—the US Government helped to install a military occupation to suppress resistance, namely, Lavalas.  In 1991, the US lent its support to paramilitary groups, many of whom were part of the Duvalier military—since disbanded by Lavalas—and the Haitian police.  In 2004, the US, with the support of France and Canada, threw its full weight behind the United Nations, which, in Haiti, is an occupying force, not a peacekeeping mission. Over the last 12 years, that occupation, known as MINUSTAH, has overseen the attempt to destroy Haiti’s popular movement.

Lavalas still has a target on its back. In an article published by Reuters on January 26, 2016 an unnamed Congressional source told the news agency that, “The Obama Administration would be worried if he [Aristide] were playing an important role. They’re not thrilled with Aristide’s forces coming back.”  This should be no surprise, given the leading role Lavalas has played in the democratic movement.  After all, in 2011, it was President Obama who made a phone call to South African President Jacob Zuma, warning him not to allow President Aristide and his family to board a South African plane and come back to Haiti. When Aristide returned, he was greeted by thousands of people at the airport and then at his home.  Once again, Haitians—and in this case the people of South Africa—did not obey.

What Next? A Time For Solidarity

During this campaign, Dr. Narcisse emerged as a formidable candidate.  If there is a full investigation of the last bogus election, as Lavalas and grassroots organizations are demanding, the abundance of popular support for Dr. Narcisse is certain to manifest in the ballot box.  If she ends up winning, she would be the first elected woman president in Haiti’s history.

That will only be possible if a transparent and credible process takes place over these next months.  The “electoral coup,” after all, stole votes from candidates who represented popular organizations and parties. Any new election that repeats this process will be a new form of theft. With U.S. officials already decrying the “violence” of demonstrators and warning against new protests, and reports circulating of “solutions” that leave out the representatives of the very grassroots organizations and parties that have been at the forefront of the fight for free and fair elections, this is a moment for vigilance in Haiti.  In their recent statement, 68 grassroots organizations in Haiti state their position very clearly:

We say NO, WE WILL NOT OBEY ILLEGITIMATE OFFICIALS. Self-defense is a legitimate universal law. Civil-Disobedience is an accepted universal right when a people confronts an illegal regime. The right to elect a government is universally accepted as a way for people to protect its existence. Today, confronted by the danger presented by local and international colonialists, the Haitian people have started a RESISTANCE FOR EXISTENCE movement. They ask for people to people solidarity from everywhere on the planet.”

We should heed their call.

__________________________________

Nia Imara is a member of Haiti Action Committee, a San Francisco Bay Area based organization.

Robert Roth is a co-founder of the Haiti Action Committee, and teaches high school in San Francisco.  The website of HAC is www.haitisolidarity.net

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ON THE MEDIA; AFGHANISTAN: What next for media in Afghanistan?

By Helle Wahlberg, International Media Support, 18 Feb. 2016

An Afghan journalist at work. Photo: Lars Schmidt

As private and independent media in Afghanistan struggle to come to terms with the loss of seven colleagues from Tolo TV in January following a Taliban-led bomb attack, the international community must now consider how best to move forward in their support for media workers in Afghanistan

The Taliban’s renewed hostility towards media and the emergence of equally media-hostile ISIS (Daesh) in Afghanistan pose serious challenges to the impressive gains in the field of independent media and freedom of expression in Afghanistan over the last 15 years.

The vulnerability of private, independent media in the country was brutally exposed when a bomb attack on 20 January targeted a minibus carrying workers from the country’s largest private broadcaster, Tolo TV, killing seven staff members and injuring dozens.

In the months leading up to the attack, the Taliban had exhibited increasing hostility towards media workers following a spate of years in which the terrorist group had built up stable relationships with mainstream media, providing regular press statements from spokesmen and utilizing social media with great effect to broaden their outreach. In September and October 2015, this strategy changed abruptly, as the Taliban proceeded to openly target journalists during the terrorist group’s capture of the Northern city of Kunduz. According to the IMS-supported Afghan Journalists Safety Committee (AJSC), the Taliban actively sought out journalists, searching and raiding the offices of media outlets.

Despite being taken somewhat by surprise by this turn of events in Kunduz, the AJSC, a locally led network of journalist union -, media and civil society representatives working to protect and improve the safety of Afghan journalists, was able to help over seventy journalists out of Kunduz in time. The emergency assistance involved providing accommodation, transportation by air and cash handouts to cover emergency expenses for the displaced journalists. Female journalists fled under the cover of their Burqas.

Following the Kunduz incident, Tolo TV News and 1TV, the two largest private broadcasters in the country, were singled out and named as military targets by the Taliban allegedly for having broadcast false reports about the conduct of Taliban fighters during their brief takeover of Kunduz. According to the AJSC, this was the first time that the Taliban had publically issued threats against specific media outlets directly from the Taliban Military Council. In a strong show of solidarity, some Afghan media and media support organisations issued a joint statement promising to boycott any Taliban media and news sources if such an attack was carried out. Tolo TV was attacked on 20 January.

The threat of another imminent attack is now one that staff at 1TV are living with every day.

“The attack on Tolo TV was shocking. I expected it, but not so soon,” says Abdullah Azada Khenjani, editor-in-chief and Head of News and Current Affairs at 1TV.

“1TV covered the attack and issued a statement saying that we considered this to be an attack on all media. The night of the attack, we focused on supporting our colleagues at Tolo TV. The next morning, BBC Persia reported that a spokesperson for the Taliban had said that 1TV was next in line.”

The attack on Tolo TV has taken its immediate toll on the daily lives of staff at 1TV. Many staff members are opting not to come to work out of fear of another attack and while the management group at 1TV has taken the threats against the station very seriously, ensuring the protection of over 100 staff members remains not only logistically difficult, but also very costly.

“Not only are journalists living in fear. Their families are affected as well. My mother is not sleeping and I need to report to my wife every hour for her peace of mind,” Abdullah Azada Khenjani explains.

He continues:

“The aim of the Taliban is to demolish the beginnings of a democratic system in Afghan society in which media is a main pillar. My fear is that they will succeed. We need the Afghan government to help mitigate these attacks on media and we need more support from the international community. I think the coming year could well become the deadliest yet for journalists in Afghanistan.”

The international community including governments, the UN, international media and journalists’ rights organisations and civil society have responded to the latest attacks on media in Afghanistan with statements of solidarity. While the working relationship between media support organisations and the Afghan government has improved, most recently manifested in the establishment of an Oversight Commission on Access to Information that will monitor the government’s implementation of the Access to Information Act, more is needed from the international community. According to Abdullah Azada Khenjani, the international community must increase its pressure on the Afghan government to take the threats against the hard-won achievements of the Afghan media sector seriously.

“In the last 15 years, the international community has spent millions of dollars in Afghanistan, but more of this should have been invested in securing freedom of expression values. We need to help Taliban supporters understand that media has an important role to play as a watchdog of government and power holders and that for this reason, media should not be a target. In addition to this, there is a need for more technical support to educate local media in the provinces on how to better protect themselves.

For now, the IMS-supported, locally anchored Afghan Journalist Safety Committee remains the only country-wide safety and protection mechanism for Afghan journalists that operates in 32 out of 34 provinces. The Safety Committee has assisted some 600 journalists in distress since it was set up in Afghanistan with support from IMS in 2009. Regional safety coordinators and volunteers manage an alert system, where they liaise with journalists under threat and provide updates on violations and changing circumstances for media to the AJSC headquarters. Basic services include various types of safety training for both male and female journalists, legal advice, a hotline, safe houses and safety funds coupled with efforts to influence media law reform through advocacy efforts.

One of the AJSC’s key initiatives has been its approach to community-based safety where cooperation with local police authorities has resulted in agreements on provincial safety procedures for police to follow to help ensure a safer working environment for journalists. But also the AJSC setup remains fragile in a volatile environment where rising insecurity and decreasing funding for their essential work to ensure the safety of journalists are a reality.

The Taliban’s renewed hostility towards media and the emergence of ISIS and their aggressive and coercive position towards media in Afghanistan both pose serious challenges to the impressive gains made by media and in the field of freedom of expression in Afghanistan over the last 15 years. Today, media plays a highly important role in public life. The media is the only watchdog apparatus monitoring the performance of the government and power holders. Safeguarding a strong, professional and independent media sector and its workers should thus be viewed as a long-term investment in Afghanistan’s democratic and peaceful development.

Read more about important developments in Afghan media between July – December 2015 in AJSC’s Six Month Report July-December 2015.

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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
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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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ON HAITI: Persistent drought threatens millions with hunger in Haiti – U.N.

news.trust.org, 1 min read, original

By Anastasia Moloney

BOGOTA, Feb 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Around 3.6 million people in Haiti are struggling to feed themselves as three consecutive years of drought have ruined harvests and raised food prices, worsening hunger among the poor, the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) has said.

The poorest country in the Americas, Haiti cannot produce enough food for its 10.4 million people in normal times, and hundreds of thousands of Haitians rely on international food aid to survive.

Acute water shortages caused by prolonged drought, made worse by the El Nino weather phenomenon, have cut food supplies and hit subsistence farmers hard. Three out of four Haitians live on less than $2 a day.

“Without rain for the 2016 spring season, farmers will lose their fourth consecutive harvest on which they normally depend to feed their families,” Wendy Bigham, WFP’s deputy country director in Haiti, said in a statement late on Tuesday.

The main 2015 harvest fell below average, with losses of up to 70 percent in some places, the WFP said. “In some areas of Haiti, up to 70 percent of the population is facing hunger.”

A recent study by the Haitian government and the U.N. Children’s agency (UNICEF) found that “malnutrition rates are above emergency levels in several communes,” the WFP said.

The food crisis comes at a time of political uncertainty and social unrest after Michel Martelly stepped down as president last week without an elected successor, leaving a deeply divided country in the hands of a disputed interim government.

Nearly 500,000 schoolchildren across Haiti rely on school meals provided by the WFP for their daily meal, and school meals make up the largest food safety net in the country.

The WFP has distributed food aid, including rice, sugar, oil and salt, to 120,000 people in drought-hit areas since November.

It says it will expand its programe by providing food and cash to one million Haitians facing hunger to help them cope with rising food prices.

The agency provides 200,000 Haitians with cash in exchange for work on watershed management and soil conservation projects to improve agriculture.

The drought has gripped other parts of the Caribbean and Central America, particularly parts of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

The current El Nino, which began in early 2015, is one of the strongest on record and has also caused widespread crop losses in countries ranging from Ethiopia to Papua New Guinea.

(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney, editing by Tim Pearce. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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ON DEVELOPMENT: Progress in the global war on poverty

csmonitor.com, by Steven Radelet, February 7, 2016, 13 min read, original

The headlines on any given day suggest a world under siege. War. Terrorism. Refugees. Disease. Recession. Famine. Climate change. But beneath these often very real problems, something remarkable has been happening, something on a more epochal level that has gone almost completely unnoticed.

Global poverty has fallen faster during the past 20 years than at any time in history. Around the world hunger, child death, and disease rates have all plummeted. More girls are getting into school. In fact, never before have so many people, in so many poor countries, made so much progress in reducing poverty, increasing incomes, improving health, reducing conflict and war, and spreading democracy.

Some of these gains – especially the declines in poverty and child mortality – rank among the greatest achievements in history. Yet few people are aware that they are even happening. Most people believe that, apart from a few special cases such as China and India, developing countries by and large remain hopelessly mired in poverty, stagnation, and dictatorship. Yet the reality is quite different: A major transformation is quietly under way, affecting the lives of hundreds of millions of people in nearly every corner of the world.

•     •     •

In 1993 almost 2 billion people around the world lived on the paltry sum of less than $1.90 a day (the World Bank’s definition of “extreme” poverty), or less than $10 a day for a family of five. Imagine, if you can, what that means: never enough food, a house made of mud and thatch that couldn’t possibly keep out the rain and the pests, no schooling for your children, and going through your entire life without ever having a single lightbulb in your home or seeing anyone resembling a doctor. For most of world history, the number of people living in this kind of poverty rose inextricably alongside world population. But in the early 1990s, for the first time, extreme poverty began to fall – fast. By 2012, just 1 billion people were living on less than $1.90 a day – half as many as two decades before (the $1.90 figure is calculated in constant prices, adjusting for inflation). By best estimates, the number was down to around 700 million in 2015, and falling. The change is widespread, going far beyond China and India to include countries as far-flung as Indonesia, Mozambique, Ghana, Brazil, El Salvador, and Mongolia. In all, more than 60 developing countries around the world have seen a decline in the number of extreme poor, despite continued population growth.

Meanwhile, millions more poor people have access to clean water and basic sanitation facilities. The share of people living in chronic hunger has been cut nearly in half, with better nutrition and lower rates of stunted growth in children. Prior to 1980 just half of girls in developing countries completed primary school; now 85 percent do. Less than 50 percent of adult females could read and write, but today global female literacy has passed 93 percent.

Perhaps most remarkable of all are the widespread improvements in basic health. Diarrhea killed 5 million children a year in 1990, but less than 1 million in 2014. Malaria deaths have been cut by half since 2000, and deaths from tuberculosis and HIV have both fallen by one-third. Because of better nutrition, greater access to immunizations, and success in fighting diseases, life expectancy at birth has increased from 50 years in 1960 to 65 years today.

The biggest health gains have been for children. In 1960, some 22 percent of children born in developing countries died before their fifth birthday, a horrifyingly high percentage. But today, less than 5 percent do. Remarkably, the improvements have been truly global: The rate of child death has declined in every country in the world since 1980 (at least where data are available). And, as fewer children die, parents are having fewer of them. Fertility rates have fallen from 5 children per adult woman in the 1960s to 2.5 today, and global population growth has slowed from 2 percent to 1.2 percent per year – still high, but headed in the right direction.

At the same time, economic growth has accelerated, and average incomes have risen. In the 1970s and ’80s, most developing countries stagnated in the midst of oil price shocks, the debt crises, the meddling of the cold-war superpowers, and mismanagement by incompetent despots. Economic growth per person averaged zero for nearly 20 years. But starting in the mid-1990s, growth rates began to rise. By 2015 average incomes in developing countries had almost doubled (after controlling for inflation), and that figure excludes China. Quite literally hundreds of millions of people – poor, middle-class, or wealthy – in dozens of developing countries have much higher incomes than they did 20 years ago. Importantly, the benefits of growth have been relatively widespread, and not just concentrated among the rich. Roughly speaking, inequality has worsened in about one-third of developing countries, remained about the same in another one-third, and improved somewhat in the other third.

Meanwhile, there has been a big shift from dictatorship to democracy. In 1983, only 17 developing countries were democracies; by 2013, that number had tripled to 56 (and this figure excludes many other countries with populations of less than a million). The generals that once ruled across Latin America are gone, replaced by democratically elected governments. The same is true for dictators such as Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, Suharto in Indonesia, Gen. Park Chung-hee in South Korea, and many others. The end of apartheid in South Africa ushered in a slow but steady sweep of democracy across about half the countries of Africa. Recent elections in both Myanmar (Burma) and Nigeria hold out the hope for continued gains. Taiwan elected its first female president in January. Yes, these new democracies are imperfect and have many problems, as is true of any democracy, especially young ones. But today, power is far more likely to be transferred through the ballot box than through violence, coups and countercoups are much less common, and individual freedoms and rights are honored and enforced to a much greater degree. Never before have so many poor countries been so democratic.

As incomes have risen and democracy has spread, conflict, war, and violence have fallen sharply. This fact surprises anyone reading the daily news about Syria, Yemen, or Afghanistan. While I do not want to trivialize these conflicts, we tend to forget just how violent the world was in the 1980s and early ’90s, when all of Central America was engaged in bloody civil wars, most of Southern Africa was in flames during the height of apartheid, West Africa was in chaos, and Southeast Asia was reeling in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the Killing Fields of Cambodia. While far too much conflict still exists, there is much less of it. The number of civil wars over the past decades is only half as many as there were in the 1980s, and deaths from war have fallen by nearly three-quarters.

The fight against extreme poverty is far from over. Not all developing countries are making progress, and even in those that are, not everyone is moving forward. There are still 700 million people living in extreme poverty. Every year, 6 million children die of preventable diseases. Many countries, especially the poorest, remain vulnerable to calamities such as the Ebola outbreak that swept through West Africa in 2014. Too few women and girls get the opportunities they deserve. Nevertheless, the changes over the past two decades are a big start – the strongest and most promising start ever – in improving the well-being of millions of people in many of the world’s poorest countries.

•     •     •

What sparked these changes? Why did so many developing countries begin to move forward on so many fronts in the early 1990s? Three major forces were at work. First, the end of the cold war, the demise of communism, and the collapse of the Soviet Union dramatically improved the global environment for sustained and peaceful development. The United States and the Soviet Union stopped propping up some of the world’s nastiest dictators. Proxy wars and political violence associated with the cold war came to an end in Central America, Southeast Asia, Southern Africa, and elsewhere. Countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia gained their freedom. Perhaps most powerfully, economic and political ideologies shifted substantially. Communism and strong state control lost credibility. A new consensus began to form around more market-based economic systems and – at least in many countries – more accountable and democratic governance, along with greater respect for basic freedoms and rights. Developing countries around the world introduced major economic and political reforms and began to build institutions more conducive to growth and social progress.

Second, globalization and international access to new technologies brought more trade and finance and a far greater exchange of ideas and information. Exports from developing countries are five times as large today as they were just 20 years ago, and financial flows are 12 times as large, creating many more economic opportunities. With deeper global integration came technologies that spurred progress: vaccines, medicines, new seed varieties, mobile phones, the Internet, and faster and cheaper air travel. To be sure, globalization has brought challenges, risks, and volatility, not least the 2007 food and 2008 financial crises. But it has also brought investment, jobs, ideas, and markets, all of which stimulated progress.

Third, while global changes mattered, the countries that began to move forward did so primarily because of strong leadership and courageous actions by the people in those countries themselves. Where new leaders at all levels of society stepped forward to forge change, progress ensued; where old dictators stayed in place, or new tyrants stepped in to replace the old, political and economic systems remained rigged. New national leaders such as Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Corazon Aquino of the Philippines, Óscar Arias of Costa Rica, Lech Walesa of Poland, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, and many others worked to build new and more inclusive political systems while introducing stronger economic management, working alongside civil society and religious leaders such as Rigoberta Menchú Tum of Guatemala, Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh, Jaime Sin of the Philippines, and Wangari Maathai of Kenya. Less-famous local leaders opened schools, clinics, microfinance organizations, and businesses to support the turnaround.

In addition, foreign aid played a supporting role in bolstering progress. Although aid is far from a silver bullet, and not all of it works well, much of it has been effective in saving lives, building schools, and achieving other goals. The bulk of the research evidence on aid shows a moderate positive effect on development progress. Aid has been particularly helpful in improving health, fighting disease, mitigating the impacts of natural disasters and humanitarian crises, and helping to jump-start turnarounds from war in countries such as Mozambique and Liberia. Aid programs have helped save millions of lives by fighting malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and diarrhea, and by immunizing children around the world. Aid is not the most important driver of development, but it has played an important secondary role in the development surge over the past two decades.

•     •     •

The huge gains in global development over the past two decades are unprecedented. Never before have so many millions of poor people made so much progress in so many dimensions of human life. These advances are obviously good for the global poor, but they are good for richer countries like the US as well. Broad-based gains in development and reductions in poverty enhance global security; build states’ capacities to fight drug trafficking, terrorism, and pandemic disease; and help the US economy by providing new markets and consumers for American products. Development helps build like-minded allies that can work with the US to solve major global challenges, helping citizens in each country. Perhaps most important, development helps spread and deepen values that Americans hold dear: openness, economic opportunity, democracy, and freedom.

Yet few people are aware of this great transformation. A 2013 survey asked Americans what they thought had happened to the share of the world’s population living in extreme poverty over the past two decades. Sixty-six percent of respondents said they thought it had doubled, and another 29 percent said that it hadn’t changed. That is, 95 percent of Americans got it completely wrong. Only 5 percent knew (or guessed) the truth: that the share of people living in extreme poverty had fallen by more than half.

Why are these changes not more widely recognized? In part it reflects our penchant for bad news. We can’t get enough of scandal, corruption, disaster, and conflict, but we ignore tales of steady progress or a job well done. Stories of flawed elections with violence in Africa are on the front page; peaceful and successful ones go unnoticed. At the same time, news travels much faster, and there is much more of it. In the past when outbreaks of disease or violent protests occurred, we may never have heard about it, whereas today it hits the Internet almost instantly.

Partly it reflects the tendency of researchers to specialize narrowly in one area of expertise, while learning much less about others. Health experts recognize the huge decline in infant mortality but know little of the spread of democracy; poverty experts know all about the gains of the extreme poor but are unaware of the decline in conflict. Academic research rewards specialization, not big connections across disciplines.

It is also partly about poor memory: We romanticize the past (the “good old days”) and focus on today’s problems rather than on what is going well. When we read about today’s wars and conclude the world is in bad shape we are forgetting how much worse it was in so many ways just a few decades ago. But for whatever reason, some of the greatest gains in history are happening right in front of our eyes, yet we fail to recognize them.

•     •     •

The real question is whether the progress of the global poor can continue in the future. So far, the transformation is incomplete: While the fates of hundreds of millions of people are improving, many other people have been left behind. There are big opportunities to continue progress stemming from technological breakthroughs in energy, agriculture, and medicine; increased trade among emerging markets; and a much greater exchange of ideas. But there are also huge challenges, including population pressures, climate change, demand for resources, changing demographics, threats of disease, and tensions from the rise of China and India. There are at least three broad future scenarios, any one of which is possible.

One is that the development transformation continues: Sustained economic growth, smart investments and policy choices, continued advances in technology and ideas, stronger health and education systems, and deepening democracy will lead to growing prosperity and improved welfare in the coming decades. China, India, Brazil, and other middle-income countries continue their ascendancy (with gradually slowing growth), followed by Turkey, Indonesia, Thailand, South Africa, Ghana, and many others. Trade among developing countries grows, mobile phones expand their reach, and the Internet extends to more people in poor countries. New technologies lead to increased agricultural productivity, cleaner and more efficient energy sources, reduced environmental damage, and further advances in health. Although progress does not reach everywhere and some countries stagnate or face tragic setbacks, others, such as Myanmar and Cuba, eventually join the widening circle of development. Democracy spreads farther and deeper, perhaps in different forms and new variations, with more countries embracing accountability, transparency, and good governance. The number of people living in extreme poverty falls quickly.

A second future is that the rate of progress diminishes significantly: China’s rapid economic expansion decelerates quickly, the US and European economies remain sluggish, and economic growth and job creation slow across many developing countries. Rich and poor countries alike fail to make critical investments in infrastructure, education, health, and technology. Resource mismanagement and environmental degradation begin to undermine progress. Advancements in health continue, but at a much slower pace as antimicrobial resistance expands and new epidemics strike, as with the Ebola virus in West Africa. A backlash against democracy takes shape, opening doors to authoritarianism, and more nations follow Thailand and Venezuela in reversing democracy. Poverty continues to decline, but much more slowly.

A third scenario is that development progress is derailed: Population pressures, demand for resources, climate change, environmental degradation, and growing conflict and war combine to halt, and in some countries reverse, development progress. Rising populations and increasing incomes cause growing shortages of water, food, energy, and minerals, while climate change significantly destabilizes food production and worsens health conditions. Both rich and poor countries fail to take the actions necessary to slow climate change, increase food supplies, and develop new energy sources. Growing tensions from an ascendant Asia and a declining West – coupled with greater competition over scarce resources, or growing global religious and ideological hostilities – spark greater conflict. Western countries increasingly turn inward, creating a global leadership void that allows security threats to grow as trade and investment suffer. International organizations lose legitimacy and effectiveness. Democracy is seen as an unsuccessful experiment, and dictators rise again. Economic growth decelerates sharply, much as it did in the 1970s and ’80s, and the declines in global poverty slow considerably. Development progress largely ends, and some countries go backward.

None of these futures are inevitable or etched in stone; any of them (or shades between them) are possible. It is easy to be pessimistic and to conclude that the obstacles to continued progress are just too great and that progress will falter. For hundreds of years, people have predicted at one point or another that global progress would halt. But they have always underestimated the world’s growing abilities – even with many setbacks along the way – to work cooperatively, meet new challenges, and expand global prosperity and basic freedoms. While we can picture many of the future difficulties facing developing countries, it is much harder for us to envision the new ideas, innovations, technologies, governance structures, and leadership that will emerge to tackle them.

•     •     •

Continued progress in fighting poverty will not happen automatically. It will depend on human choices, sacrifice, cooperation, leadership, and action, both in the world’s leading countries (like the US) and in developing countries around the world. The right question is not which of these scenarios is more likely, but rather, how can we continue to achieve rapid progress for the global poor?

Getting there will require action in several crucial areas. One, for instance, is global leadership. The US and other leading countries must take steps to strengthen their own economic and political systems – not just for their own benefit, but to establish a global environment in which other countries can prosper. The rich countries must also lead efforts to improve the effectiveness and legitimacy of international organizations such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, and the World Bank. Perhaps most important, the US and others must lead by example with respect to democracy. We are not, at the moment, a very good model. Democracy will not continue to spread in developing countries if the leading countries are poor examples.

At the same time, as has been the case for 200 years, continued progress will require sizable investments in new technologies and innovations. By 2050, global food production must increase by around 70 percent, freshwater requirements will grow by 50 percent, and the demand for energy in developing countries will double. Technology alone will not solve these problems, but these challenges cannot be met without robust investments in new technologies.

Within developing countries themselves, effective leadership will be the major driving force for continued advancement. Lasting progress will require good governance and state institutions that can deliver sustained – and inclusive – economic growth with good jobs, alongside continued advancements in education and health.

Delivering on this ambitious agenda will not be easy. But all of it is possible with effective leadership, cooperation both within and across countries, the right kinds of policy choices and investments, and concerted action. The stakes are high, for developing countries and rich ones alike. But the opportunity is within our grasp for the next two decades to become the greatest era of progress for the world’s poor in human history.

Steven Radelet is the Donald F. McHenry Chair in Global Human Development at Georgetown University and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of “The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing World” (Simon & Schuster, 2015), from which this essay is adapted.

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ON HAITI: Haiti Has a President

newyorker.com, Feb. 17, 2016, 5 min read, original

What is going on in Haiti? Anyone hoping to follow its political twists and turns from abroad may be forgiven for feeling confused: the politics of the Caribbean republic of more than ten million—the western hemisphere’s poorest nation, and the only one in the Americas patrolled by U.N. peacekeepers—are both fiendishly complex and almost wholly dysfunctional.

After an entire week in which Haiti had no President, the country’s lawmakers held a special session that dragged on for twelve hours and ended, early Sunday morning, with sixty-two-year-old Jocelerme Privert, a former Senate leader and opponent of former President Michel Martelly, being chosen to fill the role on an interim basis. Privert will govern until April 24th, when new Presidential elections are to be held. If all goes according to plan—which is not at all certain—the winner will assume office three weeks later.

Haiti’s latest crisis came to a head on February 7th, when President Michel Martelly left office after serving five rocky years at its helm. In his leave-taking ceremony, he said: “I now declare Haiti officially to have a power vacuum.” It was a characteristically blunt quip from a man who, throughout his Presidency, spoke his mind, and invariably caused offense. Before his own turn in politics, Martelly was best known asSweet Micky, a ribald performer of a lively brand of dance music known as compas. He won office in disputed elections held after the devastating January, 2010, earthquake, which killed over two hundred thousand Haitians and destroyed thousands of buildings in the capital of Port-au-Prince.

Coming out of a long history of dictatorships, Haiti’s current constitution prohibits its Presidents from serving more than one consecutive term, and so, although he certainly did not wish to, Martelly was obliged to step down. In the first electoral runoff, last October, his anointed successor, Jovenal Moïse, a banana exporter who campaigned as the Banana Man, came out ahead. A second round of voting was postponed twice, and finally scheduled for January 24th, but Moïse’s chief rival, a veteran Martelly opponent named Jude Célestin, vociferously denounced the October polls as having been rigged and demanded that new elections be held.

Célestin gained the support of several other parties’ candidates, and their followers began holding angry street demonstrations to voice his demands. Thanks to the mounting threats of violence on the streets of Port-au-Prince, Célestin’s gambit to thwart the second round was, in the end, successful. Two days before polls were to open, Haiti’s electoral commission called it off indefinitely. (Somewhat ironically, Célestin lost his place in the second round of the 2011 election to Martelly, after inspectors from the Organization of American States determined that many of Célestin’s first-round votes had been fraudulently obtained.)

A few days before the second round was due to take place, Martelly, whom I profiled recently for the magazine, called to talk about his hopes and fears. He was clearly worried about the political confrontation brewing with Célestin. He denied the accusations of fraud and vote rigging, and said that the opposition politicians were trying to force the cancellation of the second round so that an interim government, one that they could control, would be installed. He said that their plan would “bring chaos to Haiti,” and that was an outcome that had to be avoided at all costs. He saw it as his job, he said, to “reassure everyone and keep the country safe.”

Things didn’t go as Martelly wished. On February 7th, there was no new President to succeed him, and he was forced to strike a last-minute deal with Haiti’s parlimentary leaders to form an interim government pending new elections—precisely the scenario he said he feared.

Martelly, a clever man who appeared to have learned how to game the Haitian system, seems to have been outfoxed by his opponents. His critics accused him of all manner of nefariousness—from protecting traffickers to enriching himself with bribes and kickbacks—and even his staunchest defenders, which included American officials, conceded privately that some of the charges might be true. In fact, very few Haitians involved in politics are free of allegations of criminal behavior. Widespread public suspicion of malfeasance on the part of Haiti’s public servants has become the norm. With Martelly’s exit from power, on the thirtieth anniversary of the end of the Duvalier family dictatorship, Haiti remains a deeply corrupt and unequal place.

As for Martelly himself, not only was he denied the chance to exit gracefully, with a successor in place (“If there is continuity, I can come back,” he told me before the election), but Haiti’s annual Carnival was postponed because of the crisis, and he was unable to end his Presidency by joining in the festivities, and to “boom it out,” as he said he wished to do.

Even before leaving office, however, Martelly signalled his return to his old persona of Sweet Micky by releasing a new song, with salacious lyrics that taunted some of his media critics, including a prominent Haitian radio journalist and human-rights activist, Liliane Pierre-Paul. The song is called “Give them the Banana.”

At Jocelerme Privert’s swearing-in ceremony on Sunday, few of Martelly’s allies were on hand. Instead, the celebrating crowd was dominated by his rivals in Fanmi Lavalas (“The Flood”), a left-wing party that was founded by Haiti’s two-time former President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Privert’s political mentor. Whatever else he is, Privert is certainly a change in style from Martelly, who so despised Aristide that he once famously offered to “kill [him] and stick a dick up his ass.” At his inauguration, Privert struck a dutifully conciliatory tone: “We should welcome the peaceful and inclusive nature of this new step in resolving the crisis. Our patience has been severely tested this past few days, but our tolerance has been reinforced,” he said. My Presidency should be part of the logic of the need to return to constitutional normality.”

If only the Presidential election were the end of Haiti’s problems. Last week, the U.N. World Food Program (W.F.P.) warned that 1.5 million Haitians are at risk from severe malnutrition; the number has doubled since September, due to a combination of prolonged drought, the climate phenomenon known as El Niño—and, of course, the conditions of extreme poverty in which the vast majority of the population lives. It is Haiti’s worst food crisis in fifteen years. In some parts of the countryside, farmers have experienced crop failures of as much as seventy per cent, and in one of the worst affected areas scores of children have starved to death. The W.F.P. has launched an appeal for eighty-four million dollars to help stave off the crisis.

If the past is anything to go on, the U.N. will only manage to raise part of that money. After the catastrophic 2010 earthquake, foreign governments and international donor agencies made pledges of over thirteen billion dollars, of which less than six hundred and fifty millionreached the Haitian government. Even before the earthquake and the inadequate aid allocations, however, Haiti was in a state of chaos, and in so many ways that it had become difficult, even for relief experts, to see how to fix it. Whoever becomes the nation’s next President will become, in effect, the caretaker of a large slum.

During our several encounters in Port-au-Prince, Martelly was rueful about his own lack of achievements. He had decided, however, that the ultimate solution to Haiti was an ambitious program to educate its people. Nearly half of all Haitians are illiterate, and that, he said, had to change. “We need to have another Haiti in twenty years. Look at Cuba, it’s got all those qualified people. We’re living the opposite experience.”

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ON AFGHANISTAN: Profiting off of chaos: How the U.S. privatized its war in Afghanistan

salon.com, by Ben Norton, Feb. 16, 2016, 6 min read, original

Journalist Antony Loewenstein tells Salon how corporations exploit violent conflicts in Afghanistan and beyond

U.S. Army soldiers fire a howitzer artillery piece, Afghanistan, June 12, 2011. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

U.S. Army soldiers from the 2nd Platoon, B battery 2-8 field artillery, fire a howitzer artillery piece at Seprwan Ghar forward fire base in Panjwai district, Kandahar province southern Afghanistan, June 12, 2011. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

“The corporation is now fundamentally more powerful than the nation-state,” writes journalist Antony Loewenstein in his new book “Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe.”

“Many ongoing crises seem to have been sustained by businesses to fuel industries in which they have a financial stake,” he explains. “Companies that entrench a crisis and then sell themselves as the only ones who can resolve it.”

Loewenstein, a columnist for the Guardian, traveled the world in order to understand just how multinational corporations profit off of such chaos. The Australian-born yet decidedly cosmopolitan journalist devotes the meticulous and daring tome to reporting on the foreign exploitation he witnessed in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and the destructive mining boom in Papua New Guinea, along with seemingly dystopian prison privatization in the U.S., predatory for-profit detention centers for refugees in Australia and ruthless austerity in Greece.

In the book, Loewenstein expertly shows how corporate control of not just the domestic, but also the global political system has led to a drastic “erosion of democracy.”

A quote he chooses as the overture sets the tone for the ensuing pages. “It is profitable to let the world go to hell,” warns scholar Jørgen Randers, a professor of climate strategy at Norwegian Business School, while railing against “the tyranny of the short term.” This quote succinctly summarizes exactly how disaster capitalism operates.

The concept of disaster capitalism is derived from a similar work, “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,” an influential 2007 book by journalist Naomi Klein. In some ways, “Disaster Capitalism” can be seen as a sequel to Klein’s book, yet Loewenstein’s formidable work stands out in its own right.

Salon sat down with the journalist to discuss one of the more explosive controversies he uncovers in his book: how the U.S. war in Afghanistan was privatized.

Loewenstein spent time in war-torn Afghanistan, as well as neighboring Pakistan, researching for “Disaster Capitalism.” His compelling recounting of his experiences paints a picture of a crisis-stricken world in which virtually everything has been privatized, in which private military companies, or PMCs — 21st-century warlords — exercise more control over countries than their own inhabitants.

A slew of Western multinational corporations quite familiar to Americans appear throughout the chapter, including Northrop Grumman, DynCorp, Halliburton and more.

The personal interactions Loewenstein has with military contractors on the ground are some of the most fascinating. A British PMC managing director the journalist met in Kabul, whom he refers to simply as Jack, bluntly admits his corporation “survives off chaos.”

Predicting future U.S. wars in Africa, Iran and Korea, the corporate military executive tells Loewenstein, “If we can make money, we’ll go there.”

“I’m my own government,” Jack boldly declares.

“Disaster Capitalism” bolsters Loewenstein’s growing body of important work. Among his other books are “Profits of Doom: How Vulture Capitalism Is Swallowing the World,” a kind of 2013 prequel to “Disaster Capitalism”; “The Blogging Revolution,” a 2008 investigation of how bloggers around the world challenge their oppressive governments; and the best-selling “My Israel Question,” an exhaustive 2007 account of Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians, and a profound and intimate exploration of the author’s Jewish identity.

For his previous books, Loewenstein traveled widely, from Palestine to Iran, from Saudi Arabia to China, from Cuba to Egypt and beyond. For “Disaster Capitalism,” Loewenstein went even further. When Salon contacted him to schedule an interview, the intrepid journalist seemed every time to not only be in a different country, but even on a different continent.

This is the first in a two-part review of Loewenstein’s reporting in “Disaster Capitalism.” Another piece will be devoted to Loewenstein’s findings in Haiti, a small country that has been virtually taken over by Western NGOs. Loewenstein spoke with Salon about both little-discussed yet tremendously important issues.

Jack, the British PMC managing director you met in Kabul, said “we don’t call ourselves mercenaries.” Are they mercenaries? Should they be called that?

Not all private security interests in Afghanistan are mercenaries; many men are just security guards protecting embassies or Western interests. But mercenaries are a little-reported aspect of the war, either directly engaged in killing or capturing suspected insurgents (a key failing of the Western war in the country has been its insistence on designating any opponent of the conflict as “Taliban” and therefore “terrorist”) or training Afghan forces to do the same thing, often inflaming conflicts in local villages.

You call imperialism “the dirtiest word in modern English” and note, “There is not a country I visited for this book in which the legacy of imperialism does not scar the landscape and people.” You also point out that “there were often more contractors than soldiers in Afghanistan.” Jack said it is cheaper for countries to use PMCs than it is to put their own boots on the ground.

Do you see this as an outsourcing of imperialism and neo-colonialism, if you will? Is this how war will work in the future?

The U.S. government, along with its many allies, likes using private assets to further geo-political interests. The initial motivation when invading Afghanistan was revenge for 9/11, but this quickly morphed into a messy project to control the nation and partner with a corrupt central government and warlords across the country.

The reason I use the term “imperialism” to describe the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and beyond — along with U.S.-backed autocratic partners in the Middle East, South America, Asia and Africa — is that there’s no other way to describe attempts to secure energy reserves and economic influence in the modern age.

War has always worked this way, but the inclusion of globalized private entities removes one more level of accountability. Today in Afghanistan there are around 30,000 contractors working for the Pentagon alongside the U.S. military and Special Forces. And the Pentagon won’t acknowledge how many soldiers are truly fighting ISIS in Iraq.

Can you talk more about Afghanistan’s enormous natural resources, the TAPI pipeline, drugs, etc.? This is little discussed. Why do you think that is?

During both the Soviet and American occupations of Afghanistan, huge discoveries of natural resources occurred. There is an estimated U.S. $1-4 trillion of untapped minerals, oil and gas and yet most of it is unreachable due to security concerns and corruption.

I have been investigating these issues for my book, and also the documentary in progress, “Disaster Capitalism,” with New York filmmaker Thor Neureiter.

Natural resources will not sustain Afghanistan after most of the Western aid dries up, and neither the U.S. government nor Afghan authorities have any answers for long-term sustainability (the proposed TAPI pipeline crossing Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Turkmenistan isambitious but prone to problems).

Drug cultivation has soared during the U.S. occupation. Too many Western reporters have framed the Afghan war as simply between U.S. forces and the Taliban when in reality Afghanistan has a complex history that never tolerates long-term occupation.

You write about the “military-enforced bubble,” in which the foreign occupying army is completely out of touch with the locals. An Afghan translator told you the U.S. “only understood force.” Can you expand?

A constant refrain I heard in Afghanistan, during my visits there in 2012 and 2015, was the inability and unwillingness of U.S. and foreign forces to listen to the Afghan people. It’s one reason the U.S. relied on faulty intelligence to understand what Afghans were thinking about their presence.

As the security situation deteriorated after 2004-2005, and U.S. forces falsely framed any Afghan who opposed the occupation as Taliban, the U.S. used a failed counterinsurgency program (designed by David Petraeus and Australian David Kilcullen) that inflamed Afghans.

There has never been accountability for this plan, including by the countless Western journalists seduced by U.S. military talking points.

You talk about the relationships between the U.S. military, USAID and private companies, and say “military and humanitarian work were all too often fused in the post-9/11 world.” Can you comment?

A key component of USAID in the post 9/11 world is using the military to deliver its goals. This fundamentally misunderstands the importance of maintaining neutrality when delivering aid.

The U.S. government’s SIGAR (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction) regularly reports on the U.S. $110 billion spent in Afghanistan on so-called nation building since October 2001, and how USAID was regularly used as a mask for a corporate and military agenda across the country.

Where else is the private security industry growing?

The definition of private security is expanding to include the growth of private armies in often unregulated and chaotic places (from Iraq to Afghanistan and Libya to Syria). South African mercenaries wereworking in Nigeria against Boko Haram and Colombian forces operated in Yemen thanks to the United Arab Emirates.

You write “the Bush administration saw its ‘war on terror’ as a boon for the private sector.” Has the Obama administration has done the same?

Post 9/11, the Bush administration saw an opportunity to implement an extreme neoconservative agenda with the support of its friends in the private sector. They claimed it would save money and be more efficient but the reality was uncontrolled mercenaries and private security in countless war zones.

When Barack Obama was a candidate for President in 2007, he pledged to change this out-of-control contracting since 9/11. However, nothing has improved since he took office due to a number of factors including failing campaign finance laws and Congressional inertia to punish corporations breaking the law.

You conclude the chapter saying, “we created chaos.” What do you think the legacy is of the now 15-year U.S. occupation, especially now, with the rise of ISIS and the resurgence of the Taliban?

The Taliban now control more of Afghanistan than at any time since October 2001. President Obama has now pledged to maintain an indefinite occupation and the U.S. military claims U.S. forces will need to stay in the country for decades to support a failing Afghan state.

The presence of ISIS only complicates the picture, especially for Afghan civilians.

The longest war in U.S. history has not achieved any of its stated goals and the Afghan people, often forced to choose between the Taliban and a U.S.-backed warlord, often pick the former. That’s the legacy of the U.S. war.

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ON THE MEDIA: Strong, independent media critical for good governance

devex.com, 03 February 2016, by Jeanne Bourgault, Kristin Lord3 min read, original

A presenter reads the news at Radio Shabelle in Somalia. How does healthy media contribute to better, more responsive, and more effective development outcomes? Photo by: Tobin Jones / AU-UN IST

Do not envy U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Gayle Smith, who recently took the helm of one of the world’s largest development organizations. Violent extremism is on the rise. The largest number of refugees since World War II are fleeing intractable wars in the Middle East, Africa, Central America and elsewhere. Humanitarian crises caused by droughts and natural disasters are likely to persist. Widespread corruption continues, undermining the legitimacy of governments. Over a billion people still live in extreme poverty.

Emergencies like these, coupled with tight budgets, make it tempting to cut into investments that do not relieve immediate human suffering. Yet, as Smith surely recognizes, USAID must also invest in core institutional development if we want to move from transactional to transformational development assistance. USAID must invest in the conditions that enable sustainable, accountable and locally led development.

We argue that strengthening independent media and access to trustworthy information is one of the most important conditions for enabling all other development activities to succeed. Healthy media contributes to good governance and better, more responsive, and more effective development outcomes. USAID should refocus its efforts on strengthening media after years of dwindling funding.

In our experience working in some of the most challenging environments in the world — from closed societies to conflict zones to humanitarian crises — people need trusted information to understand the world around them, engage in conversations with their communities and their leaders, make decisions, and act to improve their lives. Strong independent media is critical to effective, responsive and transparent governance. It disseminates important information and represents people’s opinions and needs to decision-makers. It is also the foundation for strong markets and economic growth.

“Trusted, local information forms the cornerstone of civic discussion; it promotes transparent and accountable institutions; it informs choices during crisis, and it empowers societies to find inclusive, sustainable solutions to their own development challenges.”

— Internews President Jeanne Bourgault and IREX CEO Kristin Lord

Allow us to share just two examples of how support for media can make a difference:

In the context of the refugee crisis in Europe, information offers one of the most basic forms of aid. The lack of current, local information puts these vulnerable populations even more at risk from kidnappers, traffickers and smugglers. Misinformation puts them in the wrong place at the wrong time and they get involved in riots or stampedes.

While much has been made of the use of smartphones by the current wave of refugees, these high tech tools are useless without good, local information that answers specific questions using language people can understand such as: how do I get to the registration center? Where can I find medical support? To help solve this issue, Internews has pioneered a solution called News That Moves, a multilanguage content service drawing from stringers along the route and pushed out to the affected populations both online (apps and portals) and offline (leaflets and flyers).

In Ukraine, divisive information from dubious sources has exacerbated ethnic tensions, contributed to conflict in the eastern part of the country, and challenged the government’s reform agenda. To address this challenge, IREX provides hands-on training in critical thinking and media analysis skills for media institutions, media leaders, communities, and citizens so that they can recognize fact-based reporting when presented with contradictory information from both Ukrainian and Russian-language media.

The ultimate goal of this type of work is to build information-savvy societies that both produce reliable information and discern the trustworthiness of the information they encounter. We have found that once citizens are equipped with skills to identify biased reporting, unreliable sources, and hate speech, their appetite for truthful reporting — and their ability to find it — increases. Citizens learn to avoid manipulation, and they can more effectively pressure their government to act responsibly.

Administrator Smith will have a powerful impact on the lives of many people around the world during her tenure. To amplify that impact, we recommend increasing support for the professionalization of journalism (including investigative reporting and data journalism), media business management, multimedia production and internet freedom. Support for media literacy is needed to ensure that citizens seek out and produce trusted information.

Community media (from radio to locally created news apps), last mile infrastructure to ensure that communities have the means to access information, and well-implemented laws that protect and ensure people’s right to information are all critical. USAID should also increase support to information aid during moments of crisis, to ensure that other forms of humanitarian aid do not go to waste. A commitment to strengthening independent media and good local information, even in the most challenging of conditions, will empower citizens to drive their own development in the long term.

USAID has long been a leader in building the capacity for communities to produce independent media and locally trusted information and we urge Smith and other development leaders to build on this foundation. Our organizations’ experience over the past three decades — much of it in partnership with USAID — provides ample evidence that strengthening the production and exchange of local information is critical for addressing key development challenges at their foundations.

Join the Devex community and access more in-depth analysis, breaking news and business advice — and a host of other services — on international development, humanitarian aid and global health.

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ON DEVELOPMENT: Brazil’s School Lunch Program Is Putting Food on the Table for the Country’s Small Farmers

PRI The World, pulitzercenter.org4 min read, original
Donna Marinova (left) and Joise Lopes, both family farmers in Promissão, Brazil, harvest cassava roots to sell to local public schools. Image by Rhitu Chatterjee. Brazil, 2015

Donna Marinova (left) and Joise Lopes, both family farmers in Promissão, Brazil, harvest cassava roots to sell to local public schools. Image by Rhitu Chatterjee. Brazil, 2015

Two women walk between rows of pumpkin plants in the outskirts of Promissão, a small agricultural town about 300 miles north of São Paulo. One of them, Donna Marinova, who is in her 50s, owns this farm. Her companion is Joise Lopes, 38. Together, the two women run a farmers’ cooperative in this farming community.

A few brown cows graze in the fields nearby as Lopes and Marinova head towards a cluster of tall, woody cassava plants. They stop by a couple of taller plants, bend down and pull out the roots with their bare hands.

“This is manioc,” says Lopes, holding out the tubers in her hands. They are brown, covered in dirt, except for the bright white flesh where they were torn from the roots. These women will sell the tubers to local public schools to be used in school meals. Public schools have become a regular source of income for the 20 or so farmers in their cooperative.

In the past, they had to depend heavily on middle men to sell their produce.

“We had to accept whatever they offered, or we would lose everything,” Lopes says.

But for the past three years, she says farmers like her have been able to bid directly with the city government to supply local schools. It’s been a big help, Lopes says.

“There were times we didn’t have anything, and suddenly a little bit of money came in from the school meals program and I’d say “Oh, God, this money is so good and it came at the right time,” she says.

Brazil’s National School Feeding Program feeds every student enrolled in the public school network, says Eduardo Manyari, the international advisor for the program. “We’re talking about 42 million students each day.”

In the city of São Paulo alone, 900,000 students are fed every day through the school meal program, says Danuta Chmielewska, an education official in Sao Paulo city who works on the city’s school feeding program. “We serve around two million meals per day. If you think about how [much] food we need to buy to provide the food, it is a huge market.”

The market has been traditionally dominated by big food companies and middle men who buy produce from small farmers at negligible prices and sell for higher profits. Until recently, family farmers like Lopes and Marinova didn’t have access.

“It’s not just payment,” Chmielewska says. “Many times, the farmers are not seen, like invisible people. They work hard, every day, from Monday to Monday, and many times they are not recognized.”

Brazil is better known for its big industrial farms, which grow sugarcane, coffee, oranges, and soy, all for exporting. It’s a top exporter for some of these commodities. And yet, most of the food Brazilians eat is grown by family farmers. But most of them are poor and uneducated and struggle to compete with bigger, industrial farms and food companies. Many farmers have given up, moving to cities in search of jobs and a better life.

That’s why in 2009, the government passed a law requiring cities to spend at least 30 percent of their school meal budget on produce from family farmers. The law was based on the older Public Acquisition Program, which allows small farmers to sell a part of their produce directly to local governments.

“The idea that we have now, is a way to buy directly from family farmers,” Chmielewska says, so that a section of the market is reserved just for them. This has helped local family farmers, she says, while also improving the quality of school meals.

“In 2013, for the first time we bought rice from family farmers, and even better, we bought organic rice for the whole school feeding program,” she says. The city continues to use organic rice for school meals even though it is 30 percent more expensive than regular rice. But the “law allows a higher price for better quality.”

The program has become an example for other developing countries that are also trying to boost local agriculture while providing food and nutrition security to students in poor communities.

However, implementing the law hasn’t been easy, admits Chmielewska. “For example, here in São Paulo, the first purchase from a family farmer was in 2012,” she says, three years after the law was passed. There aren’t enough farmers near São Paulo city to meet the demands of the city’s schools, she says, and it has taken time and effort to reach out to farmers living farther away.

Many cities still don’t buy the minimum required from family farmers. Corruption and lack of political will can get in the way. Big food companies and big farmers, sometimes called the “meals mafia” here, bribe their way into winning the bids.

Some of the farmers are just too poor to participate in the program, saysBernardo Mançano Fernandes, an expert on agrarian reform and rural development at the State University of São Paulo. “Today, to produce you need technology. These people don’t have capital, [and] don’t have money.” Families who are slightly better off have been able to take advantage of the program, he says.

Back in Promissão, Lopes has just returned to her three-bedroom house after an hour washing, cutting and packaging pieces of cassava at her small vacuum packaging plant next door. She is eager to show me her house, which she recently finished expanding. The wrap-around porch is new, she tells me, the floor still wet with fresh cement. Inside, the walls look newly painted.

The extra money she has been making by selling to local schools has gone into home improvements, Lopes says. “I added a new room for my son, an attached bathroom for my bedroom, and I finished the kitchen,” she says.

Managing the cooperative and supplying public schools has also taught her new skills.

“It has taught me how to work with the producers, and have a way of talking to them,” she says. She also had to learn how to handle documents and deal with bureaucracy. “It has inserted me to into public power,” she adds, looking proud. “I am a member of the rural municipal council because of my cooperative. I learned how to have a dialogue with people in power.”

That afternoon, I visit her at work in her sister’s home up the road from her house. The entire family is busy, preparing for a delivery to schools. They line up big, green crates on the porch and label each one with the name of a school and the order.

Lopes, in shorts and a cotton top, is clearly in charge. Holding papers that have the details of this week’s orders, she reminds family members what they need to supply and who will bring what.

“One school wants five kilos of eggplants,” she says, and the family will supply them.

When the crates are filled, a rented truck will deliver them to schools. The cooperative will soon get their own delivery truck with a government grant Lopes applied for, which means higher profits.

It takes a lot of organization and financial planning, Lopes says. But she loves every bit of it.

“People make fun of me,” she says. “But I like to go after a project, deliver it, and go to the meetings. This is what I like to do.”

“You’re a successful businesswoman,” I say.

“Yes, I am,” she says, laughing. “I consider myself one.”

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ON AFGHANISTAN: What Can Be Done to Revive Afghanistan’s Economy?

Reviving the Afghan economy during a time of intensifying violent conflict, declining external financial aid, and ongoing political uncertainty and dysfunction will be extremely challenging. But the country cannot wait for these entrenched problems to be addressed. While keeping expectations modest, this report proposes some targeted, near-term measures to increase confidence and stimulate the economy. Rather than engaging in politics as usual and following conventional policy prescriptions that will not work in the short run, the Afghan government and international community need to focus limited available resources on efforts that will have the highest visibility and impact on the current situation.

Full Report: http://www.usip.org/publications/2016/02/09/what-can-be-done-revive-afghanistan-s-economy

Summary

  • Afghanistan’s National Unity Government (NUG) needs to operate more like the unified government of a country facing a national crisis.
  • Tens of billions of dollars in Afghan private capital is being held outside the country, but the money is unlikely to be repatriated and invested effectively in Afghanistan unless confidence in the future increases, the NUG becomes more effective, and prospects for reconciliation and reduced violence improve.
  • Near-term measures to increase confidence and stimulate the economy include (1) increasing overall demand (for example, by starting some sizable infrastructure projects, regularizing informal urban settlements, and implementing selected urban income-generation and job programs); (2) shifting demand away from imports toward domestic production (through targeting spending programs disproportionately at the urban poor, increasing local procurement, and imposing moderate import tariffs on agricultural cash crops); (3) promoting export value chain development for high-value cash crops; and (4) creating fiscal space (including limited government borrowing).
  • Corruption needs to be combated strategically and selectively; too broad an approach, let alone comprehensive, would divert attention from the most important corruption problems and squander limited political capital.
  • Economic reforms and development programs that are too broad could also divert attention and resources away from a priority agenda and be counterproductive in the short run; examples include quick privatization of numerous public enterprises; efforts to quickly reduce opium poppy cultivation; expensive, long-gestation, financially unviable railway investments; excessive tax concessions to promote private investment; and the thin spreading of limited resources across numerous, small rural projects.
  • If the Afghan government takes urgent actions to revive the economy—including through greater political effectiveness—the international community must respond proactively and flexibly by funding high-level expertise to support economic management and innovative programs, front loading aid to support priority initiatives, and restructuring project portfolios to shift funding toward activities that achieve faster results.

About the Report

Despite significant progress in raising government revenue, the Afghan economy in 2014–15 suffered from its lowest economic growth since 2001, and prospects for improvement in the short run appear weak. This report puts forward some innovative, near-term measures that, combined with greater government effectiveness and potential reductions in violent conflict, could help stimulate the economy. It also highlights what should not be done, such as spreading limited resources too thin in pursuit of an excessively broad policy or development agenda.

About the Author

William Byrd is a development economist and has been following the Afghan economy closely since 2001. He is currently a senior expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace. He has published numerous reports, articles, and papers on Afghanistan’s economy, public finances, governance, corruption, political economy dimensions, drug industry, extractives sector, and development challenges.

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