Monthly Archives: October 2015

Less than 2% of all humanitarian funds go directly to NGOs

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The humanitarian sector took a hard look at itself in Geneva last week, and the picture was not quite the heroic, saintly image it would prefer to see. Less than 2% of all humanitarian funding goes directly to local NGOs, despite them taking the lion’s share of the risk and often being better placed to deliver, according to aid insiders.

Stephen O’Brien, the head of United Nations humanitarian affairs, told a conference in Switzerland that aid delivered by local agencies was often faster, cheaper and more “culturally appropriate”. O’Brien said, “In Syria, the Arab Red Crescent risked their lives every day to help. In west Africa during the Ebola outbreak, community leaders succeeded where international actors had failed.”

But despite years of discussion about the issue, almost all aid funding continues to flow to the large international agencies; a situation that is increasingly embarrassing for the sector.

One campaigner from the global south said: “Please don’t keep telling us that we need to build capacity; it’s insulting and patronizing. It’s an old-fashioned, colonial viewpoint. These organizations are run by people with two PhDs, they are not stupid. Just assume that the capacity is there and fund us properly.”

Sean Lowrie, of the Start Network, which brings together international and national NGOs for humanitarian response, said the current model was not working. “We’re still working in an old-fashioned, centralized, top-down system, which believes in the fallacy of control. We’re stuck and we’re not talking about the real issue, which are incentives, behavior and governance. What we need is a whole new eco-system of smart humanitarianism, which responds to what is needed, which is flexible and diversified, and which is financed in new, smart ways.”

[Read full Guardian article]

Nobel winner Angus Deaton and the impact of foreign aid

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Earlier this month, Princeton’s Angus Deaton was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences—an award richly deserved for Deaton’s path-breaking work on consumption, poverty, and welfare.

Much attention has also been given to Deaton’s much more controversial opinions on foreign aid, and his arguments that aid does not work, and that it can accelerate corruption and keep bad leaders in power. Of course, the evidence on aid is not definitive. Partly that is because aid for different purposes has different impacts in different country contexts. Still, a growing body of recent evidence tends to show a net positive impact of aid on development.

The United States has led the way in supporting efforts to fight HIV/AIDS, and deaths have fallen by more than one-third in just seven years. Malaria deaths have dropped in half since 2000, again in large part due to the President’s Malaria Initiative. Tuberculosis infections have fallen by 25 percent just since 2002, and the world is on the brink of eradicating polio once and for all. Donor-financed programs helped increase the number of children receiving basic vaccinations from 20 million in 1980 to 200 million today, and in reducing deaths from diarrhea from 5 million to less than 800,000 children a year. Remarkably, the rate of child death has fallen in every single country in the world since 1980—there are no exceptions. Leadership and hard work in developing countries deserve much of the credit, but these gains would not have happened without foreign assistance.

Aid has also supported progress in education, especially girls’ education. In Afghanistan, less than 1 million children attended schools in 2002, and almost all of them were boys. Girls and women were excluded. But since then, the Afghan government, USAID, and other donors have built more than 13,000 schools, recruited and trained more than 186,000 teachers, and increased net enrollment rates to 56 percent. Just one decade later in 2012, there were 8 million children in school—more than eight times more than in 2002—including 2.5 million girls.

More contentious are the debates about aid and economic growth. But even here the pendulum has swung, with more evidence that aid has a modest positive impact on growth.

[Excerpts of Brookings Opinion by Steve Radelet]

How Canadian foreign aid has changed over a decade of Conservative government

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When measured as a percentage of gross national income, foreign aid is now lower than when the Conservative government came to power. It is barely a third of the target to which Canada committed in 1970.

For a while, security interests seemed dominant. Afghanistan became the largest Canadian aid recipient ever. Under a new “whole-of-government approach,” the government increasingly linked aid with other elements of foreign policy, including diplomacy and especially defense. The result was disappointing on all levels.

Ottawa is now emphasizing Canadian commercial interests. Using aid funds to promote Canadian businesses has a long and shameful history of failure. And yet the current government wants to do more of the same.

Nowhere is commercial self-interest more evident than in the use of aid funds to support Canadian mining companies. The government set aside tens of millions of dollars to support stand-alone projects that benefit communities affected by Canadian mines, helping buy local support and thus indirectly contributing to the companies’ bottom lines.

The government’s choice of “countries of focus” for Canadian aid also clearly reflects commercial interests in countries like Peru, Colombia, Mongolia, Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. To make way for them, many poor African countries were unceremoniously dropped from the list.

The devaluing of Canadian non-governmental organizations’ contributions mirrored the rising place of the Canadian private sector in the government’s development policy. NGOs’ funding increasingly depended on aligning with government priorities — and not criticizing government policies. Those that refused to toe the government line found their applications for funding renewal denied or were suddenly faced with onerous audits by the Canadian Revenue Agency.

If we want to re-establish Canada as a reputable player in the field of international development, the next government, whatever its political stripe, should take immediate steps to restore greater autonomy to Canada’s aid program, significantly increase its budget every year, re-engage with NGOs as partners rather than subcontractors, decouple aid from Canadian commercial interests and focus instead on fighting poverty and inequality, as well as align its strategies with developing countries’ own long-term priorities.

[Stephen Brown, political science professor, writing in the Toronto Star]

Unaccompanied child refugees at the end of a long risky journey

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Afghan, Eritrean and Sudanese boys are on the move again, but this time it’s a happy occasion: After months of hardship traversing continents, the teenage refugees are finally on the way to English homes where they can settle down for a long dreamed-of life in Europe. These unaccompanied child refugees have come to the end of a long, risky journey by boat, foot, truck and train.

Europe’s migrant crisis has seen a record surge of unaccompanied child asylum seekers fleeing civil war, conscription and poverty at home to countries including Britain and Sweden, which have scrambled to provide care for thousands of newly arrived minors. Most are boys aged between 14 to 18 hailing from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea and Sudan.

“I’m happy to leave today,” said Sadiq, a shy 17-year-old Sudanese, who said he wanted to become an engineer. Like the other youngsters, Sadiq had made it to Europe alone after leaving behind his family, and may never see his loved ones again. He lowered his head when asked about his homeland, where a years-long conflict has killed thousands and driven millions from their homes. “Since I left I have had no information, I don’t know anything about my family. I’m very sad because of that, but what can I do?”

For the children, Europe is s a ticket to a dramatically improved future. “I want to continue my education here–back home I couldn’t go to school. I miss (my family), but no, I wouldn’t want to go back,” said Simon, 16, who left his parents and seven siblings in Eritrea.


Record surge of child refugees to Europe

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In Sweden, which takes the largest number of refugees per capita in Europe, the Migration Agency says almost 1,300 unaccompanied child asylum seekers sought asylum in a single week in September–a staggering increase from about 400 a week in June.

“The municipalities have never been close to having a situation like this before, ever,” said Kjell-Terje Torvik, an expert at the Swedish migration board who has worked with child refugees for over a decade. “Even though we knew the numbers were going to rise, this is far beyond our imagination.”

Social workers say many child refugees have to take off alone because of desperate circumstances: Some became separated from their families in war; others are alone because their family cannot afford to send more than one member abroad. Younger refugees also often have better chances of getting asylum in Europe. A journey from Afghanistan to Sweden could take months, sometimes years.

Compared to adult asylum seekers, unaccompanied children are treated under a different set of rules in many European countries. Because they are more vulnerable, they are separated from other migrants and refugees on arrival at their destination country, and transferred to local reception centers, where they stay for up for two months while authorities make further plans for them: Some will transfer to social housing with supervision by social workers or a guardian, while others stay with local foster families. All have the right to accommodation and welfare benefits including education, health care, and money to buy food and clothes.


60 million displaced persons and rising

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When Antonio Guterres became the U.N. refugee chief almost 10 years ago, the world counted 38 million people displaced by conflict and persecution and the number was declining. Today, it’s more than 60 million and rising.

The “interlinked mega-crises” in Iraq and Syria have uprooted 15 million people. And in the last 12 months, 500,000 people have fled their homes in South Sudan, 190,000 in Burundi, 1.1 million in Yemen and 300,000 in Libya. Tens of thousands are fleeing gang violence in Central America. And there has been little or no improvement in the crises in Central African Republic, Nigeria, Ukraine and Congo, he said.

The world is faced with 15 conflicts that have erupted and or reignited in the past five years. And more than two-thirds of refugees worldwide are Muslim, Guterres said, stressing the world must counter “the backward narrowness of xenophobia.”

The refugee chief said the spike of Syrian refugees coming to Europe this year is mainly due to three factors. Many Syrians have lost hope that a political solution to end the war is near and after years in exile their resources have run out and living conditions have deteriorated, he said. But “the trigger” is UNHCR’s funding shortfall and its struggle to provide cash and shelter to the growing number of vulnerable families ahead of winter, he said.

“As a result, more and more people have embarked on the desperate journey to Europe, despite the enormous risks and cost this entails,” Guterres said. “To be honest, in these circumstances, I would probably do the same with my own family.”


Frugal innovation for developing countries

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“Frugal innovation” is a trendy term for a widely known–yet often overlooked–fact: The developing world cannot afford to throw massive resources at increasingly complex technologies to solve its problems. The developed world’s “model is … too costly, elitist, and rigid and fails to address even basic socioeconomic needs,” explains innovation and leadership strategist Navi Radjou.

In his 2014 TED/Global talk, Radjou illustrated that the “more (and better) with less” strategy is indispensable in developing new technologies. In many cases, simply paring down technologies that already exist makes them more widely accessible.

Accessibility, along with sustainability, affordability, and quality, are the four cornerstones of frugal innovation. They ensure that the technologies make it to the populations that need them most and, further, that the technologies will thrive there.

Crowdsourcing is essential to frugal innovation. Some of the most effective innovations derive not from experts with infinite resources but from individuals who come from the very conditions of poverty they are trying to eradicate–“where the street is the lab,” Radjou says.

Arunachalam Muruganantham, for example, created a simple machine that has provided thousands of women with much-needed sanitary pads. He was a poor college drop-out living in rural India when he built his machine out of sheer necessity as he realized his own wife lacked access to basic feminine hygiene.

And in Kenya, two university students from rural villages came up with a system to recharge a cell phone battery using energy generated from a bicycle. “We took most of [the] items from a junk yard–using bits from spoiled radios and spoiled televisions,” one of the students told the BBC.

[Global Envision]

Oxfam says aid to Syrians utterly inadequate

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Global efforts to help Syrians both inside and outside their war-torn country have proved “utterly inadequate”, international aid group Oxfam said in a damning report which analyzed aid and resettlement opportunities for Syrian refugees provided by more than 28 countries.

“The international community is proving utterly inadequate in helping Syrians both inside and outside their country,” Oxfam said.

It criticized countries including Russia, which has not resettled any Syrian refugees and has only provided one percent of its fair share contribution to humanitarian aid, and France, which has only contributed 22 percent of its fair share to aid.

Oxfam said the only laudable exceptions to their criticism — besides countries neighboring Syria, which have taken in more than four million Syrians — were Norway and Germany.

Only 17,000 Syrians have so far been resettled in a third country. The slow resettlement process has pushed thousands more to try to reach Europe by a dangerous sea and land route.


Syrian refugees once had lives that were just the same as ours

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The international community is already facing a refugee crisis largely driven by the war in Syria.  Hundreds of thousands of refugees are currently fleeing wars in the Middle East for the relative safety of Europe.

But that crisis could get even worse, if Turkish officials are to be believed, due to Russian airstrikes. According to Turkish estimates, 3 million more Syrians could flee from Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, and the surrounding neighborhoods.

Bob Kitchen, the International Rescue Committee’s director of emergency preparedness and response writes: “As an aid worker leading the International Rescue Committee’s humanitarian relief team in Greece, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to Syrians as they flee the war into Europe.

“I’ve worked with refugees around the globe in almost every war zone in the last 15 years; while the desperation for the safety and well-being of their families is the same the world around, one thing has struck me during all of the interviews I’ve done:

“I recognize the lives the Syrian refugees used to live, and want to live again.” [IRC blog]

EU offers Turkey incentives to better tackle refugee crisis

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The European Union is ready to offer Turkey new incentives to better tackle the Syria refugee crisis, including money, the easing of visa restrictions and better intelligence sharing. In exchange, Turkey would improve its asylum and documentation procedures and beef up border security.

Around 2 million refugees from Syria are currently in Turkey, and tens of thousands of others have entered the EU via Greece this year, overwhelming coast guards and reception facilities.

It doesn’t address demands made by Turkish President Erdogan for Turkey’s EU membership process to move ahead more quickly.

Under the offer, Turkey would receive up to 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) to help manage its refugee crisis, and EU funding to help build six reception centers for refugees in Turkey.

The EU is caught in a delicate balancing act, wanting to encourage Turkey to better control its borders amid continued criticism of the abuses of the Kurdish minority there and attacks on the media and justice system.

Meanwhile, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann arrived on the eastern Aegean island of Lesbos with Greece’s prime minister to see the impact of the refugee crisis and to examine facilities set up to handle the thousands of people who arrive daily.

About 400,000 people have reached Greece so far this year, most in small overcrowded boats from the nearby Turkish coast. Most arrive on Lesbos.