Watchdog says State Dept. failing to adequately track US foreign aid

The State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have failed to adequately track the more than $30 billion they spend annually on foreign aid, according to a government watchdog report released Friday.

The report released by the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General noted that the department has failed to build infrastructure for tracking billions of dollars in foreign aid despite being ordered to do so in 2015. According to the report, little progress has been made at all. The report’s summary faults the State Department, saying it “had not complied with the report’s recommendation” in 2015.

The Trump administration has suggested cutting the State Department’s budget for foreign aid by 37 percent. The move was blasted by members of Trump’s own party, who called the idea a “disaster.”

Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan responded to the report in a memo, saying the department accepted the watchdog recommendations and would begin implementing them.

[The Hill]

Electricity from ocean waves possible for developing nations

Ocean Power Delivery (OPD) announced the signing of an order with a Portuguese consortium, led by Enersis, to build the initial phase of the world’s first commercial wave-farm to generate renewable electricity from ocean waves.

The initial phase will consist of three Pelamis P-750 machines located 5km off Portugal’s northern coast, near to Póvoa de Varzim. The €8m project will have an installed capacity of 2.25MW, and is expected to meet the average electricity demand of more than 1,500 Portuguese households whilst displacing more than 6,000 tonnes per year of carbon dioxide emissions from conventional generating plant.

Gonçalo Serras Pereira, Chairman of Enersis, commented: “After seventeen years of experience developing, constructing and operating mini hydro schemes, and nine years with wind farms, we believe wave energy will be the new Portuguese endogenous renewable resource.”

Study concludes mud bricks best for cool, green housing

Simple mud concrete bricks provide the most affordable and sustainable houses in the tropics, a Sri-Lankan study suggests. Comparisons of four different types of walling materials revealed that mud concrete bricks have the lowest environmental impact and keep houses cool. They are also the cheapest, and easiest to dispose of when it may become necessary to knock a house down.

Researchers compared mud concrete bricks with red bricks (modern fired clay bricks), hollow cement blocks and Cabook, the Sri Lankan name for bricks made from laterite soil, which are common in the tropics. The goal of the study was to find out which types of walling material are the most suitable for constructing affordable houses in the tropics, where population density and poverty are generally high.

Mud concrete bricks are also the cheapest, at less than US$1,000 in Sri Lanka for an average-sized house, whereas red bricks cost nearly US$3,500. Mud concrete bricks are widely used in many other tropical countries.

“Why spend more money and destroy the environment more?” asks Rangika Halwatura, a civil engineer at the University of Moratuwa in Sri Lanka, and one of the authors of the paper.

Mud concrete bricks are made from soil in the same way as traditional mud bricks, but contain gravel and sand to improve their strength. The researchers looked at the carbon footprint of all four walling materials, and found that mud concrete bricks were the most environmentally friendly to produce and dispose of.

 [SciDev.Net]

Investing in poor children saves more lives per dollar spent, UNICEF study finds

Investing in the health and survival of the most deprived children and communities provides more value for money than investing in less deprived groups, saving almost twice as many lives for every $1 million spent, according to a new study by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

“The evidence is compelling: Investing in the poorest children is not only right in principle, it is also right in practice – saving more lives for every dollar spent,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake in a press release on the study, titled Narrowing the Gaps.

The study backs up an unconventional prediction UNICEF made in 2010: the higher cost of reaching the poorest children would be outweighed by greater results.

“This is critical news for governments working to end all preventable child deaths at a time when every dollar counts,” Mr. Lake said, noting that investing equitably in children’s health also helps break intergenerational cycles of poverty and gives them a better chance of learning more in school and earning more as an adult.

The study analyzed new data from the 51 countries where around 80 per cent of all newborn and under-five deaths occur. It assessed access to six high-impact maternal, newborn and child health interventions: the use of insecticide-treated bed nets, early initiation of breastfeeding, antenatal care, full vaccination, the presence of a skilled birth attendant during delivery, and seeking care for children with diarrhea, fever or pneumonia.

[UN News Centre]

A fresh look at Global Africa

Global Africa is a striking, original volume that disrupts the dominant narratives that continue to frame our discussion of Africa, complicating conventional views of the region as a place of violence, despair, and victimhood.

This new book documents the significant global connections, circulations, and contributions that African people, ideas, and goods have made throughout the world—from the United States and South Asia to Latin America, Europe, and elsewhere.

Through succinct and engaging pieces by scholars, policy makers, activists, and journalists, the volume provides a wholly original view of a continent at the center of global historical processes rather than on the periphery. Global Africa offers fresh, complex, and insightful visions of a continent in flux.

“In much writing about Africa, the continent is portrayed either as a self-contained space or as a region whose fate has been determined from outside—by enslavement, colonization, and, indeed, ‘globalization.’ The rich variety of contributions to Global Africa point to more diverse and complex ways of thinking about the importance and limitations of Africa’s connections to the rest of the world.”—Frederick Cooper, author of Africa in the World: Capitalism, Empire, Nation-State

[Amazon]

Life goes on in Afghanistan

Excerpt written by Katherine, Medair Relief Worker:

As I fly from Kabul to southern Afghanistan, I wonder about how people survive on what looks like endless, barren, sand-colored land stretching to the horizon.

After the plane touches down, a rosebush garden greets us at the airport, and contradicts the stereotypical picture of southern Afghanistan—the oft-cited center of conflict in the country. Men wrapped in various shades of brown and tan patus, a sort of shawl/blanket, ride through town on motorcycles and bicycles. Although sunny, the winter air still holds a chill. The rest of the road is filled with its mix of cars, small trucks, and local trolleys, while the land outside town extends into the desert.

On days like this, it’s sometimes hard to imagine that the country is at war. But even on this calm sunny day, checkpoints along the road and cautious discussions of recent incidents are a reminder of the insecurity and daily risks. A reminder of the conflict that has lasted for nearly four decades.

I think of the impact of the last 40 years on the people of Afghanistan. Of the many acute emergencies, both minor and major, that have spanned those years. The communities that have had to adapt, to learn how to cope.

Life here goes on, but the effects of conflict have slowly and relentlessly taken their toll on the availability of services, and on the people who need access to them. Meanwhile, the world speeds into the future, leaving them behind. As my eyes pan beneath the green mesh, I wonder if the people here feel left behind. I wonder if they still feel hope.

WiFi router for first responder humanitarian needs

MeshPoint is a smart and rugged WiFi hotspot designed to provide instant Internet access in adverse conditions, suitable for crisis situations.

The idea for MeshPoint was hatched in 2015 when volunteers from project Open Network (Otvorena Mreža) in Croatia were helping humanitarian organizations and refugees during Syrian refugee crisis. They saw that humanitarian organizations needed communication for coordinating volunteers in the field, for logistics (having enough food and blankets in field warehouses, etc.). They also noticed that even all the biggest NGOs like Greenpeace, Red Cross, International Organization for Migration, UNICEF and others struggled to setup communication with their teams in the field, and how all current networking products are not suited to be used in crisis events by first responders.

Open Network volunteers setup mobile and fixed wifi hotspots and gave them to volunteers and humanitarian organizations that were working in the field.

In order to setup communication in crisis situations like floods and earthquakes devices first and foremost have to be easy to use, especially by first responders, but they need:

– Open source hardware and open source software
– Setup needs to be easy, as easy as creating social networking profile
– Needs to work autonomously for at least 6-8 hours (via battery pack)
– Needs to be able to charge battery pack over any power source (solar, wind, AC generator, car battery, etc)
– Can form a mesh network so coverage is spread really fast
– Has capacity to server lots of people (multiple radios and frequencies)

Find out more   

The silent disaster for migrants and refugees reaching Libya

In 2016, about 5,000 people drowned in the Mediterranean, and in 2017 the toll is already estimated at 2,000 people as of June. But how many die before reaching the coast and embarking on boats?

There is every reason to believe that this is a silent disaster.

As they pass through Libya in hopes of traveling on to safety in other countries, many refugees and migrants are robbed, abused, jailed, tortured, or even killed.

Since July 2016, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has provided lifesaving health care to refugees and migrants detained in Tripoli, and, in early 2017, expanded its operations to include a new project in Misrata.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), there are over 380,000 migrants currently in Libya. The majority of health issues affecting the patients are directly linked to the detention conditions and the violence that marks their journey: skin diseases, scabies, diarrhea, respiratory infections, muscular pain, wounds and psychosomatic disorders.

Some came to work in Libya, which once was an economic “El Dorado” for nationals from neighboring countries. Others work to try to secure funding for the Mediterranean crossing, working under conditions that fell within the scope of forced labor and were interrupted by periods of detention or are at the very beginning of their journey across Libya.

[ReliefWeb]

The man-made humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen

Batool Ali-yemen-civil-warBatool Ali is six years old, though you would never guess that from her huge, haunted eyes and emaciated frame. Ribs jutting out over her distended belly, Batool weighs less than 16 kilograms (35 pounds). She is one of nearly half a million children in Yemen suffering from severe malnutrition. (For photo of Batool Ali, click icon at top left.)

What makes these images particularly painful to look at is the realization that this humanitarian crisis is entirely man-made.

Yemen is in the grip of a vicious cholera outbreak and a near famine that have coincided to create one of the worst humanitarian crises on the planet.

But you won’t find the story splashed on front pages and leading news bulletins around the globe — Yemen’s grinding two-and-a-half-year civil conflict is often called “the silent war” because it receives relatively little attention in the media.

CNN has found that the Hadi government of Yemen and its Saudi Arabian-led backers are actively seeking to block journalists and human rights organizations from flying in on aid flights.

Jamie McGoldrick, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, warned CNN of the toll that the lack of media coverage is taking. He said the UN has been unable to raise even 30% of the funding it needs to deal with the crisis.

“Yemen is very much a silent, forgotten, I would even say a purposefully forgotten emergency,” McGoldrick says. “And because we don’t get the media attention, we don’t get the political support and therefore we don’t get the resources we need to address this humanitarian catastrophe.”

Since the conflict began, the Saudi-led coalition, which has US support, has imposed a blockade on the country that has left nearly 80 percent of Yemenis reliant on humanitarian assistance for their most basic needs.

[CNN]

Bill Clinton on proposed US foreign aid cuts

Drastic reductions to the U.S. foreign aid budget would be “a bad thing” because the relatively small amount of money is well-spent, former President Bill Clinton told a coalition of U.S. humanitarian and development groups on Tuesday.

“It’s a bad thing if the government cuts US AID, because it’s a little bit of money doing an outsize amount of good,” Clinton said.

The Trump administration wants to cut funding to the U.S. Agency for International Development by nearly one third in the fiscal year starting in October. There is strong congressional opposition to the proposal, part of efforts to slash the diplomatic and development budget from $54.9 billion to $37.6 billion.

Clinton was speaking to InterAction, which says the cuts would be “devastating” at a time when famine threatens the lives of 30 million people and conflict has displaced 65 million worldwide, an all-time high.

He said responding to challenges such as climate change and poverty required interdependence rather than an “us and them” mentality, which has gained traction in response to some of the negative effects of globalization.

[Associated Press]

World Refugee Day, a time to reflect

World Refugee Day is observed each year on June 20.  On this day, refugee advocates urge people to focus on the plight of those who have been displaced by famine, war and oppression.

By the end of 2016, more than 65 million people worldwide were forced to leave their homes due to conflict and persecution, data published by the U.N. Refugee Agency reveals.  That’s an average of 28,300 people per day, almost 20 people every minute.

“As an editor, I think about who is going where, and why,” shares Tiffany Harness, Middle East editor. She recalls one such experience: The young mother was crying, uncontrollably it seemed, as the rescue boat that had picked her up off the coast of Libya drifted in the sea.

She and more than 600 others had piled into a smuggling vessel that was probably overloaded, unseaworthy or both. When the boat capsized, most of those onboard were rescued. At least 30 were not, including the woman’s baby.

I will never know more about them than that.

Her photo (click icon at left), taken last month by Chris McGrath of Getty Images, conveyed a heartbreakingly common story in a crisis marked by death and numbers.

More than 5,000 migrants and refugees drowned last year in the Mediterranean as they tried to reach Europe. More than 1,600 have drowned in the same waters this year, according to the International Organization for Migration, a slower pace than last year but still horrifying.

[Washington Post]

Famine impacting 6.7 million Somalis

An elevated risk of famine persists in parts of Somalia due to severe food consumption gaps, high acute malnutrition and disease burden. Over 6.7 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance; more than 700,000 have been displaced since November 2016 and diseases such as AWD/cholera and measles continue to spread.

Humanitarian partners have significantly scaled up assistance, but these efforts must be sustained to avert famine, particularly in the worst drought-affected areas that are already facing severe food insecurity, alarming rates of malnutrition and disease outbreaks.

The United Kingdom has announced an additional aid package of 60 million British pounds (about $77 million) to Somalia to help tackle the current humanitarian crisis caused by the prolonged drought. The announcement was made yesterday by the United Kingdom Secretary of State for International Development, Priti Patel, who visited Somalia to assess the drought situation that has forced hundreds of thousands of residents to abandon their homes in search of food and shelter.

The Secretary of State noted the latest assistance was in addition to the 100 million pounds of aid disbursed by Britain to Somalia since her last visit earlier this year.

[ReliefWeb]

Foreign aid can work wonders

Foreign aid can work wonders. It set South Korea and Taiwan on the path to riches, helped extinguish smallpox in the 1970s and has almost eliminated polio.

Aid can also burden weak bureaucracies in developing nations, distort markets, prop up dictators and help prolong civil wars.

A decade ago governments rich and poor set out to define good aid. They declared that aid should be for improving the lot of poor people [and] it should be coordinated.

Official development aid, which includes grants, loans, technical advice and debt forgiveness, is worth about $130 billion a year. The channels originating in Berlin, London, Paris, Tokyo and Washington are deep and fast-flowing; others are rivulets, though the Nordic countries are generous for their size.

More than two-fifths flows through multilateral outfits such as the World Bank, the UN and the Global Fund. Last year 9% was spent on refugees in donor countries, reflecting the surge of migrants to Europe.

[The Economist]

Foreign workers send home 3 times the amount of money spent on foreign aid

The amount of money worldwide that migrants and foreign workers send back home increased by more than 50 percent over the past decade, according to a new analysis.

Technically known as ‘remittances,’ the total amount of these cash transfers grew from $296 billion dollars in 2007 to $445 billion in 2016 – triple what is spent by rich countries on foreign aid each year.

Roughly 1 billion people will either send or receive money, from abroad this year, according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which sponsored the study and published the report Sending Money Home.

The upward trend in remittances worldwide represents a significant increase that has weathered a global financial crisis and increasing anti-immigrant policies in many wealthy countries. The money sent back home by foreign workers does a lot to reduce poverty globally, a fact not widely recognized by the public or policy makers.

Nearly half of the money sent home goes to people living in rural areas, according to the analysis. Families use the money to pay for food, health, education and to support businesses, which for the poorest communities typically are focused on farming.

World Bank head Jim Kim called remittances an important way to help end extreme poverty by 2030 because of their ability to ‘increase prosperity.’

[Humanosphere]

86% of Europeans believe that the EU should help any country worldwide affected by disasters

  • 9 of 10 Europeans think that it is important that the EU helps to coordinate the response to disasters in individual countries.
  • 81% say that coordinated EU action on disasters is more effective than actions by individual countries.
  • 86% believe that the EU should help any country worldwide affected by disasters.

[Eurobarometer]

German Chancellor Merkel calls for greater investment in Africa

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has underscored the importance of combating poverty in Africa as a way to stem the mass migrant flow to Europe.

Reducing poverty and conflict in Africa were the main topics raised by German Chancellor Angela Merkel this week as she met with African leaders ahead of next month’s Group of 20 (G20) summit. The leaders of the African Union from Guinea, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Mali, Ghana, Tunisia, Rwanda and other nations met in Berlin to discuss a so-called “compact with Africa.” The initiative seeks to team up African nations which have committed to economic reforms with private investors who would then bring jobs and businesses.

“Positive development in the world will not work unless all continents participate,” Merkel said in Berlin. “We need an initiative that does not talk about Africa, but with Africa.”

Germany’s Finance Ministry announced on Monday that it agreed partnerships with Tunisia, Ivory Coast and Ghana as part of a planned investment of up to 300 million euros ($335 million) to help African nations.

Underscoring the pressure African countries face, Merkel contrasted Germany’s average age of 43 with the average age in Niger and Mali of 15. “If we don’t give young people any prospects, if we don’t invest in education and qualifications, if we don’t strengthen the role of girls and young women, the development agenda won’t succeed,” she said.

Last year, Germany took in around 890,000 migrants, thousands of whom came from African countries including Eritrea, Ghana and Ethiopia.

[Allafrica]

 

200,000 latrines sold by microentrepreneurs in 18 months

In rural Bangladesh, about 40 million people live without access to adequate toilets.
200,000 latrines sold by microentrepreneurs in Bangladesh in just 18 months is quite an achievement after three years of laying the foundation: research, product design and development, and putting business-thinking to work.

The SaTo pan, prototyped by American Standard in the U.S. and then tested by iDE in Bangladesh, sparked a new evolution in affordable, hygienic latrines. This innovation was conceived by engaging with end-users—understanding why they did (or did not) use sanitation products and what they prefer. This upfront investment in research and design strengthened the viability of the final product in the marketplace.

It costs iDE and our donors $11 to empower a family to buy a latrine. Families who purchase a latrine are seeing $205 in health and work-related savings per year.

The iDE Bangladesh program encourages private sector service providers to produce high-quality products that respond to the sanitation needs and demands of rural Bangladeshis.

[Sanitation News]

An American family moves to war-torn Mosul – Part 1

The Eubank family has a guiding principle–if other families are forced to live in war zones, there should be no issue with theirs being on hand to help.  And so as Iraqi forces pushed into the last pockets of western Mosul still under Islamic State control, an American mom was home-schooling her three children in a room above a medic station deep inside the city.

Sahale, 16, and Suuzanne, 14, sat in a corner near their mother, Karen, working on their laptops and occasionally bursting into song. Peter, 11, lay on a camping mat on the floor doing math. They sleep in a house a short drive away, but spend their days at the medic station to assist and give supplies to fleeing Iraqis.

About a mile away at the front line, their father, David, who says he served for a decade in the U.S. military including in the Army’s Special Forces, evacuated families as they came under sniper fire from Islamic State militants.

It was just an average day for the Eubanks, who describe their work as a calling from God. The family has spent much of the past 20 years in the jungles of Burma, where David Eubank founded the Free Burma Rangers, a humanitarian organization that provides emergency medical care, shelter and food supplies in the country’s long-running civil war. They traveled to Iraq two years ago, at first working alongside Kurdish peshmerga forces in the war against the Islamic State. The family has also worked in Sudan and made two trips to the Kurdish areas of Syria.                                                              [Continued]

An American family moves to war-torn Mosul – Part 2

The war in Mosul is more intense than anything this American family has experienced, Karen Eubank says. The eight-month battle has taken place in a densely populated city, home to more than a million people when the Iraqi operation began.

Families face a gantlet of risks. U.S.-led airstrikes and sometimes indiscriminate artillery and mortar fire by Iraqi forces bombard neighborhoods held by the Islamic State. Families that attempt to escape risk being targeted by militants’ sniper and machine-gun fire, with the increasingly desperate extremists mowing down hundreds of civilians in recent weeks.

“They’ve been shelled, shot at, they’ve grown up like this,” David Eubank said. “Our deal is that if there’s another family there, we can be there. Americans aren’t worth more than anyone else.”

His team of Free Burma Rangers–including medics from Burma’s minorities who have traveled from their own war to help in Iraq’s–prepared their equipment for an expected afternoon push by Iraqi forces.

The rest of the family usually stays a step back from the front line. “I don’t want my kids to die. I don’t take them purposefully to the fighting,” Eubank said. “We pray and think about every risk.”

The group is being hosted by Brig. Gen. Mustafa Sabah, a brigade commander with the Iraqi army’s 9th Armored Division.  Sabah said that he initially was surprised that Eubank brought his whole family with him. “I thought, ‘This is not the right place for children,’” he said. “But then when I got to know them well, I realized this is what makes them happy, and they really believe in what they are doing.”

Sabah said that by just being there, the family is doing enough “because they give positive energy to everyone around them,” but that along with the rangers, they have effectively become a logistics battalion.

[Washington Post]

Humanitarian leaders to gather at Aid & Development Asia Summit

More than 250 high-profile representatives from NGOs, businesses, government and UN organizations are set to convene at the Aid & Development Asia Summit in Myanmar June 14-15 to exchange innovative and sustainable solutions for improving aid delivery and development strategy in Southeast Asia.

Southeast Asia is particularly vulnerable to severe climate change related disasters. Out of 65.3 million displaced people around the world, 14% are being hosted in Asia and the Pacific. Despite significant progress made over the last decade, hunger, malnutrition, disease and poverty are still among the notable challenges particularly facing the region.

Over 130 million people in Southeast Asia do not have access to basic health services. Communicable diseases, such as malaria, HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis (TB), remain a major public health challenge. The region has the lowest density of health professionals with a deficit of 6.9 million health workers. As a result, Southeast Asia has one of the highest rates of child mortality in the world with 1 in 19 children dying before their fifth birthday.

[ReliefWeb]