Issues & Analysis
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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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DEVELOPMENT: Western do-gooders need to resist the allure of ‘exotic problems’

Problems in countries far from home can somehow seem far easier to solve, says Courtney Martin. Far better to lean in and embrace complexity

Complex domestic problems deserve attention too. Here a woman in Los Angeles receives eye drops from a volunteer medic offering free services to those without health insurance and in need. Photograph: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Let’s pretend, for a moment, that you are a 22-year-old college student in Kampala, Uganda. You’re sitting in class and discreetly scrolling through Facebook on your phone. You see that there has been another mass shooting in the US, this time in a place called San Bernardino. You’ve never heard of it. You’ve never been to the US. But you’ve certainly heard a lot about the gun violence there. It seems like a new mass shooting happens every week.

You wonder if you could go there and get stricter gun legislation passed. You’d be a hero to the American people, a problem-solver, a lifesaver. How hard could it be? Maybe there’s a fellowship for high-minded people like you to go to the US after college and train as social entrepreneurs. You could start the nonprofit organisation that ends mass shootings, maybe even win a humanitarian award by the time you are 30.

Sound hopelessly naive? Maybe even a little deluded? It is. And yet, it’s not much different from how too many Americans think about social change in the global south.

If you asked a 22-year-old American about gun control in this country, she would probably tell you that it’s a lot more complicated than taking some workshops on social entrepreneurship and starting a nonprofit. She might tell her counterpart from Kampala about the intractable nature of the legislative branch, the long history of gun culture in this country and its passionate defenders, the complexity of mental illness and its treatment. She would perhaps mention the added complication of agitating for change as an outsider.

But if you ask that same 22-year-old American about some of the most pressing problems in a place like Uganda — rural hunger or girls’ secondary education or homophobia — she might see them as solvable. Maybe even easily solvable.

I’ve begun to think about this trend as the reductive seduction of other people’s problems. It’s not malicious. In many ways, it’s psychologically defensible; we don’t know what we don’t know.

If you’re young, privileged, and interested in creating a life of meaning, of course you’d be attracted to solving problems that seem urgent and readily solvable. Of course you’d want to apply for prestigious fellowships that mark you as an ambitious altruist among your peers. Of course you’d want to fly on planes to exotic locations with, importantly, exotic problems.

Volunteers including many gap year students from the UK spend time working in Guatemala.

Volunteers including many gap year students from the UK spend time working in Guatemala. Photograph: Jonathan Cole/Alamy

There is a whole industry set up to nurture these desires and delusions — most notably, the 1.5m nonprofit organisations registered in the US, many of them focused on helping people abroad. In other words, the young American ego doesn’t appear in a vacuum. Its hubris is encouraged through job and internship opportunities, conferences galore, and cultural propaganda – encompassed so fully in the patronising, dangerously simple phrase “save the world.”

The reductive seduction is not malicious, but it can be reckless

First, it’s dangerous for the people whose problems you’ve mistakenly diagnosed as easily solvable. There is real fallout when well-intentioned people attempt to solve problems without acknowledging the underlying complexity.

There are so many examples. As David Bornstein wrote in the New York Times, over four decades of westerners working on clean water has led to “billions of dollars worth of broken wells and pumps. Many of them functioned for less than two years”.

One classic example: in 2006, the US government, the Clinton Foundation, the Case Foundation, and others pledged millions of dollars to Playpump, essentially a merry-go-round pump that produced safe drinking water. Despite being touted as the (fun!) answer to the developing world’s water woes, by 2007, a quarter of the pumps in Zambia (pdf) alone were in disrepair. It was estimated that children would need to “play” for 27 hours a day to produce the water Playpump promised.

The Playpump was supposed to be an improvement on on old-fashioned pumps like this one in Uganda, but delivered far less water than originally promised.

The Playpump was supposed to be an improvement on on old-fashioned pumps like this one in Uganda, but delivered far less water than originally promised. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

We are easily seduced by aid projects that promise play. The Soccket, an energy-generating soccer ball, made a splash in 2011 when it raised $92,296 (£64,300) on Kickstarter. Three short years later, the company that created it wrote to its backers: “Most of you received an incredibly underwhelming product with a slew of manufacturing and quality control errors … In summary, we totally f*#ked up this Kickstarter campaign.”

Reading their surprisingly candid mea culpa, I couldn’t help but wonder where the equivalent message was to the kids in energy-starved areas whose high hopes were darkened by a defunct ball. In some cases, the reductive seduction can actively cause harm. In its early years, Toms Shoes — which has become infamous for its “buy one give one” business model, giving a pair of shoes for every one sold — donated American-made shoes which could potentially put local shoe factory workers out of jobs.

Toms footwear for sale in a shop in Wirksworth

Toms Shoes became infamous for its “buy one give one” business model. Photograph: Alamy

Some development workers even have an acronym that they use to describe these initiatives: Swedow (stuff we don’t want). AidWatch, a watchdog development blog, created a handy flow chart that helps do-gooders reality check their altruistic instincts. It begins with the simplest of questions – “Is the stuff needed?” – and flows down to more sophisticated questions like, “Will buying locally cause shortages or other disruptions?”

Second, the reductive seduction of other people’s problems is dangerous for the people whose problems you’ve avoided. While thousands of the country’s best and brightest flock to far-flung places to ease unfamiliar suffering and tackle foreign dysfunction, we’ve got plenty of domestic need.

In a chilling essay, CZ Nnaemeka calls this underserved American demographic – single mothers, veterans, the elderly – the “unexotic underclass” and argues that entrepreneurs have missed a huge opportunity. “The unexotic underclass has big problems, maybe not the Big Problems – capital B, capital P – that get ‘discussed’ at Davos. But they have problems nonetheless.”

California: Poverty in the world’s largest economy remains far from being eradicated, with a US Census Bureau report revealing that nearly one in three Americans experienced poverty for at least two months during the global recession between 2009 and 2011.

Poverty in the world’s largest economy remains far from being eradicated, with a US Census Bureau report revealing that nearly one in three Americans experienced poverty for at least two months between 2009 and 2011. Photograph: Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

There is tremendous need and opportunity in the US that goes unaddressed. There’s a social dimension to this: the “likes” one gets for being an international do-gooder might be greater than for, say, working on homelessness in Indianapolis. One seems glamorous, while the other reminds people of what they neglect while walking to work.

It’s intimidating to throw yourself into solving problems that you’ve grown up with and around. Most American kids, unless they’ve been raised in a highly sheltered environment, have some sense of how multifaceted problems like mass incarceration really are. Choosing to work on that issue (one that many countries in the global south handle far better than we do) means choosing to nurture a deep, motivating horror at what this country is doing through a long and humble journey of learning. It means studying sentencing reform. The privatisation of prisons. Cutting-edge approaches, like restorative justice and rehabilitation. And then synthesising, from all that studying, the direction a solution lies in and steadfastly moving toward it. 

I understand the attraction of working outside of the US. There’s no question that the scale and severity of need in so many countries goes far beyond anything we experience or witness stateside. Why should those beautiful humans deserve any less of our best energy just because we don’t share a nationality?

And I’m not arguing that staying close to home inoculates kids, especially of the white, privileged variety, like me, from making big mistakes.

But don’t go because you’ve fallen in love with solvability. Go because you’ve fallen in love with complexity.

Don’t go because you want to do something virtuous. Go because you want to do something difficult.

Don’t go because you want to talk. Go because you want to listen.

Don’t go because you loved studying abroad. Go because, like Molly Melching, you plan on putting down roots. Melching, a native of Illinois, is widely credited with ending female genital cutting in Senegal. But it didn’t happen overnight. She has been living in and around Dakar since 1974, developing her organisation, Tostan, and its strategy of helping communities collectively address human rights abuses. Her leadership style is all about finely calibrated moments of risk – when she will challenge a local leader, for example – and restraint – when she will hold off on challenging because she hasn’t yet developed enough trust with him. That kind of leadership doesn’t develop during a six-month home stay.

There’s a better way. For all of us. Resist the reductive seduction of other people’s problems and, instead, fall in love with the longer-term prospect of staying home and facing systemic complexity head on. Or go if you must, but stay long enough, listen hard enough so that “other people” become real people. But, be warned, they may not seem so easy to “save”.

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HAITI/DEVELOPMENT: Don’t Dump Peanuts on Haiti, Campaigners Tell the US

Published 2 May 2016  TeleSur
“This is the latest in a long history of U.S.-sponsored programs which have destabilized Haiti’s agricultural sector," deplored the campaigners.

“This is the latest in a long history of U.S.-sponsored programs which have destabilized Haiti’s agricultural sector,” deplored the campaigners. | Photo: Reuters

Ostensibly a donation, flooding Haiti with peanuts could wipe out the country’s struggling domestic producers.

As part of its “Stocks for Food” program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to ship 500 metric tons of peanuts to Haitian schools, which could destroy Haiti’s peanut market and the livelihood and income of 150,000 peanut farmers and their families, warned the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, a non-profit based in Boston, Massachusetts.

OPINION:
The Past is Prologue with Haiti’s Elections

“This is the latest in a long history of U.S.-sponsored programs which have destabilized Haiti’s agricultural sector, further impoverishing the nation and increasing its dependence on foreign aid,” the group said in a statement, noting that “President Clinton had to apologize for one such misguided program in the 1990s.”

Echoing a message from the “Haitian diaspora,” the human rights group urged U.S. citizens to call their representatives and demand them to pressure the Department of Agriculture to immediately call off the program.

Meanwhile, other voices are speaking out against renewed U.S. interference in Haiti’s political crisis after U.S. proconsul Kenneth Merten visited the country last week.

Merten, U.S. State Department’s special coordinator for Haiti, discussed with various political leaders and members of the civil society the situation in the country, as an ad hoc independent commission was recently set up in order to evaluate serious allegations of massive fraud in the results of October first round elections.

“We hope it is very, very quick and does not change the results of the election,” Merten said.

Washington will have to “look very carefully at what we do moving forward” if there appears to be any manipulation, he said.

 

The election was postponed in January after sometimes-violent protests over allegations of fraud in the first round.

RELATED:
UN Expresses ‘Concern’ over Repeat Delays in Haitian Elections

The results of the first round in October put Jovenel Moise in first place and Jude Celestin in second for a runoff, but Celestin and other candidates rejected the outcome as fraudulent. An interim government has been running the country since the last president’s term ended in February.

On Thursday, a top election official said Haiti willnot meet a deadline to complete its presidential election by April 24, without giving a new date to hold the already delayed vote in the impoverished Caribbean country.

Various political parties and organizations called for mobilizations on Wednesday in order to pressure an investigation into election fraud and to denounce U.S. interference in the political process.

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AFGHANISTAN/ON THE MEDIA: Threatened with death for working on TV

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DEVELOPMENT: Opinion: Increasing Productivity Key to Revive Growth and Support Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific

By Shamshad Akhtar    IPS

The author is an Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of ESCAP. She has been the UN’s Sherpa for the G20 and previously served as Governor of the Central Bank of Pakistan and Vice President of the MENA Region of the World Bank. The full Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2016 may be downloaded free of charge at http://www.unescap.org/publications/economic-and-social-survey-asia-pacific.

Shamshad Akhtar

Shamshad Akhtar

BANGKOK, Thailand , Apr 28 2016 (IPS) – The Asia-Pacific region’s successful achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development needs to be driven by broad-based productivity gains and rebalancing of economies towards domestic and regional demand. This is the main message of the Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2016, published today by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. Such a strategy will not only underpin the revival of robust and resilient economic growth, but also improve the quality of growth by making it more inclusive and sustainable.

How should Asia-Pacific policymakers go about implementing such a strategy? Approaches by developing Asia-Pacific economies that are tilted more towards reliance on export-led economic recovery will be ineffective under the current circumstances. Despite extraordinary measures, global aggregate demand remains weak and China’s economic expansion is moderating. The impact of further loosening of monetary policy is also likely to remain muted, and is not advisable. The key reason is a confluence of macroeconomic risks that are clouding the economic outlook, such as low commodity prices affecting resource-dependent economies, volatility in exchange rates, as well as growing private household and corporate debt, the impact of which is likely to be complicated by the ambiguous path of interest rate increases to be pursued by the United States.

The contribution of export-led economic growth to overall development of economies, supported by low interest rates and rising private debt, seems to have plateaued, with economic growth in developing Asia-Pacific economies in 2016 and 2017 forecast to marginally increase to 4.8% and 5% respectively from an estimated 4.6% in 2015. This is considerably below the average of 9.4% in the pre-crisis period of 2005-2007.

Along with the economic slowdown, progress in poverty reduction is slowing, inequalities are rising and prospects of decent employment are weakening. At the same time, rapid urbanization and a rising middle class are posing complex economic, social, and environmental and governance challenges. Such conditions can undermine the significant development successes of the region in recent decades, making it more difficult to deal with the unfinished development agenda, such as lifting 639 million people out of poverty. Had inequality not increased, approximately 200 million more people could have been lifted out of poverty in the three most populous countries of the region alone.

To overcome these challenges, revive the region’s economic dynamism and effectively pursue the 2030 Agenda, policymakers are advised to use all available policy levers, including countercyclical fiscal policy and supportive social protection measures, which critically calls for raising domestic resources. Such interventions would not only support domestic demand but also strengthen the foundations for future productivity-led growth by targeting areas such as: labour quality, including knowledge, skills, and health of the workforce; innovation through trade, investment and R&D; adequate infrastructure in transport, energy and ICT; and access to finance, especially by SMEs.

Fiscal measures, underpinning such initiatives, should be accompanied by sustained reforms towards efficient and fair tax systems which deliver the necessary revenues for the required investment in sustainable development

Sustained increases in domestic demand will also require steady growth in real wages. This requires linking labour productivity more closely to wage levels. Strengthening the enabling environment for collective bargaining is one necessary component in the policy arsenal of governments, with the enforcement of minimum wages as another important policy tool.

After increasing significantly over the last few decades, productivity growth has declined in recent years. This is worrying not only because wage growth has lagged behind productivity growth, but also because wage growth ultimately depends on productivity growth. Specifically, compared to the period 2000-2007, annual growth of total factor productivity has declined by more than 65% in developing countries of the region, averaging only 0.96% per year between 2008 and 2014; labour productivity growth has declined by 30%, reaching just 3.9% in 2013.

The recently-adopted Sustainable Development Goals provide an entry point to strengthen productivity. For instance, raising agricultural productivity and thus lifting rural households income must be the center of the focus to end poverty (Goal 1), to end hunger and achieve food security (Goal 2). This is because agriculture accounts for one in four workers in the region and more than half of the region’s people live in rural areas. Efforts to eradicate poverty and increase agricultural productivity would also foster development of the rural sector and encourage industrialization (Goal 9).

Higher levels of productivity in agriculture will also free-up labour, which would be available to work in the non-agricultural sector. It is therefore imperative to consider a broader development strategy that moves towards full and productive employment (Goal 8) to accommodate the “agricultural push” of labour. This will require mechanisms to provide, particularly those with low skills, access to quality education and lifelong learning (Goal 4).The need to provide quality education cannot be overemphasized in view of the skills bias of modern technology, which reduces the pace of absorption of unskilled labour released from the agricultural sector.

Thus, whereas the Goals will contribute to strengthening productivity, importantly, strengthening productivity will also contribute to the success of a number of the Goals, creating a virtuous cycle between sustainable development, productivity and economic growth.

(End)

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ON THE MEDIA: How We Can Keep Press Freedom from Withering Away?

By Farhana Haque Rahman     IPS

Farhana Haque Rahman

Farhana Haque Rahman

While a free press means that a journalist has rights, it does not mean that she or he is right.

This article forms part of a series by IPS for World Press Freedom Day, May 3.

ROME, Apr 28 2016 (IPS) – Media freedoms appear increasingly under siege around the world, with concerning signs that achieving middle-income status is no guarantee for an independent political watchdog in the form of the press.

The death this week of a LGBT magazine editor in Bangladesh shows that around the world, those who speak up are too often themselves tragically silenced.The news is constant and disheartening.

In Mexico, journalists are knocked off – by criminal gangs, or maybe by colluding public authorities – and only rarely is their death punished. The fact that the government has a special prosecutor for such crimes does not seem to have any impact.

In South Africa, a new bill on national security allows for whistle blowers to be jailed for decades – the first legislation since the end of apartheid that curtails a freedom many once fought for.

The arrest of newspaper editors in Turkey is alarming. In Tunisia, the media’s main enemy is no longer tyranny in the form of a dictator, the new constitution tried to make defamation and libel – often flexible categories – punishable by fines only, but those the government often insist on use the penal code. A pending bill that would criminalize “denigration” of security forces.

Security threats, not always well-defined, are increasingly cited to promote further restrictions – in France, Belgium and beyond. The U.S. Senate has proposed requiring Internet companies to report “terrorist activity” and a UN Security Council committee recently called for Internet platforms to be liable for hosting content posted by extremists – even though the Islamic State alone posts an estimated 90,000 posts a day and has been known to taunt the social media platforms they use for trying to stop them.

Proposed Internet regulations are not just about terrorism or alleged civil war. They can be used to muffle news about deadly industrial accidents, government corruption and more. China wants to forbid foreign ownership of online media.

Censorship can use commercial pressure. Many feel the reason a major Kenyan daily sacked its editor was out of fear criticism of the government would lead to an advertising boycott and the risk of bankruptcy. The recent purchase of Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post by Alibaba’s founder, widely seen as close to Beijing, will be watched closely.

Looser defamation laws – proposed in the U.S. by a presidential candidate – have a long history of being used to silence people through long Kafka-esque judicial action.

One of the stranger cases – yet no less symptomatic of the trend – was the Indian government’s firing of an educational newspaper’s editor for having published a story suggesting that iron is an important nutritional element and can be obtained from beef or veal – a taboo food according to the ideological Hinduism championed by the current ruling party.

What to do?

There is a broadly-agreed narrative that claims a free and independent press is an essential part of any genuine democracy. It has long been held that while there may be stages along the way for developing countries, upholding media freedom is a strong sign of commitment that bodes well for improved governance across the board and thus better human welfare for all.

I have not heard one coherent argument claiming that this is no longer the case. Political leaders should be pressured to state publicly that they do not believe in media freedom’s merits – which few will do – rather than hide behind vague security threats that often sound like the rumour mill that preceded the guillotines of the French Revolution. This can work, as shown last year when international pressure led President Joko Widodo of Indonesia to force a senior minister to drop new rules curtailing the rights of foreign journalists in the country.

Public pressure on governments to make sure legislative threats to the press are reversed and threats against media freedom properly policed are essential. A Swedish law that makes it illegal for a reporter to reveal an anonymous source warrants consideration for emulation. And this highlights how journalists themselves must help achieve the goal.

Self-regulation can work, as Scandinavian countries show. Independent press councils can serve as a powerful forum – ideally enhanced with a public code of ethics that all parties can invoke – both for journalists themselves and readers and other stakeholders who may complain about their work.

After all, while a free press means that a journalist has rights, it does not mean that she or he is right.

To prove effective, a whole ecosystem must be set up. Sweden’s Freedom of the Press Act is now several centuries old, and the country has a constitutional principle requiring that all public records be available to the public. It is true that the experience of the Nordic countries is historically linked to the absence of feudalism, but it is an implicit goal of all democracy to overcome such legacies, so setting up institutions that mutually reinforce the free flow of information is part of any sustainable development in the interest of all – and not a perk upon arrival.

Digital publishing has, to be sure, raised thorny questions, notably about whether expressions that insult cultural sensitivities – whatever they may be – contribute to the culture a free press needs and is meant to foster. Opinions may vary on where appropriate limits may lie. But all authorities – precisely because they hold power – should accept the principle that the free press exists to hold them accountable, and that suppressing journalists will not bolster their power but ultimately erode it.

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DEVELOPMENT: UN Predicts 40 Percent Water Shortfall by 2030

By Thalif Deen    IPS

The pastoralists of Ethiopia’s Somali region are forced to move constantly in search of pasture and watering holes for their animals. Credit: William Lloyd-George/IPS

The pastoralists of Ethiopia’s Somali region are forced to move constantly in search of pasture and watering holes for their animals. Credit: William Lloyd-George/IPS

UNITED NATIONS, Apr 28 2016 (IPS) – Ten presidents and prime ministers from around the world will work together to resolve the growing global water crisis amid warnings that the world may face a 40 percent shortfall in water availability by 2030.

The figures continue to be staggering:  despite improvements, at least 663 million still do not have access to safe drinking water.

And projecting into the future, the United Nations says an estimated 1.8 billion people – out of a total world population of over 7 billion – will live in countries or regions with water scarcities.

The crisis has been aggravated by several factors, including climate change (triggering droughts) and military conflicts (where water is being used as a weapon of war in several war zones, including Iraq, Yemen and Syria).

The High Level Panel on Water, announced jointly by the the United Nations and World Bank last week. is expected to mobilise financial resources and scale up investments for increased water supplies. It will be co-chaired by President Ameenah Gurib of Mauritius and President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico. The other eight world leaders on the panel include: Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australia; Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh; János Áder, President of Hungary; Abdullah Ensour, Prime Minister of Jordan; Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands; Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa; Macky Sall, President of Senegal; and Emomali Rahmon, President of Tajikistan.

At a UN panel discussion last week, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson of Sweden said water lies at the nexus between sustainable development and climate action.

“If the water service fee is beyond a household’s ability to pay, it is a human rights violation.” — Darcey O’Callaghan, Food and Water Watch.

Referring to the two extremes in weather patterns– droughts on the one hand and floods on the other – Eliasson said one of his colleagues who visited Pakistan after a huge flood, remarked: “Too much water and not a drop to drink.”

When world leaders held a summit meeting last September to adopt the UN’s post-2015 development agenda, they also approved 17 SDGs, including the elimination of extreme poverty and hunger and the provision of safe drinking water to every single individual in the world – by a targeted date of 2030.

But will this target be reached by the 15 year deadline?

Sanjay Wijesekera, Associate Director, Programmes, and Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at the UN children’s agency UNICEF, told IPS: “As we enter the SDG era, there is no doubt that the goal to get ‘safely managed’ water to every single person on earth within the next 15 years is going to be a challenge. What we have learned from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is that water cannot be successfully tackled in isolation.”

He said water safety is compromised every day from poor sanitation, which is widespread in many countries around the world, particularly in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Currently, nearly two billion people worldwide are estimated to be drinking water which may be faecally contaminated.

As a result, UNICEF and others working on access to safe water, will have to redouble their efforts on improving people’s access to and use of toilets, and especially to end open defecation.

“As we address water, sanitation and hygiene, we must also take into account climate change. Droughts, floods, and extreme weather conditions all have an effect on the availability and the safety of water,” said Wijesekera.

He also pointed out that some 160 million children under-5 live in areas at high risk of drought, while around half a billion live in flood zones.

Asked how best the water crisis can be resolved, Darcey O’Callaghan, International Policy Director at Food and Water Watch, told IPS the global water crisis must be addressed in two primary ways.

“First, we must provide clean, safe, sufficient water to all people because water is a human right. Affordability is a key component of meeting this need. Second, we must protect water sustainability by not overdrawing watersheds beyond their natural recharge rate.”

“If we allow water sources to run dry, then we lose the ability to protect people’s human rights. So clearly, we must address these two components in tandem,” she said.

To keep water affordable, she pointed out, it must be managed by a public entity, not a private, for-profit one. Allowing corporations to control access to water (described as “water privatization”) has failed communities around the globe, resulting in poor service, higher rates and degraded water quality.

Corporations like Veolia and Suez — and their subsidiaries around the world—are seeking to profit off of managing local water systems, she said, pointing out that financial institutions like the World Bank and regional development banks often place conditions on loans to developing countries that require these systems to be privatized.

“But this is a recipe for disaster. Profits should not be the priority when it comes to providing water and sanitation services to people”, said O’Callaghan.

Asked if the public should pay for water, she said there is no longer any question that water and sanitation are both human rights. What the public pays for is water infrastructure upkeep and the cost of running water through the networks that deliver this resource to our homes, schools, businesses and government institutions.

“The UN has established guidelines for water affordability –three percent of household income—and these guidelines protect the human right to water. If the water service fee is beyond a household’s ability to pay, it is a human rights violation.”

One approach that has shown promise are public-public partnerships (PPPs). In contrast to privatization, which puts public needs into the hands of profit-seeking corporations, PPPs bring together public officials, workers and communities to provide better service for all users more efficiently.

PUPs allow two or more public water utilities or non-governmental organizations to join forces and leverage their shared capacities. PPPs allow multiple public utilities to pool resources, buying power and technical expertise, she said.

The benefits of scale and shared resources can deliver higher public efficiencies and lower costs. These public partnerships, whether domestic or international, improve and promote public delivery of water through sharing best practices, said O’Callaghan.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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ON THE MEDIA: Violence Against Women Journalists Threatens Media Freedom

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage       IPS

A journalist from Radio Bundelkhand in India conducts an interview. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

A journalist from Radio Bundelkhand in India conducts an interview. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

NEW YORK, Apr 28 2016 (IPS) – For women journalists, violence and intimidation don’t just happen in conflict zones, they are every day experiences.

“You don’t even have to be in a conflict zone to be violated anymore,” New York Times reporter and author of the Taliban Shuffle Kim Barker said Wednesday at the launch of a new book documenting the daily violence and harassment which women journalists experience.

After writing an opinion-editorial on her experience of sexual harassment in the field, Barker said that an online commenter called her “fat” and “unattractive” and told her that “nobody would want to rape you.”

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) chose to focus its 2016 edition of the Attacks on the Press book series on the gender-based online harassment, sexual violence and physical assault experienced by women journalists, because of the impact of this violence on press freedom.

“In societies where women have to fight to have control over their own bodies, have to fight to reassert their right in the public space—being a woman journalist is almost a form of activism,” said Egyptian broadcast journalist Rawya Rageh who also spoke at the launch.

Much of the abuse takes place online where attackers can hide behind the anonymity of online comments.

“Our words, our will, can prevent the silencing of voices, the violation of our freedom of expression…and we, as journalists, have a huge responsibility in this regard.” — Jineth Bedoya Lima.

According to the Pew Research Center, 40 percent of Internet users have experienced some form of online harassment. Though men are also subject to harassment, online abuse towards women tends to be more severe, including sexual harassment and threats of violence.

For example, one journalist reported to the The International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) that a troll had threatened to “human flesh hunt” her.

Alessandria Masi, a Middle East correspondent for the International Business Times, recalled the comments she received in an essay in CPJ’s book: “I have been hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army for writing an article that was critical of Syrian President Bashar Assad and asked how many people I have to have sexual relations with to get my article published.”

Online abuse is a symptom of deep-seated and pervasive sexism, many note. University of Maryland Law Professor and Author of “Hate Crimes in Cyberspace” Danielle Keats Citron stated that online gender harassment “reinforce(s) gendered stereotypes” where men are perceived as dominant in the workplace while women are sexual objects who have no place in online spaces.

But the threats do not just stay online, they also often manifest in the real world.

Deputy Editor of a Colombian Newspaper Jineth Bedoya Lima was kidnapped and raped in 2000 after exposing an underground network of arms trafficking in the country.

In 2012, after reporting on the dangers of female genital mutilation, Liberian journalist Mae Azongo received death threats including that she will be caught and cut if she does not “shut up.” She was forced to go into hiding with her nine-year-old daughter.

A year later, Libyan journalist Khawlija al-Amami was shot at by gunmen who pulled up to her car. Though she survived, she later received a text message warning her to “stop your journalism” or be killed.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) journalists also face similar threats, CPJ added. Most recently, Xulhaz Mannan, editor of Bangladesh’s only LGBT magazine, was hacked to death in his home.

However, many do not report their cases.

“It was almost like this dirty little secret, you didn’t talk about it…because you had to seem like you were just like one of the guys,” Barker said. She pointed to Lara Logan’s case as the dividing point.

While covering the Egyptian Revolution for CBS, Logan was violently sexually assaulted by a mob of men. During an interview on “60 Minutes,” she described how she was pulled away from her crew, her clothes ripped off, beaten with sticks and raped.

When asked why she spoke out, Logan said that she wanted to break the silence “on what all of us have experienced but never talk about.”

One key reason that many journalists do not speak out is the fear of being pulled out of reporting because of their gender or sexual orientation.

“It’s a catch-22,” said Rageh to participants. “I don’t want to reinforce this idea of who I am or what I am is going to curtail my ability to cover the story, but of course there’s an issue that needs to be addressed,” she continued.

CPJ’s Vice Chair and Executive Editor of the Associated Press Kathleen Carroll noted that the threat of sexual violence has long kept women out of the field of journalism. But there are ways to handle such threats that do not lead to the exclusion of women, she said.

Carroll stated that good tools and training should be provided to journalists, both women and men alike. IWMFestablished a gender-specific security training, preparing women to be in hostile environments. This includes role-play scenarios, risk assessments and communication plans.

Effective, knowledgeable and compassionate leaders are also needed in news agencies in order to help staff minimize threats, Carroll added.

Panelists urged for reform, noting that women are needed in the field.

“The more women you have out there covering those stories, the more those stories get told,” Barker said.

In an essay, Lima also reflected on the importance of women’s voices, stating: “Our words, our will, can prevent the silencing of voices, the violation of our freedom of expression…and we, as journalists, have a huge responsibility in this regard. Our words can stir a fight or bury the hope of change forever.”

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DEVELOPMENT/ON THE MEDIA: IF IT HAD HAPPENED OVER HERE

How would it sound, if African media reported US elections in the same tone as Western media report on polls in Africa and elsewhere?

______

Pressure is mounting on the Obama regime to allow international observers and peacekeepers after tribal violence marred election campaigns in the troubled north American nation.

In Addis Ababa, an emergency meeting was called by African leaders to demand a return to rule of law in America, after pro-regime militants attacked a rally addressed by popular opposition leader Donald Trump in Chicago.

“Unless America allows independent international groups to monitor the poll and for peacekeepers to move in and restore order, the poll is a sham and cannot be declared free and fair,” the African Union said.

America refuses to allow independent observers in, only inviting a small observer mission from the EU, a known crony of the regime. “We will only allow friendly states to observe our polls, not hostile nations that come here with predetermined positions,” the White House said.

Bloody clashes have been witnessed in St Louis, a city with a long history of tribal and sectarian conflict.

Raising fears of an escalation of tensions, Trump has threatened to mobilize his youth militia to disrupt the rallies of rival Bernie Sanders, an aging socialist candidate.

Explaining the weekend’s clashes, America experts – based at Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, Mozambique, Southern Africa – say Illinois has longstanding, deep-seated ethnic and sectarian tensions that are sure to boil over if the Obama regime does not allow UN peacekeepers before the hotly contested polls in November.

Witnesses said the militants bused in to attack the Trump rally could be heard chanting “Alright”, a racially charged anthem popular among the minority black tribes. The rap song is by Kendrick Lamar, a radical dissident musician from the restive enclave of Compton.

African leaders have also urged contestants to end hate speech and tone down on any rhetoric likely to incite violence. They cited hate speech by Marco Rubio, a member of the Cuban tribe, targeted at Trump’s manhood. Critics say such remarks may lead to an escalation of tensions and cause violence.

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The election has also been marred by reports of widespread voter fraud. Sanders has complained of voter fraud after a controversial narrow loss in the Iowa region to party rival Hillary Clinton, wife of former regime leader Bill.

Trump himself has claimed voter fraud in the region of Florida, raising serious concern in the international community about the credibility of the forthcoming poll.

image

There are also concerns over blatant attacks on media freedom. The International Committee for the Protection of Journalists condemned attacks on journalists during the campaign. One reporter covering the violence had been arrested, in a clear attempt by the regime to cover up the sham poll.

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Trump is appealing to nationalist sentiment by accusing the Obama regime of allowing too many immigrants through the country’s porous southern border. His nationalist message has resonated with many among the majority white ethnic group, and especially with the red neck tribes of the impoverished southern parts of the country.

Amid surging support for Trump, many leaders of the Republican Party are plotting to disregard the votes of party supporters and block Trump’s candidacy.

“Republican party leaders must accept the will of the people,” the African Union said in a statement.

__________________

Nod to Joshua Keating’s hilarious “If it happened there” series on Slate.

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DEVELOPMENT: Secret aid worker: is humanitarian work a career for escapists?

By:       23 February 2016      TheGuardian

The grass is always greener elsewhere for western expats, says one development worker.

‘Many of the aid workers I met seemed to be trying to escape something but not quite succeeding.’ Photograph: Narendra Shrestha/EPA

If I had to describe the western expat aid workers I’ve worked with in one word, it would have to be ‘hyper’. Most of the time they’re running around the office – hardly ever on the ground in the communities they’re meant to work in – checking, controlling, advising, shouting, trying to help, working late into the night. I’ve seen locals stare at them like they are a TV show on fast forward.

My first real field experience was in Nepal, in a village in the middle of nowhere, where I shared a flat with Nepalese colleagues. We had a rule that there would be no work talk after 6pm – and we all stuck to it. The village was tiny and there was nothing else to do other than having dinner and a couple of beers once a week in the only local restaurant. I was always careful not to drink too much and shock my Nepalese colleagues.

Kathmandu, on the other hand, was a different world. I’d travel there every couple of months to dive into the real expat world – the hyper one, as I would call it. Almost all the expats I met there were Europeans or Americans, always on a sort of high from their field experience. Even after 9pm, they couldn’t stop talking about work, issues they encountered, failed aid, and how things could be improved. I hardly heard of their families and friends there or back home.

Don’t get me wrong – sitting in a pub and talking to people who shared cultural references with me was great. But I couldn’t help think that the high concentration of expats was rather weird. All of them were full of energy until their last drink – alcohol seemed the only way to get them to turn off. They would find any possible way to invent a crazy adventure – such as hiring a rickshaw at 3am for the equivalent of the average Nepalese weekly wage, driving it drunk and risking their lives in doing so. They were teenagers on a trip to Nepal by night, slightly cocky aid workers by day.

After Nepal, I travelled to a number of other countries, mainly staying in capital cities, and while I encountered some expats who had really tried to integrate into their host communities, most of the rest lived completely detached lives from the country they were working in. You know the stereotype; they have a fancy house with a cook and guards, earn twice as much as the yearly local GDP in a single month, and sneak off to parties at the UN compound during curfew hours.

I sound judgmental here because this is not how I’d like a foreigner to live in my country when they come to help or support. I understand they need to decompress, particularly when working in an emergency setting, but how you do that is something I have always questioned.

What I also found weird is that most of these men and women seemed unhappy. Whining is a favourite sport of the usual expat: everything in the management is wrong, the office is not right, things do not work in the organisation, in the system, in the country, in the world.

They all seemed to be trying to escape something but not quite succeeding. Everything needed to be fixed constantly, no matter if it was work, the home, the friendship or the relationship. No matter where you were or what was improving, the grass was always greener on the other side – hence the constant need to hop to another disaster, another country.

Of those I became closer to, I often learned of incredibly painful family histories, and saw little recognition that they might be escaping one desperate situation to solve another distant one – one with people they could never really get attached to.

For many aid workers, returning home too is difficult. Whenever an aid worker friend of mine returns home from Somalia to southern France he feels like fleeing: family reunions and shopping malls give him panic attacks.

This is not unusual. When I returned home, I also wondered if I had actually been one of the hyper aid workers I’ve just described, looking for an escape. It took me two years to finally stop dreaming about Afghanistan or Congo, to withdraw from the adrenaline, the high you get, and the constant feeling of having to fix anything I could see. It also took me the same amount of time in therapy to realise I could live back home, face some of my issues and even enjoy a gentler pace of life without trying to prove myself all the time.

Of course, there are many aid workers who might not always have been like the expats who frustrated me. But more recently I’ve started wondering whether for some, choosing a career as an aid worker might be the hidden symptom of earlier trauma in life and not solely the beginning of an adventure. They can’t deal with their own issues, so they make it their mission to desperately try to put a stop to everyone else’s pain.

Do you have a secret aid worker story you’d like to tell? You can contact us confidentially at globaldevpros@theguardian.com – please put “Secret aid worker” in the subject line. If you’d like to encrypt your email to us, here’s instructions on how to set up a PGP mail client and our public PGP key.

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ON THE MEDIA: If It Happened There: Death of Hard-Line Jurist Throws Regime Into Chaos

By Joshua Keating    FEB. 17 2016   Slatest 

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Antonin Scalia, wearing the traditional black robes of his office.

WASHINGTON, United States—The unexpected death of a hard-line conservative jurist on America’s constitutional court has exposed deep fissures within the ruling regime and threatens to throw the country’s fragile political system into months of chaos.

The nine unelected justices who sit for lifetime terms on the Supreme Court are tasked with ensuring that laws passed by the democratically elected government don’t violate the ancient juridical texts upon which the country’s laws are based. As such, they wield immense powers and have the ability to overrule even the president himself. The aged, scholarly jurists, cloaked in long black robes, conduct their deliberations behind closed doors, shielded from the scrutiny of the media, and their most important decisions are often released to the public with great drama but little warning.

Respected by both allies and enemies, Antonin Scalia was a religious fundamentalist and fierce ideologue known for his stylish and original readings of the ancient texts. He led a movement within the court that supported adhering closely to the principles of the nation’s founding revolution, even as many laws have appeared out of step with the values of the modern world. He and his acolytes have often stood in the way of dissidents’ efforts to use the American legal system to seek increased rights for women, gays, and ethnic minorities.

Hard-liners have held a narrow majority on the court until now, but Scalia’s death threatens to tip the balance of power and has set up the latest in a long-running series of confrontations between President Barack Obama and his opponents in the legislature. Obama was elected as a moderate reformer in 2008, pledging to improve America’s relations with the outside world and deliver economic growth. While he has had success in some areas, opposition from the hard-liners controlling the legislature and judiciary has often thwarted his ambitions. For instance, in December, Obama signed a historic agreement with world powers to cut America’s controversial carbon emissions, but many skeptical observers questioned whether he actually had the power to enforce the international community’s demands in the face of staunch opposition from Scalia and his fellow hard-liners on the court.

Obama likely now hopes to replace Scalia with a reformist judge that will support his agenda, though even the most moderate reformer could be unacceptable to powerful hard-liners like Senate Leader Mitch McConnell. While normally a straightforward process, the naming of a new justice has been complicated this time by the country’s impending presidential election. Obama is prevented by law from seeking a third term and the hard-liners hoping to recapture the country’s executive compound are demanding that Scalia’s seat be left open until the electorate can choose a new president.

Both sides of America’s traditional political divide are under more pressure than usual this time around. Any compromise by the conservatives in the legislature could benefit the surging ultra-nationalist, far-right campaign of television performer Donald Trump, considered a threat to the establishment across the political spectrum. Obama is likely hoping to hand power to his former foreign secretary Hillary Clinton, a member of the powerful Clinton clan, but radicals within his own coalition have broken off to support the far-left populist campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders, known for his scathing attacks on the political influence of America’s ruling oligarchs. The court has abetted this influence with some controversial recent decisions, which Sanders has vowed to overturn.

Outside observers hope that the crisis can be resolved soon. With a divided and short-handed court unable to issue definitive decisions, it’s possible that certain laws may be interpreted differently by lower courts in different regions of the country. Rural areas where the strictest form of political Christianity hold sway may push for restrictions on abortion and on the availability of birth control in accordance with traditional beliefs, in contrast with the coastal urban population centers where such practices are more culturally accepted.

Confusingly, both sides of America’s political divide claim that they are upholding the values of the revolution. If the court continues to be unable to act as the final authority in these disputes, that will only deepen political divisions at a time when unease and violent unrest are already rampant.

But American legal scholars disagree on what the ancient texts say should be done in this situation, and the confrontation is likely to drag on for some time.

(Thanks to @Arabist for the inspiration.)

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DEVELOPMENT: Secret aid worker: who will save the white saviours from themselves?

I see subtle forms of racism all around me. Others call it charity

‘This is Africa’ has become an excuse to do what we damn well please. Photograph: Matthew Simmons/WireImage

When one lives surrounded by well-intentioned, yet gravely mistaken colonialists, missionaries and aid workers, you settle into a jaded state fairly quickly. I live in a town full of westerners who don’t integrate. Fraternising with the natives is next to unheard of – unless, of course, you are sleeping with them. There are western restaurants, and local ones. The signs outside don’t say “no blacks allowed” but the prices do.

Many westerners come to my town to adopt an African child, yet hate Africa. They complain about the circumstances and culture for as long the adoption takes before they whisk their new child off to the land of the free and the brave.

I have seen this interaction labeled as a form of the modern day slave trade. It seems extreme to parallel the two. Adoption can be healing for so many children. However, more often than not westerners are coming and buying children at an exorbitant price. Children that are adopted internationally are often not the ones that truly need it, and more importantly they are not given a choice in the trauma that comes from uprooting one’s entire culture and identity. Instead, through their new parents’ actions and attitudes, they are told that Africa is a bad place and in need of saving. Some even grow to resent their own roots, thinking their biological family and country of origin failed them.

The evidence is right in front of us. It is racism. Yet we call it charity. We tie it with a big, red “Jesus loves you and so do I” bow and pat ourselves on the back. Our actions are reckless. Most give little thought to those we are “helping”, “serving” or, worse of all, “saving”. We are set on our own agenda of self-gratification.

We post on social media about the gallant acts of saving Africa – one child at a time. We post victims of rape, child abuse, and worse, all in the name of “sharing the heartache and heartbreak of Africa”. Because Jesus wants you to know about this broken place.

I worry that in Christian aid worker circles the lack of regulations and the exaltation of the white saviour complex is the perfect storm for a development disaster. Standards that most aid organisations hold themselves to do not apply to missionaries, simply because they believe they have been sent by God. Who needs degrees when one has been called and commissioned? This belief drives those who are ill-equipped to travel here to “save” others, an act applauded back home, but those living in poverty deserve better.

We know how large Africa is, yet we know that our admirers in our home countries don’t. We spoon feed them the story of a broken, yet beautiful, continent (or country depending on your cultural intelligence) knowing they will hang on our every ostentatious word.

While this is racism, in this form it is harder to detect. There are no sit-ins, protests or rallies. We have made it seductive, sexy even, through victimising those we are helping.

Instead, our white guilt has fashioned this new face of racism, equally as dangerous and scarily subtle. Often the beneficiaries of our aid and mission sit idly by because they know speaking out could cost them their job, their support, their stability. To brush aside this as an issue is the epitome of what racism is.

In this town of more than 100 NGOs I know of only a handful who are respectful to local staff. If we are truly here to help we should support our local staff to be leaders, who can stand up to foreigners without fear that they might lose their income or supportive services.

The day I knew I had succeeded was the day my staff told me I was wrong. I had the humility that day to listen – I hope this is something other aid workers can do.

This article was amended on 26 April 2016 to remove personal details.

Do you have a secret aid worker story you’d like to tell? You can contact us confidentially at globaldevpros@theguardian.com – please put “Secret aid worker” in the subject line. If you’d like to encrypt your email to us, here’s instructions on how to set up a PGP mail client and our public PGP key.

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ON THE MEDIA: Reporting on Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery

11 April – 15 April       Reuters

Course closed for applications.

The global trade in human beings is bigger today than at any time in history. Estimates of the numbers of people caught in modern slavery vary from 21 million to 36 million in an industry worth more than $150 billion in illegal profits a year. It’s one of the biggest stories of our time. Yet a lot of reporting on trafficking and forced labour is mired in cliché, myth and misconception. It often lacks nuanced understanding of the causes of the scourge and the tools to fight it.

Thomson Reuters Foundation’s one-week Reporting on Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery course in Mumbai is a unique chance for journalists in India to gain practical skills and knowledge in a country that is home to some 14 million of the world’s modern slaves. Participants will also have access to a high-profile Newsmaker event that is likely to generate headlines.

With support from the C&A Foundation, the workshop offers a combination of specialist expertise and hands-on training, with an emphasis on producing high-impact stories for widespread dissemination.

As well as coming away with a deep understanding of the scale, nature and causes of the problem, participants will learn about efforts to set global standards for combating modern slavery, including fundamental conventions, international instruments and a new, legally binding protocol that requires countries to take real action.

They will discuss the role of media in raising awareness, reducing vulnerability and holding to account governments, law enforcement and businesses. Attendees will look at innovative approaches to fighting trafficking and forced labour and scrutinise the quest for integrated policy responses across borders.

A major focus will be on the ethics of reporting slavery, from how to interact sensitively with traumatised survivors to getting past journalists’ own preconceived notions and stereotypes. We will cover safety issues, particularly when it comes to dealing with sources and reporting on organised crime.

This is an opportunity to pick the brains of reporters who have done extraordinary investigative work or groundbreaking reportage that has changed policy, provoked public outcry or brought traffickers to justice. Attendees will also spend time with experts and those at the coal face of the anti-slavery movement, including some who have been trafficked themselves and gone on to help others move from “victims” to “survivors”.

The workshop will be led by Timothy Large, former director of media development at Thomson Reuters Foundation. Prior to that, he was editor-in-chief of the Foundation’s award-winning news services covering the world’s under-reported stories, including humanitarian issues, human rights, corruption and climate change. Before that, he was a Reuters correspondent.

COURSE DETAILS:

Start date: Apr 11, 2016

End date: Apr 15, 2016

Location: Mumbai, India

Application deadline: Mar 07, 2016

ELIGIBILITY:

Applicants must be Indian full-time journalists or regular contributors to broadcast media organisations in India. Applicants must be able to demonstrate a commitment to a career in journalism in their country, must be a senior journalist with a minimum of three years’ professional experience and have a good level in spoken and written English.If you have been on a Thomson Reuters Foundation training programme within the last two years you will not be eligible to apply.

FUNDING:

Thomson Reuters Foundation can fund  travel expenses and accommodation for participants travelling from outside Mumbai. This arrangement is subject to variation. If you have any questions please email: TRFMedia@thomsonreuters.com

SUBMISSIONS:

A biography of up to 250 words outlining your career

Two recent examples of your published work, preferably relevant to the course for which you are applying, with a brief summary in English (if necessary). TV/Radio journalists can send in their scripts and a brief summary.

A statement of between 250 and 500 words describing any factors affecting your work as a journalist. Explain how you hope to benefit from the course for which you are applying.

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AFGHANISTAN: As Afghan war escalates, schools forced to close

Afghanistan School Security

FILE — In this Jan. 13, 2016 file photo, an Afghan teacher, in brown, helps school children run from the site of clashes near the Pakistan consulate in Jalalabad, capital of Nangarhar province, Afghanistan. One of Afghanistan’s proudest achievements has been getting millions of children, especially girls, back into school since the toppling of the Taliban, but that gain is crumbling across the south and in other war-torn parts of the country. Hundreds of schools have been forced to shut down because of fighting or Taliban intimidation. (AP Photos/Mohammad Anwar Danishyar, File)

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — One of Afghanistan’s proudest achievements has been getting millions of children, especially girls, back into school since the toppling of the Taliban. But that success is crumbling across the south and in other battleground areas of the country, where hundreds of schools have been forced to shut down.

Sometimes the cause is fighting, sometimes it’s intimidation from the Taliban.

Sometimes it’s both, as in the case of the Loy Manda high school in southern Helmand province, part of the Taliban heartland. When the Taliban waged an offensive last winter, the school in the Nad Ali district was caught in the fighting between the militants and Afghan government forces.

“We had six rooms, books, chairs, but now everything is destroyed,” said Hekmatallah, the headmaster, who like some Afghans goes by one name.

He’s working toward reopening, but he had to get permission from the Taliban or else face their retaliation. They said they would allow it, if only boys attend — no girls — and if they are only taught a curriculum meeting the Taliban’s hard-line version of Islam. Taliban mines from the time of the fighting still surround the school, and government forces are stationed just 40 yards (meters) from the school — a potential target for extremist attack.

Between the damage and the danger, none of the school’s 650 students can attend.

That’s the fate for an increasing number of children in the battlezone regions of Afghanistan. In 2015, 615 schools in the country’s 11 most volatile provinces had to close because of violence, according to the Education Ministry. That was on top of the around 600 schools that remained shut down from the year before in those areas.

Almost half the 2015’s school closures were in the final months of the year as the Taliban did not take their customary winter break. Violence escalated across the warmer southern provinces, which were the hardest hit by closures, ministry’s spokesman Mujib Mehrdad said. Last year, 105 of Helmand’s 545 schools shut down, and in neighboring Kandahar, the figure was 150 of 545 schools The heaviest closures were in nearby Zabul, where more half the province’s schools — 140 out of 242 schools — shut their doors.

The United Nations counted 25 students, teachers and other school staff killed in Taliban attacks or crossfire in 2015. In eastern Nangarhar province, the Islamic State group seized control of several districts near the border with Pakistan and terrorized women and girls, banning them from school and work, and in some case forcing them into marriage, according to residents who fled the area.

But extremists’ ideological hatred of the schools and girls’ education is not the only cause of school shutdowns. Human Rights Watch, the New York-based monitoring group, says the Afghan military continues to deploy weaponry in or around schools in battleground areas and uses them as fixed firing positions, even after President Ashraf Ghani banned the use of schools as military bases last year.

That puts children at “grave risk of attack by insurgents who then see schools as military targets,” HRW’s Afghanistan researcher Ahmad Shuja said.

During their time ruling Afghanistan in the 1990s until their overthrow in the 2011 U.S.-led invasion, the Taliban banned girls from school and mandated that boys learn the Quran by rote. Once they fell from power, schools and universities welcomed women back as teachers and students. With funding from the international community the number of children in school grew from 900,000 in 2001 to 8.3 million in 2011, according to figures from the U.N. assistance mission to Afghanistan. UNAMA says girls account for 39 percent of the total — up from near zero under the Taliban.

But in districts where the Taliban have regained control or have enough power to intimidate residents, they have returned to barring girls from the classroom and dictating curriculum for the boys.

In Helmand, where the Taliban control smuggling routes for drugs and other contraband, heavy fighting in recent months has put a number of schools like Loy Manda on the front line of the war, said the head of the provincial education department, Abdul Matin Jafar. In Gereshk district, he said, the education department building was attacked by insurgents, “was completely destroyed and now we have no office there to operate from.”

Mohammad Mosa took his children out of their school in Nad Ali soon after the fighting started, and sent them to the provincial capital Lashkar Gah, not just for their safety but to ensure a well-rounded education. The Taliban had told parents in the district that they could re-open the school on condition they hire one of the militants to ensure that only Islamic subjects were taught, he said.

“Our kids were terrified of going to school as both sides are firing rockets, destroying our neighborhood,” Mosa said.

Even temporary school closures result in lower attendances, particularly by girls, once classes resume. In the northern city of Kunduz, which was besieged by the Taliban in October, at least three schools were commandeered by the armed forces for use as bases. False reports were carried by the local Tolo television station that Taliban had entered a Kunduz University women’s dormitory and raped residents during their assault on the city in September. As a result, fewer women returned to their studies once the city was cleared of insurgents, the school’s dean Abdul Qudus Zarifi said.

The HRW report said that girls “often bear the brunt of these disruptions because parents are wary of sending daughters to schools occupied by armed men.”

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DEVELOPMENT: Expat wages up to 900% higher than for local employees, research shows

A survey of 1,300 local and expat workers found a wage gap that ranges from 400-900% and causes significant resentment among local workers

A perception of inequality between local and expat workers causes resentment and disillusionment. Photograph: Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images

Imagine finding out that your colleagues earn five times more than you. Not only that, but they get all sorts of benefits you’re not eligible for.

They take a month of leave; you get 12 days. Your employer pays for their accommodation, health insurance and even their children’s school fees; you don’t get any of that.

But you have comparable skills and qualifications. You do the same work. In fact, you understand the context of your work better than your higher-paid colleagues.

So why are they earning so much more than you? What if you found out it was simply because of your nationality?

In the humanitarian aid and development sector, this is the reality. Local staff are paid far less and receive fewer benefits than their expatriate colleagues, even when they do similar work and have similar qualifications.

We’ve studied the effects of the wage gap between local and international staff working in lower-income countries in an ESRC-funded project called Addup (Are Development Discrepancies Undermining Performance?). We call this differential treatment the dual salary system.

Expatriates are often quick to dismiss dual salary systems as a non-issue. But local workers told us a different story. They said disparities created significant feelings of workplace injustice. They felt less valued than their expatriate colleagues.

Wage disparities are often a taboo topic, especially when power relations are involved. Socially responsive and accountable research such as the Addup project can “speak truth to power”. This is especially important because differential treatment between international and local aid workers may undermine international aid programs.

She warns that large pay gaps “may be undermining poverty-reduction initiativesbefore they even reach the community”.

The OECD wants wealthy countries to spend 0.7% of their gross national income on foreign aid. While the UK met this target two years ago and enshrined it in law, Australia’s aid budget has been slashed. The Lowy Institute says the former Abbott government’s cuts to foreign aid were the largest ever and will mean Australia’s aid expenditure falls to just 0.22% of gross national income.

With the aid program already under pressure, the negative effects of pay disparities may be making it even more difficult for programs to achieve their goals.

Causes of the wage gap

The wage and benefits gap cannot be explained by differences in experience or skills. Addup compared local and expatriate workers doing similar work with equivalent skills and experience. Rather, dual salaries exist because expatriates originate from higher-income economies and labour markets.

Appropriately enough perhaps, dual salaries are popularly referred to in some Pacific countries as “economic apartheid”. Having this kind of nomenclature in the aid sector is ironic considering its poverty-reduction aim.

The dual salary system is a difficult structural inequity that makes it hard for many workers in aid and development – both local and international staff alike – to work together, support each other and achieve project goals.

How big is the gap?

Our research measured the size of the wage gap and its effects on workers in six lower-income countries: India, China, Malawi, Uganda, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.

We surveyed nearly 1,300 local and expatriate workers from around 200 organisations. These organisations were drawn from the aid, education, government and business sectors of the six countries. Participants worked in a range of job roles, from teachers, to engineers, to doctors and managers, with expertise in areas such as microfinance, child labour, program administration and much more. The organisations draw aid funding from governments and donors around the globe.

Across the Addup sample, local staff were paid four times less on average than their international counterparts. This was despite having similar education and experience. In Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, the average rose to nine. In individual cases the difference was far greater. Alarmingly, 80% of local workers said that their pay was not sufficient to meet their everyday needs.

Disparities are not limited to salaries. They include accommodation allowances, vehicles, household staff, school fees, insurance and other benefits. These commonly form part of expatriate packages that are not available to local staff.

And while Addup is to date perhaps the most detailed study of pay disparities in the humanitarian sector, research from the corporate sector has had similar findings. A study of local and expatriate managers in multinational companies in Singapore, for example, found salary disparities were causing resentment and dissatisfaction among local managers.

The Singaporean study found that dissatisfaction relating to disparities ultimately reduces productivity and encourages high staff turnover.

Local brain drain

Our research also found that dual salary systems were contributing to a brain drain because talented local staff often leave their home countries for higher-paying jobs overseas.

This may make it hard for the humanitarian sector to achieve its goals of building capacity in aid recipient countries and increasing local ownership of development initiatives.

So what is the solution? Many NGOs are aware of the issue and concerned about it. Together with NGO umbrella organisation CHS Alliance (formed by the merger of Hap International and People in Aid) and Birches Group, we are working to develop evidence-informed good practice in the domain of sustainable livelihood and living wages for aid and humanitarian workers.

This partnership named ProjectFair hopes to identify wage policy options that align with local workforce aspirations and can ensure sustainable human services in the aid and development sector.

The new round of global development goals – the sustainable development goals (SDGs) – has highlighted the importance of decent work, reducing inequality and enabling sustainable livelihoods for the eradication of poverty everywhere.

If the SDGs are to avoid the criticisms of their predecessors, the millennium development goals, we will need to vertically integrate global goals with local, everyday workplace practices. This project, focused as it is on everyday workplaces and organisational policies, is an example of that kind of process, in an area we can all make a difference.

Stuart C Carr ia a lecturer in the industrial and organisational psychology programme at Massey University in New Zealand. Ishbel McWha-Hermann is an early career fellow in international human resource management at the University of Edinburgh

This article was originally published on the Conversation. Read the original articlehere.

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ON THE MEDIA: VR Becoming an Actual Reality for Documentarians

By: CASEY FREEMAN HOWE      APRIL 18, 2016      IDA

From Condition One’s 'In the Presence of Animals' (Dirs.: Danfung Dennis, Casey Brown, Phil McNally). Photo: Casey Brown. Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

From Condition One’s ‘In the Presence of Animals’ (Dirs.: Danfung Dennis, Casey Brown, Phil McNally). Photo: Casey Brown. Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

Following a brief test run in the 1990s, virtual reality has rapidly taken hold over the past few years as a potent tool for exploring the possibilities of storytelling—first among the gaming community, then among such early adaptors as Nonny de la Pena, who started in journalism. The Sundance Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival and SXSW have all incorporated VR programming into their respective new media mixes, and the medium hit the mainstream in Fall 2015 when The New York Times distributed Google Cardboard viewers to 1.5 million subscribers to experience what The Old Gray Lady has to offer through the double lens.

But what goes into producing and editing these VR projects? How far removed is the process from the skill set required for making “flatties”? Documentary tracked down some of leading purveyors of this new form to share their experiences and the specific challenges of working in this immersive medium.

Danfung Dennis, founder and CEO of Condition One.

Danfung Dennis, founder and CEO of Condition One.

For Danfung Dennis, former war photographer and an Academy Award-nominated filmmaker for his documentary Hell and Back Again, virtual reality is a natural transition. “I’m following in the tradition of bearing witness to suffering,” says Dennis. “It’s been a continuation from photojournalism to documentary film and now into virtual reality.”

His VR production company, Condition One, is currently circulating a number of pieces. For each of these, the goal is to create “presence”—the feeling of being at the scene. But how to achieve and describe that presence? That’s something documentary filmmakers working in VR are still experimenting with.

“We’re no longer trying to work within a frame,” says Dennis. “So the techniques and the storytelling, the cinematography, the editing—all of that’s for a flat frame. That frame is now gone. So, while I still think the sense of ethics and the [documentary] methods are still valid, the actual techniques of storytelling are very different. We’re now thinking a lot more about space and proximity to the viewer.”

From Condition One’s 'In the Presence of Animals' (Dirs.: Danfung Dennis, Casey Brown, Phil McNally). Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.

From Condition One’s ‘In the Presence of Animals’ (Dirs.: Danfung Dennis, Casey Brown, Phil McNally). Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.

Dennis conceptualizes that space in concentric rings of near field, medium field and far field. “Far field is important to establish the sense of place,” he explains. “Medium field adds depth and cues that this is a real environment. But the near-field presence, which is the hardest to capture, is what evokes this powerful sense at a deep level of your brain that this is real.”

He explains that though the near-field environment has the most payoff in terms of presence, it is also the most difficult to execute technically, mostly due to seams and shadows. But like any documentary medium, Dennis believes that viewers are willing to forgive some imperfect shots if the content is powerful.

For example, In the Presence of Animals, one of Condition One’s experimental short pieces, contains a key moment where a bison walks directly up to the camera and the viewer can see its eye and experience the immensity of the animal. “It’s one of the most broken shots we’ve ever put out,” Dennis admits. “The exposure changes, the seam changes, it disappears for a second. But in the end it didn’t really matter because people, when they came out, just said, ‘I was next to this massive bison.’ They weren’t saying, ‘Oh, I saw the seams, or I saw this, or I saw a tripod.’ There’s no way to remove a shadow from a moving animal. And so you see the tripod shadow fall on the animal. These are all things that would be nice if we could completely remove them, but if the presence is there, you can get away with a lot of those errors. But that said, we were really aiming for the highest-quality stitching and seamless images without any of those small image-quality errors.”

From Gabo Arora and Chris Milk’s 'Waves of Grace', commissioned for Vrse.works by the United Nations. Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.

From Gabo Arora and Chris Milk’s ‘Waves of Grace’, commissioned for Vrse.works by the United Nations. Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.

 

Gabo Arora, senior advisor and filmmaker at the United Nations, and, through Vrse.works, director and producer, with Chris Milk, of the UN-commissioned 'Clouds Over Syria' and 'Waves of Grace'.

Gabo Arora, senior advisor and filmmaker at the United Nations, and, through Vrse.works, director and producer, with Chris Milk, of the UN-commissioned ‘Clouds Over Syria’ and ‘Waves of Grace’.

Gabo Arora, a senior advisor and filmmaker at the United Nations, is also one of the “creators” withVrse.works, a virtual reality studio. He directed, with Vrse.works creative director Chris Milk, the UN-commissioned Clouds Over Sidra and Waves of Grace, two powerful pieces that take on the refugee and Ebola crisis, respectively. Arora has spent over 15 years doing humanitarian work in disaster and conflict zones and thinks VR is an ideal medium for social impact work because it “levels the distance between the subject and viewer, giving a more equal exchange. With less distance is more understanding and more engagement.

“VR is also less dominated by information sharing,” he continues. “It is more about making you feel. The concern is not as much about, ‘Did you understand?’ but [more about], ‘Do you feel present?’ A storyteller in VR has to communicate much more subtly, which allows for more reflection, more poetry, as there is more experimentation.”

Both of Arora’s acclaimed virtual reality pieces take on issues that received extensive mainstream media coverage, but he believes VR can take viewers beyond the “one-dimensional and often sensational” approach of traditional media. “Reality is often much more nuanced and complex, and often times ordinary,” he says. “I really felt VR could capture what was missing. Somehow if you could really be there and share in the experience with the people, at their level, I thought it would be compelling and new.”

The newness and compelling nature of VR, however, may be a double-edged sword. “I do worry that filmmakers—and journalists in particular—may make the mistake of believing that VR is enough, that somehow the technology will amplify their cause because the technology is so compelling,” Arora explains. “That just won’t last, but [it] is an easy trap to fall into. You have to see it as something that is harder, not easier, than traditional ways of doing things.”

“Story is [still] king,” Arora maintains. “But how you tell it has to be completely different because you cannot rely on the same tropes as before. You can’t rely on jump cuts and close-ups; you really need to let things breathe a bit more. The pacing is also very hard, and what you think would work, when you put on a headset, doesn’t always work. It either feels too rushed or slow. The rhythm of it is still something that is hard to figure out.”

Filmmaker Lucy Walker, who made 'A History of Cuban Dance' through Vrse.works.

Filmmaker Lucy Walker, who made ‘A History of Cuban Dance’ through Vrse.works.

“One of the most exciting aspects of VR is that the visual vocabulary hasn’t been settled upon—it’s still being invented,” notes Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Lucy Walker, another creator in the Vrse.works collective. She is particularly interested in camera placement, choreography and how height and distance from the subject affects the experience, and says that she loves placing the camera so that “there are multiple points of interest within the 360-degree field of view.”

For her piece A History of Cuban Dance—a story she chose because Cuba is a place that people are eager to visit and “VR is the closest thing we have to a teleportation machine”—Walker and her team “experimented with the degree to which we inserted ourselves into the midst of the action. In some shots the camera is a bit removed and takes in the dancers from roughly the position that a dance audience would conventionally observe the performance. In others, we play with the idea of entering the space of the dance.”

Part of the appeal of the medium for Walker is that “it’s possible to shoot in a very low-key way that is perfect for documentary filmmakers. One of the wonders of VR is that, as cutting-edge as it is, we’re able to shoot with a small crew. The crew size varied from just myself alone, for one shot only, to myself and a DP, for much of it, to occasionally having a sound recordist and more help as well.”

From Lucy Walker’s 'A History of Cuban Dance'. Photo: Lucy Walker, Juan Carlos Zaldivar. Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.

From Lucy Walker’s ‘A History of Cuban Dance’. Photo: Lucy Walker, Juan Carlos Zaldivar. Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.

Though Walker has recently started using cable cams, advanced rigging and even “primitive” monitoring, she says A History of Cuban Dance was made using a grip kit that consisted of little more than “a c-stand and some gaffer tape.”

That is changing quickly, however. “None of the shoots I’ve done resemble one another,” Walker notes. “A month doesn’t go by without new iterations of the camera gear or stitching software. I’ve filmed with a different rig every month since September when I filmed A History of Cuban Dance.”

So what does the rapidly evolving production process for live action virtual reality look like? At the most basic level, pairs of stereoscopic cameras capture footage in 360 degrees. There are commercial options for rigs beginning to emerge, and Condition One and Vrse.works both work with bespoke rigs that have been in development for years.

Part of the pre-production process is figuring out where the crew is going to hide, or alternatively, how the crew is going to be a part of the shot. Though filmmakers can shoot with plates and capture 180 degrees at a time (especially since each shot will be worked on in post-production anyway), most seem to think that shooting 360 degrees is preferable for the fast-paced, dynamic work that occurs during documentary production. It is also perhaps the more ethical choice.

The footage from all of the cameras is then imported into editing software and stitched together, beginning with a rough stitch. Once the final sequence is chosen, the fine stitching is a lengthy, tedious process.

“The seams are one of the first technical challenges,” Dennis explains. “These seams will break that sense of presence, and eliminating them can be a very time-consuming process in post-production. An artist goes in and rotoscopes, compositing and trying to match every pixel with the next frame. And with 16 cameras, that can take weeks, if not months, for a single shot. So developing the software to do that became the next critical component of the pipeline to assemble these videos together in a seamless, stereoscopic 360-degree video.

From Gabo Arora and Chris Milk’s 'Waves of Grace', commissioned for Vrse.works by the United Nations.

From Lucy Walker’s ‘A History of Cuban Dance’. Photo: Lucy Walker, Juan Carlos Zaldivar. Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.

“Then playing the stereoscopic videos back is very demanding,” Dennis continues. “Computationally demanding. These are 4K videos. Once they’ve been stitched, they’re at 48 frames per second. And that we know is the bare minimum for VR. Traditional film is shot at 24 for that kind of filmic look. We’ve kind of gotten used to that. But in VR, if you shoot at 24 frames per second, it looks stuttery. It looks like you’re looking at video. So we then think, 60 frames, 90 frames, and eventually 120 and up will be required to really get the smooth, natural feeling of movement in VR.”

Sound is another critical component, Dennis points out. “We’re designing the capture and the post-production workflow to achieve realistic spatial audio. We use four microphones, mini- shotguns, offset by 90-degrees. And then we run them through software that mimics that human ear and the shape of the head to create these binaural audio tracks. And then we use a custom audio player to fix those four different audio tracks in space.”

Dennis says that using this audio production process makes it “so as you look around, the audio stays where it should be. It’s very subtle but extremely powerful in convincing the mind that this is a real experience.” Eventually, he thinks, the camera system and software technology will evolve far enough that one person could be shooting virtual reality in the field.

Animation is another production option for documentary filmmakers looking to explore the medium. All of VR pioneer Nonny de la Pena’s “immersive journalism” pieces use 3D animation, constructed using journalistic standards. For example, her piece Use of Force(about a border police brutality case) uses primary sources such as audio recordings from actual 911 calls and floor plans of the house where the incident took place to reconstruct the event as accurately as possible.

From James Spinney and Peter Middleton’s 'Notes on Blindness', for which Arnaud Colinart produced the VR component. Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.

From James Spinney and Peter Middleton’s ‘Notes on Blindness’, for which Arnaud Colinart produced the VR component. Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.

Arnaud Colinart, a producer at AGAT Films/ExNihilo and one of the creative directors of the virtual reality component of the project Notes on Blindness, thinks that “animation and CGI gives the best performance in VR for now.” Notes on Blindness is based on the audio recordings of British professor of philosophy and theology John Hull, who documented his experience of going blind. The story was first conceived as a short film for New York Times Op-Docs in 2014, and directors James Spinney and Peter Middleton premiered a feature-length version of the film in this year’s New Frontiers competition at Sundance. With Amaury La Burthe from the French start-up Audiogaming, Colinart led the effort to create the accompanying virtual reality experience, called Notes on Blindness—Into Darkness.

“I think right now, virtual reality is at the same point as the birth of cinema, with the Lumière brothers and Train Pulling into Station,” Colinart asserts. “But just after that, you had Georges Méliès, who created A Trip to the Moon, which is sometimes considered the first narrative film because he used visual effects to create story. Now we see the birth of VR storytelling as more than just gadget or gimmick.”

The VR experience relies on Hull’s original audio recordings to guide the experience. Each chapter uses abstract 3D animation to explore the experience of going blind through a different memory. Making a virtual reality experience about blindness is perhaps a counterintuitive choice, but the emotional resonance of the experience suggests that virtual reality shows great potential for multisensory immersion.

From 'Notes on Blindness—Into Darkness' (Dirs.: Arnaud Colinart, Amaury Laburthe), the VR component of James Spinney and Peter Middleton’s 'Notes on Blindness.' (C) Ex Nihilo, Archer's Mark, ARTE France - 2016. Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.

From ‘Notes on Blindness—Into Darkness’ (Dirs.: Arnaud Colinart, Amaury Laburthe), the VR component of James Spinney and Peter Middleton’s ‘Notes on Blindness.’ (C) Ex Nihilo, Archer’s Mark, ARTE France – 2016. Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.

The filmmakers developed the experience using Unity, a multi-platform gaming development tool, and utilized the Agile method—an iterative, prototype-driven design process popular in software development. Colinart thinks there is a lot to borrow from software and video game-development, and that creating VR experiences in this manner will help accelerate the learning process for VR storytelling and its mise en scènevocabulary. “I think all stories can be told in VR, but we need to find the good way to do it,” Colinart maintains. “It’s like, you read books, and you say, ‘How can I adapt this in a movie?’ I think all books can be adapted, but you have to find the right way to adapt it to another way of telling the story; and I think it’s the same for VR. This is the start of this art of writing, as we discover little by little what VR can bring to storytelling.”

The Notes on Blindness experience uses chapters, a format in which Colinart sees great potential for VR because it mitigates some of the headset discomfort issues that may limit longer-form pieces. “Maybe we will have long-form stories, but they’ll be broken up into chapters and consumed that way,” he suggests.

From James Spinney and Peter Middleton’s 'Notes on Blindness', for which Arnaud Colinart produced the VR component. Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.

From James Spinney and Peter Middleton’s ‘Notes on Blindness’, for which Arnaud Colinart produced the VR component. Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.

Beyond the headset ergonomics, creating experiences that don’t induce motion sickness is another component of production that is new for most documentary filmmakers. While some VR reviewers have bemoaned the stationary camera in many pieces, Dennis argues that “the fastest way to make someone motion sick is to move the camera in an unstabilized way.” He thinks this will change as the medium advances and viewers develop “VR legs,” but for now he suggests that filmmakers start with a locked tripod.

Another issue Dennis sees is the presentation of virtual reality experiences. In film, he says, there is a strong viewing tradition. “Lights down. Someone introduces the director, they say few words, and they say, ‘Quiet, cell phones off,’ and then you watch the work.” In virtual reality, he says, “It’s put on this headset, and you jump in, then you jump out.”

The viewing presentation, Dennis notes, is particularly important for experiences like Condition One’s Factory Farm, which takes viewers into a factory farm and active slaughterhouse facility in Mexico. In it, viewers are guided by José Valle, the director of investigations at the advocacy organization Animal Equality. “Every time you move into a new environment, you ask, ‘Why am I here?'” Dennis says. “And with José, he’s doing his normal work. He is documenting abuse for his investigations. And so you get to be with him while he’s working, while he’s filming, gaining evidence. It is really helpful to have a guide, especially in this type of situation, which is so graphic and gut-wrenching. He gives you the courage to stay and watch it.”

Within the experience, Valle also gives warnings about the material ahead, telling viewers that they’re going to see very graphic footage, and warning them, “This is your last chance to leave.” It builds a level of trust in the guide, as the viewer has ample opportunity to remove the headset before entering the slaughterhouse.

Trust, Dennis says, is essential to this type of work. “He’s there with you. And he’s experiencing it. So in a way, you feel like you’ve got someone with you, and you’re not alone. You don’t want to run away.”

At Condition One’s Sundance exhibition, Valle was actually there to greet viewers in person as they came out of the VR experience. Dennis recounts how one viewer got through the entire experience and how she held it together until she saw him in person. “Then it just struck home: ‘That was real! He’s right here!'” The viewer burst into tears and shook Valle’s hand. “People were having really tremendously emotional responses and having a moral inquiry into their own actions, which I think is the power of VR.”

Casey Freeman Howe is a graduate fellow at the Center for Media and Social Impact in Washington, DC.

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DEVELOPMENT: What the Panama Papers Mean for Global Development

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage     IPS

Tax justice campaigners in Kenya. Credit: Zahra Moloo/IPS

Tax justice campaigners in Kenya. Credit: Zahra Moloo/IPS

UNITED NATIONS, Apr 12 2016 (IPS) – The financial secrecy and tax evasion revealed by the Panama Papers has an extraordinary human cost in developing countries and threatens the realisation of the UN’s ambitious Sustainable Development Goals.

The ongoing leak — made public by media outlets including German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, theInternational Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) – has already prompted protests and investigations around the world. The papers connect thousands of prominent figures to secretive offshore companies in 21 tax havens and reveal the inner workings of the offshore finance industry.

The documents focus on Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, with its 210,000 entities, and has led to allegations that the firm aided public officials and multinational corporations to avoid taxes. Mossack Fonseca say that media reports have misrepresented the nature of their work and its role in global financial markets.

In one case, leaked emails contained in the Panama Papers suggest that the Heritage Oil and Gas Ltd Company (HOGL), sought help from Mossack Fonseca to sidestep tax laws in Uganda. According to ICIJ, upon the sale of an oil field, the company received a tax bill of $404 million. In an effort to avoid paying the taxes, the entity fought the Ugandan courts and meanwhile tried to relocate to Mauritius, according to the leaked emails.

Mauritius has a double tax agreement with Uganda, allowing companies such as HOGL to only pay taxes in one of the two countries. In 2000, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) listed Mauritius as a preferred location for companies due to its minimal tax laws.

These havens deny developing countries such as Uganda of much needed tax revenue for essential services, Oxfam’s Senior Tax Policy Advisor Tatu Ilunga told IPS.

“Tax havens are at the heart of a global system that allows large corporations and wealthy individuals to avoid paying their fair share, depriving governments – rich and poor – of the resources they need to provide vital public services and tackle rising inequality,” said Ilunga.

In Uganda, approximately 37 percent live on less than $1.25 per day. The East African nation also has one of the highest rates of maternal and under-five mortality rates in the world. According to the World Health Organisation(WHO), Uganda is one of the top ten countries that account for the majority of global maternal deaths.

In a country that lacks access to health services, HOGL’s $404 million in taxes represents more than the country’s health budget.

Former governor of Nigeria’s oil-rich Delta State James Ibori was also implicated in the Panama Papers,allegedly using Mossack Fonseca as an agent for four offshore companies in Panama and Seychelles. These entities provide anonymity, hiding true owners’ names and actions and thus allowing for finances and assets to be undeclared and untaxed. 

Though he was detained in 2012 for diverting up to $75 million out of the country, Nigerian authorities estimate that Ibori stole and stored over $290 million in tax havens.

Like Uganda, Nigeria ranks low in health indicators, contributing to some 10 percent of global maternal, infant and child deaths. Poverty has increased in the country with 61 percent living below the poverty line, according to the most recent Nigerian Bureau of Statistics report.

The Niger Delta region in particular, despite being a significant contributor to the country’s economy through oil production, remains the poorest and least developed region in Nigeria. In Ibori’s Delta state alone, 45 percent of people live in poverty. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) report found that the majority of people in the region lack access to potable water, electricity, health facilities and infrastructure including roads and telecommunications.

“Have you seen any taps here?…Water used to run in public taps, but that had stopped 20 years ago. We basically drink from the river and creeks…hygiene is secondary,” a Niger Delta Resident told UNDP.

Though Ibori’s stashed money represents only a slice of Nigeria’s budget, it is indicative of a global and pervasive problem that goes beyond Mossack Fonseca.

Transparency International’s Senior Policy Coordinator Craig Fagan told IPS: “If you think about the millions of files that have been released and the number of high profile individuals [in the Panama Papers], this is just one law firm in Panama.” .

“We can be certain that there are many other law firms whether in London, Hong Kong, New York, Miami that are operating similar structures,” he said.

According to Oxfam estimates, at least $18.5 trillion is hidden in tax havens worldwide. The organisation found that two thirds of this offshore wealth is hidden in European Union related tax havens while a third is in UK-linked sites where it is left undeclared and untaxed.  Oxfam said that their estimate is a conservative one.

The Swiss Leaks, also released by ICIJ in 2015, revealed how over 106,000 clients from Venezuela to Sri Lanka hid more than $100 billion in Swiss HSBC bank accounts.

Another analysis from Tax Justice Network (TJN) reveals that between $21 to $32 trillion is being diverted into offshore companies.

This has enormous effects in developing countries, costing poor nations over $100 billion in lost tax revenues every year, according to Oxfam. The charity also found that tax dodging by multinational corporations alone costs the developing world between $100 billion and $160 billion per year. Added with profit shifting, approximately $250 billion and $300 billion is lost.

This “missing” money could lift every person above the $1.25 per day poverty threshold three times over, according to Brookings Institution calculations.

Oxfam added that for every $1 billion lost through commercial tax evasion, 11 million people at risk across the Sahel region could have enough to eat, 400,000 midwives could be paid in Sub-Saharan Africa which has the highest maternal mortality rates, and 200 million insecticide-treated mosquito nets could be purchased to reduce child mortality from malaria.

In addition to lost development finance, Ilunga also noted to IPS that such actions have exacerbated inequality in the world, stating: “This is the same rigged system that has created the situation where…the wealth of the richest 1% surpasses the combined wealth of the rest of the world.”

Though the use offshore companies is not illegal, Ilunga asserted that the legality of such actions is precisely the issue.

“Tax dodging exists in a legal gray area with some activities clearly violating the spirit of the law even though those activities are not technically illegal. But the fact that these activities are legal is precisely the scandal we are most concerned with,” Ilunga said.

Fagan told IPS that it does not matter whether it is legally acceptable to have tax avoidance schemes.

“Just because it’s not illegal does not mean it is not a form of manipulation, form of corruption,” he said.

Ilunga and Fagan noted that the Panama Papers are a wake-up call and urged governments to end harmful tax practices and close loopholes. They highlighted the need to institute a public registry which lists companies’ true owners, where money is being earned and how much is being earned.

Ahead of the United Kingdom’s anti-corruption summit to be held in May 2016, Oxfam and TJN also called on the U.K. to lead the fight by halting their large network of tax havens including in the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands.

“The anti-corruption summit provides an opportunity to dismantle the financial secrecy that threatens the [Sustainable Development Goals’] progress against poverty before it even begins,” said Oxfam Policy Advisor Luke Gibson and TJN’s Director of Research Alex Cobham in a briefing paper.

Cobham told IPS that though global reforms are essential, domestic stakeholders must ensure that tax revenues will be used to help meet the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Included in the SDGs are commitments to reduce illicit financial flows and corruption by 2030 and to strengthen domestic resource mobilization including improving capacity for tax and revenue collection.

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ON THE MEDIA: What If African Media Reported US Elections Like Western Media Report on Africa?

By: Ndesanjo Macha            21 April 2016         GlobalVoices

 

A screenshot of footage, uploaded to YouTube by Storyful, of a protester who was assaulted by a Donald Trump supporter being restrained by police at a rally in North Carolina.

A screenshot of footage, uploaded to YouTube by Storyful, of a protester who was assaulted by a Donald Trump supporter being restrained by police at a rally in North Carolina.

Coverage of Africa by Western media often portray the continent in a negative light or in a simplistic manner, placing emphasis on conflict, corruption and tribal divisions. But Western media don’t adopt that same tone when they report on their own countries.

Following in the footsteps of Joshua Keating’s “If it happened there” series on US news magazine Slate, Tumblr user Ragamberi asked himself, “How would it sound, if African media reported US elections in the same tone as Western media report on polls in Africa and elsewhere?”

His answer became a post titled, “If It had Happened Over Here”. Here are a few excerpts of how he imagined African coverage of the contentious presidential race in the US might read.

Tribal violence

Pressure is mounting on the Obama regime to allow international observers and peacekeepers after tribal violence marred election campaigns in the troubled north American nation.

In Addis Ababa, an emergency meeting was called by African leaders to demand a return to rule of law in America, after pro-regime militants attacked a rally addressed by popular opposition leader Donald Trump in Chicago.

“Unless America allows independent international groups to monitor the poll and for peacekeepers to move in and restore order, the poll is a sham and cannot be declared free and fair,” the African Union said.

[…]

Explaining the weekend’s clashes, America experts – based at Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, Mozambique, Southern Africa – say Illinois has longstanding, deep-seated ethnic and sectarian tensions that are sure to boil over if the Obama regime does not allow UN peacekeepers before the hotly contested polls in November.

Republican candidate Donald Trump has seen violence break out several times at his rallies. Trump in turn has used violent rhetoric in speeches and on social media:

Bernie Sanders is lying when he says his disruptors aren’t told to go to my events. Be careful Bernie, or my supporters will go to yours!

Voter fraud

The election has also been marred by reports of widespread voter fraud. Sanders has complained of voter fraud after a controversial narrow loss in the Iowa region to party rival Hillary Clinton, wife of former regime leader Bill.

Trump himself has claimed voter fraud in the region of Florida, raising serious concern in the international community about the credibility of the forthcoming poll.

Throughout the primaries race, which determines the candidate who will represent the Democratic and Republican parties in the presidential elections, accusations of fraud have been tossed around on both sides of the aisle, and voters have complained the system is unfair.

Attacks on media freedom

There are also concerns over blatant attacks on media freedom. The International Committee for the Protection of Journalists condemned attacks on journalists during the campaign.

A journalist for CBS News was arrested while reporting on clashes at a rally for Donald Trump in Chicago in March. A charge of resisting arrest was eventually dropped.

Read the full post here.

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AFGHANISTAN: Interview- Don’t let Afghanistan become forgotten crisis – Red Cross official

By: Emma Batha           22 Apr 2016          Reuters 

Afghan men clear the rubble of their damaged house after yesterday's suicide car bomb attack on a government security building in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 20, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

Afghan men clear the rubble of their damaged house after yesterday’s suicide car bomb attack on a government security building in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 20, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

LONDON, April 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The world must not let Afghanistan become a forgotten crisis, a senior Red Cross official said on Friday as he warned of spiralling violence, donor fatigue and a worrying “brain drain” of educated professionals.

“The international community must keep their attention on Afghanistan. It’s far from being over. It’s not the time to switch off,” said Jean-Nicolas Marti, outgoing head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Afghanistan.

He warned that violence – which is at levels not seen since 2001 – would likely escalate in the coming year.

“The security situation has really deteriorated … and my prediction is a further deterioration,” Marti said. “Potentially the 18 months ahead of us will be much tougher.”

Marti is meeting government officials in European capitals and Washington to press for greater political, financial and humanitarian support.

“The message is (we need) to make sure that Afghanistan doesn’t become a forgotten or ignored conflict,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in London.

Marti was speaking just days after a suicide attack in Kabul killed 64 people and injured hundreds more in the deadliest single incident of its kind in the capital since 2011.

The Taliban, which claimed responsibility, is believed to be stronger than at any point since it was ousted by U.S.-backed forces in 2001. Fighters loyal to Islamic State have also emerged in pockets of the country.

Marti said the ICRC had evacuated 600 war-wounded in the first three months of the year – a high number given that fighting usually tails off in winter when mountain passes are snowed in.

“It … demonstrates that the fighting season is going to be tough this year and the humanitarian response needs to be up to it,” he said.

The Taliban, which wants to drive Afghanistan’s Western-backed government from power, announced the start of their spring offensive on April 12.

BRAIN DRAIN

The ICRC said it was particularly alarmed by the rising number of civilian casualties which hit a record high for the seventh successive year in 2015, with over 11,000 non-combatants killed or injured.

Attacks against medical facilities and staff have also risen 50 percent in the last year, making it more difficult for civilians to access healthcare.

Marti said the ICRC was launching a flying surgical team which will tour hospitals in provincial capitals around Afghanistan, training medical staff to respond to emergencies.

An estimated one million people are displaced within Afghanistan and others have fled abroad. Afghans are the second largest group of refugees and migrants arriving in Europe behind Syrians.

Marti warned of a “brain drain” as middle class professionals pack their bags in an exodus which could have serious implications for the country.

“What makes me pretty worried about the future of this country is that I know Afghans … who were here 10 years ago hoping to create a future for Afghanistan and who are now picking up their belongings and fleeing to Europe or to Canada.

“(This) illustrates for me that they are losing hope for the future of this country.”

Afghanistan is suffering from donor fatigue, partly because international attention was focused on Syria and Iraq, he said.

“We’ve seen a decrease in general interest for Afghanistan, but the situation is actually getting worse. It’s dangerous.”

(Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)

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ON THE MEDIA: 2016 World Press Freedom Index: a “deep and disturbing” decline in media freedom

April 13, 2016      RSF

The 2016 edition of the World Press Freedom Index, which Reporters Without Borders (RSF) will publish on 20 April, shows that there has been a deep and disturbing decline in respect for media freedom at both the global and regional levels.

The 2016 edition of the World Press Freedom Index, which Reporters Without Borders (RSF) will publish on 20 April, shows that there has been a deep and disturbing decline in respect for media freedom at both the global and regional levels. Ever since the 2013 index, Reporters Without Borders has been calculating indicators of the overall level of media freedom violations in each of the world’s regions and worldwide. The higher the figure, the worse the situation. The global indicator has gone from 3719 points last year to 3857 points this year, a 3.71% deterioration. The decline since 2013 is 13.6%.

The many reasons for this decline in freedom of information include the increasingly authoritarian tendencies of governments in countries such as Turkey and Egypt, tighter government control of state-owned media, even in some European countries such as Poland, and security situations that have become more and more fraught, in Libya and Burundi, for example, or that are completely disastrous, as in Yemen.

The survival of independent news coverage is becoming increasingly precarious in both the state and privately-owned media because of the threat from ideologies, especially religious ideologies, that are hostile to media freedom, and from large-scale propaganda machines. Throughout the world, “oligarchs” are buying up media outlets and are exercising pressure that compounds the pressure already coming from governments.

All of the Index’s indicators show a decline from 2013 to 2016. This is especially the case for infrastructure. Some governments do not hesitate to suspend access to the Internet or even to destroy the premises, broadcast equipment or printing presses of media outlets they dislike. The infrastructure indicator fell 16% from 2013 to 2016.

The legislative framework has registered an equally marked decline. Many laws have been adopted penalizing journalists on such spurious charges as “insulting the president,” “blasphemy” or “supporting terrorism.” Growing self-censorship is the knock-on effect of this alarming situation. The “media environment and self-censorship” indicator has fallen by more than 10% from 2013 to 2016.

Every continent has seen its score decline. The Americas have plunged 20.5%, above all as a result of the impact of physical attacks and murders targeting journalists in Mexico and Central America. Europe and the Balkans declined 6.5%, above all because of the growing influence of extremist movements and ultraconservative governments.

The Central Asia/Eastern Europe region’s already bad score deteriorated by 5% as a result of the increasingly glacial environment for media freedom and free speech in countries with authoritarian regimes.

Published by Reporters Without Borders annually since 2002, the World Press Freedom Index measures the level of freedom available to journalists in 180 countries using the following criteria – pluralism, media independence, media environment and self-censorship, legislative environment, transparency, infrastructure, and abuses.

See the 2016 World Press Freedom Index on the RSF.org website from 20 April onwards.

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