Monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals

We fixed a time frame (2030) [as to when] every citizen around the world should have functioning water and sanitation services within reach. That is at least what countries agreed on when they adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

I am convinced that by 2021 at the latest, all countries serious about the SDGs need to have strong monitoring systems in place. How else will they know what path to follow to achieve water, sanitation and hygiene services for all?

The present monitoring and evaluation systems in place in many countries are not designed to respond to the challenges around the SDGs. Take Niger, where the government thought that 69.5 percent of the population had adequate water, sanitation and hygiene services. Estimates given by the Ministry of Water and Sanitation in 2016 showed, however, that the country has provided only 18% percent of the population with basic services. This is disruptive and shocking data for officials. Officials in Niger are reflecting on how to deal with this.

If you want real change, if you want the ambition of the SDGs to really happen, then you need to have a monitoring system that properly weights the problems, defines actions accordingly and measures progress and effectiveness.  It exposes problems you thought were fixed, obstacles and bottlenecks in your country’s system you had no idea of, or you have no data to illustrate a situation. It shows that people in the city have much better access to WASH services than villagers. And it might show that, as is the case in Mali, you do not have enough trained mechanics in place to fix a tap or hand pump.

Monitoring is the backbone to achieving the SDGs. Without it, reaching the SDGs is a blind struggle.

[Juste Nansi, IRC article]

Numerical estimates of how Trump plan would shape immigration

As the US Administration presses for the most extensive revision to immigration law since 1965, with the largest cuts to legal immigration since 1924 in the proposed “Securing America’s Future Act,” a new Center for Global Development (CGD) analysis quantifies for the first time how the proposed cuts would affect the ethnic, religious, and educational composition of immigration flows.

  • Hispanic and black immigrants would be roughly twice as likely to be barred by the immigration cuts as white immigrants;
  • the cuts would bar the majority of Muslim and Catholic immigrants; and
  • the cuts would substantially reduce the number of university-graduate immigrants, and would reduce average years of education among immigrants overall.

[Read full CGD article]

The toll from landslides heaviest in developing countries

This month’s tragic mudslides in Montecito, California are a reminder that natural hazards lurk on the doorsteps of many U.S. homes, even in affluent communities. Similar events occur every year around the world, often inflicting much higher casualties yet rarely making front-page headlines.

Dave Petley, an earth scientist at the University of Sheffield, has calculated that landslides caused 32,322 fatalities between 2004 and 2010 – equivalent to over 4,500 deaths each year. For comparison, floods are estimated to have killed an average of roughly 7,000 people each year.

In the most destructive recorded cases of the 20th century, thousands of people died in single events. The highest numbers of fatalities from landslides occur in the mountains of Asia and Central and South America, as well as on steep islands in the Caribbean and Southeast Asia. For example:
– Catastrophic debris flows from Nevado Huascarán, the highest mountain peak in Peru killed as many as 4,000 people in 1962 and another estimated 18,000-20,000 in 1970.
– During the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake in China’s Sichuan province, 20,000 deaths were attributed to landslides – roughly one-fourth of the total deaths from the quake.

Wherever slopes are steep, there is a chance that they will fail. Heavy rainfall or a large earthquake can destabilize precarious balances and unleash the raw power of tumbling rocks and debris. The risks increase after wildfires. They also can be exacerbated by deforestation and land use change. Earthquake-triggered landslides, while less frequent than those induced by rainfall, have been responsible for some of the greatest losses of life.

Among the reasons the effects of landslides are disproportionately severe in developing countries reflect a number of factors, including the resilience of basic infrastructure and emergency services; the availability of health care to treat people who are injured or left homeless; and patterns of development that determine where people live, and the lack of early warning systems that can alert people to imminent risks.

[Read full article]

Massive infrastructure spending needed in Africa, says report

Economic growth in Africa picked up steam last year and is set to accelerate strongly in 2018, but “massive investments” are needed in infrastructure, the African Development Bank (ADB) said on Wednesday.

Growth in Africa rose from 2.2% in 2016 to 3.6% in 2017 and is likely to rise to 4.1 percent in 2018 and 2019, the ADB said in its annual report, African Economic Outlook. “The recovery in growth could mark a turning point in net commodity-exporting countries,” it added.

However, across the continent job creation did not rise in lockstep with growth, lagging by 1.4%.  Woman and young people, aged 15-25, are those who have been most affected by the slow growth in employment.

To generate jobs for the 12 million young people entering its workforce each year, Africa must take a fast-track to industrialization, the ADB said. But key obstacles in infrastructure remain, including energy, water and transport, as well as health, education, security and administrative capacity.

“The continent’s infrastructure needs amount to $130-170bn a year, with a financing gap in the range of $68-$108bn,” the report said.

Tax reform is also essential, the ADB said. Tax collection is improving in Africa – it hauled in around $500bn last year, a figure that compares with $50bn in foreign aid, $60bn in remittances and $60bn in foreign direct investment. Despite this progress, tax revenue is still below the threshold of 25% of gross domestic product (GDP) deemed necessary to scale up infrastructure spending.

[AFP]

Weather disasters cost U.S. record $306 billion in 2017

2017 was the third-warmest year on record, and weather and climate-related disasters cost the United States a record $306 billion in  the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said on Monday.

The agency said western wildfires and hurricanes Harvey, Maria and Irma contributed to making 2017 the costliest year on record. The previous record was $215 billion in 2005, when hurricanes Katrina, Wilma and Rita slammed the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Meanwhile, the average annual temperature for the contiguous United States was 54.6 degrees Fahrenheit (12.6 degrees Celsius) in 2017, 2.6 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average and the third-warmest since recordkeeping began in 1895, following 2012 and 2016, the agency said.

Scientists have long concluded that carbon dioxide and other emissions from fossil fuels and industry are driving climate change, leading to floods, droughts and more-frequent powerful storms.

The federal agency’s report underscores the economic risks of such disasters even as President Donald Trump’s administration casts doubts on their causes and has started withdrawing the United States from a global pact to combat climate change.

[Reuters]

Collective action to amplify impact of Community Health Workers

Community health workers are not new. Since at least the 1950s, the potential of community health workers has been evident, with different models flourishing in different contexts—from “barefoot doctors” of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, to the Last Mile Health-trained frontline health workers who work in remote villages of Liberia today.

With the African Union calling for 2 million more CHW employed by 2020 to close Africa’s healthcare gap, now is the time to take a close look at what works in the field. Twenty-three countries have adopted principles for institutionalizing community health, and CHWs are highlighted as a key strategy by the World Health Organization. A collective process of reflection has resulted in a set of 8 “design principles that drive programmatic quality:

  • Accredited: CHWs must prove their competency before carrying out their work.
  • Accessible: point of care user fees should be avoided when possible.
  • Proactive: For active disease surveillance, CHWs go door-to-door looking for sick patients and providing training on how to identify danger signs and quickly contact a CHW.
  • Continuously Trained: Continuing medical education is not only available to but required of CHWs.
  • Paid: CHWs are compensated competitively.
  • Part of a Strong Health System: CHW deployment is accompanied by investments to increase the capacity, accessibility, and quality of the primary care facilities.
  • Part of Data Feedback Loops: CHWs report all data to public-sector monitoring and evaluation systems which improves programs and CHW performance.

[Skoll Foundation]

Trump slams Pakistan in first tweet of 2018

President Trump issued his first tweet of 2018 insulting Pakistan and building on his threat to cut off foreign military financing that is one piece of the massive assistance package that the US gives the country each year.

“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools,” trump tweeted Monday morning. “They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” he added.

When it comes to Pakistan, it is true that US counter-terrorism objectives and a desire for stability in South Asia have largely tended to outweigh longstanding concerns over terrorist activity nurtured and supported within Pakistan’s borders. Despite specific periods of cooperation – and even hope that Pakistani leadership may have decided to shift gears and take strategic steps to address the problem, the US relationship with Pakistan has been deeply pockmarked by times of estrangement resulting from Pakistan’s unwillingness to root out its own bad actors.

The Trump administration has pursued a policy of using US foreign assistance dollars to bully countries to fall in line with the United States. In December, President Trump and Ambassador Nikki Haley threatened to cut off aid to countries that voted against the United States at the UN General Assembly.

[CNN]

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]

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]

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]

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]

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]

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

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]

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]

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]

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]

Who are the Rohingya?

The Rohingya are a largely Muslim ethnic minority in Myanmar at the center of a humanitarian catastrophe, many of whom have ended up sheltering in makeshift camps in Bangladesh, telling tales of killings, rape, and massacres.

But the Myanmar government won’t even use the word “Rohingya,” let alone admit they’re being persecuted. Instead, the government calls them Bengalis, foreigners, or worse, terrorists. This difference between these two terms—Rohingya and Bengali—is crucial to understanding the crisis unfolding in Myanmar, where more than 500,000 Rohingya have recently fled following a government crackdown and which has been called a “textbook example” of ethnic cleansing by the top United Nations human-rights official.

Before the massacres, there were thought to be around 1.1 million Rohingya living in the country. Indeed, the Rohingya have existed in Myanmar—a Buddhist majority country formerly called Burma—for centuries. The Rohingya had carved a place for themselves in Burma; with some serving in parliament and other high offices. Their ethnicity was included in the 1961 census.

The situation quickly deteriorated for the Rohingya, however, following the 1962 military coup, when the government refused to fully recognize new generations of the Rohingya population. In 1982, a new citizenship law was passed that prevented Rohingya from easily accessing full citizenship, rendering many of them stateless.

Since the late 1970s, nearly one million Rohingya are estimated to have fled Myanmar. In 2009, a UN spokeswoman described the Rohingya as “probably the most friendless people in the world”. Yet many Rohingya—collectively dubbed across international media as “boat people”—were stuck because they were turned away from a number of Southeast Asian countries where that had hoped to flee to.

[Quartz]