Monthly Archives: March 2019

Extreme Poverty: Bad, but better

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The World Bank has used an international poverty line, originally the “dollar a day” line, since at least 1990 to monitor global poverty. In recent years, the line has come under criticism for being too low in value.

When the World Bank convened the Commission on Global Poverty in 2015, 10 percent of the world was living in extreme poverty. We might be entering the hardest stretch in the march toward the end of extreme poverty, which is increasingly concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa.

A recent World Bank report breaks new ground. To construct a more complete picture of poverty, it presents two new sets of poverty lines. The first are poverty lines at higher thresholds—$3.20 and $5.50 per day (in 2011 Purchasing Power Parity dollars)—reflecting typical national poverty thresholds in lower- and upper-middle-income countries. By these criteria, more than a quarter (at the $3.20 line) and almost half of the world’s population (at the $5.50 line) were poor in 2015.

The report also introduces a societal poverty line that increases in value as a country gets richer—a global poverty line that reflects the variation in national poverty lines observed across the world. It is a recognition that poverty is a deeply social and relative experience, so it cannot be detached from the social context of the individual. A refrigerator may be a luxury in a poor country, but it is essential to basic functioning in rich countries. When judged by the relative standard of the society in which they live, almost 3 in 10 individuals were living in poverty in 2015.

The new measures are not without flaws, and lack of timely, high-quality data to monitor poverty in all its forms everywhere remains a challenge. Despite these limitations, close observers of the World Bank would agree that the latest report breaks the mold. It stays centered on its core mandate of monitoring global extreme poverty, while offering a rich menu of complementary indicators that are relevant to a growing world and that encompass poverty in its multiple forms.

When asked about the state of the world, Hans Rosling, the data guru, was fond of quipping: “Bad, but better.” Similarly, this year’s Poverty and Shared Prosperity Report shows that while remarkable progress has been made in reducing extreme poverty, much remains to be done to eliminate poverty in all countries, in all aspects of life, and for all individuals.


Oxfam calls for climate action, as children strike worldwide

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Our children are walking out of school today, saying we have failed them.

In a speech today, Oxfam’s Winnie Byanyima evoked the words of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who yesterday was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and today is leading another strike by school children around the world, protesting against climate change and our pitiful weakness to resolve it.

Winnie implored the UN to show the same clarity of purpose and energy exemplified by the 16-year-old Swede.

Yes, we abhor kids being out of school. But climate change means that one day many may not even have a school to attend. Anyone whose very existence is under threat should at least have the right to speak up about it. The right to protest, to mobilize and organize, to raise one’s voice and have it heard, is no less a right that it should be denied.

To our children, climate change is not an abstract idea but a frightening, threatening reality. Our children are seeing their leaders failing to tame our economy’s addiction to coal, oil and gas, driving our planet toward and over 1.5 degrees warming. We place economic growth on a pedestal and disregard its harmful consequences on people. So what if the factory that employs people in the village also emits pollution that creates health hazards and climate change? Or if the much-hyped oil plant also taints people’s drinking water and spews out greenhouse gases?

Nearly half of the world’s population lives on under $5.50 a day, the World Bank’s new poverty line for extreme poverty in upper and middle income countries. If we continue to tinker around the edges of our current system, we will need a global economy 175 times bigger for everyone to achieve life above the extreme poverty line. This would destroy our planet – so it is self-evident that the structure of our economic model must change.

We are the proverbial ostriches with our heads in the sand, refusing to acknowledge that our system of pursuing development has not only given rise to huge inequality between the 1% super-rich and the rest – but it’s also been destroying our planet. We need to transform our economic system so that it redistributes income and wealth more fairly, and is powered in a greener, cleaner, more sustainable way. This economic transformation is entirely achievable and within our hands; we need a “New Green Deal” that both redistributes wealth and allows us a more sure and sustainable way to steward our planet.

We will be judged both by the environmental legacy we leave our children and how much we have prepared them to speak truth to power and take on the emerging challenges of a complex world.


Humanitarian crises severely under-reported

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According to a recent poll of aid agencies by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the most under-reported crisis of 2018 was the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Meanwhile, Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, commented that, ‘the brutality of the conflict is shocking, the national and international neglect outrageous… I have seldom witnessed such a gap between needs and assistance’.

Other ‘forgotten crises’, according to the agencies polled, include the Central African Republic, Lake Chad Basin, Yemen, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Burundi, Nigeria and, for the first time, Venezuela. Highlighting such ‘reporting gaps’ is important because international news coverage plays a key role in raising awareness of and drawing attention to humanitarian crises, in order to secure the funding needed to help.

Research makes clear that humanitarian journalism is itself in crisis. Our survey of over 1500 individuals involved in the aid sector revealed widespread dissatisfaction with the quantity and quality of mainstream news coverage of humanitarian affairs. 73% of respondents agreed that mainstream news media does not produce enough coverage of humanitarian issues. News coverage was also criticized for being selective, sporadic, simplistic and partial.

Over 20,000 news outlets were examined to find out how many were regularly reporting on humanitarian affairs. Only 12 –including Al Jazeera English, the Guardian Global Development site, IRIN News, the Thomson Reuters Foundation and Voice of America– covered the four humanitarian events analyzed: The ongoing crisis in South Sudan, the 2016 Aceh earthquake, the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit and the 2017 UN appeal for humanitarian funding.

Humanitarian issues were mentioned in only one in five (19%) items on the news bulletins of the BBC World Service.

[InterPress Service]

Dutch to introduce corporate CO2 tax as climate plans fall short

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The Dutch government announced on Wednesday a carbon tax for companies after a top advisory body said current plans to cut emissions will fall short of targets.

Proposals to fight climate change put forward in recent months will cost the Netherlands around 5.2 billion euros ($6 billion) over the next decade, but will fall short in achieving a 49 percent CO2 emission reduction goal by 2030, the CPB advisory body said.

The Dutch government is expected to decide by the end of April on a climate change policy program after a consultation led to a series of measures proposed by businesses, activists and other groups. The CPB advisory body said around 130 measures were put forward, including higher taxes on the use of gas for heating and on airline tickets, subsidies on electrical cars, increased use of wind and solar power, and incentives for industry to cut emissions and homeowners to better insulate their houses.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte said new plans will include a tax on CO2 emissions for corporations, on top of the European Union’s current Emissions Trading System, to stimulate more efficient technologies and to make sure companies pay a fair share of the costs of the energy transition.

“This tax needs to be reasonable,” Rutte said without going into details. “It needs to deliver significant CO2 reductions, without chasing companies away.”


Footage contradicts U.S. claim that Nicolás Maduro burned aid convoy

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The narrative seemed to fit Venezuela’s authoritarian rule: Security forces, on the order of President Nicolás Maduro, had torched a convoy of humanitarian aid as millions in his country were suffering from illness and hunger.

Vice President Mike Pence wrote that “the tyrant in Caracas danced” as his henchmen “burned food & medicine.” The State Department released a video saying Mr. Maduro had ordered the trucks burned. And Venezuela’s opposition held up the images of the burning aid, reproduced on dozens of news sites and television screens throughout Latin America, as evidence of Mr. Maduro’s cruelty.

But there is a problem: The opposition itself –not Mr. Maduro’s men– appears to have set the cargo alight accidentally.

Unpublished footage obtained by The New York Times — including footage released by the Colombian government, which has blamed Mr. Maduro for the fire — allowed for a reconstruction of the incident. It suggests that a Molotov cocktail thrown by an anti-government protester was the most likely trigger for the blaze.

The rag used to light the Molotov cocktail separates from the bottle, flying toward the aid truck instead. Half a minute later, that truck is in flames.

The same protester can be seen 20 minutes earlier, in a different video, hitting another truck with a Molotov cocktail, without setting it on fire.

Many of Mr. Maduro’s critics also claim that he ordered medication set on fire during the border standoff. For example, John R. Bolton, President Trump’s national security adviser, posted on Twitter on March 2: “Maduro has lied about the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, he contracts criminals to burn food and medicine intended for the Venezuelan people.”

Juan Guaidó, the leader of Venezuela’s opposition, has fervently maintained that the aid contained medicine and that it was burned by Mr. Maduro as well.

Yet this claim too appears to be unsubstantiated, according to videos and interviews.

After being contacted by The Times about these claims, American officials released a more cautious statement describing how the fire began:  “Eyewitness accounts indicate that the fire started when Maduro’s forces violently blocked the entry of humanitarian assistance,” the statement said. It did not specify that Mr. Maduro’s forces lit the fire.

[The New York Times]

8 tips to enhance fundraising and donor relationships

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1: Keep an eye on your donor retention rate

2: Know the factors of engagement

3: Know each donor’s history

4: Kick-start prospect research

5: Communicate using various platforms

6: Use effective language in communications

7: Use social media to show appreciation

8: Ask donors how they feel about you

[Read full article at GuideStar Blog]

2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria

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“Today there exists an alarming misconception that the conflict in Syria is drawing quickly to a close – it is not. Children in parts of the country remain in as much danger as at any other time during the eight-year conflict.

“In 2018 alone, 1,106 children were killed in the fighting – the highest ever number of children killed in a single year since the start of the war. These are only the numbers that the UN has been able to verify, which means the true figures are likely much higher.

 “We are particularly concerned about the situation in Idlib in northwestern Syria where an intensification of violence has reportedly killed 59 children in the past few weeks alone.

 “Meanwhile, neighboring countries in the region are hosting 2.6 million Syrian refugee children who face their own challenges despite support from host governments, the UN and the international community. Many families cannot send their children to school and, with few income-earning opportunities, are turning to negative coping mechanisms – including child labor and child marriage – to get by.

“As the war enters its ninth year, UNICEF again reminds parties to the conflict and the global community that it is the country’s children who have suffered most and have the most to lose. Each day the conflict continues is another day stolen from their childhood.”


Women worldwide spearhead humanitarian aid but not its decision-making

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Women have always been on the front lines of humanitarian action. Women such as Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton not only faced the most brutal conflicts and epidemics of their day, they helped lay the foundation for modern humanitarianism.

Today, more than half of Red Cross or Red Crescent volunteers around the world are female, and women are among the first to respond in disaster, epidemics and conflict, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the Philippines and Syria.

They are also just as likely as their male counterparts to pay the ultimate sacrifice for their compassion and courage. Just last year, 25-year-old Saifura Hussaini Ahmed Khorsa and 24-year-old Hauwa Mohammed Liman were providing post-natal care at an ICRC-supported health center in Rann, Nigeria, when they were kidnapped, and later killed, by an armed group.

Despite this legacy, women are still not equally represented in top decision-making roles in the humanitarian sector — a profession based on basic principles of impartiality and humanity and on the belief that all people have inherent dignity. “If you had a visual representation, the [humanitarian sector] would be a pyramid with women forming the base,” says Margareta Wahlström, president of the Swedish Red Cross and former official at both the IFRC and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. “As the pyramid gets narrower at the top, there are fewer and fewer women. Women are the base, as the workers, and the men tend to take positions of higher responsibility.”

In the United Nations system, the report noted, there is a similar pyramid. “Women comprise 42.8 per cent of all employees, but with a much greater concentration of women at the entry-level.” As of February 2019, ten of the UN’s 27 humanitarian coordinators are women.

In the Red Cross Red Crescent network, women make up only 31 per cent of the governing boards that oversee Red Cross or Red Crescent National Societies. At the global level, women make up 17 per cent (5 of 30) of elected members on the IFRC governing board.

[Red Cross and Red Crescent]

Flash flooding damage in Afghanistan

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In Kandahar province, some 21,200 people have been assessed requiring humanitarian assistance as a result of recent floods. 25 people are known to have died and 40 people have been injured. According to joint assessments conducted by the government and humanitarian partners in Kandahar and seven flood-affected districts, 1,340 houses have been damaged and a further 1,276 have been destroyed.

In Hilmand province, almost 6,000 people have been affected by the floods and require humanitarian assistance, including 5,400 people who have been displaced from their homes. According to partners on the ground, more than 770 houses in the province have been destroyed.

The Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) has also managed to reach 644 affected households in Khoshkaba and Nahr-e-Saraj which are in hard to access areas. Further assessments are ongoing, including in contested areas, and the numbers of affected people will likely continue to rise.

Assessment teams have noted the most affected households gave access to boreholes for drinking water, and that no damage has been reported to schools or health facilities with people able to access necessary health services. However, communities in Khoshkaba and Nahr-e-Saraj are reportedly drinking unsafe water, raising concerns over outbreaks of diarrhoea and waterborne diseases.

In Farah province, ANDMA has reported that 9,250 households in Farah city have been assessed as flood-affected, including 3,600 families whose houses have been completely destroyed and more than 5,600 whose homes have been damaged.

In Hirat province, 254 households in Shindand district have been identified as affected by the floods. Assessments are ongoing in three other districts, Zawol, Pusht Koh and Zir Koh.

[UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs]

Investigation finds FEMA aid favors the rich and white

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Who gets public money after natural disasters — and who doesn’t?

A new NPR investigation and analysis of previously unreleased Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) data shows that, regardless of need, post-disaster government funds tend to favor the privileged over the poor.

The story opens with the tale of two Houston families, both of which lost their homes due to storm-related flooding in 2017: a newly married, financially comfortable home-owning couple who received $30,000 in FEMA funds and more than $100,000 in tax refunds, and a family of renters consisting of a single mom and three kids, who were only given $2,500 in federal aid for a rental deposit.

The disparities in the two families’ financial situations only snowballed after the flood. While the wealthier couple was able to qualify for a low-interest loan to rebuild, the single mom landed in hot water with FEMA for choosing to use her funds on a vehicle for her family members to commute to work and school, and was not able to qualify for other sources of federal aid due to her low credit score.

Here are some of the investigation’s main takeaways:

  • FEMA funds are calculated based on risk reduction — which means people with more money are more likely to get help. Federal disaster aid is allocated based on a cost-benefit calculation meant to minimize taxpayer risk. Thus, money is not necessarily given out to those who need it most; it’s doled out to those whose property is worth more, which means the system tends to favor those who live in whiter and higher-income neighborhoods.
  • FEMA funding favors homeowners over renters. Due to FEMA’s cost-benefit calculation, poorer people, people of color, and people who are more likely to rent are less likely to get the much-needed cash after a major disaster. “Put another way, after a disaster, rich people get richer and poor people get poorer,” the investigation states. “And federal disaster spending appears to exacerbate that wealth inequality.”
  • FEMA’s flood program has the biggest racial gap. NPR examined one particular federal program that buys out homes that have been flooded or otherwise impacted by natural disasters. Their investigation found that of more than 40,000 records in the FEMA database, most buyouts went to whiter communities (more than 85 percent white and non-Hispanic), even though natural disasters.
  • Experts predict climate-driven disasters will become more frequent and severe. The Fourth National Climate Assessment, released last year, detailed the impending impacts of climate change across the country. Already, nearly 50 percent of U.S. counties experience a natural disaster each year, compared to fewer than 20 percent in the early to mid-20th century. “Hardworking Americans who are working class are going to find their communities stressed even more than they are now,” Andrew Light, an editor of the federal climate report told NPR. “If you’re already a community at risk, you’re going to be at more risk.”