Issues & Analysis
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HAITI, DEVELOPMENT: Red Cross Built Exactly 6 Homes For Haiti With Nearly Half A Billion Dollars In Donations

Even as the group has publicly celebrated its work, insider accounts detail a string of failures

THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF CAMPECHE sprawls up a steep hillside in Haiti’s capital city, Port-au-Prince. Goats rustle in trash that goes forever uncollected. Children kick a deflated volleyball in a dusty lot below a wall with a hand-painted logo of the American Red Cross.

In late 2011, the Red Cross launched a multimillion-dollar project to transform the desperately poor area, which was hit hard by the earthquake that struck Haiti the year before. The main focus of the project — called LAMIKA, an acronym in Creole for “A Better Life in My Neighborhood” — was building hundreds of permanent homes.

Today, not one home has been built in Campeche. Many residents live in shacks made of rusty sheet metal, without access to drinkable water, electricity or basic sanitation. When it rains, their homes flood and residents bail out mud and water.

The Red Cross received an outpouring of donations after the quake, nearly half a billion dollars.

The group has publicly celebrated its work. But in fact, the Red Cross has repeatedly failed on the ground in Haiti. Confidential memos, emails from worried top officers, and accounts of a dozen frustrated and disappointed insiders show the charity has broken promises, squandered donations, and made dubious claims of success.

The Red Cross says it has provided homes to more than 130,000 people. But the actual number of permanent homes the group has built in all of Haiti: six.

After the earthquake, Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern unveiled ambitious plans to “develop brand-new communities.” None has ever been built.

Aid organizations from around the world have struggled after the earthquake in Haiti, the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country. But ProPublica and NPR’s investigation shows that many of the Red Cross’s failings in Haiti are of its own making. They are also part of a larger pattern in which the organization has botched delivery of aid after disasters such asSuperstorm Sandy. Despite its difficulties, the Red Cross remains the charity of choice for ordinary Americans and corporations alike after natural disasters.

One issue that has hindered the Red Cross’ work in Haiti is an overreliance on foreigners who could not speak French or Creole, current and former employees say.

In a blistering 2011 memo, the then-director of the Haiti program, Judith St. Fort, wrote that the group was failing in Haiti and that senior managers had made “very disturbing” remarks disparaging Haitian employees. St. Fort, who is Haitian American, wrote that the comments included, “he is the only hard working one among them” and “the ones that we have hired are not strong so we probably should not pay close attention to Haitian CVs.”

The Red Cross won’t disclose details of how it has spent the hundreds of millions of dollars donated for Haiti. But our reporting shows that less money reached those in need than the Red Cross has said.

Lacking the expertise to mount its own projects, the Red Cross ended up giving much of the money to other groups to do the work. Those groups took out a piece of every dollar to cover overhead and management. Even on the projects done by others, the Red Cross had its own significant expenses – in one case, adding up to a third of the project’s budget.

Where did the half billion raised for Haiti go? The Red Cross won’t say.

In statements, the Red Cross cited the challenges all groups have faced in post-quake Haiti, including the country’s dysfunctional land title system.

“Like many humanitarian organizations responding in Haiti, the American Red Cross met complications in relation to government coordination delays, disputes over land ownership, delays at Haitian customs, challenges finding qualified staff who were in short supply and high demand, and the cholera outbreak, among other challenges,” the charity said.

The group said it responded quickly to internal concerns, including hiring an expert to train staff on cultural competency after St. Fort’s memo. While the group won’t provide a breakdown of its projects, the Red Cross said it has done more than 100. The projects include repairing 4,000 homes, giving several thousand families temporary shelters, donating $44 million for food after the earthquake, and helping fund the construction of a hospital.

“Millions of Haitians are safer, healthier, more resilient, and better prepared for future disasters thanks to generous donations to the American Red Cross,” McGovern wrote in a recent report marking the fifth anniversary of the earthquake.

In other promotional materials, the Red Cross said it has helped “more than 4.5 million” individual Haitians “get back on their feet.”

It has not provided details to back up the claim. And Jean-Max Bellerive, Haiti’s prime minister at the time of the earthquake, doubts the figure, pointing out the country’s entire population is only about 10 million.

“No, no,” Bellerive said of the Red Cross’ claim, “it’s not possible.”


When the earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, the Red Cross was facing a crisis of its own. McGovern had become chief executive just 18 months earlier, inheriting a deficit and an organization that had faced scandals after 9/11 and Katrina.

Gail McGovern (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Inside the Red Cross, the Haiti disaster was seen as “a spectacular fundraising opportunity,” recalled one former official who helped organize the effort. Michelle Obama, the NFL and a long list of celebrities appealed for donations to the group.

The Red Cross kept soliciting money well after it had enough for the emergency relief that is the group’s stock in trade. Doctors Without Borders, in contrast, stopped fundraising off the earthquake after it decided it had enough money. The donations to the Red Cross helped the group erase its more-than $100 million deficit.

The Red Cross ultimately raised far more than any other charity.

A year after the quake, McGovern announced that the Red Cross would use the donations to make a lasting impact in Haiti.

We asked the Red Cross to show us around its projects in Haiti so we could see the results of its work. It declined. So earlier this year we went to Campeche to see one of the group’s signature projects for ourselves.

Street vendors in the dusty neighborhood immediately pointed us to Jean Jean Flaubert, the head of a community group that the Red Cross set up as a local sounding board.

Sitting with us in their sparse one-room office, Flaubert and his colleagues grew angry talking about the Red Cross. They pointed to the lack of progress in the neighborhood and the healthy salaries paid to expatriate aid workers.

“What the Red Cross told us is that they are coming here to change Campeche. Totally change it,” said Flaubert. “Now I do not understand the change that they are talking about. I think the Red Cross is working for themselves.”

The Red Cross’ initial plan said the focus would be building homes — an internal proposalput the number at 700. Each would have finished floors, toilets, showers, even rainwater collection systems. The houses were supposed to be finished in January 2013.

The Red Cross promised to build hundreds of new homes in Campeche but none have been built. Many residents still live in crude shacks. (Marie Arago, special to ProPublica)

None of that ever happened. Carline Noailles, who was the project’s manager in Washington, said it was endlessly delayed because the Red Cross “didn’t have the know-how.”

Another former official who worked on the Campeche project said, “Everything takes four times as long because it would be micromanaged from DC, and they had no development experience.”

Shown an English-language press release from the Red Cross website, Flaubert was stunned to learn of the project’s $24 million budget — and that it is due to end next year.

“Not only is [the Red Cross] not doing it,” Flaubert said, “now I’m learning that the Red Cross is leaving next year. I don’t understand that.” (The Red Cross says it did tell community leaders about the end date. It also accused us of “creating ill will in the community which may give rise to a security incident.”)

The project has since been reshaped and downscaled. A road is being built. Some existing homes have received earthquake reinforcement and a few schools are being repaired. Some solar street lights have been installed, though many broke and residents say others are unreliable.

The group’s most recent press release on the project cites achievements such as training school children in disaster response.

The Red Cross said it has to scale back its housing plans because it couldn’t acquire the rights to land. No homes will be built.

Other Red Cross infrastructure projects also fizzled.

A Red Cross effort to save Haitians from cholera was crippled by internal issues. “None of these people had to die,” said a Haitian official.

In January 2011, McGovern announced a $30 million partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID. The agency would build roads and other infrastructure in at least two locations where the Red Cross would build new homes.

But it took more than two and a half years, until August 2013, for the Red Cross just to sign an agreement with USAID on the program, and even that was for only one site. The program was ultimately canceled because of a land dispute.

A Government Accountability Office report attributed the severe delays to problems “in securing land title and because of turnover in Red Cross leadership” in its Haiti program.

Other groups also ran into trouble with land titles and other issues. But they also ultimately built 9,000 homes compared to the Red Cross’ six.

Asked about the Red Cross’ housing projects in Haiti, David Meltzer, the group’s general counsel and chief international officer, said changing conditions forced changes in plans. “If we had said, ‘All we’re going to do is build new homes,’ we’d still be looking for land,” he said.

The USAID project’s collapse left the Red Cross grasping for ways to spend money earmarked for it.

“Any ideas on how to spend the rest of this?? (Besides the wonderful helicopter idea?),” McGovern wrote to Meltzer in a November 2013 email obtained by ProPublica and NPR. “Can we fund Conrad’s hospital? Or more to PiH [Partners in Health]? Any more shelter projects?”

Jean Jean Flaubert says the Red Cross promised to transform his neighborhood. “Now I do not understand the change that they are talking about,” he said. (Marie Arago, special to ProPublica)

It’s not clear what helicopter idea McGovern was referring to or if it was ever carried out. The Red Cross would say only that her comments were “grounded in the American Red Cross’ strategy and priorities, which focus on health and housing.”

Another signature project, known in Creole as “A More Resilient Great North,” is supposed to rehabilitate roads in poor, rural communities and to help them get clean water and sanitation.

But two years after it started, the $13 million effort has been faltering badly. An internal evaluation from March found residents were upset because nothing had been done to improve water access or infrastructure or to make “contributions of any sort to the well being of households,” the report said.

So much bad feeling built up in one area that the population “rejects the project.”

The Red Cross says 91% of donations went to help Haitians. That’s not true.

The group’s failures went beyond just infrastructure.

When a cholera epidemic raged through Haiti nine months after the quake, the biggest part of the Red Cross’ response — a plan to distribute soap and oral rehydration salts — was crippled by “internal issues that go unaddressed,” wrote the director of the Haiti program in her May 2011 memo.

Throughout that year, cholera was a steady killer. By September 2011, when the death toll had surpassed 6,000, the project was still listed as “very behind schedule” according to another internal document.

The Red Cross said in a statement that its cholera response, including a vaccination campaign, has continued for years and helped millions of Haitians.

But while other groups also struggled early responding to cholera, some performed well.

“None of these people had to die. That’s what upsets me,” said Paul Christian Namphy, a Haitian water and sanitation official who helped lead the effort to fight cholera. He says early failures by the Red Cross and other NGOs had a devastating impact. “These numbers should have been zero.”


So why did the Red Cross’ efforts fall so short? It wasn’t just that Haiti is a hard place to work.

“They collected nearly half a billion dollars,” said a congressional staffer who helped oversee Haiti reconstruction. “But they had a problem. And the problem was that they had absolutely no expertise.”

Lee Malany was in charge of the Red Cross’ shelter program in Haiti starting in 2010. He remembers a meeting in Washington that fall where officials did not seem to have any idea how to spend millions of dollars set aside for housing. Malany says the officials wanted to know which projects would generate good publicity, not which projects would provide the most homes.

“When I walked out of that meeting I looked at the people that I was working with and said, ‘You know this is very disconcerting, this is depressing,’” he recalled.

The Red Cross said in a statement its Haiti program has never put publicity over delivering aid.

Malany resigned the next year from his job in Haiti. “I said there’s no reason for me to stay here. I got on the plane and left.”

Transitional shelters like these on the outskirts of Port-Au-Prince, paid for by the Red Cross, typically last three to five years. (Marie Arago, special to ProPublica)

Sometimes it wasn’t a matter of expertise, but whether anybody was filling key jobs. An April 2012 organizational chart obtained by ProPublica and NPR lists 9 of 30 leadership positions in Haiti as vacant, including slots for experts on health and shelter.

The Red Cross said vacancies and turnover were inevitable because of “the security situation, separation from family for international staff, and the demanding nature of the work.”

The constant upheaval took a toll. Internal documents refer to repeated attempts over years to “finalize” and “complete” a strategic plan for the Haiti program, efforts that were delayed by changes in senior management. As late as March 2014, more than four years into a six-year program, an internal update cites a “revised strategy” still awaiting “final sign-off.”

The Red Cross said settling on a plan early would have been a mistake. “It would be hard to create the perfect plan from the beginning in a complicated place like Haiti,” it said. “But we also need to begin, so we create plans that are continually revised.”

The Red Cross says it provided homes to more than 130,000 Haitians. But they didn’t.

“Going to meetings with the community when you don’t speak the language is not productive,” she said. Sometimes, she recalled, expat staffers would skip such meetings altogether.

The Red Cross said it has “made it a priority to hire Haitians” despite lots of competition for local professionals, and that over 90 percent of its staff is Haitian. The charity said it used a local human resources firm to help.

Yet very few Haitians have made it into the group’s top echelons in Haiti, according to five current and former Red Cross staffers as well as staff lists obtained by ProPublica and NPR.

That not only affected the group’s ability to work in Haiti, it was also expensive.

According to an internal Red Cross budgeting document for the project in Campeche, the project manager – a position reserved for an expatriate – was entitled to allowances for housing, food and other expenses, home leave trips, R&R four times a year, and relocation expenses. In all, it added up to $140,000.

Compensation for a senior Haitian engineer — the top local position — was less than one-third of that, $42,000 a year.

Shelim Dorval, a Haitian administrator who worked for the Red Cross coordinating travel and housing for expatriate staffers, recalled thinking it was a waste to spend so much to bring in people with little knowledge of Haiti when locals were available.

“For each one of those expats, they were having high salaries, staying in a fancy house, and getting vacation trips back to their countries,” Dorval said. “A lot of money was spent on those people who were not Haitian, who had nothing to do with Haiti. The money was just going back to the United States.”


Soon after the earthquake, McGovern, the Red Cross CEO, said the group would make sure donors knew exactly what happened to their money.

The Red Cross would “lead the effort in transparency,” she pledged. “We are happy to share the way we are spending our dollars.”

That hasn’t happened. The Red Cross’ public reports offer only broad categories about where $488 million in donations has gone. The biggest category is shelter, at about $170 million. The others include health, emergency relief and disaster preparedness.

After the earthquake, Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern unveiled plans to “develop brand-new communities.” None has ever been built. (Marie Arago, special to ProPublica)

It has declined repeated requests to disclose the specific projects, to explain how much money went to each or to say what the results of each project were.

There is reason to doubt the Red Cross’ claims that it helped 4.5 million Haitians. An internal evaluation found that in some areas, the Red Cross reported helping more people than even lived in the communities. In other cases, the figures were low, and in others double-counting went uncorrected.

In describing its work, the Red Cross also conflates different types of aid, making it more difficult to assess the charity’s efforts in Haiti.

For example, while the Red Cross says it provided more than 130,000 people with homes, that includes thousands of people who were not actually given homes, but rather were “trained in proper construction techniques.” (That was first reported by the Haiti blog of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.)

The figure includes people who got short-term rental assistance or were housed in several thousand “transitional shelters,” which are temporary structures that can get eaten up by termites or tip over in storms. It also includes modest improvements on 5,000 temporary shelters.

The Red Cross also won’t break down what portion of donations went to overhead.

McGovern told CBS News a few months after the quake, “Minus the 9 cents overhead, 91 cents on the dollar will be going to Haiti. And I give you my word and my commitment, I’m banking my integrity, my own personal sense of integrity on that statement.”

But the reality is that less money went to Haiti than 91 percent. That’s because in addition to the Red Cross’ 9 percent overhead, the other groups that got grants from the Red Cross also have their own overhead.

In one case, the Red Cross sent $6 million to the International Federation of the Red Cross for rental subsidies to help Haitians leave tent camps. The IFRC then took out 26 percent for overhead and what the IFRC described as program-related “administration, finance, human resources” and similar costs.

Beyond all that, the Red Cross also spends another piece of each dollar for what it describes as “program costs incurred by the American Red Cross in managing” the projects done by other groups.

The American Red Cross’ management and other costs consumed an additional 24 percent of the money on one project, according to the group’s statements and internal documents. The actual work, upgrading shelters, was done by the Swiss and Spanish Red Cross societies.

“It’s a cycle of overhead,” said Jonathan Katz, the Associated Press reporter in Haiti at the time of the earthquake who tracked post-disaster spending for his book, The Big Truck That Went By. “It was always going to be the American Red Cross taking a 9 percent cut, re-granting to another group, which would take out their cut.”

Given the results produced by the Red Cross’ projects in Haiti, Bellerive, the former prime minister, said he has a hard time fathoming what’s happened to donors’ money.

“Five hundred million dollars in Haiti is a lot of money,” he said. “I’m not a big mathematician, but I can make some additions. I know more or less the cost of things. Unless you don’t pay for the gasoline the same price I was paying, unless you pay people 20 times what I was paying them, unless the cost of the house you built was five times the cost I was paying, it doesn’t add up for me.”

A resident in a Port-Au-Prince transitional shelter paid for by the Red Cross. (Marie Arago, special to ProPublica)

This story was co-published with NPR. Mitzy-Lynn Hyacinthe contributed reporting. Design direction by David Sleight, production by Hannah Birch.

Read about how the Red Cross botched key elements of its mission after Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac in PR Over People: The Red Cross’ Secret Disaster. And about how the Red Cross’ CEO has been serially misleading about where donors’ dollars are going.

If you have information about the Red Cross or about other international aid projects, please email justin@propublica.org.


author photoJustin Elliott is a ProPublica reporter covering politics and government accountability. Previously, he was a reporter at Salon.com and TPMmuckraker and news editor at Talking Points Memo.

Laura Sullivan is a NPR News investigative correspondent whose work has cast a light on some of the country’s most disadvantaged people.

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THIS FRIDAY: Michael Sheridan to Present at ACM Annual Conference

ACM_web_header_551x2791Michael Sheridan, director and founder of Community Supported Film, will join Anthony Riddle, BRIC Brooklyn Public Network, and Bonnie Schumacher, St. Paul Neighborhood Network, to speak about building documentary programs at the Our Town Annual Conference of the Alliance for Community Media.

Friday, August 19 • 4:30pm – 6:00pm, Westin Hotel, 425 Summer St, Boston, MA 02210 (next to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center)

Requires Registration

Building Documentary Programs

Community media has a place in documentary traditions and history, but recently community media centers have created programs that systematically seek to build the tradition in their communities. Some have created filmmaking programs, learning cohorts, film festivals and other ways to support documentary practice. We’ll talk about how to develop these programs, what works, and how these programs contribute to social change, community building and supporting local film communities.

Register here

 

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HAITI, DEVELOPMENT: U.N. Accused of Cover Up as Cholera Ravages Haiti-wnyc.org

Haitians wash clothes in a stream January 8, 2011 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
(Mario Tama / Getty)

Since cholera first broke out in Haiti five years ago, Doctors Without Borders estimates that it has killed as many as 30,000 people, and another 2 million have survived the disease.

Journalists and scientists have traced the disease back to a U.N. compound that was housing peacekeepers from Nepal. The cholera outbreak was sparked after the compound began disposing of raw sewage in a nearby water way.

The U.N. has never taken responsibility for the outbreak or the deaths, but Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has said the U.N. has “a moral responsibility” to help end the spread of the disease.

In a letter, the second highest ranking U.N. official promised the organization would fulfill “its human rights obligations” in Haiti, but U.N. efforts to fight the disease are less than 20 percent funded, meaning the disease is likely to continue to claim more lives.

Here, The Takeaway speaks with Jonathan Katz, author of “The Big Truck that Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster.” He was the first journalist to report the U.N.’s role in Haiti’s cholera outbreak.

“The U.N.’s position essentially hasn’t changed for five years now,” Katz says. “At the very beginning, they were extremely actively involved in a cover up — literally destroying evidence and putting out press releases disclaiming any possibility that they could be responsible, [all] based on evidence and assertions that just weren’t true.”

But Katz says that evidence has come to light that definitively links the U.N. to this deadly cholera outbreak.

Click Listen to get the full story. 4 minutes

wnyc.org   The TakeawayThe Takeaway
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AFGHANISTAN, DEVELOPMENT: What the future holds for Afghan women-aljazeera.com

Afghanistan-womenAl Jazeera speaks to Noorjahan Akbar, a human rights activist, about the immense challenges facing Afghan women

aljazeera.com, By Liz Guch, 5/26/16

Afghanistan’s women have made significant gains in recent years, with more girls attending school and more women working outside the home.

But fear still overshadows the lives of many.

A resurgent Taliban recently provoked outrage by publicly executing two women, but as this 101 East documentary shows, the greatest threat many women face comes from loved ones at home.

Activist Noorjahan Akbar talks about the challenges in overcoming conservative attitudes in the face of rising “anti-woman propaganda”.

Al Jazeera: How would you describe the current state of women’s rights in Afghanistan?

Noorjahan Akbar: Like the current state of the country, the current state of Afghan women is tumultuous and unstable. While – since the US-led intervention – Afghan women have made a considerable amount of progress, with [today’s] increased insecurity, economic inequality, and radicalism, we are afraid that our accomplishments will be threatened, and the few civil rights and individual freedoms we have will be taken away from us.

Since 2009, the number of Afghan women working has increased, but a large number of female activists and journalists have left the country due to fear of violence.

When I talk about the threat of violence, I don’t just mean the Taliban – even though they are largely responsible for targeting and killing female teachers, police officers, journalists, and activists.

On a daily basis, Afghan women face harassment in public spaces. In fact, nine out of 10 women say they have faced harassment at some point on the way to work or school, and out of those, 14 percent say they stopped going to school because of it. Eighty-seven percent of Afghan women have faced verbal, sexual or physical violence at home.

The vast majority of cases of violence against women, even the public targeted assassinations, are not met with any legal consequences.

Despite all this, Afghan women are teachers, ministers, parliamentarians, musicians, writers, journalists, photographers, vaccinators and more, and we are working hard to make things better for ourselves and the country.

But in order for us to really participate in rebuilding Afghanistan, our security should be a priority for our government. When our bodies are fair game, when it is always open season on women, when we are fearful of losing our lives on a daily basis, how can we move the country forward?

Al Jazeera: The Taliban recently publicly executed two women – one of them in an apparent honour killing – in northern Afghanistan, according to news reports. Are you concerned that this could signal a downward spiral for Afghan women?

Akbar: The harsh reality is that even though this case caught the eye of the international press, these ‘honour’ killings are not out of the ordinary. Whether by the Taliban or family members, Afghan women are killed regularly for the simple fact of being born female or choosing their own husbands. However, what these specific public executions tell me is that the rule of law has further deteriorated in Afghanistan and that is not good for anyone.

Al Jazeera: Many Afghan women suffer domestic violence at the hands of their family. How difficult is it to change attitudes towards women?

Akbar: It is extremely difficult to change attitudes towards women and decrease gender-based violence anywhere in the world, but in Afghanistan it is hard also because radicalism, Talibanism and gender-based violence at home are all related and perpetuate one another.

Especially in the last few years, there has been an increase in radical anti-woman propaganda in the big cities. Local mosques that were once moderate and somewhat accepting of women’s rights, now spend entire sermons on how women shouldn’t be allowed to work, study, or even speak in public.

In addition to using public executions to make a show of women’s punishment and terrorise women into silence and into the margins, today’s radicals use televisions, social media, sermons, and even schools to perpetuate and sanctify violence.

Al Jazeera: Impressive gains have been made in the number of girls attending school in Afghanistan. Is there a danger that these rights could be eroded?

Akbar: Yes, and we are seeing the erosion right now. In 2014, 163 schools were attacked in Afghanistan.

The majority of these schools were girls’ schools. This year, these attacks have increased. In January, a girls’ school was torched in Kabul – something that hasn’t happened in the capital city since the Taliban took power in 1996.

In February, the Ministry of Education said 700 schools were closed due to insecurity depriving thousands of girls and boys of an education. Just this week, 20 school girls were poisoned in Ghor province.

These attacks are terrifying, not just for those who have faced the violence themselves, but for the country as a whole.

Al Jazeera: International organisations have raised concerns that women’s rights activists are being deliberately targeted. How difficult is it for activists to stand up and demand change?

Akbar: I don’t know any human rights activist working for gender equality who feels safe in Afghanistan.

We have seen our sisters killed and asked for justice only to be threatened and sidelined more. We have called for the prosecution of those who killed Malalai Kakar, Hanifa Safi, Safia Ahmed Jan, Zakia Zaki and many more journalists and activists killed for being outspoken women and we have been told to shut up.

We are told on a daily basis that we shouldn’t talk about the issues we face, the rape threats we get, the violence women around us face because it will bring shame to our country.

The reality is that the fact that these injustices exist is a matter of shame – not people demanding an end for it.

Al Jazeera: Afghan women still face numerous challenges in their daily lives. Are you optimistic about the future? 

Akbar: Yes. I am optimistic because I see the passion with which young women are working for change inside the country and because I know that despite the heartache, the threats and the disappointments this fight are worth it.

Being pessimistic will not help us. It will only discourage us from working. I prefer not giving up. Afghanistan belongs to me and my peers as much as it belongs to the radicals advocating for violence, and we will not surrender the country to them – not without a fight at least.

@liz_gooch, Liz Gooch is a journalist covering Southeast Asia.

Click here to watch the 101 East documentary, “Afghanistan: No Country for Women”.

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/05/noorjahan-akbar-future-holds-afghan-women-160526080228426.html

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HAITI: Clinton’s Long Shadow – jacobinmag.com

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton visiting the Sae-A garment factory at Caracol Industrial Park in Haiti, in 2012. USAID / Flickr

Is Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid suffocating democracy in Haiti? A growing number of informed observers, both in Haiti and in the United States, think so. They contend that the former secretary of state’s political ambitions are having a profound effect on the Haitian electoral process.

The island’s deeply flawed elections — held last August and October, backed by over $33 million in US funding — triggered massive political unrest this past January.

Coming on the heels of Michel Martelly’s disastrous presidency, the elections spotlight how badly Clinton’s attempts as secretary of state to direct Haitian politics have backfired. The unrest caused the final round of balloting to be suspended and sent the US State Department into damage-control mode.

The department’s overriding — though unofficial — concern over the past year has been to finish Haiti’s elections before the US general election campaign begins in earnest this summer. It desperately wants to keep the results of Clinton’s involvement in Haiti out of the media glare.

Brazen Robbery

Michel Martelly has been aptly described as a Haitian version of Donald Trump. Brash, uncouth, and unapologetically reactionary, Martelly used his celebrity as a popular konpa singer (known as “Sweet Mickey”) to power his rise to the presidency in 2011.

While in office Martelly earned a reputation for corruption and authoritarianism. He wooed foreign investors with the promise that post-earthquake Haiti would be “open for business,” and surrounded himself with the children of Duvalierists and shady underworld figures known to be involved in drug trafficking and kidnapping.

For four years, Martelly declined to organize elections, appointing mayors directly and allowing parliamentarians’ mandates to expire without elected representatives to take their place. He jailed and intimidated political opponents, repressed anti-government demonstrations, and, at the very end of his term, revived the disbanded and much-despised Haitian Army.

By January 2015, Haiti’s parliament was dysfunctional and Martelly was ruling by decree. Under pressure from growing street protests against the return of one-man rule, Martelly grudgingly agreed to organize elections.

Openly declaring his intention to establish a twenty-year political dynasty, he selected Jovenel Moïse, a politically unknown agricultural entrepreneur, as his successor. In August and October of last year, Haitians went to the polls to elect representatives at all levels of government.

Neither election would meet any reasonable democratic standard. Widespread violence, disorder, and stuffed ballot boxes characterized the August elections; in October, hundreds of thousands of fraudulent votes, cast using party accreditation cards sold on the black market, completely skewed the results.

These perversions of the democratic process were compounded by historically low turnout rates and corruption scandals within the electoral council itself, which further undermined the elections’ credibility. In both the legislative and presidential races, Martelly and his allies predictably came out on top.

“Even by Haitian electoral standards, this was brazen robbery,” saidHenry “Chip” Carey, a political scientist who has observed numerous Haitian elections since the 1986 fall of the Duvalier dictatorship.

Despite the election fiasco, the United States (and the other wealthy nations) were enthusiastic, declaring them “a step forward for Haitian democracy.”

The small European Union (EU) and Organization of American States (OAS) observer missions rushed to approve the vote, claiming that the “irregularities” and “isolated” acts of violence had not affected the results.

Elena Valenciano, head of the EU’s electoral observation mission, did not even wait for the polls to close before declaring that the August election day had unfolded in conditions of “near total normalcy.”

Shortly before the October vote, Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Haiti to reaffirm US support for Martelly’s stewardship of the process. As former Haiti expert for the US State Department Robert Maguirelamented, the international powers’ “objective seem[ed] simply to be able to check an ‘elections done’ box.”

But most Haitian observers denounced the elections, and Haitian citizens proved unwilling to accept the low democratic standards set by donor countries. Confronted with the outright theft of their elections, hundreds of thousands of Haitians rose up against what they called an “electoral coup d’état.”

Street protests surged after the October balloting, culminating in January’s angry and disruptive demonstrations. Protesters demanded the establishment of an interim government and an independent election commission to verify the vote.

Saving Face

At the peak of this crisis, former Brazilian diplomat Ricardo Seitenfus made an intriguing allegation: he charged that Haiti’s electoral calendar had been subordinated to the US election cycle. Meeting popular demands for a verification process would require time, much more time than Martelly had left in his mandate.

But American diplomats Kenneth Merten (who served as ambassador to Haiti under Clinton from 2009 to 2011) and Peter Mulrean were demanding that the elections be completed without delay and pressuring opposition candidates to drop their boycott of the final round scheduled for January 24.

Merten and Mulrean insisted that the United States simply wanted constitutional deadlines respected — a laughable claim given how little respect US policy has historically accorded to Haiti’s constitution.

Seitenfus has another explanation for their hostility to an independent investigation of the elections or the establishment of any kind of transitional government: “They want to quickly elect a president in Haiti in order to not make any waves, so that Hillary Clinton’s campaign goes smoothly.”

The reason for the haste, Seitenfus argues, is that Clinton is to blame for both Michel Martelly’s disastrous presidency and the present crisis of Haitian democracy. During the 2010–11 elections, Clinton was determined to see Martelly elected.

His pro-business outlook made him the ideal candidate to lead Haiti’s post-earthquake reconstruction. But, according to official (though strongly contested) results, he did not win enough votes in the first round to advance, so Clinton threw the full weight of the State Department behind her favored candidate.

Clinton’s team exploited every pressure point: cutting off aid, denying visas to top government officials, even plotting a coup against then-president René Préval. In January 2011, Clinton, with the help of behind the scenes pressure from Haiti’s business elites, persuaded Préval to bump Martelly up to second place and into the next round, where he would win the presidential runoff.

“Since Ms. Clinton was deeply involved in the decisions of 2010–11, if things have started badly, they must finish well,” notes Seitenfus, who, as the Organization of American States (OAS) special representative in Haiti, saw these strong-arm tactics firsthand. Seitenfus’s critique of US electoral influence made him a minor celebrity among Haitians, but cost him his OAS post.

The renegade diplomat is not the only one pointing the finger at Clinton. Many other analysts agree that the United States has unduly influenced the international response to the current elections, out of concern for her campaign.

“What international community? In Haiti, it doesn’t exist,” a disgusted diplomat remarked to Swiss journalist Arnaud Robert. “It is the United States that decides, in particular the Clinton couple who simply want to save face before the elections.”

Members of Haiti’s powerful elite agree: “I do not see it going longer than the US election, for obvious reasons,” a member of the Private Sector Economic Forum, a powerful group of Haitian businessmen, said. “They can’t afford this not being solved by the full US election. If Clinton is still in the process . . . they don’t want Haiti in the news, so they want it solved by summer.”

Robert Maguire concurred. “Keeping Haiti off the front page” is a major concern for US policymakers, “even more so with US presidential elections approaching.”

The Sweatshop Model

Sweet Mickey’s presidency is only part of Clinton’s dismal history in Haiti. Jonathan Katz, who covered Haiti for the Associated Press before, during, and after the 2010 earthquake, argues that America’s rush to get past Haiti’s tumultuous elections stems from Clinton’s ongoing involvement in the failed reconstruction efforts.

“Instability in a place where she and her husband have planted a big flag would hardly help her campaign,” he notes.

Throughout her term as secretary of state, Clinton made Haiti one of her top foreign-policy priorities. She and her chief of staff Cheryl Mills closely managed the internationally financed effort to rebuild Haiti after the quake. Bill Clinton pitched in as co-chair of a commission tasked with approving reconstruction projects.

As Clinton wrote in her memoir Hard Choices, rebuilding Haiti was “an opportunity . . . to road-test new approaches to development that could be applied more broadly around the world.”

Wielding an unparalleled level of influence over massive flows of public, private, and philanthropic capital, the Clintons set out to turn their slogan — Haiti “built back better” — into reality.

As Katz told the Washington Post: “There’s nowhere Clinton had more influence or respect when she became Secretary of State than in Haiti, and it was clear that she planned to use that to make Haiti the proving ground for her vision of American power.”

In retrospect, the Clintons’ bold, new vision for Haiti looks more like a mirage. The “new” approach was the same old “sweatshop model of development,” pursued by the United States since the Duvalier days, in a slick new package, and it had the same disastrous results.

A multi-million dollar industrial park the Clintons promoted as Haiti’s economic salvation was a flop on its own capitalist terms, generating only one-tenth of the promised sixty thousand jobs.

Meanwhile, mammoth new slum areas have sprung up north of Port-au-Prince, a testament to the mind-boggling decision to prioritize building luxury hotels for foreign tourists, NGO workers and businesspeople over permanent housing for the over one million Haitians made homeless by the quake.

Six years later, there is no hiding the fact that the Clintons have not helped many ordinary Haitians. Hillary Clinton would prefer to ignore this unflattering reality as November approaches. Katz notes:

By now I’d imagine she was expecting to constantly be pointing to Haiti on the campaign trail as one of the great successes of her diplomatic career. Instead it’s one of her biggest disappointments by nearly any measure, with the wreckage of the Martelly administration she played a larger role than anyone in installing being the biggest and latest example.

Perhaps most troubling from the Clinton campaign’s perspective: the tiny handful of players who did profit from Haiti’s reconstruction includes several members of her inner circle, like Tony Rodham (Hillary’s brother) and Irish billionaire Dennis O’Brien, a fact that Peter Schweizer and other Republican critics delight in pointing out.

Today, Clinton and her political managers prefer not to talk about Haiti at all. When Katz asked how her experience in Haiti shaped her foreign policy, a campaign spokesperson declined to comment, saying Clinton would address that “when the time comes to do so.”

Judging by her campaign website — which touts many of her foreign policy endeavors but makes no mention of Haiti — that time has still not come.

In fact, the time for Clinton to account for her embarrassing entanglements in Haiti may not come at all. There was a brief uptick in national media coverage during the January election protests, but Haiti has, for the most part, stayed out of the headlines, which is exactly where Clinton wants it.

President Martelly’s departure (without an elected successor) has defused a potentially explosive situation, at least for now. And with theminor exception of Hillary’s efforts to block a 2009 minimum wage increase, Clinton’s challenger Bernie Sanders has ignored her ignominious record in Haiti to focus on inequality, health care, and other domestic issues.

But Haiti’s simmering electoral crisis is far from resolved. The interim government that took over in February faces growing hostility from Martelly and his allies — including paramilitaries who claim to represent the re-mobilized military.

A verification commission, convened against American wishes, is currently reexamining the election results for fraud: the United States and other international donors have responded by cutting off all non-humanitarian aid. The commission’s findings are due at the end of the month, and could be the spark that once again sets Haiti aflame.

Dismayed by the vehement international opposition to the verification commission, Antiguan diplomat Ronald Sanders warned that the search for an easy exit from Haiti’s election troubles could backfire.

“There can be no ‘quick fix’ in Haiti,” wrote Sanders in a recent editorial. “Indeed, it is the urge for quick fixes in the past and the desire to wash hands of the country that has kept it in constant turmoil and retarded its chances for long-term political stability and economic growth.”

Whether or not US officials heed Sanders’s warning, the underbelly of Clinton’s much-vaunted foreign policy experience is plain for all to see.

The new issue of Jacobin is out now. Buy a copy, a discounted subscription, or a commemorative poster today.

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Screening of Haitian-made films in Boston

Wednesday, June 29th, 6:00 – 8:30 PMOutdoors
Irish International Immigrant Center
100 Franklin Street, Lower Level, Boston, MA 02110 (entrance at 201 Devonshire St)

Join Community Supported Film (CSFilm) and the Irish International Immigrant Center (IIIC) for a screening and lively discussion of Owning Our Future – Haitian Perspectives in Film. Haitian documentary filmmakers, trained by CSFilm, with backgrounds in journalism, theater and poetry, provide a unique opportunity to experience Haiti as it is lived by street vendors, business women, artists, farmers and more. Their stories nourish an understanding of Haiti that goes beyond the western media’s focus on crises and disasters. See excerpts of the films at www.csfilm.org/films.

More Info: michael@csfilm.org or Sarah Chapple-Sokol, IIIC, 617-542-7654 extension 36.

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Summer 16 Newsletter

 

 

CSFilm

Screening of Haitian-made films in Boston

Wednesday, June 29th, 6:00 – 8:30 PM
Irish International Immigrant Center, 100 Franklin Street, Lower Level, Boston, MA 02110 (entrance at 201 Devonshire St)

Join Community Supported Film (CSFilm) and the Irish International Immigrant Center (IIIC) for a screening and lively discussion of Owning Our Future – Haitian Perspectives in Film. Haitian documentary filmmakers, trained by CSFilm, with backgrounds in journalism, theater and poetry, provide a unique opportunity to experience Haiti as it is lived by street vendors, business women, artists, farmers and more. Their stories nourish an understanding of Haiti that goes beyond the western media’s focus on crises and disasters. See excerpts of the films at www.csfilm.org/films.

More Info: michael@csfilm.org or Sarah Chapple-Sokol, IIIC, 617-542-7654 extension 36.

NIRV – New Immigrant and Refugee Voices 
Filmmaking TrainingWe have raised $25,000 of our $65,000 goal for the implementation of NIRV – the New Immigrant and Refugee Voices documentary filmmaking training and production project in the US.

Please help us reach our remaining $40,000 goal by August 31 so that we can start the training in the fall.

DonateWe have the perfect local partner, the Irish International Immigrant Center (IIIC), with whom we are working on project development, fundraising and community outreach. IIIC offers 3,000-plus people, from more than 120 countries, a full range of free or low cost legal, educational and wellness programs.

Fundamental to the IIIC’s core values is their vision of a shared society where all people are valued and enjoy equal opportunities and protections. Their Education and Inclusion Program builds connections across immigrant communities and between new immigrants and the general public. With the deliberate intent of helping people be at ease with differences, IIIC conducts and partners with organizations like CSFilm to provide experiential learning and storytelling programs. As part of the next phase of their Inclusion Program, IIIC and CSFilm are working together to provide a program that allows immigrants to tell their and their communities’ stories through the production of short documentary films.

We hope to begin this work in the fall but need an additional $40,000 by August 31 to make that happen.

Thank you so much for your help.  No amount is too small!  Donate

Learn more about CSFilm’s New Immigrant and Refugee Voices initiative and IIIC’s Education Program

Earth

Issues and Analysis

We are launching a new resource: Issues and Analysis Monthly. We will send a monthly listing of our favorite articles on the media, development and the countries where we are working.

Readers have thanked us for calling their attention to interesting articles on these issues. We post them regularly to our social media feeds and to Issues and Analysis on the home page of our website.

We would love to know about your favorite articles. Please send them to us via our social media feeds or email. Thanks!

On the Media
– Inside the Storytelling Revolution
Why an imperilled media needs better support

Economic and Social Development
– The Humanitarian Clock Is Ticking, The Powerful Feign Deafness
– Why the Poor Have Become Poorer in the US

Haiti
– Don’t Dump US Peanuts on Haiti
– Health workers in Haiti on mission to thwart spread of Zika

Afghanistan
– Chinese role in Afghanistan Pakistan relationship
– Afghanistan’s Growing Unrest: Implications for India’s Security

Click here for more from Issues and Analysis


Filmmaking Class

Filmmaking Class – Enroll

If you are interested in learning the fundamentals of filmmaking and are in Boston, USA, CSFilm director, Michael Sheridan, will be teaching a seven-week intensive course at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, June 30-August 17, Tues and Thurs 6:30-10pm.

Get the details and enroll


Train your staff in visual storytelling

Many non-profits do not have the funds to hire filmmakers and photographers to document their many activities and to visualize their stories. Organizations often rely on an already over-worked staff to snap pictures or record video on the run. Too often the results are not usable.

Community Supported Film provides cost effective trainings to individuals or organization in visual storytelling.  We can improve the impact of your work by helping your constituents and supporters better understand your mission. Visualize your message across media and platforms.   We are the masters of teaching visual storytelling effectively and efficiently in one hour or multi day sessions.  Please get in touch at info@csfilm.org

Read about a recent training


Haiti DVD

Haiti DVD Available

Owning Our Future – Haitian Perspectives in Film is available and receiving positive feedback.  Get your copy!  Get a free copy and help us out by hosting a screening: email us at info@csfilm.org

Community Supported Film’s innovative work and creative storytelling allows Haitians to reveal their own reality.” Serge JC Pierre-Louis, President, DuSable Heritage Association, Chicago

At the heart of it, artists can only really talk from their own experience, so if you want a story about sumthin’ that sumthin’ has got to tell the story itself. And, that’s just what these Haitian storytellers have done – beautifully and powerfully.” Dawn Kramer and Stephen Buck, Artists

Through these films, Community Supported Film is facilitating a powerful way for citizens – who are not necessarily professional journalists or filmmakers – to use film to narrate their lives in ways that Western media rarely shares.” Lisa Ulrich, Regional Director, Let’s Get Ready
Watch Excerpts;    Buy the DVD;    Host a Screening


Afghan DVD


MegaphoneHelp us Screen and Distribute our DVDs

Follow these easy steps to Organize a Screening of CSFilm’s Haitian or Afghan made films or host a presentation about the work of CSFilm and the value of locally produced stories.
Share our DVDs with colleagues, friends and family. And, ask your town and/or institution’s library to purchase our DVDs for their collections. Simply download this already written letter and email or mail it to your librarian! And, thanks!

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AFGHANISTAN-Chinese role in #Afghanistan #Pakistan relationship – voanews.com

FILE - Afghan Taliban fighters are shown Nov. 3, 2015. The U.S. and Afghanistan accuse Pakistan of providing a safe haven to the Afghan Taliban.

FILE – Afghan Taliban fighters are shown Nov. 3, 2015. The U.S. and Afghanistan accuse Pakistan of providing a safe haven to the Afghan Taliban.

When Afghan President Ashraf Ghani took over in late 2014 and talk of peace and reconciliation with the Taliban gained momentum, skeptics derived hope from China’s newfound interest in the process.

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.

Diminished enthusiasm

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.

Still hopeful

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.

ISLAMABAD – voanews.com,  Ayesha Tanzeem, June 02, 2016 5:30 PM
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DEVELOPMENT: The Humanitarian Clock Is Ticking, The Powerful Feign Deafness

Among the issues discussed was how the humanitarian sector could improve protection of civilians from violence. Jan Egelend, who heads the Norwegian Refugee Council and is also the Special Advisor to Staffan de Mistura, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, said that the international community needs to “blacklist” any group or Government that bombs civilians and civilian targets. Pictured, Baharka IDP camp in northern Iraq. Photo: OCHA/Brandon Bateman

– 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.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hailed the Summit as a “turning point” that has “set a new course” in humanitarian aid. “We have the wealth, knowledge and awareness to take better care of one another,” Ban said. Photo: UNOCHA

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 “deposit” 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.

Unfortunately, when funding is sparse, the UN and partners have to reprioritize preventive and resilience-building actions to aid emergencies. In Sudan, women line up to receive food at the Tawilla site for newly arrived internally displaced persons (IDPs) fleeing Jebel Marra in Darfur. Assisting those urgent needs meant less funding for a nutrition project in Khartoum. Photo: OCHA

“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.”

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MEDIA: Inside the Storytelling Revolution

April 2016, buildingpeaceforum.com

commDownload 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.

Letter from the Editor-in-Chief

Stories are both universal and individual. They are our mannerisms and our beliefs, our choice of words and our dreams for the future. Most of all, stories shape the way […]

Selling Peace: Story by Story

Before dawn on Friday, December 17, 2011, Mohammed Bouazizi pulled his cart to the Tunisian marketplace where he sold his goods. Local officials there harassed him and confiscated his wares […]

Short Stories: Community Murals in the U.S.

When it comes to peace, walls are rarely the solution. Walls separate people and prevent dialogue. They build suspicion and unease. The examples are everywhere including Northern Ireland, the West […]

Peace Needs a Sharp, Pointy Stick

(Legal disclaimer: The author of this article is an outsider with total respect and appreciation for the peacebuilding community but only limited knowledge of how it actually works, its protocols, […]

The Catalyst for Change

“Tell me the facts and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” – Native American […]

Short Stories: Darfur’s Hakamat

In Darfur, in the Western region of Sudan, an influential group of women, known as the Hakamat, are beginning to change their tune. The Hakamat hold a special place in […]

Film, Truth, and the Pursuit of Peace

Film has power as a pathway to peace. In a certain kind of filmmaking, the ends and the means are inseparable; the way that a film is made is reflected […]

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AFGHANISTAN: Afghanistan’s Growing Unrest: Implications for India’s Security

thediplomat.com, By Akanksha Narain, May 26, 2016, 4 min read, original

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. 

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MEDIA: Curbing corruption and fostering accountability in fragile settings – why an imperilled media needs better support

bbc.co.uk, Media Action, original

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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.

We welcome your comments. Please contact media.action@bbc.co.uk using the subject line: Comment: fostering accountability working paper.

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DEVELOPMENT: Why the Poor Have Become Poorer in the US

‘Tiny holding Horsey with Keanna,’ Seattle, 1993; photograph by Mary Ellen Mark from the exhibition ‘Tiny: Streetwise Revisited,’ at the Aperture Foundation, New York City, May 26–June 30. The book includes essays by Isabel Allende and John Irving and is published by Aperture. The film ‘Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell,’ made by Mark and her husband Martin Bell, will be shown at BAMcinemaFest on June 25.
Mary Ellen Mark

‘Tiny holding Horsey with Keanna,’ Seattle, 1993; photograph by Mary Ellen Mark from the exhibition ‘Tiny: Streetwise Revisited,’ at the Aperture Foundation, New York City, May 26–June 30. The book includes essays by Isabel Allende and John Irving and is published by Aperture. The film ‘Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell,’ made by Mark and her husband Martin Bell, will be shown at BAMcinemaFest on June 25.

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.

1.

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).

Jencks_table1

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.

2.

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.

3.

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.

Jencks_figure1

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.

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AFGHANISTAN: 1,000 Afghans flee fighting every day

About 1,000 Afghans have fled their homes due to fighting each day since the beginning of the year, and aid workers can’t reach many of them, the UN says.
Internal displacement due to conflict rose 40 percent from 2014 to 2015, and this year could see another increase. About 118,000 people fled their homes in the first four months of 2016, the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, said in a report yesterday.
“It’s been a rather alarming rise in the number of families displaced,” Stacey Winston, an OCHA spokeswoman in the Afghan capital, Kabul, told IRIN.
The northeastern province of Kunduz has been especially hard hit this year. So far, 22,400 people have been forced from their homes by fighting between the Taliban and government forces backed by international military.
Many of those displaced have been repeatedly forced from their homes.
The Taliban briefly took control of the provincial capital, Kunduz City, last October. In March, the insurgents surrounded the city, setting off improvised explosive devices that caused “widespread destruction” and sent 7,000 people fleeing into the homes of families and neighbours, OCHA said in its report. An assessment mission subsequently found as many as six families sheltering in one house.
On 15 April, the Taliban launched its “spring offensive” throughout the country, which was quickly followed by a counteroffensive by pro-government forces. Fighting has been raging in all seven districts of the province, with civilians caught in the crossfire, which has included the use of heavy artillery and airstrikes.
The situation is similar throughout much of the country. Of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, 24 have recorded some level of forced displacement this year, and a quarter of those displaced are in areas that are difficult to access.
Afghanistan displaced early 2016
UN OCHA
Almost 118,000 people were displaced between 1 January and 30 April
Afghanistan’s rugged terrain adds to the challenges for agencies trying to provide humanitarian aid.
“We’re facing a double-edged sword,” said Winston. “We’re trying to reach people in remote areas, but also trying to reach people in conflict areas.”
For example, aid agencies know that 10,500 people are displaced in Dehrawud District in Uruzgan Province, but they can’t reach them. Agencies were initially able to conduct an assessment and found urgent health concerns, as well as food, water and shelter needs. But fighting has since blocked the road into the area, and displaced families have been stranded for weeks without help.
Likewise, the OCHA report notes, relief agencies have not managed to deliver aid to people displaced in districts outside of Kunduz City.
The situation doesn’t look like it’s going to improve anytime soon. Government security forces backed by their international allies are struggling to fend off the Taliban and other groups, while growing numbers of civilians are trapped in the middle.
All this has prompted some soul-searching among humanitarian agencies. The OCHA report asks: “In a year when the Taliban have gained more control of the countryside than ever before, is the UN and NGO part of the international aid community balanced to assist both sides of the conflict?”
jf/ag
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DEVELOPMENT: Don’t blur the lines between development and humanitarian work

theguardian.com, by Marc Dubois, May 12, 2016, 3 min read, original
A Syrian man stands on aid parcels from the UN World Food Programm (WFP) and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent in Saqba, Syria. Photograph: Amer Almohibany/AFP/Getty Images

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.

Related: The world needs a humanitarian fund to assist long-term crises

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.

Related: Could mapping tech revolutionise disaster response?

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.

Related: ‘We are demanding change’: the Somali woman taking on international NGOs

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.

Marc DuBois is an independent consultant and researcher currently working with Here-Geneva. He is the former executive director of MSF-UK, and blogs here.

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

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DEVELOPMENT: Is the World Humanitarian Summit’s Grand Bargain a Big Deal?

 By Irin, www.irinnews.orgView Originaldsc08051_1_1May 24th, 2016

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.

Heat

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.

Transparency

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.

National and local responders

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.

Cash

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”.

Reduce duplication and management costs

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.

Needs assessment

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”.

A “participation revolution”

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.

Multi-year planning and funding

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.

Earmarking

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.

Harmonise reporting

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“.

Enhance engagement between humanitarian and development actors

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.”

bp/ag

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DEVELOPMENT: Classic rookie aid worker faux pas … and how to avoid them

The Guardian Development, Imogen Wall, 

Off on your first mission as an aid worker? Learn from the many, many mistakes of those who have gone before you

 A clown ties his shoelace at the kerbside
Packing clothes … remember to take enough outfits appropriate to your destination’s culture and weather. Photograph: Andrew Kelly/Reuters

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.

Getting ready to go

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.

Packing clothes

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.

Settling in

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.

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

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MEDIA: Snowden interview: Why the media isn’t doing its job

cjr.org, 29 min read, original
snowden-hero

Image by CJRThe 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 governmentand 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.

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AFGHANISTAN: Time to Put the Squeeze on Pakistan

nytimes.com, by The Editorial Board, May 12, 2016, 2 min read, original
Afghan security forces in the Daykundi province on Wednesday.

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.

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HAITI, DEVELOPMENT: Health workers in Haiti on mission to thwart spread of Zika

triblive.com, by Natasha Lindstrom, 5 min read, original
Public Health Comparisons:
Hospital occupancy
U.S.: 60 percent
Hopital Albert Schweitzer: 125 percent

Infant mortality
U.S.: 6 infant deaths per 1,000 live births
Haiti: 54 deaths per 1,000 live births

Maternal mortality
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.”

Three-year outlook

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.”

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514 or nlindstrom@tribweb.com.

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