Issues & Analysis
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Check Out Michael Sheridan on TEDx! – Why Local Perspectives are Necessary for a Balanced Information Diet

Conn College Logo“We all have to demand an improvement in our news diet. A balanced diet that’s less self-centric, that includes more local perspectives, will really help us be better informed, and therefore, more effective citizens.”    

On April 13, Michael Sheridan, an alumnus of Connecticut College, spoke at TEDxConnecticutCollege about Community Supported Film’s experience bringing local perspectives from Afghanistan to the U.S. through documentary filmmaking. Michael’s talk, entitled “Transforming News and Views through Local Perspectives,” compares U.S. mainstream media coverage of Afghanistan with local Afghan stories to show the unbalanced state of the Western news diet. By highlighting this imbalance, Michael demonstrates a need for both perspectives in order to create sustainable solutions for ourselves and for Afghans. Watch Michael’s TEDx talk here and/or read the highlights below:

It becomes clear that news stories have the capacity to both help and harm people once you ask who is telling the story, why they are telling it, and how it influences the general public. In the case of mainstream media coverage of Afghanistan, which focuses on “war-centric” stories and stories that are most relatable to Americans, the Afghan perspective is lost, subsequently harming the Afghan people.

In his talk, Michael compares photos and videos from The New York Times and Frontline with videos produced through Community Supported Film’s trainings in Afghanistan to show the way in which the mainstream media’s perception of Afghan issues does not accurately reflect the daily problems that the Afghan people are facing. Instead of focusing on warfare and violence, the locally produced videos emphasize issues with water, illiteracy, and drug addiction. Michael states that more Afghans are killed by water issues than insurgents and that 87% of Afghans believe that men and women should have equal access to education. Those are shocking statistics for those who only see Afghans in Western media portrayed as violent and discriminatory towards women.

TEDx: On the Shoulders of Giants

“American reporters…and the American news industry [in general] are telling the story of our news in Afghanistan and not necessarily the news from Afghanistan.”

Through his TEDx talk, Michael Sheridan proves that telling the news from Afghanistan can only be accomplished through a balanced information diet of both mainstream and local perspectives, thereby highlighting the importance of the Community Supported Film mission.

 

TEDx events are locally organized gatherings held in the same format as the well-known TED talks. These events bring leading thinkers and doers together to share what they are most passionate about.

The theme of this year’s Connecticut College TEDx event was “On the Shoulders of Giants,” which highlighted the power of collaboration and the insights gained from a historical perspective.

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Haiti, Development: Reconstruction or Haiti’s Latest Disaster? Tourism Development on Île-à-Vache Island

The following is adapted from a presentation by Jessica Hsu of Other Worlds and Jean Claudy Aristil of Radio VKM Les Cayes at the Executive Symposium for Innovators in Coastal Tourism conference in St. Georges, Grenada held from July 8 – July 11, 2014.

A large-scale tourism project planned for the Haitian island of Île-à-Vache targets “the well-heeled tourist from traditional markets…creating a place of exquisite peace and well-being,” as described in the government of Haiti’sexecutive plan. The project aims to attract four character types: “the Explorers, the Lovers, the Rejuvenators and the Homecomers.” The corporations behind the project intend to build 1,500 hotels and bungalows along the island’s beaches, an international airport, a golf course, island farms, and tourist “villages” with cafes, shops, and night clubs.

The government touts the project as “community hand-in-hand”, with “equitable distribution of benefits for all.” It says the tourism will be “mothering [to] nature” and is for the “general good.”

The community sees it very differently. A grassroots group, Collective for Île-à-Vache (KOPI), was formed in December 2013 and immediately began organizing multiple peaceful protests, strengthening the voices of the local community, and connecting with allies.

Community members have been mobilizing because they understand the multiple challenges ahead if the project continues as planned. Problems will likely include displacement of people from their land, forced migration to the overcrowded capital in search of work, loss of food production in a hungry nation, further economic impoverishment, and environmental and cultural degradation.

The administration has been making empty promises and telling lies to the inhabitants of the island, while systematically violating their rights and using violence to repress and intimidate those who have been peacefully protesting.

Special police forces, such as the Motorized Intervention Brigade (BIM) and the Intervention and Order Maintenance Corps (CIMO), have a permanent presence on the island now. Preceding the inception of the tourism project, there were only three police officers. In the last two weeks, a SWAT team has been introduced to the island. [The team was described in one account as more than 50 special police forces dressed in black with masks.]

Vice-president of KOPI, Police officer Jean Mathelnus Lamy, was arrested on February 21st.  He was moved to the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince on Februray 25, where he remains without official charges.

The “peace and well-being” envisioned for the tourists have not extended to the local population. On the contrary, there is a sense of fear around what is impending. It began when the government issued an official decree on May 10, 2013 making all of the offshore islands zones of tourism development and public utility. The proposed plans for the project were created by three Canadian companies: Resonance, 360 VOX, and IBI/DAA. They have little understanding or attachment to community needs.

Since then, the situation has gotten much worse. In August 2013, groundbreaking for the international airport flattened an old-growth forest, which was considered community land. Truxton began dredging a pristine bay known as Madam Bernard without an assessment of the environmental impact on marine ecosystems. Abaka Bay, which is one of the two luxury hotels on the island, illuminated the issue of waste management when a recent human rights delegation spotted the resort’s current method of waste disposal behind the resort. The expansion of Abaka Bay is part of phase I of the project.

Construction on a new road began in late 2013, without any notice, damaging a number of homes and taking out up to 18 coconut trees, which were a critical part of one household’s livelihood. No compensation was offered for the losses, though that is required by the Haitian Constitution. The company working on the road and airport is the Dominican Company Ingeneria Estrella. [The delegation] spoke to one elderly woman whose home is near the airport and has been marked for demolition, as she understands, by the Office of Land Registry (DGI). She stated about the Estrella workers, “They come in and out of my yard without notice and they enter without even a greeting.”

The collective KOPI has been organizing with other grassroots and human right organizations from Port-au-Prince. The group’s demands are (1) transparency and communication about the project, (2) retraction of the May 10, 2013 decree stating that the island is for tourism development and public utility, and (3) release of KOPI’s vice-president, Jean Mathelnus Lamy, who remains in the National Penitentiary, and (4) removal of the special police forces from the island. KOPI consists of 11 steering members and seven additional members in each of the 26 localities on the island.

Largely, the island community is not opposed to tourism. They are in favor of development which is respectful of their needs, which does not exploit nor threaten to take away their land; a project in which their participation is central and integral. However, they strongly oppose the current iteration of the project which is systematically violating their rights.

Last week, Prime Minister Lamothe visited the island again with a government delegation consisting of the Minister of Justice and a delegate from the Ministry of the Promotion of the Peasantry. Multiple communications were issued during this visit from the Ministry of Communication and Martelly-friendly outlets, including Haiti Libre, show what appears to be the prime minister talking to a supportive population about social programs and distributing food.

The untold story in these communications by Prime Minister Lamothe and Minister of Tourism Stephanie Balmir Villedrouin is that the population was told each household would receive 10,000 gourdes, or about US$220, during the visit to help boost microenterprise. When the delegation arrived, no money was distributed, but rather sacks of rice and crackers. Close inspection of the picture of Lamothe speaking, which was circulated by Haiti Libre and the Minister of Communications, shows the audience actually standing in a line for this hand out.

While the population protested the visit with burning tires and blockades, there were few people taking to the streets because of SWAT presence which accompanied the delegation. Warrants were issued for the arrest of KOPI leaders. Many of them have left their homes and gone into hiding unable to continue with their daily livelihood activities.

Villedrouin continues to say publicly the tourism development project is for the community, while the lies, intimidation, and repression continue. The population’s claims were verified in a report issued on April 2, 2014 [by eight Haitian human rights groups which visited the area] to investigate the tensions.

Similar recent foreign investment schemes in Haiti, like new free trade zones, have not brought the much- touted government line of better incomes. Residents of Île-à-Vache are concerned that they will have no power to enforce even the daily minimum wage of $5.11, as has happened with new sweatshops. Further, Haiti’s tourism industry – when it was flourishing in the 80’s – created a collision of wealth and extreme poverty which promoted other informal economies, such as the sex industry which was illuminated in the film Heading South.

Under the platform “Haiti is Open for Business”, the Martelly/Lamothe Administration continues to entice foreign investments with images of stability and security, building of infrastructure financed by PetroCaribe, and incentive policies such as a 15-year exemption from local taxes and duties exonerations on the import of equipment, goods and materials.

Tourism is one of the development pillars of the government in reconstruction/rebuilding following the 2010 earthquake. Tourism is supported by the Bill Clinton, UN Special Envoy to Haiti, who speaks of “Building Back Better.” The other economic pillars include mining, free-trade zones, and monocropping for export, all of which are direct affronts to the livelihoods of the rural peasantry and to food and land sovereignty.

The situation on Île-à-Vache is indicative of all the woes of Caribbean tourism and the model for what is to occur across Haiti. The government continues on its path to implement development to shape what it is calling “an emerging country by 2030.” In reality, these modes of development are further displacing and increasing urban migration; detaching and alienating the peasantry from the land with few alternatives.

Villedrouin does not speak about displacements, but rather “relocation,” when addressing residents of the island, while reporting to Reuters that only five percent of the population will be displaced. Lamothe promises there will be no displacements.

Simultaneously, there are still displacement camps in Port-au-Prince more than four years after the quake. There is no relocation plan for the residents of these camps, and in some areas of Port-au-Prince there is still rubble remaining. If this is the precedent for what happens to those who are displaced in Haiti, then the inhabitants of Île-à-Vache should be concerned about their futures.

Will many farmers and fishers from the island end up in the shantytowns of Haiti, as have hundreds of thousands of displaced farmers before them? Those who were living in hillside shantytowns had the highest mortality rate from the earthquake. Île-à-Vache’s population continues to be unsettled, uncertain of its future.

And so the Île-à-Vache community sings in protest:

Caller:

Nou gen kasav (We have cassava)

Nou gen kafe (We have coffee).

Group Response:

Nou pa bezwen pwoje sa (We do not need this project).

 

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3 Innovations In Participative Journalism That Will Change The Media Industry

AshokaAshoka , Contributor

High Quality, Reliable and Cost-Effective International Reporting

Seasoned foreign correspondent Cristi Hegranes has watched as media companies have closed their foreign bureaus to save operating costs, thus limiting journalists’ access to diverse stories and sources and creating a narrow focus on high-profile cases of war and poverty. In response, she founded the Global Press Institute (GPI) to demonstrate how affordable, high quality, and diverse news can be produced by enabling communities to tell their own stories.

Hegranes is challenging the notion that only university-educated, professional journalists, who are connected to major publications, can produce quality content. GPI provides a rigorous six-month training, and then employs those who complete this training to write for the Global Press Journal. GPI has already syndicated stories to more than 25 major media outlets around the globe.

Is this model a standard that media companies can begin to adopt globally?

Access to Information

Sascha Meinrath believes the media can no longer operate effectively in a world where large portions of the population are disadvantaged by poor Internet access. “It’s a business model that just doesn’t work,” he said.

As director of X-Lab and the founder of the Open Technology Institute, Meinrath is tackling the issue of access by developing a mesh-wireless network that allows multiple communication paths to a single network, allowing users to directly connect with each other.

This network does not require a centrally located transmitter; it allows users to overcome both physical and technological obstacles. This solution is critical where there are barriers to freedom of the press, or where Internet access is controlled and monitored.

“The more inclusive we are, the more benefits accrue to everyone that is in that system,” Meinrath said. Could this be a solution for media outlets struggling to provide objective and balanced content in an oppressive regime? Will it lead to more open and transparent content sharing? Meinrath is optimistic.

Many new media platforms are being launched with financial backing from Silicon Valley’s top investors, but there are many more startup and alternative media platforms that are still struggling to get the funds to launch or sustain themselves in media markets that are highly controlled or regulated . Sasa Vucinic, a journalist and editor in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, recognized that any figure of authority or institution with power can set and skew the content agenda by creating a dependency on funding. This inhibits objective reporting and sharing of accurate information. In response, Vucinic co-founded the Media Development Loan Fund (MDLF)—a social investment fund that offers affordable financing to independent media outlets.

When a media venture is selected for support, it is guided through a process of management and connected to a network of other media outlets. Throughout this process, the fund ensures that all aspects of the media outlet are well managed and aligned with strategic goals. At the same time, the ultimate goal is to eliminate dependence on MDLF’s network for financial sustainability.

Herganes, Meinrath, and Vucinic have all developed their empathy skills so they can understand the needs of the new and emerging marketplaces in a rapidly changing world. They are seeing power shift from siloed tactics and strategies to collaborative and networked solutions. The old model of top-down information produced by elites has thwarted citizens who want to be actively engaged and connected to a global community, and who want to make sense of the change that is engulfing them.

It’s clear that no single innovation will ensure the future success of the media industry. It will take creative, flexible, inclusive and empathic problem-solvers who are working collaboratively to add value to a changing media environment. At the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum on June 30- July 2 and at the Ashoka Globalizer, these 3 leading social entrepreneurs and manyother promising media innovations proved that there are those who are beginning to tackle these problems.

This post was written by Laxmi Parthasarathy (@laxmisarathy), a media development professional and currently Global Media Partnerships Manager at Ashoka.

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Broadcasting African Documentaries to Africa

SouthAfrica.Info, 22 July 2014

South Africa’s Durban International Film Festival initiated a world first on Monday as it began broadcasting a full week of African documentary films to television audiences across sub-Saharan Africa.

The AfriDocs Film Week connects the largest film festival in Africa to TV viewers in 49 African countries through a “film festival on your screen” featuring documentary films from the DRC, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

The week-long film event is a project of AfriDocs, the first weekly prime-time documentary strand broadcasting across the continent. AfriDocs broadcasts top African documentaries to 49 countries every Tuesday night by satellite on ED (DStv channel 190) and GOtv (channel 65), and terrestrially to an additional 100 cities in eight countries.

AfriDocs is an initiative of Cape Town-based documentary production and distribution company Steps in partnership with the Bertha Foundation.

“So many documentary films have been shot in Africa, but very few have been seen by African audiences,” AfriDocs executive producer Don Edkins said in a statement on the weekend. “This heralds a new era of distribution for the continent.”

Films by African filmmakers Sani Elhadj Magori, Licinio Azevedo, Rehad Desai, Judy Kibinge, Andrey Samoute Diarra, Annalet Steenkamp and Mandy Jacobson – together with filmmakers Mika Karismäki, Thierry Michel, Roger Ross Williams, Abby Ginzberg and Göran Olsson, among others – will be seen for the first time by a wide audience as a result of this collaboration.

Seven of the films screening at the Durban International Film Festival, which is currently under way, will also be part of the programme, including the award-winning Miners Shot DownConcerning ViolenceI AfrikanerThe Irresistible Rise of Moïse Katumbi and Soft Vengeance.

These documentaries tell a wide range of stories, including films about African artists such as singer Miriam Makeba and Malian photographer Malik Sibidé, films about political leaders Patrice Lumumba and Liberian President Sirleaf Johnson, and films dealing with revolutionaries, farmers, gangsters, musicians and evangelists.

Rebecca Lichtenfeld, director of social impact media at Bertha Philanthropies, said the Bertha Foundation was proud to partner with Steps in bringing great documentary films to audiences across Africa. “Connecting documentary film to African audiences is something we have been hoping to do for some time now, and this is an ideal platform for that,” she said.

For the full programme schedule and synopses of the films, visit www.afridocs.net or www.facebook.com/AfriDocs.

SAinfo reporter

Read more: http://www.southafrica.info/news/afridocs-220714.htm#.U8-_9vmICQp#ixzz38IiHkuIb

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Afghanistan, Media: Oral Stories Project – Afghan Women’s Writing Project

I Just Keep Delivering

Illiterate Afghan Women Get in a Word on Pregnancy & Childbirth

Afghanistan has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the world, according to the World Health Organization, whose statistics show one in 11 Afghan women die of causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Who’s to blame? In a mix of poverty and cultural tradition, girls marry and give birth too young. Family planning is rare. Access to doctors and public health facilities is minimal at best, and non-existent in rural areas.

Don’t miss these ten interviews with illiterate Afghan women by writers of the Afghan Women’s Writing Project.  Ten short pieces that enable western readers to hear the womens’ first-hand thoughts on family planning and pregnancy. Read all of them and share with your friends!

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Boston Globe Article: Haitians telling the story of Haiti

bostonglobe.com

Haitians telling the story of Haiti

by Loren King , June 7, 2014

Multimedia journalist Ralph Thomassaint Joseph (second from left) will assist with local training of young Haitian filmmakers as Community Supported Film’s Haiti project coordinator.

As the Oscar-nominated documentary “The Square” proved, it’s the people with a stake in political and social upheaval who can most effectively tell their own stories. Boston documentary filmmaker Michael Sheridan believes that, too, which is why in 2010 he founded Community Supported Film to train grass-roots documentary filmmakers across the globe.

CSF’s first effort was the “Afghan Project,” resulting in 10 short films that were compiled into “The Fruit of Our Labor: Afghan Perspectives in Film.” It was shown to political leaders, students, and communities across the United States and in Afghanistan.

Now, Sheridan and CSF have launched “Haitian Perspectives in Film,”which will train and mentor 10 Haitian directors who hope to influence the way their country is portrayed in documentaries.

Sheridan, a Boston native who cofounded Oxfam America’s documentary production unit in the 1990s and who has taught documentary filmmaking at Northeastern University, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and the former Boston Film and Video Foundation, says he’s been “frustrated by the tenor of the conversation” in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Aware that January 2015 will be the fifth anniversary and anticipating intense media coverage, he wants Haitians to be able to present films that offer their own perspective “from the inside,” he says.

CSF has partnered with award-winning Haitian journalist Ralph Thomassaint Joseph, who will oversee local training of young filmmakers who will produce 10 short films. These films will focus on the economic and social development challenges Haitians have faced since the 2010 earthquake, says Sheridan, who recently returned from a trip to Haiti and plans to go back in the fall.

For more information about CSF projects, go to csfilm.org.

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Michael Sheridan to present at NAMAC conference, Philadelphia

NAMAC – the National Association of Media Arts has kindly invited Community Supported Film to be on the panel, Rural, Regional, and Indigenous Media Projects, at its National Conference, August 6-8, in Philly.   Also on the panel are Ada Smith, Appalshop; Lora Taub-Pervizpour, HYPE Youth Media, and Sean McLaughlin, Access Humboldt!

If you’re in the area, or are still scheduling your summer holiday plans, come on down!

We would like to maximize the impact of our trip and therefore are looking for invitations to present our work at other venues, orgs, homes etc…  This could be in the Philly area or on route between Boston and Philly!  We’ll be headed that way on or before August 6 and returning on or after the 9th.   Find out more about organizing an event here.

We can present the films and work of our Afghan trainees and/or delve in to the subject of our Tedx talk – Transforming News and Views through Local Perspectives – why locally sourced reporting is essential for our healthy information diet.

Please let us know if you can host an event or can suggest others that we should be in touch with.

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Development: Measuring the Strengths and Weaknesses of Foreign Aid

In 2012, 149 countries around the world received more than $125 billion of Official Development Assistance (ODA). Keeping track of those disbursements is no small feat. Measuring theeffectiveness of the aid requires even greater legwork.

Fortunately, data on ODA—unlike data on aid from many philanthropic organizations around the world—is systematically collected and monitored by the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC). This allows researchers to not only measure aid effectiveness from DAC countries and agencies, but to also monitor improvement over time and develop best practices for improving impact.

In total, 31 DAC member countries and agencies reported on their aid disbursements in 2012.In their latest report, Brookings’s Homi Kharas and Nancy Birdsall of the Center for Global Development look at that data to analyze the quality of ODA from those 31 DAC member countries and agencies based on four main elements: (1) maximizing efficiency, (2) fostering institutions, (3) reducing burden, and (4) transparency and learning.

The new report is the third edition of the Quality Official Development Assistance (QuODA) assessment. For the first time, it also examines non-DAC donors that have reported data about their ODA.

What’s Improved—and What Hasn’t

When it comes to improvements in the quality of foreign aid from 2008 to 2012, Kharas and Birdsall find that the results are mixed. While some progress has been made with ODA, many elements haven’t improved. Here are a few takeaways from the study’s examination of ODA based on the four main elements:

Maximizing Efficiency: Few Improvements Have Been Made

Few donors have shifted their aid allocations to poor countries. Of course, given that developing countries themselves have been growing rapidly, donors would automatically be giving more funds to less poor countries. But that simply reinforces the need for more active management of strategic country allocations.

In the same vein, donors have not shifted resources toward better governed economies, but have actually done the opposite. Long lags between donor allocations and shifts in country governance rankings caused donors to see the governance of the recipient countries deteriorate on average. Exceptions include Portugal, Norway, and EU institutions, which seem to have taken governance most seriously.

Fostering Institutions: A Bright Spot in Aid Quality Improvements

Donors have made progress on giving countries a greater say in their own development. The share of aid going to countries that recipient country respondents identified in polls as their primary concern has doubled, with Sweden, the UK, Ireland, Luxembourg, and EU and UN institutions recording the largest percentage increases.

The “missing aid” between what donors reported and what governments said they received has almost disappeared. UN agencies, Australia, New Zealand and Spain saw extraordinary improvements. But Italy had an issue: recipients reported receipt of less than 85 percent of what Italy reported giving.

Reducing Burden: More Work Is Needed

Some countries, like India, have encouraged very small donors to exit. The burden of sustaining the relationship is simply not worth the amounts of aid involved.

With more donors, however, the significance of each donor-partner relationship (scored to reflect the relative concentration of aid), is diminishing. For example, the U.S., Sweden, and France have seen sharp decreases in the significance of their aid relationships.

Transparency and Learning: Substantial Progress Has Been Made

Many donors are members of the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), with the U.S., Canada, and several large multilateral agencies having joined since 2008.

Donors have also become far more meticulous in the way they record their activities, with very good compliance on major categories.

Ranking Donor Countries and Agencies

This year’s report ranks each of the 31 members of the DAC according to the four elements outlined above. Kharas and Birdsall’s analysis uncovers no clear winner in terms of who is providing the most effective ODA and almost no correlation across the rankings of the four categories.

Here are a few of the many interesting takeaways from the rankings:

Most donors have strengths and weaknesses. Out of the 31 donors and major agencies assessed, 22 have a top 10 ranking in at least one quality dimension, while twenty-two of the donors and major agencies also have a ranking in the bottom 10 in at least one dimension.

Italy and Greece have small aid programs, but they are strong supporters of global public goods, as well as contributing a high share of their aid to multilateral agencies.By doing this, they significantly reduce the burden on recipients of having to deal with multiple small aid programs.

Canada provides the greatest detail in its description of aid activities, bringing transparency to its program and allowing others to avoid waste by identifying where there may be overlap with Canadian activities.

The UN agencies continue to use parallel project implementation units, far more than other donors.

Both Australia and New Zealand have long provided significant amounts of aid to small neighboring island economies. These economies, however, still appear to have a far worse than normal framework for monitoring and evaluating their development activities.

Ireland ranks in the top four in every category.

Here’s a full table of weak spots and strong spots for individual donor countries and agencies:

Who Else Reports on Official Development Assistance?

Systematic reporting by these 31 DAC member countries and agencies allows researchers to analyze, over time, improvements to the quality of international development assistance. This speaks to the benefits of aid transparency. With more data, we can learn more and improve impact.

The good news is that some non-DAC donors are starting to report on their aid activities to the OECD. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has become the first non-governmental agency to do so. The Gates Foundation disbursed $2.13 billion in 2012, making it the 15th largest donor agency in the world. Kharas and Birdsall write that “the addition of non-state actors like the Gates Foundation…represents a significant step towards the overall goal of improving the transparency and comprehensiveness of aid activities around the world.”

  • Alison Burke, Alexandria Icenhower and Delaney Parrish, Office of Communications

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Afghanistan: Afghan war inflicting devastating toll on civilians – U.N.

Source: Reuters – Wed, 9 Jul 2014 08:23 GMT, Author: Reuters

People look at a cracked side window of a bus which was damaged at bomb blasts in Kabul June 6, 2014. AbREUTERS/Ahmad Masood

  
Afghans receive food charity during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Jalalabad city July 8, 2014. REUTERS/Parwiz
By Maria Golovnina

KABUL, July 9 (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s war is inflicting an increasingly devastating toll on the civilian population, with the number of casualties rising by almost a quarter in the first half of this year, the United Nations said in a report on Wednesday.

U.S.-led forces are gradually withdrawing from military bases scattered across Afghanistan after 12 years of war against Taliban insurgents, contributing to deteriorating security, with civilians bearing the brunt of the violence.

The U.N. report comes out as a political crisis unfolds in Afghanistan, threatening civil unrest on top of the insurgency as supporters of the two presidential candidates go head-to-head over the result of a presidential run-off.

Preliminary results announced on Monday gave Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank official, 56.44 percent in the run-off on June 14, but his rival Abdullah Abdullah immediately rejected the outcome, saying the vote had been marred by widespread fraud.

Abdullah’s supporters rallied in Kabul on Tuesday, demanding he form a parallel government. Washington responded forcefully, warning it would withdraw financial and security support from Afghanistan if anyone tried to take power illegally.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said ground combat was the leading cause of conflict-related deaths and injuries to Afghan civilians, with child casualties more than doubling in the first six months of 2014.

It said two-thirds more women were killed and wounded in ground combat compared with the same period of 2013.

“The nature of the conflict in Afghanistan is changing in 2014 with an escalation of ground engagements in civilian-populated areas,” said U.N. Special Representative for the Secretary-General in Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, Jan Kubis.

“The impact on civilians, including the most vulnerable Afghans, is proving to be devastating.”

It said that from Jan. 1 to June 30 it documented 4,853 civilian casualties, up 24 percent from the same period in 2013. The death toll included 1,564 civilian deaths, up 17 percent, and 3,289 injuries, up 28 percent.

Total child casualties jumped 34 percent to 1,071, including 295 killed and 776 injured, while total women casualties increased 24 percent to 440, it said.

The period has seen more fighting in densely populated areas as foreign forces pull out from most regions, with injuries caused by mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire jumping dramatically in the first half of this year.

The rise in casualties comes despite repeated promises by the Taliban leadership not to target civilians. Yet, the report said the Taliban carried out 69 attacks deliberately targeting civilians, including tribal elders and government officials.

“In 2014, the fight is increasingly taking place in communities, public places and near the homes of ordinary Afghans, with death and injury to women and children in a continued disturbing upward spiral,” said Director of Human Rights for UNAMA Georgette Gagnon.

“More efforts are needed to protect civilians from the harms of conflict and to ensure accountability for those deliberately and indiscriminately killing them.” (Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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Afghanistan: 36 Years of Turmoil in Review

Thomson Reuters Foundation, Updated: Tue, 20 May 2014

IN DETAIL

Afghanistan has experienced more than three decades of conflict, and fighting is still raging in much of the country.

The country is the source of nearly a quarter of the world’s refugees and, although millions have returned home since 2002, about 2.5 million are still living as refugees, most of them in Pakistan or Iran. Another 620,000 people are displaced within Afghanistan.

U.S.-led troops ousted the Taliban in 2001 after they refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader behind the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington.

But violence has surged since 2006, with the Taliban fighting a guerrilla war in the south and east and carrying out high-profile suicide and car bombings across the country.

The Taliban regrouped with the help of safe havens across the border in Pakistan and money from drug lords.

Billions of dollars have been poured into rebuilding the country since 2001, but corruption and the lack of security have hampered development and been a source of frustration to many Afghans.

Aid agencies struggle to access most of the country, especially rural areas where the needs are greatest.

Although nominally women have recovered many of the rights lost under the Taliban, a combination of tribalism, poverty and conflict make the exercising of those rights a significant challenge.

SOVIET INVASION

At the crossroads of regions and empires, Afghanistan has been subject to periodic intense foreign interest for centuries.

In more recent history, a Soviet-backed communist government seized power in 1978, sparking a number of uprisings around the country as it tried to impose radical social reforms. Deteriorating security and a coup by another communist faction precipitated the Soviet invasion at the end of 1979.

Villages were bombed and thousands of civilians arrested and tortured during the occupation.

Religious fighters, or mujahideen – covertly funded by the United States and Saudi Arabia – formed the backbone of the resistance to the occupation.

The Afghan jihad, or holy war, became a cause for Muslim warriors from around the Islamic world. The future al Qaeda leader bin Laden was among them.

The Soviets withdrew in 1989, leaving behind the communist government of President Mohammad Najibullah. Stricken by defections, Najibullah’s government collapsed in 1992, and he eventually took sanctuary at a U.N. compound in Kabul, where he was hanged by Taliban forces four years later.

A mujahideen government was established in April 1992, but it was riven with factional rivalry, and the country disintegrated into civil war during which at least 40,000 people were killed in Kabul alone.

THE TALIBAN

The power vacuum allowed the Taliban, a militant student movement that grew out of hardline religious schools in Pakistan, to take the southern city of Kandahar in 1994 and Kabul in 1996.

The regime, which adhered to a strict interpretation of Islam, barred women from most activities outside the home and ruled they must wear a head-to-foot burqa in public and be accompanied by a male relative. Many women still wear the burqa.

Bin Laden and al Qaeda relocated to Afghanistan in the mid-1990s after being forced to leave Sudan. They based themselves around Kandahar.

The Taliban provoked international condemnation, particularly over their treatment of women. Only three countries – Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – recognised them as the legitimate government.

In 1999, the United Nations imposed sanctions to force the Taliban to turn over bin Laden, who was wanted in connection with the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in the Kenyan capital Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania.

THE NORTHERN ALLIANCE

Throughout the Taliban’s rule, fighting continued between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. The Alliance was made up of ethnic Tajik-dominated groups who had united to fight the Taliban.

Two days before al Qaeda launched its Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S., a leading member of the Northern Alliance, Ahmad Shah Massoud, was killed by suicide bombers posing as journalists. Al Qaeda members were believed to have carried out the assassination to curry favour with the Taliban.

The United States launched bombing raids on Afghanistan in October 2001 after the Taliban refused to hand over bin Laden.

With U.S. help, the Northern Alliance took the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, then Kabul. The rest of the country swiftly followed.

It is believed bin Laden fled to Pakistan when U.S. and Afghan forces captured his main base in the Tora Bora mountains of eastern Afghanistan in late 2001. Many other al Qaeda militants also fled to Pakistan.

2001 AND BEYOND

At the end of 2001, members of the opposition and international organisations gathered in Germany and drew up the Bonn Agreement, which provided a political roadmap for Afghanistan and a timetable for reconstruction.

Hamid Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun born to the Popalzai clan – a sub-group of the royal Durrani tribe – was chosen to head an Interim Authority. He was later installed as president and won an outright majority in the first presidential election in 2004. Parliamentary elections were held the following year.

Presidential elections in 2009 – a key milestone for peace – were plagued by violence, widespread fraud and low turnout. Karzai won, after his main challenger Abdullah Abdullah pulled out saying a planned runoff vote was not going to be free and fair.

Parliamentary elections in 2010 were calmer.

Presidential elections were held in April 2014, the same year all foreign combat troops are due to leave the country. The Taliban stepped up attacks ahead of the polls and threatened to disrupt the elections. But, on the day, there were fewer attacks than feared, and less fraud than in 2009.

A run-off vote between two candidates – Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani – will be held in June. Under the constitution, Karzai was not allowed to stand in 2014.

Tribal leaders in Kandahar – the birthplace of the Taliban insurgency – say the insurgency has been stoked by the growing wealth and power of Karzai’s family during his 12 years in office.

The government’s authority remains fragile and violence has soared. Militants have crossed the border from Pakistan to join the ranks of the Taliban fighters, who are staging increasingly sophisticated attacks, including multiple roadside bombings and complex ambushes.

Taliban numbers swelled from 7,000 in 2006 to roughly 25,000 in 2009, according to a 2009 U.S. intelligence assessment. More recent estimates vary from between 20,000 and 35,000.

U.S. President Barack Obama decided to send additional troops to Afghanistan in 2009, boosting the total number of foreign troops to about 150,000. Most of the new U.S. troops headed south to the heart of the Taliban insurgency, where British, Canadian and Dutch soldiers did not have enough strength to keep hold of ground they captured.

NATO leaders began transferring responsibility for security to Afghans in 2011. The Afghan army took command of all military and security operations in June 2013.

Foreign troops work with the Afghan National Army, which was about 183,000 strong in June 2013. The Afghan national police force numbered about 150,000.

More than 13,000 Afghan soldiers and police officers have been killed in the past 13 years, according to Afghan government statistics. Although there is no year-by-year breakdown in the figures, most are likely to have been killed in the past three years when Afghan forces grew in number.

Since 2009, when the United Nations established an electronic database to record civilian casualties, more than 14,000 civilians have been killed in the conflict.

The high number of civilian casualties angered Karzai and weakened public support for the continued presence of foreign troops.

Relations between Kabul and Washington were also strained over a string of incidents involving U.S. forces in 2012, including the massacre of Afghan villagers for which a U.S. soldier was jailed for life in 2013, and the inadvertent burning of copies of the Koran.

Some of the most daring, complex attacks in Afghanistan have been blamed on a militant group called the Haqqani network, which operates in both Pakistan and Afghanistan and is allied with the Taliban.

The Haqqani network fought the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, with support from Pakistani, Saudi and U.S. officials. The Haqqanis view part of southeast Afghanistan known as “Loya Paktia” as their rightful homeland.

Since early 2011, the U.S. government has been seeking to hold peace talks with the Taliban, but it is unclear whether the militants are cohesive enough to agree on a joint diplomatic approach to the talks.

In May 2011, bin Laden was killed by U.S. special forces in northwestern Pakistan. By then, al Qaeda’s influence on the Taliban had greatly diminished.

NATO plans to keep a small military training and support mission in Afghanistan after the end of 2014, which the Taliban says is an encroachment on the country’s independence.

Western officials say that the exit of most foreign troops will remove one of the Taliban’s main recruiting tools.

GOING HOME

Millions of Afghans fled to neighbouring countries during the years of conflict, and the Taliban’s fall triggered one of the largest and swiftest refugee repatriations in the world.

Since 2002, Afghans have been streaming home, mostly from Iran and Pakistan. More than 5.7 million Afghans have returned to their country, according to the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR). Another 2.5 million refugees and many undocumented Afghans were still in Pakistan and Iran in 2013, and further afield.

Pakistan and Iran have said they want the remaining Afghans on their soil to go home.

The number of people displaced inside Afghanistan is about 620,000, according to UNHCR. However, this is a conservative estimate because it is impossible to access and collect information in many areas.

The majority have fled their homes because of clashes between NATO-led troops and Taliban-led insurgent groups in the south, southeast and west of the country, IDMC said. Natural disasters and local conflicts, such as land disputes, have also displaced people.

Rural areas are increasingly insecure, forcing many returning Afghans to migrate to towns and cities.

Many also face the risk of landmines and unexploded ordnance left behind from years of war. Hundreds of civilians are killed or injured each year, most of them children, according to Landmine Monitor. Many of the mines are near roads, health facilities, camps for the displaced, airports, bridges and irrigation systems, U.N. Mine Action Service says.

The contamination poses a formidable challenge to the country’s social and economic reconstruction.

RECONSTRUCTION HURDLES

Billions of aid dollars have poured into Afghanistan to help rebuild the shattered infrastructure and economy. Afghanistan depends on aid for most of its spending.

International donors provided $35 billion in aid to Afghanistan between 2001 and 2010.

And, in 2012, major donors pledged another $16 billion in development aid through 2015, in an attempt to prevent it from deteriorating further when foreign troops leave in 2014, but demanded reforms to fight widespread corruption. The aid was tied to a new monitoring process to help prevent money from being diverted by corrupt officials or mismanaged.

While strides have been made in improving access to education and health care, less than a third of the population of 33 million is literate and the average person earns only about a $1,000 a year, according to the U.N. Development Programme.

Much of the donor money went back to donor countries, the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief and Development (ACBAR) alliance of aid agencies said in a March 2008 report. An estimated 40 percent of the $15 billion spent in aid between 2001 and 2008 was returned to donors in corporate profits and consultant salaries, the report said.

And whereas spending on aid by all donors between 2001 and 2008 amounted to about $7 million a day, the U.S. military spent some $100 million a day fighting Taliban insurgents, ACBAR said.

The United Nations launched a $4 billion development plan in October 2009, to run from 2010 to 2013. This U.N. Development Assistance Framework covered governance, peace, agriculture, food security, health, education, water and sanitation.

Afghans rank insecurity, corruption and unemployment as their top concerns, according to a 2013 survey by the Asia Foundation.

CORRUPTION

Reconstruction efforts have been dogged by allegations of corruption and waste on the part of the government, aid agencies and contractors.

Public sector corruption is rife and Afghanistan, along with Somalia and North Korea, are considered to be the most corrupt countries in the world in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.

Government officials and international aid workers have been accused of stealing money or taking bribes. Some companies that won contracts to rebuild the country have been accused of delivering shoddy roads, hospitals and schools or even nothing at all.

Corruption and cronyism are among the main gripes of ordinary Afghans.

Many also complain that parliament, which is supposed to voice their grievances and keep the government in check, is made up mainly of ex-warlords and powerbrokers who use their position to serve their own interests.

Karzai has accused the international community of helping to fuel corruption and has asked foreign donors to stop awarding massive reconstruction projects to contractors linked to senior officials in his government.

Donors spend most aid money outside state channels to avoid it being siphoned off by corrupt officials. But they have done so without telling the Afghan government how and where the funds were being spent. Critics say this undermines the government’s authority, and complicates planning and coordination between donors and provinces.

In July 2012, donors agreed to channel more through the Afghan government, if the government made progress in fighting corruption and improving governance.

That same month Karzai issued a decree to begin implementing the reforms. He ordered all ministries to take steps to cut down on nepotism and corruption, and directed the Supreme Court to accelerate investigations already under way. In September, he dismissed five governors and changed leading positions in nearly a third of the country’s provinces.

Real and suspected waste and misspending turned parts of the Afghan population against aid workers, with their relatively large salaries and expensive cars, according to local independent watchdog Integrity Watch Afghanistan.

HUMANITARIAN CRISIS

Civilians have borne the brunt of years of conflict and underdevelopment. Thousands are killed every year and millions have been displaced. An estimated 36 percent of the population lives below the national poverty line, and nearly 60 percent is chronically malnourished.

The Taliban insurgency has forced many schools and health clinics to close.

Natural disasters also affect tens of thousands of people every year, including earthquakes, frequent floods and  drought.

Humanitarian needs increased in 2013, mainly because of the worsening conflict, and U.N. experts say the needs are likely to rise even furtheras a result of the withdrawal of foreign troops in 2014.

At the same time access to the most vulnerable has fallen because of a rising number of attacks on aid workers and offices.

Aid agencies rely on air services to reach people in remote or insecure areas. More than 160 organisations use the U.N. Humanitarian Air Service, which has two airplanes and a helicopter, to transport aid workers and supplies.

Some Afghan non-governmental organisations and movements, including the Afghan Red Crescent Society, have greater access than international NGOs.

There are reports of growing numbers of people displaced and some 5.4 million people have extremely limited access to health care. The number of civilians wounded rose 77 percent in 2013 compared with 2012, most of them in the south.

Aid agencies are particularly concerned about people in the country’s Hilmand, Kunar, Badghis, Nangarhar and Ghor provinces, where the needs are greatest and access is limited.

Some aid has been channelled through Provincial Reconstruction Teams run by foreign troops, and many aid agencies have used armed convoys to move around. As a result, aid workers are seen by the Taliban and other armed groups as being an extension of NATO forces and therefore seen as legitimate targets. Scores of aid workers have been wounded, kidnapped or killed.

Violence is not the only threat to life. Children die of easily preventable diseases, and malnutrition. Afghanistan is one of three “polio endemic” countries with most cases in the turbulent south, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Tuberculosis is another major public health challenge. Experts say women in particular suffer high rates because they tend to spend most of their time indoors and have less access to medical care than men do.

The results of the Afghanistan Mortality Survey 2010, released in 2011, raised major questions among health experts about the reliability of data both past and present for maternal and infant death rates, and average life expectancy.

For example, the survey concluded that average life expectancy is about 60 years, compared with previous estimates of 49 years.

The survey was carried out by the Afghan government and U.N. World Health Organization.

DRUGS

Afghanistan produces 74 percent of the world’s opium, the United Nations says. The Taliban, which banned cultivation during their rule, are now exploiting the trade to fund their insurgency. The majority of poppy fields are in the country’s south and southwest where the Taliban are most active.

One of the main tools in combating the narcotics trade involves fostering alternative livelihoods. The idea is to wean farmers away from poppy cultivation by offering them fertilisers and seeds for legal crops.

For many years, the United States focused its efforts on destroying poppy fields. This infuriated farmers who said they would be destitute without their crops. Many farmers depend on loans provided by drug traders as a down payment for the subsequent drug harvest.

Former U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke and other experts have said that attempts to destroy crops penalise the farmers and have no impact on the Taliban’s earnings from the trade – rather it helps them recruit.

With the withdrawal of U.S. troops, counternarcotics operations are increasingly in the hands of Afghan authorities.

Drug addiction does not just affect those beyond Afghanistan’s borders – there are more than one million addicts in the country, according to UNODC. Drug use is high among refugees returning from Iran and Pakistan.

WOMEN

During the Taliban years, the regime prohibited women from attending universities and shut girls’ schools in Kabul and other cities, although primary schooling did go on in many other areas of the country. Earning a living was also very difficult, a tragedy in a country with tens of thousands of war widows – in Kabul alone there are estimated to be up to 50,000.

Today, women have the right to vote and are elected to parliament. Millions of girls go to school and women are allowed to work outside the home. Several women ran in the 2014 presidential elections, despite death threats and assassination attempts.

Other female leaders have been killed. In Laghman province, the local director of women’s affairs, Naija Sediqi, was assassinated in December 2012. She had been in the role for five months, following the assassination of her female predecessor Hanifa Safi. Although their murders were attributed to the Taliban, women’s groups have complained that there were no thorough investigations carried out.

The daily life of many women is still dominated by the threat of violence and backbreaking toil, and women generally are kept from public roles especially in rural areas in what is one of the most conservative countries in the world.

Many girls are married off as children or young teenagers, and the vast majority never learn to read or write.

Human Rights Watch says violence against women and girls remains rampant, including domestic violence, sexual violence, and forced marriage.

In many cases, women who are raped are charged with immorality and imprisoned. Women can also be jailed for running away from their husband.

In May 2013, Afghanistan’s parliament failed to ratify a bill banning underage and forced marriage, domestic violence, rape and forced prostitution.

LINKS

The Feinstein International Center has published several in-depth reports on aid in Afghanistan.

The Afghan Human Rights Research and Advocacy Consortium (HRRAC) produces useful reports on Afghans’ views.

The Afghanistan Mortality Survey (2010) showed improvements in maternal and infant death rates, as well as average life expectancy. But the gains are so great that experts are questioning its accuracy.

The think tank International Crisis Group has lots of information about Afghanistan’s conflict past and present.

UNICEF has plenty of facts and figures on children in Afghanistan. Save the Children also has some useful background.

Another good site is Pajhwok Afghan News, the country’s largest local news service. The news is broad-based and some of the reporters benefit from a wealth of local contacts, although inaccuracies sometimes pop up. Note that you have to pay to access some of the material. The service runs stories in Dari, English and Pashto.

The Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), an international journalism organisation, carries well-written features on the country.

iCasualties is an independent site which keeps track of foreign troop casualties in the country, breaking it down by province and nationality.

The International Security Assistance Force site has details of foreign troop numbers and contributions.

Afghanistan Online says it is the biggest and most visited Afghan website.

For Afghan feminism, consult the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, which was founded in 1977 by women intellectuals. The organisation supports women’s rights and education.

UNHCR’s Afghanistan page has useful statistics on refugees and the internally displaced. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centrealso has good background.

The Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief alliance of aid agencies has useful reports on aid in Afghanistan.

Both ACBAR and Human Rights Watch have raised grave concerns about the impact of the conflict on civilians.

For information on demining see the Landmine Monitor report on Afghanistan.

TIMELINE

A chronology of events since the end of the Soviet occupation. It does not include many of the attacks on civilians that have happened since 2001 and have been blamed on both the United States and Taliban.

1989 – Last Soviet soldier leaves under 1988 agreement. Moscow-installed Najibullah government remains in place in Kabul

1992 – Communist government collapses. Mujahideen groups set up a government which is riven by factionalism. Country disintegrates into civil war

1994 – Battles reduce much of Kabul to rubble. Mullah Mohammed Omar, a Muslim cleric, sets up Taliban movement of Islamic students, who take up arms, capture Kandahar and advance on Kabul

1996 – Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who fought with mujahideen groups against Soviet occupation, returns to Afghanistan. Taliban take Kabul, hang former President Mohammad Najibullah and set up Islamic state

1997 – Afghanistan renamed Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Taliban impose their version of Islam. But ethnic Uzbek factional chief Abdul Rashid Dostum retains control in five northern provinces

1998 – Taliban take northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, massacring at least 2,000 mainly ethnic Hazara civilians, according to Human Rights Watch. Bamiyan, a Hazara stronghold in the centre of the country, follows. Taliban later destroy colossal stone Buddhas of Bamiyan

Northern Alliance, made up of non-Pashtun mujahideen militias, fights back against Taliban

U.S. forces bomb suspected al Qaeda bases in southeast in reprisal for bombings of U.S. embassies in east Africa

1999 – United Nations imposes sanctions to force Taliban to turn over bin Laden

2001

Sep – Al Qaeda-linked suicide bombers assassinate military head of Northern Alliance, Ahmad Shah Masood

Sep 11 – Al Qaeda suicide plane hijackers attack New York and Washington, killing thousands

Oct – U.S. begins bombing Afghanistan to root out bin Laden and his Taliban protectors

Nov – Northern Alliance forces enter Kabul as Taliban leaders flee

Dec – Afghan groups sign deal in Bonn on an interim government headed by Hamid Karzai, a leader from the biggest ethnic group, the Pashtun

First members of multinational peacekeeping force arrive

Interim authority takes power. Bonn plan says an emergency Loya Jirga, or grand assembly, must be held in six months

2002

Jun – Emergency Loya Jirga agrees on a transitional authority. Karzai sworn in as its head

2003

Nov – French UNHCR worker Bettina Goislard shot dead by suspected Taliban militants in Ghazni town, leading to suspension of many aid missions in south and east

2004

Jan – Rival factions at the Loya Jirga agree on a constitution, paving way for first free elections

Oct – Presidential elections. Karzai sworn in on Dec 7. Parliamentary vote is put off amid security concerns and logistical problems

2005

Sep – Elections held for a lower house of parliament, the Wolesi Jirga, and provincial councils. Former commanders of military factions, three ex-Taliban officials and women activists win seats

Dec – Parliament sits for first time

2006

Jan – International conference in London promises Afghanistan economic and military support in return for pledges to fight corruption and drugs trade

Aug – Suicide bomber rams his car into a NATO convoy in Kandahar killing 21 civilians in the worst suicide attack to date

Oct – NATO assumes responsibility for security across the whole of the country after taking command in the east from a U.S.-led coalition force

2007 – Taliban step up suicide attacks throughout the country

Jan – Karzai says he’s open to talks with Taliban

Feb – Taliban threaten a spring offensive of thousands of suicide bombers as U.S. doubles its combat troops and takes over command of NATO force from Britain

Mar – NATO and Afghan forces launch Operation Achilles, targeting Taliban and allied drug lords in Helmand

Nov – More than 70 people, mostly schoolboys are killed, in a suicide bombing in the northern town of Baghlan. The dead include six members of parliament

Dec – Afghanistan expels two senior EU and UN envoys after accusing them of making contact with the Taliban

2008

Feb – A suspected suicide bombing kills more than 100 people in Kandahar in the most deadly attack since the ousting of Taliban.

Jun – Donors pledge around $20 bln in aid at Paris conference

Sep – Karzai offers peace talks and asks Saudi Arabia to help with negotiations. Taliban however refuse to negotiate

Dec – Afghanistan and Pakistan decide to form joint strategy to fight militants in their border regions

2009

Feb – U.N. says 2,100 civilians killed in 2008 – a 40 percent rise on 2007

U.S. President Barack Obama announces he plans to send another 17,000 U.S. troops. Karzai says Afghanistan turning a new page in relations with United States

May – U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates replaces commander of U.S. forces with Gen Stanley McChrystal, saying the battle against the Taliban needs “new thinking”

July – U.S. army launches major offensive against Taliban in Helmand province

Taliban call on Afghans to boycott presidential and provincial elections

Aug – Elections marred by widespread Taliban attacks, low turnout and claims of serious fraud

Oct – Electoral Complaints Commission declares tens of thousands of votes invalid and calls for a run-off election

Nov – Run-off presidential vote cancelled after Karzai’s remaining challenger Abdullah Abdullah pulls out saying the vote cannot be free and fair. Karzai declared president for a second term

Dec – Obama decides to raise troop numbers to 100,000 and says will begin withdrawing forces by 2011

2010

Feb – Taliban reject Karzai’s invitation to a peace council

NATO-led forces launch Operation Moshtarak to try and secure Helmand province

Karzai takes control of the U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission, which helped expose massive fraud in October presidential election

Jul – International agreement to transfer control of security from foreign to Afghan forces by 2014. General David Petraeus takes command of U.S. forces

Aug – Independent Election Commission says over 900 polling centres will be closed due to security fears during Sep. parliamentary elections

United States says Karzai ban on all foreign private security firms may affect aid and development work

United Nations says civilian casualties up by 31 percent since 2009, with Taliban responsible for 76 percent of deaths

Unidentified gunmen kill 10 aid workers, including 8 foreigners, in Badakshshan province

Sep – Parliamentary elections pass off relatively smoothly despite a Taliban threat to disrupt the poll

Nov – NATO agrees plan to hand control of security to Afghan forces by 2014-end

Dec – Final election results announced

2011

Mar – The number of civilians killed by fighting rose 15 percent in 2010, compared with 2009, United Nations says. A total of 2,777 civilians were killed during 2010, 75 percent of them by Taliban

Apr – Violent protests break out against Koran burning in a U.S. church. At least seven foreign U.N. workers are killed when protesters storm the U.N. compound in Mazar-e Sharif

May – Bin Laden shot dead by U.S. special forces near Pakistan’s main military academy in the northwestern garrison town of Abbottabad

Taliban launch “spring offensive”

Jun – U.S. President Obama announces 10,000 U.S. troops to leave during 2011, and another 23,000 by Sep. 2012

U.S. says it is participating in Afghan Peace Council talks with Taliban

268 civilians reported killed in May, highest monthly toll since 2007

Jul – Senior government officials assassinated, including Karzai’s half-brother who was governor of Kandahar

ISAF forces hand over security of seven regions to Afghan troops

United Nations says 1,462 civilians killed by conflict during first half of 2011, a rise of 15 percent from the same period in 2010 and the highest since 2001

General John Allen replaces General David Petraeus as head of ISAF, U.S. forces

Sep – Militants carry out major attack on U.S. embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul, killing 27 people. Officials blame Taliban-linked Haqqani Network, and U.S. top military commander accuses Pakistan of backing attack

Human Rights Watch report says Afghan militias and police are committing serious abuses

Oct – India and Afghanistan sign strategic partnership

Bomb near U.N. housing and assault on NGO offices in Kandahar kill at least five people

U.N. report is released, detailing torture of detainees by Afghan security officials

Karzai says the government is to abandon peace talks with Taliban and focus on dialogue with Pakistan

Nov – Hundreds of political elite attending a loya jirga traditional assembly endorse Karzai’s bid to negotiate a 10-year military partnership with the United States

Dec – Pakistani Sunni militants Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claim responsibility for attacks on Shia holy day Ashura, killing more than 80 people and injuring at least 100

Pakistan boycotts Bonn conference on Afghanistan

2012

Jan – A leaked NATO report says the Taliban, with Pakistan support, is poised to retake control after NATO withdrawal

Taliban said had opened an office in Qatar as part of confidence building measures agreed on with U.S. and German govts

Feb – Reports of NATO troops burning copies of Koran trigger violent country-wide protests

NATO, UK and France recall civilian staff from ministries after two senior U.S. military officers killed in Afghan Interior Ministry. Taliban claim responsibility

United Nations says the civilian death toll rose in 2011 to 3,021

Mar – U.S. soldier Robert Bales shoots 17 villagers including 9 children in Kandahar’s Panjawi district.

Taliban break off prisoner exchange talks with U.S.

Apr – U.S. and Afghanistan agree a strategic partnership deal

Taliban launches a multi-city “spring offensive” in Kabul, Nangahar, Logar and Paktika provinces

Pakistan, Afghanistan and United States discuss reviving peace talks

May – NATO summit says 2014 withdrawal of troops “irreversible”

ISAF announces al-Qaeda second-in-command killed in Kunar province

Arsala Rahmani, a former Taliban minister and key member of the High Peace Council, is killed in Kabul. The Taliban deny responsibility

Jul – Tokyo donor conference pledges $16 billion in aid, and promises to channel more aid through the Afghan government if Afghanistan does more to tackle corruption

Aug – U.S. military discipline six soldiers for inadvertently burning copies of the Koran in February

2013

Mar – Two former Kabul Bank chiefs are jailed for a massive fraud that nearly led to the collapse of the entire Afghan banking system in 2010

Jun – NATO forces hand over command of all military and security operations to Afghan army

Aug – Robert Bales is jailed for life for massacring unarmed villagers in March 2012

2014

Jan – A Taliban suicide attack on a restaurant in Kabul’s diplomatic quarter kills 21 people, including the IMF country head. It is the worst attack on foreign civilians since 2001

Feb – The number of Taliban attacks rises with the start of the presidential election campaign

Apr – Presidential election

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Haitian Perspectives In Film-Fundraising Campaign

Haiti Fundraiser Update:

$1,700 to go: Despite the great generosity of so many we still have $1,700 to go to reach our $27,750 goal. If you haven’t had a chance to give yet, please contribute what you can so that we can learn from Haitians about their experience since the earthquake in 2010. www.csfilm.org/support

Challenge Grants: The great news is that 58 of you helped us meet both the $2,500 and $7,500 challenge grants. Thanks so much!

Haitian Partners: We have nearly finalized an agreement with our Haitian partners.   With that partnership in place and the near completion of our fundraising, we look forward to moving ahead with the training, production and education work this fall.

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TAX DEDUCTIBLE DONATION

Make a Secure Donation NowPlease click this button for a tax deductible donation.  92% of it goes toward CSFilm’s work. (5% goes to our fiscal sponsor, The Center for Independent Documentary, and 3% to PayPal).

If you write a check made out to The Center for Independent Documentary and mail it to CSFilm’s address below, your donation is tax-deductible and 95% of it goes toward the work of CSFilm (5% goes to our fiscal sponsor).


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ABOUT THE PROJECT: Haitian Perspectives in Film

We are launching a new project to train local storytellers in social issue documentary filmmaking, this time in Haiti. Your donation will support the training of Haitians to produce 10 short films. From a uniquely local perspective, their films will address the economic and social development challenges they have faced since the 2010 earthquake. The films will be released as a compilation in time for the 5th anniversary of the earthquake in January 2015.

This project will:

  1. Empower Haitian storytellers to use their unique experience since the 2010 earthquake to make documentary films that hold the Haitian government and the international community accountable to good governance and equitable economic development;
  2. Produce 10 Haitian-made, high quality short films that present Haitian issues, needs, and capacity from the local perspective. The intimate lived-reality stories produced by the Haitian storytellers will serve to counter the mainstream media’s focus on disasters, conflicts and crises which leave core-causes and long-term development issues unaddressed or misunderstood;
  3. Use these films to influence opinion and policy regarding effective aid and sustainable development in Haiti and internationally.

Our minimum goal for this campaign is $27,750. With your support, we will be able to proceed with the training and the trainee’s production of 10 short films. The total budget for the training, editing, production and duplication of the trainees’ films and initial distribution is $80,310. Please give generously and help spread the word to your networks about this campaign. Your support will help with:

  1. Training: A 5-week intensive training of 10 Haitians will be conducted by CSFilm in Haiti during which time the films will be produced. In addition to producing 10 high-quality short films, the training equips the storytellers with employable skills. All of our Afghan trainees received commissions or employment after the training.
  2. Distribution: The development of the public engagement campaign which, in collaboration with Haitian and international partner organizations, will use the films through the press, broadcast and online and public screenings to engage the public and decision makers in dialogue and actions around effective aid and disaster response.
  3. The screening and dialogue strategy will expand on the model used during CSFilm’s Afghanistan project. The Afghan-made films were the centerpiece of congressional briefings in collaboration with organizations such as the American Friends Service Committee and were shown to legislators, congressional committees and government departments.

Here is a sample of some of the project costs:

  • Transportation and living stipends for each Haitian Trainee: $50/week
  • Haitian Translator: $100/day
  • Haitian Assistant Trainers and Coordinator: $250/day
  • One round-trip ticket to Haiti (and back): $500
  • Cost to train one Haitian storyteller during the 5-week program and for them to produce one film: $5,000
  • 2 month screening and dialogue tour to Haitian villages, towns, and cities: $10,000

Thank you for believing in our mission! We hope you will consider donation to Haitian Perspectives in Film and we look forward to keeping you updated throughout the project.

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Media: Citizen Participation and Technology: An NDI Study

Posted on July 1, 2014Julianna Jerosch  

After the Arab Spring, technology became the panacea for democratic development issues. Many programs focus on using technology to engage citizens and to spread information, but how effective are these tools at promoting democracy?

Representatives from the National Democratic Institute (NDI) visited NED headquarters on June 30 to discuss their recent study, Citizen Participation and Technology. The study aims to provide realistic expectations for technology as a democracy-building tool. By examining case studies of several NDI programs, the study assesses the effectiveness of tech tools and how they can enhance development work.

Information and communications technology (ICT) creates more space for citizens to use their voice and provides greater access to information. In closed environments, increased information and communication is vital, but the real challenge is to turn this into meaningful political dialogue. Tech tools may strengthen citizen voices, but often the normative framework that drives political action is not democratic. Technology does not negate the need to develop the non-technological facet of programs. Further political development is needed along with the tech tools to see democratic outcomes. A clear connection between the use of technology and democratic developments is necessary for program planning.

Governments that do make use of these new technologies are able to reach a wider audience. However, they treat the public as consumers of services, not as citizens with agency. The underlying incentives for action haven’t changed. Technology has changed the ability to respond, but actual government responsiveness and public input into decision-making is lacking. Additionally, citizens may become disillusioned when increases in information and communication fail to result in reforms. More transparency doesn’t always translate into greater accountability.

Technology is very effective at building coalitions of citizen groups and contributes to their political organization. These groups can focus attention on particular issues and take advantage of political opportunities, applying external pressure when the political will is there. Crowdsourcing does not create self-organizing, politically-influential groups. Citizen groups that use crowdsourcing for public input must use additional engagement activities to mobilize citizens for collective action.

It is unclear that access to technology increases the political power of marginalized groups, who may not have access to technology in the first place. Those who use these tools are often the same individuals and groups who were already occupying the political sphere. The tools end up adding to the number of voices, without necessarily strengthening democracy.

Many programs attempt to use technology as a shortcut, but you can’t get democracy on the cheap. Aspirations are too high for the democratizing power of technology. We need to understand how technology is integrated into the daily lives of citizens and to figure out how technology can be used to address governance issues. What’s the next step in tech?

For more information on this topic, check out the World Bank’s study, Closing the Feedback Loop: Can Technology Amplify Citizen Voices?, and the report by the Institute of Development Studies,Understanding ‘the users’ in Technology for Transparency and Accountability Initiatives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stronger wording 

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

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

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

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

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Media, Development: Guide to Apps for Social Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

Examples of Apps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Conclusion

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

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

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

 

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Media: Participant Index Seeks to Determine Why One Film Spurs Activism, While Others Falter

LOS ANGELES — You watched the wrenching documentary. You posted your outrage on Twitter. But are you good for more than a few easy keystrokes of hashtag activism?

Participant Media and some powerful partners need to know.

For the last year Participant, an activist entertainment company that delivers movies with a message, has been quietly working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Knight Foundation and the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism to answer a question vexing those who would use media to change the world.

That is, what actually gets people moving? Do grant-supported media projects incite change, or are they simply an expensive way of preaching to the choir?

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“The Square” scored extremely high for emotional involvement at 97 out of 100, but dropped to 87 in terms of provoking action. CreditNetflix/Noujaim Films

More immediate, those behind the effort say, new measures of social impact will enable sharper focus and rapid course corrections in what have often been guesswork campaigns to convert films into effective motivational weaponry. That approach would apply to a hit like the movie “Lincoln,” which counseled civic engagement, or to a box-office miss like the antifracking film “Promised Land.” Both were Participant-backed films.

To get the answers it wants, Participant is developing a measuring tool that it calls the Participant Index, assisted in the effort by the Annenberg school’s Media Impact Project. In rough parallel to the Nielsen television ratings, the still-evolving index compiles raw audience numbers for issue-driven narrative films, documentaries, television programs and online short videos, along with measures of conventional and social media activity, including Twitter and Facebook presence.

The two measures are then matched with the results of an online survey, about 25 minutes long, that asks as many as 350 viewers of each project an escalating set of questions about their emotional response and level of engagement.

Did it affect you emotionally? Did you share information about it? Did you boycott a product or company? Did it change your life?

“If this existed, we would not be doing it,” said James G. Berk, chief executive of Participant. “We desperately need more and more information, to figure out if what we were doing is actually working.”

The answers result in a score that combines separate emotional and behavioral measures. On a scale of 100, for instance, “The Square,” a documentary about Egyptian political upheaval that was included in Participant’s first echelon of 35 indexed titles this year, scored extremely high for emotional involvement, with a 97, but lower in terms of provoking action, with an 87, for a combined average of 92.

By contrast, “Farmed and Dangerous,” a comic web series about industrial agriculture, hit 99 on the action scale, as respondents said, for instance, that they had bought or shunned a product, and 94 for emotion, for an average of 97. That marked it as having potentially higher impact than “The Square” among those who saw it.

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The documentary “The Cove,” which looks closely at dolphin killing in Japan, had worldwide ticket sales of just $1.2 million after its release in 2009. Yet it has repeatedly led to campaigns to protect the Japanese dolphins. CreditOceanic Preservation Society/Roadside Attractions

Daniel Green, the deputy director for strategic media partnerships at the Gates Foundation, traces the new drive for impact measurement to a Seattle meeting in December 2011 among about two dozen representatives of nonprofits with an interest in social change.

“Grantors didn’t have a lot of sophistication around their analytics,” said Michael Maness of the Knight Journalism and Media Innovation program, a group that attended. He joined Mr. Green last month in describing frustration among nonprofits at their inability to gauge how much change their projects are prompting.

The Seattle gathering led to an association with the Annenberg school’s Norman Lear Center, which early last year established its Media Impact Project. That project then served as a consultant to Participant in creating its index, which received $4.2 million in combined financing from the Knight and Gates foundations and from George Soros’s Open Society Foundations.

The methodologies being used for the index will be provided on an open-source basis to those who are interested — whether on the left or right or in the center of the ideological spectrum.

“We’re developing a set of tools and measures that will be available for any researcher, no matter what their viewpoint,” said Martin Kaplan, director of the Lear Center.

Participant, created in 2004 by the eBay co-founder Jeffrey S. Skoll, is using that methodology to build a proprietary database. It will feature three echelons with 35 projects each, or about 100 distinct bits of media, annually.

The company will lean heavily toward films and television shows of its own, especially those carried on its activism-driven online and pay-television network, Pivot. But it will also index properties for partners, like the Gates and Kaiser Family foundations, and for companies or others who will pay a fee.

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Participant was created in 2004 by the eBay co-founder Jeffrey S. Skoll, left, pictured here with James G. Berk, chief executive.CreditEmily Berl for The New York Times

(Prices have not been set, Mr. Berk said, but he expects to serve nonprofits at cost. He declined to say how much Participant has invested in the index.)

In an inaugural general survey, which polled 1,055 of its viewers in March and April of this year, Chad Boettcher, Participant’s executive vice president for social action, and Caty Borum Chattoo, a researcher and communications professor at American University, found some perhaps surprising results.

Even among the presumably progressive Participant audience, crime ranked near the top of the list of 40 primary concerns. It was cited by 73 percent of respondents as an important social issue, placing it just behind human rights, health care and education.

Gay rights, female empowerment and prison sentencing reform, by contrast, ranked near the bottom of the list, while climate change was stuck in the middle, a concern among 59 percent of respondents. Digital intellectual property issues, at 38 percent, brought up the rear.

Stories about animal rights and food production, it turned out, were the most likely to provoke individual action. But tales about economic inequality — not so much.

Over all, said Marc Karzen, a social media entrepreneur whose company, RelishMix, advises film and television marketers, Participant will most likely affirm what is becoming clear to conventional film studios: Impact can be less about persuasion than nudging an audience to go where it is already pointed.

“You have to embrace your fans, not shout at them,” Mr. Karzen said. “They need to be inspired to spread the word.”

One of the weirdest problems in measuring social impact, and one still unresolved, Mr. Boettcher said, is the paradox of “The Cove.”

That documentary, which looks closely at dolphin killing in Japan, had worldwide ticket sales of just $1.2 million after its release in 2009. Yet it has repeatedly led to campaigns to protect the Japanese dolphins, Mr. Boettcher notes, particularly among activists who are aware of the film but will not watch (and hence, would not be counted under the current methodology of the index) because of its gory content.

“They don’t want to see it,” Mr. Boettcher said, “but they will sign up.”

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Afghanistan: Bicycle a new metaphor of freedom for Afghan women

Paghman (Afghanistan), 27 June 2014 – AFP

Anuj CHOPRA / FEATURE

Trundling down dun-coloured mountain slopes, they ignore hard stares and vulgarities from passing men, revelling in an activity that seemed unthinkable for previous generations of Afghan women –- riding a bicycle.

The sight of a woman on a bicycle may not be unusual in most parts of the world, but it is a striking anomaly in Afghanistan where strict Islamic mores deem the sport unbecoming for women.

The country’s 10-member national women’s cycling team is challenging those gender stereotypes, often at great personal risk, training their eyes not just on the 2020 Olympics but a goal even more ambitious — to get more Afghan women on bikes.

“For us, the bicycle is a symbol of freedom,” said Marjan Sidiqqi, 26, a team member who is also the assistant coach.

“We are not riding bikes to make a political statement. We’re riding because we want to, because we love to, because if our brothers can, so can we.”

One crisp morning, dressed in tracksuit bottoms, jerseys and helmets, Marjan and half a dozen team members, all aged between 17 and 21, set out for a training ride from Kabul to the hills of neighbouring Paghman.

Mindful of turning heads and ogling eyes, they rode in the amber light of dawn through a landscape of grassy knolls, fruit orchards and tree-lined boulevards.

A little boy dressed in a grubby shalwar kameez stopped by the wayside and stared at the girls with wonder and amazement.

Up ahead, dour-looking bearded men in a Toyota minivan pulled up parallel to the cyclists — their stares were more menacing.

But the wheels continued to spin as the women powered ahead undaunted.

They have become accustomed to the hostility, often accompanied by insults:

“Whore.”

“Slut.”

“You’re bringing dishonour to your families.”

“Go home.”

But the team say they are emboldened despite such attitudes -– partly due to the encouraging support from unexpected quarters.

– ‘Living my dream’ –

Fully cloaked in black, the mother of one cyclist came out to cheer them on the way to Paghman, waving, applauding, and exuding enthusiasm that is not shared by most of her extended family.

“My daughter is living my dream,” said Maria Rasooli, mother of 20-year-old university student Firoza.

“My parents never allowed me to ride a bicycle. I can’t let the same happen,” she said, adding that she and her husband kept relatives and neighbours in the dark about their daughter’s sport because “they just won’t understand”.

Thirteen years since the Taliban were toppled from power in a US-led invasion, Afghan women have taken giant strides of progress with access to education and healthcare.

Female lawmakers are no longer an anomaly in Afghan politics and the ongoing election saw the participation of the country’s first woman vice presidential candidate.

That marks a sea change in women’s rights from the Taliban-era, when women weren’t allowed to leave their homes without a male chaperone and were brutally repressed and consigned to the shadows.

But gender parity still remains a distant dream as conservative attitudes prevail.

That sentiment is portrayed in a mural by graffiti artist Shamsia Hassani on the walls of a Kabul cafe: burqa-clad women trapped in a watery universe — an allegory of women in the post-Taliban era who have a voice but still cannot be heard.

– ‘Boys or girls?’ –

It’s hard to reason with self-proclaimed arbiters of “morality” who regard a woman mounted on a bicycle as unconceivably risque, say members of the cycling team.

On a recent training session outside Kabul, three young Afghan men riding a motorbike swooped out of nowhere and sideswiped one of the cyclists, 18-year-old Sadaf Nazari, who tripped and tumbled on top of Marjan.

Marjan badly injured her back in the incident, which drove Mohammed Sadiq, head of the Afghan Cycling Federation who was trailing the women in his SUV, into a paroxysm of fury.

He chased down the men -– the two pillion riders escaped, but he caught the driver by his collar and hauled him over to the police headquarters.

Sadiq, who established the team in 2003 after his own daughter expressed an interest in cycling, said the women’s safety was a constant concern — and plans for international troops to pull out of Afghanistan by 2016 has perpetuated those anxieties.

“If the Taliban return, the first casualty will be women’s rights,” he said in an interview in Kabul’s old city.

As he spoke, half a dozen young women, some sporting kohl-accented eyes and henna-dyed hair, convened in his living room for a discussion about nutrition and diet with Shannon Galpin, an American competitive cyclist who is coaching the team for the forthcoming Asian Games in South Korea.

Back on the training ride, the exhausted girls gathered by a freshwater stream in Paghman to refuel on naan bread, raisins and cottage cheese.

Near a roadside kiosk where fresh plums, cherries and mulberries dangled from strings, a curious Afghan man sidled up to Marjan.

“Are you with those cyclists going around the mountain?” he asked.

Startled, Marjan’s eyes darted around as she braced for trouble.

“Yes,” she replied hesitantly.

“Are they boys or girls?” the man enquired.

Marjan’s face lit up with bravado.

“Girls,” she beamed proudly.

 

http://www.afp.com/en/news/bicycle-new-metaphor-freedom-afghan-women

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Afghanistan: Stark choice for many Afghans: sickness or debt

KABUL, 2 July 2014 (IRIN) – The cost of health care is throwing many poor Afghans into a cycle of debt. While most now have access to basic public health care, the quality is so low that many patients seek out private services at a higher cost than they can afford – driving some of them further into poverty.

When Reza Gul’s children get sick, she takes them to a private clinic. Like most Afghans, she thinks she will get better health care there, so she forks out 2,000-3,000 Afghanis (US$35-53) for each visit.

But in order to do so, her jobless husband is forced to borrow money. They have had to borrow 35,000 Afghanis (US$615) to cover health costs. In the winter, her family migrates to Pakistan in search of work and then comes back to Afghanistan during the summer, when employment opportunities pick up in the capital Kabul. They fear they may never be able to repay their debts.

According to a recent report by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which surveyed 700 patients in four provinces, 44 percent of respondents were forced to sell their possessions or borrow money to get health care during a recent illness.

“When families get into debt, they cannot afford proper food. Their kids get sick, and malnourished and it creates this perpetual cycle,” said Edi Atte, the field coordinator at Ahmed Shah Baba Hospital in Kabul.

“They have to borrow money from a neighbour or someone who has money in order to take care of their child.

“The children can die from something simple, something easy to cure in the hospital. This cycle affects their whole life. The next time around, maybe they cannot get the money. Another child dies. Or if they do get the money, it just adds to the debt they already owe.”

Even though nearly 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and unemployment hovers between 35 and 40 percent, reports dating back to 2006 show the vast majority of the population rely heavily on private health care.

Two in three people who described their household as “poor to extremely poor” in the MSF survey (living on US$1 a day or less) had paid an average of $40 for health care during a recent illness. One in four spent more than $114.

“Most people seek private services over governmental ones because their services are of higher quality,” said Mohammad Amin, a supervisor at Ahmed Shah Baba Hospital. “And if you compare people’s income to the cost of the health services, the cost is higher than their income.”

But even the private healthcare system pales in comparison to neighbouring countries such as Pakistan and India, according to Amin, prompting Afghans to travel abroad for care. MSF found that 65 percent of those who went to Pakistan for treatment were forced to borrow the money or sell goods to make the trip.

Tough choices

The public health system presents its own very serious risks.

Recently, a young woman in Paktia Province was sent to hospital due to complications during pregnancy. On the way, the woman went into labour, according to a woman who accompanied her to the hospital and gave only her first name, Leila. The baby, a stillborn, was only partially delivered – only the head and one hand had exited the mother’s body.

“When we reached the hospital, it was night time,” Leila told IRIN. “The baby was still half-delivered and the woman was in bad condition, but the female doctors told us they could not admit the patient because it was too late.”

The women turned back. By the time they got home, the mother was also dead.

“We had to pull the baby out of the patient’s body,” said Leila, visibly distraught.

This quality of public health care leaves most of the population with limited choices: access the public system and risk poor treatment or access the private system and risk impoverishment.

Nearly 20 percent of patients interviewed by MSF had had a family member or close friend die in the past 12 months due to lack of access to health care. According to the report, the three main obstacles to accessing health care, in cases where its inaccessibility resulted in death, were lack of money, long distances, and conflict.

A grandmother’s experience

Leila, a grandmother living in a household with more than a dozen family members, cannot afford to go to private clinics in her province of Paktia.

“When you’re sick, you have to spend a lot of money in private clinics. We don’t have money and we can’t afford it, so we go to the public clinic. They don’t have a lot of medicine and qualified people, so we just take the medicine we’re given and wait. We hope and see if we get better – or we die.”

The public clinic in her village closed after the Taliban fired rockets on it.

Leila and her husband heard that MSF provided free, quality care so they risked a dangerous five-hour trip to get their pregnant daughter-in-law to MSF’s maternity hospital in Khost. The trip cost the equivalent of $80 – they used their savings from selling pine nuts, but had to borrow $50 to make up the shortfall.

While health costs place considerable strain on people from all strata of society, the poor are hit particularly hard. A 2010 Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) report found that some families were refused treatment in private clinics because they could not afford it.

Corrupt doctors?

In line with Afghanistan’s constitution, primary health services, including medication, at public facilities is free. But stocks often run out, and patients are then forced to buy the medication in private pharmacies or at the bazaar.

The MSF survey showed that 56 percent of patients interviewed who visited a public facility paid for all their medication.

“Often, the doctor has a relationship with a pharmacy,” said Ahmadullah Safi, a medical staff member at Ahmed Shah Baba Hospital. “When people go [to the doctor], maybe they don’t need an antibiotic, they need something else. But to do their business [and make money], the doctor prescribes a lot of medicine.”

The private sector accounts for 70 percent of the largely unregulated pharmaceutical market – a system that is contaminated with “substandard, falsified, counterfeit and diverted” medicine, says one report published in what has since been renamed the Journal of Pharmaceutical Policy and Practice.

For Najibullah Safi, a primary healthcare officer at the World Health Organization, the Afghan health sector is doing the best it can under challenging circumstances.

“There are certain standards that must be followed and we are following those standards. If we compare to some other places, definitely there are a lot of problems with quality… but the types of facilities that are locally acceptable or feasible at this stage are available here.”

According to the World Bank, 85 percent of the Afghan population lives in districts with facilities able to deliver a basic package of health services; and around 60 percent live within one hour’s walking distance of a public health facility.

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