Industrialization could help Africa’s cities

Cities in sub-Saharan Africa are growing fast. Yet urban economies across the region are markedly different from those of other cities around the world: they are more expensive to live in and less industrial.

One estimate suggests that food and drink cost 35% more in real terms in sub-Saharan African cities than in other countries, while housing is 55% more expensive. The average urban household in sub-Saharan Africa spends 39% to 59% of its budget on food alone.

The high price of basic goods and services means that people living in African cities have little money to spend on reducing risk, such as upgrading their homes, preventative health care or buying insurance.

Urbanization has historically been closely linked to industrialization. In sub-Saharan Africa, urbanization is taking place without industrialization. This means that jobs and livelihoods too often remain low-skilled and poorly paid. Without the opportunity to develop skills and organize collectively, workers exert little influence over working conditions.

There are ways around these problems. Manufacturing jobs offer income security and skill development. Local employers in the public and private sector benefit from new knowledge and skills, while workers can accumulate capital. This offers a path out of poverty. 

 [PreventionWeb]

PowerMyLearning educational tool

Elisabeth Stock has always been driven to work toward a more just world. It was what led her to volunteer as a teacher for the Peace Corps in West Africa in her early 20s, and it’s what ultimately motivated her to found PowerMyLearning, an educational technology nonprofit, in 1999.

“I wanted to join the Peace Corps because I felt like there was this deep unfairness in society,” she says. “Is it just and fair that where you are born predicts whether you can reach your human potential?”

The key to providing equal opportunity for everyone, says Stock, is through education. To that end, PowerMyLearning uses technology to improve the relationships that are crucial to the learning process — namely, the impact that teachers and parents have on a student’s promise to excel. “What we’re really about is empowering all of them — the kids and the adults — to learn together,” she says. That empowerment is translating to real, measurable results.

Technology is a crucial part of this process, but the company approaches it in a decidedly different way than most ed-tech outfits do. We realize that what you really need to do with technology is focus on the learning relationships.”

PowerMyLearning uses a combination of services and tools to reach everyone involved in a child’s education. The organization’s online platform, called PowerMyLearning Connect, curates the best available videos, interactive games and other online resources to help students master complex topics. PowerMyLearning also provides coaching to teachers, especially those who are early in their careers, and conducts workshops where families can learn about what their kids are doing.

[Daily Good]

Closing an HIV lifeline in Africa

President Trump’s re-introduction of the policy banning US government funds from going to organizations with any links to abortion jeopardizes a wide range of healthcare clinics in dozens of countries because family planning advice is often bundled up with other provision.

In all, nearly $9bn is at stake, and hundreds of thousands of women could be affected. Such drastic cuts will inevitably mean the end of programs that have nothing to do with abortion but which provide vital support to people living with the physical, psychological and social implications of HIV.

In Mozambique alone, figures from 2015 show that about 110,000 children aged 14 and under were living with HIV.

Amodefa – the Mozambican Association for Family Development— has various social projects on HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, sexual and reproductive health, and sexual rights. The lives of the poorest women in southern Africa depend on organizations such as this. Yet they will be among the worst affected by Donald Trump’s crackdown on family planning groups around the world. Advocates across the region say the move risks undermining progress in tackling HIV and AIDS in southern Africa, one of the areas hardest hit by the epidemic.

“Projects already approved run the risk of being cancelled, and those that are already ongoing run the risk of not being renewed when they come to an end in September, said  Amodefa director Santos Simione. USAID currently provides $2m of the organization’s $3m annual budget.

[The Guardian]

The value of water is on the rise

In the wake of recent water-related disasters in Bangladesh, including water-logging and floods that displaced thousands of families, a high-level consultation in the capital Dhaka on valuing water will look at ways to optimize water use and solutions to water-related problems facing South Asia.

On July 31, ministers, senior and local government officials, businesses and representatives from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and development partners will attend the Fourth Consultation on Valuing Water to be held at the BRAC Center in Dhaka. Regional cooperation will be a critical component in solving these interrelated problems.

While Bangladesh has been heavily affected, it is hardly alone in grappling with both chronic shortages and overabundance. In India, nearly two dozen cities face daily water shortages; in the Nepali capital, Kathmandu, people wait in lines for hours to get drinking water from the city’s ancient stone waterspouts; in Pakistan, the Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) warned that the country may run dry by 2025 if authorities didn’t take immediate action.

Dr. Azharul Haq says the “nuisance value” of water is going up. Water is declining across the world day by day, both in quality and quantity. Freshwater – a finite resource – is under particular pressure from population growth worldwide and other causes, compounding the challenges of extreme climate events like droughts and floods.

[Inter Press Service]

Angelina Jolie on the Syrian humanitarian situation

Excerpts of speech by Angelina Jolie Pitt, UNHCR Special Envoy for Refugee Issues, before the United Nations Security Council :

Since the Syria conflict began in 2011, I have made eleven visits to Syrian refugees in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Malta.

I think of the mother I met recently in a camp in Iraq. She could tell you what it is like to try to live after your young daughter was ripped from your family by armed men, and taken as a sex slave.

I think of Hala, one of six orphaned children living in a tent in Lebanon. She could tell you what it is like to share the responsibility for feeding your family at the age of 11, because your mother died in an air strike and your father is missing.

I think of Dr Ayman, a doctor from Aleppo, who watched his wife and three year-old daughter drown in the Mediterranean when a smugglers’ boat collapsed packed with hundreds of people. He could tell you what it is like to try to keep your loved ones safe in a warzone, only to lose them in a desperate bid for safety after all other options have failed.

These are some of nearly four million Syrian refugees who are victims of a conflict they have no part in. Yet they are stigmatized, unwanted, and regarded as a burden.

On my last visit in February, anger had subsided into resignation, misery and the bitter question “why are we, the Syrian people, not worth saving?”

[Read full speech]

137 million people’s lives are at risk from flooding

“In the next 30 years, it is projected that heavy rainfall events will be increasing … in Asia, by about 20% for sure,” climate scientist Dewi Kirono at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) told CNN.

Southern Asia is already the wettest area on the continent and one of the wettest regions in the world, receiving an average of at least 1000mm of rainfall a year.

As the rains fall harder, more than 137 million people in India, Bangladesh and China will be put at risk of coastal or inland flooding, more people than in the rest of the Asia-Pacific combined, a study in 2012 found. The majority of flood-related deaths and injuries worldwide since 1950 have been in three countries. According to statistics from Belgium’s Universite Catholique de Louvain’s Emergency Events Database, since 1950, more than 2.2 million people in these countries have been killed by flooding.

The problem centers around three of the great Himalayan rivers of South and East Asia: The Ganges, Brahmaputra and Yangtze. About 500 million people, or 50% of the population in India and Bangladesh, and about 300 million people, or about 25% of the population of China, live within the flood basins of these three rivers. Taken together, the three waterways support an estimated 14% of the world’s total population. When the heavy rains higher up in the flood plains flow into these rivers, water levels rise dramatically — and floodwaters pour into the surrounding cities and towns.

Still, these factors have been here for years. Why is the danger growing now?

“A lot of the urbanization … has happened in a largely unplanned matter.” Abhas Jha, the World Bank sector manager for Transport, Urban and Disaster Risk Management for East Asia and the Pacific, said. As natural drainage, such as open green spaces and wetlands, are covered in cityscapes…, heavy rain has nowhere to go. And the rains are getting heavier.

[CNN]

Redesigning the architecture of US Foreign Aid

Donald Trump is hardly the first U.S. president to call for bureaucratic reorganization to improve government efficiency and effectiveness. But his demand for disproportionate cuts in international spending, his attacks on multilateral cooperation, and his aversion to “soft power” make it clear that his agenda is to sideline, not strengthen, U.S. foreign policy institutions.

Thus when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced his intention to conduct a “complete and comprehensive review” of aid effectiveness, development advocates jumped to preempt what they feared might be a bid to dismantle the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) by putting together proposals for evidence-based, results-oriented reform.

The first of those proposals is now in: a discussion draft of a new foreign aid architecture released by the co-chairs of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN). The MFAN proposal would give the development agency control over the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), currently an independent agency, as well as the AIDS relief and refugee assistance programs now overseen by the State Department. The proposal would eliminate USAID’s regional bureaus and consolidate all development programs into five “centers” based on broad functional categories.

[Read full article]

Israeli aid for Syrians

Quietly, over the last year, hundreds of sick Syrian children and their chaperones have been whisked across enemy lines at dawn for treatment at clinics in Israel, slipping back home after dark. Truckloads of supplies have passed into Syrian villages through a gate in the sturdy security fence that Israel has constructed since Syria erupted into civil war, including stacks of flour, generators, half a million liters of fuel, construction materials, tons of shoes, baby formula, antibiotics and even a few vehicles and mules.

This week, the Israeli military revealed the scope of the humanitarian aid project, which it calls Operation Good Neighbor and which began in June 2016 along the Israeli-Syrian boundary on the Golan Heights. The aid project depends on an extraordinary level of cooperation between old foes on both sides of the decades-old armistice lines separating the Syrians and Israelis. Military officials say they coordinate directly with Syrian doctors and village leaders to gauge needs.

“The [humanitarian ] aid creates a positive awareness of Israel on the Syrian side,” said Col. Barak Hiram, the commanding officer of Israel’s 474 Golan Brigade, adding that it could lay the “first seeds” of some form of future agreement.

Most of the supplies are donated by Israeli and foreign nongovernmental organizations, while the Israeli government has footed the bill for medical treatment. According to the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees, a New York-based network of organizations involved in the aid effort, Israel has also become an efficient, if unlikely, staging area for Syrian aid groups operating abroad that, facilitated by the Israeli military, are now shipping goods into Syria through Israeli ports.

Georgette Bennett, who founded the Multifaith Alliance in 2013, is a Hungarian-born former refugee and the daughter of Holocaust survivors.

[New York Times]

Molly Melching : “I never went in and told them to change. I just gave them the information”

Molly Melching, a warm American in her 60s is the founder and chief executive officer of Tostan, a Senegalese nonprofit. Melching, standing tall in a flowing dress called a boubou, recalls how she came to Senegal in 1974 as a 24-year-old graduate student from Illinois. She thought she’d stay for six months to study Francophone African literature. Now, 43 years later, she’s still in Senegal after unexpectedly growing an organization that focuses on literacy, health, hygiene, community governance, and more.

Tostan’s core is a broad nonformal education program offered to villagers in a number of African countries. The classes use local African languages, reflecting Tostan’s collaborative approach. At least when Melching started out, this was in contrast to the attitude that most other development projects had–“we’re going to go in and show people they need this and they need that,” she says.

By Tostan’s tally, since the organization’s founding in 1991 more than 200,000 individuals have participated in its Community Empowerment Program, benefiting 3 million people. Tostan is known globally for alleviating poverty, as well as for helping to reduce child marriage and female genital cutting in Senegal. Other countries where the organization has operated include Somalia, Guinea, Mali, and Mauritania.

After Melching finished her graduate studies, she stayed to work with street children in Dakar. She created a youth center and developed children’s books and radio programs in local African languages. Eventually that evolved into working with impoverished people in rural areas.

As poor villagers in Senegal learned about health, sanitation, and conflict resolution, among other things, vaccination rates, use of mosquito nets, and school enrollment rose. Incidence of diseases such as malaria and AIDS dropped. Families that hadn’t spoken to each other in years started making amends after learning about conflict resolution, Melching says.

“People need to understand why they should want to change their behavior. I don’t go in telling them what to do,” Melching says. “I never went in and told them to change. I just gave them the information.”

[Christian Science Monitor]

Aid credibility figures at stake

Some of the world’s richest European countries spend billions at home that they report as “aid”, exploiting a loophole that enables them to cut vital development budgets.

Under current accounting rules, the costs of receiving refugees can count towards a donor country’s total overseas development assistance (ODA).

In 2016, leading donor countries reported $15.4 billion of domestic spending on refugees as ODA, a huge rise from $3.9 billion in 2012 and several times more than they spend on refugees abroad.

That’s also more than they spent on emergency aid in foreign countries, and more than three times the income of the UN refugee agency.

[Read full article]