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

The Digital Gender Gap

In sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 45 percent fewer women than men have internet access. Improving women’s access to Information and Communications technology (ICT) represents a major opportunity, both from a business perspective and as a development imperative.

Industry research estimates that every 10 percent increase in access to broadband is correlated with a 1.38 percent growth in GDP for developing countries, and bringing 600 million additional women and girls online could boost global GDP by up to $13- 18 billion USD.

Significant effort has been made to understand how to close this gender gap. Barriers range in nature from highly concrete, such as electricity and network coverage, to far more subjective barriers like social and cultural norms.

Mobile network providers and governments with an interest in the electrification of low-and middle income countries (LMICs) are best suited to handle the infrastructure issues of electrification and network coverage. However, NGOs with a deeper understanding of gender issues and companies who are dedicated to better understanding the female market across LMICs have a role to play in understanding the cultural barriers to access.

[Connected Health Quarterly]

On China banning foreign waste

For many years China has been the largest global importer of many types of recyclable materials, last year importing 7.3m metric tonnes of waste plastics from developed countries including the UK, the EU, the US and Japan.

However, in July 2017, China announced big changes in the quality control placed on imported materials, notifying the World Trade Organisation that it will ban imports of 24 categories of recyclables and solid waste by the end of the year. The impact of this will be far-reaching.

China is the dominant market for recycled plastic. There are concerns that much of the waste that China currently imports, especially the lower grade materials, will have nowhere else to go. So what will happen to the plastic these countries collect through household recycling systems once the Chinese refuse to accept it? Alternatives include:
– Plastics collected for recycling could go to energy recovery (incineration). They are, after all, a fossil-fuel based material and burn extremely well – so on a positive note, they could generate electricity and improve energy self-sufficiency.
– They could also go to landfill (not ideal). Alternatively, materials could be stored until new markets are found. This also  brings problems, however – there have been hundreds of fires at sites where recyclable materials are stored.

The current situation offers us an opportunity to find new solutions to our waste problem, increase the proportion of recycled plastic in our own manufactured products, improve the quality of recovered materials and to use recycled material in new ways.

[Scientific American]

African agricultural transformation strategy

The African Development Bank (AfDB) has developed a new initiative called the Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) initiative, which includes 25 African countries that have confirmed their readiness to help transform their agriculture.

TAAT is designed to eliminate the current massive importation of food and transform its economies by targeting agriculture as a major source of economic diversification and wealth, as well as a powerful engine for job creation. The initiative should result in almost 513 million tons of additional food production and lift nearly 250 million Africans out of poverty by 2025.

The commodities value chains to benefit from this initiative are rice, cassava, pearl millet, sorghum, groundnut, cowpea, livestock, maize, soya bean, yam, cocoa, coffee, cashew, oil palm, horticulture, beans, wheat and fish.

“TAAT …brings together global players in agriculture, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, the World Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, World Food Programme, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, Rockefeller Foundation and national and regional agricultural research systems, ” said AfDB President, Akinwumi Adesina, at a TAAT side event at the 2017 World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa.

Adesina explained that TAAT would help break down decades of national boundary-focused seed release systems. Seed companies will have regional business investments, not just national ones, he said. “That will be revolutionary and will open up regional seed industries and markets.”

The African Development Bank, World Bank, AGRA, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation intend to mobilize US $1 billion to help scale up technologies across Africa.

[African Development Bank]

Cities a key to eradicating hunger and eliminating food waste

Cities can and should play a crucial role in the “radical change” needed to address the problem of hunger, malnutrition and food waste, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said to mayors and representatives of more than 150 cities from around the world — from Mexico City and Barcelona, to Kyoto and Quito — gathered in the Spanish city of Valencia.

This is the third meeting of mayors of cities of the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact, a commitment aimed at combating hunger and food waste and improving nutrition.

“Fortunately cities are taking action and rising up to the challenge,” FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said. “High levels of creativity can be achieved if partnerships are forged with local actors, civil society, private sector and academic and producer organizations.”

He used his own experience with the Zero Hunger Program in Brazil, which lifted 40 million people from poverty and hunger. “A key component of success was the participation of cities,” he said. “Their mayors launched popular restaurants that served balanced and nutritious food at low prices and the cities privileged the purchase of locally produced food, contributing to strengthening the local economy,” he explained.

Cities occupy just 3 percent of the world’s land area, but are home to some 3.5 billion people — more than half of humanity. And these numbers are rising.

[Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations]

A recipe for creating Zero Hunger

In 2016, the number of hungry people increased to 815 million – a rise of 38 million from 2015.

However, ending hunger and chronic malnutrition remains within our grasp. The ingredients required for ending hunger also include-sustainable and durable food systems (from fork to farm), elimination of malnutrition (particularly stunting), elimination of food waste, and universal access to nutritious food all year long-all quite feasible.

As the son and grandson of farmers, African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina, an agriculture economist by training, with significant government and institutional agriculture leadership experience, has long recognized and supported sustainable agriculture and nutrition as key ingredients in the recipe for developing strong healthy economies.

Akin recognizes and expounds about the sub-Saharan African agribusiness market value projected to exceed 1 trillion U.S. dollars by 2030.  Further, he understands and often discusses the global economic impact resulting from African household expenditures rising to $1.4 trillion over the next three years.

Seizing these trillion-dollar opportunities requires partnerships.  This partnership of actors must include governments, donors, civil society and NGOs, the multilateral institutions including the banks and the UN, and the private sector.

[Read this Opinion piece by Ertharin Cousin who formerly served as Executive Director of the World Food Program and as the US Representative to UN Agencies for Food and Agriculture]

Improvements in the lives of the displaced

It is a time of record displacement worldwide. Ten countries are currently sheltering some 60 per cent of the world’s 22.5 million refugees, and more than 84 per cent of refugees are hosted by low or middle income countries.

Against this backdrop, the UNHCR is hosting discussions in Geneva as was how refugees can be included into the national, health, education, social services and development plans by the countries hosting them, which in turn should be supported to do so.

A panelist from northern Uganda, which has been at the forefront of South Sudan’s refugee crisis in recent years and has one of the most progressive refugee systems in the world, told delegates he saw including and educating refugees in local systems as an opportunity to contribute to peace building in the region.

“I strongly believe by supporting education we help not only the refugees but the entire peace process in South Sudan,” explained Mr James Leku, Chairman of the Adjumani district, who also spent time as a refugee in southern Sudan. “If refugees return to South Sudan as well informed citizens, the whole country will benefit.  Education can break the cycle of violence. It is our duty to contribute to the region in which we live,” he said noting that both the prime minister and president of Uganda had also spent time as refugees.

Throughout the two-day meeting, refugee youth have made a strong call for refugees to be involved in the response to their situation from the outset of a crisis, calling for strategies to meet not just the needs of refugees but also their aspirations.

[UNHCR]

Phone technology gives refugees a cash lifeline

Brian Dinga, his sister-in-law and her six children fled their South Sudanese home in September 2016 after his brother was shot dead in fighting. They trekked across the border into Uganda and were accommodated in the world’s largest refugee settlement, Bidibidi, where they struggled to make ends meet.

A donated mobile phone has given them a lifeline. Brian was identified by the non-governmental organization DanChurchAid as a vulnerable case and he now receives an electronic cash transfer via the donated phone to buy food for his family.

UNHCR is providing phones to refugee representatives so they can report on issues such as protection, water supplies and other services. UNHCR turned to the private sector for help and at the beginning of the year, it reached agreements with the Ugandan mobile network operators MTN, Africell and Airtel to provide connectivity.

Zein Annous, chief executive at Africell, said the company was “following the lead of the government’s generous policy towards refugees” by selling phones in the settlements at reduced prices and providing SIM cards free of charge. “Providing telecom services to refugees is a business but we also see it as part of our corporate responsibility,” he said. “We want to improve lives in a sustainable way.”

Working with the private sector to provide connectivity and improve the delivery of aid to refugees is one of the key themes among topics being discussed at a two-day conference in Geneva this week designed to find ways to strengthen the international response to refugees.

A rape-murder sours Lebanon on its Syrian refugees

As Europe and the United States are closing their doors to the world’s spiraling number of refugees, especially Syrians, the burden is intensifying in countries like Lebanon that border war zones and receive the vast majority of refugees.

When ­Syrians began streaming into Lebanon six years ago to escape their country’s war, around 1,000 of them found a welcome in the small Christian village of Miziara, in the pine-clad mountains of the north. That was until the discovery of the body of Raya Chidiac, 26, a daughter of one of the village’s wealthiest businessmen. She had been bound, raped and suffocated with a plastic bag. The Syrian caretaker at the family’s home confessed to the killing and was arrested and charged with murder.

The ensuing backlash against Syrians has rippled across Lebanon, exposing razor-sharp tensions between the country’s 1 million Syrian refugees and their hosts that increasingly threaten to open up Lebanon’s own fragile sectarian divisions. Syria’s neighbors are hosting 5 million Syrian refugees, compared with about 18,000 admitted by the United States and 1 million who have sought asylum in Europe. As the war in Syria drags into an eighth year with no sign either of an end to the fighting or a peace settlement that will guarantee safe returns, concerns are growing that the refugees will not be going home.

Chidiac’s killing touched a nerve among Lebanese who feel they are shouldering a disproportionate share of the refugee crisis. Calls are mounting for the refugees to be sent back regardless of conditions inside Syria. As for the Syrians living in Miziara, it was already too late. All of them, refugees or not, were ordered to leave the town after Chidiac was killed, setting a precedent many Syrians fear may soon be replicated across Lebanon.

[Washington Post]

Russia sending humanitarian aid to Cuba

Russia has now sent Cuba 930 tons of humanitarian aid aimed at helping to manage the consequences of the deadly Hurricane Irma.

The aid mainly included construction materials and medicines. According to Russian Emergency Minister Vladimir Puchkov, Russia will deliver more than 1,200 tons of construction materials as humanitarian assistance to Cuba.

In September, the Caribbean region, including Cuba and the southeast of the United States, were hit by a number of hurricanes. Hurricane Irma is considered to be one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic basin, which caused significant damage to Cuba’s energy and agriculture sectors.

[Sputnik]

Singapore send humanitarian relief to aid Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

A Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) team on Tuesday arrived in Bangladesh to deliver some $270,000 worth in aid to Rohingya refugees. The humanitarian supplies, which comprised tents, blankets, food, medical supplies and lamps, were donated by the Singapore Government and non-governmental aid group Mercy Relief.

A second batch of aid is slated to be delivered to Bangladesh by the RSAF on Wednesday.

Senior Minister of State for Defence Maliki Osman, who travelled to Bangladesh with the team, told reporters: “We are a small state, we do what we can to help.”

“Singaporeans are also concerned,” he said, referring to the crisis, and noting that several community organizations had stepped forward to raise funds for humanitarian efforts and were working with relief agencies to help distribute them.

Some 500,000 Rohingya are estimated to have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state for Bangladesh since August. On Tuesday, Mercy Relief said it had identified women as the most vulnerable group in the overpopulated evacuation camps. Its team members will be distributing relief items such as dignity kits for women that contain scarves, sanitary napkins, soap, as well as solar lamps and tents.

[Straits Times]

Fourth storm, Hurricane Nate slams U.S. Gulf coast

Hurricane Nate slammed into the Mississippi coast on Sunday with destructive winds and torrential rains that flooded streets and highways throughout the region as the fast-moving Category 1 storm made landfall.

The fourth major storm to strike the United States in less than two months, Nate killed at least 30 people in Central America before entering the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and bearing down on the U.S. South. It has also shut down most oil and gas production in the Gulf.

Nate comes on the heels of three other major storms, Harvey, Irma and Maria, which devastated Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, respectively. However, with winds of 85 miles per hour (135 km per hour), which make it a Category 1 storm, the weakest in the five-category ranking used by meteorologists, Nate appeared to lack the devastating punch of its predecessors.

[Reuters]

Swiss humanitarian aid worker abducted in Darfur

A Swiss humanitarian aid worker has been abducted in the conflict-torn Darfur region of Sudan, Switzerland’s foreign ministry and a United Nations source said on Sunday.

The kidnapping is the first such incident since a UN peacekeeping force began downsizing its troops in conflict-wracked Darfur, a western region of Sudan the size of France.

The Swiss foreign ministry told AFP in an email it was “aware of the case of a Swiss woman kidnapped in Sudan [Darfur]”. The foreign ministry did not provide any details on the identity of the abducted woman or the circumstances surrounding her kidnapping.

The Swiss national had lived in Sudan for many years and was “abducted by unidentified armed perpetrators near her residence …late last evening,” (Saturday), UN’s top aid official in Sudan, Marta Ruedas, told AFP. “She is not a UN staff member, but she has long collaborated with the UN on a number of initiatives.”

Ruedas said the aid worker has been actively involved in humanitarian work in El Fashir, the capital of North Darfur state. Social media reports indicated the abducted woman had been working for a Swiss non-governmental organization providing aid to children.

[AFP]

Africa holds the keys to its own development

As a region, Africa accounts for around 20 percent of U.S. aid, with Egypt, Kenya, and South Sudan being the biggest beneficiaries. Although critics argue that lowered public international spending will adversely affect development projects, this reduction should also be seen as an opportunity for the continent to rise and for the relationship between the U.S. and Africa to evolve.

Africans must identify priorities, define, and implement them:
Priority 1: Job creation – Given that the continent will have a shortfall of 74 million jobs that need to be created by 2020, governments need to create policies and implementation plans that will allow for a more competitive private sector that favors business growth and job creation.
Priority 2: Regional Integration – African governments should seek to improve regional integration initiatives, which are key to sustaining development and encouraging long-term prosperity for the entire region.
Priority 3: Commercial engagement and trade – Leaders must actively seek commercial and trade engagement. The recent Trump administration trade report to Congress clearly reflects that the U.S. will unequivocally protect America first in future trade regimes.

Though aid to Africa looks like it will get cut, it doesn’t mean that U.S. engagement will too. The region is of paramount importance because of Western reliance on natural resources, trade, economic opportunities, and long-term security issues. In fact, American engagement in Africa largely serves American interests.

African leaders should not be dismayed by possible cuts in foreign aid, instead, they should actively seek to create the enabling environment necessary to boost local economies, attract foreign investment, negotiate transfer of technology, encourage private sector growth/competitiveness, and increase regional integration.

[Excerpts of Brookings article by Angelle Kwemo]