Issues & Analysis
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Development: Killer Facts on Global Poverty and Development

oxfamblogs.org

Please steal these killer facts: a crib sheet for advocacy on aid, development, inequality etc, by Duncan Green

Development Success

Income Poverty

Worldwide, the proportion of people living in extreme income poverty (< $1.25) has more than halved, falling from 47% to 22% between 1990 and 2010. (Source UN Millennium Progress Report 2013)

Between 1993 and 2008, Vietnam reduced the proportion of people living below the national poverty line from 58% to just 15%. Source ODI.

79% of the world’s $2 a day poor currently live in Middle Income Countries. Over time, the proportion in Fragile and Conflict Affected States (some of them middle income) will rise, although the extent of the shift is hotly disputed (see this blog)

Be cautious on global numbers. The May 2014 release of the World Bank’s new (2011) International Price Comparison dataset appeared to overnight reduce extreme poverty by more than half to 8.9%, according to an initial calculation by CGD. We will have to wait for this to be confirmed/replaced by the Bank.

Health

Nepal’s maternal mortality ratio (MMR) fell by 47% between 1996 and 2006. Source ODI.

Globally, the mortality rate for children under-five deaths fell by 41 per cent—from 87 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990. Source UN In absolute numbers, Under-five deaths have fallen from 12.6 million in 1990 to 6.6 million in 2012. Source UNICEF

Education

In Ethiopia, approximately 3 million pupils were in primary school in 1994/95. By 2008/09, this had risen to 15.5 million – an increase of over 500%. Progress has been through government-led efforts to reduce poverty and expand the public education system equitably, backed by substantial increases in national education expenditure and aid, as well as improved planning and implementation capacity at all levels. Source ODI.

Watsan

Uganda (Water and sanitation): Following reforms and sustained investment in water infrastructure, Uganda increased the proportion of people in rural areas with access to an improved water source from 39% in 1990 to 64% in 2008. Source ODI

Agriculture

With agricultural growth averaging more than 5% a year during the past 25 years, Ghana is one of the top 5 performers in the world. This has contributed to major reductions in poverty and malnutrition. Having raised food production per capita by more than 80% since the early 1980s, Ghana is largely self-sufficient in staples, owing in part to large increases in cassava and yam production as well as improved varieties. Source ODI

Social Protection

India has the largest rights-based employment guarantee programme in the world (NREGA), providing over 4 million households a year with 100 days work. With a strong focus on the poorest and most excluded, the programme is contributing to reduced vulnerability to seasonal and household shocks, as well as improved food security and use of basic services. Source: NREGA website

Finance for Development

From 1990-2011, total international resource flows to developing countries grew from US$425 million to US$2.1 trillion. Much of this has been driven by rapid expansion in foreign investment in developing countries, growing remittances, and increases in lending. Source Development Initiatives.

ODA remains the main international resource for countries with government spending of less than PPP$500 per person per year. Source Development Initiatives

Remittances to developing countries reached an estimated US$436 billion in 2014, over 3 times global aid flows. Source World Bank

Locally generated revenue: Government spending in developing countries is now US$5.9 trillion a year, over 40 times the volume of aid. Source Development Initiatives

Tax: Natural resources accounted for 40% of total tax revenue in Africa from 2008-2011. Source: Eurodad

While non-ODA flows account for over 90% of the total resource receipts in upper-middle income countries (UMICs), these flows account for only one third in least-developed countries (LDCs). Source OECD

Humanitarian

Conflict

According to the OECD, half the world’s poor live in conflict-affected or fragile states (Source: OECD DAC); by 2030 it may by two-thirds (Source: Brookings Institution).

In most yearsall the worst humanitarian crises are in conflicts like Syria, Pakistan, Somalia (Source: Global Humanitarian Assistance).

In 2014 the world will spend $8 billion on peacekeeping (Source: UN), compared to $1745 billion total military spending in 2012 (Source: SIPRI) (i.e. peace merits less than half of one percent of war).

Link to climate change:

  • According to research by International Alert, 46 countries with a population of 2.7 billion could face a high risk of conflict as climate change increases tensions, for example over scarce resources (Source: International Alert).
  • Syria’s conflict started in the fourth consecutive year of severe drought, after decades of falling precipitation, which had, in 2010 alone, driven 300,000 rural families from their land (Source: UN).

Disasters

An estimated 258,000 people died in Somalia from famine and food insecurity between October 2010 and April 2012.

The number of weather-related disasters reported has tripled in 30 years (Source: Oxfam).

By the 2030s, large parts of Southern Africa, South and East Asia will see greater exposure to droughts, floods and other hazards; 325 million people in extreme poverty will live in the most exposed areas (Source: ODI).

In the last 20 years, the impact of disasters has been devastating: 4.4 billion people affected, 1.3 million people killed, US$2 trillion in economic losses.

As well as mega disaster, smaller, localized disasters often go unnoticed: The attrition of small-scale disasters affects the poorest families, and accounts for significant disaster impact: 54% of houses damaged, 80% of people affected, and 83% of people injured.

Low-income and lower-middle income countries have accounted for only 33% of disasters, but 81% of all deaths.

Climate is responsible for three-quarters of all disaster events; the IPCC’s Special Report on Extreme Events suggests climate change could result in “unprecedented extreme weather and climate events.”

 

Humanitarian action

2013 saw the smallest proportion, 62%, of needs (as set out in UN appeals) met for a decade (Source: OCHA). Emerging donors aren’t yet filling the gap (Source: Global Humanitarian Assistance).

For all the talk of building long-term resilience, the world spent $532 million to prepare for and prevent disasters in 2011 – and $19.4 billion to respond (so 40 times more spent on cure than on prevention). (Source: Oxfam)

Yet prevention is value for money: every $1 spent in disaster resilience in Kenya has saved $2.90 in reduced humanitarian spend, reduced losses and development gains. (Source: Oxfam)

 Inequality and taxation

The 85 richest individuals in the world have as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population. Source Oxfam report.

In Namibia and Bolivia, the richest ten per cent earn 100 times more than the poorest ten per cent. Source: Oxfam.

Governments around the world lose around £100bn a year in tax from rich individuals using tax havens. Source Oxfam.

In Indonesia, ending corporate tax dodging could help 3.5 million farmers provide food for their families. Source UNEP.

Inequality and Health & Education

More than 1.5 million lives are lost due to high income inequality in rich countries alone, according to a study in the British Medical Journal

In the UK, health care and education are worth as much to the poorest 20 per cent of people as their entire post-tax income. Source: Office for National Statistics.

For the poorest 20 per cent of families in Pakistan, sending all children a private low-fee school would cost approximately 127 per cent of that household’s income. Source: academic paper.

On redistribution

Brazil has achieved success comparable only to the New Deal, through a combination of social policy (Bolsa Familia, minimum wage), good economic management and job creation. Source Oxfam

If South Africa decreased income inequality by just 10 percentage points, this would lift 1.5 million people out of absolute poverty. But if inequality levels remain static, there will still be more than eight million South Africans living in poverty by 2020. Source: Oxfam report.

On work and wages

Tea pickers in Malawi are living below the extreme poverty line of $1.25 a day, even though they are earning the minimum wage. Source Oxfam.

Cocoa farmers receive as low as 3.5 per cent of the price of a chocolate bar, compared to 18% in the 1980s. Source Fairtrade Foundation.

Only 8% of global garment workers belong to a Union. Source Oxfam.

Food and Climate

Climate Change and Hunger

Climate change could increase the number of people at risk of hunger by 10–20 per cent by 2050, compared to a world with no climate change. Source: IPCC.

There could be 25 million more malnourished children under the age of 5 in 2050, compared with a world without climate change – that’s the equivalent of all the children under 5 in the US and Canada combined. Source: Oxfam, based on IFPRI, UNICEF

Food Prices

Food price spikes can be a matter of life and death to many people in developing countries, who spend as much as 75 per cent of their income on food. Source: World Bank.

In 2012, the worst US drought in 50 years reduced the maize crop by 25 per cent, contributing to global maize price rises of around 40 per cent. Source OECD

That same year was the UK’s second wettest on record, leading to the lowest wheat yields in 20 years. Source: Met Office

Climate Change and Agriculture

Kenyan-grown flowers air-freighted to the UK are six times less greenhouse gas-intensive than Netherlands-grown flowers shipped to UK. Source: IPL Poverty footprint.

Climate Change and Fossil Fuels

Some 60–80% of the fossil fuel reserves of companies listed on global stock markets is ‘unburnable’ if the world is to stay below +2°C. At the current rate of capital expenditure, the next decade will see over $6trn allocated to developing fossil fuels Source: Carbon Tracker

Fossil fuel subsidies cost over half a trillion dollars ($500 bn) globally in 2011. Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan and Venezuela, spend at least twice as much on fossil fuel subsidies as on public health. Source: ODI.

Climate Change and Finance

At the Copenhagen summit in 2009, world leaders promised to provide $100bn per year by 2020 to help poor countries adapt to a changing climate and reduce their emissions. $100 billion is less than 5% of the wealth of the world’s top 100 billionaires. Source: Oxfam

They also committed to providing $30bn of ‘Fast Start Finance’ between 2010 and 2012, balanced between adaptation and mitigation.

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Afghanistan: How to Oversee Aid in Uncertain Times

From the U.S. Institute of Peace blog The Olive Branch. You can view this post on the USIP web site here. June 23, 2014

By Colin Cookman

Last weekend, as many as 7 million Afghan voters are reported to have defied skeptics and cast their ballots for a second time this year in a runoff election to choose a president. Although the U.S. and other international partners are moving to reduce their military presence in the country, the next Afghan administration will still need significant military and non-military assistance. A report by USIP and the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) lays out the discussion of a joint symposium that explored how aid could be prioritized, designed, managed and monitored.

Although the Afghan government has taken steps to improve its ability to generate revenue from customs and taxation, the country remains highly dependent on donor funds for many key functions, and in recent years, revenues have stagnated. The United States will need to think carefully about how to structure its assistance to the next Afghan government.

Although the United States and its partners have made considerable progress in supporting the development of an Afghan government capable of securing its own territory against militant and transnational terrorist groups, “the task is not over, and will require long-term international support — albeit at more sustainable levels than those of the past decade,” Andrew Wilder, vice president for USIP’s Center for South and Central Asia, wrote in the report.

USIP and SIGAR organized the symposium to gather experts and practitioners from across and outside the U.S. government earlier this spring to assess the lessons and challenges for overseeing aid distributed in active conflict areas such as Afghanistan. The highlights of those discussions are now available in a conference report released today by the two organizations.

The U.S. and other donors have committed to financing the Afghan army and police through the next decade, and the administration’s 2015 fiscal year budget request includes $1.2 billion in non-security assistance for Afghanistan. While this represents a major decline from peak appropriations in 2010, Afghanistan remains one of the largest U.S. aid programs globally. Yet movement outside of guarded compounds is being increasingly restricted as the military coalition that helps provide security draws down.

Managing that aid effectively will prove a significant challenge, cautioned John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, in the report. He noted that “significant portions of Afghanistan are already inaccessible to SIGAR and other U.S. civilians,” and ” ‘oversight bubbles’ are getting smaller as U.S. military units are withdrawn and coalition bases are closed.”

Conference participants expressed concern about the Afghan government’s substantial needs and about the risks facing aid implementers in the country’s uncertain security environment. They also underlined the need to be realistic about what development assistance can accomplish and the importance of effectively managing the continuing partnership with Afghanistan.

If international donors and Afghan recipients both work to meet previous commitments to enact reforms on each side, reduced but sustained aid might help consolidate and strengthen Afghan institutions and political processes. Those ultimately will determine the government’s ability to support itself over the long term.

Some participants argued that reduced U.S. assistance, managed carefully, could even spur more strategic thinking about how to best prioritize aid and how to ensure that aid does not fall prey to waste, fraud or mismanagement.

“With external resources for Afghanistan shrinking during the coming years, there will be a need to prioritize spending — rather than spending money because it is there to spend –which in itself should improve the quality of projects being implemented,” USIP’s Wilder wrote in the report. That would require building monitoring and evaluation into project design from the beginning, and working to clearly link those project assessments to broader stabilization strategies at the macro level.

Improvements also depend on better coordination and information-sharing among and within donor organizations to ensure that the declining, but still substantial, assistance is not wasted due to duplicate efforts or a lack of institutional memory about what sorts of programs have seen successes and which have not worked in the past.

New technologies can potentially help extend oversight on some indicators in remote or otherwise inaccessible areas, where civilian aid officials may no longer have international security force protection. But these tools face clear limits for what they can reveal, particularly in gauging qualitative impact.

Engaging closely with local Afghan partners, communities and the Afghan government on project design, implementation and evaluation, and working to build local capacity to assess the effectiveness of aid, can potentially help offset a declining international presence. But this carries its own set of risks. It may be difficult to confirm the reporting of local partners or to manage security threats against Afghans who cooperate with the international community and with their own government.

Leaders at USIP and SIGAR have said they plan to continue the discussion going forward, in order to share lessons between aid managers, implementers and overseers on how to best remain engaged with Afghanistan while also mitigating risks to the overall objective of stabilizing and securing the country.

Colin Cookman is a senior program specialist in USIP’s Center for South and Central Asia.

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Media: Shubhranshu Choudhary: Giving a Voice to a Ravaged, Neglected Region | Innovators

news.nationalgeographic.com, June 30, 2014

As the South Asia producer for BBC TV and Radio during the 1990s and early 2000s, Shubhranshu Choudhary spent much of his time darting around the region covering wars and natural disasters, dropping into trouble spots—Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Kashmir, Afghanistan—interviewing local leaders, politicians, or NGO spokespersons, filing his story then moving on.

It was an exciting life, full of foreign travel, helicopters, and headline events, far removed from the rural coal-mining backwater in India’s Chhattisgarh state (part of Madhya Pradesh state until 2000) where he grew up, attending the local tribal school, or his first job reporting for a Hindi-language newspaper in Chhattisgarh’s capital, Raipur, and learning English by listening to BBC Radio at night. He was well respected, well connected, with a broad view of news and world events—an accomplished practitioner of what he would later come to regard as an “aristocratic” form of journalism.

Over the years, every now and then, he would get calls from people he knew back in his old neighborhood, urging him to come back to his roots and report on the issues behind the Maoist insurgency headquartered in the hills there, a conflict that had ravaged his region intermittently for decades.

“To tell you the truth, I kind of ignored them,” he recalls. “At the BBC we had a world audience and were more interested in covering bigger international wars.” Eventually, though, when the Maoists killed 76 Indian police officers in an ambush, the story became a headline event andChoudhary found himself leading a BBC TV crew into Chhattisgarh. By then what had been a simmering guerrilla war was well on the way to becoming what the Indian government would describe as the single biggest internal security threat facing the nation.

Listening to the Disenfranchised

For Choudhary, covering a war on his home turf was a transforming experience. This was no foreign conflict, but one that was unfolding in an area he knew well and understood. From having grown up in a small railroad town and attended the school there as a child, he found he had many useful contacts within the Maoist ranks. They were keen to talk. And what they told him led him to question the role journalists, journalism, and powerful media organizations played in presenting stories to the public and in deciding what was news—and what was not.

“I saw there were really two wars going on in Chhattisgarh,” Choudhary recalled. One involved a small fraction of the rebels who were fanatically committed to communism. The other involved the vast majority of their followers, mainly poor, lower-caste tribal people, who had picked up rifles and joined the Maoists because they had run out of patience. “They could think of no other way to call attention to the grievances they had and the problems they were facing—things like poverty, lack of health care, poor sanitation, crime, corruption, unpaid wages, and the fact that nobody listens to them or seems to care,” he said. “It wasn’t communism they wanted but to have a voice, to be heard and taken seriously.”

It was the raw material of life and living, the stories of the streets, that fascinated him. He studied anthropology and drifted into journalism.

Their stories caused him to reflect on his own childhood years in Chhattisgarh. Although he was in school with the other children in the town, his parents were of a Brahman caste, his father had a good job with the railways, and Choudhary had naturally enjoyed the benefits of an upper-caste rearing. Although the children all played together in the streets after school, there were social, economic, and linguistic barriers between them that were as unyielding as brick walls.

Choudhary’s parents had held high aspirations for him. They wanted him to become a professional man, a doctor or an engineer, and saw to it that he had every opportunity to do so. He, on the other hand, had no such ambition. It was the raw material of life and living, the stories of the streets, that fascinated him. He studied anthropology instead and drifted into journalism.

Intrigued by the conflict on his childhood doorstep, Choudhary left the BBC, returned to Chhattisgarh, and with the assistance of a Knight International Journalism Fellowship began to study the problem of how to give disenfranchised villagers of Chhattisgarh the voice they craved and were willing to fight for. It needed to be simple, low cost, and democratic—not run by outsiders with vested interests but by the locals themselves. He wanted it to reach even into the remotest corners of the state and deliver the news and raise issues in the locals’ own Gondi language yet still reach the ears of the outside world.

A Collective Voice From Mobile Phones

Community radio would have been an ideal solution, but radio licenses are tightly controlled in India, and the nonofficial broadcasting of news, even the discussion of news and current events on air, is strictly forbidden.High illiteracy rates among the very same villagers who needed and wanted a voice in the media ruled out newspapers or magazines, and there is no Internet to speak of in rural Chhattisgarh. Only 0.7 percent of homes in Chhattisgarh have access to the Internet.

The one piece of modern telecommunications gear that has deeply penetrated most of Chhattisgarh, however, is the ubiquitous mobile phone. Many, if not most, villagers have them, and those who do not can always get access to one in any one of Chhattisgarh’s bustling marketplaces. Choudhary began exploring the idea of using mobile phones as a media platform. And with technical expertise provided by Microsoft Research India he came up with CGNet Swara: a world-first cell-phone-based news and current affairs network.

In the four years since it went live, in February 2010, it has transformed the way news is shared among the rural poor in central India. More than 300,000 reports have been called in by the new citizen journalists of Chhattisgarh, and 4,700 fact-checked stories aired and shared, many of them translated into Hindi and English and posted on CGNet Swara’s website, where they have been picked up by mainstream media in India and abroad, bringing the voices and views of the villagers in rural Chhattisgarh to the outside world for the first time and providing a peaceful vehicle for change.

Model Citizen Journalists

Its success has spawned similar cell-phone-based news services in other far-off regions around the world, from Somalia to Borneo, and earned 45-year-old Choudhary the 2014 Google Digital Activism Award—beating out NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden for the distinction. “If we want to live in a peaceful society, it is not enough for our elections to be democratic,” he says. “We need for the media to be democratic as well, so that everybody, all of us, has a say in deciding what issues are going to be discussed, not just a few wealthy media proprietors and their chosen editors.”

Despite their numbers, poverty, remoteness, high illiteracy rates, and the general “otherness” of the Gondi speakers didn’t make them an attractive market.

Chhattisgarh is a heavily forested state in central India that forms a part of Gondwana, India’s rural heartland. (The “CG” in CGNet Swara stands for “Central Gondwana”; swara means “voice” in Sanskrit.) As when describing the American Midwest or Appalachia, there are no formal boundaries to Gondwana. The name derives from the Gond people, a widespread ethnic minority whose language is spoken by an estimated eight million people in the region’s crowded streets and marketplaces and distant mountain villages—but by very few journalists in any of India’s mainstream publications.

None of India’s influential newspapers or magazines are published in Gondi, nor does All India Radio—that nation’s sole radio broadcaster—provide any broadcasts in the language. Despite their numbers, poverty, remoteness, high illiteracy rates, and the general “otherness” of the Gondi speakers didn’t make them an attractive market. Indeed a recent study showed that mainstream media outlets across India devote as little as 2 percent of their coverage to India’s poor tribal minorities.

Serendipity: Choudhary Meets Thies

When Choudhary seized on the idea of a grassroots mobile-phone-based news service, using playback voicemail to “broadcast” the stories, he faced some technical stumbling blocks that he was unequipped to solve. Serendipitously, Choudhary happened to meet Bill Thies at a mobile technology conference in 2008 in Bangalore. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) doctoral student in computer science, Thies had recently taken a job as a researcher with the Technologies for Emerging Markets Group with Microsoft Research India.

Thies had been working on an MIT-sponsored project called Audio Wiki, a user-generated platform for publishing audio content to a wider audience, which proved to be an ideal starting point for building a mobile-phone-based news network. The two men hit it off. And from their collaboration CGNet Swara was born.

“It was no great technical breakthrough,” says Thies. “All we had to do was modify a voice mail message system so that messages could be edited and then listened to by anyone who called in and pushed number two on the menu. It was more of an engineering problem. What we have accomplished, though, will make it easier to set up similar systems elsewhere.”

Already a community-based news service modeled on CGNet Swara is being planned in Somalia, while in Indonesia a text-based service is up and running and proving popular in Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo. “It is the sort of thing I think we are going to be seeing a great deal more of in the future,” says Elisa Tinsley of the Washington, D.C.-basedInternational Center for Journalists, who attended CGNet Swara’s inaugural workshop in 2010 in the remote village of Jashpur, where locals were introduced to the service, shown how it would work, and given instruction on filing stories.

“The big challenge is going to be how to sustain it in the long term,” she says. At present CGNet Swara is a free service, the cost of running it underwritten by grants from the UN Democracy Fund and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Cultural activists are traveling from village to village in central India to tell people about CGNet Swara through song, dance, and drama.

Eyewitness Reporting

It is a sultry morning early in May, with the heat and humidity in Chhattisgarh ratcheting up ahead of the approaching monsoon. From a town called Dharamjaigarh, a man who identifies himself as DS Maliya phones in to report that two herds of elephants have been terrorizing villagers there who are afraid to go to sleep at night, but government officials refuse to do anything about it; another caller from a remote village in Madhya Pradesh reports that laborers who have been working on a dam project are being paid only 98 rupees a day instead of the government-mandated minimum wage of 146 rupees, and urges the broader community to put pressure on the company to pay up.

Meanwhile, that same morning, a woman from Dharampur calls in with the happier news that following an earlier broadcast on CGNet Swara, local pickers of tendu leaves—an ingredient in Indian cigarettes—are at last receiving their wages after having gone unpaid for months.

She reports that a payroll officer hastened to the village before dawn that morning, waking people up and hurriedly making the long-overdue payments ahead of a visit from a high-ranking government official who was expected to arrive later that afternoon and look into the report himself.

These calls, and others like them—about 500 per day—come in to the CGNet Swara headquarters, in Bhopal, where they are reviewed and filtered by a team of moderators, who check the reports for accuracy, relevance, and fairness, editing them for length and clarity as needed.

Spreading the News

Ideally, says Choudhary, and in the future, the moderators will be elected from the community to keep the news service true to its democratic roots. But for now the network’s staff of four moderators are trained journalists who happen to speak and understand Gondi—among them a lawyer who has some journalism training. “We have to go out of our way to be scrupulously accurate and impartial,” says Choudhary. “One mistake and we could be accused of spreading propaganda. Remember, there is a war going on here.”

Approved reports—such as this morning’s herd of rogue elephants, the plight of the underpaid dam workers, and the victory enjoyed by the tendu leaf pickers from Dharampur—are published and made available for playback by anyone who dials in and presses two on the menu. A message is sent out via Google’s SMS messaging service to notify users that a new story has been posted. Along with reports made by Chhattisgarh’s citizen journalists, relevant news items from the major newspapers are translated into Gondi and added to the list.

Selections of stories are posted as audio tracks on the CGNet Swara website, together with written translations in Hindi and English to make them accessible to the mainstream media in India and abroad. Stories are also shared on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media, in addition to being published on CGNet Swara’s blog.

Radio broadcasts in Gondi and other tribal languages would still be the gold standard, says Choudhary, who is exploring ways of getting around the Indian government ban on independent radio news by setting up shortwave broadcasts from Europe and making available clockwork radios—which work by being spring-wound, like old-fashioned alarm clocks—to villages in isolated areas that do not yet have electricity.

A Growing Sense of Community

In the four years since CGNet Swara went live, the service has chalked up a number of victories, large and small, for the Gondi-speaking villagers who had been ignored until now—from unpaid wages to broken wells to publicizing a police attack on three tribal villages that left two dead, homes burned, and a woman raped. That particular story was picked up by the mainstream media, and as a result the UN Human Rights Council got involved and issued a formal report, and the Indian Supreme Court ordered an investigation.

It isn’t just news and current events that CGNet Swara is disseminating: The calls coming in are full of stories, poems, songs, recipes, and herbal remedies as well, creating a growing sense of community.

Perhaps the most potentially lifesaving result of CGNet Swara’s stories is the increasing awareness of malaria in Chhattisgarh. So ignored was the province by the mainstream press and government health statisticians that the official figure for malaria deaths in Chhattisgarh for 2007 was zero—this in a steamy tropical part of India with a population of 25 million. “It was absurd,” recalls Choudhary. “Every single village loses many people to malaria every year, thousands of deaths in all.” Since the citizen journalists of Chhattisgarh started reporting on malaria and other health care problems in the region, official figures for malaria deaths in Chhattisgarh have soared—giving rise to a joke that the new news service was the biggest cause of malaria in central India.

It isn’t just news and current events that CGNet Swara is disseminating: The calls coming in are full of stories, poems, songs, recipes, and herbal remedies as well, creating a growing sense of community. They find they have much to talk about. Choudhary recalls wondering how well his grand idea was going to work in real life at the first workshop to teach Chhattisgarh’s would-be citizen journalists how to participate in their new community-based news service. He needn’t have. On the long drive to the nearest airport and their flight home, Thies tried dialing the new CGNet Swara number, curious to see if it was working and if anyone had begun using it yet.

“He listened for a moment, and then his face lit up,” Choudhary recalls. “He passed me the phone and said, ‘You’ve got to hear this.’ It was incredible. Some young guy had filed a story about a protest rally against the opening of a new mine. He introduced the story with the sounds of the protesters yelling, then faded out like he was in a studio and went straight into his reportage. He couldn’t have done it better if he had been with the BBC.

“I wondered why I ever doubted,” Choudhary mused. “You take a people with strong oral traditions like the villagers in Chhattisgarh, and what is the one thing they are going to do very, very well? Tell a story. Now they can tell them to the world.”

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Media: Citizen journalism gets more stories out than traditional reporting in war-torn Syria

phys.org, June 29,2014

Citizen reporters are increasingly getting stories out of remote areas of Syria, which are difficult for traditional media to reach during the conflict, according to data collated for Index on Censorship magazine.

It showed more reports were coming from citizen journalists than, in all areas of the country, with the exception of Homs.

Index on Censorship magazine worked with Syria Tracker, the independent news tracker, which has scanned 160,000 news reports and updates to look at the scale of citizen journalism. Syria Tracker verifies and analyses data before publishing on its own website. Only 6 per cent of data is considered to be well enough sourced to be published.

“Syria Tracker monitors 2,000 different news sources, including pro-regime outlets. Add to this 80 million social media updates and 4,000 eyewitness reports, and you can draw some interesting conclusions,” according to Index on Censorship’s deputy editor and author of the article, Vicky Baker. “For example, female deaths at the beginning of the conflict totalled one per cent, but then sharply rose to reach 18 per cent – clearly suggesting a point where citizens became targeted and were not collateral damage. This data analysis has also shown that children make up 11 per cent of all documented killings in Syria – with reports suggesting they have been targeted while at school, at home and while waiting in bread lines.”

“These sort of projects are vital to worldwide news organisations and, when aided by data journalism, can help us gain a fuller picture of the devastation being wrought,” Baker says.

Syria Tracker has been hacked and targeted with threats; some of its citizen reporters are missing, possibly dead. If citizens had abandoned the project a few months after the 2011 launch (as was anticipated), our understanding of events between Syria’s borders would be even more limited.

Tass Kass-Hout, Syria Tracker’s founder, said the work was relentless, and like a hurricane happening every minute. Yet Syria Tracker provides another tool for those attempting to piece together the full picture of what is happening during the war. “This is not a clinical trial,” says Kass-Hout. “We are telling a story, it’s a living record.”

Few professional journalists can reach remote regions of Syria. Instead thousands of citizens are helping to get the news of the devastation out. To date, Syria Tracker has mapped over 4,000 geotagged verified eyewitness reports, and uses large-scale data mining to scan news reports and social media updates. Only verified data are published – around six percent of what Syria Tracker receives. Manual checking can take several days, and includes correlating nearby reports and sometimes involves scanning gruesome and shaky video footage. Members of the core team work two to three hours each day in addition to their day jobs.

Syria Tracker offers us a window into the future of journalism, in particular war reporting, says Baker. International press and aid organisations are unable to rely on their own personnel on the ground, and so the world is looking to citizen journalism and crowdsourcing more than ever. Data compiled for Index on Censorship showed that the majority of (June 2011 to Feb 2014) outside Homs were sourced via crowdsourcing, rather than traditional news journalism. For instance in Aleppo, 184 reports came from news articles, and 18,776 from crowd sourcing, according Syria Tracker data.

Explore further: Syria state news agency under hacker attack

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Media: Yes, media freedoms can be measured

cima.ned.orgby Mark Nelson, June 19, 2014

If you hang around the halls of United Nations and World Bank long enough, you’re sure to encounter the old saw that goes something like this: “We have nothing against setting targets, but things like governance and press freedom just can’t be measured.”

Well, the old saws are being sharpened yet again today in New York City. A large group of negotiators are trying to decide on new targets for the 15-year period after 2015 when the Millennium Development Goals will expire.  And a large group of global media development professionals want freedom of expression and access to information to among the targets. Target No. 16, known as the governance target and covers “peaceful and inclusive societies, rule of law and capable institutions,” is up for discussion today.

In preparation for the negotiations in New York, CIMA hosted a meeting of media experts last week under the flag of the Global Forum for Media Development. That meeting resulted in a statement that argues for including freedom of expression and access to information among the post-2015 targets.

After all, freedom of expression and the right to disseminate and receive information are already enshrined in international law. These rights were part of the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and have since been reaffirmed in numerous other international conventions.

The GFMD position paper points out that UNESCO, a UN agency with the mandate for ensuring compliance on the freedom of expression and media issues, is already producing a wide variety of indicators, and other UN agencies—from the International Telecommunication Union to the Office  of the High Commissioner for Human Rights—are also producing valuable statistics that could help track the health of media and information systems.

From the GFMD paper:

Proposed revisions to sub-goal/ targets Illustrative Indicators
  1. Implement effective regimes for public access to government information and data
  • Legal guarantees: access to information laws and/or constitutional guarantees
  • Readily, freely available public access to public information, including online
  • By 2030, ensure that all laws are publicized and accessible by all
  • Improve public access to information and government data, including on public management, public procurement and on the implementation of national development plans, extractive industries
  1. Promote freedom of expression, media, association and assembly
  • Freedom of expression is guaranteed in law and respected in practice
  • Legal and regulatory environment that ensures the rights of civil society to operate freely
  • Universal access to ICTs
  • People can use ICTs to communicate and associate freely
  • People are not subject to threats, harassment, surveillance or physical attacks as a result of gathering or disseminating information
  • Absence of criminal penalties for libel, defamation
  • The strengthening of an enabling environment for independent and pluralistic media

Of course, some of the most valuable data on the media sector is produced by non-UN agencies such as Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders and IREX, which produces the Media Sustainability Index. But in the highly contested world of measuring media and other freedoms, the debate is not only about whether these things should be measured at all, but also about who gets to hold the yardstick.

The talks today are not likely to be the last word on this issue. The final list of targets won’t be finally agreed until the fall of next year. In the meantime, the media development community will need to build international alliances and convince a lot of countries, some of which will win no gold stars for their performance on media freedoms.

******

To access the full position paper, go to GFMD’s website here: http://gfmd.info/index.php/news/freedom_of_expression_and_access_to_information_post-2015_measurable_target/

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Media: The Christian Science Monitor is thinking about the best ways to turn reading into action

niemanlab.orgby Jeff Israely
Lucia Moses has a story in Digiday about a new redesign of The Christian Science Monitor’s website. Here’s a promo video for it:

But aesthetics aside, the most interesting change on the site is one still in progress. The Monitor has added a new Take Action page to its top nav and wants to feature, at the bottom of some stories, specific ways for readers to do something about the issue it’s about. Says editor Marshall Ingwerson:

At the Monitor, we’re committed to providing the most illuminating, non-partisan reporting possible. That will never change. However, we’re also interested in providing paths to action for readers who’ve been inspired by a story or something happening in the world. Below, you’ll find a few of the simple, initial ideas we’re considering. We’d love to get your feedback. Which paths to action would you welcome and use?

The desire to a path for readers to “take action” after reading a story is a common plaint in some corners. Ethan Zuckerman was just talking about that at a panel we were on last week. Elise Hu and Laura Amico both wrote about similar ideas in our year-end predictions package, and the solutions journalism movement is playing in the same yard.

But it’s sometimes proved difficult to align that instinct with traditional journalistic norms around the view from nowhere and objectivity.

Like other places, the Monitor hasn’t figured out exactly what taking action will look like yet. (There’s a screenshot of what looks like a draft version of it at 42 seconds into the video above.) But it’s considering a number of ideas and putting forward for reader feedback. It’s a nice taxonomy of some of the different ways to prompt reader action:

Conversation Starter: A set of relevant questions — with additional background information provided as necessary — on a specific news topic to help you initiate a dinner or a party conversation. For example, “Would you rather donate time or money to stop elephant poaching? Why?”

People Making a Difference: Read profiles of (and get inspired by) ordinary people who are making effective, positive changes in their communities.

Volunteer Match: Enter your location and what cause is of interest to you and this widget will provide you with a listing of volunteer opportunities so you too can take action.

Contact Your Congressperson: Not sure of your congressional district or who your representatives are? Let the Monitor assist you by matching your ZIP code to your congressional district and providing contact information so you can voice your opinion on issues that matter to you.

Connect: Information on and links to reputable and relevant organizations that will help you get involved by learning more, making a financial contribution or otherwise taking action to support a cause of interest to you.

You, dear reader, should Take Action by leaving a comment on what you think about these ideas and whether you’d like any of them (or something else entirely) on your news site.

— Joshua Benton

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Non-Profit Press: Community Supported Film Launches Haitian Perspectives in Film

Community Supported Film Launches Haitian Perspectives in Film

Training of Haitians in the production of documentary films to emphasize local experience with the causes of and solutions to the economic and social development challenges faced since the 2010 earthquake

Boston, MA and Port-au-Prince, Haiti – Community Supported Film (CSFilm) announces the launch of its documentary training and filmmaking project – Haitian Perspectives in Film. Using CSFilm’s proven capacity building program, Haitian storytellers will be trained in the production of 10 short films. The films will focus on the causes of and solutions to the economic and social development challenges Haitians have faced since the 2010 earthquake. This project will be a partnership between Community Supported Film, Haitian community media organizations, and Haitian and international NGOs. The Haitian-made short films will be released as a compilation in time for the 5th anniversary of the earthquake in January 2015.

According to award winning Haitian journalist, and CSFilm’s Haitian program coordinator, Ralph Thomassaint Joseph,

“Most of the reporting in Haiti is done by Western journalists, and often about issues pertaining to natural disasters, to poverty. They show the sad face of Haiti. It does not seem to fit their narrative to show the other side of the coin, that there are so many amazing initiatives that are undertaken by Haitians themselves. There are very interesting Haitian entrepreneurs. And of course, there are people in grassroots organizations that are trying to defend the rights of the most vulnerable here in Haiti.”

Aural and visual storytelling is dominant in Haiti where the illiteracy rate is at 47%. Thomassaint says,

“Because Haiti has a high rate of illiteracy, you can bring a lot of information to people through media, radio, and images. We can use this media to educate people so that they take responsibility for the condition of Haiti. My role as a journalist and my duty as a Haitian is to try and organize people via the media so they can be part of the decision-making process to solve our problems.”

View the full article on the NonProfit Press’ website!

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Development, Haiti: Bill, Hillary and the Haiti Debacle

Mary Anastasia O’Grady, Wall Street Journal, May 18, 2014

The news website Tout Haiti reported last month that two prominent lawyers have petitioned Haiti’s Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes, demanding an audit of Bill Clinton’s management of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC). There are powerful interests that won’t want to see the petition succeed and it may go nowhere. But the sentiment it expresses is spreading fast. {snip}

Four years after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake toppled the capital city of Port-au-Prince and heavily damaged other parts of the country, hundreds of millions of dollars from the State Department’s U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), allocated to the IHRC, are gone. Hundreds of millions more to the IHRC from international donors have also been spent. Left behind is a mishmash of low quality, poorly thought-out development experiments and half-finished projects.

Haitians are angry, frustrated and increasingly suspicious of the motives of the IHRC and of its top official, Mr. Clinton. Americans might feel the same way if they knew more about this colossal failure. One former Haitian official puts it this way: “I really cannot understand how you could raise so much money, put a former U.S. president in charge, and get this outcome.”

{snip}

The Clinton crowd has a lot of experience in Haiti. After President Clinton used the U.S. military to return Jean Bertrand Aristide to power in 1994, assorted Friends of Bill went into business to milk Haiti’s state-owned telephone monopoly. Telecom revenues were one of the few sources of hard currency for the country so the scheme hurt Haitians. (See Americas columns Oct. 27, 2008, and March 12, 2012.)

Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck sheds light on Mr. Clinton’s most recent Haiti adventures in the 2013 documentary “Fatal Assistance.” Mr. Peck uses footage from an IHRC meeting in December 2010, when 12 Haitian commissioners confronted co-chairmen Mr. Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean Max Bellerive, complaining that the commissioners had been marginalized.

The full letter they read from that day includes the charge that “the staffing and consultant selection” excluded Haitian board members. “No documentation on hiring criteria or candidate selection was sent to inform board members. The same is true for selected consultants; the Haitian board members don’t even know the names of the consultants who work for the IHRC nor their respective tasks.”

Obviously the Haitians didn’t understand. That was the job of the Clinton machine, which controlled the bankroll and could award the lucrative contracts.

{snip}

The “Fatal Assistance” film features shoddy housing projects plopped down where there is poor infrastructure and few job prospects. The GAO report cites other housing snafus. USAID underestimated funding requirements. Its budget went up by 65%, and the number of houses to be built came down by 80%. “Inappropriate cost comparisons were used”; and Haitians, it turns out, prefer flush toilets.

Foreign aid is notoriously wasteful and often counterproductive. Even when the money is not going directly to Swiss bank accounts it is rarely allocated to its highest use because the process is fundamentally political. Contractors with all the wrong training and incentives but the right connections have the best chance of winning jobs. No surprise, the GAO says that USAID’s Haiti reports have been incomplete and not timely.

{snip}

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Haitian Perspectives in Film: Press Release

CSFilm Press Release

Press Release: June 2014
Contact: Michael Sheridan, Director of Community Supported Film  michael@csfilm.org  +1-617-834-7206


Community Supported Film Launches Haitian Perspectives in Film

Training of Haitians in the production of documentary films to emphasize local experience with the causes of and solutions to the economic and social development challenges faced since the 2010 earthquake

Boston, MA and Port-au-Prince, Haiti – Community Supported Film (CSFilm) announces the launch of its documentary training and filmmaking project – Haitian Perspectives in Film. Using CSFilm’s proven capacity building program, Haitian storytellers will be trained in the production of 10 short films. The films will focus on the causes of and solutions to the economic and social development challenges Haitians have faced since the 2010 earthquake. This project will be a partnership between Community Supported Film, Haitian community media organizations, and Haitian and international NGOs. The Haitian-made short films will be released as a compilation in time for the 5th anniversary of the earthquake in January 2015.

According to award winning Haitian journalist, and CSFilm’s Haitian program coordinator, Ralph Thomassaint Joseph,

“Most of the reporting in Haiti is done by Western journalists, and often about issues pertaining to natural disasters, to poverty. They show the sad face of Haiti. It does not seem to fit their narrative to show the other side of the coin, that there are so many amazing initiatives that are undertaken by Haitians themselves. There are very interesting Haitian entrepreneurs. And of course, there are people in grassroots organizations that are trying to defend the rights of the most vulnerable here in Haiti.”

Aural and visual storytelling is dominant in Haiti where the illiteracy rate is at 47%. Thomassaint says,

“Because Haiti has a high rate of illiteracy, you can bring a lot of information to people through media, radio, and images. We can use this media to educate people so that they take responsibility for the condition of Haiti. My role as a journalist and my duty as a Haitian is to try and organize people via the media so they can be part of the decision-making process to solve our problems.”

Michael Sheridan, director of Community Supported Film, who returned this week from a 10-day project development trip to Haiti found that:

“There is a growing media sector in Haiti and many Haitians, young people especially, are motivated to use media as a tool for holding their government and the international community accountable to good governance and effective aid. I think most would agree, however, that a lot of critical work remains to strengthen the video-journalism sector.”

Sheridan witnessed during his visit that the media and television industry is booming in Haiti but little programming time is given to documentary filmmaking and the public issue reporting that is essential for a healthy democracy and economy. The reporting that Haitians do experience about Haiti is mostly produced by international media and typically focuses on foreign aid and foreign interests.

Haitian Perspectives in Film will be distributed through local and international broadcasters and NGOs to engage people in dialogue and action. Broadcasts, press coverage, and the outreach capacity of the NGO collaborators will be used to expand the public’s knowledge of effective aid and disaster response.
The screening and dialogue strategy will expand on the model piloted during CSFilm’s Afghan 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. The films were used to stimulate dialogue at venues including the US Institute of Peace, the World Bank and the Asia Society and at 148 community and university screening across the United States and in Afghanistan.

Community Supported Film launches a fundraising campaign on May 29th to raise funds for Haitian Perspectives in Film. Go to csfilm.org/support to learn more about this project and the fundraising campaign. The funding will support both the documentary and video-journalism capacity building program and the distribution of the Haitian made films.

About Community Supported Film
CSFilm’s mission is to amplify local perspectives through documentary filmmaking. We believe that those affected by poverty and conflicts are the ones best positioned to report on their community’s issues. The high quality documentary films that our in-situ trainees and collaborators produce provide essential insights into equitable development and effective governance for concerned citizens locally and internationally.

CSFilm was founded in 2010 when it completed an intensive 5-week training program with 10 Afghans in documentary production. Out of the training came 10 character-driven, lived-reality short films collected in an award winning compilation called The Fruit of Our Labor: Afghan Perspectives in Film. These stories bring to life Afghan’s efforts to address their challenging social and economic conditions and provide a fresh perspective on the needs and issues of Afghans beyond the relentless battlefront coverage of western media. The films can be viewed at csfilm.org/films.

CSFilm’s work in Afghanistan was awarded the $10,000USD Promotions Prize at the International Short Film Festival, Winterthur, Switzerland and was an official selection at Hot Docs, Toronto, Canada, and at dozens of other film festivals. Learn more about CSFilm at csfilm.org.

Haitian Perspectives in Film is the second of CSFilm’s local-perspectives filmmaking projects, a model they are developing into a Local Voices Network, a go to source for local storytelling on human development. Read more here.

Haitian Perspectives in Film Fundraising Campaign
CSFilm is asking for a minimum of $27,750, to contribute to the development and implementation of the Haitian filmmaking training and the initial distribution of the films.
To read more about the project, and learn about the different ways to donate visit our website at www.csfilm.org/support.

Michael Sheridan, Founder and Director of Community Supported Film
Michael Sheridan is a filmmaker and educator whose documentary films address issues of social and economic development and the tipping point between order and chaos. For nearly 20 years Michael has engaged the public in stories from Asia, Africa, and the Americas about people in vulnerable and developing communities challenging the status quo and struggling to improve their lives.

Michael co-founded Oxfam America’s documentary production unit in the mid 90s and has sought to break new ground in the effective use of media to educate and impact poverty-reduction policy. Subsequently he started his own production and public engagement company, SheridanWorks, which worked on media campaigns for Save the Children-UK, Bread the World, Pact, and many other national and international organizations.

Michael’s documentaries have aired on PBS, ABC, TLC, and Discovery. The National Education Media Network, the Columbia International Film and Video Festival, the United Nations Association Film Festival, and EarthVision have all screened and awarded his films.

Michael has taught documentary and experimental filmmaking for 15 years at the community and university level including at Northeastern, MassArt, and the former Boston Film and Video Foundation. He teaches seminars on using video for education and advocacy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Michael has an MFA from the Massachusetts College of Art. During the 2007-08 academic year he was as Senior Fulbright Scholar in Indonesia.

Ralph Thomassaint Joseph, Haitian Program Coordinator for Community Supported Film
Ralph Thomassaint Joseph is a multimedia journalist based in Haiti. Prior to the Haitian earthquake in January of 2010, Ralph worked for Enfòmasyon Nou Dwe Konnen (ENDK), a daily radio program launched by Internews, a non-profit that provides a platform for local news to be distributed globally. After the earthquake in Haiti, Joseph’s work was distributed to nearly 40 radio stations to keep locals up to date on the conditions in Haiti. In addition, he was part of nearly 600 news shows, which ended up serving as training tools for young and aspiring Haitian journalists. Joseph is the winner of the 2014 Prix Philippe Chaffanjon award for multimedia reporting in Paris, France.

Materials: Pictures and video are available from Michael Sheridan’s recent trip to Haiti as well as from the films and training from CSFilm’s first project in Afghanistan.

Interviews: Michael Sheridan, Director and Founder of Community Supported Film, and Ralph Thomassaint Joseph, Haiti Program Coordinator, are available for interviews.

 

CSFilm Press Release

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Media, Haiti, Development: Sean Penn Accuses the Media of Ignoring Haiti’s Progress. But He’s Ignoring a Few Uncomfortable Facts, Too.

New Republic, June 19, 2014, By Jonathan M. Katz

These days, when U.S. media outlets are looking for an update on the state of things in Haiti, one of the top experts they turn to is Sean Penn. That isn’t meant as a joke. The star of Mystic River and Milk has long since established himself as a serious player in the Caribbean republic, founder of an influential nongovernmental organization, credentialed as an ambassador, and a reputedly close friend of the nation’s president and prime minister. After four years working on, and in, the country at the highest levels of international power, Penn has as much or more claim to the slippery mantle of expertise as plenty of other foreigners who took more traditional paths.

Still, the relationship remains a bit awkward between the media and policy worlds on the one hand and the square-jawed actor on the other. Case in point: Penn’s op-ed on Haiti’s “tremendous progress” in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal.

The outlines of his argument seem straightforward at first blush. Penn primarily wants to highlight the work his aid group and allies in the Haitian government have done since the catastrophic earthquake of January 2010, which left an estimated 100,000 to 316,000 people dead and the country’s political and economic center in ruins. “The people of Haiti have come a long way,” he writes, which is fine as far as it goes, if perhaps conflating his organization and political allies with the national body politic.

But as you keep reading, the basis of Penn’s argument becomes decidedly less clear. Penn seems to see the enemy of this clear progress as his old bête noire, the media: “Headlines continue to spin Haiti as a dark, poverty-entrenched no-man’s-land. … Such cynicism sells papers and entices people to click, but at the cost of Haitian lives.” This kind of coverage is destructive, he argues, because it scares away the one group of people whom Penn seems to believe are the last great hope for the salvation of the Haitian people: foreign investors.

The mechanics of this are a bit hard to fathom. Does Penn suppose that investors, whose primary missions are to make money and beat the competition, depend solely on mass-media accounts of political and social problems? Is he alleging that the problems described in those unnamed reports are untrue; or just that, had journalists a bit more loyalty and tact, foreign businessmen simply wouldn’t know about them?

And what media are he talking about? Though Penn doesn’t name her, his op-ed must in some part be a response to WSJ editorialist Mary Anastasia O’Grady, who last month penned another entry in her ongoing narrative of Haiti and the world, which boils down to the personal malfeasance of Bill and Hillary Clinton. (This has been O’Grady’s take on all things Haiti for more than a decade.) O’Grady’s recent characterization of a post-quake recovery “debacle” is likely to have rubbed Penn the wrong way, or at least prompted someone to ask for his rebuttal. But it seems strange that Penn would complain about the airing of Haiti’s troubles in papers like the Wall Street Journal, since he goes on to spend the next six paragraphs airing Haiti’s troubles in the Wall Street Journal.

Moreover, the problems Penn expounds on—a continuing post-quake housing crisis and an ongoing cholera epidemic—are real, but the way he chooses to describe them do them, if anything, a disservice. Penn focuses his housing critique on the persistence of a few remaining post-quake encampments, settlements that, in a testament to the ingenuity and resilience of the people who built them, have since early on tended to be indistinguishable from other shantytown neighborhoods across Haiti, except for the fact that someone—usually the state or a powerful landowner—wanted them gone. The problem, which Penn hints at but never specifies, is that the vast majority of Haitians who have returned to pre-quake housing are living in houses as vulnerable as the ones that collapsed on January 12, 2010.

He also neglects to mention that the preponderance of evidence shows that the cholera epidemic was started by the negligent sanitation of United Nations peacekeeping soldiers, who dumped their waste in Haiti’s primary river system. Or that the U.N. and member nations including the United States steadfastly continue to refuse to pay for a cleanup, presumably because they don’t want to and nobody can make them, not because a columnist somewhere told them to beg off.

And this is where the contradictions really hit home. Penn is not, as the Journal identifies him, simply “an actor, director and the founder of J/P Haitian Relief Organization.” If he were just an outside observer, he’d likely have mentioned that one of the biggest crises in the country—and one of the ones most likely continuing to scare off investment, for what that’s worth—has been the failure of his friend, President Michel Martelly, to hold municipal and legislative elections since taking office in 2011.

Nor is he strictly a journalist. (A fact-checker would have noticed that, contrary to his claim, the cholera epidemic that erupted in Haiti in October 2010 has already spread to Mexico; and an editor would have prompted him to note that Haiti is flailing along with the rest of the hemisphere in the face of another epidemic, of the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus, and that his boasting of Doctors Without Borders’ ongoing work in Haiti is especially misguided given that the organization only works in emergency areas with little infrastructure, a particularly concerning fact for Haiti since they have been there since 1991.) But at the same time, no one hosting all-star fundraisers featuring the U.S. ambassador to Haiti and Anderson Cooper, or publishing critical op-eds in the Wall Street Journal, can fairly claim to be outside the media himself.

None of that is disqualifying. Who is without contradictions, after all? It just reaffirms the question anyone should ask when encountering such an opinion piece: Who is writing this? What do they want? Who, right now, is Sean Penn?

Jonathan M. Katz is a freelance journalist and the author of The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster. Follow him on Twitter @KatzOnEarth.

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Afghanistan: Beyond Elections — What Is Required For Real Democracy In Afghanistan?

Despite a substantial level of anticipation in the first round of Afghanistan's presidential election, the authors argue that much more needs to be done before democracy is firmly established in the country.

Despite a substantial level of anticipation in the first round of Afghanistan’s presidential election, the authors argue that much more needs to be done before democracy is firmly established in the country.

Radio Free Europe, By Karim Lahidji and Guissou Jahangiri, June 13, 2014
Much noise was made about the unprecedented voter turnout for the first-round elections in Afghanistan on April 5, with almost 7 million people (60 percent of all eligible voters) making their voices heard despite serious insecurity.Yet just two months after they filled the streets of Kabul, Mazar-e Sharif, and Kandahar, the people of Afghanistan have all but disappeared from the discussion, and media attention has turned to the big power players and who between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani will be the country’s next leader. But regardless of the results of the second-round elections to be held on June 14, the question of whether Afghanistan can now be considered democratic will depend on whether its citizens continue to participate in their own governance.For the next leader of Afghanistan to be a true beacon of democracy, he will need to ensure that the extraordinary willingness of Afghanistan’s citizens to participate in their governance continues beyond the ballot box, by guaranteeing them access to education, information, and justice.

An educated citizenry is at the heart of any well-functioning democracy: people must be informed and encouraged to think critically if they are to meaningfully participate in a political society. Education is particularly important in a young country like Afghanistan, where two-thirds of the population is under 25 years of age. Equal access to quality education should be a key priority for the incoming government and seen as an investment in the development of generations of politically active and informed citizens.

An improved educational landscape has been one of the major achievements of the post-Taliban era. Many schools closed under Taliban rule have been reopened, and girls have again been offered access to education. But just as important as the government’s reopening of schools has been the enormous public response to it. With the same enthusiasm that they brought to the ballot boxes in April, Afghan citizens have shown a desire to invest in the future of their country by sending their children — boys and girls — to school. Since the fall of the Taliban, school enrollment skyrocketed by 700 percent, with almost 3 million more girls attending school despite continued threats and attacks against them.

Low Literacy Rates

To build on these gains, Afghanistan’s next leader must ensure equal access to quality education and give protection to those regions where Taliban groups continue to burn school buildings and threaten those who wish to educate their children.

Further resources need to be dedicated to improving literacy rates, which remain among the lowest in the world. In rural areas, where three-quarters of the population resides, around 90 percent of women and 63 percent of men still cannot read or write. In addition to the proven role of education in economic development and advancing women’s rights, ensuring access to education for all of Afghanistan’s children will be the main determinant for genuine democracy in years to come.

But even an informed and educated citizenry cannot engage in politics unless they are given the space to voice their thoughts and opinions. A democracy that represents the will of the people is not guaranteed only through the counting of ballots every few years; citizens must have the opportunity and freedom to share their views and concerns on an everyday basis.

Ensuring that civil society is given space and resources to thrive in Afghanistan will therefore be an essential element to lasting democracy in the country.

Freedom of expression, association, and assembly must be protected, and the media must be allowed to operate without censorship.

Media and civil society are the channels through which citizens learn about and engage with their government, and Afghanistan’s new president must therefore enact legislation to protect journalists and facilitate the creation and operation of diverse civil society organizations. The international community and donors must also recognize the importance of bolstering local civil society, and support Afghan organizations representing and mobilizing their fellow citizens.

Violence With Impunity

Challenges to the capacity of Afghans to engage freely in governance come not only from illiteracy or a weak civil society. Violent actors who deny the rights of women continue to dominate local politics and rule by force, particularly in rural areas. Current approaches to “peace talks” have resulted in impunity and have allowed warlords to continue terrorizing the population.

The passing of an amnesty law by the parliament in 2007, ironically titled the “National Stability And Reconciliation Law,” precludes prosecution of all people engaged in large-scale human rights abuses prior to 2001. This immunity for violent actors, combined with a lack of vetting for political leaders, has allowed local warlords to hold on to power and prevent genuinely representative candidates from running for office.

Moreover, without accountability for past and present abuses, Afghans will not feel safe to criticize the government and defend their rights. The fallacy that peace and justice are incompatible continues to pervade the peace talks in Afghanistan, and allows violence to continue with no consequence.

In this climate of impunity, Afghanistan’s citizens have no guarantees that they can safely speak out against those who violate their rights. Unless Afghanistan’s new government guarantees the rule of law and invests in justice mechanisms, he will be but a figurehead, and violent actors will continue to prevent genuine democracy from taking hold.

For far too long, the voice of the Afghan people has been silenced by poverty, exclusion, and violence. Nevertheless, they are being asked to have hope and courage and again face great risks to vote in the second-round elections on June 14.

Let us not ignore this call for change by the Afghan people by succumbing to the temptation of declaring democracy in Afghanistan based simply on the completion of the elections. Afghanistan’s people deserve to be able to continue to participate in their own governance, and it’s up to the country’s next leader to ensure that they are able to do so.

Karim Lahidji is president of the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). Guissou Jahangiri is director of Armanshar Open-Asia, FIDH’s Afghanistan-based partner organization. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of RFE/RL
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Media: Does good journalism promote transparency?

Does press freedom promote democracy or the other way round? Martin Scott considers the influence of the media

by Martin Scott, Guardian Professional, 

chinese media

Is journalism really an effective ‘searchlight on corruption?’ Photograph: Dan Chung for the Guardian

One of the aims of World Press Freedom day in May was to encourage us to reflect on the value of an independent media. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently while writing a new book on media and development and co-producing the video below. How exactly does good journalism promote transparency and accountability? What role can technology play in enabling ordinary citizens to promote good governance?

One of the most famous answers to such questions comes from former World Bank president, James Wolfensohn, who said: “A free press is not a luxury. A free press is at the absolute core of equitable development, because if you cannot enfranchise poor people, if they do not have a right to expression, if there is no searchlight on corruption and inequitable practices, you cannot build the public consensus needed to bring about change.”

These are fine words. But what do they actually mean? It’s not clear to me how a “searchlight on corruption” leads to the building of consensus, for example, or whether consensus is always the result of “enfranchising poor people”. We might also wonder whether public consensus is an effective mechanism for change in any context other than a fully functioning democracy. Indeed, does press freedom promote democracy or does democracy promote press freedom?

Unfortunately, such grand and over-simplified claims about the role of press freedom in development are common in public discourse. Whether in stories about mobile phones and good governance or internet access and economic growth, it’s much easier to persuade people of the importance of press freedom if you pretend that the links to development are direct and clear-cut.

The trouble is, they are not. The media have multiple, overlapping roles which are fundamentally shaped by local contexts. Pretending that they don’t leads to bad project design and policy making. It also fuels the mistaken belief that access to technology alone is enough to solve problems.

Such misleading stories about the inevitably positive role of technology are not limited to the subject of press freedom. Those concerned with behaviour change communication also tell exciting tales about the benefits of mobile phones, for example, in promoting flood safety oreducating young mothers. Yet disseminating information through the media will only change behaviours in very specific circumstances – when the right people, can access the right information, at the right time, understand it, trust it and be able to act upon it. It’s no use telling people to boil their drinking water, for example, if they don’t have the means to boil it.

The point here is not that the media doesn’t matter for development. It does. Increasingly. The point is that efforts to highlight the importance of the media should exist alongside, rather than seek to obscure, recognition of the complexities of the media’s role. Ultimately, it’s not helpful to pretend that the media always have a direct and positive influence on development.

Martin Scott is a lecturer in media and international development at theUniversity of East Anglia. Follow @martinscott2010 on Twitter.

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• #BringBackOurGirls: the verdict

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Media: The role of media in the South Sudanese conflict

Sudan Tribune, April 2nd 2014

By Alyssa Mesich

If good information is not available then rumors will spread. The weak media culture in South Sudan continues to fuel the ongoing conflict because of limited legal protection for public broadcasting, media regulation and freedom of information. Additionally journalists face safety concerns, restrictions on what issues they can report, and limited funding and training.

Accurate news coverage has been difficult to obtain, allowing warring parties, responsible for countrywide atrocities, to escape accountability for their crimes. The media sector in South Sudan needs to be strengthened to promote accountability and transparency of all parties involved in the conflict. This can be done if the package of media legislation can be signed by the President and if there is a national effort between the government, bilateral organizations, national media groups and journalists to promote countrywide news reporting. Increasing the availability of reliable information will decrease the spread of rumors, improving cross tribal communications and peace building.

Since independence the government has cracked down on the media through the harassment of journalists and the use of fear to limit the spread of information, according to journalists who wish to remain nameless. Just this month, according to the Committee to Project Journalists, the Minister of Information tried again to limit news coverage by warning reporters not to interview opposition groups or else risk arrest or expulsion from South Sudan. The legal uncertainties in South Sudan make journalists more susceptible to threats and abuse by the authorities. The signing of the media legislation package by the President will establish a legal framework that protects journalists and media outlets. Implementation of the media laws will be another issue, but passing the media legislation is the first priority.

South Sudan will be celebrating its 4th Independence Day this July. As the world’s youngest country it is difficult to build up a media sector on par with the rest of the world- the U.S. has had over 200 years to build its media network. Additionally, South Sudan has experienced some setbacks, such as the closing of the journalism program at the University of Juba. But national and international development groups have met setbacks with coordinated efforts. The Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS) and Association for Media Women in South Sudan (AMWISS) are offering training focused on long-term capacity building for journalists. These national organizations having been partnering with bilateral organizations, such as the Norwegian People’s Aid, to increase the number of journalists trained and to improve the media sector through coordinated efforts focused on skill building.

There have also been coordinated efforts in the media field by UNESCO, Fondation Hirondelle, BBC Media Action, Internews, AMDISS and AMWISS to work together for regulatory changes and advancing the field of journalism. The Ministry of Information has been involved in some of the capacity building efforts, including a Media Sector Working Group, and their participation is important to ensure the safety of journalists and having a dialogue on pressing national media issues.

The on-going conflict has disrupted the growth of South Sudan since independence. South Sudan is facing development issues along with the struggles of being a young nation. Only 37% of the population is literate, based on responses to a 2013 South Sudan National Audience Survey by Internews. How can literacy and education improve for the next generation if, according to the UN, over 1 million people have been displaced? Is the literacy rate going to take a similar path to GDP, which according to the World Bank has had a negative 47.6% growth rate in 2012? The conflict has had devastating effects on the South Sudanese today, but it will continue to be felt for generations to come if something is not done to stop it.

Peace talks in Addis Abba continue to be delayed and there is no promise that they will lead to reconciliation. Although it will be difficult to do, it is in the government’s best interest to promote a healthy media field because it will improve the development of the nation and will be a major factor in ending the conflict. Media is a tool that South Sudan can use now to facilitate peacekeeping. If the government works with bilateral organizations and national organizations it can pass the media legislation package, increase the safety of journalists and a focus on promoting accurate news coverage.

The writer is a holder of a Masters of Public Administration in Development Practice Candidate 2014, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University

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Media: Does social media have the power to change the world?

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Development: NGOs and the shock of the new

By Elizabeth Blunt, LONDON, 16 June 2014 (IRIN)

The big international aid agencies have been hugely successful. Organizations that were once small civil society operations – groups of friends with a passion to make the world a better place – now have thousands of staff members, multi-storey headquarters buildings and multi-million dollar budgets. But insiders fret that they have become too big and have lost the flexibility and responsiveness they once had.

They also worry about the future, and whether big international agencies are still the best way of doing things. It’s hard to imagine a world without Oxfam or Save the Children, but 20 years ago it would have been hard to imagine a world without Kodak film and cameras, or multi-volume editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Now both have gone, swept away by technological change they were slow to see coming.

In Britain a lot of soul-searching is taking place inside what is known as the START Network (once called the Consortium of British Humanitarian Agencies), which brings together 19 major NGOs and their worldwide partner organizations. The Network’s Director, Sean Lowrie, thinks the way the sector works is cumbersome and old fashioned. “NGOs are stuck in a Victorian model, which requires people to suffer and die to get on the front page of newspapers, and the newspapers trigger public donations and that triggers political will. It’s a reactive model,” he says.

It’s also very slow. The START Network is explicitly looking for a new and better way of working, and has made a beginning with the START fund, a pot of money provided by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and Irish Aid, which can be mobilized immediately in a crisis and channelled to whichever organization, international or local, is best placed to use it. The key is that the money is already there – it doesn’t have to wait for a crisis to get on the television news. Smaller emergencies or slow-onset crises may never give rise to that kind of money-generating publicity.

Olivia Maehler, START’s business manager, said they aim to consider proposals and release funds within 72 hours of receiving an alert. “We could get an alert on a Tuesday and the funding could be going out by Friday morning,” she told IRIN.

This demands a collaborative way of working, and an unusual degree of selflessness on the part of member organizations, who may in the past have competed for funding and public profile. The principle is that the money goes to whoever can make best use of it straight away, and so far over half the money has gone directly to local implementing partners.

The fund is still in its ‘design and build’ stage, but has already been able to respond to the violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar, and to one of the sudden spikes in conflict and displacement in South Sudan. Until now the meetings to allocate funds have taken place in London. “We are hoping that for future project selection we will be able to do the decision-making in the field, at the local level,” Maehler says.

But the tools that make this kind of devolved, collaborative way of working possible also threaten to disrupt the traditional roles of the big NGOs and perhaps bypass them altogether. At a public debate in London, linked to START’s first annual conference, speakers presented the kind of innovations that have the power to shake up humanitarian action.

“Across the world now, there’s a bubbling sense of democracy on the march. You will only be able to transform the humanitarian sector if it becomes part of that. Otherwise, the sector is doomed”

Paul Skinner, whose organization, ‘Pimp My Cause’, matches marketing volunteers with charities and social enterprises that need their skills, spoke of the need to harness people’s underlying participatory spirit, and “make a humanitarian of everyone”.

“Whereas the NGO of the past may have been something you chose to support, maybe in quite passive ways, the NGO of the future is likely to be something you will turn to because they can help you achieve something worthwhile yourself,” he said.

From your armchair 

Luis Morago, of the online campaigning organization, Avaaz, described getting involved in a form of international activism which can bypass conventional NGOs altogether by using the example of Cyclone Nargis, which struck Myanmar in 2008.

The government was blocking aid flights so Avaaz’s online followers rapidly raised US$2 million and sent it via a network of Buddhist monks who had been appealing for help online. “I didn’t leave my armchair,” Morago said, “But still I was feeling very happy and it cost me ten dollars… But it’s what happens after the clicks that matters – how we use that support. That’s what can bring incredible change.”

Other speakers in the debate included Laura Walker Hudson from Frontline SMS, which has created tools to conduct mass campaigns using basic mobile phone technology, and Harry Wood from Humanitarian OpenStreetMap, a free collaborative mapping project that came into its own during disasters like the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

The possibilities presented were exciting but also unsettling for many in the audience. Powerful new tools for mobilization, like Avaaz, could be used for good purposes, said Frances Stevenson of Help Age International, but also destructively. “Just imagine if they had been around in the 1930s,” she said. “It could be used either way, so I suppose we had better grab it before the other side does!”

John Borton, a senior research associate in the Humanitarian Policy Group of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), a UK think-tank, was struck by the way all this fizz of innovation was happening outside the established humanitarian NGOs. “They create their own organizations, and that makes me uncomfortable. I guess it’s all part of the sector becoming more diffuse, expanding from dozens of organizations to hundreds,” he said. “There’s something here about the way that the established organizations embrace technology.”

That concern got short shrift from Ken Banks, author of ‘The Rise of the Reluctant Innovator’, which covers the stories of 10 people who solve unexpected problems. “Money kills innovation,” he says bluntly. “Look at Ushahidi [a non-profit open-source software development company]. Why didn’t the Red Cross build Ushahidi? They should have done. The Red Cross needed something like Ushahidi many times in the past. I think people taking their ideas to the bigger NGOs would absolutely kill them, and drive them [innovators] to despair!”

The message is clear. Change – disruptive change – is inevitable, and the humanitarian sector needs to be prepared to work differently, and also to play a very different role in the future. What can’t be predicted is whether change will kill their traditional business – as it killed the traditional business models of Kodak and Encyclopaedia Britannica – or whether – as in the case of digital publishing – it will give the sector a new lease of life.

Either way, says Luis Morago, change is coming. “Across the world now, there’s a bubbling sense of democracy on the march. You will only be able to transform the humanitarian sector if it becomes part of that. Otherwise, the sector is doomed.”

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CSFilm is looking for Interns!

View and download the CSFilm Internship description!

Administrative and Communications Internship

Description: Community Supported Film is looking for an intern to play a key role in helping this young organization grow and communicate its mission. Interns will assist with film promotion and distribution; outreach and planning for filmmaking trainings; research; fundraising; and daily operations.
Location: Boston, MA
Type: Unpaid

Primary responsibilities:
1. Administration
Learn about and assist with the fundamental activities of a start-up arts organization
• Assist with the maintenance and improvement of administrative systems
• Assist with fundraising, donation tracking and acknowledgments
• Writing and copyediting for various purposes
• Assist with the coordination of screenings, presentations and fundraising campaigns
• Research training, distribution, and fundraising opportunities

2. Communications
Take a leadership role in helping CSFilm develop and implement a media strategy that builds its audience and promotes its activities
• Write blog postings and assist with the maintenance and development of csfilm.org
• Research, develop and maintain the organization’s social media presence
• Identify, build, and maintain relationships with journalists and producers
• Assist with the writing, editing and distribution of press releases and all related correspondence and materials
• Pitch stories and interviews; book CSFilm spokespeople on radio and television; track media hits
• Maintain a communications database

3. Grantwriting
Learn about funders and grant writing
• Research grant opportunities and assist with the drafting of grant applications

Essential Knowledge, Skills and Experience:
• College degree, near degree completion, or equivalent experience
• Study of and experience with public relations, press outreach and social media
• Administrative capacity
• Excellent written and oral communication skills
• Experience with: Microsoft Office: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook
• Web technology including but not limited to HTML and WordPress
• Detail oriented with ability to take initiative and carry multiple tasks to completion

Recommended Skills
• Knowledge of the language of documentary video production and public engagement
• Knowledge of issues of social and economic development
• Video compression and media production for the web

This is an excellent opportunity to help build an organization in its start-up phase.
Learn and see more at www.csfilm.org.

Reports to: Director and Program Assistant
Hours: 10-15 hours per week
Commitment: 3-6 months

Application Deadlines: 
Fall Internship: August 1st  

Please submit a cover letter, résumé, and contact information for three references to info@csfilm.org with the subject line: Administrative and Communications Internship.

*Applicants without a separate and attached cover letter will not be considered.

 

 

About Community Supported Film
CSFilm’s mission as a not-for-profit organization is to integrate training, storytelling and awareness building by:

1. Training storytellers from poor and developing communities in non-fiction filmmaking and assisting them with the development of their careers as filmmakers and video-journalists

2. Producing engaging stories from the trainee’s perspective about important social and economic development issues in their communities. These stories counteract the relentless focus of the western media on battlefronts, crises and disasters.

3. Building a bridge between the community of filmmakers, communities in development, and an international community of concerned citizens. This conversation raises awareness about sustainable paths to a more peaceful and equitable world.

We believe that socioeconomic development and conflict resolution are effective when the challenges and solutions are understood from the local perspective. High quality locally made documentary storytelling provides essential insights, for community members and policymakers, into sustainable paths to a more equitable and peaceful world.

 

View and Download the CSFilm Internship description!

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Haiti: Play on Haitian Revolution at Cambridge, MA Community Arts Center

On Thursday, June 12, Cambridge’s own Community Arts Center presents:
REBEL
An original play about the Haitian Revolution

This spring, the Community Art Center’s School Age Child Care Program
is working on an original playREBEL about the Haitian Revolution.

Visual, media, dance and theater arts classes at the Community Art Center are collaborating to tell the story of Johanne, a young girl coming of age in the revolutionary landscape of Saint-Domingue- the French colony that would become Haiti.

As Johanne witnesses and participates in the changing life around her she must confront her present fears and find new, future hopes. Her story is told. Through the telling, we learn what freedom, courage and responsibility mean for one girl in one country struggling for liberation.

The Community Arts Center presents:
REBEL
Thursday, June 12 • Doors open at 6:00 PM
Cambridge YMCA
820 Massachusetts Ave.
Doors open at 6:00 PM
Free and open to the public, although voluntary donations are welcome

For more information, contact James Pierre at james.adius.pierre@gmail.com

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Development: Maafushi Island Shows the Way for Inclusive Wealth Creation through Tourism

Maafushi Island Shows the Way for Inclusive Wealth Creation through Tourism

SUBMITTED BY SANDYA SALGADO ON THU, 05/29/2014

The success story of Maafushi, an island in the Kaafu Atoll in the Maldives, dates back to 2009 when the government liberalized its policy on local tourism. A visionary entrepreneur, Ahmed Naseer, lost no time in starting a four roomed guest house in 2010, to kick start the concept of local tourism in his home island Maafushi. And the rest is history!

Maafushi’s expansion from one guest house in 2010 to thirty guest houses to date is a remarkable success story which I was privileged to witness firsthand last week.

An island with 2000 locals had welcomed 600 tourists last year. They were coming in search of an affordable, simple holiday, just for the sun and sea experience, living amongst the islanders while experiencing theiruniqueculture and lifestyle. Maafushi’s model of attracting local tourists has provided an alternative to the high end tourism that Maldives is known world over for.


Asim Mohamed, better known as ‘Simbe’ of Maafushi Dive

I was curious to know what factors contributed to this amazing story of growth of local tourism on one solitary island in the archipelago.

“Proximity to Male, ease of transport, a well-functioning sewage system and a water treatment plant definitely helped us” said Simbe, the beaming thirty two year old owner of Maafushi Dive.
What he didn’t say was that the unique entreprenurial spirit of the islanders coupled with their warm and friendly nature with which they welcomed the guests, making them feel at home and comfortable at all times definitely added to their success.

A Norwegian diving instructor I met in the island said “people of Maafushi are very different in nature to some of the other islanders,” and confirmed that the success of Maafushi could also be largely attributed to this unique characteristic of its people. Having spoken to many different groups in the island, I would definitely think she knew what she was talking about.

What was most intriguing for me was how the islanders had demarcated a special area for the guests to enjoy the sun and sea, without encroaching into each others’ lives. The palm leafed fence beautifully separated the privacy of both the guests and the islanders who believed in a ‘live and let live’ philosophy to help with the growing local tourism in the island.

The success of this island is not limited to development of its guest houses, but the growth of complementary services which makes the model sustainable, inclusive and beneficial to a larger group of islanders. Some of these services include transport, laundry service, internet and cable TV services, restaurents, handicrafts, engineering and maintainence services, construction work, carpentary, garbage collection, motorbike repairs, traditional music and dance, fishing, diving and water sports and still growing…


 Unattended waste management

As any form of development is bound to have challenges, Maafushi is conscious of theirs. Sea erosion is a primary concern which will badly affect the booming industry if timely intervention is not forthcoming. The other pressing issue is the escalating consumption of electricity and beyond affordable rates that seem unsustainable with the increasing business needs. Waste management is another growing problem that hasn’t found a solution yet. The entrepreneurs are hopeful that the government will provide them with solutions to these three major threats that will determine the growth and sustainability of this remarkable development success story that has helped Maafushi in wealth creation and shared prosperity.

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Afghanistan: “Pakistan: Worse Than We Knew”

Book Review by Ahmed RashidJUNE 5, 2014

Alexandra Boulat/VII

A pro-Taliban rally in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s Balochistan province, circa 2002

During the Afghan elections in early April I was traveling in Central Asia, mainly in Kyrgyzstan. I wanted to inquire into the fears of the governments there as a result of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. What did they think of the growth of Taliban and Islamic extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Officials in each country cited two threats. First, the internal radicalizing of their young people by increasing numbers of preachers or proselytizing groups arriving from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Middle East. The second, more dangerous threat is external: they believe that extremist groups based in Pakistan and Afghanistan are trying to infiltrate Central Asia in order to launch terrorist attacks.

Islamic extremism is infecting the entire region and this will ultimately become the legacy of the US occupation of Afghanistan, as the so-called jihad by the Taliban against the US comes to an end. Iran, a Shia state, fears that the Sunni extremist groups that have installed themselves in Pakistan’s Balochistan province on the Iranian border will step up their attacks inside Iran. In February Iran threatened to send troops into Balochistan unless Pakistan helped free five Iranian border guards who had been kidnapped by militants. (The Pakistanis freed four of the guards; one was killed.)

Chinese officials say they are particularly concerned about terrorist groups coming out of Pakistan and Afghanistan that are undermining Chinese security. Although China is Pakistan’s closest ally, its officials have made it clear that they are closely monitoring the Uighur Muslims from Xinjiang province, who are training in Pakistan, fighting in Afghanistan, and have carried out several terrorist attacks in Xinjiang.

Terrorist assaults from Pakistan into Indian Kashmir have declined sharply since 2003, but India has a perennial fear that Islamic militant groups based in Pakistan’s Punjab province may mount attacks in India. Many Punjabi fighters have joined the Taliban forces based in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, and they have attacked Indian targets in Afghanistan. India is also wary of another terrorist attack resembling the one that took place in Mumbai in 2008.

Some five thousand Pakistani soldiers and policemen have been killed and some twenty thousand wounded, both as targets of terrorist attacks and during offensives against them. The economy has sharply declined, and there are widespread electricity shortages. The political elite is divided and at odds with the military over how to deal with terrorism, while many in the middle class are leaving the country.

Two years ago all the states in the region would have publicly or privately accused Pakistan’s military and Interservices Intelligence (ISI) of supporting, protecting, or at least tolerating almost every terrorist group based in Pakistan. The ISI had links with all of them and often collaborated with them. Recently those relations have changed. Governments in the region now accept that Pakistan is in some ways trying to fight terrorism on its soil. But those governments are also concerned that the Pakistani military and political elite have lost control of large parts of the country and cannot maintain law and order. The US and Western countries fear that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal is vulnerable and that terrorists in Pakistan may be planning an attack comparable to that of September 11.

There is still no overall political or military strategy to combat Islamic extremism. The Pakistani army tries to suppress some terrorist groups but not, for example, those that target India. Such a selective strategy cannot be maintained indefinitely and poses enormous risks to the entire world.

Since the mid-1970s the ISI has supported extremist Islamic groups in Afghanistan including the Taliban, but that policy may now be changing. Contrary to many predictions, the situation in Afghanistan may be taking a turn for the better. Despite the threat of Taliban reprisals, seven million Afghans turned out on April 5 to vote in the first presidential election in which President Hamid Karzai was not a candidate. This was also the first genuine attempt in Afghan history to transfer power democratically. A remarkable 58 percent of the 12 million eligible voters turned out—35 percent of them women. Although the Taliban did not make a show of force to stop the vote, relatively few people voted in many Taliban-controlled areas in the south and east. Preliminary results released on April 26 show the Tajik leader Abdullah Abdullah in the lead with 45 percent of the vote and his Pashtun rival Ashraf Ghani trailing with 32 percent. Over three thousand cases of fraud still have to be investigated before the count is final.

Since neither candidate had a majority of 50 percent, there will be a runoff election between the two by the end of May. A new government will not be in place before July, which means that a security agreement with the US, which all the candidates have agreed to, will be delayed. The US and NATO want a military force of some ten thousand to stay in the country in order to train the Afghan army and gather intelligence. Such an agreement will be necessary if the US Congress and Europe are to be persuaded to keep the Kabul government financially afloat. Afghanistan needs a minimum of $7 billion a year to pay for its budget and army. In January the US Congress cut by half the $2 billion earmarked for US aid to Afghanistan.

To bring the civil war to an end the new president will try to open talks with the Pashtun Taliban in Afghanistan. Pakistan is now also keen on such talks because two thirds of Pashtuns live in Pakistan, including members of the Taliban, and there has been talk by Islamists of carving out a separate Pashtun state. Will the Pakistan military put pressure on the Afghan Taliban leaders who live in Pakistan to talk to the new government in Kabul while Pakistan deals with its own Pashtun problem? A lot will depend on whether a much weakened Pakistan still has the power to force the Afghan Taliban to engage in negotiations.

All the recent books I have seen on the Afghan wars have recounted how the Pakistani military backed the Taliban when they first emerged in 1993, but lost its influence by 2000. Then, after a brief respite following September 11, 2001, Pakistan’s military helped to resurrect the Taliban resistance to fight the Americans. My own three books on Afghanistan describe the actions of the Pakistani military as one factor in keeping the civil war going and contributing to the American failure to win decisively in Afghanistan.*

Now in The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001–2014, Carlotta Gall, theNew York Times reporter in Afghanistan and Pakistan for more than a decade, has gone one step further. She places the entire onus of the West’s failure in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s successes on the Pakistani military and the Taliban groups associated with it. Her book has aroused considerable controversy, not least in Pakistan. Its thesis is quite simple:

The [Afghan] war has been a tragedy costing untold thousands of lives and lasting far too long. The Afghans were never advocates of terrorism yet they bore the brunt of the punishment for 9/11. Pakistan, supposedly an ally, has proved to be perfidious, driving the violence in Afghanistan for its own cynical, hegemonic reasons. Pakistan’s generals and mullahs have done great harm to their own people as well as their Afghan neighbors and NATO allies. Pakistan, not Afghanistan, has been the true enemy.

Dogged, curious, insistent on uncovering hidden facts, Gall’s reporting over the years has been a nightmare for the American, Pakistani, and other foreign powers involved in Afghanistan, while it has been welcomed by many Afghans. She quickly emerged as the leading Western reporter living in Kabul. She made her reputation by reporting on the terrible loss of innocent Afghan lives as American aircraft continued to bomb the Pashtun areas in southern Afghanistan even after the war of 2001 had ended. The bombing of civilians was said to be accidental, supposedly based on faulty intelligence; but it continued for years and helped the Taliban turn the population against the Americans.

Before human rights groups or police arrived in remote, bombed villages, Gall was often there first. Thus in July 2002, she writes of driving “for three days over dusty and rutted roads” to reach a village in Uruzgan province that had been bombed during a wedding. Fifty-four wedding guests were killed, including thirteen children from one household, and over one hundred people were wounded. The survivors of this massacre “were collecting body parts in a bucket”—Gall’s quote of the provincial governor that haunted reporters and other observers in Kabul. She continued:

Sahib Jan, a twenty-five-year-old neighbor, was one of the first to reach the groom’s house after the bombardment. Bodies were lying all over the two courtyards and in the adjoining orchard, some of them in pieces. Human flesh hung in the trees. A woman’s torso was lodged in an almond sapling…. Bodies lay in the dust and rubble of the rooms below.

Some of those killed were friends of President Karzai and these bombings infuriated him and caused his relations with the US to deteriorate. As late as 2009 Gall was still covering such disasters, as when US planes bombed the village of Granai, killing 147 people—“the worst single incident of civilian casualties of the war.”

Carlotta Gall was, in effect, a one-woman human rights agency. She spent much time and effort exposing the torture and killing of Afghans taken prisoner by the Americans. This was a highly sensitive issue—the American victors did not expect American media to expose their wrongdoings. But Gall went ahead. She told the heartbreaking story of Dilawar, a naive taxi driver who was wrongly arrested in Khost in eastern Afghanistan, incarcerated in an isolation ward at the US airbase at Bagram, and then beaten to death by his American jailors. She spent many weeks tracking down Dilawar’s family and obtained the death certificate issued by the US Army:

I gasped as I read it. I had been looking to learn more about the Afghans being detained. I had not expected to find a homicide committed by American soldiers.

Nobody was ever charged and the same US team of interrogators was deployed to Abu Ghraib in Iraq—the other site of grisly US treatment of prisoners. Gall’s modesty does not allow her to mention that it was this story that led to the making of the 2007 Oscar-winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side.

Robert Nickelsberg

Prayer flags at a Taliban graveyard on the outskirts of Kandahar city, Afghanistan, February 2005; photograph by Robert Nickelsberg from his book Afghanistan: A Distant War, just published by Prestel

All her skills were put to the test when she reported on the death of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad and tried to discover whether senior Pakistanis had been hiding him all along. Methodically adding one fact to another, she concludes not only that some were, which is convincing, but that all the top officials in the military and the ISI knew of his whereabouts, although the evidence she offers for such widespread knowledge is not wholly plausible; and her assertion that there was a specific “bin Laden desk” at the ISIappears, from my own inquiries, to be flimsy.

For many Pakistanis the main failure of the government is that nobody has ever been punished or held responsible either for hiding bin Laden or not discovering him earlier. Gall surmises that the ISI had let it be known that bin Laden’s hideaway was an ISI safe house. That is why nobody ever knocked on the door—a reasonable assumption.

However, the fiercest opposition to her views comes from American officials themselves. They insist, as they are obliged to do, that none of the top Pakistani leaders knew of bin Laden’s whereabouts. Gall’s conclusion that the Obama administration deliberately kept the ISI’s role in harboring bin Laden secret in order to save the US–Pakistan relationship is difficult to accept for two reasons. The first is simply the propensity of officials in Washington to leak to journalists. The second is that US–Pakistani relations would collapse a few months after the killing of bin Laden over different issues, notably Pakistan’s support of the Taliban. The US therefore would not have been so concerned to protect its relations with Pakistan.

Most states today, including the US and NATO countries, believe that the Pakistani military is no longer in control of the Taliban in Afghanistan or capable of putting decisive pressure on them. The army leaders have too much of a problem at home with their own Pakistani Taliban. Their ability to persuade the Afghan Taliban to make peace with Kabul is very limited. Moreover, the Pakistani military has shown no willingness to kick the Afghan Taliban out of Pakistan and back to Afghanistan. The civilian government is trying to negotiate with the Pakistani Taliban but the military is against such talks and would rather use force, a major division in policymaking in Islamabad. There are enormous risks involved, such as the two Talibans merging to fight the Pakistani army.

The Pakistani military belatedly understands that a Taliban conquest in Afghanistan would eventually ensure that Pakistan would find itself with a Taliban government in Islamabad. As Gall recounts, the Pakistani army has spent years propping up the Afghan Taliban, training their fighters, allowing them to import arms and money from the Arabian Gulf and to recruit among Pakistani youth. As Gall shows, the army even decided which tactics the Afghan Taliban should use. The army is now desperate to find a political solution that would send the Afghan Taliban home.

Many army and police officers find themselves confused as they are ordered to protect some Taliban and other extremists and kill others. Pakistani officials are supposed to be loyal allies of the US and they take its money but they also are encouraged by powerful Pakistanis to promote anti-Americanism in society and the army. There has been no adequate explanation for these dual-track policies, which have ravaged state and society and undermined the army internally. Moreover the army is still not prepared to give up its militant stand against India.

Gall writes that Pakistani soldiers “were fighting, and dying, in campaigns against Islamist militants, apparently at the request of America, but at the same time they were being fed a constant flow of anti-American and pro-Taliban propaganda.” Unfortunately she does not acknowledge that there have been shifts in the military’s thinking and that it faces the more open kind of confusion over its strategy and its loyalties that I have described. Her book starts and ends on the same note even though thirteen years have elapsed.

Afghans have observed that the ISI has not interfered in the Afghan elections. Contrary to its policy since the 1970s, it has avoided favoring Pashtun candidates. It has also tried to improve relations with the former anti- Taliban Northern Alliance (NA) warlords it once opposed by meeting with the leaders of Tajik, Hazara, and Uzbek groups that were the major components of the alliance. Consequently all the Afghan presidential candidates have softened their comments on Pakistan, avoiding the harsh rhetoric of Hamid Karzai.

Yet for the reasons described by Gall, the Pakistani military still does not comprehend how deeply Pakistan is hated by most Afghans. Even today the worst atrocities and suicide bombings causing civilian deaths are often blamed on the Taliban elements “trained by Pakistanis.” Hatred for Pakistan is possibly even stronger among the Afghan Pashtuns who have been Pakistan’s traditional allies. The Pakistani army must undergo deep self-examination and show considerable humility in dealing with the Afghans if it is to genuinely create an opportunity for peace.

However there are large gaps in Gall’s analysis that cannot be ignored. Pakistan was not the only cause of the failure to control the Afghan Taliban; the failure in Afghanistan has been an American failure as well. The lack of a US political strategy stretched over four administrations. Two Presidents—Bush and Obama—were unable to make up their minds about what to do in Afghanistan or how many troops should carry out which tasks. The overwhelming militarization of US decision-making and the hubris of American generals undermined diplomacy and nation-building; the US failed to curb open production of opium and other drugs. There was constant infighting between the White House, Defense, and State Departments over policy. There was also widespread corruption and waste both in the private contracting system used by the US military and in some of the operations of the US Agency for International Development. The list of such American failures is indeed long, and assigning responsibility for the losses in Afghanistan will occupy US historians for decades.

Gall’s second omission is not to recognize the negative effects caused by the neighboring countries, apart from Pakistan, and their constant interference in Afghanistan. She ignores the Afghan civil war after 1989 when all the Afghan warlords had international backers. She fails to mention that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia backed the Taliban while Russia, Iran, India, Turkey, and the Central Asian republics supported the Northern Alliance.

More recently Iran has given sanctuary to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, India is funding the Baloch separatist insurgency in Pakistan, and Afghanistan has provided a refuge to the leader of the Pakistani Taliban. The US presence has failed to provide protection for people in the region. Most Afghans will tell you today that what they fear most about the Americans leaving is that intervention from all the country’s neighbors will start again. Gall doesn’t blame neighbors other than Pakistan.

Why did Pakistan adopt policies of intervention in Afghanistan, especially after September 11, when it had essentially lost the game in Afghanistan? There has been a disastrous logic to the military’s policies—which more thoughtful Pakistanis have always resisted.

Here some history is useful. The Pakistan military has used militant political groups as an arm of its foreign policy in India and Afghanistan since the 1970s. This was allowed by the West as part of the cold war. During the 1980s the CIA funded the Afghan Mujahideen and Islamic extremists from forty countries when they were fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. It was not until September 11 that Pakistan’s use of Islamic extremists as a tool of its foreign policy became unacceptable.

After September 11 General Pervez Musharraf and the military regime believed that they could, for a time, appear to meet US demands by capturing al-Qaeda leaders while avoiding harm to the Afghan Taliban. Musharraf was always treated as a messiah by the Bush administration; but a year after September 11 well-informed Pakistanis knew that Musharraf had started playing a double game with the Americans by covertly supporting a Taliban resurgence.

What was the Pakistan military’s logic in doing so? After the war to oust the Taliban was over in 2001 the military faced the defeat of its Taliban allies and had to suffer the Northern Alliance and its backers—including India and Iran—as victors in Kabul. Musharraf felt he had to preserve some self-respect; and Bush appeared to acknowledge this when he allowed ISI agents to be airlifted out of Kunduz before the city fell to the Northern Alliance and its backers—a series of events well described by Gall. Bush had also promised Musharraf that the NA would not enter Kabul before a neutral Afghan body under the UN took over the city. But as the Taliban fled, the NA walked into Kabul without a fight and took over the government.

The Pakistani military was further angered at Bonn in December 2001, when the new Afghan government was unveiled and all the provincial security ministries were handed over to the Northern Alliance, with Pashtun representation at a minimum. This was the usual outcome by which the spoils of war went to the victors, but for Pakistan’s generals it was further humiliation that bred resentment and a desire for revenge.

The military was equally perplexed about why the US did not commit more ground troops to hunt down al-Qaeda instead of leaving that task to Northern Alliance warlords. The military was convinced that the Americans would soon abandon Afghanistan for the war in Iraq and leave the NA, backed by India, in charge in Kabul.

Bush’s refusal to commit even one thousand US troops to the mountains of Tora Bora where bin Laden was trapped sent a powerful message to Pakistan. By 2003 US forces in Afghanistan still amounted to only 11,500 men—insufficient to hold the country. Five years later in 2008 there were only 35,000 US troops in Afghanistan, compared to five times that number in Iraq.

The Pakistani military’s insecurity about American intentions and the growing power of the NA, India, and Iran led to its fateful decision to rearm the Taliban. It believed that the Taliban would provide a form of protection for the Pakistani military against its enemies. Instead the revamped Afghan Taliban helped create the Pakistani Taliban and the worst blowback of terrorism in Pakistan’s history. It is the Taliban’s terrorism within Pakistan rather than US pressure that altered the military’s position from backing the Afghan Taliban to its now seeking a peaceful Afghanistan.

Gall’s account of the rise of the Taliban is also open to question. She writes that three commanders in Kandahar and Kabul—two of them drug smugglers and one of them a landlord—initiated the Taliban movement. Between 1994 and 1998, in Kandahar and Kabul, I interviewed nearly all the students who were the founding members of the Taliban and the three men she names were never mentioned, except as intermittent financiers. The founders of the Taliban were pious, conservative, simple young villagers who had fought the Soviets as foot soldiers and were now deeply disillusioned with their former leaders for fighting a civil war. They came together to rid Kandahar of criminal gangs. They then traveled around the country asking warlords to help end the civil war and bring peace. When that failed they decided to launch their own movement.

Contrary to Gall’s account that they wanted power over Afghanistan from the first, the Taliban founders initially had only three aims—to end the civil war, disarm the population, and introduce an Islamic system. Until they reached the gates of Kabul in late 1995, they had no intentions of ruling the country. Instead they were demanding a Loya Jirga, or meeting of tribal elders, to decide who should rule. Some, like Mullah Borjan, were actually royalists who wanted to call back the former King Zahir Shah from exile. Gall says Borjan was killed at the behest of the ISI in 1996, although it is widely accepted that he died a year earlier in the first attack on Kabul.

All the founding members of the Taliban I interviewed gave a different account from Gall’s of the rise of their leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. They all had equal status, the requisite piety, and a strong record of fighting the Soviets. There was no natural commander among them. After much debate they picked Omar as the first among equals, the most pious and apparently the most humble. His status rose only after he insisted that his colleagues swear an oath of allegiance to him. He continues to be powerful. Too much of Gall’s information and analysis on the history of the Taliban seems to reflect the views of the Afghan intelligence service, whose own interpretation is flawed and one-sided.

Today, with Pakistan torn apart by unprecedented violence and the situation in Afghanistan still precarious, the Pakistani military has strong reasons to change its past policies of sponsoring wars fought by nonstate organizations. Some changes are happening, but only at a glacial pace. Serious reform needs to start at the lowest level of the military, at the schools and colleges from which the army is drawn, where drastic curriculum changes are needed. The ISI needs to be brought under a code of conduct and accountability, particularly with respect to its dealings with violent organizations. Its personnel should be trained in political realism rather than in ideological prejudices. Unless changes in the army can be made more quickly, there is still the danger that this nuclear power could slip into chaos.

  1. *The trilogy is: Taliban (I.B. Tauris, 2000); Descent into Chaos: The US and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia (Viking, 2008); Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan, and Afghanistan(Viking, 2012). 
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