China could succeed, many thought, where the United States had failed — in convincing Pakistan to change its behavior toward the Afghan Taliban. Both the U.S. and Afghanistan accuse Pakistan of providing a safe haven to the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan has so far resisted any pressure.
At the heart of Chinese interest in stability in Afghanistan are two major factors. One is fear that religious militancy in Afghanistan will further fuel Islamist insurgency in China’s own Xinjiang province bordering Afghanistan. Militants from the Uighur Muslim minority in Xinjiang have occasionally received support and training in Afghanistan.
The second is hope of extending the One Belt, One Road initiative through the region to Central Asia.
The initiative is an effort by China to build a network of overland road and rail routes, oil and gas pipelines, and other infrastructure projects spanning from West China through Central Asia to Europe while simultaneously developing ports and coastal infrastructure through South and Southeast Asia all the way to the Mediterranean.
What China can do
It may be difficult to precisely measure the kind of influence China can exercise, according to Dr. Hassan Askari Rizvi, a Lahore-based political analyst.
FILE – Delegations from Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States of America and China discuss a road map for ending the war with the Taliban at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 18, 2016.
The conflicts between Afghanistan and Pakistan, he said, are so inherent that China cannot force them to change. All it can do is encourage the two rivals to downplay them.
China is a new player at this table. For the first 15 years of the war in Afghanistan, it stayed out of security arena, focusing more on economic interests. Now its economic interests have become intertwined with regional security. So it has joined the game, but is still in the learning stage.
China is more likely to watch and wait rather than act prematurely, according to Kabul-based analyst Hamed Sabori.
Still, Khalid Mahmood, one of Pakistan’s former ambassadors to China, thinks the country is ideally placed to play the role of mediator between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“[China] commanded respect in Afghanistan, had good ties to Pakistan, and regional stability was in its own interest,” according to Mahmood.
China initiated contacts with the Taliban and eventually agreed to become part of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG), set up to help facilitate reconciliation talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
The initial U.S.-Afghan euphoria with Chinese involvement has slightly worn off.
The QCG failed to lead to a decrease in violence in Afghanistan. Both Afghans and Americans realized that China would not pressure Pakistan beyond a certain point. With the killing of Taliban leader Mullah Mansoor and the election of new leader Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, chances of peace talks this year are grimmer than ever.
FILE – Pakistani local residents gather around a burning vehicle hit by a U.S. drone strike, May 21, 2016. Afghan Taliban Mullah Akhtar Mansoor was the target of the drone near Dalbandin, Baluchistan, Pakistan.
“I don’t believe that we will see peace talks anytime in the short term,” said Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, deputy chief of staff for communications for Operation Resolute Support, the NATO mission in Afghanistan.
Analyst Rizvi thinks the Chinese approach has been more measured because it recognizes the limits of Pakistan’s capacity to influence the Afghan Taliban.
Plus, China has a strong alliance with Pakistan, made even stronger by the U.S. courting of Pakistan’s rival India as a regional counterweight to China.
“They [the U.S.] have clearly stated which side they are on, which country they want to raise as [a] counterweight to China … which has implications for Pakistan also,” Mahmood said.
In the eyes of many Pakistanis, including many in the civilian and military leadership of the country, the U.S. does not care about Pakistan’s interests and does not keep in mind its sensibilities when dealing with the region. Mahmood said that drives the country more toward China, which is viewed as a tried and tested friend.
Nonetheless, China sees stability in the region as being in its own long-term interest. Shahmahmood Miakhel, the country head for the Washington-based United States Institute for Peace, said China has made significant investments in Afghanistan, particularly in the mining sector. These are not short- or medium-term investments, he added, but long-term ones that require a secure regional environment.
Which was why Afghanistan is still pinning its hopes on China.
“China has to work with Pakistan on how to cooperate with Afghanistan,” Miakhel said.
China, Sabori said, is waiting to see how the U.S. and other major players are going to act. Still, it is aware of the danger of continued long-term instability.
“Terrorism is not something that can be confined to a border, so it will finally, at some time, penetrate their border and it will become a major issue for China,” he said.
– ipsnews.net, by Baher Kamal – 6/6/16 – – The humanitarian clock is now ticking away faster than ever, with over 130 million of the world’s most vulnerable people in dire need of assistance. But the most powerful, richest countries—those who have largely contributed to manufacturing it and can therefore stop it, continue to pretend not hearing nor seeing the signals.
The World Humanitarian Summit (Istanbul, May 23-24) represented an unprecedented effort by all United Nations bodies who, along with member countries, hundreds of non-governmental aid organisations, and the most concerned stakeholders, conducted a three-year long consultation process involving over 23,000 stakeholders, that converged in Istanbul to portray the real½ current human drama.
Led by the UN, they put on the table a “Grand Bargain” that aims to get more resources into the hands of people who most need them, those who are victims of crises that they have not caused. The WHS also managed to gather unanimous support to Five Core Responsibilities that will help alleviate human suffering and contribute to preventing and even ending it.
Around 9,000 participants from 173 countries, including 55 heads of state or government, and hundreds of key stakeholders attending the Summit, have unanimously cautioned against the current growing human-made crises, while launching strong appeals for action to prevent such a “humanitarian bomb” from detonating anytime soon.
In spite of all that, the top leaders of the Group of the seven most industrialised countries (G 7), and of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, have all stayed away from this first-ever Humanitarian Summit, limiting their presence to delegations with lower ranking officials.
Although several UN officials reiterated that it was not about a pledging conference but the fact is that massive funds are badly needed to start alleviating the present human suffering which, if allowed to grow exponentially as feared, would cause a human drama of incalculable consequences.
The notable absence of the top decision-makers of the most powerful and richest countries sent a strong negative signal with a frustrating impact on the humongous efforts the UN has displayed to prepare for the Istanbul Summit and mobilise the world’s human conscious– let alone the millions of the most vulnerable who are prey to human dramas they are not responsible for creating.
In fact, most of world’s refugee flows are direct results of wars not only in Afghanistan and Iraq—both subject to vast military operations by coalitions led by the biggest Western powers (G 7), but also a result of on-going armed conflicts in Yemen (also with the support of the US and Europe), and Syria where the Security Council permanent member states, except China, have been proving weapons to the parties involved in this long six-year war.
Other victims of the current humanitarian drama are “climate refugees”, those who flee death caused by unprecedented droughts, floods and other disasters resulting from climate change, which is largely caused by the most industrialised countries.
The sole exception was German chancellor Angela Merkel who addressed the Summit, though she reportedly went to Istanbul to meet Turkish president Recep Tayyib Erdogan to try to alleviate the growing tensions between Ankara and the European Union, who accuse each other of not fulfilling the refugee deportation deal they sealed in March.
In fact, the EU-Ankara deal is about deporting to Turkey all asylum seekers and also migrants arriving in Europe mainly through Turkish borders, once the European Union announced last year its readiness to host them but decided later½ to flinch. In simple words, the deal simply transforms Turkey into a huge â€œdeposit” of millions fleeing wars and other human-made disasters.
In exchange, Ankara should receive from the EU 3 billion euro a year to help shelter and feed the 3 million refugees who are already there. The EU also promised to authorise the entry of Turkish citizens to its member countries without visa.
At a press briefing at the end of the Summit, Erdogan launched veiled warnings to the EU that if this bloc does not implement its part of the refugees deal, the Turkish Parliament may not ratify it.
In other words, Turkey would not only stop admitting “returnees”, i.e. refugees repatriated by Europe, but would even open its borders for them—and other millions to come and go to EU countries. The “human bomb” is therefore ticking at the very doors of Europe.
That said, the Istanbul Summit has set us on a new course. “It is not an end point, but a turning point,” said the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon at the closing session.
Governments, people affected by crisis, non-governmental organisations, the private sector, UN agencies and other partners came together and expressed their support for theAgenda for Humanity, and its five Core Responsibilities, Ban added.
“Implementing this agenda is a necessity, if we are to enable people to live in dignity and prosperity, and fulfil the promise of last year’s landmark agreements on the Sustainable Development Agenda and Climate Change.”
Ban stressed that humanitarian and development partners agreed on a new way of working aimed at reducing the need for humanitarian action by investing in resilient communities and stable societies.
Aid agencies and donor governments committed to a ‘Grand Bargain’ that will get more resources into the hands of people who need them, at the local and national level, said Ban.
“And Governments committed to do more to prevent conflict and build peace, to uphold international humanitarian law, and live up to the promise of the Charter of the UN, he added. “I hope all member states will work at the highest level to find the political solutions that are so vital to reduce humanitarian needs around the world.”
According to Ban, ”Together, we launched a ground-breaking charter that places people with disabilities at the heart of humanitarian decision-making; a platform on young people in crises; and commitments to uphold the rights of women and girls in emergencies and protect them from gender-based violence.”
Ban also announced that in September this year he will report to the UN General Assembly on the Summit’s achievements, and will propose “ways to take our commitments forward through intergovernmental processes, inter-agency forums and other mechanisms.”
The WHS Chair’s Summary: Standing up for Humanity: Committing to Action issued at the end of the Summit states that “civil strife and conflicts are driving suffering and humanitarian need to unprecedented levels and serious violations of international humanitarian law and abuses of international human rights law continue on an alarming scale with entire populations left without essential supplies they desperately need.”
It adds that natural disasters, exacerbated by the effects of climate change, are affecting greater numbers of women, men and children than ever before, eroding development gains and jeopardising the stability of entire countries.
“At the same time we have been unable to generate the resources to cope with these alarming trends, and there is a need for more direct predictable humanitarian financing,” the statement warns.
“The Summit has brought to the forefront of global attention the scale of the changes required if we are to address the magnitude of challenges before us. The participants have made it emphatically clear that humanitarian assistance alone can neither adequately address nor sustainably reduce the needs of over 130 million of the world’s most vulnerable people.”
A new and coherent approach is required based on addressing root causes, increasing political diplomacy for prevention and conflict resolution, and bringing humanitarian, development and
peace-building efforts together, it adds.
“Global leaders recognized the centrality of political will to effectively prevent and end conflicts, to address root causes and to reduce fragility and strengthen good governance. Preventing and resolving conflicts would be the biggest difference leaders could make to reduce overwhelming humanitarian needs. Humanitarian action cannot be a substitute for political action.”
Download PDF Storytelling is on the rise. With the continued expansion of technology sharing stories has never been easier. Our latest issue of Building Peace, Inside the Storytelling Revolution,examines the countless ways we communicate with one another and the power that stories hold to inspire peace as well as war.
The sixth publication looks at the processes of advocacy and advertising—both selling peace in their unique ways. We feature the work of StoryCorps and how they are lifting up local voices to contribute to a more peaceful society. Our stories also come from the Countering Violent Extremism and filmmaking communities as they explore the ways that narratives can rewrite history—and what it takes to reveal the truth.
U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to halt the further withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and instead send additional advisers to assist the deployed forces underscores the deteriorating security situation. His decision comes after high casualties among the Afghanistan National Security Forces in combat operations, coupled with the resurgence of Taliban and a fast-evolving threat environment in the region.
Afghanistan is a place where post-war engagement will prove to be a more crucial battleground than the war itself. India cannot be a spectator as chaos ensues in Afghanistan, for it will not be safe from the spillover. Hence, it is imperative for Indian to assist Afghanistan in building sound political structures, a strong military and economy, along with human resources. It cannot afford to let Afghanistan slide back to the days of Taliban rule after 15 years of Western intervention. Against this backdrop, India’s push for Afghanistan to be included in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), in 2005, was a smart move, given close links between peace in Afghanistan and regional security.
The Threat to India’s Security in Afghanistan
India’s apprehensions about Afghanistan’s instability are primarily driven by its own pragmatic security concerns. On March 2, 2016, the Indian consulate in the city of Jalalabad in Afghanistan was attacked, leaving nine dead and many more injured in the fourth attack on the Indian consulate in the city. Earlier this year, the Indian mission in Mazar-e-Sharif saw a 25-hour long shootout between the terrorists and the security forces.
An unstable backyard is not only pernicious to India’s larger strategic interests abroad and future goals but can also impact its internal security. After the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989, jihadists moved to new conflict zones, including Kashmir. Following 9/11, Pakistani militant groups moved to Afghanistan to fight against the Western coalition; after the withdrawal of ISAF forces from Afghanistan, it is highly likely that they could focus their attention back on Kashmir. Groups like Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), Harkat ul-Mujahideen (HUM), and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) might increase their activities in Indian Kashmir, which saw a steady decline in cross-border terrorism over the past decade. This is further intensified by the spike in the number of young Kashmiris joining militant groups over the past year. Burhan Muzaffar Wani’s route to militancy is a case in point. The 21-year-old commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), described by the locals as the “Robin Hood of Kashmir,” is among the new generation of Kashmiri militants.
The emergence of the Islamic State terrorist group’s local franchise, IS-Khurasan, and al-Qaeda’s South Asian affiliate, AQIS, has further complicated the regional threat environment. Presently, the two militant rivals are currently locked in a furious competition for influence among the local jihadist groups and monopoly over the illegal drug trade. InDabiq, Islamic States’ flagship monthly magazine, the group has clearly mentioned its intention of expanding its presence in Khurasan, which includes India, though the presence of traditional groups like the Taliban and geopolitical conflicts in the Af-Pak region and Kashmir lessen Islamic States’ traction. Similarly, though AQIS has not carried out any significant terrorist attack since its creation in September 2014, it has been reported to be building deep terror networks in South Asia.
Securing India’s Strategic Interests
If history is anything to go by, Afghanistan has served as springboard not only for al-Qaeda and the Taliban but also for Kashmir-focused terrorist groups. The re-emergence of al-Qaeda’s camp and the presence of Kashmiri militant groups in Afghanistan could be detrimental to Indian regional security and economic interests. During the 1990s, al-Qaeda and the Kashmiri militants worked hand-in-glove with each other in Afghanistan. The hijacking and diverting of an Indian plane by HUM in 1999 to Kandahar, then under the Taliban rule, secured the release of Maulana Masood Azhar, who later founded JeM.
In order to mitigate the threat from an unstable backyard, India has employed a “soft-power” approach in Afghanistan. Its aid, estimated at $1.5 trillion, and development projects are an attempt to strengthen a war-ravaged young democracy, thereby attempting to reduce the vacuum which may allow the Taliban and other groups to emerge.
Another aspect of India’s interest in Afghanistan relates to its need to reduce Pakistani influence in the region. India should contain and balance Pakistan’s influence, which may otherwise hamper Indian interests. Afghanistan has been the battleground for an India-Pakistan proxy war since 2001. New Delhi needs Kabul to get a better view of Islamabad and hence it is pertinent that it fosters positive relations. This relationship can only blossom if Afghanistan is stable and strong.
The threat, however, is not just to Indian embassies and consulates but also to New Delhi’s economic interests in the country. In 2011, a consortium of six Indian companies was awarded mining rights in the Hajigak area. However, after a debate over reducing their initial plan of investing $11 billion to $1 billion, the consortium eventually decided to pull out. The increasing flux in the region was one of the contributing factors behind this significant decision.
The mounting fears in the country are not only an impediment to Indian companies’ ability to tap into Afghanistan’s mineral resources, estimated at $1 trillion, but can prove to be detrimental to ever-growing Indian energy demands. The proposed gas pipeline project TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India), which seeks to connect an energy-rich Central to South Asia, will only see the light of the day if stability is established in Afghanistan
It is important to note that Afghanistan not only serves security and economic interests but is also closely tied to India’s vision of being a regional leader and a great power, coupled with its competition with China over resources and its need to counter Pakistani influence. India’s ability to mentor a nascent democracy will go a long way to demonstrate to the world that India is indeed a major power, especially a responsible one. However, this vision can only be materialized if Afghanistan does not descend into a state of chaos and conflict.
The Way Forward
India’s civilian-centric policies, be they the construction of the Salma Dam project or offering annual scholarships to Afghan students, will only bear fruit if India ensures that events do not unfold the way they did after the Soviet pull-out from the country. It is India’s pragmatism that drives its decision not to put boots on the ground and instead invest in constructing the new Parliament building in Kabul and gifting a 97-foot high Afghan flag to in order to cement their friendship.
India, however, needs to enhance its current assistance to Afghanistan given the growing security challenges and economic difficulties. Suffering huge losses from a resurgent Taliban, especially now that the group has grown stronger and expanded territorially, Afghanistan has asked India to provide military supplies. In response to Kabul’s military and economic demands India needs to take a tough decision – how is the regional superpower going to address the burgeoning threat in Afghanistan while keeping in mind its own strategic interests?
Akanksha Narain is a Research Analyst with the Studies in Inter-Religious Relations in Plural Societies (SRP) Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
bbc.co.uk, Media Action, original
An independent media is one of the most effective assets we have in efforts to curb corruption and foster accountability. Yet it is deeply imperilled, particularly in fragile states and often poorly understood by the international development sector. This policy working paper argues that unless development strategies begin to prioritise support to independent media, corruption may continue to go unchecked and the accountability of states will diminish.
Download Publication: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/rmhttp/mediaaction/pdf/curbing-corruption-fostering-accountability-working-paper.pdf
Publication date: May 2016
Author: James Deane
Overview: This policy working paper draws on BBC Media Action’s own research as well as the wider sector to examine the media’s ability to hold power to account, particularly in fragile settings. The paper provides a summary of the evidence base supporting the media’s role in tackling corruption and argues that effective media support strategies require more than financial contributions. They require the development of coherent, context-specific, evidence-based strategies rooted in learning from what works and what does not. It concludes that while there have been notable investments in media from a small number of donors the development system as a whole has a poor record in in supporting this area. The paper should be of interest to decision makers in donors and other development support organisations concerned about the development costs of corruption.
According to the Census Bureau, the percentage of Americans living in poverty is higher today than it was in the late 1960s. Last year I argued in these pages that these “official” poverty statistics are extremely misleading.1 When the United States first explicitly defined an official poverty line in 1969, it was supposed to be adjusted every year to ensure that it represented a constant standard of living. However, two problems arose and were never fixed.
First, the Consumer Price Index, which was supposed to be used to adjust the poverty line for inflation, turned out to have flaws that made it rise faster than the cost of living. Second, the official measure uses pretax money income to measure families’ economic resources; but anti-poverty measures enacted since then, such as the expansion of food stamps and then the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), made low-income families’ total economic resources increase faster than their pretax money income. As a result of these problems, roughly half the families now counted as officially poor have a higher standard of living than families with incomes at the poverty line had in 1969.
In $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer argue that what they call “extreme” poverty roughly doubled between 1996 and 2012. If they are right—and I think they are—the reader might wonder how I can still claim that poor families’ living standards have risen. The answer is that inequality has risen even among the poor. Half of today’s officially poor families are doing better than those we counted as poor in the 1960s, but as I learned from reading $2.00 a Day (and have spent many hours verifying), the poorest of the poor are also worse off today than they were in 1969. $2.00 a Day is a vivid account of how such families live. It also makes a strong case for blaming their misery on deliberate political choices at both the federal and state levels.
Kathryn Edin is a professor at Johns Hopkins University who has spent much of the past twenty-five years talking with low-income Americans about their lives.2 In 2010, when the national unemployment rate was over 9 percent, she began meeting parents who said they had no regular income whatever from work, from welfare, or from any other source. Their economic plight sounded worse than anything she had previously encountered, and she began pondering how to figure out what had happened, and why.
In 2011 Edin met Luke Shaefer, a young professor at the University of Michigan who had worked extensively with the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). This survey was the best available source of data on poor families, and Edin persuaded Shaefer to investigate what it showed about households with little or no income.3 To do that, they had to decide what criteria to use.
A single mother with two children was officially poor in 2011 if she reported an annual income below $18,123. If she reported less than half that amount, the Census classified her and her children as living in “deep” poverty. However, the Census had never had a term for families as poor as those Edin and Shaefer wanted to count, so they chose their own term: “extreme” poverty.
They also chose a third-world definition of who belonged in their new category. The World Bank counted third-world families as poor if they lived on less than $1.90 a day per family member. Edin and Shaefer rounded that up to $2.00.4 This cutoff was between 9 and 13 percent of the official poverty threshold for most American families. For a single mother of two, for example, Edin and Shaefer’s “extreme” poverty threshold was $6 a day while the “official” 2011 threshold came to just under $50 a day. Neither measure included noncash benefits or EITC refunds.
When Shaefer analyzed the SIPP data, he found that 4.3 percent of American households with children reported living on less than $2 a day per person for at least one month during 2011. When he looked back at the SIPP data for 1996, only 1.7 percent of parents had reported a month like that (see the first row of Table 1).
Edin and Shaefer were shocked by how much the SIPP estimate had risen, so they checked to see if other evidence pointed in the same direction. Their best comparison was with data collected by the Food Stamp Program. Families applying for food stamps must report their income to qualify for assistance, and they must then keep reporting it every year to remain eligible. The number of parents telling the Food Stamp Program that they had had a month without income matched the SIPP estimates closely in 1996 and 2005. From 2005 to 2012, however, the number of parents reporting a month without income rose faster in the Food Stamp Program than in SIPP.5 No one seems to know why the two trends diverged, but the divergence may mean that the 2011 SIPPestimates in Table 1 are too low.6
For reasons that will become clear momentarily, I now need to mention that Congress renamed the Food Stamp Program in 2008, calling it the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The name change reflected the fact that the program now gives recipients an electronic card instead of stamps to pay for their groceries. Outside Washington, D.C., however, most people still talk about food stamps, not SNAP. I will do the same, except when I discuss the SNAP card itself.
The most obvious explanation for the increase in extreme poverty between 1996 and 2011 is that jobs were harder to find in 2011, but that is only half the story. Until 1996 single mothers with no income were eligible for Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). Edin and Shaefer argue that extreme poverty rose after 1996 because Congress replaced AFDC with an even less generous welfare program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Because TANF benefits are much harder to get than AFDC benefits were, parents who cannot find a job are more likely to find themselves penniless.7
Prior to 1996 each state had its own AFDC program, with the federal government paying about half the cost in rich states and far more than half in poor states. States could set their AFDC benefits as high or low as they wanted, but in each state the eligibility rules had to meet a variety of federal requirements, one of which was that all legally eligible applicants were entitled to benefits. A state could not turn away eligible applicants because the legislature wanted to use the money for some other purpose or because a caseworker thought an applicant had loose morals.
All states still get federal money to cover part of TANF’s cost, but they now have more leeway in deciding how to spend such money. They can divert federal TANF funds to programs like financial aid for college students and pre-kindergarten programs, for example. Such programs are worthwhile, but they do nothing to help poor single mothers pay their electric bill or their rent. States also have almost complete freedom to decide what applicants must do to qualify for benefits and retain them. States can also shorten the federal time limit on TANF eligibility.
If states cut the cost of TANF by reducing the number of recipients, they can use the savings for other purposes. That gives state officials a strong incentive to discourageTANF applications. Potential applicants may have to spend weeks applying for jobs before they can apply for TANF. Or they may have to produce documents that they cannot find or do not know how to get. Understaffed welfare offices can create long lines that discourage applications. Many TANF applicants also report having been turned down with no explanation at all.
The opening chapter of $2.00 a Day describes a Chicago mother whom the authors call Modonna Harris. Harris graduated from high school and then took out loans to attend a private university. However, she got no financial help from her divorced parents, and when she hit her student loan ceiling at the end of her second year, she dropped out. Misadventures in love followed, and after her marriage broke up she had a child to support. The best job she could find was as a cashier, but after eight years her employer fired her because her cash drawer was $10 short. The store eventually found the missing $10, but it did not rehire Harris.
Harris looked for new jobs, without success. After her unemployment benefits ran out, a friend noticed that Harris had no food in her apartment for herself or her child and persuaded her to apply for TANF. The welfare office opened at 8:30 AM, so Harris showed up at 8:00. At least on that particular day, however, there were only enough appointment slots for applicants who had joined the line in the rain outside the welfare office before 7:30. After waiting most of the day, Harris left without having been given a chance to apply, convinced that TANF would never help her.
It is tempting to say that Harris was too easily discouraged. However, it is also tempting to say that in Illinois, as in most other states, TANF’s primary goal is not to protect children whose parents cannot find work by ensuring that their family has shelter, heat, light, food, and shoes, but to cut program costs by reducing the number of recipients. (California, which now accounts for a third of all TANF recipients, is a partial exception to this rule.)
State efforts to cut the TANF rolls have been quite effective. The overall unemployment rate, which is a fairly good proxy for how hard it is to find work, was almost twice as high in 2009 as in 1996. Yet the number of families getting TANF in 2009 was less than half the number getting AFDC in 1996.8 Edin and Shaefer write about meeting poor parents who said they didn’t know anyone who got TANF. Some parents thought welfare had been abolished, or that it was no longer accepting new applicants. This grim story deserves more attention than it has gotten, and Edin and Shaefer deserve a lot of credit for emphasizing it.
They also report a shift in social norms that may have made TANF shrink. When Edin interviewed single mothers in the early 1990s, they often told her that a good mother should stay home with her children. In 2012, even mothers who could not find work said they wanted a job rather than a welfare check, because a working mother set a better example for her children than a welfare mother did. This shift in attitude presumably encourages single mothers to keep looking for work, but it does not create more jobs for them. As a result, reducing access to TANF leaves more single mothers with neither a paycheck nor a welfare check. As Edin and Shaefer document in some of their saddest stories, such mothers often find jobs when times are good, but many of those jobs vanish when the economy slows. When single mothers can’t find work, they sell their plasma to hospitals and scavenge for cans and bottles in trash barrels. Sometimes they also sell sex or drugs. As a result, their income is usually meager and erratic.
One basic goal of welfare reform in the 1990s was to “make work pay,” and the Clinton administration created a new system that did just that. Instead of giving parents more help when they could not find work, the new system gives parents more help when they find and keep a steady low-wage job. When Modonna Harris worked as a cashier, Edin and Shaefer estimate that her take-home pay was about $1,325 a month. The government topped that up with another $160 a month in food stamps.
The Clinton administration also persuaded Congress to increase the Earned Income Tax Credit between 1993 and 1996, so when Harris was working she got a check from the US Treasury for about $3,800 a few weeks after filing her federal tax return. That check provided her with an additional $317 a month. Overall, the government supplemented Harris’s paycheck with benefits worth $477 a month. Once she lost her job, she stopped accumulating EITC benefits. Her food stamp benefits rose from $160 to $367 a month, but she was still getting $110 a month less than she had from food stamps and the EITCwhen she had a monthly paycheck.
Edin and Shaefer’s descriptions of families in extreme poverty are both convincing and deeply troubling. However, two potential objections to their analysis deserve discussion. First, the estimates of extreme poverty in $2.00 a Day almost never include the value of food stamps, rent subsidies, or EITC refunds for work during the previous calendar year. Those omissions mean that Edin and Shaefer underestimate the resources available to most families in extreme poverty.
In papers published elsewhere Shaefer and Edin show how their estimates of extreme poverty change when they treat the value of EITC refunds, food stamps, and rent subsidies like income. The second row of Table 1 shows that including these resources reduces the estimated prevalence of extreme poverty among households with children from 1.7 to 1.1 percent in 1996 and from 4.3 to 1.6 percent in 2011. Because the reduction is so much larger in 2011 than it was in 1996, the increase in extreme poverty between 1996 and 2011 falls from 2.6 to 0.5 percentage points. In other words, the growth of EITC refunds and noncash benefits offsets about four fifths of the decline in extremely poor families’ pretax money income between 1996 and 2011.
Edin and Shaefer argue that we should not view a SNAP card that buys $500 worth of groceries every month as equivalent to $500 in cash, because the SNAP card can only buy food, whereas cash can buy whatever a family thinks it needs most. That is true. But if a family of three were given $500 in cash and used it to pay the rent, they would have to depend on local soup kitchens and food pantries to eat. Such institutions do not exist everywhere, and they are not open every day even in the places where they do exist.
I think Edin and Shaefer’s objection to treating food stamps like cash derives from a more fundamental problem, which is that a single mother with two children needs more than $500 a month to survive. If Edin and Shaefer were to treat a single mother’s $500 worth of food stamps like money, food stamps alone would represent about $16 a day in income. Because they have set the extreme poverty threshold for a three-person family at only $6 a day, treating food stamps like cash would mean that, according to the standard they have set, no family that got food stamps could be in extreme poverty, even if they had no money at all for rent, heat, clothing, or other necessities.
That problem cannot be solved by replacing $500 worth of food stamps with $500 in cash. Unless a single mother with two children has a federal rent subsidy that limits her payments to 30 percent of her income, she will need both $500 in food stamps to eat and another $500 (or more) for shelter and other expenses. A more transparent approach would, I think, be to adopt a broader measure of economic resources that included the EITC, food stamps, and the rental value of subsidized or owner-occupied housing, and then to set the threshold for extreme poverty at something like half the official poverty line.
Another concern about Edin and Shaefer’s estimates of extreme poverty in $2.00 a Dayis that they include families whose income fell below $2 a day per person for even one month. If a single mother loses her job, has no relatives, no close friends, no romantic partner, and no assets she can sell or borrow against, one month without income can be catastrophic now that TANF is so hard to get. However, a single mother who has just lost her job often has some of those assets, as $2.00 a Day shows. When that is the case, her first month without income does not always mean that her family will go hungry, much less that they will all be put out on the street for not paying the rent. The longer she goes without income, however, the more likely she is to exhaust her relatives’ sympathy, her boyfriend’s willingness to bring over pizza for dinner, or the cash she had left from her EITC refund for her work during the previous year. There is no “one-size-fits-all” rule for deciding how long a family can survive without income, but for some, at least, one month need not be disastrous.
The fourth line in Table 1 shows that when Shaefer counted only those who had spent three or more months living on resources worth less than $2 a day, the prevalence of extreme poverty among households with children fell from 1.7 to 0.5 percent in 1996 and from 4.3 to 1.0 percent in 2011. This more stringent definition of extreme poverty among households with children clearly leads to a sharp reduction in its estimated prevalence. But it does not change the upward trend. The prevalence rises from 0.5 percent in 1996 to 1.0 percent in 2011, and the actual number rises from 189,000 to 373,000 households with children.
The best way to visualize how the economic lives of low-income families have changed since the 1960s is to track the flow of economic resources to households at different percentiles of the distribution. Figure 1 focuses on the bottom half of the resource distribution, showing changes at the second, fifth, tenth, and fiftieth percentiles. Each group’s resources are shown as a percentage of its resources in 1967. The labels for the lines identifying each of these four percentile are shown in boldface.9 I omit the top half of the resource distribution, because the rising share of income going to the top 1 percent is already so well known. I also omit the bottom 1 percent, because of doubts about the accuracy of the estimates.
Between 1967 and 1999 the resources flowing to the second and fifth percentiles grew by an average of two thirds, whereas the resources of the tenth and fiftieth percentiles grew by about half. As a result, inequality between the bottom and the middle of the resource distribution narrowed. This narrowing was driven primarily by the growth of food stamps and the EITC.
After 1999 this egalitarian trend reversed. The second, fifth, tenth, and fiftieth percentiles all suffered some reduction in their economic resources after 1999, whereas Figure 1 shows that the percentage decline was much larger at the second percentile than at the fifth, tenth, or fiftieth percentile. The fifth, tenth, and fiftieth percentiles also received about 50 percent more resources in 2012 than in 1967, but the second percentile received only 23 percent more, wiping out two thirds of its gains between 1967 and 1999.
Figure 1 supports my claim that Americans at the fifth and tenth percentiles are much better off today than they were in 1967. Those at the tenth percentile are counted as poor only because the poverty measure is flawed. However, the estimates in Figure 1 for the second percentile also support Edin and Shaefer’s claim that the poorest of the poor were a lot worse off in 2012 than in either 1996 or 1999. Had the federal government not handed their fate back to the states in 1996, these families might still be as well off as they were in 1999. That is not the kind of speculation that can be either verified or refuted; but it is worth serious consideration nonetheless.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which announced last week it is pulling out of the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), is not the only organisation to feel anxiety about the event. When the summit launched, it promised to transform humanitarian action. Now it seems more likely the summit will confuse it to death.
Number four of the five core responsibilities set out for WHS, in UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon’s report One Humanity: Shared Responsibility, was that we should tear down the divisions between humanitarian and development work. He proposes merging the two, aligning humanitarian action behind the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and shifting its objective from delivering aid to ending need.
To most ears, I imagine that sounds pretty good. Inspirational, even; as thoughtful and as grand a dream as one can have. To my humanitarian ears, well, I hear alarm bells going off. And so did MSF.
The WHS misjudges the extent to which the distinctions between ‘humanitarian’ and ‘development’ form the lifeblood of the humanitarian endeavour. Making the SDGs the common overall results and accountability framework amounts to making over the ultimate goal of humanitarian action. Would you want ambulance teams to aim at strengthening the hospital system or improving nutrition? No. Shouldhumanitarians be held accountable for ending hunger? No. They should be held accountable for feeding people who are starving.
To be fair, the UN secretary general’s diagnosis of the problem strikes a depressingly accurate chord. The humanitarian/development divide imposes institutional divisions onto the real world of people in crisis. The urgency of food, water, healthcare or shelter needs in Syria or eastern DRC displaces but does not diminish the longer-term hopes and aspirations of people in terms of wanting economic progress, a functioning healthcare system or political empowerment. Short-term and long-term problems intermingle, perhaps especially in crisis situations and complex emergencies.
The aid system, for its part, functions in what research shows to be well-anchored structural, financial and cultural silos. Each are convinced of their own moral superiority and effectiveness, and the two sides do not talk to each other, often not even within the same organisation. Slap the label of “humanitarian crisis” on a situation and it becomes difficult to undertake development work. This has a particularly pernicious effect in protracted crises such as in South Sudan or eastern DRC, where humanitarian work resembles a 20-year series of one-year projects. The UN secretary general is right in thinking the system can and should do better. He is wrong in proposing convergence as the answer.
The humanitarian imperative is defined by the principle of humanity. In simple terms, its purpose is to fix the human being, not the system. Humanitarian action is thus defined as addressing the immediate needs of people caught up in crisis, by delivering relief aid and delivering it in accordance to the principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence. Ultimately, development and other long-term goods may be more important but to humanitarians they must remain goals of secondary value.
Why is this humanitarian specificity so important? Because the overwhelming majority of humanitarian needs are generated by war (the UN secretary general’s report puts the figure at over 80%) and war makes access tricky. To reach people in conflict, humanitarians have but one power, the power of trust. The people with the guns and bombs must be convinced that you seek to fix humans full stop. Distrust will flare if you come with an agenda to address the causes of their suffering, reinforce national authorities or stabilise fragile states. Building clinics for the Afghan government might support the SDGs, but the Taliban see it as part of a military and political strategy. That means not being able to reach millions of Afghans. Tragically, the perversity of war means that laudable goals on one side place humanitarians in the crosshairs on the other.
From dramatically different goals come dramatically different methods and approaches. In simple terms, maintaining neutrality and independence drives humanitarian actors towards “state avoidance” while development requires much more of a partnership approach.
Everyone should be frustrated with the travesty of humanitarian solutions being applied to protracted problems. A camp for displaced persons is a good place to find shelter, nutrition and (hopefully) safety; it is a terrible place to call home and raise your children. Similarly, it is unacceptable that in long-running crises like South Sudan or eastern DRC, decades of humanitarian response have left people no closer to functioning national services. But in the absence of those services, in the absence of development and peace and justice, humanitarian action is what keeps people alive.
The sensible solution is to let humanitarians deliver on the immediate needs, empower others to end those needs in the first place and ensure the two work better together. Folding humanitarian action into development, as WHS aims to do, is not the answer.
The “Grand Bargain” is the name for a package of reforms to humanitarian funding, launched at the World Humanitarian Summit. Thirty representatives of donors and aid agencies produced 51 “commitments” to make emergency aid finance more efficient and effective.
To some it hasn’t gone nearly far enough. Others say, given a few short months, the bureaucracies did well to find so much to agree on. To overhaul the complex budgeting and contracting of emergency aid is, according to Lilianne Ploumen, the Dutch development minister, “much more complicated than many people think”.
“It could be the Grand Bargain for business-as-usual unless there are more specific actions”, said Christina Bennett of London think tank, the Overseas Development Institute. “We need timelines and targets” or else it will be just “tinkering around the edges”.
A director at the World Bank, Colin Bruce, also said follow-up was a “big issue” to be taken up urgently. The Grand Bargain currently has no institutional home and future arrangements would likely be taken up in late June, he told IRIN.
Analyst Antonio Donini told IRIN it wouldn’t change “the power dynamics in the system,” being drawn up with “only the presence of “the oligopoly”. The group included just 15 donors and 15 aid agencies – together commanding the lion’s share of the world’s emergency aid spending.
The Grand Bargain agreement is not simply a cost-saving measure, but will produce annual savings of US$1 billion within five years, according to the group. This would represent only some five percent of current spending.
The process hasn’t been all smooth sailing. There was some “heat” in the negotiations, according to one participant. Another senior NGO official said some reforms had gradually been watered down in the negotiation process. For example, using cash to help people gets only a lukewarm endorsement in the final text. He explained that, for one, the US Congress was unlikely to embrace it, and (like many others), preferred a style of aid that produced “things you can take pictures of”, like tents, or a water well.
Some things are hard to change. A funding analyst said the big donors have little choice but to spend the bulk of their budgets through large multilateral UN agencies, which handle the largest grants in emergency aid. “Their job is to disperse money,” he said. This weakened donors’ ability to extract UN reforms, he said. However, there are few civil servants in aid ministries, partly because of economic, parliamentary and media pressure to reduce overheads. “The bilateral agencies [donors] have no choice but to dump massive amounts of money into the multilateral system,” he said.
Some of the measures to reduce bureaucracy and paperwork in the Grand Bargain may appear prosaic, but the relief from form-filling burden could be significant.International Committee of the Red Cross president Peter Maurer said “it was absurd to spend so much time and money for reporting that no one would read”. USAID administrator Gayle Smith noted ironically that she had recently received a “standing ovation” for talking about the topic of “uniform reporting requirements”.
Of the ten areas covered, two have gone further than others: transparency and funding of local and national aid agencies. Those hoping for major reform on cash-based aid and needs assessments are generally disappointed.
On transparency, the group committed to publish their financial data in a common open format within two years. Nils Carstensen of Local2Global protection, an NGO policy unit, said the current data situation “is so bad, it can only get better”, saying there are “huge unknowns” in the most basic tracing of funding flows.
Local NGOs too emerge winners. IRIN asked southern NGO activist Degan Ali, a driving force in the creation of the new NEAR Network, for a brief comment on the Grand Bargain. She simply said “25%”. She was referring to a target for local NGOs to get a quarter of international humanitarian funding by 2020. This would be many times more than the current proportion, and making a dent in the dominance of giant UN agencies and international NGOs. A greater embrace of local capacity would build “a culture of respect… of trust” and “shared risk”, said International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Secretary-General As Sy.
The pledge: “publish timely, transparent, harmonised and open high-quality data on humanitarian funding within two years”. The agreement notes that the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) data model is likely to be the agreed format. Several major donors already publish at least some of their information in this format. This should help accountability both upwards to the donor and downwards to the recipients of aid.
Since the latest figures indicate only 0.4% of emergency funding goes direct to local and national operators, the target of 25% by 2020 (even if “as directly as possible”) is high. Southern NGOs will likely receive more funding, on better terms, but will not easily shake off the sub-contracting relationship with the UN agencies and big international NGOs.
It’s a major disappointment to cash advocates that the Grand Bargain has no firm targets for the expanded use of cash, despite studies saying it is now beyond question that it works. The text is contradictory. On one hand, it says “using cash helps deliver greater choice and empowerment to affected people and strengthens local markets, but remains underutilised”. On the other, the paper calls for further research “to better understand its risks and benefits”.
While donors want their grantees to trim costs, recipient aid agencies also blame donor bureaucracy for adding friction to their transactions. “Reducing management costs depends upon reducing donors’ and aid organisations’ individual reporting requirements and oversight mechanisms,” the document states. Donors should “harmonise” boilerplate grant agreements. Aid agencies are obliged to be more open about their real costs “by the end of 2017” and meanwhile find savings from sharing back-office costs such as transport, logistics, IT and insurance.
The question of needs assessment is fraught. Critics say the aid agencies too often get to define the scale of the problem, pick where they wish to intervene and set their price tag. The Grand Bargain text tackles only a part of the problem of overlapping and duplicative assessments by involved aid agencies. It says donors and aid agencies will “provide a single, comprehensive, cross-sectoral, methodologically sound and impartial overall assessment of needs for each crisis to inform strategic decisions on how to respond and fund thereby reducing the number of assessments….” De-linking assessment from response, by example by commissioning independent assessments, was floated in earlier drafts but not the final text. Assessment specialists ACAPS call this a “Grand Step Sideways”.
The end customers of aid often have little choice or influence in the services they get, and feedback mechanisms so far have had little impact in changing programme delivery. The Grand Bargain states that “we need to provide accessible information, ensure that an effective process for participation and feedback is in place and that design and management decisions are responsive to the views of affected communities and people”. The agreement invokes two different sets of guidelines for this, the Core Humanitarian Standard and the IASC Commitments to Accountability to Affected Populations. Donors will have to agree that programmes can change as a result of community feedback, while aid agencies have to show how they incorporate it into their programmes.
In long-running crises, aid agencies often find themselves presenting similar programmes to donors year after year that have no longer-term goals and waste time and effort. The greatest proportion of humanitarian finding is issued on a 12-month cycle. The Grand Bargain target is for five countries to trial multi-year planning and funding by the end of 2017.
Donors typically earmark funds to specific projects, but it can become wasteful and encourage micro-management. The Grand Bargain suggests that various varieties of pooled funding mechanisms will expand. The UN’s CERF fund, which is a funding source for UN agencies from multiple donors, is likely to rise to one billion dollars a year. The goal to reduce earmarking is worded without much promise of enforceability: “The aim is to aspire to achieve a global target of 30 percent of humanitarian contributions that is non-earmarked or softly earmarked by 2020.” Measurable progress on this will depend heavily on classifications of earmarking, so the first action point is to determine what constitutes earmarking or “soft” earmarking. Interestingly, aid agencies who hope to enjoy less strings attached to their monies will also have to pass down the benefit – the smaller NGO sub-grantees of a major UN agency or NGO should also get less strings attached. Crticis note that an earlier initiative to reduce earmarking, Good Humanitarian Donorship, is not mentioned in the Grand Bargain text and has not been fully implemented.
The text is relatively straightforward, and puts more onus on the donors: “simplify and harmonise reporting requirements by the end of 2018 by reducing its volume, jointly deciding on common terminology, identifying core requirements and developing a common report structure“.
Combining emergency and development funds and agendas is a hot-button issue. Attempting to find a delicate balance, the text says “it is about working collaboratively across institutional boundaries on the basis of comparative advantage”. The general intent is broad (the Red Cross Movement has distanced itself from this section): “use existing resources and capabilities better to shrink humanitarian needs over the long term with the view of contributing to the outcomes of the Sustainable Development Goals. Significantly increase prevention, mitigation and preparedness for early action to anticipate and secure resources for recovery. This will need to be the focus not only of aid organisations and donors but also of national governments at all levels, civil society, and the private sector.”
All aid workers have been there. Stepping off the plane, squinting into unfamiliar light, a freshly signed contract clutched in our jet-lagged hands – freshly minted aid workers arriving on our first ever mission. Just as at home – whether you’re national or international staff – you’re desperate to impress. But forget getting stuck in the lift or spilling coffee down your new shirt, aid environments provide entirely new ways to screw up on your first day. Even when knee-deep in post-typhoon mud, first impressions are everything. So here’s our toolkit for not putting your newly-sandalled foot in your mouth.
The eternal question is what to pack? The art of second-guessing what you’ll need in three weeks time takes on a different dimension when, by then, you might be halfway up the Congo river. You need to be extra careful with your baggage allowance. I’d suggest not, for example, panic-buying a child’s mattress, especially one in Barbie doll print, just because you heard en-route to post-tsunami Aceh in Indonesia that colleagues were sleeping on the floor. How my colleagues laughed when they showed me to my room, complete with a bed, in an actual house.
All I suffered was piss-taking, unlike my ecoconscious friend who took organic bug repellent to Sierra Leone. “Needless to say, I was down with malaria within a few weeks,” she remembers. But at least we did some research, unlike the American friend who, deployed to Russia, packed shot glasses. Or another headed for Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo who packed a tin of sweet potatoes. “I always cook Thanksgiving dinner wherever I am,” she says, in her defence. “I was worried about getting the ingredients.”
Oh, and one more thing: do actually sign the contract before you leave. Don’t just believe the nice man who tells you over the phone that they’ll sort it when you get to Haiti/Nepal/complete-as-applicable, or you could end up in a crisis zone with no medical insurance, no allowances, a salary half that of your colleagues – and a six-month fight to rectify it all.
Wrongly guessing the look at your destination is a classic error and easily done, no matter how hard you try. “Trying to be culturally appropriate my first day in Sudan, I wore what I thought were tasteful billowy clothes for a 50C summer day,” remembers one friend. “The head of human resources asked me if I was Amish.” On the other hand, blending in too well is also an issue. Another friend recalls landing in a remote area, jumping out of the helicopter, “and realising that, from a distance, my trousers and top looked exactly like the uniform of the militias that had been harassing people in the same area.”
Whatever you wear, though, do remember to bring more than one outfit. One friend – not even a rookie – was deployed to Aceh after the 2004 tsunami with only one pair of trousers packed. When, after two weeks of constant wear in the heat, he finally got a new pair, his long-suffering colleagues were so relieved they included it in the UN daily situation report, in bright pink, 24-point type. As proofreading was not a top priority at that point in the response, it wasn’t removed and landed up on desks from Downing Street to Canberra.
The moral of the story? Ask in advance. And always pack spare trousers.
Once arrived, get settled in. “On my first night in Kosovo, I had just got into the shower at the hotel when gunshots went off right outside my window,” remembers one colleague. “I turned off the lights, hit the deck, shimmied along the floor to get some clothes and went immediately down to the bar – where no one else had even noticed … My introduction to happy fire.”
Guesthouses can also be traps for the unwary. One colleague, who had never seen a generator, confesses: “I had to be told what the ‘roaring’ sound was.” Another, deployed to Myanmar after cyclone Nargis, came unstuck when she tried to do a little tidying up using some outsized rubbish bags she found. “It was only when I asked why the binbags were too big that a colleague told me they were actually bodybags,” she remembers.
All offices have their quirks, but field stations in particular can be more Heart of Darkness than David Brent and, generally speaking, challenging the boss never ends well. “In Gabon, in my first two weeks, I sat at the head of the table at the first all-staff meeting without thinking about it. It was the only empty chair left. You could almost hear the gasps, as if I, the only white westerner in the place, was deliberately trying to usurp ‘Madame’, the resident representative. It was downhill from there.”
Another useful tip: If you’re working in communications, as I was in my first posting, it’s best not to tell the head of the UNDP that they can’t put ‘capacity building’ into a press release because “it doesn’t mean anything”.
And finally, you might want to note that the requirement for everyone to have VHF radios and communicate with a central radio room basically means the end of privacy. To take another colleague’s experience: if you inform the radio operator – as per protocol – that you are going to a bar with the rest of the office and everyone checks back in when they are home except you and the logistician who reports his position as being in a hotel “with guest”, everyone – including all the drivers – will know what you were up to by the morning.
The Tow Center for Digital Journalism’s Emily Bell spoke to Edward Snowden over a secure channel about his experiences working with journalists and his perspective on the shifting media world. This is an excerpt of that conversation, conducted in December 2015. It will appear in a forthcoming book: Journalism After Snowden: The Future of the Free Press in the Surveillance State, which will be released by Columbia University Press in 2016.
Emily Bell: Can you tell us about your interactions with journalists and the press?
Edward Snowden: One of the most challenging things about the changing nature of the public’s relationship to media and the government’s relationship to media is that media has never been stronger than it is now. At the same time, the press is less willing to use that sort of power and influence because of its increasing commercialization. There was this tradition that the media culture we had inherited from early broadcasts was intended to be a public service. Increasingly we’ve lost that, not simply in fact, but in ideal, particularly due to the 24-hour news cycle.
We see this routinely even at organizations like The New York Times. The Intercept recently published The Drone Papers, which was an extraordinary act of public service on the part of a whistleblower within the government to get the public information that’s absolutely vital about things that we should have known more than a decade ago. These are things that we really need to know to be able to analyze and assess policies. But this was denied to us, so we get one journalistic institution that breaks the story, they manage to get the information out there. But the majors—specifically The New York Times—don’t actually run the story, they ignore it completely. This was so extraordinary that the public editor, Margaret Sullivan, had to get involved to investigate why they suppressed such a newsworthy story. It’s a credit to the Times that they have a public editor, but it’s frightening that there’s such a clear need for one.
In the UK, when The Guardian was breaking the NSA story, we saw that if there is a competitive role in the media environment, if there’s money on the line, reputation, potential awards, anything that has material value that would benefit the competition, even if it would simultaneously benefit the public, the institutions are becoming less willing to serve the public to the detriment of themselves. This is typically exercised through the editors. This is something that maybe always existed, but we don’t remember it as always existing. Culturally, we don’t like to think of it as having always existed. There are things that we need to know, things that are valuable for us, but we are not allowed to know, because The Telegraph or the Times or any other paper in London decides that because this is somebody else’s exclusive, we’re not going to report it. Instead, we’ll try to “counter-narrative” it. We’ll simply go to the government and ask them to make any statement at all, and we will unquestioningly write it down and publish it, because that’s content that’s exclusive to us. Regardless of the fact that it’s much less valuable, much less substantial than actual documented facts that we can base policy discussions on. We’ve seemingly entered a world where editors are making decisions about what stories to run based on if it’ll give oxygen to a competitor, rather than if it’s news.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this, because while I do interact with media, I’m an outsider. You know media. As somebody who has worked in these cultures, do you see the same thing? Sort of the Fox News effect, where facts matter less?
The distance between allegation and fact, at times, makes all the difference in the world.
Bell: It’s a fascinating question. When you look at Donald Trump, there’s a problem when you have a press which finds it important to report what has happened, without a prism of some sort of evaluation on it. That’s the Trump problem, right? He says thousands of Muslims were celebrating in the streets of New Jersey after 9/11 and it’s demonstrably not true. It’s not even a quantification issue, it’s just not true. Yet, it dominates the news cycle, and he dominates the TV, and you see nothing changing in the polls—or, rather, him becoming more popular.
There are two things I think here, one of which is not new. I completely agree with you about how the economic dynamics have actually produced, bad journalism. One of the interesting things which I think is hopeful about American journalism is that within the last 10 years there’s been a break between this relationship, which is the free market, which says you can’t do good journalism unless you make a profit, into intellectually understanding that really good journalism not only sometimes won’t make a profit, but is almost never going to be anything other than unprofitable.
I think your acts and disclosures are really interesting in that it’s a really expensive story to do, and it is not the kind of story that advertisers want to stand next to. Actually people didn’t want to pay to read them. Post hoc they’ll say, we like The Guardian; we’re going to support their work. So I agree with you that there’s been a disjuncture between facts and how they are projected. I would like to think it’s going to get better.
You’re on Twitter now. You’re becoming a much more rounded out public persona, and lots of people have seen Citizenfour. You’ve gone from being this source persona, to being more actively engaged with Freedom of the Press Foundation, and also having your own publishing stream through a social media company. The press no longer has to be the aperture for you. How do you see that?
Snowden: Today, you have people directly reaching an audience through tools like Twitter, and I have about 1.7 million followers right now (this number reflects the number of Twitter followers Snowden had in December 2015). These are people, theoretically, that you can reach, that you can send a message to. Whether it’s a hundred people or a million people, individuals can build audiences to speak with directly. This is actually one of the ways that you’ve seen new media actors, and actually malicious actors, exploit what are perceived as new vulnerabilities in media control of the narrative, for example Donald Trump.
At the same time these strategies still don’t work […] for changing views and persuading people on a larger scope. Now this same thing applies to me. The director of the FBI can make a false statement, or some kind of misleading claim in congressional testimony. I can fact-check and I can say this is inaccurate. Unless some entity with a larger audience, for example, an established institution of journalism, sees that themselves, the value of these sorts of statements is still fairly minimal. They are following these new streams of information, then reporting out on those streams. This is why I think we see such a large interplay and valuable interactions that are emerging from these new media self-publication Twitter-type services and the generation of stories and the journalist user base of Twitter.
If you look at the membership of Twitter in terms of the influence and impact that people have, there are a lot of celebrities out there on Twitter, but really they’re just trying to maintain an image, promote a band, be topical, remind people that they exist. They’re not typically effecting any change, or having any kind of influence, other than the directly commercial one.
Bell: Let’s think about it in terms of your role in changing the world, which is presenting these new facts. There was a section of the technology press and the intelligence press who, at the time of the leaks, said we already know this, except it’s hidden in plain sight. Yet, a year after you made the disclosures, there was a broad shift of public perception about surveillance technologies. That may recede, and probably post-Paris, it is receding a little bit. Are you frustrated that there isn’t more long-term impact? Do you feel the world has not changed quickly enough?
Snowden: I actually don’t feel that. I’m really optimistic about how things have gone, and I’m staggered by how much more impact there’s been as a result of these revelations than I initially presumed. I’m famous for telling Alan Rusbridger that it would be a three-day story. You’re sort of alluding to this idea that people don’t really care, or that nothing has really changed. We’ve heard this in a number of different ways, but I think it actually has changed in a substantial way.
Now when we talk about the technical press, or the national security press, and you say, this is nothing new, we knew about this, a lot of this comes down to prestige, to the same kind of signaling where they have to indicate we have expertise, we knew this was going on. In many cases they actually did not. The difference is, they knew the capabilities existed.
This is, I think, what underlies why the leaks had such an impact. Some people say stories about the mass collection of internet records and metadata were published in 2006. There was a warrantless wiretapping story in The New York Times as well. Why didn’t they have the same sort of transformative impact? This is because there’s a fundamental difference when it comes down to the actionability of information between knowledge of capability, the allegation that the capability couldbe used, and the fact that it is being used. Now what happened in 2013 is we transformed the public debate from allegation to fact. The distance between allegation and fact, at times, makes all the difference in the world.
That, for me, is what defines the best kind of journalism. This is one of the things that is really underappreciated about what happened in 2013. A lot of people laud me as the sole actor, like I’m this amazing figure who did this. I personally see myself as having a quite minor role. I was the mechanism of revelation for a very narrow topic of governments. It’s not really about surveillance, it’s about what the public understands—how much control the public has over the programs and policies of its governments. If we don’t know what our government really does, if we don’t know the powers that authorities are claiming for themselves, or arrogating to themselves, in secret, we can’t really be said to be holding the leash of government at all.
One of the things that’s really missed is the fact that as valuable and important as the reporting that came out of the primary archive of material has been, there’s an extraordinarily large, and also very valuable amount of disclosure that was actually forced from the government, because they were so back-footed by the aggressive nature of the reporting. There were stories being reported that showed how they had abused these capabilities, how intrusive they were, the fact that they had broken the law in many cases, or had violated the Constitution.
One of the biggest issues is that we have many more publishers competing for a finite, shrinking amount of attention span that’s available.
When the government is shown in a most public way, particularly for a president who campaigned on the idea of curtailing this sort of activity, to have continued those policies, in many cases expanded them in ways contrary to what the public would expect, they have to come up with some defense. So in the first weeks, we got rhetorical defenses where they went, nobody’s listening to your phone calls. That wasn’t really compelling. Then they went, “It’s just metadata.” Actually that worked for quite some time, even though it’s not true. By adding complexity, they reduced participation. It is still difficult for the average person in the street to understand that metadata, in many cases, is actually more revealing and more dangerous than the content of your phone calls. But stories kept coming. Then they went, well alright, even if it is “just metadata,” it’s still unconstitutional activity, so how do we justify it?Then they go—well they are lawful in this context, or that context.
They suddenly needed to make a case for lawfulness, and that meant the government had to disclose court orders that the journalists themselves did not have access to, that I did not have access to, that no one in the NSA at all had access to, because they were bounded in a completely different agency, in the Department of Justice.
This, again, is where you’re moving from suspicion, from allegation, to factualizing things. Now of course, because these are political responses, each of them was intentionally misleading. The government wants to show itself in the best possible light. But even self-interested disclosures can still be valuable, so long as they’re based on facts. They’re filling in a piece of the puzzle, which may provide the final string that another journalist, working independently somewhere else, may need. It unlocks that page of the book, fills in the page they didn’t have, and that completes the story. I think that is something that has not been appreciated, and it was driven entirely by journalists doing follow-up.
There’s another idea that you mentioned: that I’m more engaged with the press than I was previously. This is very true. I quite openly in 2013 took the position that this is not about me, I don’t want to be the face of the argument. I said that I don’t want to correct the record of government officials, even though I could, even though I knew they were making misleading statements. We’re seeing in the current electoral circus that whatever someone says becomes the story, becomes the claim, becomes the allegation. It gets into credibility politics where they’re going, oh, you know, well, Donald Trump said it, it can’t be true. All of the terrible things he says put aside, there’s always the possibility that he does say something that is true. But, because it’s coming from him, it will be analyzed and assessed in a different light. Now that’s not to say that it shouldn’t be, but it was my opinion that there was no question that I was going to be subject to a demonization campaign. They actually recorded me on camera saying this before I revealed my identity. I predicted they were going to charge me under the Espionage Act, I predicted they were going to say I helped terrorists, blood on my hands, all of that stuff. It did come to pass. This was not a staggering work of genius on my part, it’s just common sense, this is how it always works in the case of prominent whistleblowers. It was because of this that we needed other voices, we needed the media to make the argument.
Because of the nature of the abuse of classification authorities in the United States, there is no one that’s ever held a security clearance who’s actually able to make these arguments. Modern media institutions prefer never to use their institutional voice to factualize a claim in a reported story, they want to point to somebody else. They want to say this expert said, or this official said, and keep themselves out of it. But in my mind, journalism must recognize that sometimes it takes the institutional weight to assess the claims that are publicly available, and to make a determination on that basis, then put the argument forth to whoever the person under suspicion is at the time, for example, the government in this case, and go—look, all of the evidence says you were doing this. You say that’s not the case, but why should we believe you? Is there any reason that we should not say this?
This is something that institutions today are loath to do because it’s regarded as advocacy. They don’t want to be in the position of having to referee what is and is not fact. Instead they want to play these “both sides games” where they say, instead we’ll just print allegations, we’ll print claims from both sides, we’ll print their demonstrations of evidence, but we won’t actually involve ourselves in it.
Because of this, I went the first six months without giving an interview. It wasn’t until December 2013 that I gave my first interview to Barton Gellman of The Washington Post. In this intervening period my hope was that some other individual would come forth on the political side, and would become the face of this movement. But more directly I thought it would inspire some reflection in the media institutions to think about what their role was. I think they did a fairly good job, particularly for it being unprecedented, particularly for it being a segment in which the press has been, at least in the last 15 years, extremely reluctant to express any kind of skepticism regarding government claims at all. If it involved the word “terrorism,” these were facts that wouldn’t be challenged. If the government said, look, this is secret for a reason, this is classified for a reason, journalists would leave it at that. Again, this isn’t to beat up onThe New York Times, but when we look at the warrantless wiretapping story that was ready to be published in October of an election year, that [election] was decided by the smallest margin in a presidential election, at least in modern history. It’s hard to believe that had that story been published, it would not have changed the course of that election.
Bell: Former Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson has said her paper definitely made mistakes, “I wish we had not withheld stories.” What you’re saying certainly resonates with what I know and understand of the recent history of the US press, which is that national security concerns post-9/11 really did alter the relationship of reporting, particularly with administration and authority in this country. What we know about drone programs comes from reporting, some of it comes from the story which The Intercept got hold of, and Jeremy Scahill’s reporting on it, which has been incredibly important. But a great deal of it has also come from the ground level. The fact that we were aware at all that drones were blowing up villages, killing civilians, crossing borders where they were not supposed to be really comes from people who would report from the ground.
Something interesting has definitely happened in the last three years, which makes me think about what you are telling us about how the NSA operates. We’re seeing a much closer relationship now between journalism and technology and mass communication technology than we’ve ever seen before. People are now completely reliant on Facebook. Some of that is a commercial movement in the US, but you also have activists and journalists being regularly tortured or killed in, say, Bangladesh, where it’s really impossible to operate a free press, but they are using these tools. It is almost like the American public media now isFacebook. I wonder how you think about this? It’s such a recent development.
Snowden: One of the biggest issues is that we have many more publishers competing for a finite, shrinking amount of attention span that’s available. This is why we have the rise of these sort of hybrid publications, like a BuzzFeed, that create just an enormous amount of trash and cruft. They’re doing AB testing and using scientific principles. Their content is specifically engineered to be more attention getting, even though they have no public value at all. They have no news value at all. Like here’s 10 pictures of kittens that are so adorable. But then they develop a news line within the institution, and the idea is that they can drive traffic with this one line of stories, theoretically, and then get people to go over onto the other side.
Someone’s going to exploit this; if it’s not going to be BuzzFeed, it’s going to be somebody else. This isn’t a criticism of any particular model, but the idea here is that the first click, that first link is actually consuming attention. The more we read about a certain thing, that’s actually reshaping our brains. Everything that we interact with, it has an impact on us, it has an influence, it leaves memories, ideas, sort of memetic expressions that we then carry around with us that shape what we look for in the future, and that are directing our development.
Bell: Yes, well that’s the coming singularity between the creation of journalism and large-scale technology platforms, which are not intrinsically journalistic. In other words, they don’t have a primary purpose.
Snowden: They don’t have a journalistic role, it’s a reportorial role.
Bell: Well, it’s a commercial role, right? So when you came to Glenn andThe Guardian, there wasn’t a hesitation in knowing the primary role of the organization is to get that story to the outside world as securely and quickly as possible, avoiding prior restraint, protecting a source.
Is source protection even possible now? You were extremely prescient in thinking there’s no point in protecting yourself.
Snowden: I have an unfair advantage.
Bell: You do, but still, that’s a big change from 20 years ago.
Snowden: This is something that we saw contemporary examples of in the public record in 2013. It was the James Rosen case where we saw the Department of Justice, and government more broadly, was abusing its powers to demand blanket records of email and call data, and the AP casewhere phone records for calls that were made from the bureaus of journalism were seized.
That by itself is suddenly chilling, because the traditional work of journalism, the traditional culture, where the journalist would just call their contact and say, hey, let’s talk, suddenly becomes incriminating. But more seriously, if the individual in question, the government employee who is working with a journalist to report some issue of public interest, if this individual has gone so far to commit an act of journalism, suddenly they can be discovered trivially if they’re not aware of this.
We see the delta between the periods of time that successive administrations can keep a secret is actually diminishing—the secrets are becoming public at an accelerated pace.
I didn’t have that insight at the time I was trying to come forward because I had no relationship with journalists. I had never talked to a journalist in any substantive capacity. So, instead I simply thought about the adversarial relationship that I had inherited from my work as an intelligence officer, working for the CIA and the NSA. Everything is a secret and you’ve got two different kinds of cover. You’ve got cover for status, which is: You’re overseas, you’re living as a diplomat because you have to explain why you’re there. You can’t just say, oh, yeah, I work for the CIA. But you also have a different kind of cover which is what’s called cover for action. Where you’re not going to live in the region for a long time, you may just be in a building and you have to explain why you’re walking through there, you need some kind of pretext. This kind of trade-craft unfortunately is becoming more necessary in the reportorial process. Journalists need to know this, sources need to know this. At any given time, if you were pulled over by a police officer and they want to search your phone or something like that, you might need to explain the presence of an application. This is particularly true if you’re in a country like Bangladesh. I have heard that they’re now looking for the presence of VPN [virtual private network software] for avoiding censorship locks and being able to access uncontrolled news networks as evidence of opposition, allegiance, that could get you in real trouble in these areas of the world.
At the time of the leaks I was simply thinking, alright the government—and this isn’t a single government now—we’re actually talking about the Five Eyes intelligence alliance [the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, Canada] forming a pan-continental super-state in this context of sharing, they’re going to lose their minds over this. Some institutions in, for example, the UK, can levy D notices, they can say, look, you can’t publish that, or you should not publish that. In the United States it’s not actually certain that the government would not try to exercise prior restraint in slightly different ways, or that they wouldn’t charge journalists as accomplices in some kind of criminality to interfere with the reporting without actually going after the institutions themselves, single out individuals. We have seen this in court documents before. This was the James Rosen case, where the DOJ had named him as sort of an accessory—they said he was a co-conspirator. So the idea I thought about here was that we need institutions working beyond borders in multiple jurisdictions simply to complicate it legally to the point that the journalists could play games, legally and journalistically more effectively and more quickly than the government could play legalistic games to interfere with them.
Bell: Right, but that’s kind of what happened with the reporting of the story.
Snowden: And in ways that I didn’t even predict, because who could imagine the way a story like that would actually get out of hand and go even further: Glenn Greenwald living in Brazil, writing for a US institution for that branch, but headquartered in the UK, The Washington Post providing the institutional clout and saying, look, this is a real story, these aren’t just crazy leftists arguing about this, and Der Spiegel in Germany with Laura [Poitras]. It simply represented a system that I did not believe could be overcome before the story could be put out. By the time the government could get their ducks in a row and try to interfere with it, that would itself become the story.
Bell: You’re actually giving a sophisticated analysis of much of what’s happened to both reporting practice and media structures. As you say, you had no prior interactions with journalists. I think one of the reasons the press warmed to you was because you put faith in journalists, weirdly. You went in thinking I think I can trust these people, not just with your life, but with a huge responsibility. Then you spent an enormous amount of time, particularly with Glenn, Laura, and Ewen [MacAskill] in those hotel rooms. What was that reverse frisking process like as you were getting to know them? My experience is as people get closer to the press, they often like it less. Why would you trust journalists?
Snowden: This gets into the larger question—how did you feel about journalists, what was the process of becoming acquainted with them? There’s both a political response and a practical response. Specifically about Glenn, I believe very strongly that there’s no more important quality for a journalist than independence. That’s independence of perspective, and particularly skepticism of claims. The more powerful the institution, the more skeptical one should be. There’s an argument that was put forth by an earlier journalist, I.F. Stone: “All governments are run by liars and nothing they say should be believed.” In my experience, this is absolutely a fact. I’ve met with Daniel Ellsberg and spoken about this, and it comports with his experience as well. He would be briefing the Secretary of Defense on the airplane, and then when the Secretary of Defense would disembark right down the eight steps of the plane and shake hands with the press, he would say something that he knew was absolutely false and was completely contrary to what they had just said in the meeting [inside the place] because that was his role. That was his job, his duty, his responsibility as a member of that institution.
There’s an argument that was put forth by an earlier journalist, I.F. Stone: “All governments are run by liars and nothing they say should be believed.” In my experience, this is absolutely a fact.
Now Glenn Greenwald, if we think about him as an archetype, really represents the purest form of that. I would argue that despite the failings of any journalist in one way or another, if they have that independence of perspective, they have the greatest capacity for reporting that a journalist can attain. Ultimately, no matter how brilliant you are, no matter how charismatic you are, no matter how perfect or absolute your sourcing is, or your access, if you simply take the claims of institutions that have the most privilege that they must protect, at face value, and you’re willing to sort of repeat them, all of those other things that are working in your favor in the final calculus amount to nothing because you’re missing the fundamentals.
There was the broader question of what it’s like working with these journalists and going through that process. There is the argument that I was naïve. In fact, that’s one of the most common criticisms about me today—that I am too naïve, that I have too much faith in the government, that I have too much faith in the press. I don’t see that as a weakness. I am naïve, but I think that idealism is critical to achieving change, ultimately not of policy, but of culture, right? Because we can change this or that law, we can change this or that policy or program, but at the end of the day, it’s the values of the people in these institutions that are producing these policies or programs. It’s the values of the people who are sitting at the desk with the blank page in Microsoft Office, or whatever journalists are using now.
Bell: I hope they’re not using Microsoft Office, but you never know.
Snowden: They have the blank page …
Bell: They have the blank page, exactly.
Snowden: In their content management system, or whatever. How is that individual going to approach this collection of facts in the next week, in the next month, in the next year, in the next decade? What will the professor in the journalism school say in their lecture that will impart these values, again, sort of memetically into the next cohort of reporters? If we do not win on that, we have lost comprehensively. More fundamentally, people say, why did you trust the press, given their failures? Given the fact that I was, in fact, quite famous for criticizing the press.
Bell: If they had done their job, you would be at home now.
Snowden: Yeah, I would still be living quite comfortably in Hawaii.
Bell: Which is not so bad, when you put it that way.
Snowden: People ask how could you do this, why would you do this? How could you trust a journalist that you knew had no training at all in operational security to keep your identity safe because if they screw up, you’re going to jail. The answer was that that was actually what I was expecting. I never expected to make it out of Hawaii. I was going to try my best, but my ultimate goal was simply to get this information back in the hands of the public. I felt that the only way that could be done meaningfully was through the press. If we can’t have faith in the press, if we can’t sort of take that leap of faith and either be served well by them, or underserved and have the press fail, we’ve already lost. You cannot have an open society without open communication. Ultimately, the test of open communication is a free press. If they can’t look for information, if they can’t contest the government’s control of information, and ultimately print information—not just about government, but also about corporate interests, that has a deleterious impact on the preferences of power, on the prerogatives of power. You may have something, but I would argue it’s not the traditional American democracy that I believed in.
So the idea here was that I could take these risks because I already expected to bear the costs. I expected the end of the road was a cliff. This is actually illustrated quite well in Citizenfour because it shows that there was absolutely no plan at all for the day after.
The planning to get to the point of working with the journalists, of transmitting this information, of explaining, contextualizing—it was obsessively detailed, because it had to be. Beyond that, the risks were my own. They weren’t for the journalists. They could do everything else. That was by design as well, because if the journalists had done anything shady—for example, if I had stayed in place at the NSA as a source and they had asked me for this document, and that document, it could have undermined the independence, the credibility of the process, and actually brought risks upon them that could have led to new constraints upon journalism.
Bell: So nothing you experienced in the room with the team, or what happened after, made you question or reevaluate journalism?
Snowden: I didn’t say that. Actually working more closely with the journalists has radically reshaped my understanding of journalism, and that continues through to today. I think you would agree that anybody who’s worked in the news industry, either directly or even peripherally, has seen journalists—or, more directly, editors—who are terrified, who hold back a story, who don’t want to publish a detail, who want to wait for the lawyers, who are concerned with liability.
You also have journalists who go out on their own and they publish details which actually are damaging, directly to personal safety. There were details published by at least one of the journalists that were discussing communication methods that I was still actively using, that previously had been secret. But the journalists didn’t even forewarn me, so suddenly I had to change all of my methods on the fly. Which worked out OK because I had the capabilities to do that, but dangerous.
Bell: When did that happen?
Snowden: This was at the height of public interest, basically. The idea here is that a journalist ultimately, and particularly a certain class of journalist, they don’t owe any allegiance to their source, right? They don’t write the story in line with what the sources desires, they don’t go about their publication schedule to benefit, or to detriment, in theory, the source at all. There are strong arguments that that’s the way it should be: public knowledge of the truth is more important than the risks that knowledge creates for a few. But at the same time, when a journalist is reporting on something like a classified program implicating one of the government’s sources, you see an incredibly high standard of care applied to make sure they can’t be blamed if something goes wrong down the road after publication. The journalists will go, well we’ll hold back this detail from that story reporting on classified documents, because if we name this government official it might expose them to some harm, or it might get this program shut down, or even if it might cause them to have to rearrange the deck chairs in the operations in some far away country.
That’s just being careful, right? But ask yourself—should journalists be just as careful when the one facing the blowback of a particular detail is their own source? In my experience, the answer does not seem to be as obvious as you might expect.
Bell: Do you foresee a world where someone won’t have to be a whistleblower in order to reveal the kinds of documents that you revealed? What kinds of internal mechanisms would that require on behalf of the government? What would that look like in the future?
Snowden: That’s a really interesting philosophical question. It doesn’t come down to technical mechanisms, that comes down to culture. We’ve seen in the EU a number of reports from parliamentary bodies, from the Council of Europe, that said we need to protect whistleblowers, in particular national security whistleblowers. In the national context no country really wants to pass a law that allows individuals rightly, or wrongly, to embarrass the government. But can we provide an international framework for this? One would argue, particularly when espionage laws are being used to prosecute people, they already exist. That’s why espionage, for example, is considered a political offense, because it’s just a political crime, as they say. That’s a fairly weak defense, or fairly weak justification, for not reforming whistleblower laws. Particularly when, throughout Western Europe they’re going, yeah, we like this guy, he did a good thing. But if he shows up on the doorstep we’re going to ship him back immediately, regardless of whether it’s unlawful, just because the US is going to retaliate against us. It’s extraordinary that the top members of German government have said this on the record—that it’s realpolitik; it’s about power, rather than principle.
Now how we can fix this? I think a lot of it comes down to culture, and we need a press that’s more willing and actually eager to criticize government than they are today. Even though we’ve got a number of good institutions that do that, or that want to do that, it needs a uniform culture. The only counterargument the government has made against national security whistleblowing, and many other things that embarrassed them in the past, is that well, it could cause some risk, we could go dark, they could have blood on their hands.
Why do they have different ground rules in the context of national security journalism?
We see that not just in the United States, but in France, Germany, the UK, in every Western country, and of course, in every more authoritarian country by comparison they are embracing the idea of state secrets, of classifications, or saying, you can’t know this, you can’t know that.
We call ourselves private citizens, and we refer to elected representatives as public officials, because we’re supposed to know everything about them and their activities. At the same time, they’re supposed to know nothing about us, because they wield all the power, and we hold all of the vulnerability. Yet increasingly, that’s becoming inverted, where they are the private officials, and we are the public citizens. We’re increasingly monitored and tracked and reported, quantified and known and influenced, at the same time that they’re getting themselves off and becoming less reachable and also less accountable.
Bell: But Ed, when you talk about this in those terms, you make it sound as though you see this as a progression. Certainly there was a sharp increase, as you demonstrated, in overreach of oversight post-9/11. Is it a continuum?
It felt from the outside as though America, post-9/11, for understandable reasons, it was almost like a sort of national psychosis. If you grew up in Europe, there were regular terrorist acts in almost every country after the Second World War, though not on the same scale, until there was a brief, five-year period of respite, weirdly running up to about 2001. Then the nature of the terrorism changed. To some extent, that narrative is predictable. You talk about it as an ever increasing problem. With the Freedom Act in 2015, the press identified this as a significant moment where the temperature had changed. You don’t sound like you really think that. You sound as though you think that this public/private secrecy, spying, is an increasing continuum. So how does that change? Particularly in the current political climate where post-Paris and other terrorist attacks we’ve already seen arguments for breaking encryption.
Snowden: I don’t think they are actually contradictory views to hold. I think what we’re talking about are the natural inclinations of power and vice, what we can do to restrain it, to maintain a free society. So when we think about where things have gone in the USA Freedom Act, and when we look back at the 1970s, it was even worse in terms of the level of comfort that the government had that it could engage in abuses and get away with them. One of the most important legacies of 2013 is not anything that was necessarily published, but it was the impact of the publication on the culture of government. It was a confirmation coming quite quickly in the wake of the WikiLeaks stories, which were equally important in this regard. That said, secrecy will not hold forever. If you authorize a policy that is clearly contrary to law, you will eventually have to explain that.
The question is, can you keep it under wraps long enough to get out of the administration, and hopefully for it to be out of the egregious sort of thing where you’ll lose an election as a result. We see the delta between the periods of time that successive administrations can keep a secret is actually diminishing—the secrets are becoming public at an accelerated pace. This is a beneficial thing. This is the same in the context of terrorism.
There is an interesting idea—when you were saying it’s sort of weird that the US has what you described as a collective psychosis in the wake of 9/11 given that European countries have been facing terrorist attacks routinely. The US had actually been facing the same thing, and actually one would argue, experienced similarly high-impact attacks, for example, the Oklahoma City bombing, where a Federal building was destroyed by a single individual or one actor.
Bell: What do you think about the relationship between governments asking Facebook and other communications platforms to help fight ISIS?
Snowden: Should we basically deputize companies to become the policy enforcers of the world? When you put it in that context suddenly it becomes clear that this is not really a good idea, particularly because terrorism does not have a strong definition that’s internationally recognized. If Facebook says, we will take down any post from anybody who the government says is a terrorist, as long as it comes from this government, suddenly they have to do that for the other government. The Chinese allegations of who is and who is not a terrorist are going to look radically different than what the FBI’s are going to be. But if the companies try to be selective about them, say, well, we’re only going to do this for one government, they immediately lose access to the markets of the other ones. So that doesn’t work, and that’s not a position companies want to be in.
However, even if they could do this, there are already policies in place for them to do that. If Facebook gets a notification that says this is a terrorist thing, they take it down. It’s not like this is a particularly difficult or burdensome review when it comes to violence.
The distinction is the government is trying to say, now we want them to start cracking down on radical speech. Should private companies be who we as society are reliant upon to bound the limits of public conversations? And this goes beyond borders now. I think that’s an extraordinarily dangerous precedent to be embracing, and, in turn, irresponsible for American leaders to be championing.
The real solutions here are much more likely to be in terms of entirely new institutions that bound the way law enforcement works, moving us away from the point of military conflict, secret conflict, and into simply public policing.
There’s no reason why we could not have an international counter-terrorism force that actually has universal jurisdiction. I mean universal in terms of fact, as opposed to actual law.
Edward Snowden is a former intelligence officer who served the CIA, NSA, and DIA for nearly a decade as a subject matter expert on technology and cybersecurity. In 2013, he revealed the scope of NSA surveillance globally by providing classified NSA documents to journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Barton Gellman, and Ewen MacAskill. He has been exiled in Russia since July 2013.
Emily Bell is Director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School, and Humanitas Visiting Professor in Media 2015-16 at the The Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Cambridge.
Nearly 15 years after 9/11, the war in Afghanistan is raging and Pakistan deserves much of the blame. It remains a duplicitous and dangerous partner for the United States and Afghanistan, despite $33 billion in American aid and repeated attempts to reset relations on a more constructive course.
In coming weeks, Gen. John Nicholson Jr., the new American commander in Afghanistan, will present his assessment of the war. It’s likely to be bleak and may question the wisdom of President Obama’s goal of cutting the American force of 10,000 troops to 5,500 by the end of the year. The truth is, regardless of troop levels, the only hope for long-term peace is negotiations with some factions of the Taliban. The key to that is Pakistan.
Pakistan’s powerful army and intelligence services have for years given support to the Taliban and the Haqqani terrorist network and relied on them to protect Pakistani interests in Afghanistan and prevent India from increasing its influence there. Under American pressure, the Pakistan Army recently waged a military campaign against the Taliban in the ungoverned border region. But the Haqqanis still operate in relative safety in Pakistan. Some experts say the army has helped engineer the integration of the Haqqanis into the Taliban leadership.
Pakistan’s double game has long frustrated American officials, and it has grown worse. There are now efforts in Washington to exert more pressure on the Pakistan Army. Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has wisely barred the use of American aid to underwrite Pakistan’s purchase of eight F-16 jet fighters. Pakistan will still be allowed to purchase the planes, but at a cost of $700 million instead of about $380 million.
Mr. Corker told The Times he would lift the hold on the aid if Pakistan cracks down on the Haqqani network, which he called the “No. 1 threat” to Afghanistan and American troops there.
President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan is also getting tougher with Pakistan’s leaders. He courted Pakistan for more than a year in the hopes that the army would bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. But the surge in violence forced him to effectively end negotiations. Last month, he threatened to lodge a complaint with the United Nations Security Council if Pakistan refuses to take military action against Taliban leaders on its soil.
While such pressure makes sense, severing ties as the United States did in the 1990s after Pakistan developed a nuclear weapon is unwise. The two countries still share intelligence, and Pakistan allows American drones to target militant leaders in the border region. Given that Pakistan has the world’s fastest-growing nuclear arsenal, America needs to be able to maintain a dialogue and help Pakistan keep the weapons out of the hands of extremists.
Last year, more Afghan civilians and troops were killed than in any other year since the Taliban was toppled in 2001. Since taking office in 2014, Mr. Ghani has been a more reliable leader than his predecessor, Hamid Karzai. But his unity government is crippled by political infighting, endemic corruption, a budget crunch and an unsustainable troop casualty rate.
That grim reality presents difficult choices for Mr. Obama, who must decide whether to keep the current troop strength and possibly to change the military’s role to fight the Taliban more directly.
President Obama declared, with undue optimism, more than 16 months ago that “the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion.” It will be left to his successor to figure out how and whether the Taliban can be lured into political negotiations. That will only happen if the American government finds a way to convince Pakistan to stop fueling the war.
U.S.: 6 infant deaths per 1,000 live births
Haiti: 54 deaths per 1,000 live births
U.S.: 21 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births
Haiti: 350 deaths per 100,000 live births
Births accompanied by skilled attendants (%)
U.S.: 98.5 percent
Haiti: 37.3 percent total; 24.6 percent in rural Haiti
Sources: World Health Organization, UNICEF, HAS
Fleurilus Vilton Melyse trudges up and down miles of rugged, goat-track trails every week to deliver critical medical updates to some of Haiti’s most remote mountain communities.
Her primary directive this summer: Teach and motivate rural Haitians — most of whom lack electricity and Internet access — to thwart the spread of Zika, the mosquito-borne virus declared by the World Health Organization to be an international public health emergency.
Melyse, 45, is among 142 community health workers trained to do medical outreach for Hopital Albert Schweitzer, a 60-year-old institution in Haiti’s Artibonite Valley with Pittsburgh origins and a Strip District-based administrative staff.
Its 610-square-mile service area of about 350,000 people has combatted deadlier diseases in recent years, including HIV/AIDS and cholera, and mosquito-borne illnesses such as dengue and chikungunya, which causes debilitating joint pain and is carried by the same mosquito type that transmits Zika.
Yet, to Melyse, who was born in these rural mountains and is a mother of five, Zika elicits a heightened sense of trepidation and urgency because of its link to severe brain damage in babies whose mothers carry the Zika virus during pregnancy.
“I won’t always be here. The children, the next generation, they will be here to support Haiti,” Melyse said in her native French, translated for the Tribune-Review by a hospital official. “It’s really important for us to prevent this, because if it has a negative impact on the children, it has a negative effect on all of Haiti.
“I don’t want that for my country.”
Bracing for an outbreak
Mosquito-breeding season has begun in Haiti. June is typically its wettest summer month.
“It’s upon us, and that’s not anything we can change the schedule on,” said John R. Walton, board chairman for HAS, which has scrambled since January to develop a three-year, prevention-focused strategy for addressing Zika. “We’re very nervous.”
International observers and local health care officials are bracing for a potential outbreak that could further devastate the poorest country in the western hemisphere.
Zika is transmitted primarily by Aedes aegypti, a species of mosquito that thrives in tropical areas and exists in the southern United States, surfacing in warmer months.
The threat of widespread disease in Haiti is exacerbated by deficient water and sanitation systems, a severely under-resourced health care system and infrastructure that was weak or lacking even before the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 220,000 people and displaced millions.
Haiti has had more than 2,000 suspected cases of Zika since Jan. 15, about a dozen involving pregnant women, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. As of last week, HAS facilities alone had logged 684 suspected cases of Zika.
“Women who are already pregnant are more scared,” Melyse said. “Women who aren’t pregnant, there is a sense of worry.”
‘Prevention is priority’
The CDC concluded in mid-April that Zika causes birth defects including microcephaly, an affliction in which babies are born with smaller than normal heads and often smaller, improperly developed brains.
Not all women infected by Zika have babies with microcephaly; however, there is no known cure, and experts estimate it could take 18 months to two years before a reliable vaccine becomes available.
“We can’t wait two years to deal with this,” Walton said. “The thrust of our work is to try to prevent women from being pregnant when they get bit the first time.”
Nearly 6,000 rural Haitians — about 5,000 of whom were women — attended 185 education sessions on Zika hosted by HAS community health workers in the past three months. The HAS staff members stand out in their approach because they also tap into a network of more than 300 matrones, the less formally trained but well-trusted birth attendants embedded within rural communities.
Community workers go over the symptoms of Zika — joint pain, itchy rash, red eyes — and urge anyone experiencing them to get to a health post for evaluation. They stress the importance of eliminating unnecessary standing bodies of water and protecting pregnant women from mosquito bites.
Basic protectants in the United States like screens on windows of air-conditioned homes are practically nonexistent for these Haitians, who must collect and purify their own water supply and clear their own trash.
Some standing water is merely a factor of subsistence farming.
“If you’re working in a rice paddy, it’s hard to say you’re going to eliminate the standing water; it’s not going to happen pretty much,” Walton said.
Women are being urged to participate in family planning and hold off on pregnancy if they want to minimize risks.
“The faster we can react and get people the family planning materials and information they need,” said Jayson Samuels, major gifts manager for HAS, “the more successful we can be at stemming the tide of this thing.”
The hospital’s Zika response plan — developed in January and revised this month — focuses on strengthening the health care system’s outreach capacity, increasing data collection and building partnerships with organizations that work with children with disabilities. It calls for increased training to ensure any pregnant woman who has contracted Zika receives an ultrasound 18 to 20 weeks into pregnancy.
The nonprofit health care group is heeding close attention to the budding development of low-cost tests, vaccines and so-called Zika kits — packs advocated by the CDC that include the likes of a bed net, insect repellent, standing water treatment tabs and condoms.
The hope of HAS officials is that if the region can hold off a major outbreak for two years, a majority of the population will develop antibodies making them immune to the disease.
HAS, whose roots date to 1956 as the brainchild of public health pioneer and Pittsburgher Larry Mellon, has a $6 million annual budget, with 550 Haitian employees and five based in the Strip District.
It has succeeded in stemming deadlier problems than Zika, namely the cholera epidemic that infected 8 percent of Haitians through contaminated water and killed more than 9,000 between 2010 and 2014. HAS, which treated nearly 5,000 people at the height of the problem in 2011, had less than 30 cases last year.
“We’re hoping to see the same kind of impact here with Zika,” said Walton, “so that if women have already been exposed and then become pregnant, it won’t be an issue.”
Let’s pretend, for a moment, that you are a 22-year-old college student in Kampala, Uganda. You’re sitting in class and discreetly scrolling through Facebook on your phone. You see that there has been another mass shooting in the US, this time in a place called San Bernardino. You’ve never heard of it. You’ve never been to the US. But you’ve certainly heard a lot about the gun violence there. It seems like a new mass shooting happens every week.
You wonder if you could go there and get stricter gun legislation passed. You’d be a hero to the American people, a problem-solver, a lifesaver. How hard could it be? Maybe there’s a fellowship for high-minded people like you to go to the US after college and train as social entrepreneurs. You could start the nonprofit organisation that ends mass shootings, maybe even win a humanitarian award by the time you are 30.
Sound hopelessly naive? Maybe even a little deluded? It is. And yet, it’s not much different from how too many Americans think about social change in the global south.
If you asked a 22-year-old American about gun control in this country, she would probably tell you that it’s a lot more complicated than taking some workshops on social entrepreneurship and starting a nonprofit. She might tell her counterpart from Kampala about the intractable nature of the legislative branch, the long history of gun culture in this country and its passionate defenders, the complexity of mental illness and its treatment. She would perhaps mention the added complication of agitating for change as an outsider.
But if you ask that same 22-year-old American about some of the most pressing problems in a place like Uganda — rural hunger or girls’ secondary education or homophobia — she might see them as solvable. Maybe even easily solvable.
I’ve begun to think about this trend as the reductive seduction of other people’s problems. It’s not malicious. In many ways, it’s psychologically defensible; we don’t know what we don’t know.
If you’re young, privileged, and interested in creating a life of meaning, of course you’d be attracted to solving problems that seem urgent and readily solvable. Of course you’d want to apply for prestigious fellowships that mark you as an ambitious altruist among your peers. Of course you’d want to fly on planes to exotic locations with, importantly, exotic problems.
First, it’s dangerous for the people whose problems you’ve mistakenly diagnosed as easily solvable. There is real fallout when well-intentioned people attempt to solve problems without acknowledging the underlying complexity.
There are so many examples. As David Bornstein wrote in the New York Times, over four decades of westerners working on clean water has led to “billions of dollars worth of broken wells and pumps. Many of them functioned for less than two years”.
One classic example: in 2006, the US government, the Clinton Foundation, the Case Foundation, and others pledged millions of dollars to Playpump, essentially a merry-go-round pump that produced safe drinking water. Despite being touted as the (fun!) answer to the developing world’s water woes, by 2007, a quarter of the pumps in Zambia (pdf) alone were in disrepair. It was estimated that children would need to “play” for 27 hours a day to produce the water Playpump promised.
We are easily seduced by aid projects that promise play. The Soccket, an energy-generating soccer ball, made a splash in 2011 when it raised $92,296 (£64,300) on Kickstarter. Three short years later, the company that created it wrote to its backers: “Most of you received an incredibly underwhelming product with a slew of manufacturing and quality control errors … In summary, we totally f*#ked up this Kickstarter campaign.”
Reading their surprisingly candid mea culpa, I couldn’t help but wonder where the equivalent message was to the kids in energy-starved areas whose high hopes were darkened by a defunct ball. In some cases, the reductive seduction can actively cause harm. In its early years, Toms Shoes — which has become infamous for its “buy one give one” business model, giving a pair of shoes for every one sold — donated American-made shoes which could potentially put local shoe factory workers out of jobs.
Second, the reductive seduction of other people’s problems is dangerous for the people whose problems you’ve avoided. While thousands of the country’s best and brightest flock to far-flung places to ease unfamiliar suffering and tackle foreign dysfunction, we’ve got plenty of domestic need.
In a chilling essay, CZ Nnaemeka calls this underserved American demographic – single mothers, veterans, the elderly – the “unexotic underclass” and argues that entrepreneurs have missed a huge opportunity. “The unexotic underclass has big problems, maybe not the Big Problems – capital B, capital P – that get ‘discussed’ at Davos. But they have problems nonetheless.”
There is tremendous need and opportunity in the US that goes unaddressed. There’s a social dimension to this: the “likes” one gets for being an international do-gooder might be greater than for, say, working on homelessness in Indianapolis. One seems glamorous, while the other reminds people of what they neglect while walking to work.
I understand the attraction of working outside of the US. There’s no question that the scale and severity of need in so many countries goes far beyond anything we experience or witness stateside. Why should those beautiful humans deserve any less of our best energy just because we don’t share a nationality?
And I’m not arguing that staying close to home inoculates kids, especially of the white, privileged variety, like me, from making big mistakes.
But don’t go because you’ve fallen in love with solvability. Go because you’ve fallen in love with complexity.
Don’t go because you want to do something virtuous. Go because you want to do something difficult.
Don’t go because you want to talk. Go because you want to listen.
Don’t go because you loved studying abroad. Go because, like Molly Melching, you plan on putting down roots. Melching, a native of Illinois, is widely credited with ending female genital cutting in Senegal. But it didn’t happen overnight. She has been living in and around Dakar since 1974, developing her organisation, Tostan, and its strategy of helping communities collectively address human rights abuses. Her leadership style is all about finely calibrated moments of risk – when she will challenge a local leader, for example – and restraint – when she will hold off on challenging because she hasn’t yet developed enough trust with him. That kind of leadership doesn’t develop during a six-month home stay.
There’s a better way. For all of us. Resist the reductive seduction of other people’s problems and, instead, fall in love with the longer-term prospect of staying home and facing systemic complexity head on. Or go if you must, but stay long enough, listen hard enough so that “other people” become real people. But, be warned, they may not seem so easy to “save”.
As part of its “Stocks for Food” program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to ship 500 metric tons of peanuts to Haitian schools, which could destroy Haiti’s peanut market and the livelihood and income of 150,000 peanut farmers and their families, warned the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, a non-profit based in Boston, Massachusetts.
“This is the latest in a long history of U.S.-sponsored programs which have destabilized Haiti’s agricultural sector, further impoverishing the nation and increasing its dependence on foreign aid,” the group said in a statement, noting that “President Clinton had to apologize for one such misguided program in the 1990s.”
Echoing a message from the “Haitian diaspora,” the human rights group urged U.S. citizens to call their representatives and demand them to pressure the Department of Agriculture to immediately call off the program.
Meanwhile, other voices are speaking out against renewed U.S. interference in Haiti’s political crisis after U.S. proconsul Kenneth Merten visited the country last week.
Merten, U.S. State Department’s special coordinator for Haiti, discussed with various political leaders and members of the civil society the situation in the country, as an ad hoc independent commission was recently set up in order to evaluate serious allegations of massive fraud in the results of October first round elections.
“We hope it is very, very quick and does not change the results of the election,” Merten said.
Washington will have to “look very carefully at what we do moving forward” if there appears to be any manipulation, he said.
The election was postponed in January after sometimes-violent protests over allegations of fraud in the first round.
The results of the first round in October put Jovenel Moise in first place and Jude Celestin in second for a runoff, but Celestin and other candidates rejected the outcome as fraudulent. An interim government has been running the country since the last president’s term ended in February.
On Thursday, a top election official said Haiti willnot meet a deadline to complete its presidential election by April 24, without giving a new date to hold the already delayed vote in the impoverished Caribbean country.
Various political parties and organizations called for mobilizations on Wednesday in order to pressure an investigation into election fraud and to denounce U.S. interference in the political process.
The author is an Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of ESCAP. She has been the UN’s Sherpa for the G20 and previously served as Governor of the Central Bank of Pakistan and Vice President of the MENA Region of the World Bank. The full Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2016 may be downloaded free of charge at http://www.unescap.org/publications/economic-and-social-survey-asia-pacific.
– The Asia-Pacific region’s successful achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development needs to be driven by broad-based productivity gains and rebalancing of economies towards domestic and regional demand. This is the main message of the Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2016, published today by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. Such a strategy will not only underpin the revival of robust and resilient economic growth, but also improve the quality of growth by making it more inclusive and sustainable.
How should Asia-Pacific policymakers go about implementing such a strategy? Approaches by developing Asia-Pacific economies that are tilted more towards reliance on export-led economic recovery will be ineffective under the current circumstances. Despite extraordinary measures, global aggregate demand remains weak and China’s economic expansion is moderating. The impact of further loosening of monetary policy is also likely to remain muted, and is not advisable. The key reason is a confluence of macroeconomic risks that are clouding the economic outlook, such as low commodity prices affecting resource-dependent economies, volatility in exchange rates, as well as growing private household and corporate debt, the impact of which is likely to be complicated by the ambiguous path of interest rate increases to be pursued by the United States.
The contribution of export-led economic growth to overall development of economies, supported by low interest rates and rising private debt, seems to have plateaued, with economic growth in developing Asia-Pacific economies in 2016 and 2017 forecast to marginally increase to 4.8% and 5% respectively from an estimated 4.6% in 2015. This is considerably below the average of 9.4% in the pre-crisis period of 2005-2007.
Along with the economic slowdown, progress in poverty reduction is slowing, inequalities are rising and prospects of decent employment are weakening. At the same time, rapid urbanization and a rising middle class are posing complex economic, social, and environmental and governance challenges. Such conditions can undermine the significant development successes of the region in recent decades, making it more difficult to deal with the unfinished development agenda, such as lifting 639 million people out of poverty. Had inequality not increased, approximately 200 million more people could have been lifted out of poverty in the three most populous countries of the region alone.
To overcome these challenges, revive the region’s economic dynamism and effectively pursue the 2030 Agenda, policymakers are advised to use all available policy levers, including countercyclical fiscal policy and supportive social protection measures, which critically calls for raising domestic resources. Such interventions would not only support domestic demand but also strengthen the foundations for future productivity-led growth by targeting areas such as: labour quality, including knowledge, skills, and health of the workforce; innovation through trade, investment and R&D; adequate infrastructure in transport, energy and ICT; and access to finance, especially by SMEs.
Fiscal measures, underpinning such initiatives, should be accompanied by sustained reforms towards efficient and fair tax systems which deliver the necessary revenues for the required investment in sustainable development
Sustained increases in domestic demand will also require steady growth in real wages. This requires linking labour productivity more closely to wage levels. Strengthening the enabling environment for collective bargaining is one necessary component in the policy arsenal of governments, with the enforcement of minimum wages as another important policy tool.
After increasing significantly over the last few decades, productivity growth has declined in recent years. This is worrying not only because wage growth has lagged behind productivity growth, but also because wage growth ultimately depends on productivity growth. Specifically, compared to the period 2000-2007, annual growth of total factor productivity has declined by more than 65% in developing countries of the region, averaging only 0.96% per year between 2008 and 2014; labour productivity growth has declined by 30%, reaching just 3.9% in 2013.
The recently-adopted Sustainable Development Goals provide an entry point to strengthen productivity. For instance, raising agricultural productivity and thus lifting rural households income must be the center of the focus to end poverty (Goal 1), to end hunger and achieve food security (Goal 2). This is because agriculture accounts for one in four workers in the region and more than half of the region’s people live in rural areas. Efforts to eradicate poverty and increase agricultural productivity would also foster development of the rural sector and encourage industrialization (Goal 9).
Higher levels of productivity in agriculture will also free-up labour, which would be available to work in the non-agricultural sector. It is therefore imperative to consider a broader development strategy that moves towards full and productive employment (Goal 8) to accommodate the “agricultural push” of labour. This will require mechanisms to provide, particularly those with low skills, access to quality education and lifelong learning (Goal 4).The need to provide quality education cannot be overemphasized in view of the skills bias of modern technology, which reduces the pace of absorption of unskilled labour released from the agricultural sector.
Thus, whereas the Goals will contribute to strengthening productivity, importantly, strengthening productivity will also contribute to the success of a number of the Goals, creating a virtuous cycle between sustainable development, productivity and economic growth.
This article forms part of a series by IPS for World Press Freedom Day, May 3.
– Media freedoms appear increasingly under siege around the world, with concerning signs that achieving middle-income status is no guarantee for an independent political watchdog in the form of the press.
The death this week of a LGBT magazine editor in Bangladesh shows that around the world, those who speak up are too often themselves tragically silenced.The news is constant and disheartening.
In Mexico, journalists are knocked off – by criminal gangs, or maybe by colluding public authorities – and only rarely is their death punished. The fact that the government has a special prosecutor for such crimes does not seem to have any impact.
In South Africa, a new bill on national security allows for whistle blowers to be jailed for decades – the first legislation since the end of apartheid that curtails a freedom many once fought for.
The arrest of newspaper editors in Turkey is alarming. In Tunisia, the media’s main enemy is no longer tyranny in the form of a dictator, the new constitution tried to make defamation and libel – often flexible categories – punishable by fines only, but those the government often insist on use the penal code. A pending bill that would criminalize “denigration” of security forces.
Security threats, not always well-defined, are increasingly cited to promote further restrictions – in France, Belgium and beyond. The U.S. Senate has proposed requiring Internet companies to report “terrorist activity” and a UN Security Council committee recently called for Internet platforms to be liable for hosting content posted by extremists – even though the Islamic State alone posts an estimated 90,000 posts a day and has been known to taunt the social media platforms they use for trying to stop them.
Proposed Internet regulations are not just about terrorism or alleged civil war. They can be used to muffle news about deadly industrial accidents, government corruption and more. China wants to forbid foreign ownership of online media.
Censorship can use commercial pressure. Many feel the reason a major Kenyan daily sacked its editor was out of fear criticism of the government would lead to an advertising boycott and the risk of bankruptcy. The recent purchase of Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post by Alibaba’s founder, widely seen as close to Beijing, will be watched closely.
Looser defamation laws – proposed in the U.S. by a presidential candidate – have a long history of being used to silence people through long Kafka-esque judicial action.
One of the stranger cases – yet no less symptomatic of the trend – was the Indian government’s firing of an educational newspaper’s editor for having published a story suggesting that iron is an important nutritional element and can be obtained from beef or veal – a taboo food according to the ideological Hinduism championed by the current ruling party.
What to do?
There is a broadly-agreed narrative that claims a free and independent press is an essential part of any genuine democracy. It has long been held that while there may be stages along the way for developing countries, upholding media freedom is a strong sign of commitment that bodes well for improved governance across the board and thus better human welfare for all.
I have not heard one coherent argument claiming that this is no longer the case. Political leaders should be pressured to state publicly that they do not believe in media freedom’s merits – which few will do – rather than hide behind vague security threats that often sound like the rumour mill that preceded the guillotines of the French Revolution. This can work, as shown last year when international pressure led President Joko Widodo of Indonesia to force a senior minister to drop new rules curtailing the rights of foreign journalists in the country.
Public pressure on governments to make sure legislative threats to the press are reversed and threats against media freedom properly policed are essential. A Swedish law that makes it illegal for a reporter to reveal an anonymous source warrants consideration for emulation. And this highlights how journalists themselves must help achieve the goal.
Self-regulation can work, as Scandinavian countries show. Independent press councils can serve as a powerful forum – ideally enhanced with a public code of ethics that all parties can invoke – both for journalists themselves and readers and other stakeholders who may complain about their work.
After all, while a free press means that a journalist has rights, it does not mean that she or he is right.
To prove effective, a whole ecosystem must be set up. Sweden’s Freedom of the Press Act is now several centuries old, and the country has a constitutional principle requiring that all public records be available to the public. It is true that the experience of the Nordic countries is historically linked to the absence of feudalism, but it is an implicit goal of all democracy to overcome such legacies, so setting up institutions that mutually reinforce the free flow of information is part of any sustainable development in the interest of all – and not a perk upon arrival.
Digital publishing has, to be sure, raised thorny questions, notably about whether expressions that insult cultural sensitivities – whatever they may be – contribute to the culture a free press needs and is meant to foster. Opinions may vary on where appropriate limits may lie. But all authorities – precisely because they hold power – should accept the principle that the free press exists to hold them accountable, and that suppressing journalists will not bolster their power but ultimately erode it.
– Ten presidents and prime ministers from around the world will work together to resolve the growing global water crisis amid warnings that the world may face a 40 percent shortfall in water availability by 2030.
The figures continue to be staggering: despite improvements, at least 663 million still do not have access to safe drinking water.
And projecting into the future, the United Nations says an estimated 1.8 billion people – out of a total world population of over 7 billion – will live in countries or regions with water scarcities.
The crisis has been aggravated by several factors, including climate change (triggering droughts) and military conflicts (where water is being used as a weapon of war in several war zones, including Iraq, Yemen and Syria).
The High Level Panel on Water, announced jointly by the the United Nations and World Bank last week. is expected to mobilise financial resources and scale up investments for increased water supplies. It will be co-chaired by President Ameenah Gurib of Mauritius and President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico. The other eight world leaders on the panel include: Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australia; Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh; János Áder, President of Hungary; Abdullah Ensour, Prime Minister of Jordan; Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands; Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa; Macky Sall, President of Senegal; and Emomali Rahmon, President of Tajikistan.
At a UN panel discussion last week, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson of Sweden said water lies at the nexus between sustainable development and climate action.
Referring to the two extremes in weather patterns– droughts on the one hand and floods on the other – Eliasson said one of his colleagues who visited Pakistan after a huge flood, remarked: “Too much water and not a drop to drink.”
When world leaders held a summit meeting last September to adopt the UN’s post-2015 development agenda, they also approved 17 SDGs, including the elimination of extreme poverty and hunger and the provision of safe drinking water to every single individual in the world – by a targeted date of 2030.
But will this target be reached by the 15 year deadline?
Sanjay Wijesekera, Associate Director, Programmes, and Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at the UN children’s agency UNICEF, told IPS: “As we enter the SDG era, there is no doubt that the goal to get ‘safely managed’ water to every single person on earth within the next 15 years is going to be a challenge. What we have learned from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is that water cannot be successfully tackled in isolation.”
He said water safety is compromised every day from poor sanitation, which is widespread in many countries around the world, particularly in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
Currently, nearly two billion people worldwide are estimated to be drinking water which may be faecally contaminated.
As a result, UNICEF and others working on access to safe water, will have to redouble their efforts on improving people’s access to and use of toilets, and especially to end open defecation.
“As we address water, sanitation and hygiene, we must also take into account climate change. Droughts, floods, and extreme weather conditions all have an effect on the availability and the safety of water,” said Wijesekera.
He also pointed out that some 160 million children under-5 live in areas at high risk of drought, while around half a billion live in flood zones.
Asked how best the water crisis can be resolved, Darcey O’Callaghan, International Policy Director at Food and Water Watch, told IPS the global water crisis must be addressed in two primary ways.
“First, we must provide clean, safe, sufficient water to all people because water is a human right. Affordability is a key component of meeting this need. Second, we must protect water sustainability by not overdrawing watersheds beyond their natural recharge rate.”
“If we allow water sources to run dry, then we lose the ability to protect people’s human rights. So clearly, we must address these two components in tandem,” she said.
To keep water affordable, she pointed out, it must be managed by a public entity, not a private, for-profit one. Allowing corporations to control access to water (described as “water privatization”) has failed communities around the globe, resulting in poor service, higher rates and degraded water quality.
Corporations like Veolia and Suez — and their subsidiaries around the world—are seeking to profit off of managing local water systems, she said, pointing out that financial institutions like the World Bank and regional development banks often place conditions on loans to developing countries that require these systems to be privatized.
“But this is a recipe for disaster. Profits should not be the priority when it comes to providing water and sanitation services to people”, said O’Callaghan.
Asked if the public should pay for water, she said there is no longer any question that water and sanitation are both human rights. What the public pays for is water infrastructure upkeep and the cost of running water through the networks that deliver this resource to our homes, schools, businesses and government institutions.
“The UN has established guidelines for water affordability –three percent of household income—and these guidelines protect the human right to water. If the water service fee is beyond a household’s ability to pay, it is a human rights violation.”
One approach that has shown promise are public-public partnerships (PPPs). In contrast to privatization, which puts public needs into the hands of profit-seeking corporations, PPPs bring together public officials, workers and communities to provide better service for all users more efficiently.
PUPs allow two or more public water utilities or non-governmental organizations to join forces and leverage their shared capacities. PPPs allow multiple public utilities to pool resources, buying power and technical expertise, she said.
The benefits of scale and shared resources can deliver higher public efficiencies and lower costs. These public partnerships, whether domestic or international, improve and promote public delivery of water through sharing best practices, said O’Callaghan.