Richard Branson: Hurricanes are the ‘start of things to come’

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson rode out Hurricane Irma in his wine cellar on his private island in the British Virgin Islands. As many of the same islands brace for the impact of Hurricane Maria, he appeared on CNN’s “New Day” with a message: “Climate change is real.”

After anchor John Berman asked if he saw a correlation between the recent hurricanes and climate change, Branson said, “…Scientists have said the storms are going to get more and more and more intense and more and more often. We’ve had four storms within a month, all far greater than that have ever, ever, ever happened in history.”

“Sadly,” he continued, “I think this is the start of things to come.”

Branson noted that recent storms like Irma, which tore through the Caribbean, and Harvey, which ravaged Houston, Texas, have been extremely devastating.

“Look,” the philanthropist said, “Climate change is real. Ninety-nine percent of scientists know it’s real. The whole world knows it’s real except for maybe one person in the White House.”

“The cost of rebuilding just the British Virgin Islands will be three or four billion dollars,” Branson responded. “The cost of rebuilding Houston will be billions of dollars. If all that money could be invested in clean energy, in powering the world by the sun and by the wind, where we won’t have to suffer these awful events in the future, how much better than having to patch up people’s houses after they’ve been destroyed?”

[CNN]

Irma leaves trail of destruction and broken records

Irma finally weakened to just a big storm, 10 days after it became a hurricane and started on a destructive and powerful path that killed 40 people in the Caribbean and the Southeastern United States.

Irma was producing very heavy rain across the Southeast, leading to flash floods and rapid rises in creeks, streams and rivers. The hurricane center said that significant river flooding would persist over the Florida peninsula for several days and that parts of Georgia, South Carolina and north-central Alabama remained vulnerable to flash floods.

In Irma’s wake, meanwhile, lay a trail of devastation from the Cape Verde Islands to Georgia. Irma was so strong and so robust that it seemingly set a record for the number of records it set. According to Phil Klotzbach, a noted atmospheric research scientist at Colorado State University:

  • When Irma reached Category 5 — the strongest there is — it stayed there for more than three days, the longest run since forecasters began using satellites to monitor tropical storms more than a half-century ago.
  • Irma kept blowing 185-mph maximum sustained winds for 37 hours — the longest any cyclone has ever maintained that intensity anywhere on Earth since records started being kept.
  • Irma generated the most accumulated energy by any tropical cyclone in the Atlantic tropics on record.

But if there’s one statistic that sums Irma up, it’s this one: It generated enough accumulated cyclone energy — the total wind energy generated over a storm’s lifetime — to meet the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s definition of an average full Atlantic hurricane season.

About 7.5 million customers remained without power in Florida late Monday. Almost 1½ million had no power in Georgia, which experienced the oddity of tropical storm warnings over Atlanta, more than 800 miles from where Irma made its first U.S. landfall. “This will be the largest ever mobilization of [electric] line restoration workers in this country, period, end of story,” Tom Bossert, President Donald Trump’s homeland security adviser, told reporters Monday.

The U.S. military spread far and wide in what Bossert called “the largest-ever mobilization of our military in a naval and marine operation. … We have the largest flotilla operation in our nation’s history to help not only the people of Puerto Rico, the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands, but also St. Martin and other non-U.S. islands affected,” he said.

[NBC]

What Hurricane Irma brought

Record-setting Hurricane Irma, which began as a Category 5 storm, has weakened but continued a furious climb up the Florida coast on Monday, toppling cranes, swallowing streets and leaving millions without power, after a multi-billion-dollar rampage through the Caribbean. At least 30 people have been killed.

The storm was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane, after striking the Florida Keys island chain as a more powerful Category 4 on Sunday. But warnings of hazardous storm surges remained in effect through vast swaths of the Florida peninsula.

Maximum sustained winds had decreased to 75 miles (120 kilometres) per hour as of 5:00 am local time (0900 GMT).

While southwest Florida bore the deadly brunt of Irma, the eastern coastlines of Miami and the barrier island of Miami Beach were heavily inundated by storm surges.

The death toll is at least 30: 14 in the French island of St Barts and the neighboring Dutch-French territory of St Martin; six in the British Caribbean islands; at least four in the US Virgin Islands; at least two in Puerto Rico; and one in Barbuda. Three other deaths occurred in Florida due to car accidents sparked by strong winds and torrential rain.

In Florida, more than six million customers were without power, according to the state’s Division of Emergency Management. More than six million people had been ordered to flee their homes in one of the biggest evacuations in US history.

The combined economic cost of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma could reach $290 billion, equivalent to 1.5 percent of the US gross domestic product, US forecaster AccuWeather said in a report.

Flooding in six Indian States –and climbing!

Months of flooding in six Indian states have caused huge economic losses and heaped misery on the millions of people. With millions struggling to cope in the flood-hit states of Assam, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Manipur and Gujarat, the Indian government is now warning of more floods to come in 12 other states over the next week.

“Flooding during the monsoon season normally happens from June to September, but this year’s floods have been much worse,” Hari Balaji, a consultant on disaster management, told DW. “It has wrecked the village economy and ravaged cities. We have failed to predict rainfall intensity and its impact.”

India’s disaster mitigation and response mechanisms have once again come into question as for weeks the floods have caused immense damages to barrages, crops and entire villages. Aid agencies and the Indian government’s own estimates reckon that over 1,000 people have been killed and more than 32 million affected – displaced or stranded –in this round of flooding.

Humanitarian organizations have warned the floods also have knock-on effects on children by disrupting their education and severely impacting their well-being in the future. “We haven’t seen flooding on this scale in years and it’s putting the long-term education of an enormous number of children at great risk,” Rafay Hussain of Save the Children in Bihar told DW.

“Unfortunately, like flood risk mapping, India fails miserably on forecasting. We have to modernize the flood forecast network and invest in better flood forecasting policy,” Sandeep Duggal, an expert on disaster risk reduction, told DW. Duggal also maintained that a lack of coordination and inadequate training at the ground level remained the biggest challenges in mitigating losses.

[Deutsche Welle]

Promoting STEM amongst young women in Lebanon

‘Girls Got IT’ is a joint Initiative between five Lebanese NGOs, led by Lebanese League for Women in Business (LLWB) in collaboration with the Lebanese Ministry of Education and Higher Education, in partnership with UNICEF and funded by the Kingdom of Netherlands.

Female students participate in hands-on activities and to learn more about the future of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), with influential speakers inspiring the girls and sharing their knowledge on the topics.

“The main goal of ‘Girls Got IT’, one of the initiatives UNICEF supports through its Youth Innovation Labs programme, is to promote digital literacy amongst young girls by introducing them to various careers and enriching their knowledge and developing their skills in digital and STEM fields, thus bridging the gender gap,” said UNICEF Representative Tanya Chapuisat.

The skills being taught and developed through the ‘Girls Got IT’ program aim to make young females better qualified for job positions and increase their experience in the STEM fields.

[UNICEF Lebanon]

New Orleans looks to Amsterdam for a new flood plan

Twelve years after Hurricane Katrina became the worst natural disaster in U.S. history, New Orleans is still struggling with infrastructure issues that make it difficult to stave off floods. As the city scrambles to fix its broken water pumps for the remnants of Hurricane Harvey, engineers are working with the Dutch government on a longer-term, environmentally friendly plan to let the water in and make New Orleans look more like Amsterdam.

“We can’t simply address the hard infrastructure issues,” like drain pumps and levees, said Justin Ehrenwerth, president and chief executive of The Water Institute of the Gulf, an independent research group. “We have to look at green infrastructure and develop better practices of living with water.”

Last month, The Water Institute joined forces with a Dutch research company, Deltares of the Netherlands, to develop nature-based solutions to New Orleans’ water problems. Dutch designers have been collaborating with New Orleans engineers and architects since 2006, but the work grows more urgent each year as climate change exacerbates the storms and coastal erosion that threaten to sink New Orleans. If the city can learn to embrace and store the water in productive ways, as Dutch cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam have done with their canal systems, flooding will cease to be as much of a threat.

[Huffington Post]

Muslims have assimilated well in Germany

Muslim immigrants in Germany have an easier time finding a job and building a community than those in Switzerland, Austria, France and Britain.

That’s according to a new study from the Bertelsmann Foundation. The researchers spoke to more than 10,000 Muslims who were either born in Europe or arrived before 2010, which means they did not interview the millions who traveled to Europe from Syria and the Middle East during the recent refugee crisis.

There are presently 4.7 million Muslims in Germany. According to researchers, 96 percent said they felt connected to the country.

About 60 percent now hold a full-time job, and an additional 20 percent are employed part time. These rates are similar to those for ethnic Germans, and higher than Muslim employment rates in the other western European countries studied. It’s probably thanks to Germany’s booming economy.

Muslim migrants do lag, however, when it comes to finding good jobs–they make less money than their German peers. And the most religious Muslims, who often dress differently and require time to worship during work hours, struggle to find employment in Germany. Devout Muslims had an easier time finding employment in the United Kingdom.

“When it comes to participation of Muslims in society, [it] isn’t as bleak as it is often presented in the media,” says Ayse Demir, spokeswoman for the Berlin-based Turkish community organization TBB. “It shows that a lot of Muslims feel integrated, but there is a lack of acceptance–and that’s also our perception. Participation isn’t a one-way street: It needs to come from both sides.”

[Washington Post]

Climate migrants might reach up to one billion by 2050

Imagine a world with as many as one billion people facing harsh climate change impacts resulting in devastating droughts and/or floods, extreme weather, destruction of natural resources, in particular lands, soils and water, and the consequence of severe livelihoods conditions, famine and starvation.

Although not yet based on definite scientific projections, this could be the scenario by 2050. If so, 1 in 9 human beings would be on the move by then.

For its part, the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) forecasts 200 million environmental migrants by 2050, moving either within their countries or across borders, on a permanent or temporary basis. Many of them would be coastal population.

Another warning comes from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which estimates that some 135 million people may be displaced by 2045 as a result of desertification alone. Up to 12 million hectares of productive land become barren every year due to desertification and drought alone, which is a lost opportunity to produce 20 million tons of grain, adds the Bonn-based Convention secretariat.

[All Africa]

The coming confrontation between Assad and jihadists in Syria

Once famous for its olive groves and archaeological ruins, Idlib is now the last redoubt of Islamist opposition to Assad. The capital, Idlib City, has been under Islamist control since 2015, and today the two million people living in the province — many of them refugees from other parts of the country – could be caught up in a disastrous final confrontation between jihadists and the Assad regime.

The prospects offered by life in Idlib remain dire, with unemployment, petty crime, and psychological trauma prevalent among the population.  Ahmad Awad, a civil society activist, laments “There is no real government here at all. All that people are thinking about is trying to make a living and their fears about what may come in the future.”

The main group currently in control of Idlib is the Al Qaeda-affiliated militant group, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), formerly the Nusra Front. Under HTS, Idlib has also become a haven for international jihadists who have migrated to Syria, transforming parts of the provincial territory into a strangely multicultural world of Uzbeks, Chechens, Europeans, and others.

A negotiated “deescalation” with the Syrian government and its allies has prevented a major external assault on the province, but this cold peace is unlikely to last forever. Eventually, Idlib will likely face a full-blown military attack by the Assad government and its Russian, Iranian, and Lebanese allies. In a panel discussion in Washington, D.C. last month, the U.S. special envoy for the coalition against the Islamic State described  Idlib as “the largest Al Qaeda safe haven since 9/11,” signaling that the international community is also unlikely to tolerate a province under HTS’s control.

When the battle for Idlib does come, it may be the biggest humanitarian catastrophe in a civil war that has already claimed over 400,000 lives.

[The Intercept]

Saudi coalition to blame for half of Yemen child casualties

A Saudi Arabia-led military coalition was responsible for an “unacceptably high” 51 percent of child deaths and injuries in Yemen last year, according to a draft United Nations report seen by Reuters.

The draft report on children and armed conflict, which still has to be approved by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and is subject to change, blamed the Saudi-led coalition for more than 680 child casualties and three-quarters of the attacks on schools and hospitals in Yemen.

It will be up to Guterres to decide whether to return the Saudi-led coalition to a child rights blacklist annexed to the report. The coalition was briefly added last year and then removed by then-U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon. At the time, the Saudi-led coalition had been named on the blacklist after the U.N. report blamed it for 60 percent of child deaths and injuries in Yemen in 2015, plus half the attacks on schools and hospital.

The Saudi-led coalition began an air campaign in Yemen in March 2015 to defeat Iran-allied Houthi rebels.

[Reuters]

Hello Neighbor – Up close and personal with a refugee family

It all started with a Thanksgiving dinner last November, when Sloane Davidson, a Pittsburgh native, hosted a family of Syrian refugees to share in the great American tradition of roast turkey, cranberry sauce, and pecan pie.

“They are such kind and sweet people,” Davidson said, recalling the November evening. “I would sit with them and drink Turkish coffee and they would tell me about their journey” from Turkey, where the family had spent two years after fleeing from Syria.

The two families kept in touch, and soon Davidson invited them to more of her family gatherings. The friendship has now grown into something bigger: Hello Neighbor, a mentorship program that matches American families with refugee and immigrant families who have recently arrived in the United States.

Refugees arriving in the United States are assisted by one of nine resettlement agencies, which help families with essential services like housing, employment, food, medical care, and counseling. But the agencies only provide assistance for the first 90 days, after which the refugees are basically on their own.

It is here that Hello Neighbor steps in, helping refugees with the long process of adjusting to a new culture and integrating into life in the United States. So far, twenty-five families from Bhutan, Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan have been matched with 25 American families through Hello Neighbor’s pilot program in Pittsburgh. Over a four-month period, the mentor families are encouraged to have “one quality interaction a week” with their assigned refugee family. Hello Neighbor also organizes regular get-togethers, like potluck dinners, picnics, and a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game.

Hello Neighbor taps into “this feeling of neighborhood, of community, and this longing for how we used to support new people who moved into our neighborhood,” said Davidson. “We are social creatures, and we like to share, and we like to be there for each other,” she added.

While the program establishes mentor-mentee relationships between families, Davidson said that the goal is to educate and empower both sides. “There’s as much to learn on one side as there is on the other,” she said. The refugees “are people to look up to. These are people who have persevered,” she added.

[Washington Post]

August 19 celebrates World Humanitarian Day

Every year on August 19, the international community recognizes World Humanitarian Day—a day to celebrate the hard work of aid workers everywhere, to remember the friends and colleagues our community has lost, to advocate for stronger protections and better and safer access to people in need, and to demand accountability and justice for violations of international humanitarian law.

Worldwide, attacks against aid workers have tripled in the past ten years. In 2016 alone, statistics on major attacks against aid workers are alarming:

  • Attacks against national aid workers in 2016 are almost triple the number of attacks against international humanitarian personnel, with 245 national victims and 43 international victims.
  • In 2016, 158 major attacks against aid operations were documented, in which 288 aid workers were victims: 101 aid workers were killed, 98 were wounded, and 89 were kidnapped.

This year, the global community is coming together for World Humanitarian Day to stand against attacks on aid workers and civilians: because the people who put their lives on the line to help those in need and the civilian men, women, and children who live in the midst of war and conflict are #NotATarget.

[Action Against Hunger]

Global warming and crop harvests

Each degree of global warming will cut into harvests of the world’s staple crops, according to a new study that takes a broad view of the agricultural research field. Twenty-nine researchers published the paper this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Wheat, corn, rice and soybeans make up two-thirds of humans’ caloric intake. Each crop reacts differently to rising temperatures, and the effects vary from place to place. On average, though, the world can expect 3.1 to 7.4 percent less yield per degree Celsius of warming, according to the research.

The Paris climate agreement, which the United States plans to quit, has committed the international community to less than 2 degrees Celsius of warming by the end of the century.

Rice, a main food source for developing countries, could decline an average of 3.2 percent. Some research pointed toward an even greater impact — as much as 6 percent. Soybeans, the world’s fourth-most important commodity crop, could yield 3.1 percent less per degree.

The researchers only studied the direct effect of rising average temperatures, but indirect effects could change things, too. Water stress and drier soils might drag down harvests. So could more frequent heat waves. Climate change could also affect pests, weeds and diseases.

The United Nations predicts the world’s population will grow to 9.8 billion by 2050 from 7.6 billion today. Warmer conditions could make it harder to grow enough food for so many mouths, and the crops that do grow could offer fewer nutrients.

[Climatewire]

3 things US medicine can learn from Doctors Without Borders

On any given day, Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres) stations up to 30,000 doctors, nurses and other volunteer personnel in more than 60 countries. In recognition of its pioneering efforts across several continents, the nonprofit was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999.

Meanwhile the United States is suffering a major health crisis. Tens of millions of Americans live without health insurance while the uncertain future of healthcare policy threatens the coverage and well-being of millions more. Hundreds of thousands of patients die each year from avoidable medical errors, preventable diseases and unnecessary complications from chronic illness. Our medical technology is outdated, our drug prices continue to skyrocket, and our physicians have become so frustrated that most (58 percent) would discourage their children from pursuing a career in medicine.

I am optimistic that our problems can be solved. To that end, I believe Doctors Without Borders can teach us three valuable lessons.

  1. The Power of Mission. On volunteer trips, physicians work 14 to 16 hours each day, often in scorching heat and without pay. Upon returning home, they almost never mentioned the travails. Instead, they spoke of the camaraderie, their sense of purpose, and the memories they will cherish for the rest of their lives. Compared to working in hot, dirty and under-resourced environments, you’d think the American medical office – with its air conditioning and running water – would feel like a vacation. Surveys demonstrate the opposite. One-third of doctors are dissatisfied with their work. Many describe being depressed. They lament all the time spent filling out forms, the isolation of working alone, and their frequent battles with health plans over prior-approvals and reimbursements. Unless physicians can reconnect with the fundamental purpose of their profession – helping patients – the cynicism and “burnout” afflicting doctors today will only worsen. Understanding how Doctors Without Borders has revived and nurtured this sense of purpose in its physician volunteers would be a great place for our country to start.
  2. The Essentials of Organization. Inefficiencies in U.S. medical centers have become the norm. The failings of U.S. healthcare – namely, its high costs and under-performance – aren’t the result of flawed doctors, nurses and staff. They’re the consequences of a broken delivery system, one that lacks operational efficiency and clinical effectiveness. Relief organizations like Doctors Without Borders place great importance on getting the right support in the right place at the right time. If our nation did the same, we could raise clinical quality and make health coverage more affordable for all.
  3. The Importance of Clarity. During volunteer endeavors, all doctors understand what they are doing and why. To a person, the goal is clear: Save as many human lives as possible. It’s hard to imagine a clearer “metric.” We may want to believe the U.S. healthcare system is designed to maximize the lives saved. But if that were true, we would not trail the 10 other wealthiest nations in health outcomes – not when we spend 18 percent of our GDP ($3 trillion annually) on healthcare.

Doctors Without Borders, and its tens of thousands of volunteers, has much to teach American medicine. … I hope my donations to Doctors Without Borders will serve as an investment in the health and medical education of both our country and our planet.

[Excerpts of Forbes article by Dr. Robert Pearl, a clinical professor of surgery at Stanford University]

The human agenda to remove greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere

The Drawdown project, led by Paul Hawken, details 80 ways we can take greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.

The project groups the 80 interventions into 7 clusters, and the cluster that can generate the highest reduction – 31 percent – is “food”! (Between 2020 and 2050, food initiatives that are already underway can reduce greenhouse gases by 321.9 gigatonnes.) Food is followed by “energy” at 23 percent.

Surprisingly, “efficiencies in refrigeration management” is the single biggest item in the top ten CO2-equivalent reducers. “Reduced food waste” comes in at number three, with a “plant-rich diet” coming in fourth. At number six and seven on the list is “educating girls” and “family planning.”

For those who feel like climate change is too big for them to have impact, this provides lots of options for action.

What is also encouraging is the optimistic tone of the New York Times Bestseller book, “Drawdown – The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming”. Paul Hawken writes: “If we change the preposition, and consider that global warming is happening for us – an atmospheric transformation that inspires us to change and re-imagine everything we make and do – we begin to live in a different world.

“We take 100 percent responsibility and stop blaming others. We see global warming not as an inevitability but as an invitation to build, innovate, and effect change, a pathway that awakens creativity, compassion, and genius. This is not a liberal agenda, nor is it a conservative one. This is a human agenda.”

Let compassion heal us and others

As part of my ServiceSpace summer internship, I interviewed various people about their relationship to pain and suffering. The individuals I talked to were willing to reflect on pain and suffering, unfold decades of their lives and share insights with a young stranger whom they had never met before.

In a conversation with John Malloy, he said, “Sharing is our nature. When we share, we heal suffering.” John’s life is dedicated to tending to people who suffer. After working as a counselor for prisoners and troubled youth, to leading The American Indian Spiritual Marathon for nearly four decades, John said, “None of the kids had criminal minds. I was never fooled by the personality of the kid — it’s a veil to the soul. I always went for the soul.”

Towards the end of our conversation, I asked John how he faces his own sufferings while always serving others. John revealed that he had experienced a great deal of loss in his life, including the passing of his only son and the loss of sight in his left eye. However, “we have an innate capacity to heal”. After two years of grieving, he grew stronger through his losses, not weaker. “As we face our pain and suffering, we see what we are supposed to do is to care for others,” said John.

When we hurt others, we are not only responsible for ourselves or the ones we hurt, but also for the ones they are going to hurt. If instead we choose compassion, this world turns brighter. As Audrey Lin beautifully puts it, “In the end there is only kindness. At the end of the day we are all going to go, but what stays behind are those small acts; those are acts maybe paid forward by so many others. […It’s] what inspires me to keep living.”

Sharing makes us more human; becoming more human leads us towards the compassion that is inherent in our nature.

[Daily Good]

Why refugee doctors end up driving taxis in the US

Layla Sulaiman served as a primary care OB/GYN for 17 years before she left Iraq in 2007. But in this country, her medical license is no longer valid. Sulaiman is one of many refugees — though no one knows exactly how many — who practiced medicine in their home countries, who are now working in low-skilled jobs, driving taxis and working in grocery stores.

“The brain waste is appalling,” said Dr. José Ramón Fernandez-Peña, an associate professor of health education at San Francisco State University who studied medicine in his native Mexico. He is also the founder and director of the Welcome Back Initiative, which has helped foreign-trained providers get health care jobs in the United States since 2001. “These are individuals who could be taking care of children with asthma, and instead are working at a car wash,” he said.

Sulaiman had originally hoped to be relocated to Australia, where her sister-in-law lives and where there are accelerated paths for foreign doctors. Had she gone to a country like Canada, she could have practiced with some restrictions while obtaining a full license.

But she ended up in the United States, where she must start her training from scratch. Refugees may have additional struggles, advocates say. For example, many must leave their home countries on short notice, making it difficult for longtime doctors to track down old transcripts and records.

Within the United States, there are more residency slots than medical students to fill them. This year, more than 22,000 American-educated students vied for nearly 29,000 first-year residency slots, according to the National Resident Matching Program.  The rest of these positions were filled largely by foreign graduates.

Some experts predict a doctor shortage of 40,800 to 104,900 by 2030, according to an analysis commissioned by the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Fernandez-Peña said that putting foreign-trained doctors to work in America is a no-brainer. “Why not invest in this freebie?” he asked. “They’ve already been trained. We would be reaping the benefits that (another) country has spent money in training their work force.”

[CNN]

Build on Africa’s informal economy

In many cities in sub-Saharan Africa, the informal economy is larger and more dynamic than the formal economy. In Benin, Togo and Burkina Faso, for example, the informal sector accounts for over 80% of non-agricultural employment.

Yet, in many African cities, government policies discriminate against these workers. For example, street vendors and waste collectors are often banned from using public spaces. They may even suffer harassment from government officials.

Yet they play a central role in increasing the resilience of the city. Waste pickers recycle large amount of material, reducing pollution and maintain city cleanliness. This helps prevent diseases, particularly those spread by bacteria, insects and vermin that might otherwise feed or breed on garbage. Street vendors play a critical role in providing and producing food, particularly to poor people living in urban areas.

The informal economy is not perfect. Informality creates risks for consumers and workers. A lack of state oversight makes it difficult to enforce regulation, such as water treatment standards. Waste pickers in particular face severe health risks due to their work. Informal housing is often in hazard prone parts of the city.

But there can be little doubt that informal service provision or informal livelihoods are better than none at all.

Successful strategies to reduce risk therefore need to be developed in collaboration with informal workers in sectors such as food, water, housing and solid waste management. Similarly, partnerships with communities living in informal settlements can ensure that the voices of vulnerable urban residents are heard, and their needs are addressed.

[PreventionWeb]

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]