Issues & Analysis
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AFGHANISTAN: Dirty Money in Afghanistan

At a money market in Kandahar Province, November 2012.

At a money market in Kandahar Province, November 2012.  AHMAD NADEEM / REUTERS

foreignaffairs.com, by Javid Ahmad, Sept. 7, 2016

In 2015, the profits generated by Afghanistan’s illicit economywere worth more than $1 billion. Drug trafficking, smuggling, unregulated trade, and fraud in procurement contracts are encumbering the country’s economic development and funding the terrorist groups that undermine its stability.

Money laundering plays a crucial role in supporting this criminality. Yet over the past decade, the government has not been able to do much to crack down on it: of the many clear cases of the practice that have appeared, only a few have been prosecuted. The problem is a product of several factors, including lax financial and customs controls, inadequate expertise in the Afghan government, high-level opposition to change, and weak enforcement mechanisms.

The hawala system is appealing to Afghans seeking to shield ill-gotten gains from the state.

Chief among the roadblocks, however, is the nature of Afghanistan’s capital flows. Most of the country’s economic activity is informal, and data provided by the Ministry of Finance suggest that only 35 percent of the financial flows within the country are legal. Unregulated cash transactions and remittances through the country’s traditional money transfer system, a network of brokers known as hawala, are the rule. According to the Financial Action Task Force, an international anti-money-laundering body, more than half of all transactions in Afghanistan involve hawala brokers. Ordinary Afghans do not have many other options: although the country’s banking sector has grown significantly in recent years, most commercial banks are still concentrated in its cities. For many Afghans, hawalabrokers, whose services often leave no paper trail, provide services that are cheaper and more convenient than their counterparts in the official banking sector.

Largely because of its informality and opacity, the hawala system is also at the center of Afghanistan’s troubles with money laundering. Many brokers are unlicensed, operating without oversight in violation of domestic laws and foreign exchange regulations. Making matters worse, the line between the official banks and the hawala system is blurry. Hawala brokers often keep bank accounts and use bank transfers to pay other brokers abroad, and Afghan banks have used the system to send money to the country’s remote areas. This makes it nearly impossible for the government to determine which funds sent through the hawala system are above board and which are not. Together with the hawala system’s lack of formal limits on the size of transfers, such factors have made the system appealing to Afghans seeking to shield ill-gotten gains from the state.

Those who profit from Afghanistan’s massive narcotics sector are the biggest beneficiaries. In 2015, Afghanistan’s opium economy was worth some $1.5 billion, or around seven percent of the country’s GDP. A large part of this money ends up in the hands of the Taliban and other insurgent groups: according to the United Nations, in 2015, at least ten percent of the earnings from poppy cultivation in Afghanistan’s eastern and western provinces financed such organizations. In Afghanistan’s opium-rich provinces, according to the World Bank, more than 80 percent of the proceeds generated by the drugs trade run through the hawalasystem.

Cracking down on the laundering of drug money through the hawala system is especially difficult because in many cases, the transactions involve the exchange of goods as well as cash. In northern Afghanistan, for example, traffickers, abetted by Afghan officials who are willing to look the other way, load trucks bound for Central Asia with drugs, precious stones, and metals. The exporters of the illicit cargoes disguise the profits they reap from their sale by importing goods instead of transfering money in return, paying the government’s import tax at the border, and disguising their ownership of the imported goods by laundering the funds from their sale through shell companies and hawala brokers. The shell companies then invest the proceeds into normal commercial activities, such as real estate investments. These kinds of exchanges are extremely difficult to trace.

The ease with which drugs cross Afghanistan’s borders speaks to the broader difficulties that Kabul has had with customs control. In the past, traders managed to avoid border inspections by paying off customs officials. That problem has diminished recently, mostly thanks to changes President Ashraf Ghani has made to Afghanistan’s customs system. Yet powerful officials still flout a rule requiring that they declare cash worth more than $20,000 at the border; in recent years, they have carried millions of dollars out of the country.

GHANI GETS TOUGH?

Over the past decade, Afghanistan has successfully prosecuted only a handful of money-laundering or terrorism-financing cases. Between 2011 and 2014, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Center of Afghanistan (FinTRACA), a financial intelligence unit, referred several cases to the country’s attorney general, but none were brought before the courts, and the authorities did not issue orders to freeze or seize assets in any of them. For its part, FinTRACA has never sanctioned a bank or hawala broker for regulatory breaches or for violating anti-money-laundering or terrorism-financing laws. And no hawala brokers have reported suspicious transactions to FinTRACA, even though all of Afghanistan’s financial entities are legally required to do so. What is more, money laundering is still treated as a minor offense in Afghanistan: it is punishable by an imprisonment of between two and five years or a fine of between $1,000 and $7,000.

Those who profit from Afghanistan’s massive narcotics sector are the biggest beneficiaries.

Afghanistan’s National Unity Government is taking on this problem with an approach that is tougher than its predecessor’s. In June, Ghani established an Anticorruption Justice Center to investigate and prosecute high-ranking officials, including former cabinet ministers and governors, suspected of graft—a move that, predictably, has angered many current and former officials. So far, the center has reviewed over 150 corruption cases, and it is preparing a number of prominent ones for prosecution. The government has also strengthened its ability to combat money laundering and terrorism financing. It has amended the laws that criminalize both practices, requiring the attorney general to order asset freezes against people involved in either offense as soon as the authorities have determined their involvement. Kabul is working to improve the ability of Afghanistan’s various government agencies to coordinate their efforts on money-laundering and terrorism-financing cases and is trying to improve compliance in the banking sector by increasing the government’s oversight of bank transactions. It has also computerized the government’s revenue and customs departments, both of which had been at the center of official corruption.

In recent months, Afghanistan has ramped up its inspections of hawala brokers and has strengthened its hawala licensing program so that it will punish brokers who do not regularly report suspicious transactions to the authorities by, for example, temporarily stripping them of their licenses. The program has also made it easier for the government to monitor and seize assets involved in money-laundering offenses. These efforts have been supported by a three-year, $45 million IMF grant aimed at bolstering Afghanistan’s banking laws and anticorruption regulations. More broadly, the government has overhauled the judicial sector, replacing more than 600 judges, removing 20 percent of the country’s prosecutors and 25 percent of customs officials from their posts, and prohibiting many others from leaving the country.

Harvesting opium in a poppy field in Farah Province, May 2009.

Harvesting opium in a poppy field in Farah Province, May 2009.

Ghani’s moves have raised the hopes of many, but some powerful Afghan—from former cabinet officials to local strongmen—have pushed back against his reforms to protect their own interests. Since the reform push still lacks deep domestic support, the backing of Afghanistan’s international partners, particularly the United States, will go a long way to making it a success.

The government should work with its international partners to better train Afghanistan’s judges, prosecutors, and regulators. It should also tighten its control of Afghanistan’s borders and continue to back FinTRACA’s efforts to fight money laundering and terrorism financing. Fixing Afghanistan’s problems will not only require cleaning up the drugs, real estate, procurement, and import-export sectors—it will demand dismantling the illicit financial flows that support law-breaking in all of them and threaten the country’s stability.

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ON DEVELOPMENT: Poverty Cut by Growth Despite Policy Failure

ipsnews.net, by Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

– At the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000, world leaders committed to halve the share of people living on less than a dollar a day by 2015. The World Bank’s poverty line, set at $1/day in 1985, was adjusted to $1.25/day in 2005, an increase of 25% after two decades. This was then re-adjusted to $1.90/day in 2011/2012, an increase by half over 7 years! As these upward adjustments are supposed to reflect changes in the cost of living, but do not seem to parallel inflation or other related measures, they have raised more doubts about poverty line adjustments.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

The number of people living on less than $1.90 a day in developing countries is estimated to have fallen from close to two billion in 1981 to 1.95 billion in 1990 to just under 1.4 billion in 2005 and 902 million in 2012, projected to 702 million in 2015. The share of poor people has thus declined from 44% in 1981 to 37% in 1990, 24% in 2005 and 12.8% in 2012, projected to 9.6% in 2015.Uneven progress
Much of the progress has been due to sustained rapid growth in several large developing countries, notably China and India, and higher commodity prices for over a decade until 2014. However, outside of East Asia, progress has been modest, with actual setbacks in some countries and regions. For those earning just above the extreme poverty line ($1.90 a day), progress can be temporary as economic and other shocks threaten hard-won gains, forcing them back into poverty. Progress in reducing poverty has been generally slower using higher poverty lines. Over 2.1 billion people in the developing world lived on less than $3.10 a day in 2012, compared to 2.9 billion in 1990.

Extreme poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa has hardly declined, standing at around 42.6% in 2012. Moreover, many of the poor in this region are estimated to be very far below the poverty line as the average consumption of Africa’s poor is only about 70 cents a day—barely more than twenty years ago. Thus, even 20 more years of progress at recent rates will not end poverty in Africa, with a quarter of Africans expected to still be deemed poor in 2030.

Besides income, wide ranging deficits in the human condition remain widespread, not only in most low income countries, but also in many middle income countries. Access to basic education, healthcare, modern energy, safe water and other critical services — often influenced by socioeconomic status, gender, ethnicity and geography — remain elusive for many.

Claiming credit

There is little evidence that the professed commitments by the global community to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and what was done in the name of the MDGs was critical to poverty reduction. This does not bode well for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially with the protracted economic slowdown since 2008, the declining commitment to economic multilateralism and the constrained fiscal and policy space most developing countries have.

In decoupling poverty reduction from economic development, various ‘silver bullets’ – microcredit, ‘bottom of the pyramid’ marketing, land titling, ‘good governance’ – were touted, but failed, as miracle cures. In most developing societies, economic reforms and policies imposed or advised by international financial institutions, did not deliver promised growth, but instead often exacerbated growing inequalities, both within and among nations. And even where economic growth – typically despite, rather than because of the conventional wisdom – lifted most boats, it often did not raise the leaky, fragile ones of the poor.

This nuanced record of poverty reduction challenges the conventional policy prescriptions identified with the Washington Consensus – the norm outside East Asia since the 1980s. Reductions in public investments – in health, education and other social programmes – have adversely affected billions. The poor have also been more vulnerable to economic downturns, as unskilled workers tend to lose their jobs first, while job recovery generally lags behind output recovery.

Ideology, crisis and poverty

The counter-revolution against development economics, and the ascendance of the Washington Consensus since the 1980s, significantly transformed the development discourse. Reforms such as macroeconomic stabilization, defined as low single digit inflation, as well as microeconomic market liberalization, associated with structural adjustment, were all supposed to accelerate economic growth and poverty reduction, presumed to follow from growth. These typically failed on both counts – to spur growth and to eliminate poverty.

Little attention was given to structural causes of poverty, including gross inequalities of resources and opportunities, and the consequences of uneven development. While the Washington Consensus economic reforms were supposed to unleash rapid growth, social protection was reduced to social safety nets targeted at a few supposedly falling between the cracks, often victims of temporary setbacks such as natural catastrophes and economic crises.

The Washington Consensus reforms, often imposed as conditionalities, have significantly constrained policy space for national development strategies. Failure to sustain growth, regressive tax reforms and reduced government revenues have also constrained developing countries’ fiscal space. Developing countries also significantly reduced state capacities and capabilities while under pressure to liberalize and globalize on unequal and debilitating terms. Such reductions of both fiscal and policy space have undermined sustainable and equitable development.

Poor policies

Conventional policy approaches to poverty eradication are clearly insufficient, if not worse. Meanwhile, obstacles to reducing global poverty remain formidable, numerous and complex. Targeting – often demanded by many donors – is not only typically costly, but also inadvertently excludes many who are deserving. Furthermore, many poverty programmes favoured by donors have not been effective in reducing poverty, although some have undoubtedly helped ameliorate poverty.

The 2008-2009 global financial and economic crisis has prompted some reconsideration of appropriate economic policies, even by the international financial institutions. There is now greater recognition of the need for inclusive, pro-growth and counter-cyclical macroeconomic policies as well as prudent capital account management, but institutional prejudices and prescriptions have been slow to change at the country level.

The overall global economic situation and prospects have deteriorated with the ongoing economic slowdown. While the timing and sustainability of economic recovery remain uncertain, job prospects and work conditions continue to deteriorate, with adverse consequences.

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HAITI: Only Haitians can save Haiti

AFP_FJ4XO
washingtonpost.com, Opinion by Joel Dreyfuss, 

Joel Dreyfuss is a Washington Post Global Opinions contributing columnist.

Haiti won a rare victory on the international stage last week. After five years of evading accountability, the United Nations finally admitted that its peacekeepers were responsible for a deadly cholera epidemic that killed 10,000 men, women and children and sickened 700,000. Long after scientists traced the disease to the poor sanitation practices of Nepalese troops stationed in Haiti, the U.N. rejected the findings, claimed diplomatic immunity and enlisted Obama administration support to block efforts by Haitians to hold the agency accountable in U.S. courts. The U.N. backed down after a report by New York University law professor Philip Alston, an adviser on legal and human rights, became public. Alston called the U.N.’s stonewalling “morally unconscionable, legally indefensible and politically self-defeating.”

The U.N.’s arrogant stance was just the latest example of how Haiti’s friends are so often its worst enemies. The U.N. military mission has been in Haiti since 2004, presumably to “stabilize” the country and nurture its fragile democracy. Yet that democracy is barely breathing, with a “provisional” president and a group of dubiously elected officials who can barely agree on a date for presidential elections.

Consider the aftermath of the massive earthquake that killed 200,000 to 300,000 Haitians on Jan. 12, 2010. The international community did responded generously. Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush presided over a reconstruction commission that won $14 billion in international pledges and posed to help transform Haiti into a modern nation. However, what money was actually delivered was sucked into a morass of Beltway consultants, failed projects and nongovernmental organizations. “Valuable studies and assessments conducted by Haitians themselves were largely ignored,” the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reported in a postmortem study. Six years later, the rubble in downtown Port-au-Prince has been cleared, but little has been rebuilt. The nation’s center of commercial activity has moved to suburban Pétionville. Plans to revive the capital remain as vague as the early-morning fog that drifts across the majestic mountains that serve as a backdrop to Haiti’s tortured history.

The Clintons have expressed a fondness for Haiti ever since they honeymooned there in 1975. Bill and Hillary have been up to their elbows in Haiti ever since 1994, when President Clinton used U.S. military power to restore Haiti’s first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Clinton, whose home state of Arkansas is the No. 1 rice producer in the United States, extracted an agreement from Aristide in 1995 to drop tariffs on imported rice. The resulting influx of cheap American rice destroyed Haitian’s near-self-sufficiency in food and sent thousands of poor farmers and their families into the overcrowded capital. Clinton has since apologized for his “devil’s bargain.” Fast-forward to today, and Haitians know that the United States’ presidential elections will have a profound effect on their future: A Hillary Clinton victory could mean more interference in Haiti’s affairs.

The current political crisis was precipitated by the heavy-handed manipulation of Haitian politics by the “Core Group,” (the United States, Canada, France, Spain, Brazil, the European Union and the Organization of American States). In 2011, they excluded the most popular political party from presidential elections and discarded one of the top vote-getters, and Haitians ended up with former bandleader Michel Martelly as president. They tried the same tactics this year, putting heavy pressure on Haitians to complete a tainted second round of ballots. Fed up, thousands of Haitians took to the streets to reject that advice and force a new round of elections over strong American objections.

Haitian identity at home and abroad is tightly linked to our native country’s status as the world’s first free black republic. Every August UNESCO commemorates the secret ceremony in Haiti’s Bois-Caiman in 1791 that triggered a successful slave uprising, which in turn fomented the revolution that led to its independence. I know I will offend many of my fellow Haitians by saying this out loud — but I wonder if Haiti will ever truly regain its independence. The reality is that Haiti, more than 200 years after it gained its freedom, has spent large chunks of its existence under the military, political or economic control of foreign powers.

Haiti paid twice for its freedom, first with blood and then with money. Haitians handed Napoleon his first significant military defeat by repelling the 50,000 troops he sent to restore slavery. But fearing a new invasion, Haiti signed an agreement with France’s Charles X in 1825 to pay former owners of plantations and slaves tens of millions of francs (variously estimated by historians at between $3 billion to $25 billion in today’s dollars) as the price for recognition. The deal doomed Haiti to 80 years of distorted budgets focused on paying off foreign debt and starving its people of the infrastructure and educational facilities that might have set the young nation on a more prosperous path. The United States began its military occupation of Haiti in 1915 and remained there for 19 years. But even before American Marines landed in the country, Haiti’s many authoritarian and corrupt leaders plunged the country into debt and exacerbated the domination of the many by the few. Rosalvo Bobo, an early-20th-century Haitian politician, noted that Haitian leaders had replaced the liberating achievement of their ancestors for “slavery of blacks by blacks.”

The ultimate challenge for Haiti — and many other small countries — is how to gain a measure of control over their own destinies, especially when they are in the “back yard” of powerful nations, dependent on foreign aid and are forced to deal with internal divisions. One way the U.N. could make restitution is to fulfill its pledge to rebuild Haiti’s sanitation system and begin planning a removal of the peacekeeping force. Those who want to help Haiti should begin consulting and involving Haitians at home and abroad in their grand plans.

But the best incentive for change will come from Haiti itself. A new chapter for the embattled nation will come only when Haiti’s rapacious business and political elites and its masses of neglected poor learn the lessons from 200 years ago — that no one is coming to save them.

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ON THE MEDIA: Documentaries Make An Impact Through Artistry As Much As Advocacy

huffingtonpost.com, Blog from Lara Stolman and Shanna Belott, Aug. 18, 2016

“What’s your call to action?” This was one of the first questions asked of us when it was announced that our film Swim Team was chosen for this year’s IFP Documentary Completion Lab. It’s a familiar question for sure.

Somewhere along the line, it became important for documentary films to have a so-called call to action, particularly if these films are competing for the typical sources of funding. Some of the best known and most generous documentary funders now explicitly state or demonstrate through their choice of films that fundable documentaries must address contemporary social issues and seek to challenge the status quo, inspire people to join or create a movement, or otherwise call for social action.

But if you’re making an independent documentary on an artist, any sort of biography or historical film, or something non-traditional, good luck getting support. “There’s been a gradual change in the understanding and acceptance of what a documentary can be,” says Milton Tabbot, Senior Director of Programming for IFP. “Although there are exceptions among funders, these days most of the films that get funding are the ones that have real strong social issues, where it’s clear how the film can be used as a tool for outreach and impact. Some people are still surprised if there’s a strong narrative and story.”

Even our film, about a competitive swim team of teens on the autism spectrum, was dismissed by some as “not about a hard hitting social issue,” and thus ineligible for support. Swim Team focuses on young people seeking acceptance in a society that takes every opportunity to segregate based on disability, and the nonprofits that we have begun to partner with certainly recognize the potential of our film to engage in a national conversation about inclusion. That said, our narrative throughline of a sports team trying to dominate the competition makes our film more difficult to categorize for some funders.

To be clear, supporting films that tackle social issues head-on isn’t a negative trend. Social issue documentaries offer incalculable value towards generating real world impact. And it’s not a zero sum game; films with an agenda are luring new funding to the space. As director Marshall Curry recently observed to The New York Times, “If these funders weren’t funding activist films, they would be funding some other form of activism — not some other form of filmmaking.”

IFP is the rare organization now supporting independent film that embraces diverse voices, including the kind of films that may not be the obvious candidate for a grant. The documentaries IFP has supported through their Documentary Lab, Film Week and/or other channels include such outstanding films as Kirsten Johnson’s Cameraperson, Keith Maitland’s Tower, Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo’sRich Hill, Penny Lane’s Our Nixon, Zachary Heinzerling’s Cutie and the Boxer, Todd Miller’s Dinosaur 13, Eva Radivojevic’s Evaporating Borders, Jason Osder’s Let the Fire Burn, and Amanda Wilder’s Approaching the Elephant. In an increasingly competitive field, it’s validating and meaningful to be chosen for IFP’s Documentary Lab, and we were pleasantly surprised to discover the eclecticism of IFP’s other selections.

“We support voices that might otherwise not be heard,” says Tabbot. “As a programmer, I’m drawn to diversity of approaches in this artform, and above all any documentary has to succeed as cinema. If you return to a work five to ten years from now, the film should be able to stand alone as a film, not just as an issue. The issue isn’t the film.”

Film is a powerful medium to change people’s perspectives, but impact isn’t easily measured. This is true even when there’s a strong social issue, but quantifying impact is doubly difficult when the film is not singularly focused on a cause and more concerned with characters, story and cinema. Nevertheless, these films have the ability to absorb and deeply affect viewers.

“Documentaries that are more cinematic, stylistically unconventional and less issue-focused retain the power to challenge audiences’ views of the world, but perhaps in a subtler way,” says Paola Mottura, Documentary Program Manager for IFP. “These films can change the way we perceive certain realities by drawing us into characters, making us empathize with their stories in a way that ultimately may still result in changing our attitudes towards the subject matter.”

Our first week of the IFP Documentary Lab in May included a number of opportunities to learn about and discuss distribution and impact – terms that are increasingly linked in the documentary world. Funders and distributors have ratcheted up their expectations for audience engagement plans from filmmakers, making it our job not only to make the film itself but also design a campaign around its distribution to engineer its impact. If that sounds daunting, it is. As the landscape in the documentary world has shifted to favor the films that are deemed best suited to “make an impact,” an enormous responsibility is placed on the shoulders of filmmakers to create films that make the case for impact right out the gate.

As we got to know the other IFP Lab fellows and discover their films, we realized that what all of our films had in common was a personal and sometimes quirky perspective on stories that have deeper and yet sometimes subtle roots in social and political issues. These issues include women’s equality, mental illness, patient rights, immigration, poverty, racism and more – but none of this year’s IFP Lab films seem geared to change the law, feature a ripped from the headlines story or include experts articulating issues in a talking heads style.

“It takes more work to have that discussion outside the film instead of people talking in the film,” says Tabbot. But films that introduce compelling characters and communities and don’t necessarily advocate or present a succinct “case” may be just as if not more resonant simply because they ask the viewer to arrive at his own conclusions.

Indeed, sometimes an intimate, character-driven story can generate tremendous impact. Tabbot believes that there’s an innate excitement around more personal films that often make them more engaging, and therefore more effective at times. “Rather than approaching a topic in a very traditional way and listening to an issue again and again, it’s intriguing to see artists that are trying something different,” he observes.

Every documentary is a form of commentary on its subject, every documentary filmmaker’s work is informed by her personal point of view. In documentary film, the personal is indeed political. As IFP Lab editing mentor Carol Dysinger said, “Every movie is a conversation with the world.” So if we’re paying attention to the circumstances surrounding a film’s story, many documentaries reveal social issues in unexpected ways.

The late, great Roger Ebert once noted, “film is a machine that generates empathy.” It’s the viewers’ experience of empathizing with a character in a film that can help awaken them to certain causes. By leaning on the raw power of personal, human stories, films that have deep impact may not appear to have an agenda at all, but instead tiptoe lightly towards changing hearts and minds.

Learn more about the forthcoming documentary “Swim Team” at www.swimteamthefilm.com

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HAITI: Doctors Fear Zika Is A Sleeping Giant In Haiti

haiti-1-066-70_custom-61d78e8a27f25598e7a9923ce555cdee9ab80a42-s800-c85
npr.org, by  ,Aug. 31, 2016

At the Mirebalais Hospital in Haiti’s central plateau, Dr. Louise Ivers and Dr. Roman Jean-Louis are examining a baby girl who was born in early July with microcephaly, a smaller-than-normal skull often associated with Zika infections.

The baby, named Chinashama, is dressed in a white smock adorned with small flowers. Her legs cross unnaturally over her shins, and her mother, Chrisnette Sainvilus, says the baby cries a lot and has trouble passing stool. “Day and night she’s crying,” the mother of two says. It’s unclear what physical and mental problems Chinashama is facing.

Ivers lifts Chinashama’s legs and tries to move them apart. “See, her legs are still crossed. The muscle development is not what we’d want to see,” she says. “This baby definitely needs physical therapy.”

Chinashama is one of three babies born with microcephaly at the Mirebalais Hospital in July. The Haitian Ministry of Health says there have been 11 others born nationwide over the past two months with this usually rare birth defect. But only one has been officially confirmed as a result of the Zika virus.

Haiti has all of the ingredients for widespread transmission of Zika. The mosquito that carries the virus flourishes in Haiti’s tropical heat. As the outbreak wanes in Brazil and Colombia, the Caribbean is currently the epicenter of Zika transmission. The region is reporting high numbers of cases. Puerto Rico, for instance, has a population a third the size of Haiti and is reporting roughly 1,500 new cases of Zika each week.

Yet as of August, Haiti had confirmed only five cases to the World Health Organization.

Many people who get infected with Zika have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. In Haiti, it can take all day for a patient to see a doctor, so most people don’t come to health facilities unless they are extremely ill. But if they’re pregnant and have Zika, the virus could still pose a threat to their fetus.

Sainvilus, Chinashama’s mother, says she doesn’t remember having a fever or other signs of Zika during her pregnancy — although she thinks she had a bout of fever that she thought was chikungunya just before she got pregnant.

But even if Sainvilus had gotten sick, it’s highly unlikely that she would have been tested for Zika. For the last four months, a doctors’ strike in Haiti has brought the public health care system to a standstill. The Mirebalais Hospital, which remained functioning, is a five-hour bus drive from her home on the road that leads from Port-au-Prince to the Dominican Republic.

Secondly, Haiti just doesn’t have the infrastructure to do widespread Zika testing. The only place that can test for Zika is the national laboratory run by the Ministry of Health. They’ve been doing a limited number of tests that will only come back positive if the actual virus is still in the blood sample being tested. Zika clears from the blood fairly quickly, so unless you test while the person is still sick, it’s going to come back negative.

Other more complicated tests have to get sent out to Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago or the U.S. — and it can take months for a doctor to get those results if they get them at all.

Ivers, from Partners in Health, a global health organization based in Boston, says she’s quite anxious that Zika is spreading widely across Haiti — but it’s not being detected.

“We don’t have a good idea of what’s going on. Now that we’ve seen three babies born [with microcephaly] in the span of three weeks in our own facility, we are very concerned that it’s being under-reported in other parts of the country,” she says.

On top of that, she’s worried that Haiti’s severely limited health system, which isn’t picking up Zika cases, is also ill-equipped to deal with a wave of children with severe birth defects.

“Children with developmental delays or disability need individual care with lots of different resources,” Ivers says. “Those resources are not really available in Haiti.”

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CSFilm Director to do three-day teaching residency at Highline College, WA

CSFilm training, Haiti

CSFilm documentary film training, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 2014

CSFilm director Michael Sheridan has been invited by the Film Studies and Multimedia Design departments at Highline College to conduct classes and make a campus wide presentation over three days in October.

Highline provides community college programs and bachelors degrees to a diverse population in Des Moines Washington which overlooks beautiful Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.

With more than 15,000 students and 350,000 alumni, Highline is one of the state’s largest institutions and one of 34 community and technical colleges in the state of Washington.  For more than 50 years, community members have counted on Highline to meet their educational needs close to home. Today, students can pursue more than 100 fields of study – including Film Studies and Multimedia Design, the latter established in 2015.

highline-college-library-resourcesHighline is internationally recognized as a premiere community college, a reputation earned through the development of an institutional culture that values diversity, innovation, globalization of curriculum and community participation.  The college’s commitment to diversity, social justice and multiculturalism recently earned it prestigious awards: the 2014 Award of Excellence for Advancing Diversity from the American Association of Community Colleges and the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award three years in a row (2013–2015) from Insight Into Diversity magazine.

Michael is very much looking forward to working with students and faculty at Highline.  Thanks for the invitation!

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Afghanistan, Between India and Pakistan

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thediplomat.com, August 19, 2016, Ajibullah Noorzai

Afghanistan, a landlocked country, is located in a strategic location, connecting Central Asia to South Asia and East Asia to West Asia. For centuries, it functioned as the economic corridor for the Silk Road and other ancient trade routes in the region. The political rifts and instability in Afghanistan are often attributed to its strategic location, since major powers have always tried to control Afghanistan in the interest of spreading their political, economic, and ideological hegemony in the region.

Despite being a member of the Non-Aligned Movement during the Cold War, the confrontations between the two main power blocs had dragged Afghanistan into hostilities, turning it into a battlefield. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Afghanistan was left alone, drifting into civil war among different guerrilla Mujahideen groups, supported by the neighboring states. Eventually Pakistan managed to nurture and sponsor the Taliban that then controlled most of the country until they were overthrown by the U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan in 2001.

Since their independence, India and Pakistan have been engaged in a protracted mutual hostility, with each country seeking to enhance its security and self-protection. To this end, they have acquired nuclear weapons, purchased sophisticated military technologies, and partnered with powerful states. Moves by one of them would cause the other to feel suspicious and insecure. However, the main reason behind the escalation of a spiral of distrust and hostility is due to the misinterpretation of motives and intentions by the decision-makers in both countries. As a result, both New Delhi and Islamabad seem to be trapped in what international relations scholars would describe as a security dilemma. This has borne costs, such as direct military conflicts between the two countries or, more recently, smaller skirmishes.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.In the post-Taliban era, besides other donors in Afghanistan, India has played a significant role in the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan by providing development assistance worth $2 billion, focusing primarily on infrastructure development, institutional capacity building, agriculture and food security, health, education, and scholarship programs. In contrast, Pakistan, itself being dependent on the security and development assistance of the United States and China, had not been in the position to provide substantial contributions to Afghanistan. Pakistan has however been wary of India’s active role. In other words, Islamabad considers a stable, friendly, and cooperativeAfghanistan only beneficial when it is under its influence and with limited Indian ties. Pakistan perceives India’s development contributions in Afghanistan as part of New Delhi’s strategic encirclement policy, counteracting Islamabad’s strategic depth policy.

However, Afghanistan does not expect Pakistan to meet India’s development assistance, but to stop harboring and supporting the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and other terrorist groups. Time and again, President Ashraf Ghani, in the strongest words possible, urged Islamabad to put an end to its undeclared war and crack down on the sanctuaries of the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network on their soil. Ghani, in an interview withPakistan’s Geo News last month, reiterated that Afghanistan is not part of any one country’s strategic depth, nor is it going to be anyone’s dependency. Whoever has tried this in the past has failed, Ghani warned. He also assured that he will not permit his country to be used for the destabilization of other countries – particularly the neighborhood. However, he emphasized that as a sovereign state, Afghanistan is free to strike partnerships with any state without posing a threat to others, which is the essence of regional stability and prosperity.

In the past decade and a half, Afghanistan, with the partnership of neighboring states, inked a series of regional infrastructure projects — among them the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) Pipeline and the Central Asia-South Asia Electricity Transmission project. Both are not only pivotal for the future of Afghanistan, but also for other signatories in the region. As a landlocked state, it ultimately gained direct access to Chabahar port with the partnership of Iran and India. This port should by no means be seen as a competition to other efforts in the region—especially the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor—but a necessity for regional trade and economic cooperation.

Pakistan’s strategic depth policy has not only failed but also brought Islamabad in a critical situation in which it will not be able to continue its duplicity – supporting and harboring the Afghan Taliban, Haqqani Network, and other insurgent groups in its soil, while also expecting to receive U.S financial support.  Washington, has already showed its frustration by withholding $ 300 million in military assistance. If Islamabad does not change its policy,U.S Congressmen and former U.S diplomats suggested not only to cut off the overall financial support but also impose economic sanctions to push Pakistan into a North Korea-type of isolation. Islamabad must take action to win the support of its oldest military ally, who has provided military and development assistance for decades. Islamabad should also acknowledge that Kabul has the sovereign right to establish partnerships with other states; it should not be wary of, doubt, or exaggerate the presence and cooperation of the United States and India in Afghanistan.

New Delhi is equally part of the paradigm in Afghanistan because of its development contribution and security assistance. Islamabad often claims that the Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies jointly support the Baloch separate movement. Thus, considering the sensitive security environment in Afghanistan and the region, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech during the Indian independence day, highlighted Pakistan’s atrocities and oppression in Balochistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, while refusing to acknowledge parallel atrocities and human right violations in India-administered Kashmir. This will further aggravate security challenges in Afghanistan as Islamabad will remain vigilant and suspicious of India’s active presence across the porous and insecure border.

Since taking office, President Ghani tried to establish good relations with Islamabad but his rapprochement efforts didn’t succeed. Being trapped between India and Pakistan, Kabul is also to some extent part of the problem, since President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah have not been able to tackle the epidemic corruption in the security sector and have appointed incompetent officials from their political camps. In the past few months, moreover, Kabul witnessed a range of horrific and brutal attacks that have borne a high toll. Thus, Kabul should take responsibility for ensuring security and stability throughout the country rather than blaming neighbors for its incompetency. Ghani and Abdullah have been unable to work together on the agreed national reform agenda that the National Unity Government was formed on back in 2014. Abdullah recently criticized Ghani for not consulting with him on key decisions; their unity is at the brink of dismantling while only less than two months are left before the 2016 Brussels Conference on Afghanistan.

The murky relations between these three neighbors in South Asia will have direct implications on the peace, security, prosperity, and stability of the broader region. India, Afghanistan, and Pakistan must understand that basing policy on illusions and supported by unrealistic rhetoric will deepen mistrust. Instead, they must pursue rapprochement by addressing differences between them, strengthening state-to-state partnerships, and further confidence building measures.

Najibullah Noorzai is a researcher and development analyst. He worked for the European Union and the United Nations in the areas of rule of law, counter-narcotics, and anti-corruption in Afghanistan. He tweets @NajNoorzai.

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New Film from CSFilm’s Haiti Program Coordinator

From Abricots Haiti – Light in their Eyes

CSFilm Haiti Program Coordinator Ralph Thomassaint Joseph directed this new film in collaboration with the camera and editing assistance of CSFilm training coordinators and assistant trainers Jude Stanley Roy and Evens Louis.  The film was commissioned by the French and US non-governmental organization Haiti Futur which supports education in Haiti through technology.

From a filmmaking perspective, CSFilm is extremely pleased to see this collaborative work coming out of the training in 2014.  It is also encouraging to see that the film’s structure emphasizes scene-based visual storytelling, supported by interviews, rather than interviews supported with pictures. This is a fundamental principle of our training in documentary storytelling.  Congratulations to the makers.

 

 

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U.N. Admits Role in Cholera Epidemic in Haiti

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nytimes.com, by Jonathan M. Katz, Aug. 17, 2016

The first victims lived near a base housing 454 United Nations peacekeepers freshly arrived from Nepal, where a cholera outbreak was underway, and waste from the base often leaked into the river. Numerous scientists have since argued that the base was the only plausible source of the outbreak — whose real death toll, one study found, could be much higher than the official numbers state — but United Nations officials have consistently insisted that its origins remain up for debate.

Mr. Alston wrote that the United Nations’ Haiti cholera policy “is morally unconscionable, legally indefensible and politically self-defeating.” He added, “It is also entirely unnecessary.” The organization’s continuing denial and refusal to make reparations to the victims, he argued, “upholds a double standard according to which the U.N. insists that member states respect human rights, while rejecting any such responsibility for itself.”

He said, “It provides highly combustible fuel for those who claim that U.N. peacekeeping operations trample on the rights of those being protected, and it undermines both the U.N.’s overall credibility and the integrity of the Office of the Secretary-General.”

Mr. Alston went beyond criticizing the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to blame the entire United Nations system. “As the magnitude of the disaster became known, key international officials carefully avoided acknowledging that the outbreak had resulted from discharges from the camp,” he noted.

His most severe criticism was reserved for the organization’s Office of Legal Affairs, whose advice, he wrote, “has been permitted to override all of the other considerations that militate so powerfully in favor of seeking a constructive and just solution.” Its interpretations, he said, have “trumped the rule of law.”

Mr. Alston also argued in his report that, as The New York Times has reported, the United Nations’ cholera eradication program has failed. Infection rates have been rising every year in Haiti since 2014, as the organization struggles to raise the $2.27 billion it says is needed to eradicate the disease from member states. No major water or sanitation projects have been completed in Haiti; two pilot wastewater processing plants built there in the wake of the epidemic quickly closed because of a lack of donor funds.

In a separate internal report released days ago after being withheld for nearly a year, United Nations auditors said a quarter of the sites run by the peacekeepers with the organization’s Stabilization Mission in Haiti, or Minustah, that they had visited were still discharging their waste into public canals as late as 2014, four years after the epidemic began.

“Victims are living in fear because the disease is still out there,” Mario Joseph, a prominent Haitian human rights lawyer representing cholera victims, told demonstrators in Port-au-Prince last month. He added, “If the Nepalese contingent returns to defecate in the water again, they will get the disease again, only worse.”

In 2011, when families of 5,000 Haitian cholera victims petitioned the United Nations for redress, its Office of Legal Affairs simply declared their claims “not receivable.” (Mr. Alston called that argument “wholly unconvincing in legal terms.”)

Those families and others then sued the United Nations, including Mr. Ban and the former Minustah chief Edmond Mulet, in federal court in New York. (In November, Mr. Ban promoted Mr. Mulet to be his chief of staff.) The United Nations refused to appear in court, claiming diplomatic immunity under its charter, leaving Justice Department lawyers to defend it instead. That case is now pending a decision from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.

The redress demanded by families of the 10,000 people killed and 800,000 affected would reach $40 billion, Mr. Alston wrote — and that figure does not take into account “those certain to die and be infected in the years ahead.”

“Since this is almost five times the total annual budget for peacekeeping worldwide, it is a figure that is understandably seen as prohibitive and unrealistic,” he said. Still, he argued: “The figure of $40 billion should stand as a warning of the consequences that could follow if national courts become convinced that the abdication policy is not just unconscionable but also legally unjustified. The best way to avoid that happening is for the United Nations to offer an appropriate remedy.”

Mr. Alston, who declined to comment for this article, will present the final report at the opening of the General Assembly in September, when presidents, prime ministers and monarchs from nearly every country gather at United Nations headquarters in New York.

Mr. Haq said the secretary general’s office “wanted to take this opportunity to welcome this vital report,” which he added “will be a valuable contribution to the U.N. as we work towards a significant new set of U.N. actions.”

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IMMIGRATION, ON DEVELOPMENT: 20 years on, here’s how welfare reform held back immigrants’ children — in some states

President Bill Clinton during a Oct. 27, 1996, speech on welfare reform at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. (Paul J. Richards/AFP via Getty Images)
washingtonpost.com, by Alexandra Filindra, Amber Wichowsky And Meghan Condon, 
Twenty years ago today, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reauthorization Act, promising famously to “end welfare as we know it.” The goal was to ease poor people away from depending on government and encourage them to work instead.

The main achievement of “welfare reform,” as it was better known, was to end the program called Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and replace it with Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). AFDC entitled families below the poverty line to income support for so long as they remained poor. All states had to follow the same federal rules, even though the amount of support differed by state based on local economic conditions.

TANF was different. It offers support to poor families and their children for up to five years, but only if they could show that they’ve tried to find work. After five years, people are dropped from the program. States could change all these guidelines, within limits — kicking recipients off sooner or later, giving more or less in cash benefits, altering the work requirements, and adding more conditions such as being drug-free.

Caseloads dropped dramatically, although it’s not as clear whether poverty dropped as well. Much of the debate in the past 20 years has been over how to measure welfare reform’s overall effects. But because states had so much leeway in how to put TANF into place, welfare reform affected various racial and ethnic groups differently — in some cases, in ways that shored up racial and ethnic inequality.

Welfare reform was especially hard on ethnic groups with high proportions of immigrants

In new research, we show that legal immigrants — a group that includes large numbers of Latinos and Asians — were especially hurt by welfare reform. In particular, their children were less likely to graduate high school.

After 1996, many immigrants lost eligibility for benefits, because TANF removed federal subsidies during immigrants’ first five years  as legal permanent residents. (Undocumented immigrants were never eligible for these programs.)

A lot of the savings promised by welfare reform came from this exclusion. States were allowed to distribute TANF to immigrants during those years if they wished, but the money had to come from the state’s budget; by 2000, half the states were doing so.

Using data from the 2002 Educational Longitudinal Study, a study of more than 16,000 U.S. school students, one of us, Alexandra Filindra, worked with Cynthia Garcia Coll and David Blanding to explore  how these state-level welfare policies affected the children of immigrants. In states that granted TANF to low-income immigrants, graduation rates for children who had at least one foreign-born parent were 5.3 percentage points higher than those in states that excluded them.

Of course, that gap could be the result of other differences between the states aside from immigrant restrictions in welfare policy. So to check our findings, in a second study, we compared something slightly different.

Using data from the Current Population Survey, we looked more closely at how individuals’ chances of graduating changed over time, comparing the chance a young, low-income immigrant had of graduating from high school in the periods before (1994-1995) and after reform (2003-2004) in states that did, and did not, offer TANF to immigrants.

When we looked at individuals and their family’s eligibility, we found that in states that allowed low-income immigrants to receive benefits, non-citizen children’s chance of graduating grew faster than in the states that did not.

Unlike the first study, in which we included all children of immigrants regardless of their own citizenship status, thereby including some youths who were themselves eligible for benefits, in this study we focused on children who were foreign-born.

Our results were similar to those from the first study. Only low-income Latino and Asian youths were affected: children who live in immigrant households or in communities with high proportions of immigrants.

Take, for example, a newly arriving, low-income immigrant who would have been directly affected by ineligibility. That young person was 17 points less likely to graduate from high school if he or she lived in a state whose TANF program excluded new permanent residents than in a state that included new permanent residents.

The spillover effect: The exclusion for some immigrants hurt the high school graduation rates of even those who were eligible for TANF

What’s more, that state restriction affected not just the legal permanent resident children from low-income families who hadn’t been in the United States long enough to be eligible for TANF; it also affected those children who had been in the United States long enough to qualify for the program. Even for a low-income immigrant youth who had been in legal permanent residency status for more than five years and thus eligible for TANF, the probability of graduation was still eight points lower in states with the exclusion.

Social science calls that a spillover effect; it’s a commonunintended consequence of policies that target immigrant groups.

These results aren’t linked to other differences between the two kinds of states, TANF-restrictive and TANF-inclusive. For example, the gap doesn’t appear to be due to other variations in state welfare laws, such as caps on how many children a family could cover, or time limits on receiving TANF.

We checked this by comparing different ethnic groups. All low-income youths in a state experience the general restrictions the state puts in place, but immigrant eligibility restrictions affect only immigrants and others in their families and communities. States’ decisions about immigrant eligibility had no effect on the graduation rates of low-income, native-born, black or white youths, who weren’t subject to the restriction and weren’t likely to experience spillover effects.

Why would these restrictions hurt immigrants’ children?

Why would being excluded from social welfare programs lead some children of immigrants to drop out of high school? There are a number of reasons. Without the income from TANF, parents may need to work longer hours, leaving kids unsupervised. Children may have to work to help their families, reducing the time and energy they have for school.

But beyond the material reasons are psychological effects of being treated as if you do — or don’t — belong. Developmental psychologists have argued that children’s behaviors and attitudes are shaped by social context. Being excluded from welfare may signal second-class status — and being included may signal that you are welcome. That may explain how those policies “spilled over” and affected even immigrant families who were not materially hurt by the welfare reform.

No steak, no seafood, no strip clubs: There’s a logical gap in the recent laws that bash the poor who receive government welfare and food stamps. Wonkblog’s Emily Badger explains. (Tom LeGro/The Washington Post)

The long-term consequences of cutting holes in the safety net

Research has shown that high school graduation is key to adult success. It predicts future lifetime earnings, entanglement with the criminal justice system, divorce, disease, depression and suicide. Citizens without a high school degree are less likely to vote, follow politics or engage in the community — which means that political parties are less likely to pay attention to their interests and concerns.

Letting immigrants fall through the safety net means that many children are less prepared to be productive citizens and contribute to our civic life. And though our research focuses on legal permanent residents, undocumented immigrants and temporary migrants on work visas can never turn to the safety net — suggesting that their children are held back as well.

Finally, our research shows that this exclusion hurts not just the children whose families need help the most — it spills over throughout immigrant and ethnic communities, making the American dream inaccessible for many low-income Latinos and Asians, the fastest-growing groups of American children.

Alexandra Filindra is assistant professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago; Amber Wichowsky is assistant professor of political science at Marquette University; Meghan Condon is assistant professor in the DePaul University School of Public Service.

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ON THE MEDIA: How natural are nature documentaries?

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(Rolf Steinmann / Silverback Films 2015)

Chasing down honesty in BBC’s The Hunt

theverge.com, by Elizabeth Lopatto, August 15, 2016

The promise of nature documentaries is that they will show you a world that you otherwise could not see. I will probably never be in a submersible down in the deep, or running alongside a cheetah on the savannah. Few have perfected this form for the mainstream like the BBC. They’ve made a number of blockbuster documentaries: Planet Earth, The Blue Planet, and Frozen Planet, to name just a few. From this tradition comes the newest BBC documentary, The Hunt, which focuses on the tactics predators use to stalk prey. It is co-produced with BBC America and narrated by — who else — Sir David Attenborough.

The stakes are life and death, of course.

I suppose I could feign neutrality, but the truth is, I love these BBC nature docs. After a long day, there’s almost nothing better than settling down with my boyfriend and cat, cracking open a can of beer, and watching footage of wild animals. These shows are uniquely soothing, and the animals are shot so beautifully; well, we all have our own forms of escapism. This one’s mine. I have watched so many of these documentaries that I’ve begun to keep track of Attenborough’s verbal tics — “but there’s a problem” — as well as his tendency to be a bit of a drama queen, repeatedly reminding us that the stakes of the footage we’re about to see are life and death. The stakes are life and death, of course; but then, in nature, they almost always are. And that’s what The Hunt is about, even more nakedly than usual: these predators must kill or starve. The filmmakers focus on the stalk — how hunters attempt to catch their prey. And unlike a lot of other programs about predators, which bill them as “dangerous” or “deadly,” The Hunt documents the failedhunts. In fact, most hunts fail; the best predators in the world only succeed about half the time. And to the series’ credit, it doesn’t just focus on those marquee predators (your cheetahs and wild dogs; polar bears and sharks). Some of the best sequences involve bizarre fish, vicious birds, and a particularly clever jumping spider called Portia.

It’s clever, the way the narratives are constructed. The result is an inspired sense of sympathy for predators, a countermeasure to other media that presents hunters as vicious killers. Personally, I never know whether to root for the predators or the prey. I once saw a starving wolf in Alaska’s Denali National Park — starvation is one way predators die, because their teeth are bad or they are injured or otherwise no longer able to hunt on their own — and its emaciated body as it limped away from me was truly pathetic. At first I did not think it was a wolf at all; too skinny, probably a coyote, I figured. But then I saw the radio collar, which only Denali wolves wear. We wound up reporting the wolf to the park authorities; in all likelihood they would soon be retrieving the radio collar from a corpse.

When we treat predators as blood-thirsty menaces, we shortchange them. These much-maligned creatures are often what hold an ecosystem together. Some are even known as keystone species; like the keystone in a building, they are the foundation upon which the ecosystem is built. They help maintain the local environment by eating prey that reproduces quickly. That gives other kinds of animals, which may reproduce more slowly, a chance at food and survival. It prevents over-grazing, allowing plant life to flourish. And predators typically hunt the vulnerable — yes, that does mean babies, but it also includes animals that are weak or sick and near death anyway.

This perhaps explains the way The Hunt handles kills. Usually, the documentary cuts away from mammals after they’re felled. (Though not fish or insects, probably because it’s less disturbing to watch them being eaten.) This mostly passed beneath my notice, except in the case of one of the more memorable sequences: when a group of chimpanzees hunt monkeys. I have seen footage of these hunts before, and I was cringing, waiting for the extraordinarily gruesome moment when the chimps rip the monkeys limb from limb. It never came; the filmmakers cut away.

I asked one of The Hunt’s producers, Huw Cordey, about the decision — and he told me it was approached with a great deal of thought. “We wanted to be much more focused on the strategy,” Cordey told me. “We wanted people to empathize with the predators, and I just think you don’t empathize with a predator if you see it tear apart sweet little Bambi.” The full footage of a monkey hunt in particular is nightmare fuel, and these nature documentaries are often watched by children. Even for adults, it is troubling to watch. A large part of the audience would have been alienated by the footage, Cordey felt, and so they did not show it.

“We wanted people to empathize the predators, and I just think you don’t empathize with a predator if you see it tear apart sweet little Bambi.”

Some other decisions were made based on footage limitations. In the first episode of the series, a female leopard hunts in a gully, making her effectively invisible to the animals on the plains above the trench. She’s stalking an impala, which she gets and drags into the gully. But then, the impala emerges and runs. “We couldn’t film this, sadly, because it all happened too quickly, but some baboons spotted it and ran into the gully and scared the leopard,” he said. “The leopard obviously let go of the impala.” No reference is made to the baboons in the narration, but it seems like an understandable edit — why narrate footage the audience can’t see? When you work with fact, whether in documentary filmmaking or in journalism, some facts do get cut.

There’s a danger to nature documentaries, too. It’s most clearly demonstrated with the 1958 Disney film White Wilderness. Disney won an Academy Award for the documentary which notably features a sequence with lemmings, mouse-like critters that live in the Arctic, diving over the edge of a cliff to the sea, where they drowned. The narration explains this is a mass suicide. The footage was so striking it gave rise to a new phrase, “like lemmings,” which is sometimes used to describe mass hysteria. In fact the whole thing was a hoax; the filmmakers drove the lemmings over the cliff themselves, and the “sea” was a tightly-cropped river. (The Alaska Department of Fish and Game helpfully explains that while lemmings don’t die by mass suicide, they do occasionally engage in cannibalism.)

Most nature documentaries don’t engage in such outright hoaxing, but staging shots or adding sound effects is common. For instance, stories about animal “families” often splice together footage of unrelated animals to create narratives that would otherwise be impossible or impractical to film. In those cases, documentaries are often telling a composite story of what typically occurs in an animal’s upbringing, rather than the story of one specific set of parents raising their young. It’s also common practice to use footage of tame or zoo animals for close-up shots, in order to avoid disturbing wild animals. In fact, Attenborough has been dinged for this particular approach before, on a previous series called Frozen Planet, when shots of polar bear cubs being born in a zoo were cut together with scenes of polar bears in the wild. Crucially, at no point does Attenborough tell the audience that the cubs are born in the wilderness — but neither does he say where they were born. The provenance of the cubs was revealed in behind-the-scenes footage. Hardly secret, but some members of the audience felt deceived nonetheless.

The noise of cracking bones was created with celery

The Hunt also kicked up a fuss when it was revealed that some of its sounds were added afterwards. The noise of a polar bear on the snow was created with custard powder, with salt crystals “for a bit of crunch,” Kate Hopkins, the sound engineer on the series, told Radio Times. The noise of cracking bones was created with celery. In these cases, the audio engineers couldn’t get microphones close enough to the animals, but wanted to represent the noise for the audience.I’m not shocked by this, and I don’t feel deceived; in every case, the practices the filmmakers are chastised for are practices they have admitted to — either in making-of media or interviews. In essence, they are giving their audience footnotes to the film. As the kind of person who likes to read footnotes, I appreciate this. But it seems audiences believe that documentary filmmaking is meant to render a true view of the world-as-it-is. This is a rather recent attitude toward documentaries; most early documentaries contain fake footage. The New Yorker’s Louis Menand credits Robert Flaherty with raising documentaries from propaganda film to art form with his first film, Nanook of the North. “In vérité terms, Nanook is largely a fake,” Menand writes. He continues:

Flaherty arranged, for example, to film a walrus hunt in order to show how indigenous people once gathered food. The Inuit had long since stopped walrus-hunting, and they ended up struggling to drag a harpooned walrus out of the Arctic surf and begging Flaherty to shoot it with his rifle. Flaherty pretended not to hear them and kept filming. Later on, Nanook and his family are shown building an igloo out in the wilderness. It was too dark inside the igloo to film, so a special igloo — in other words, a set — was constructed with one wall removed, and the family was filmed, in daylight, pretending to go to bed.

Menand dates the style of “plotless, commentary-less, vérité-style record of life as it is” to the 1950s, as an artistic movement. Attenborough offers a different explanation. In a charming lecture published as “Honesty and Dishonesty in Documentary Filmmaking” in 1961, the young filmmaker credits the rise of literal honesty in documentary film to the rise of television. “When television first arrived a large portion of programs were ‘live,’ many of them concerned with events like football matches, the Derby or some Royal ceremonial, all of which would have taken place whether or not the camera was there,” Attenborough writes. In the previous era, movies were understood to be fictional, and documentary films were thought of “in the same terms as one thought of theatrical film.” After television, though, “People then wanted to know whether what they saw would have happened and happened in that way, whether or not the camera was there.”

“Of course, all cameras lie,” Attenborough goes on. Sometimes these lies are deliberate — as is the case of both White Wilderness and Nanook — but sometimes these lies exist, he writes, “because there is no other way of making a film.” Soundtracks are a particular source of inaccuracies, as is the way filmmakers condense time. The Hunt took three years to film; the beautiful sequence of a blue whale eating krill took two years. The first year, the water was too murky for any of the footage to be usable. And the “making of” sequences reveal my favorite inaccuracy: the polar bear section edited out a hunt. That’s because the prey animal in question happened to be the cameraman. (Polar bears are among the few animals that will deliberately hunt humans.)

In fact, the problem is far larger than the lies of the camera. Facts are slippery things; they can render an inaccurate view if they are told in the wrong order, or if some are omitted. Narrative itself is a lie — whether it’s in documentary film, journalism, or any other medium that concerns itself with facts. We believe narrative exists because we travel forward continuously in time, and the chronological progression supplies humans, the meaning-making animals, with a kind of story. But every narrative leaves out facts in order to tell a clear story. In the case of The Hunt, obviously, there are the missing baboons, and the cut away from the kill. Less obviously, the stalk of the camera man and the sound effects. And even less obvious than that: some of the hunters don’t eat other animals as their primary food source. The chimpanzees who hunt monkeys, for instance, average about nine days of eating meat a year, according to Robb Dunn, writing in Scientific American. You would not know this watching The Hunt, simply because it is not relevant to the story the filmmakers are trying to tell. The point of The Hunt is the hunters’ tactics and strategies; whether the animals in question eat other food is beyond the scope of the documentary.

“Animal harassment and cruelty have been pervasive in wildlife filming for decades.”

These are fairly trivial, in the realm of nature documentary sins. The BBC crew is lucky; they have a tremendous budget. The filmmakers used 75 Jeeps, 10 helicopters, 41 boats, 10 spotter planes, “a clutch” of ATVs, two horses, and an elephant to get the shots of animals in the wild. (The elephant, named Gotham, was for filming tigers. Tigers ignore elephants.) Most other filmmakers are shooting with tighter schedules and far less money. That’s possibly why, “animal harassment and cruelty have been pervasive in wildlife filming for decades,” writes Chris Palmer, the founder and director of the Center for Environmental Filmmaking at American University. Small budgets and limited time mean that filmmakers use captive animals for hunts, chum waters to send sharks into feeding frenzies, and otherwise sensationalize footage, giving audiences a false impression of animal behavior. Worse, these portrayals demonize animals — sharks, in particular, stand out — making it more difficult to make a case they should be protected from human encroachment. As far as I can tell, The Hunt engaged in none of these harmful practices. The same cannot be said for Jeff Corwin, Bear Grylls, or Steve Irwin, Palmer says.

Palmer cites a fairly stern paper entitled “The Moral Pivots of Wildlife Filmmaking,” by a British documentarian named Jeffrey Boswall. Published in 1988, it lists several more lies than Attenborough does in his lecture. For instance, Boswall views ascribing human qualities to animals as deception; so, too, is incidental music, sound effects (such as the ones used in The Hunt), and making animals behave in a way they ordinarily do not. Though Boswall feels all these things count as lies, he doesn’t think filmmakers should avoid them; instead, they should make individual calls on what serves their purpose. The producers of The Hunt did just that.

I’m glad they did. My absolute favorite sequence of the series certainly would have qualified as deceptive by Boswall’s standards. It is footage of an octopus called Abdopus aculeatus; at low tide, the octopus crawls from tide pool to tide pool, hunting for crabs. The music used in the sequence is reminiscent of The Twilight Zone (there’s even a theremin!); the shots of the octopus on land evoke alien invasion movies. At one point, the octopus is shown in shadow, as aliens are before the big reveal. In the context of Abdopus aculeatus, these choices feel like a joke, a way of acknowledging that a sea creature is “invading” land. I laughed my way through the segment. After I’d finished watching the episode, I rewound the to the octopus footage and watched it again. It was a combination of so many things we think of as artifice — music, clever editing, deliberate narrativizing. But I still laughed with joy and recognition, because something in it felt correct. In the words of a very different documentarian, Werner Herzog, this octopus’ creep was a kind of ecstatic truth. The Hunt is, in other words, art — and art doesn’t need to be perfectly factual in order to be true.

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AFGHANISTAN: Kabul’s women seek refuge indoors after a series of acid attacks

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NAFISA NOURI … “I CAN’T BREATHE WELL. I HAVE BURNS INSIDE MY THROAT. “

nytlive.nytimes.com, by Fariba Nawa, Aug. 10, 2016   —   In early July, the citizens of Kabul were faced with a confronting sight. Armed with a loudspeaker, novice rapper Elinaa Rezaie hit the streets, lifted the front of her burqa and displayed a bandaged face to passersby in the Pul-i-Surkh district of the city.

Rezaie stood before the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission building, protesting violence against women and the acid attacks she and others feared. That day, Nafisa Nouri, a wife and mother of two girls, was hospitalized after an attack. Nouri’s 7-year-old daughter Parinaz and another female relative of the family also suffered burns to their bodies and face from the acid.

Mobilzed by her anger, Rezaie rapped against the government’s weak response to violence against women. “I went to visit the acid victims in the hospital to tell them I feel their pain,” Rezaie told Women in the World. “Then I decided to demonstrate … because the rest of the world seems to have forgotten about us.”

The 22-year-old joined the chorus of women activists who have been warning of an abandoned international campaign to curb violence against women in her country after the U.S.-led coalition ousted the Taliban in 2001. Afghan women say they can no longer depend on outsiders or the Afghan government to help them. They can leave the country — thousands have escaped — or find ways to defend and protect themselves. Some women say their goal is rarely about gaining rights but staying alive and healthy amid rapidly deteriorating security, that is allowing heinous methods of violence such as acid attacks — which the Mujahideen spearheaded — to re-emerge.

Hizb-e-Islami, a former Mujahideen faction led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who the Afghan government recently welcomed as foe-turned-partner, threw acid on women wearing Western dress four decades ago. In 2008 in Kandahar, and last year in Herat, men on motorcycles used squirt guns to spray acid on schoolgirls in protest of education for females. The crime is more common in Pakistan and India than Afghanistan.

Women’s rights advocates say assaults in public in urban centers have become bolder in the last two years. But many of the recent attacks in the capital seem to involve personal rather than political motives, said Gholam Dastagir of Kabul police. In Kabul, at least three separate acid attacks against women were reported just in July, according to local Afghan news reports. The aim of attackers may be to punish women who might refuse a suitor, or insist on going to school or want a divorce. Families may not report the attack fearful of gossip and isolation.

Nouri, the acid victim, told Women in the World from the hospital that she was walking home with her family after visiting her brother for Eid when a man threw a bottle of acid at them from behind. The chemical poured down her face, disfiguring her and endangering her eyesight and hearing. She said she didn’t know why anyone would attack her.

She cries from the pain and said she can still smell the acid on her face. “I can’t breathe well. I have burns inside my throat. I still have nightmares about what happened, and I’m tired of being blamed for what happened to me,” Nouri, 27, said on the phone.

This attack and other incidents of reported rising violence in Kabul in the last year have created an atmosphere of heightened fear, activists from Women for Afghan Women and Women for Women International say. Neighbors and relatives often blame women for inciting the attacks instead of demanding justice, victims say.

The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission reported a seven percent rise in violent assaults against women — from 1,394 to 2,579 — in the last two years in Afghanistan. But these statistics can mean that women are more empowered to report violence, not necessarily that the number of incidents are growing, said Horia Mosadiq, Afghanistan’s researcher for Amnesty International. “We know for sure that there’s more fear,” Mosadiq said. “But some of the systemic use of violence and attacks against women’s rights activists and women in public offices by Taliban have always been our concern.”

The Taliban have claimed responsibility for numerous assassinations of women across Afghanistan in their fight against the Western-backed Afghan government, although the hardline group has denied attacking women with acid.

That fear is disrupting women’s already limited freedoms in Kabul, said activist Frozan Marofi, who travels to dangerous parts of the country to meet with women and discuss economic and health empowerment. She receives frequent anonymous death threats on the phone and was rescued by male neighbors as two men threw punches at her on the street near her home a year ago.

Marofi said women in Kabul are changing their daily routine to protect themselves. Students and professionals who enjoyed a relatively urban lifestyle stay indoors more often, some have stopped wearing makeup, cover their faces and wear full body veils. They no longer take taxis in the dark or stroll in the evening, and some say they have a hard time even trusting co-workers and classmates.

“Girls are killed, then thrown in a creek, brothers burn sisters, infant girls are murdered,” Marofi said. “There’s no accountability, no follow-up of what happened from the police or media. This just creates fear and worry.”

Marofi said women’s rights are on the back burner for Afghanistan’s international supporters. While Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his wife Rula stand firmly for gender equality, the lower ranks in law enforcement and the judiciary don’t consider violence against women a serious crime, she said. Even when culprits are arrested, they pay bribes and are either freed or receive light sentences.

Yet women in Kabul continue to work, go to school and some, like Rezaie, confront the violence. Two dozen demonstrators joined Rezaie holding signs that said “Where’s my face” and “My sin is not being a woman.”

But two weeks after the acid attacks, Nouri complained that no one had been arrested for the crime that has her screaming in agony still. She borrowed $10,000 from friends and relatives to receive treatment in India where she is now soon to undergo surgery.

Manizha Naderi Parand of Women for Afghan Women, a New-York based nonprofit with women’s shelters in Afghanistan, said one way to tackle the apathy is to protest like Rezaie. But Afghan women need more allies, including men.

“Demonstrations are great. But they have to be much larger and systematic than this,” Parand said. “The problem is people don’t feel safe enough … people are afraid of bombings.”

Rezaie said her protest with a symbolic bandaged face probably didn’t have much of an effect, but she had to do something to fight the violence.

“Last year, I had more peace. It’s getting worse every year. This year, I’m afraid every day,” she said.

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ON THE MEDIA: Impact of Media on Health in Bangladesh

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bbc.co.uk, July 21, 2016

BBC Media Action conducted its first ever randomised control trial (RCT) on the impact of our health programming on audiences. In this blog, we explore some of the methodological challenges of conducting an RCT and ensuring randomisation in the field based on our work with pregnant mothers and women of childbearing age in Bangladesh.

This is the second blog in a two-part series on BBC Media Action’s Bangladesh RCT, read more about the results of the study in the first blog.

The ‘gold standard’ approach for being able to talk about an intervention causing an effect comes from the world of medicine: the randomised control trial (RCT). In this kind of study, one set of people – ‘the intervention group’ – receives the treatment while the other group – ‘the control group’ – gets a placebo. Only using this tightly controlled research methodology can we be certain whether or not the intervention caused the desired outcome.

Our RCT was interested in investigating how watching our Bangladeshi health programmes affect the key ‘drivers’ of healthy behaviour among women of childbearing age. These drivers include things like people’s knowledge of antenatal and early newborn care, their attitudes and beliefs around, for example, what to feed a newborn baby, and their intention to do things such as attending antenatal care sessions.

Our study involved 900 women of reproductive age as this group is the key audience we are aiming to influence with our programming, and took place over six weeks in February/March 2016 in two areas (Comilla in the South East and rural Mymensingh). Each day, a group of 30 women was sub-divided into groups of 10 (two treatments and one control) and were with us for around four hours. One treatment group watched our health drama Ujan Ganger Naiya (UGN) (Sailing Against the Tide), another group watched a closely related discussion programme that reinforced the health topics covered in the drama and a third control group viewed a television programme about a non-health topic.

Since mass media can reach anyone and everyone, evaluating whether a mass media intervention has had any causal effect on audience behaviour is notoriously tricky. Let’s look at some implementation challenges that our research team had to overcome:

First, we had to recruit a control group – one that had not been exposed to the treatment – which meant only recruiting participants who had never seen or heard anything about these shows. (See our previous blog for a description of the research design for this trial).

Another challenge was avoiding contamination – ensuring that people did not discuss what they had viewed. Each day, women were collected from different unions (local Bangladeshi political districts) so that there was no risk of anyone going home and speaking about the trial with a future participant. If participants needed to leave the room during the trial, they were escorted to make sure that no one conversed with each other.

The biggest challenge – ensuring randomisation – i.e., making sure the groups were more or less alike on all key variables – is a common difficulty in RCTs. To address this challenge, we created a randomisation matrix so that women were randomly assigned to the three groups and given a colour-coded wristband. There were three colour possibilities which referred to three treatment groups, i.e. one group was shown UGN and a non-health related programme, the second was shown UGN and Natoker Pore (NP) (After The Drama), the follow up discussion show, and the third group was shown an educational drama and discussion show – both on topics unrelated to health. Moreover, which colour band stood for which group was not revealed either to the participant nor the researchers at any stage and was also changed every day. This is known as a double blind process where neither the researchers nor the participants are aware of the treatment allocation to ensure there is no chance for bias.

This means we can be confident that the changes we saw were not due to some pre-existing selection bias such as education level or age.

“It was the most tense part of the study because everything hinged on achieving the randomisation which is difficult with 900 women and their children running around. We allocated most of our attention and resources to this during the fieldwork,” said Sanjib Saha, former Head of BBC Media Action Research, Bangladesh.

Besides all this, it is also vital to ensure comparability. To do this in our study, a health service provider gave the women a standard briefing on maternal health issues – the same as the one given by health workers when visiting women in their homes – to assure that there was a pre-trial standardisation of health knowledge. The briefing was identical each day across all groups. Those in the control groups were given a non-health related briefing.

Finally, a word is in order on ethics. As with any research we conduct, we took all steps possible to ensure that this research upheld the highest international ethical standards, at all phases of the research. Ultimately, we sought to ensure that all participants were protected from harm that might result from their participation in the study. This was a time-consuming study to be involved in, particularly for women with small children. We tried to smooth the process by arranging transport to and from the testing facility, making provisions for chaperones and providing lunch and child care at each of the test centres. All participants provided informed consent, were guaranteed anonymity and were apprised of their right to withdraw from the study at any point. We also made sure that a frontline health worker was available on site throughout the study to answer any questions.

The study was successful. We now know that our health programmes in Bangladesh are having a significant effect on some of the key drivers of health-related behaviours – especially knowledge and intent – in a laboratory setting. We are also reassured that, for knowledge and behavioural intent, watching a factual programme alongside a drama seems to be beneficial.

The BBC Media Action Research and Learning team manages a global cohort of more than 100 researchers around the world who inform, evaluate and generate evidence on BBC Media Action projects across the countries in which we work.

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AFGHANISTAN: Afghan men have a responsibility to fight for women’s equality

Noorjahan-Akbar

Noorjahan Akbar: “Equality for women is not a threat to men. It is only a threat to sexism and good men must join the effort to making equality a reality.”

afghanistantimes.af, By M. Nadeem AlizaiJune 13, 2016  —  For years the Afghan policymakers have blamed insecurity for hampered development activities in the country. The picture they project is incomplete and full of flaws. As per statistics of Ministry of Public Health, suicides in Afghanistan exceed deaths by war and homicide combined annually. Instead of plugging the loopholes, Afghan lawmakers, leaders and high-ranking officials are distorting the facts.

In other words they have turned a blind eye to the reality that accelerating the development process requires full participation of women as they account for half of the country’s talent base. Unfortunately, some elements in the parliament, religious circles and the power corridors have created barriers to women’s empowerment. The development process of the country is stalled by gender discrimination. Women can play a more active role in development of the country if their rights were protected. There is no denying to the fact that empowering women demand joint efforts towards fighting discrimination in its various forms. Respecting women’s rights and their empowerment lay in the best interests of Afghanistan.

Talking on the super serious issue of gender equality, Noorjahan Akbar said that even before war, gender-based violence was rampant in the country.

Ms Noorjahan Akbar is women’s rights advocate and has been named one of Forbes’s “100 Most Powerful Women of the World”—an achievement for both Afghan women and men. The list of her achievements is lengthy. With a Masters in Journalism and Public Affairs from American University, she is not only writing on women’s rights but also engaged in multiple campaigns to end gender-based discrimination. She is the founder of Free Women Writers.

In an exclusive interview with Kabulscape, she suggested that the legislators should approve the Law on Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) without change to serve the purpose.

The following is an excerpt from the interview:

Kabulscape: How can we protect Afghan women’s rights?

Noorjahan: First and foremost, we should talk about security. It is the number one concern for women around the country and it doesn’t just concern the Taliban and extremists, but also street harassment, and other forms of violence and threats women face in public. Without women’s active participation in all areas of public life, we cannot expect women’s situation, or the country’s situation for that matter, to improve. Without female doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, police officers, etc. it is hard for women to make progress and change cultural and social norms. This is why we need to focus on improving women’s security. Terrorists are a serious threat to our security, and so is public harassment of women. Terrorist attacks and sexual harassment in public spaces discourage women from participating in the society in meaningful ways. By fighting both, we can ensure not only women’s increased participation, but also a better life for all of us.

Kabulscape: How important is the role of religious scholars in protecting women’s rights?

Noorjahan: Religious leaders can help improve women’s situation by not promoting sexist and backwards interpretations of religious texts. They have a responsibility to speak out against gender-based violence (including forced and early marriage) and other forms of oppression of women that are not protected by religious laws, but rather by religious figures who have little awareness of religious text and promote hate and sexism.

Kabulscape: How can media play effective role in safeguarding women’s rights?

Noorjahan: By promoting positive female role models. Our girls have a right to see that they can succeed and that women can be powerful agents of change. While reports on gender-based violence can be effective in raising awareness about the problem, the most important way in which media can empower women is by promoting positive images of women’s participation in society and fighting the stigma associated with strong women working in public.

Kabulscape: Do you think that women’s rights violation is an old phenomena or result of the over three decades of war in Afghanistan?

Noorjahan: Both contribute. We cannot argue that before war Afghanistan was a safe haven for women. Even before war, we had gender-based violence, girls didn’t have access to schools, women were not allowed to work outside, and polygamy was rampant. However war has exasperated violent crime against women and it has increased child marriage and many other problems. The root of misogyny is the same regardless.

Kabulscape: It is said that many female lawmakers are not interested in protecting women’s rights. Do you agree?

Noorjahan: To some degree. I think it is important to realize that female lawmakers are attacked more than male ones. They are observed more closely so they are more careful about what they can and can’t do. They are held to a different standard from male lawmakers. However no one can deny the fact that many of these female lawmakers made it to the parliament because of women’s votes and they have a responsibility to protect women’s rights using their position, but the same goes for all law makers. Women made a high percentage of voters for all of them. They should all realize that women are also their constituents and they must take women’s needs and rights into account. For that to happen we also need to increase accountability and transparency and we need to put real pressure on our lawmakers to stand with us.

Kabulscape: How can female parliamentarians protect women’s rights?

Noorjahan: Voting for a female Supreme Court judge would be a good start. Passing EVAW without changing it is another important thing they can do.

Kabulscape: What will be a good strategy to empower women?

Noorjahan: Investing in women’s education and economic empowerment. These two are of the most important factors for gender equality. When women make their own money or are acknowledged for their unpaid financial contributions at home, they are more likely to be decision makers and more likely to decide the course of their own lives. When women are educated, they are more likely not only to get jobs, but also to stand up for their rights and the rights of other women.

Kabulscape: Do you think that increase in female literacy rate will help to overcome the issue of violence against women?

Noorjahan: Yes. Increase in literacy can make it possible for women to learn about their rights according to the law and demand those rights. It also opens doors for employment, economic empowerment, creating networks of support with other women, and advocating for equality. Illiteracy is the number one obstacle to creating a real grassroots movement of women in Afghanistan.

Kabulscape: In your opinion, what is the best approach to educate women and girls to fight for their rights on social, political and economical front?

Noorjahan: By investing in their education and giving them hope. So much of our news and public discourse focuses on the negative consequences of women’s empowerment (they idea is that if women are empowered, there will be a backlash that will hurt), but it is important to realize and promote the idea that if women are empowered, our entire communities are empowered.

Kabulscape: The tradition of ‘Baad’ or giving away of girls to settle a dispute is a serious hurdle for women to overcome. What would be the best way to fight this obsolete tradition?

Noorjahan: Religious leaders must speak up on this. Baad is not in Islam. It is a tradition that commodifies women’s bodies, opens them up to increased possibility of gender-based violence, and treats women’s bodies as men’s property. To end it religious leaders who have been promoting Baad need to correct themselves and end the mis-education. By the same degree a more fundamental way of ending this and other harmful traditions is by creating a culture of respect for women as full human beings- not sisters, daughters, wives, mothers, things for men- but full human beings. If we respect women as people we are less likely to sell them off or use their bodies to settle disputes.

Kabulscape: Many organizations claim that they are working for women’s rights protection but there is no visible effect of their work on lives of women, especially those living in remote areas. Many women see these organizations as business enterprises to get donations. How Afghan women can convey their grievances to the government in presence of such organizations?

Noorjahan: There are some organizations that are not honest in every sector, but because of the negative propaganda and sexism and attacks on women’s organizations, we only focus on women’s organizations when it comes to corruption. It is true there are some corrupt organizations that claim to work for women, but there are many great organizations as well and their work is unacknowledged, ignored and threatened. Media has been largely responsible for negative perceptions of women’s organizations, but women’s organizations also have to make a bigger effort to create real connections and networks with women in the grassroots level and prove themselves worthy of women’s trust.

Kabulscape: What shall be the approach of Afghan women to pressurize the parliament to approve the Law on Elimination of Violence against Women?

Noorjahan: It is important for the parliament to approve this law. I have campaigned for it. Many people have worked for it tirelessly, but at this point given the increased number of extremists in the Parliament, I think we need to focus our efforts somewhere else. I am afraid that if we bring it to the Parliament again, it will be changed into an anti-woman law with no substance. The signature by the president is enough for its implementation and this president will be here for a couple more years so I don’t think the law is facing threats. We need to focus our effort on implementing it and raising awareness about it to compact negative perceptions created by religious leaders who are anti-woman.

Not all men are rapist, violent or harassers- but nearly all men are silent when they see these atrocities and almost all rapists and harassers are men. This is a harsh reality, but to change it Afghan men have a responsibility to fight for equality and respect for women. A more equal society will serve not only women but all of us as it will allow us to live as full human beings and beyond restrictive gender roles. It will be better for our country as we will all be able to contribute to rebuilding it and it will be better for our children as they will be able to see respectful role models upon which to base their lives. Equality for women is not a threat to men. It is only a threat to sexism and good men must join the effort to making equality a reality.

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HAITI, ON DEVELOPMENT: This volatile Haiti slum is undergoing a makeover — now what?

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Workers carry buckets in a construction site as they build new houses in Fort National, Port au Prince, Haiti. Fort National is a neighborhood that was partially destroyed during the earthquake of January 12, 2010. Andres Martinez Casares.

 

miamiherald.com, BY JACQUELINE CHARLES, 8/12/16  —  At the top of the hill where an old colonial fort overlooks the immaculate grounds of a razed presidential palace, newly built sidewalks and widened alleys lead into new residential communities being shaped by tree-lined courtyards, indoor plumbing and towering condominium-style apartments.

Below, bulldozers move listlessly from one partially-built concrete structure to another along a once battered Rue Estiméas construction workers beat back scorching heat and hammer as fast as they can.

“Imagine if all of the houses were like this,” Ulrick Gilles, a 40 year-old unemployed husband and father, said from the confines of his newly constructed government-subsidized second floor apartment in one of this capital’s most quake-ravaged neighborhoods. “Even if you couldn’t call it a paradise, it would still allow people to live better lives.”

A haphazardly-built and volatile slum that foreign donors and international aid groups once shunned, Fort National is getting a long-overdo makeover courtesy of a little-used co-property law that finally allows Haitians like Gilles, who lost his house in the cataclysmic Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake, to be homeowners again.

Though the law initially came into existence in 1974 and was strengthened in 2009, it wasn’t until former President Michel Martelly issued more protections in a 2011 executive order that the government and international community dared use it.

“You’re slowly seeing the transformation of a neighborhood,” said Claude-André Nadon, senior program manager with theUnited Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), which has built 600 new housing units and repaired more than 1,200 in eight neighborhoods since the earthquake left 1.5 million homeless. “This place was a disaster zone.”

Fort National’s transformation comes as 61,302 Haitians continue to live underneath squalid tents, and as Haiti and foreign donors continue to face enormous challenges in providing permanent housing amid dwindling aid dollars and a deepening political crisis.

The country’s failure to replace the 100,000 houses leveled by the quake by all accounts has been the biggest failure of the reconstruction response. Haiti and U.S.-financed housing projects have been slammed for shoddy construction and unaccountable contractors, while both governments also have come under fire for failing to follow through on housing goals.

Haitians are no different from a guy in Miami or Canada. They want to live in a decent home. Claude-André Nadon, senior program manager with the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS)

But if there’s anything close to a model of the lessons learned over the years, it is Fort National. The construction of almost 300 single and condo-style units, installation of street lights and the rehabilitation of water kiosks and streets may seem small. But supporters note that it’s changing the facade of an informal settlement, and providing employment and training to locals in proper and anti-seismic construction techniques.

“I am not just hiring five guys; I am hiring everyone from the neighborhood,” Nadon said. “So when that guys asks for an extension [on his single unit] he’s going to ask the foreman and that foreman now knows how to do it properly. Their way of building has completely changed.”

Said Clément Bélizaire, executive director of Haiti’s Housing and Public Buildings Construction Unit: “The housing is very nice; well-built; the engineering? A-plus. But the real success of Fort National and everything that has had to do with housing is the change of mentality.”

Nadon and his team first visited National in 2011. They spent three years negotiating with gang leaders and community residents to launch the project, and then with skeptical residents to give up their plots and shacks — sometimes barely larger than a bedroom — in exchange for decent corridors, public spaces and a 376-square-foot apartment.

In lot of cases people didn’t want to move,” he said. “All would say, ‘Haitians don’t like living on the second flood; they don’t want to live together.’”

Eventually, many would agree. Some would even donate as much as 80 percent of their land back to the community in order to allow the chaotic landscape of vacant plots and sweltering tin and tarp-covered shacks to be transformed.

“Haitians are no different from a guy in Miami or Canada. They want to live in a decent home,” Nadon said. “[Eventually] they understood that in order to have something like this, you need space. You need space to put septic tanks, you need space to have water pipes coming in, you need space to have the trees. After a while they get it.”

When people see them they say, ‘These houses should be on the main street.’ They aren’t the kind of homes you hide in a corridor. Fritzner Oriol, 49, Fort National resident

Bélizaire, the housing czar, said the co-property law makes a lot of sense in a densely populated Haiti, but “the social mobilization to get people to think rationally and not selfishly” is quite a challenge.

“We’re living in the city and we want to live in rural mode,” he said. “Everybody wants to have their own yard; everybody wants to have their own house; nobody wants to share walls with neighbors. When you share a wall, you cut the costs. We have to start thinking multilevel housing.”

The concept first surfaced months after the quake when then-President René Préval vowed to rebuild Fort National. Préval dispatched government bulldozers to remove rubble. He also asked international aid organizations to re-direct cash-for-work dollars to the slum, and he tapped the head of his state construction agency — and eventual presidential pick — Jude Célestin to build two-by-three-feet wide units for 6,000 displaced families.

Célestin, an engineer who is once more seeking the presidency, proposed constructing multistory apartments instead. Some $174 million was approved for Fort National’s reconstruction by the parliament as part of the budget, and the no-bid contractwas given to a firm owned by powerful Dominican Sen. Felix Bautista.

But 2010 presidential elections would bring chaos and a broken promise. A newly elected Martelly scraped the Fort National project, and reallocated the funds to initiatives. Among them:3,000 units at Morne-a-Carbrit on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince that were so poorly built by one of Bautista’s firms that Bélizaire’s housing division refused to accept many of them.

Everybody wants to have their own yard; everybody wants to have their own house; nobody wants to share walls with neighbors. When you share a wall, you cut the costs. Clément Bélizaire, executive director of Haiti’s Housing and Public Buildings Construction Unit

In recent weeks, the original Fort National project has come under scrutiny as a Haiti Senate Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission raises questions about the awards, and Bautista’s relationships with Martelly and some Haitian officials.

Headed by Sen. Youri Latortue, a one-time Martelly adviser, the probe is supposed to focus on a decade’s worth of government disbursements under Venezuela’s Petrocaribe discounted-oil program. Most of the focus, however, has been on the already investigated Bautista contracts.

Former Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, who awarded the Fort National contract to one of Bautista’s firms, has said it was done so legally under an emergency law. He calls the Senate inquiry a “political witch hunt,” and has accused senators of trying to make him a scapegoat because no one can say what happened to the $174 million, including $22 million he disbursed under Martelly for the homes.

“Do you see 20,000 [new] homes in Fort National?” Bellerive said on Vision 2000 radio station. “That is what I contracted for.”

The challenges of building in an existing community are visible along Rue Estimé where new construction is interrupted by pockets of empty lots.

“There is nothing there because one guy has refused, for many reasons,” Nadon said as construction workers move up and down the main street. “Sometimes it’s because they are scared it’s not going to happen, or it’s pressure from other people who don’t want the project to succeed.”

Unfortunately, the project is nearing its end even as the needs remain “endless,” Bélizaire said, because the $20 million in funding from Canada, the U.N. and two other donors has run out. Despite Haitians reluctance to share a wall, he said, the government is finding success with multistory dwellings. Similar constructions were done in the low-income communities of Morne Hercule and Morne Lazarre. The U.N. first applied the co-property law in Morne Lazarre to build three-story condominiums.

“Fort National benefited from what we did in Morne Hercule and Morne Lazarre,” Bélizaire said, hoping donors keep the revitalization going. “There’s a big difference between showing somebody something on a nice layout plan, 3-D designs and pictures and when you actually take the people, put them on a bus and bring them to … talk to the beneficiaries.”

Fritzner Oriol’s two-story tin shacks sits in the middle of a palm tree-lined courtyard of yellow and lime colored apartments. He proudly boasts that he turned several of his distrusting neighbors from skeptics into believers that the program was good for the long-neglected community.

Ultimately, there was one person Oriol, 49, could not convince.

“One of my sisters doesn’t agree because she wouldn’t get any benefits out of it,” Oriol said, explaining why his shack is the only un-built structure in the courtyard.

“There are a lot of beautiful houses inside these corridors,” he said. “When people see them they say, ‘These houses should be on the main street.’ They aren’t the kind of homes you hide in a corridor. I am a product of the neighborhood, I know what I am talking about because I know what kind of neighborhood we had.”

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ON THE MEDIA: Can mass media cause change?

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bbc.co.uk, July 14, 2016

Can the mass media cause changes in an audience’s knowledge, attitudes and intention to practice behaviors? At BBC Media Action, we have just successfully conducted a randomized control trial (RCT) to investigate this chain of causality in a prime time health TV drama in Bangladesh.

This is the first blog in a two-part series on BBC Media Action’s Bangladesh RCT, read more about the methodology underpinning the study in the second blog.

Do BBC Media Action programmes cause changes in our audiences? Do our television and radio shows increase knowledge, make people think differently or change their actual behaviour? In short, what is happening as a direct result of our programmes?

The answer is: we could never be sure. Our research has long shown that our audiences become more knowledgeable, change their attitudes and take different courses of action. However, we weren’t previously able to scientifically prove that our shows caused these changes. Yet now we definitively know our programmes made the difference – thanks to the use of a‘randomised control trial’ (RCT).

Why use an RCT to answer this question? To explain, an RCT is an experimental research design, in which people are assigned, at random, to groups. One set of people, the ‘treatment’ group, receives the intervention, while a second set, the ‘control’ group, gets a placebo. All other conditions are held constant so that the only difference between the groups is whether or not they receive the intervention. Only using this tightly controlled research methodology can we be certain whether or not the intervention caused the desired outcome.

What does that look like when you are studying the media? Our RCT was interested in investigating how watching our Bangladeshi health programmes affects the ‘key drivers’ of healthy behaviour among women of childbearing age. We consider key drivers to be precursors of behaviour, like people’sknowledge of antenatal and early newborn care, their attitudes and beliefs around, for example, what to feed a newborn baby, and their intention to do things such as attending antenatal care sessions.

In Bangladesh, we are currently airing a health-based drama called Ujan Ganger Naiya (UGN) (Sailing Against The Tide). This programme resembles many prime time family dramas, with storylines around the themes of falling in love, marriage and the important role that mothers-in-law play in Bangladeshi marriages. But the production team also weaves key elements of health knowledge into the dramatic arc, such as the recommendation that four antenatal child care visits are ideal for a pregnant mother. UGN is closely linked to a follow-up discussion show called Natoker Pore (NP) (After The Drama), in which some of the characters from the show, a medical expert and a real-life contributor review some of the key issues explored in the episode.

So one treatment group watched UGN while the control group watched another show produced by the BBC Media Action team in Bangladesh with an educational focus. This helped ensure that production values were consistent.  A second treatment group was also included in the study to investigate whether watching the discussion show alongside this drama has more of an effect than just watching the drama on its own. In short, our research questions were focussed around the short term impacts caused by watching the drama alone vs. watching it together with the discussion programme.

The results from BBC Media Action’s first-ever RCT are very encouraging:

  • Women who watched the drama – particularly those who saw the drama and factual discussion programme – showed significantly higher levels of knowledge across all of our measures of antenatal and early newborn care than the control group.
  • Women in both treatment groups (i.e. all those who watched either one or both of the health programmes) reported improved attitudes on several of the reproductive and maternal health statements we asked them about.
  • Women who watched both programmes reported higher levels of ‘efficacy’– in other words, they had greater self-belief in their ability or capacity to do something – than those who watched the drama alone, who in turn reported higher levels of self-efficacy than those in the control group.
  • When women who watched the drama were asked about a hypothetical future pregnancy, they were more likely to say they intended to pursue a number of healthy behaviours than those in the control group. Women who also watched the factual show responded positively to even more intended behaviours than those who only saw the drama.
  • In order to be effective, the clarity and consistency of messaging across the two programmes needs to be carefully managed. Programmes were less successful at shifting negative attitudes and increasing self-efficacy regarding certain antenatal and early newborn care practices such as attending at least four antenatal care sessions and exclusively feeding breast milk to a new-born.

So, why does all of this matter?

From a methodological standpoint, the RCT constitutes an important piece of evidence for isolating the impact that media and communication can have within the development sector. In this particular instance, we can now say that our health programme caused positive change in the short-term knowledge, confidence, behavioural intent and attitudes of women of child-bearing age in Bangladesh – precisely the audience we are trying to reach. We also now have evidence that watching the health programme alongside a closely related discussion programme has further positive effects – an important learning for production teams.

As BBC Media Action’s Senior Health Advisor Sophia Wilkinsonnotes:

“Often, there is a lack of funding to enable really strong study designs that tell a clear story. So it’s really exciting to have this evidence from Bangladesh that shows that entertaining television drama can indeed increase people’s knowledge and their intention to do something. Even more exciting, is that we seem to have proved our theory that exposure to more than one format will have a greater effect than just one programme! This all helps to strengthen the case for communication for development.”

The BBC Media Action Research and Learning team manages a global cohort of more than 100 researchers around the world who inform, evaluate and generate evidence on BBC Media Action projects across the countries in which we work. Former BBC Media Action Quantitative Research Manager Paul Bouanchaud was a key contributor to this piece.

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AFGHANISTAN: Afghanistan political crisis: Entitlement vs democracy

The domestic dimension of the Afghan conflict is the absence of agreement among the elites on the framework and principles of political power, writes Moradian [Reuters]

Only legitimate, effective and sustainable politics can untangle the country from its multitude of challenges.

aljazeera.com, 8/14/16, Opinion, by  — If war is the continuation of politics by other means, then the four-decade-old Afghan war has become one of the world’s most entrenched political puzzles, involving many actors and dimensions.

The growing political crisis within the Afghan National Unity Government is compounding the ongoing security and economic crises in the country.

According to the agreement that was brokered by the United States Secretary of State John Kerry, the National Unity Government would have to implement a number of electoral and political reforms by September 2016, including organising parliamentary elections and conveying the constitutional Loya Jirga, the grand assembly.

No meaningful step has been taken to honour those promises. Many are anxiously watching how Washington and the Afghan government will handle the looming September deadline.

Former President Hamid Karzai has begun expressing his desireto challenge Washington for the US’ perceived role in delaying the required reforms.

Moreover, Washington is consumed by its own electoral fever and its reliance over its leverage.

Unfortunately, the underlying causes and possible corrective measures are being overshadowed by Washington and Karzai’s macho duel, Ashraf Ghani’s clever strategy of delay and deception, and Abdullah Abdullah’s haplessness.

US’ doublethink approach

The US military intervention in late 2001 heralded a prompt victory over the Taliban and initiating a promising and inclusive political process. It also enjoyed an unprecedented local and international consensus and legitimacy.

However, soon Iraq proved more attractive to Washington and hence its diversion from the Hindu Kush mountains to the Tigris-Euphrates river.

The domestic dimension of the Afghan conflict is the absence of agreement among the elites on the framework and principles of political power.

That distraction was further worsened by US’ doublethink approach to Afghanistan. This Orwellian concept denotes the act of simultaneously accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct, often in distinctsocial contexts.

This was and continues to be manifested at three mutually reinforcing levels: the US’ internal decision making, its regional policy and Washington’s approach to the Afghan political scene.

From early 2002 to date, Washington remains undecided as why, how, and for how long it should remain committed to Afghanistan.

There has been an unfinished struggle between the US policy community’s strategic approach to Afghanistan and the White House’s calendar-based impulse.

OPINION: Ethnic polarisation – Afghanistan’s emerging threat

Regionally, the US remains confused about its regional partners and adversaries. Pakistan was designated as US’ major non-NATO ally, while the most lethal Afghan terrorist group, the Haqqani network, was described by the US’ most senior military officer in 2011, Admiral Mike Mullen, as veritable arm of Pakistan’s military.

Washington’s handling of Afghan political milieu also suffered from a doublethink approach: promising to build a functioning democratic order while working mainly with corrupt actors and empowering ethno-nationalists.

Karzai’s multiple personalities

Karzai has become a globally-recognised politician and statesman. He sees himself as indispensable to Afghanistan’s stability and survival, while firmly believing in the political mastery of his fellow Pashtuns.

He neither advocates a suppressive theocratic order nor supports liberal secular dispensation. Such often-contradictory orientations have made him highly skilful and manipulative – a tribal, patriotic and cosmopolitan politician.

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai [Getty]

Washington’s choices were a key determinant in the rise of Karzai. One can see two versions of him: Karzai I was when he was seen by Washington as malleable, charming and helpful between 2001 and the 2007-2008 period, when Washington not only sidelined his rivals but, more importantly, gave him “a winner-takes-all” strong presidential system with itsinstitutionalised ethnic hierarchy.

During this period, Karzai was the good guy and the Mujahideen leaders were seen as the bad guys.

Karzai II (2007-2008 and present) was mainly a product of Barack Obama’s Afghan policy, which was essentially premised on disengagement from the region. Karzai II became the bad guy, and peace with the Taliban was elevated as US’ salvation.

OPINION: The end of Pakistan’s double-games in Afghanistan

Karzai’s strategy has been essentially a combination of manipulation of rivalling power-brokers, charm-offensive of unthreatening constituencies and brinkmanship with Washington.

His reluctance to confront the Taliban and his role in engineering the 2014 presidential election in favour of Ghani are among his bitter legacies, while he is praised for his inclusive temperament.

Ghani’s double- pronged strategy

A former World Bank consultant and anthropologist, Ashraf Ghani shares a number of characteristics with his predecessor, while pursuing different strategies.

He sees himself as a saviour destined and determined to restore the Ghilzai Pashtuns’ lost political mastery against the Durrani Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns.

Washington must resist the temptation for personalisation of its challenges and strategies. The country does not need a saviour or an indispensable fatherly figure.

His strategy has been sidelining his electoral rival Abdullah Abdullah, favouring Ghilzai Pashtuns in political life by usingthe means of patronage and charm-offensive of the West.

In other words, there are two Ghanis: Ghani I, an authoritarian, tribal and divisive figure for the Afghan constituencies; and Ghani II, a reformist, modernising and visionary leader for Western and donor interlocutors.

For the latter, he projects himself as the good guy, while portraying Abdullah and Karzai as the bad guys.

OPINION: Afghan forces should learn from NATO’s mistakes

However, he continued to be haunted by the disputed 2014 presidential election. Apart from himself and his core supporters, there is hardly any constituency that considers him a clean winner of the 2014 presidential election.

Even the broker of the recent political agreement, Kerry has been quoted as saying, “If fraudulent votes were discounted, the gap closed significantly in Abdullah’s favour.”

It’s the politics, stupid

The domestic dimension of the Afghan conflict is the absence of agreement among the elites on the framework and principles of political power.

There are four broad approaches: Taliban’s terror campaign, former Mujahideen’s jihad dividends; ethnic entitlement and democratic politics. The ongoing and growing political crisis in Kabul is mainly waged by the two latter approaches.

Fortunately, there are important assets and opportunities that can help the country weather its turbulent transition from a constant struggle to reasonable stability and peace.

The massive participation of the ordinary people from all ethnic groups in recent elections has shown that the Afghans are striving for democratic governance, unlike their anti-democratic elites.

The Afghan constitution and the political agreement that gave birth to the Afghan National Unity Government provide a clear roadmap for the way forward.

Washington must resist the temptation for personalisation of its challenges and strategies. The country does not need a saviour or an indispensable fatherly figure.

Only legitimate, effective and sustainable politics can untangle the country from its multitude of challenges.

Davood Moradian is the director-general of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies, former chief of programmes in President Hamid Karzai’s office and chief policy adviser to Afghanistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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

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ON DEVELOPMENT: Can we get out of the private sector bad, public sector good trap?

Small business are part of private sector-led development, not just multinational corporations. Photograph: Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images

Related: I quit my development job and ate some humble pie: this is what I learned

My inherent cynicism isn’t without evidence: there is an endless list of corporate wrongdoing in the developing world. The private sector has different incentives from the public or NGO sector and markets don’t necessarily reward good behaviour. Indeed, quite often, at least in the short-term, they offer the strongest incentives for those who can find ways to cut standards and lower costs, exploiting anyone and everything in their wake.

But nonetheless, I still think its time to get beyond the rhetoric. The arguments have hardly changed in fifteen years, and, quite frankly, I’m bored. The lines are pitched as an argument between the pragmatists and the idealists: those who partner with the private sector, and those who campaign against them. On the one side, you get Care’s partnership with Cargill, or Wateraid’s partnership with Diageo. For this camp, collaborating with the private sector is perceived as necessary and inevitable. Governments have failed people, they might say, and NGOs can’t deliver to scale. Putting a private-sector lens to the challenge of development has brought innovation and the newly worn phrase “disruption” to a tired industry.

For others, however – let’s call them the idealists – private sector-led development removes people’s rights and individual freedoms, while further embedding corporate control of everything. For this camp, NGOs who partner with the private sector have undermined our mutual, long-term cause.

The pragmatists are certainly more in favour with the government of the day. The UK’s Department for International Development (DfID)’s new minister, Priti Patel, the former tobacco lobbyist who once wanted to axe the entire department, will continue the priorities already set by her predecessor. Private-sector led development will be her calling card, and collaborations between NGOs and the private sector will be at an even greater premium. Any NGO wanting a future funding relationship with DfID will be expected to tow the line. They were already giving roughly a third of their budget away to the private sector or private sector partnerships with NGOs. This could easily rise.

The idealist in me is concerned. Development agendas centred around rights and freedoms have been taking a back seat to the business of economic development – the pragmatists seem to have won. DfID’s statement of purpose says, among other things:“we’re ending the need for aid by creating jobs” as if development were just a matter of employment.

Related: Forget ‘developing’ poor countries, it’s time to ‘de-develop’ rich countries

So who is right? The pragmatists or the idealists? Are those who eschew private-sector partnerships just ideologues, blind to modern realities? Or has the NGO sector really sold out to the highest bidder, throwing their ideals out the window?

It’s worth pointing out that in roughly the same period as we’ve seen a rise of private-sector led development, we’ve also seen some worrying trends: rising levels of inequality over the past 15 years, more insecure work, environmental degradation and tax evasion on a massive scale. NGOs who enter into partnerships are clearly not to blame for these outcomes, but should we be asking: have they aided and abetted their rise, concentrating power into the hands of the wealthy?

Frustratingly, it’s not that simple. Moral clarity makes campaigning easier, but as Duncan Green pointed out to me recently: NGOs, even more radical ones, spend a lot more time working with the private sector than they care to admit. “Small farmers and SMEs or cooperatives are as important a part of the private sector – if not more so – than big irrelevant corporations,” he said. We need to reframe this debate, he argued: it’s not about private v public, but about size, scale, and form.

Related: We won’t conquer the mountains of the SDGs without humility

The crux of the matter is the relevant role of NGOs. A DfID model sees NGOs as just one vehicle to deliver economic growth, to help raise standards in the private sector or to provide some basic services to the poor. Where NGOs sing, however, is in their ability to challenge unfair structures, not to pander to them. Can NGOs really be both partner, and provocateur? Instead of bringing influence and innovation, have relationships with the private sector rendered NGOs role as advocate, watchdog and change agent, marginalised and ineffective?

Sunita Narain, the chief executive of India’s Centre for Science and the Environment, speaking recently at the Institute of Development Studies’ 50th anniversary conference, said that many in development believe that over the past period, we’ve empowered society through the growth of the market. Instead, she asked us provocatively: “Which society? The poor or the rich?”

If private sector-led development, and the partnerships it brings, can be about genuine power shifts, then I would shout from the rooftops. But for now, that small, cooperative private sector that Green refers to is hidden in the shadows, lacking power and toothless. Most NGOs will continue to take big corporate cash, while holding their critical tongues of dissent. All private sector development is certainly not bad – but the type of private-sector led development, I fear, that Patel foresees, is far from this type of genuine shift.

Join our community of development professionals and humanitarians. Follow @GuardianGDP on Twitter.

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AFGHANISTAN: Young people don’t see a future in Afghanistan, so they’re leaving

2016-05-25_11.24.031470857710

This mural on a blast wall in Kabul shows a picture of the perilous journey that hundreds of thousands of Afghans make to Europe each year in search of a better life. It was drawn by ArtLords activists during Art Activation Day, an event to bring awareness to the country’s brain drain problem and to encourage people stay in Afghanistan and invest in their society. (Omaid Sharifi/Omaid Sharifi)

washingtonpost.com, by Melissa Etehad, Aug. 12, 2016 — The well-educated, 20-year-old woman did not want to leave Afghanistan, but she said she had no choice.

After receiving death threats because of her work on women’s rights, she feared for her life and left in 2013 — feeling guilty, but intending to return after a few months when the security situation at home improved.Three years later, the young woman, now 24, lives in the United States and does not know when she will go back to Afghanistan. She told her story on the condition that her name not be used because of concern that her family in Afghanistan could be in danger.“I left because I didn’t feel safe anywhere,” she said. “Afghanistan doesn’t need another dead body or another dead woman.”She is one of a growing number of educated young people who, frustrated by their country’s growing insecurity and lack of job opportunities, have been leaving Afghanistan in record numbers.The woman, who earned her master’s degree in the United States, said that growing violence against women contributed to her decision to leave Afghanistan. Her parents agreed and told her not to return. In recent years, many of her friends have also left Afghanistan — partly because of the violence and the country’s depressed economy. “I know a lot of people who are leaving because they don’t have jobs and they are scared they can’t feed their children,” she said.

As a result of unemployment and the insecurity that has followed a resurgence of the Taliban after the withdrawal of U.S. and international forces at the end of 2014, Afghanistan’s economy showed minimal growth in 2015 — about 1.5 percent, according to the World Bank. Combined with increased fighting between government troops and insurgents, that instability is causing some of Afghanistan’s brightest young minds to flee the country.

“Everybody anticipated that this was going to be a problem because of the drop-off in the economic opportunity after the bulk of international forces were transiting out,” said James Cunningham, who served as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan from 2011 to 2014. “Unfortunately, the government effort to reorganize itself to deal with the economy didn’t materialize as they had hoped.”

Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that a large part of Afghanistan’s economy in recent years was built around the war, so brain drain was inevitable because a lot of jobs disappeared after the foreign troops left.

Although there are no reliable figures for the number of Afghans who leave each year, there was a mass exodus in 2015. Afghans accounted for 20 percent of the more than 1 million refugees who reached Europe’s shores in 2015, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, and nearly half of them were young adults.

As more educated young people pack up and leave Afghanistan, government officials, who are depending on the younger generation to rebuild the country, are becoming increasingly concerned.

Cunningham said it is important to find ways to encourage Afghans to remain in their country. “There are many people who are staying and continue to tough it out, and what they can do is quite noteworthy, actually,” Cunningham said. “My last year and a half in Afghanistan, I kept telling Afghan leaders that this was a really unique opportunity . . . and that they should take advantage of it,” he said of the country’s talented youth.

Shaharzad Akbar returned to Afghanistan after finishing her studies at the University of Oxford in 2010 and works in the project-management sector in Kabul. The 28-year-old says that even though she studied abroad and has relatives who left the country, she always planned to return to Afghanistan.

“We feel a sense of responsibility as people who are privileged with an education,” she said. “If we give up, who can we expect to stay behind?”

But she also understands the fears and frustrations of many of her peers. “Every morning when I leave the house, I don’t know if I’ll come back,” she said. “Every time I’m stuck in a traffic jam, I’m nervous about what could happen.”

Feroz Masjidi, an assistant professor of economics at Kabul University, also decided to return to Afghanistan after studying abroad. After finishing his studies in the United States on a Fulbright scholarship, Masjidi returned to Afghanistan in 2011. The 31-year-old said that he encourages his students to stay but that the government also needs to come up with more long-term solutions and help build confidence in the country so that Afghans will invest in it.

President Ashraf Ghani has made stemming the brain drain a priority. Last year, Afghanistan’s National Unity Government started a program called Jobs for Peace to stimulate more employment and restore faith in the economy. However, a lack of funding may limit the impact of this initiative, according to the World Bank.

The Ministry of Refugees and Repatriations started a social-media campaign to discourage people from making the trip to Europe, warning of the potential life-threatening dangers involved on the journey there.

Even if the government promises to create jobs for young people, it cannot change the fact that the economic outlook in Afghanistan is not promising in the near future, Felbab-Brown says. The World Bank estimates that gross domestic product growth will be 1.9 percent in 2016, which would mark the third year in a row it would be below 2 percent.

About 55 percent of the population is under age 20, according to the World Bank, and unemployment is hovering around 22 percent.

Bolstering the private sector and encouraging entrepreneurship are important steps toward lessening the brain drain, says Laurence Hart, the International Organization for Migration’s head of mission and special envoy for Afghanistan.

Young Afghans also have been involved in creating initiatives to motivate people to invest in the country. Omaid Sharifi, co-founder of ArtLords — a group that paints murals on blast walls around prominent buildings in Afghanistan — said that he wants to restore hope through the arts. Some of the group’s most popular murals feature giant eyes with the slogan “I See You” written near them, designed to fight government corruption and encourage transparency. Sharifi’s most recent project is aimed at tackling the brain drain problem.

“Thousands of young Afghans are leaving the country,” he said. “So I want to do an art activation day, where we paint nine to 10 murals in one day, have street art and also show a movie about immigration.”

Even for those like the young woman who left in 2013, Afghanistan is still home.

“I want to help out, and I want to participate in rebuilding [my country],” she said. “But I want to make sure if I die, it won’t be in vain. And right now, I’m not sure it won’t be in vain.”

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ON DEVELOPMENT: Is the End of Global Poverty Closer than You Think?

cgdev.org, Center for Global Development, 8/5/16, 9780198703525Andy Sumner

In a new CGD paper we find that:

  • The poor, on average, live at about the same level: they are not necessarily better off in developing countries with higher average incomes
  • Most developing countries could speed up the end of poverty dramatically without waiting years for economic growth to do the job
  • Up to 77 percent of global poverty could be ended via new taxation and the reallocation of public spending

Amartya Sen’s famous study of famines found that a nation’s people died not because of a food shortage but because some people lacked entitlements to that food. In a new CGD working paper with Chris Hoy, we ask if a similar situation is now the case for global poverty: are national resources available but not being used to end poverty?

The short answer is yes (but don’t stop reading…). We find that approximately three-quarters of global poverty, at the extreme poverty line of $1.90 per day, if not higher poverty lines, could now be eliminated—in principle—via redistribution of nationally available resources. We argue that the findings provide a rationale for a stronger consideration of some national redistribution for purely instrumental reasons: to reduce or end global poverty faster, rather than waiting years for growth.

Three Key Findings

First, we argue in the paper that global poverty lines ought to be extended beyond $1.90 per day. That’s not too controversial we know. We note that about $2.50 or $5 per day are respectively the approximate value of the average of national poverty lines ofall developing countries and the average of national poverty lines of all countries—so a truly global poverty line for the latter. Even those may be insufficient as a World Bank paper points towards a line of $10 per day as the daily consumption associated in longitudinal studies with permanent escape from poverty.

Second, surprisingly, we find that the poor in general live at about the same level. The poor are not necessarily better off if they live in developing countries with higher average incomes or consumption. Indeed, we find for example, the average poor person in extreme poverty in Brazil is actually worse off than in the DR Congo, meaning that the average consumption of a poor person under the $1.90 global poverty line in Brazil is less than the average consumption of a poor person in DR Congo (yes, you read that correctly). The average poor person in Ethiopia is only slightly worse off than the average poor person in China or India.

Third, and this is the controversial bit, it is generally assumed that most, if not all developing countries have insufficient domestic capacity to raise taxes or reallocate public spending to fully address extreme poverty let alone higher poverty lines. In general, this is no longer the case at $1.90 or $2.50 per day and even at $5 per day potentially for much of global poverty. In short, most developing countries have the financial scope to dramatically speed up the end of poverty based on national capacities without necessarily having to wait for economic growth. We find that three-quarters of global poverty could be ended via new taxation and reallocation of public spending (yes you read that right too).

Now the controversial bit. The reallocation of public spending would be away from regressive fossil fuel subsidies which cover for example cheap petrol and largely benefit richer groups in society and towards cash transfers to the poor. We also consider what we call ‘surplus’ military spending and its relocation to cash transfers to the poor. We know this is going to be contentious but we define ‘surplus’ in our paper as ‘more guns than the neighbours,’ meaning annual military spending above the country with the regional lowest per person. If that sounds just too controversial, don’t worry, the regressive fuel subsidies alone would cover seventy percent of global poverty.

In terms of new taxation alone, we find that almost all countries with a GNI Atlas per capita over $2000 per capita could end $1.90 poverty, or even $2.50 poverty.

What happened? Since the beginning of the millennium, high growth rates in many parts of the developing world have not only reduced the number of people living in extreme poverty, but have also significantly increased the number of people who live in a group who aren’t poor. In fact a group who wouldn’t even be poor in the US as they live above the US poverty line. This has created a new capacity for redistribution through the potential to raise taxes. And the next surprise is those taxes aren’t necessarily high. The marginal tax rates would be in the order of 1-2 percent in some populous developing countries like Brazil and China. Again, if this all sounds too radical, just recall the regressive fuel subsidies alone would cover seventy percent of global poverty.

All of the above would suggest one could revisit the classifications of countries by low and middle income in favour of thinking about countries in terms of their capacity to end poverty. This could entail something fairly simple: just double the low income to middle income threshold from approximately $1000 GNI Atlas per capita to about $2000 per capita.

The conclusion of our paper is that these findings demonstrate an instrumental case for redistribution—to ultimately speed up the end of global poverty. Of course the political economy of redistribution would not be easy even if the maths are convincing. The good new is over 100 developing countries already have cash transfer schemes in place so the mechanisms are there in principle to get the cash directly to the poor and theevidence on impact on monetary poverty is compelling.

We think our findings may come as a surprise because the data points towards the fact that the causes of much of global poverty are increasingly a question of national political economy rather than resource scarcity. In fact, that very idea on the shifting causes of much of global poverty is one that I’ve been exploring in a new book out soon but more on that in a future blog.

In short, fiscal policy—and who pays and receives what—is a political choice or contract that governments or elites make with the rest of the population. So if you care about ending global poverty, there is now a case for looking more closely at national redistribution for purely instrumental reasons: to end global poverty quicker than waiting for growth alone to do the job.

In the same way that Amartya Sen’s famous study of famines found that people died from lack of entitlements—and not lack of food availability—our data underscores that while national resources are available to help end poverty, they are not being used for this purpose. Time to ask the question of what matters most: cheap gasoline for the richest groups, more guns than the neighbours, or giveaways to end three-quarters of global poverty?

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