Determining if developing aid to poor countries really works

It seems like a no-brainer. Before you spend big bucks on a massive effort to improve life for the world’s poorest — say, distributing millions of free bed nets against malarial mosquitoes, or offering thousands of women microloans as small as $200 to start small businesses — you should run a smaller scale test to make sure the idea actually works. After all, just because a project sounds good in theory doesn’t mean it’s going to pan out in practice.

Or maybe some totally different method wouldn’t achieve better results for less money? For instance, maybe the key to lifting women’s incomes isn’t helping them start a small business but helping them land a salaried job?

Yet for decades, questions like this have been left unanswered.

Instead  health and development aid for the world’s poorest has largely been designed based on what seems reasonable, rather than what can be proved with hard evidence.

However, in the early 2000s a growing movement of social science researchers have been pushing policy-makers to do “impact evaluations” of their programs.

[NPR]

Germany accuses Washington of causing the refugee crisis

An angry Berlin has responded with a staunch defense of its policies after President-elect Donald Trump criticized German Chancellor Angela Merkel in two separate interviews for her stance during the refugee crisis.

Commenting on Trump’s statement that Merkel had made an “utterly catastrophic mistake by letting all these illegals into the country”, Germany’s deputy chancellor and minister for the economy, Sigmar Gabriel, said the increase in the number of people fleeing the Middle East to seek asylum in Europe had partially been a result of US-led wars destabilizing the region.

Slamming US foreign policy Gabriel said that “there is a link between America’s flawed interventionist policy, especially the Iraq war, and the refugee crisis, that’s why my advice would be that we shouldn’t tell each other what we have done right or wrong, but that we look into establishing peace in that region and do everything to make sure people can find a home there again.”

[Zero Hedge]

8 people have as much money as half the World

Eight men own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity, according to a new report published by Oxfam to mark the annual meeting of political and business leaders in Davos.

Oxfam’s report, ‘An economy for the 99 percent’, shows that the gap between rich and poor is far greater than had been feared. It details how big business and the super-rich are fueling the inequality crisis by dodging taxes, driving down wages and using their power to influence politics.

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, said: “It is obscene for so much wealth to be held in the hands of so few when 1 in 10 people survive on less than $2 a day.”

Oxfam’s report shows how our broken economies are funneling wealth to a rich elite at the expense of the poorest in society, the majority of whom are women.

The richest are accumulating wealth at such an astonishing rate that the world could see its first trillionaire in just 25 years.  To put this figure in perspective – you would need to spend $1 million every day for 2738 years to spend $1 trillion.

The world’s 8 richest people are, in order of net worth:

  1. Bill Gates: America founder of Microsoft (net worth $75 billion)
  2. Amancio Ortega: Spanish founder of Inditex which owns the Zara fashion chain (net worth $67 billion)
  3. Warren Buffett: American CEO and largest shareholder in Berkshire Hathaway (net worth $60.8 billion)
  4. Carlos Slim Helu: Mexican owner of Grupo Carso (net worth: $50 billion)
  5. Jeff Bezos: American founder, chairman and chief executive of Amazon (net worth: $45.2 billion)
  6. Mark Zuckerberg: American chairman, chief executive officer, and co-founder of Facebook (net worth $44.6 billion)
  7. Larry Ellison: American co-founder and CEO of Oracle  (net worth $43.6 billion)
  8. Michael Bloomberg: American founder, owner and CEO of Bloomberg LP (net worth: $40 billion)

[By Oxfam ]

Mosul humanitarian highlights

Three months into the military operation to retake Mosul city from ISIS, civilians continue to have significant humanitarian needs.

  • Potentially, up to 1.2-1.5 million people could be affected by military operations.
  • Current displacement has risen to 160,000 people. More than 85 per cent of displaced families are in camps and emergency sites, while the remainder are in host communities, sheltering in private settings or public buildings.
  • Up to one million people in Mosul city are estimated to remain largely inaccessible to humanitarians, sheltering from the fighting, or waiting for an opportune time to flee.
  • There is no humanitarian access to ISIS controlled areas of western Mosul city.
  • Humanitarian partners are increasingly able to access more affected people in eastern Mosul city, as Iraqi Security Forces secure greater control over neighborhoods in this area.

[ReliefNet]

Afghanistan’s continued descent into crisis

Afghanistan’s continued descent into crisis is forcing the country to increasingly rely on humanitarian aid that can only provide short-term relief while leaving the underlying problems unsolved, international officials acknowledged on Saturday, even as they launched a request for US$550 million in new funding.

Amid rising violence, economic stagnation, and social upheaval, the United Nations estimates at least 9.3 million Afghans, or nearly a third of the population, will need humanitarian assistance in 2017, a 13 percent increase from  last year.

While praising the humanitarian workers who provide vital care around the country, Swedish ambassador to Afghanistan Anders Sjoberg said the continued reliance on their services is a sign of broader failures. “Let us acknowledge that we’ve been doing this work in Afghanistan for too long,” he said at an event with international and Afghan officials in Kabul on Saturday. “This is a failure in itself. Humanitarian aid is not short-term anymore, it has unfortunately become a band-aid for the unresolved conflict.”

Since even before a U.S.-led military operation toppled the Taliban regime in 2001, international organizations have helped provide both more short-term humanitarian aid designed to address the most pressing and life-threatening problems, as well as long-term development support.

But last year saw record increases in the number of people displaced by fighting, with at least 626,000 additional people fleeing their homes, compared to around 70,000 in 2010, when the international military effort was at its height.

[Reuters]

Unpredictable Trump could prove a game changer for Africa

For the past eight years Africa has been relegated to the back burner of US foreign policy.

Enter President Trump: bombastic and volatile, with neither affinity nor proximity to Africa, but a brazen sense of unpredictability. Because Trump favors protectionism, the argument goes, he will turn his back on Africa and will happily don Obama’s mantle to continue Washington’s minimalist involvement in African affairs.

Trump, however, might just do the opposite and, just as George W. Bush, surprise many critics by implementing sensible policies vis-à-vis Africa.

Why would Trump care about Africa? The answer is simple: China. If Trump is serious about China, as he has ostensibly touted on the campaign trail and via twitter, if he is determined to flex his muscles against China, he should first challenge the rising power of the Red Dragon in Africa. That’s because Africa has served as China’s economic launching pad for over two decades. Africa has fueled and will continue to fuel China’s booming industries for several decades to come.  With the US economic presence in Africa receding, China has occupied the void and driven competition out, including many European companies and investors.

Plus Islamic terror groups, including Al-Shabaab and Al Qaeda operate cell groups in Africa’s rogue states. They are after American soft targets and it’s just a matter of time, if the trend is not reversed, until we see the kind of acts that targeted American interests in Nairobi and Benghazi.

Trump might prove his critics wrong by dealing differently with Africa and restoring America’s clout on a continent that cannot afford to put its eggs in the same basket and should not let China’s monopolistic drive dictate the terms and pace of its development.

[CNN]

88 million ton EU food waste

The European Court of Auditors chided the European Union’s executive branch in a report, “Combating Food Waste,” that decried the bloc’s lack of effort in reducing the food waste. It estimated the EU wastes 88 million tons of food a year for a population of 510 million.

“The Commission is not combating the food waste effectively,” said ECA member Bettina Jakobsen, noting a lack of strategy and inspiration being used to tackle the problem.

The report said more efforts should be made all along the food chain and special precautions should be taken when setting farm policy to make sure that less produce is discarded. An EU study, however, shows about half that waste can still be tied to households, not policy.

The ECA also recommended making food donations easier, since they are still mired in legal and tax issues that sometimes become a disincentive for food producers to give food away. It said with better EU regulations that could be turned around.

[AP]

2016 the hottest year since record keeping began in 1880

Scientists confirmed this week that 2016 was the hottest year since record keeping began in 1880, marking the third consecutive year of record warmth across the globe.

The average global surface temperature (over both land and ocean) in 2016 was 58.69 degrees F — 1.69 degrees above the 20th-century average and 0.07 degrees above last year’s record. “That doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you take that and you average it all the way around the planet, that’s a big number,” said Deke Arndt, the head of global climate monitoring at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

According to NOAA, the annual global temperature record has been broken five times since the start of the 21st century (2005, 2010, 2014, 2015, and 2016).

The buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has been steadily raising global temperatures for more than half a century now. “A single warm year is something of a curiosity,” Arndt told reporters Wednesday. “It’s really the trend, and the fact that we’re punching at the ceiling every year now, that is the real indicator that we’re undergoing big changes.”

[e360 Digest]

One Sydney suburb absorbs half of Australia’s 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees

At least half of Australia’s special intake of 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees will be settled in one part of western Sydney within 12 months, prompting community leaders to plead for more federal government support to deal with the unusually high intake.

Fairfield City Council, which previously welcomed 3000 humanitarian arrivals from the two war-torn countries in 2016, has been told by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to expect the same again. Overall, the council area took in triple their usual annual humanitarian intake last year.

Across the one-off 12,000 cohort and the regular humanitarian program, Fairfield took in 75 per cent of all western Sydney’s refugee intake, with Liverpool City Council second at 14 per cent.

Between July 2015 and January 2017, 15,897 people displaced by the conflicts in Syria and Iraq have arrived in Australia.

This intake will increase to 16,250 next financial year and 17,750 the year after that.

[Sydney Morning Herald]

UN humanitarian aid to Aleppo residents

United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has contributed with access to water supply for over 700,000 people in Aleppo, while Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is providing assistance to refugees in Jibreen district, according to the report on the situation in Aleppo released by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Meanwhile, Russia’s Defense Ministry expressed surprise over the overall lack of assistance to the population of Aleppo on behalf of international organizations, given the time span  since the city was freed from the militants.

“A month has passed after the liberation of Aleppo. However, there has been no real assistance from international organizations to the civilian population there,” spokesman of the military department, Major General Igor Konashenkov said.

“It gives the impression that many international organizations, which earlier as if were ‘breaking through’ with humanitarian assistance to seized Aleppo, now that the city is recaptured have all of a sudden lost any interest to it along with the desire to offer assistance,” the defense ministry’s spokesman said.

According to the OCHA report, currently the United Nations and its partners have access to practically all parts of the East of Aleppo, with the exception of Sheikh Said, where minesweepers continue to work.

 [Al-Masdar News]