Major challenges to a complete bridging of the Digital Divide

If we visit a typical rural village in a developing country, we encounter these challenges to a bridging of the so-called Digital Divide:

  1. In most rural villages there is inadequate infrastructure to support tech. In many villages, there is limited or no electricity, which makes powering phones or towers difficult. Many villages have no signal to support mobile telephony. In places that do have a signal, it is typically 2G and thus does not support most fintech services, which require 3G or above to function properly.
  2. Among poor households, there are few smartphones, and even the feature phones are owned by the men. This leaves women with limited or no access. In addition, they also typically have hopelessly short battery life, screens that shatter easily, and a persistent problem with ‘fat finger error’ that makes them almost unusable. Furthermore, the cost of data needed to make fintech transactions is usually prohibitively expensive.
  3. Most villagers are “oral”. They – along with another 1 billion-plus people across the planet – cannot read, write, or understand the long number strings necessary to transact on mobile phones.
  4. Providers have made little effort to tailor interfaces or use-cases for the low-income market. The vast majority of fintech providers develop solutions for the affluent and middle classes. This makes logical sense – these segments have the money (and connectivity) to use the solutions.
  5. Furthermore, villagers value personal relationships – particularly when it comes to money. The idea of trusting technology that they do not understand for anything except very basic payments is out of the question.
  6. The regulatory environment and consumer protection provisions remain too weak to secure the poor. Many have already lost money in basic money transfer transactions. Millions are negatively listed on credit bureaus and in the databases of large banks because of digital credit.

Until we address these six fundamental barriers to the deployment and use of fintech by the poor, it will indeed remain irrelevant to them.  In fact, we risk exacerbating the digital divide and leaving the poor and vulnerable behind.

[MicroSave]

On slave auctions in Libya

In the wake of the CNN report on human auctions in Libya, there has rightly been a surge in concern for the thousands of Africans languishing in inhumane conditions in detention camps. Political leaders in Europe and Africa, including UN Secretary-General António Guterres and African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki, have condemned the situation. After years of flailing diplomacy and lonely advocacy, it seems the world is finally ready to talk about the humanitarian disaster in Libya.

But while this new wave of attention is welcome and necessary, it does raise key questions: Why did it take so long to have this near-unified voice of condemnation on a well-researched and well-covered issue that has been in the public domain for the better part of the last decade? Why now and not before? And more importantly, what does this delayed reaction say about race and racism in international humanitarian work?

This information is not new. International organizations, politicians, and journalists have all reported the dire conditions facing African migrants in Libya from at least 2010.

The vast majority of the world’s refugees and migrants today are Asian and African, unlike in the 1940s when the original instruments of protection were negotiated.

Bottom line: Countries only want “good migrants” – where “good” means primarily white and/or wealthy.  Helping black and brown bodies is couched in the polite language of  “helping them where they are”. Race and racism are at the heart of the ongoing refugee and migrant crisis, but, to date, humanitarianism has been reluctant to talk about it in stark terms.

[Read full IRIN article]

Trump calls on Saudis to immediately end Yemen blockade

President Donald Trump on Wednesday called on Saudi Arabia to end its Yemen blockade immediately, citing humanitarian concerns.

“I have directed officials in my Administration to call the leadership of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to request that they completely allow food, fuel, water, and medicine to reach the Yemeni people who desperately need it,” Trump said in a statement.

A Saudi-led coalition has been fighting to defeat the Iran-backed Houthis — at one point allied with ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s forces in Yemen — since March 2015. The coalition has imposed a blockade on the country, with the aim of reinstating the internationally recognized government of Saleh’s successor, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

Saleh was killed Monday by his former Houthi allies after moving to switch allegiances in the bloody conflict.

Yemen’s stalemated war has killed over 10,000 civilians and displaced 3 million. On Tuesday, the U.N. Security Council warned of “the dire and deteriorating humanitarian situation in Yemen,” saying the country “stands at the brink of catastrophic famine.”

[AP]

Scientists watch and wait as Bali’s menacing volcano rumbles

The question Indonesian volcanologist Devy Kamil Syahbana gets most is the one he cannot answer—when, or if, rumbling Mount Agung on Bali island will blow up in a major eruption.

The 3,000 meter (9,800 ft) Agung—a so-called strato-volcano capable of very violent eruptions—has recorded a sharp rise in activity that has raised worries.

In 1963, pyroclastic flows of lava and rocks poured out of the volcano, killing more than 1,000 people and razing dozens of villages. According to survivors, that eruption was preceded by earthquakes, volcanic mudflows, and ashfall—all signs that Mount Agung is showing again now, said Syahbana.

Authorities raised the alert status to the maximum after the volcano started erupting last month, spewing out ash over the holiday island and causing travel chaos by closing its airport for three days last week. While hot magma has produced an eerie orange glow just above the crater, and thousands of villagers have fled from their homes on the mountain’s slopes, Agung has, this time, yet to explode violently.

Syahbana, who studied volcanology in Brussels and Paris, said his team’s main job was to “increase the preparedness of the communities here in the event of a major eruption”.

Indonesia has nearly 130 active volcanoes, more than any other country.

[Reuters]

The latest on the Rohingya refugee crisis

One hundred days after the start of the Rohingya refugee crisis, the Inter-Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) has released a report on the overall status of the humanitarian response.

There are more than 830,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar: 625,000 of them have poured over the border since 25 August. These refugees are now living in ten different camps, and among Bangladeshi host communities. One of the camps has become the largest and fastest growing refugee camp in the world, where approximately half a million people are living extremely close to each other without access to basic services such as toilets or clinics.

The Government of Bangladesh is working in cooperation with humanitarian partners who are working to provide relief services for the refugee population and Bangladeshi host communities. Of the 1.2 million people in need, around half have been reached with assistance. There is not enough land to provide adequate living conditions for the more than 830,000 refugees that now crowd Cox’s Bazar. The risk of disease outbreak is high, and the impact of a cyclone or heavy rain would be massive.

Only 34% of the $434 million needed to provide assistance to 1.2 million people has been raised.

[International Organization for Migration]

On World AIDS Day 2017

Today is World AIDS Day.

The number of worldwide deaths from AIDS has gone down by 50 percent since 2005, though there are still more than 36 million people around the world who are living with AIDS, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Only half are receiving appropriate treatment, which makes the NGO’s global theme for the 30th World AIDS Day particularly fitting. This year, WHO declared the theme is “right to health.” Specifically, the organization hopes to draw attention to the need for universal health coverage.

“Under the slogan ‘everybody counts,’ WHO will advocate for access to safe, effective, quality and affordable medicines, including medicines, diagnostics and other health commodities as well as health care services for all people in need, while also ensuring that they are protected against financial risks,” the organization stated on its website.

[Newsweek]

Women as agents of climate change action

Arguably the biggest problem facing humanity—climate change—may have a surprising solution: legally recognize and enforce the land rights of rural women in customary tenure systems.

We already know that strong land rights for women reduce poverty and increase economic empowerment and personal agency. A growing body of research also suggests that when women have secure tenure rights, climate change resiliency increases for women and their communities. Women commonly rely on community lands that [collectively] hold at least 24% of the aboveground carbon found in the world’s tropical forests—a sum equivalent to almost four times the global greenhouse gas emissions of 2014.  This initial research suggests a dual approach: treating women—those hardest hit by climate change—as agents of prevention, while prioritizing women’s participation in adaptation measures.

At least 2.5 billion people derive their livelihoods from rural land-use economies, and communities hold and manage over half of the world’s land area through customary tenure systems in which land is held at the community level.  Those living under individualized and community-based customary systems are likely to be among the majority of those living in poverty worldwide. They are especially dependent on rural land for their livelihoods, yet they often lack legally recognized land rights under national laws. This holds especially true for people in the lowest income countries, and those experiencing the most extreme forms of poverty due to intersecting discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, class, or caste.

These same populations are among those most affected by climate change. According to recent research, 52% of agricultural land worldwide is affected by climate-changed induced drought, just one example of a climate change-induced “slow-onset” disasters. Land degradation, another example, is estimated to affect 1.5 billion people.

Securing rural women’s rights to land may be key to the survival of our species.

[Landesa]

Partnering for the health of people and planet

Climate change has far-reaching impacts on human health and well-being. Changing temperature and rainfall patterns impact crop yield, food and water security, and nutrition. The increased frequency and intensity of extreme events can cause not only injury, but also increase the risk of water-borne diseases (diarrheal disease, Hepatitis A and E, bacterial diseases such as cholera), diseases associated with crowding (measles, meningitis, acute respiratory infections) and vector-borne diseases (malaria, dengue), as well as psychological and emotional distress related to traumatic events.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that climate change will cause an additional 250,000 deaths each year between 2030 and 2050, just considering risks from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress.

Health impacts from climate change are exacerbated in countries where health systems already struggle to manage existing health risks, and capacity to adapt to additional climate change-related health risks is limited.

Only through critical partnerships between governments, civil society, UN agencies, and global environment and health organizations, support can be provided to countries in responding to the health impacts of climate variability and change by working at the nexus of health, environmental sustainability and climate change, disaster risk reduction, gender equality, and poverty alleviation.

[UNDP]

Outcome of the abduction of 4 British missionaries in Nigeria

The British government says one UK missionary who was kidnapped in Nigeria last month has been killed but three others have been freed.

The Foreign Office said on Monday that Alanna Carson, David Donovan and Shirley Donovan have returned to their families, but Ian Squire “was tragically killed.”

The four were abducted in the Niger Delta region on October 13.

The missionaries had been operating a series of clinics in Nigeria for the past 14 years, despite the high risk across Delta State from kidnappers, armed robbers and pirates.

Friends of Ian Squire branded his captors “despicable” as they paid tribute to the optician who had set up his own charity to save people’s sight in Africa. The 57-year-old ran his own opticians in Shepperton, Surrey, and had been founder and chairman of the Christian charity Mission for Vision since 2003. He founded the charity to provide training and eye equipment for clinics in countries including Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya and Mozambique.

Monica Chard, a friend, said: “He was a lovely, quiet man who everyone knew and loved as the village optician. “He went out to Africa every year with the charity and his wife was also involved. He just wanted to help people see who otherwise would not have had any help.”

According to his website, Mr Squire had made 13 trips for the charity since 2003, accompanied by other opticians and volunteers, and in 2013 had joined forces with the Donovans on his first visit to Nigeria. Mr Donovan, a GP from Cambridge, and his wife, both aged 57, run their own Christian health charity called New Foundations, with a string of remote clinics in the Delta region.

[AP/The Telegraph]

At least 19 dead as typhoon sweeps into Vietnam

Typhoon Damrey killed at least 19 people in central and southern Vietnam on Saturday, the government said, after the storm swept into the country just days ahead of the APEC summit of Asia-Pacific leaders.

Damrey reached land at 4 a.m. local time with winds gusting at up to 90 kmph (56 mph) that tore off more than 1,000 roofs, knocked down hundreds of electricity poles and uprooted trees. At least 12 people were missing and over 370 houses had collapsed, the Communist state’s search and rescue committee said. Over 33,000 people had been evacuated.

The government earlier said six ships had capsized with 61 people on board in the South China Sea and that 25 people had been rescued, but gave no details as to the possible fate of the others.

The government said more than 40,000 hectares of crops had been damaged, including sugar cane, rice fields and rubber plantations. More than 40 flights were cancelled.

The storm made landfall around 500 km (310 miles) south of the coastal city of Danang, where the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit is taking place next week. There were reports of high winds and rain in Danang, but no immediate reports of casualties. The city will host U.S. President Donald Trump from Nov. 10 as well as China’s Xi Jinping, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and counterparts from other APEC members.

 [Reuters]

Why Humanitarian Aid Matters

From an interview with Gregory Gottlieb, former acting assistant administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance:

President Donald Trump has made it clear that foreign aid is not a top priority for his administration. His 2018 budget proposal includes steep cuts to the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the United Nations. That policy change could have lasting impact on humanitarian efforts worldwide.

The United States has really helped to build the international system of humanitarian relief. We have been the biggest giver, the donor of last resort in many respects. And if you want to change that, you don’t do it by saying we’re going to cut our budget by 40 percent overnight. That is just going to damage the system. Right now, we—all donors—meet only about 62 percent of what we think humanitarian needs are. You can’t just cut our budget and hope that other nations step in to make up the difference.

“Soft power” like humanitarian aid can be very beneficial and serve as a tool for political advantages. After the tsunami in Asia in 2004, the fact that we supplied humanitarian assistance allowed our military to collaborate with Indonesia’s military. That kind of broke the ice and improved relations between our countries. If you looked at how people there viewed the United States, our ratings went way up. The same in Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake—the military did a fantastic job of delivering things, despite what was going on in Afghanistan. Some of the people who did that work are still incredibly well thought of. In South Sudan, our humanitarian assistance opened up a better dialogue between Sudan and South Sudan as they were forced to negotiate about how to move food across the lines.

[Tufts University]

Widespread natural disasters threaten development goals

This year in the Caribbean, as well as on the American mainland, hurricanes have left millions of people in need of assistance. In Puerto Rico, 3.4 million people have been scrambling for basic necessities, including food and water. Barbuda was rendered uninhabitable and Dominica was hit hard for the second year in a row.

Floods in Bangladesh, India and Nepal have affected some 40 million people. Twenty countries have also declared drought emergencies in the past 18 months, with major displacement taking place across the Horn of Africa.

In light of such impacts, and the growing influence of climate change which is increasingly exacerbating them, one conclusion is clear: sustainable development and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will remain elusive or significantly delayed so long as hazards are left unchecked.

As outlined in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, we need to shift from managing disasters to preventing disasters by better managing existing risks. This means tackling risk drivers such as poverty, rapid urbanization, weak governance, the decline of ecosystems, desertification and climate change. These are all driving up disaster risk around the world.

[Inter Press Service]

Migrant situation in Libya and the Mediterranean area

Since the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gaddafi, chaos-hit Libya has become a key point of departure for migrants heading to Europe.

A navy official said Wednesday thatLibya’s coastguard  rescued nearly 300 migrants including dozens of women and children from unseaworthy boats as they tried to reach Europe. The migrants, of different African nationalities, were plucked from two rubber dinghies without engines and brought back to the Tripoli naval base. They were given food and medical attention before being transferred to a detention center, the official added.

The UN refugee agency said more than 20,000 migrants, including pregnant women and babies, were being held either in detention centers or by traffickers, warning of abuse “on a shocking scale”.

Nearly 150,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year, according to the United Nations, and at least 2,826 others have died making the journey.

Hailing mainly from sub-Saharan countries, most migrants board boats operated by people traffickers in western Libya, and make for the Italian island of Lampedusa 300km away. But migrant arrivals in Italy have dropped 69% since July, the European country said this week, as a deal with Libya blocks boats and would-be asylum seekers use other routes into Europe.

While the number landing in Italy is down by 30% compared with last year, arrivals in Spain, meanwhile, have more than tripled, with over 14 000 arrivals this year.

[AFP]

An app for impending drought?

Fostering and harnessing innovative technologies could significantly reduce the negative impacts from climate change, including drought, water scarcity and food insecurity in African countries.

According to the United Nations (UNCCD) by 2025, 1.8 billion people will experience absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world will be living under water-stressed conditions. By 2050, the demand for water is expected to increase by 50 percent.

Drought caused as a result of climate change, a complex global phenomenon with significant and pervasive socio-economic and environmental impacts, is causing more deaths and displacing more people than any other natural disaster.

According to UNCCD, adopting smart tech strategies would help Africa to address the drought challenges in many ways, depending on the action strategy and the technology and its application. For example, implementing early warning systems and new technologies by metrological agencies, use of cell phones to share climate information with local communities, the creation of climate maps and deployment of drones to collect climate data. For herders and pastoralists in the African drylands, for example, smart techs/mobile applications would help increase the security of pastoral zones by guiding them to the nearest water resources so as to ensure year-round access to grazing and water.

Speaking at a G7 Agriculture Ministers meeting on Oct. 14, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva noted that some 75 countries mainly in Africa … do not have the capacity to translate the weather data, including longer-term forecasts, data into information for farmers. “There is an urgent need to take the data which is available globally and to translate it to the ground level,” he said.

[IPS]

Promise for a HIV vaccine

Researchers at the University of Maryland and Duke University (UMD) have designed a novel protein-sugar vaccine candidate that, in an animal model, stimulated an immune response against sugars that form a protective shield around HIV. The molecule could one day become part of a successful HIV vaccine.

“An obstacle to creating an effective HIV vaccine is the difficulty of getting the immune system to generate antibodies against the sugar shield of multiple HIV strains,” said Lai-Xi Wang, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UMD. “Our method addresses this problem by designing a vaccine component that mimics a protein-sugar part of this shield.”

Wang and collaborators designed a vaccine candidate using an HIV protein fragment linked to a sugar group. When injected into rabbits, the vaccine candidate stimulated antibody responses against the sugar shield in four different HIV strains. The results were published in the journal Cell Chemical Biology on October 26, 2017.

[Read full University of Maryland article]

Why do nations invest in international aid? Ask Norway. And China.

Norwegian aid and Chinese aid pursue widely different strategies. While Norway provides substantial funding for budget support and funds civil society organizations, China offers a combination of grants and concessional loans and prioritizes infrastructure development in poor countries.

Given its size and lack of military might, Norway has actively tried to promote the virtues of the Nordic model — a peaceful, rule-based, globalized and prosperous world. It has done this through offering a generous amount of aid, consistently giving away more than 1 percent of its Gross National Income. Such acts of generosity give Norway a seat at the table usually reserved for the bigger players in peace processes or efforts to promote development and reduce poverty around the world.

With China, little distinction is made between grants and loans, and it does not offer detailed information about aid disbursements at country level. In turn, it expects poor countries to offer access to such natural resources as oil, minerals, and agricultural products, which China needs for its own development. China’s approach is characterized by pragmatism. It does not believe in offering aid conditioned on improving local governance or combating corruption. Unlike Western donors, China controls the implementation process by bypassing the public administration of recipient countries, and awards contracts to Chinese companies.

[Washington Post]

Young people driving social change

Finding new ways to get young people excited about reducing food scarcity, and to improve access to decent and affordable housing are just some of the challenges that teams of young people from around the world tried to address as participants in the BeChangeMaker (BCM) initiative developed by the HP Foundation and WorldSkills International. Read about three such teams:

  • Team Sci-Kid Hub from Mexico designed a training program to help teachers make science lessons more exciting.
  • Team Terracotta from Indonesia developed a training program to support rice farmers and address food scarcity in Indonesia by improving the quality of rice crop yields.
  • Team T-Chan from Mexico created a business that offers decent jobs to lower-income people, so they can support themselves and build their own houses.

The three winning teams will have access to funding and training opportunities with business incubators and accelerators in their own countries so they can continue to refine their solutions.

“Getting young people excited about social entrepreneurship, and seeing it as a viable career option, is key to driving positive social change,” said Debby McIsaac, Executive Director of the HP Foundation. “Through BeChangeMaker, these inspiring young people have harnessed their skills and talents to help make life better for others by creating real-world solutions to some of society’s toughest issues.”

The HP Foundation’s free online skills training program, HP LIFE, was a key resource for the participants. HP LIFE offers access to 27 courses in seven languages, including courses on social entrepreneurship and design thinking, which help users develop the knowledge and skills they need to start, grow, and run successful businesses.

[SocialEarth]

Reducing youth unemployment in South Africa

South Africa is faced with a crisis of high and rising youth unemployment. Throughout the country, only 1 in 3 young people of working age is employed. This distressing statistic not only plays out through the limited earnings potential and future prospects of these youth, but also emerges within stymied business growth and unsustainable pressure on governmental social programs. The solution will take action from a variety of sectors and actors in order to turn the tide. According to a report funded by The Rockefeller Foundation:

  1. Throughout their lives, youth within South Africa are put at an employment disadvantage due to inadequate education and recruiting systems. Despite an estimated 500,000 entry-level vacancies throughout the country, young people often lack the necessary problem-solving skills, business acumen, technological savvy, and communication skills needed for the workplace.
  2. In order to place more youth in jobs, sectors can bring their unique skills to bear while complementing one another’s efforts: … training providers can focus more on skills, including job-readiness skills, that are directly demanded by employers and work with these employers for placement; and funders can strategically deploy grants to such programs and collaboratives.
  3. Youth who participate in demand-driven training programs and are then hired into jobs become valuable staff in short order: the youth were more motivated to perform well and assimilated quickly to the work environment.

Read about an innovative program in South Africa, Code for Change

New book highlights sustainable success stories

A new book from Columbia University Press offers social sector organizations a how-to guide on applying new and creative methods to solve complex problems.

Design Thinking for the Greater Good tells 10 stories of the struggles and successes of organizations from across the world working in industries from healthcare to agriculture that have applied design thinking, a human-centered approach to problem solving, in order to truly understand the problems they wanted to solve, generate testable ideas and develop solutions for vulnerable groups who actually adopted them.

One of the 10 stories in the book shows how the Sustainable Modernization of Traditional Agriculture program (MasAgro) was able to launch a solution that helped smallholder farmers in Mexico adopt new sustainable agriculture methods. The authors conclude that MasAgro made innovation safe by relying on respected community leaders and innovation networks that develop, test and adapt agricultural methods and innovations that visibly outperform alternative agricultural practices.

[MasAgro]

India’s children deserve a solid foundation

India has made remarkable progress towards universalizing primary education, but learning outcomes are poor. Current efforts to address poor learning outcomes focus on improving primary education but ignore the preschool years. But, the preschool years are one of the most powerful levers to address this challenge.

The ages from 3-5 are particularly important as this is when a child learns critical pre-literacy and pre-numeracy skills that are essential for a child’s readiness to enter primary school.

The impact of good early education is disproportionately high for children from low-income households.

86% of children from low-income families – who constitute 70% of urban India – attend affordable private schools (APSs). These families invest ~6% of their income per child on private preschools despite the availability of free public options because they believe them to be of better quality. Unfortunately, APSs use a rote based approach and learning outcomes are as poor as in Government schools (e.g. in Class 1, 78% cannot read 3 simple 3-letter words) but little effort is invested in improving APSs.              [Alliance]

Read about an innovative private pre-school system developed in Bangalore, Building Blocks India