Issues & Analysis
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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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ON THE MEDIA: Sundance rundown: This year’s standout documentaries

Child gangs in Afghanistan, prostitutes in Mexico and two moviemakers kidnapped by Kim Jong Il are festival highlights

Land of Enlightenment, Pieter-Jan De Pue
The armed group of children in “Land of the Enlightened,” who roam the mountains of northeastern Afghanistan.
Pieter-Jan De Pue

The Kochi tribe of northeastern Afghanistan inhabits some of the most rugged terrain in the world. The rocky hills of this region are gorgeous, but they’re barely arable, and the grassy plains below aren’t much better. Nearby, caverns that for 7,000 years have been mined for semiprecious lapis lazuli now contain something else: Soviet land mines. These explosives, dormant relics of the occupation, are carefully removed from the terrain above by child bandits and bartered to equally young miners for use in unearthing the gemstones. These gangs of armed Afghan preteen marauders, who often go on to steal those stones in dangerous ambushes, are at the center of “The Land of Enlightened,” one of the most stirring documentaries to screen at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which runs through Sunday.

Sundance’s world documentary competition, in which “The Land of Enlightened” is entered, routinely launches the most talked-about nonfiction films every year from around the globe. Spanning subjects from hair metal bands in Japan to competitive tickling in Australia and political repression in Iran to settler expansionism in the West Bank, the selection provides a cross-section of films, most of which are dedicated to unusual or underreported stories in some of the world’s most troubled regions.

Among them is “The Lovers and the Despot,” which tells the bizarre story of the kidnapping by the North Korean government of South Korean movie star Choi Eun-hee and her husband, director Shin Sang-ok. They were abducted by Kim Jong Il’s agents in the late 1970s and forced into cinematic slavery of sorts by Kim, a noted cinephile, who charged them with improving North Korean cinema. They did so by making expensive propaganda films, which often had a nuance, style and attention to character previously not allowed in North Korean films. On one of many secret recordings made by Choi, Kim is heard complaining that North Korean films never play at Cannes.

Choi Eun-hee, Kim Jong-il

From left, director Shin Sang-ok, North Korean President Kim Jong Il and actress Choi Eun-hee in 1984.
Courtesy Hellflower Film Ltd.

With an aesthetic that evokes paranoiac thrillers from the 1970s — its interviews are dimly lit and interspersed with images of reel-to-reel tape recorders playing illicit audio in dark locations — the film’s style is immediately gripping. Directed by Robert Cannan and Ross Adam, “The Lovers and the Despot” is built largely around a single long interview with Choi, along with copious remarkable archival footage, including scenes of North Korean society and clips from the films she and Shin made during their South Korean heyday and in North Korean captivity. The movie works as an international thriller and a love story, with a fair amount of humor and irony; although Shin wasn’t pleased to be in captivity in North Korea, he made much of his best work for Kim, who lavished Shin with resources he was never able to access when working in the capitalist production systems of South Korea and the U.S. They escaped North Korea in 1986. He continued his career in Hollywood and is best-known in the U.S. for producing the “Little Ninja” series in the 1990s.

Perhaps the most viscerally affecting film in the competition is “Plaza de la Soledad,” a portrait of the sisterhood among a set of Mexico City prostitutes, many of whom would be collecting Social Security checks if only they lived 400 miles to the north. Carmen, 68, the linchpin of the group, prays to God that the women won’t be attacked by johns or the police. Dramatic accounts of violence — such as one woman’s description of how she became a prostitute shortly after being raped as an 8-year-old — are often staged like confessions and are interspersed throughout an otherwise warm and easygoing vérité film, in which director Maya Goded treats her subjects with great dignity. While she never portrays the women in the midst of their trade, she also never lets us forget real and present dangers that the prostitutes face, including disease and abusive johns who stalk La Merced, a district of Mexico City that is a tolerance zone for prostitution. There, cops look the other way, both from the trade and from the danger that workers face.

Goded zeros in on five women, ranging in age from late 40s to early 80s: Carmen, still very alluring in her late 60s, looks after many of the younger prostitutes, including Lupe, who suffers from the double whammy of being newly homeless and having a child to raise. Lety has a boyfriend in his 80s who helps support her daughter as she battles cancer. Esther and Ángeles, in a clandestine relationship for 14 years, share a love that they keep mostly private, guarding it from their sex work. Raquel, the oldest and frailest of them, yearns for someone to love in life, both in and out of her bed.

“Plaza de la Soledad” softens the blow of their harrowing stories with humor, leavening what can feel like series of grim tales of woe. Goded doesn’t provide false hope, and most of her subjects don’t seem to want it; they know their lot in life and have gained expertise from plying their trade on La Merced. The level of intimate access and candor exhibited in the documentary reflects the remarkable amount of trust between the director and her subjects. Goded, who was a photographer of much acclaim before she made the leap into cinema, has been focusing on La Merced’s forgotten citizens for 23 years, and many of the women in the film have appeared in her photography. The frankness with which the women speak about the sex trade — in one unnerving, oddly humorous discussion, a prostitute talks about controlling her orgasms only to allow herself release at the end of a long workday with someone she is really attracted to — are clearly the result of their relationships with Goded over a long time.

"Plaza de la Soledad", Maya Goded

Filmmaker Maya Goded, right, shooting Lety in “Plaza de la Soledad.”
Monstro Films

The myths and rituals that these women indulge in, whether tarot or faith healing, act as a sort of protection from the cruelty of their world. Raquel, a spitfire who keeps keys in her bra to defend herself from cancer, dons a wig after being told by a mystic that it will keep at bay those who wish her ill. The film never belittles or critiques such beliefs, and that this is notable is not just a credit to Goded but also a reflection of how accustomed many viewers are to the exoticism that pervades so much documentary cinema made by Westerners about the so-called third world.

The same might be said of “The Land of Enlightened,” although one cannot be sure the extent to which these children are being exploited. First-time director Pieter-Jan De Pue also came to cinema by way of photography, and he spent seven years hauling 16-millimeter film canisters through the hills of Afghanistan while embedded with child gangs and American troops. He blends fiction and documentary in his depiction of the region, though he doesn’t own up to it in the film.

“The Land of Enlightened” runs right into the argument that has surrounded documentary aesthetics and authenticity since “Nanook of the North.” The film’s artistry is incredible; its ethics, less clear. Watching the children delicately remove a land mine from a barren landscape or rob a diamond merchant as he crosses the terrain, one first wonders how much De Pue has affected events with his mere presence. When the gangs roam the region’s plateaus, raiding deserted Russian outposts, one is encouraged to question how the footage was acquired. Although you’d never know it from watching the film, all the children are nonprofessional actors impersonating the kids De Pue met during his years in Afghanistan.

Unlike Errol Morris’ “The Thin Blue Line” or Joshua Oppenheimer’s “The Act of Killing,” “The Land of Enlightened” neglects to signal that what we are seeing is re-enacted. And as we watch the gang members gin up food, arms and opium however they can, it becomes increasingly difficult to suspend disbelief. De Pue juxtaposes the children’s exploits with glimpses of U.S. forces at rest and at war. In an ironic echo of the Afghan child bandits, adolescent American troops are seen shelling sites along a valley in glee and rage, profanity spewing and weapons blasting. In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, an American service member plays a melancholy guitar riff as a young Afghan freedom fighter relates, via a poetic voiceover, his hopes for Afghanistan once the Americans leave and his belief that the country will remain at war as long as outsiders seek to tame it.

Documentary filmmaking has undergone a revolution in the 27 years since Michael Moore’s “Roger and Me” took the Sundance Film Festival by storm. Since then, the number of people making documentary films has increased exponentially, and the reach of documentaries, mostly thanks to cable television and Internet streaming, has expanded even more. Sundance remains one of the few international brands that champion the intersection of artistry and journalism and push the form in ways meant to provoke. Here’s hoping the festival keeps at it.

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HAITI: For US in Haiti, black votes don’t matter

america.aljazeera.com, by Mark Weisbrot @Markweisbrot, 3 min read, original

Journalists are taught in school to avoid euphemisms. When someone dies, they write that she “died” instead of “passed away.” But one euphemism that has become a fixture in U.S. news reporting is “the international community.” This is generally a substitute for the U.S. government, with or without some input from some of its allies.

Perhaps this is nowhere more true than in Haiti, where Washington has long exercised a veto over the country’s most important decisions. But last week the “international community” suffered a rare defeat when Haitians rejected Washington’s plans for a deeply flawed presidential runoff election to take place on Sunday, Jan. 24.

How did this happen? Basically, Haitians managed to put Washington in the situation of having to maintain that a runoff election with only one candidate, businessman Jovenel Moïse, would be legitimate, or postpone the election. As late as last Thursday, just three days before the election, U.S. officials were insisting that they would go forward even if the second candidate, engineer Jude Célestin, refused to participate. But he stuck to his boycott, and they backed down.

Célestin was also the candidate who finished second in the first round of Haiti’s 2010 presidential elections. But the “international community” had a different choice, and brought in an “expert” mission under the auspices of the Organization of American States to examine the results. Without a recount or even a statistical test of a ballot sample, it reversed the first-round results, eliminating Célestin and putting musician and businessman Michel Martelly into the runoff. Martelly went on to win the election and become president. Approaching the end of his five-year term, he is supporting Moïse as his replacement.

In last week’s events, it was not just the work of one person that forced Washington to back down. There were serious street demonstrations, condemnations from human rights organizations, religious leaders, business groups and the refusal of seven other presidential candidates from the first round to accept another episode of illegitimate elections. They had plenty of arguments and evidence on their side. In the first round of the presidential election, held on Oct. 25, local observers found massive irregularities and evidence of fraud. More than 900,000 observer credentials were distributed to political party representatives — effectively allowing them to vote multiple times. International reporters witnessed these passes being sold on the black market. In an election where only about 1.6 million people (26 percent of the electorate) voted, the legitimacy of the vote became doubtful.

Today’s electoral turmoil shows how much continuity there is with Haiti’s awful history.

It was even tougher to accept the election results after a commission appointed by Martelly found that only 8 percent of tally sheets that they examined were free from irregularities. The opposition did not all have the same demands but they wanted a new electoral council to lead the process and some reforms to make sure that the second round would be credible. Many observers have also demanded a serious examination of the first-round ballots to see if there was any basis for accepting the results.

No date for new elections has yet been set, and it remainsto be seen what will happen when Martelly’s term expires on Feb. 7.

The current fight for legitimate elections in Haiti is another episode of a long struggle for democracy that goes back to the U.S.-backed dictatorships of François and Jean-Claude Duvalier (1957-1986) and the overthrow of the country’s first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in 1991 and again in 2004 (with decisive support from Washington). And even further back, it is rooted in Haiti’s many conflicts with “the international community” since the country’s founding in 1804 from a slave rebellion, including its occupation by U.S. Marines from 1915 to 1934.

Today’s electoral turmoil shows how much continuity there is with this awful history. In a sense, the country remains occupied today by United Nations troops who were brought in not to help with reconstruction after the 2010 earthquake — as many people mistakenly believe — but six years earlier, to “keep order” after the constitutional government was overthrown, its officials jailed or forced into exile, and thousands of supporters killed.

It would be remiss not to mention the institutional racism that allows for such continuity. This is most painfully obvious in the response of “the international community” to a problem that they themselves created just five years ago: the cholera epidemic that has killed nearly 10,000 Haitians and infected hundreds of thousands more. Cholera had not been present in Haiti until some UN troops — not “aid workers” as some people allegeddumped their human feces into the country’s water supply in 2010. Yet they refuse to come up with the money that would be necessary to provide clean water and resolve the problem, even though they have spent much more than this on maintaining their military presence in the country.

It is hard to see such twisted priorities as other than a statement that “Black lives don’t matter.” As with the elections, and USAID reconstruction funds of which only 1.6 percent went to Haitian organizations and companies, it seems that even in dealing with a deadly disease caused by these foreign governments’ own gross negligence, power and control over the country are the first priorities.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America’s editorial policy.

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ON THE MEDIA: The Fearful World of Network News in 2015

ipsnews.net, by Jim Lobe, 9 min read, original

Andrew Tyndall

– If your view of world events outside the U.S. was shaped in substantial part by watching the evening news shows on the three major U.S. networks last year, you’d probably want to stay home.

Terrorism and the bloody wars of the Middle East dominated the network news coverage of the world outside our borders last year, according to the latest annual summary of the authoritative Tyndall Report, which was released just last week. Domestically, it was pretty scary, too, with two of the year’s three top domestic stories featuring Donald Trump’s ugly presidential primary campaign and last month’s San Bernardino massacre, which was allegedly inspired by the Islamic State (ISIS or IS).

As in virtually every year since 9/11, Latin America, Africa, and East Asia (which includes China, Japan, and the Koreas) barely registered in the networks’ universe. Global warming—arguably the greatest existential threat facing our way of life—made only a cameo appearance in the guise of last month’s Paris climate summit, despite today’s New York Times headline: “2015 Was Hottest Year in Historical Record.” Unfortunately, the Paris summit coincided with the San Bernardino massacre, which received eight times the coverage.

As noted by Andrew Tyndall, the Report’s publisher, in an email exchange today,

This last year has been especially narrow in the range of international stories, in that few stories that are unrelated either to terrorism or to the Middle East (or both) have attracted attention. No Ebola. No Fukushima. The excitement around the new pope is starting to subside. No royal wedding. No Olympic Games. …Europe has received prominent coverage. However, the three biggest European stories (Charlie Hebdo, the refugee crisis, the Paris concert massacre) can be portrayed as spillovers from Mideast tensions. All three of these major European storylines fit neatly into fearful narratives made by domestic politicians.

Aside from the tragic death of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, sub-Saharan Africa, the world’s largest continent with a population of a billion people, didn’t exist in the evening news universe

Tyndall has been tracking and cataloguing the evening news broadcasts of ABC, CBS, and NBC each weekday since 1988. That comes to roughly 22 minutes for each network per evening, or nearly 15,000 minutes a year for all three weekday evening shows combined. (The total this year was 14,574 minutes.) His findings are considered the most authoritative publicly available source on network news coverage.Although citizens increasingly rely on the Internet for national and international news, the network evening news remains the single biggest source, attracting a nightly audience of around 24 million viewers, according to the latest report by the Pew Research Center on Journalism and the Media. By comparison, the average primetime audience for all cable news channels combined is a mere 3.5 million. Thus, the news priorities reflected in the amount of attention the three networks devote to national and international trends and events exert a significant influence on how much of the U.S. citizenry sees the world. In other words, the nightly evening network news offers the closest thing we have to a collective national window on what is happening beyond our borders. Which is why it’s important.

The Highlights

Each year, Tyndall publishes a one-page summary of highlights, including the 20 stories to which the three networks devoted the most time in their coverage. The summary also notes more general findings. In 2015, for example, the three networks provided a combined total of 941 minutes to foreign policy coverage (not to be confused with coverage from overseas). Not only was that a mere 6.5% of total news coverage, it was slightly less than half of the annual average between 1988 and 2014. This could reflect the gravitational pull of the 2016 presidential campaign and/or the perception by network news gatekeepers that the public is increasingly uninterested in or fed up with foreign policy issues.

In any event, here are the top 20 and the combined number of minutes they received from the three networks. Together, they accounted for 3,422 minutes of the three networks’ coverage, or less than 25% of total evening news coverage.

Winter weather                                     377

Donald Trump campaign                     327

San Bernardino shootings                     237

Islamic State declared by ISIS             220

Terrorism in Paris: concert massacre   188

Refugees to the European Union         174

Police: lethal Baltimore arrest             174

Forest fires in western states                161

Boston Marathon bombing trial           160

NFL post-season: deflated balls           145

Pope Francis visits to Cuba and USA   142

Syria civil war                                       136

Iran nuclear program negotiations       132

Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris         132

New York prison escape                       131

Republican presidential debates           123

Hillary Clinton campaign                     121

AMC church massacre in Charleston   117

Germanwings jet crash in Alps              114

Iraq civil war/ISIS in Iraq                     113

Some of the top stories are obviously related to each other, although Tyndall is very careful about not double-counting stories. For example, Trump clearly factored heavily in the Republican presidential debates, but the minutes devoted to his contribution to that debate would not have been included in the category of the Trump campaign itself. The EU’s refugee crisis was obviously related to the wars in Syria and Iraq, not to mention IS.

Thus, among the 20 most-covered stories, the 2016 campaign garnered 571 minutes (Trump, Republican debate, Clinton). But terrorist acts or organizations claimed five of the top 20, at nearly 1,000 minutes (San Bernardino, the Islamic State, two Paris stories, the Boston Marathon trial), and that doesn’t count the civil wars in Syria and Iraq or the Charleston church massacre. Those, plus the Germanwings jet crash, alleged police brutality in Baltimore, the prison escape, and the huge refugee influx into Europe, make for a pretty scary world (not to mention the heavily fear-based Trump campaign itself or other fear-mongering Republicans).

Indeed, the only good news that featured in the top 20 last year was the Pope’s visit, the Iran nuclear agreement (albeit not for Bibi Netanyahu and his followers here), and deflated footballs if you care passionately about Tom Brady. Of course, as Tyndall suggests, by depicting such a frightening world, the networks are—presumably unconsciously—propagating a fundamentally far-right narrative that can only benefit Republicans during this year’s campaign.

A Closer Look at the Numbers

To help draw a more complete picture of the networks’ view of the world outside the United States, I asked Tyndall for the statistics on the top foreign stories of the year. They comprised 41 of the top 150 stories, including nine that appeared in the top 20 cited above. The results:

Islamic State in Middle East declared by ISIS 220
Paris terrorism: stadium, restaurant, concert attacks 188
European Union faces influx of refugees and migrants 174
Pope Francis I visits Cuba and United States 142
Syria politics: rebellion designated as civil war 136
Iran nuclear weapons program prevention talks 132
Paris magazine offices assassination: 12 dead 132
Germanwings 9525 crash in French Alps: 150 dead 114
Iraq: combat resumes after US troops pull out 113
Afghanistan’s Taliban regime aftermath, fighting 85
Nepal earthquake levels Kathmandu: Richter 7.8 70
Metrojet charter flight crash over Sinai Desert 59
Moslems in western nations recruited by terrorists 48
Malaysia Airlines 370 missing: Indian Ocean search 43
Cuba-US diplomacy: relations normalized 42
Air Asia 8501 crash over Java Sea kills 162 39
Zimbabwe nature preserve celebrity lion killed 37
Soccer: FIFA Women’s World Cup won by USA 33
Yemen civil war 32
British royals coverage 32
Global warming climate change: Paris Summit 30
High-speed train on-board attack foiled in Belgium 30
International Space Station mission in orbit 30
Libya: US diplomats assassinated in Benghazi 29
Belgium terrorism: surveillance in Brussels suburb 28
Ukraine civil war: secessionist fighting in east 28
Tunisia terrorism: beach resort shooting spree 26
El Nino current forms in Pacific Ocean 25
Syrian-American immigration: seek refugee status 25
CIA drone kills Americans in raid on Pakistan 25
Diesel engine pollution tests rigged by Volkswagen 24
Cargo ship SS El Faro founders off The Bahamas 23
Israel-Palestinian conflict 22
Cuba-US sanctions relaxed: more trade, travel 22
Syria refugees flee abroad to overcrowded camps 21
Greece politics: referendum on fiscal austerity 20
Hurricane Patricia forms in Pacific off Mexico 20
Syria archeology: antiquities looted, vandalized 20
Vietnam War remembered 20
Nazi Holocaust remembered 19

This is essentially the image that most Americans received from their most popular source of international news. Is it any wonder that so many foreigners are shocked by how little Americans know about their home countries or regions?

There’s obviously some good news in this list—including the normalization of relations with Cuba, the climate treaty in Paris, the International Space Station, the perennial British royals story (maybe that’s bad news, I don’t know), the US women’s victory in the World Cup. Again, this picture is pretty scary. But there are a few things worth noting (and I’m sure you will find many more):

  • The list contains absolutely nothing about China, including its economic troubles, its build-up in the South China Sea, its environmental or minority problems, its crackdown against outspoken dissidents and lawyers— or really the rest of East Asia.
  • A grand total of 22 minutes is devoted to the Israel-Palestine conflict despite the violence that has been going on since October and shows no sign of abating, not to mention the increasingly right-wing nature of the Israeli government or the clear disdain in which Obama and Netanyahu mutually hold themselves.
  • Aside from Cuba, there’s no real mention of anything related to Latin America. And normalization with Cuba—a historic development that effectively ended nearly 60 years of hostility—rated a grand total of 66 minutes on all three networks. By comparison, deflate gate and the NFL got 145 minutes, more than twice as much! At least, the Pope gave it some additional attention, albeit not much.
  • Aside from the tragic death of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, sub-Saharan Africa, the world’s largest continent with a population of a billion people, didn’t exist in the evening news universe. Not even for acts of terrorism carried out by Boko Haram or any other group affiliated with al-Qaeda or IS! This, of course, upholds the long-enduring Victorian notion that the only good things about Africa are its animals.
  • Despite the increased threat posed by the Taliban, as well as the belatedly reported death of Mullah Omar and the decision by Obama to put off a final withdrawal, Afghanistan didn’t make the top 20, receiving a grand total of only one hour and 25 minutes in the evening news for all of 2015.
  • Yemen’s devastating war garnered a total of 32 minutes, ten minutes more than the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Tyndall on the News

I asked Andrew Tyndall to comment on some of these observations, and here are some excerpts of our emailed interview:

Lobe: Did you see any greater effort on the part of the newscasters in 2015 to link the weather or weather-related disasters to global warming than in previous years?

Tyndall: I see no evidence of it. First, because gradual, secular weather events (the drought in California, El Nino in the Pacific) received less coverage than extreme, sudden weather events (winter storms, tornadoes, wildfires, flash floods). Second, because the Paris Summit on Climate Change was undercovered, since it coincided with the San Bernardino office party massacre, which eclipsed it.

Lobe: East Asia appears to have been almost entirely ignored in 2015, despite tensions between China and its neighbors in the South and East China Seas? Was this different than or consistent with coverage of the last few years when these territorial claims became more salient? What do you think are the implications of the lack of coverage?

Tyndall: Yes, the military tensions over marine territorial rights have barely been mentioned. The driving force to make such tensions newsworthy is usually not an editorial decision by news executives, but a political decision by an administration in power. In other words, the news tends to follow the Pentagon, reacting to its initiatives, rather than alerting the public, so that it can understand the issues at stake in advance of a debate over such initiatives.

Over the past 25-or-so years of my database, it is a rule of thumb that Republican administrations tend to be more bellicose in addressing overseas disputes, which leads to newscasts being more active in following them. In other words, we can expect coverage of the South China Seas to escalate if and when the US Navy is dispatched to confront the Chinese military in those waters. Lack of coverage, therefore, is a reassuring sign that we are not gearing up for a war with the People’s Republic.

Lobe: And what do you make of the absence of Africa coverage except for the lion?

Tyndall: Yes, given that terrorism and Islamist insurgencies are popular themes for the newscasts to cover, I would have expected more attention paid to Boko Haram and al-Shabaab. I have no problem with the attention paid to Cedric the lion and the Minnesota dentist [who killed him]. A perfect summer sensation.

Lobe: And Latin America except for Cuba?

Tyndall: With reference to Spanish-speaking Latin America, one of the unfortunate consequences of the success of Univision in providing news to Hispanic-Americans is that the Anglophone newscasts act as though their coverage would be duplicative. Thus, the end of the civil war in Colombia was hardly mentioned. The crisis of legitimacy and narco-corruption of the Mexican government only broke through onto English-speaking airwaves through the figure of El Chapo.

One of the advantages to the publicity and promotion around the Olympic Games is that resources and personnel are on site to cover non-sporting-related issues that would normally be ignored. I anticipate that the Zika virus will be the first of several stories to come out of Brazil this year, to coincide with the Rio Olympic Games.

For Mexican-US immigration policy: see Trump, D.

Lobe: Yemen got only 32 minutes despite the fact that it’s in the most heavily covered foreign region, its depiction as a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and the presence (and apparent expansion) there of al-Qaeda and IS? Any comment?

Tyndall: Logistically, Yemen is a very difficult country to cover. Its undercoverage belongs in the same category as Boko Haram and al-Shabaab. The rumblings of a possible third intifada on the West Bank also received surprisingly little airtime. I ascribe the lack of interest in covering the proxy Iran-Saudi war to two factors. First (as with the South China Sea) is the Pentagon’s lack of enthusiasm for getting involved. Second, the true anxieties associated with turmoil in the region are associated with symptoms (the spread of terrorism and refugees) not underlying causes (struggles for sectarian and regional hegemony).

This piece was originally published in Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy Lobelog.com

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AFGHANISTAN; DEVELOPMENT: UN reduces Afghanistan appeal but urges other donors to do more

As hunger and malnutrition threaten millions of Afghans, UN in Kabul says US aid to the country is ‘small change’ compared with its military spending

theguardian.com, by Sune Engel Rasmussen, Jan. 27, 2016, original

A Lazeez food truck in Kabul, which caters to the wealthier residents of the city. For millions of other Afghans, food security and poor nutrition is the reality. Photograph: Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images

The UN has implored member states to keep humanitarian aid flowing to Afghanistan as the organisation seeks to limit its focus to life-saving assistance.

Although an estimated 8.1 million Afghans will need help this year – about one-third of the population, and 700,000 more than last year – the UN said on Wednesday it was lowering its request for funding inits humanitarian appeal from $405m (£283m) in 2015 to $393m this year.

The cut will primarily affect efforts to reduce food insecurity and malnutrition. Three million Afghans are malnourished. One million are in acute need of treatment. But the UN’s humanitarian aid will now only target malnutrition caused by displacement, not by poverty and general food shortages.

The UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Kabul, Mark Bowden, said the reason for the narrower focus is because malnutrition is mostly a development issue, not a humanitarian one.

“The problems of food insecurity have increased because poverty has increased,” Bowden said. “It’s not being dealt with as a development problem, and the humanitarian resources are not sufficient to deal with it.”

However, development agencies and the Afghan government are unlikely to be able to pick up the slack.

“I’ve been frustrated by the lack of response from both the international donor community and government on this. We’ve been talking about it for two years,” Bowden said. “We’ve been having meetings with USAid and others as to how to deal with it. It’s not being well prioritised.”

Humanitarian appeals are a balancing act between what is needed and what can realistically be achieved. Last year, the UN in Afghanistan received 70% of its request, one of the most successful UN appeals.

Humanitarian assistance makes up about 10% of the overall non-military assistance to Afghanistan, which also includes development and government assistance.

This year, donors are expected to renew commitments set out at the2012 Tokyo conference, where they pledged $4bn annually in assistance to Afghanistan.

The UK in particular, said Bowden, has pushed donor countries to boost aid. Last year, the UK gave the UN’s humanitarian appeal $16m, tripling 2012 levels and making the UK the third-largest national donor after Japan and the US. In total, the UK donated £25m in humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan last year, according to an embassy spokesperson in Kabul.

Diplomats in Kabul point out that for European countries, aid can be a way of reducing the inflow of migrants, of whom Afghans make up 21%.

“It is essential that the most vulnerable Afghans receive appropriate life-saving assistance, quickly. If their needs are not met, Afghans will choose to migrate out of their country as a last resort,” said the German ambassador to Kabul, Markus Potzel.

About half of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan – $141m – comes from the US, but the figure is dwarfed by the $4bn the US pays annually to the country’s security forces.

“I hate to say it but, for the US, humanitarian assistance really is small change,” Bowden said.

Related: Impunity in conflict has cast a dark shadow over humanitarian work in 2015 | Clár Ní Chonghaile

With the Taliban taking over territory across the country, civilian hardship is likely to worsen. The number of Afghans in need of assistance is expected to rise from 7.4 million in 2015 to 8.1 million in 2016, according to the UN. Mass displacement caused by armed conflict, the expulsion of undocumented Afghans from Pakistan and natural disasters, is a major driver.

“With it being El Niño year, the likelihood of more flooding is quite considerable. It’s certainly not going to be any better than last year,” Bowden said. “And, depending on how you see conflict developing, possibly worse.”

Pockets of Islamic State fighters, primarily in the country’s east, also present challenges. Isis seems less accepting of international agencies and immunisation campaigns than the Taliban, with whom the UN negotiates access to affected areas. After the Octoberearthquake in north-east Afghanistan, the Taliban offered a unilateral ceasefire to allow delivery of aid.

Although Afghanistan is still one of the most dangerous countries in which to be an aid worker, Bowden said “there is a great respect for international humanitarian law across the board”.

“Though there is a risk of some of that eroding, basically we’ve been able to work with all parties to get assistance through.”

Crucially, attacks on health facilities are becoming rarer, he said, “with the glaring exception of Kunduz”, where a US gunshipattacked a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in October, killing at least 42 staff and patients.

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ON THE MEDIA: Herzog and Oppenheimer draw lines regarding documentary filmmaking

parkrecord.comScott Iwasaki, Jan. 26, 2016, original

Filmmakers Werner Herzog, left, and Joshua Oppenheimer talked about their craft as documentarians during a Cinema CafŽ TimesTalk at the Filmmaker’s Lodge panel at the Sundance Film Festival on Monday. (Stephen Speckman/Sundance Institute)

Although both forms of communication attempts to reveal the truth of an issue, there is a difference between documentary filmmaking and journalism, and that was what Werner Herzog and Joshua Oppenheimer discussed at the Sundance Film Festival’s Filmmaker’s Lodge Monday morning.”You see too many documentaries where you see all of this investigative reporting that is finding out that this guy is bad and not only did he expose himself to a woman, but that he also has a bad political agenda,” Herzog told the audience. “It goes on and on ad nauseam, but it’s just journalism.”

Oppenheimer concurred and said he and Herzog are aware that documentary films must divorce themselves from journalism.

“Yes, most documentary films are an extension of journalism, so do them and declare them journalism,” he said. “I think it’s a pity that nonfiction cinema and documentary filmmaking in the United States in particular, is colonized by this. It may be perhaps because of the mainstream media’s failure to deeply investigate, what we, as nonfiction filmmakers, care about in the world.”

Sundance Film Festival veteran Herzog’s new film, “Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World,” which looks at the perils and possibilities of life connected to a vast network, premiered Saturday.

Oppenheimer directed the 2012 film “Act of Killing” and the 2014 follow up, “Look of Silence” which examines the horrors and effects of the Indonesian Massacre of 1965 and 1966, where government officials and the military conducted mass killing of suspected communists, Chinese nationals and left-wing sympathizers.

This year’s festival was his first.The award-winning documentary filmmakers’ panel was part of the Sundance Film Festival’s Cinema Café TimesTalk program, moderated by Kathleen Lingo of the New York Times.

During the hour-long presentation, Herzog and Oppenheimer, who are good friends, showed mutual respect for each other’s works.

“Throughout your nonfiction films, you make up stories with your voiceovers,” Oppenheimer told Herzog.

Documentary filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer, center makes a statement while New York Time’s Kathleen Lingo, left, and Werner Herzog, right, look on during a Cinema CafŽ TimeTalk panel at the Sundance Film Festival’s Filmmaker Lodge on Monday. (Stephen Speckman/Sundance Institute)

“Sometimes they are outlandish and sometimes fictional, but as viewers we know that you are taking us to a hidden truth.”Herzog said his narrations are a guide for his viewers.

“I want to take the audiences just under the arm and take them with me into pure poetry, fantasy and illumination,” he said.

He then told the audience that Oppenheimer’s films are just as powerful, especially when he crafts a scene with little or no dialog to emphasize a statement.

“These moments are of silent contemplation and the notion of memory that has been wiped out and silenced,” Herzog said. “[That’s when] you know this is a film that has unprecedented depth and that’s what brings me close to Joshua and his films.”

Lingo said both the filmmakers’ recent works appear to come from two different realities, but also reflect the current state of humanity and asked if there was anything for the human race to be hopeful for.

“I think I’m more hopeful,” Oppenheimer said to Herzog, lightening the mood. “So you go first and we’ll end on an ‘up.'”

Herzog said his films aren’t made from the notion of being hopeful or not.

“I find it odd that people are striving for happiness, as if it’s the primary goal in life and I find that silly,” he said. “Americans take it seriously because it’s even in their Constitution, ‘the pursuit of happiness.’ But that doesn’t touch me. It doesn’t interest me.

“You find these people stepping on the bus with the frozen rictus of a smile to show how happy they are,” he said. “It’s just awful.”

Lingo then asked about the pursuit of justice.

“That’s something else, something more meaningful,” Herzog answered. “Of course, being part of something meaningful like striving for justice or equal rights for humanity is a much more dignified goal than just personal happiness.”

Oppenheimer jumped in and said that people have tricked themselves into thinking everything in the world is OK as it should be.

“What [Werner and I] share is our profound disgust with pretense, denial, facade and the collective lies that naturalize and makes everything unjust and terrible, small and debased around us feel inevitable,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is make visible the fantasies, lies, delusions and self deceptions that constitute immoral imagination, which allows us to feel everything is fine, when it is really catastrophic.”

When those things are exposed, the audience may be taken aback.

“In that moment everything looks strange because a world that is depicted as a world of delusions, lies and fantasies, looks strange and we try to resist it,” Oppenheimer said. “But I think if there is any power to my films or Werner’s films, it’s because, in fact, it’s not the shock of [seeing] anything new, but the shock of recognition.”

Getting to the objective heart of the subject is a documentary filmmaker’s goal, Herzog said.

“It’s always an illumination of what we are at our best and our worst, and your approach is one from deep compassion,” he said. “You go into the deepest spot of human suffering and human pathos and I walk away from [Joshua’s] films illuminated. That’s what you do not have in cinema nowadays.”

Oppenheimer said that’s what he feels Herzog tries to do, even though the elder filmmaker tries to hide behind a state of anger.

“That openness you bring to everyone you film, even if you are ridiculing their delusions, is never from a place of sarcasm, but from a tragic sense of, ‘ we’re in this together and this is the wrong path,'” Oppenheimer told Herzog. “I think that is hopeful. It’s the opposite of cynicism.”

With all that is going on in the world, it is understandable why nonfiction filmmakers have taken on the job that Oppenheimer says journalists aren’t doing.

“It’s a pity, because this is a colonization of our art form by something else,” he said. “I think that we have to distinguish between journalism that pretends to understand, but really condemns, and confuses that with comprehension.

“You can’t divorce great filmmaking, even fiction, from empathy, and from the sense we need to strive to understand how we as human beings create these monstrous conditions and the inseparability of the violence, fear and silence which is seismically rocking the United States right now in our inner cities and the criminalization of huge swaths of our fellow countrymen,” he said. “You can’t divorce that from trying to understand how we in an everyday way, lie to ourselves to justify that. We can’t do that, with out understanding, empathizing and opening our hearts.”

The Sundance Film Festival will run through Jan. 31 in various venues in Park City. For more information, visit www.sundance.org .

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HAITI: Haiti Since the Earthquake

newyorker.com, by Jon Lee Anderson, original

Is the struggling country’s flamboyant President a savior or a rogue?

A few months ago, a crowd of curious onlookers gathered on a newly built highway overpass in downtown Port-au-Prince. It was a humid afternoon, too hot to linger outside, but Haiti’s President, Michel Martelly, was scheduled to appear, and any appearance by Martelly was bound to be entertaining. Before being elected President, in 2011, Martelly was Sweet Micky, an extroverted singer of the ebullient dance music called konpa. A popular and bawdy showman, he appears in one typical video clip in a night club, dancing for the camera in a red bra and a yellow sarong. At one point, he feigns masturbating a giant phallus, then hoists an imaginary breast and licks it.

At the overpass, jeeploads of riot police fanned out, and workmen set up a red carpet and a lectern with the Presidential seal on it. Martelly was coming to inaugurate the Delmas Viaduct, a four-lane bridge over a deep gully at the base of Delmas, a densely populated hillside neighborhood. As the crowd grew, a rara band, a squad of dreadlocked teen-agers, showed up to blow horns and beat drums. Martelly, who is fifty-four, arrived in a pink-and-white checked shirt worn untucked over black jeans. His shaved head gleaming, he cut a casually hip figure amid an entourage of plainclothes bodyguards and officials in suits. At the microphone, he spoke in guttural Creole, a French patois that is Haiti’s primary language. “This viaduct proves once again that together we can achieve great and beautiful things,” he said. “More than a dream, more than a project, this viaduct is now one of the symbols of Port-au-Prince.”

Martelly’s Presidency has been predicated on rebuilding. He took office a year after the January, 2010, earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince, killing perhaps two hundred thousand people and leaving millions homeless. The disaster drew the world’s attention to Haiti’s long struggle—and, to some extent, offered a chance for a fresh start. In a survey of American voters, more than half reported donating to help repair the country; Bill Clinton, whose family foundation is deeply involved in Haiti, announced the hope that it could “build back better.” But Delmas, like much of Port-au-Prince, has been at best partly repaired. Even as the new overpass was unveiled, tens of thousands of residents were still displaced. As Martelly finishes his term in office, Haiti remains the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Some sixty per cent of its ten million citizens live in poverty. Nearly half are illiterate, and only one in four has access to a toilet.

Read the full New Yorker Article

 

 

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ON THE MEDIA: Syrian activists promote filmmaking, reading to ease daily suffering

al-monitor.com – Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East
Author: As-Safir (Lebanon) Posted January 18, 2016, original

Children walk beside a painted wall inside Jarmaq school in Yarmouk camp April 14, 2015. The text on the wall reads in Arabic "It's my right to learn." Picture taken April 14, 2015. REUTERS/Moayad Zaghmout - RTR4XFMX

Children walk beside a painted wall inside Jarmaq school in Yarmouk camp April 14, 2015. The text on the wall reads in Arabic “It’s my right to learn.” Picture taken April 14, 2015. REUTERS/Moayad Zaghmout – RTR4XFMX

Despite the cruelty of the war in Syria, community-based initiatives emerged from the pain from which society is suffering. As international initiatives crowd to resolve the intractable crisis, Syrian youth keep their initiatives on the local level without getting into politics and its ramifications. They focus on the people’s concerns and needs.

International news agencies and newspapers rush in with their cameras to capture scenes of the war in Syria to report on the daily news and events. However, Peace Lens is an initiative not related to the world of news, but based on documentary filmmaking.

The initiative’s team believes documentary filmmaking conveys the reality as it is through the camera lens and turns this reality into a series of pictures and scenes, to encourage the viewers to agree with a particular opinion or do a certain thing.

Documentaries are the most important tools nowadays, not only for their ability to influence the current situation. They can be used in the future as a deterrent for future generations, preventing them from entering into conflicts after seeing the amount of suffering resulting from the current conflict in the country.

The initiative’s team quotes Mikhail Kirkorov, a professor at the Petersburg State University of Film and Television, who said, “Syria is now the most important theater in the world for the documentary industry.”

Bashar al-Majdalawi, an official in the initiative, explained the project’s objective and work process: “The initiative was presented to the United Nations Development Programme. It is a cultural art project that brings together a group of people interested in filmmaking. They are taught how to shoot documentary films to convey social problems.” He added, “It is called Peace Lens because we wanted to link between documentaries and peace in light of our current situation.”

Majdalawi said, “A lot of things must be highlighted. We selected 10 young people, from different [social] categories, from the 40 people who applied for the course, according to UN standards and those of the project’s organizer. They were gathered in one place to brainstorm for a comprehensive idea for all the people in Syria to highlight peace.”

“At the end of the workshop, the film is shot and marketed — whether at festivals or special screenings — or posted on social networking sites, in order to make viewers think of solutions for the problems we are facing. We only put the problem in the spotlight, we do not give solutions,” he said.

Majdalawi added, “Such work could help the people we put in the spotlight in getting the support they need from organizations and institutions that care about them.”

Peace Lens organized two workshops for four months in two provinces, where a group of interested and talented people are trained for documentary filmmaking: writing texts, shooting and editing. After the workshop is done, two documentary films are made on cases of peace in the two provinces. The next phase would be to have a big screening for the documentaries in order to sell them. The proceeds of that money would be used to support families affected by the conflict.

The Book Initiative

It may be strange, and even undesirable under the shelling and the need for safety, to hold a book by Lebanese novelist Amin Maalouf and offer it to a family affected by the war.

The Book Initiative was launched by a team dubbed “A drop of Ink” in Damascus. The person in charge of the group, Youssef Sabbagh, said, “I first thought of how to encourage people to read.”

He added, “The idea is based on the establishment of a study with the various books, while focusing on those that are interesting for the youth and children. This is because this age category is important in building a better country, since they are the ones who engage in violent acts. Reading builds a human being that is balanced, honest and less violent — a person that has a weak culture of violence and higher prospects.”

On the importance of the initiative, Sabbagh explained, “One of the advantages is that online reading is prevailing, which is not wrong. The problem is that we do not know whether the sources are reliable. We tend to acquire a part of a certain idea without being aware from which book it comes. The initiative is a contribution to prove that the Syrian mind is the product of a well-established ancient civilization and is capable under the most difficult circumstances to move away from the culture of revenge.”

On the implementation of the initiative, Sabbagh said, “This study is placed in cafes, schools, cinemas, universities, centers and shelters. They consist of medium-sized studies that can be manufactured by local carpenters and includes diverse books. The idea was discussed at more than one level. Some have supported it and others considered that it is not the right time to read. I finally made the suggestion to the United Nations Organization for Refugees, which kept the door open for initiatives. A team of four members was made, and this is how ‘A Drop of Ink’ was formed.”

Sabbagh explained, “Work is currently underway in two parts. First is placing in specific places, where anyone can read a book without any fees. Second is about not contenting oneself with reading. In the care center in Dweil’a in Damascus, a library was established, composed of a variety of books for children and adolescents. We focus on the youth, because we have the ability to continue working with them until they get older. The next plan is to establish a library in shelters, as they accommodate affected families.”

On the idea that it is not the right time for reading, Sabbagh said, “Nothing justifies abstaining from reading. Education at home and schools is intrinsic. Reading builds [the youth] psychologically. We are not calling for giving reading a priority over the daily needs such as eating and drinking. But could it be possible to not have time to read?”

Read More: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/culture/2016/01/syria-local-initiatives-documentary-films-books-reading.html

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