Friday, 29 October 2010

MALARIA: Experts say efforts to beat malaria may backfire

29 October 2010
Neil Bowdler

The mosquito carries the malaria parasites
The mosquito is responsible for carrying the malaria parasite from human to human Efforts to eradicate malaria in some countries may be counter-productive, an international team of researchers suggest.

In the Lancet, they suggest some countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, may be better pursing a policy of controlling the disease.
They also criticise the World Health Organization (WHO) for not providing adequate direction.
But a WHO spokesman said beating malaria must remain the ultimate goal.
'Noble' goal
The Lancet looks at the feasibility of eradicating malaria from the map, in the same way smallpox was conquered.
As the report points out, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation set the world such a target in 2007, an aim which was then endorsed by the WHO's Director-General Margaret Chan.
The Lancet concludes such a goal, while noble, "could lead to dangerous swings in funding and political commitment, in malaria and elsewhere".

Malaria facts
Largely preventable and curable
In 2008 caused a million deaths - mostly African children
About 2,000 return to the UK with malaria every year
Only 12% of these become seriously ill
Symptoms can take up to a year to appear

And the WHO is accused of failing "to rise to their responsibilities to give the malaria community essential direction".
The series of articles instead urges a pragmatic approach in which efforts and resources are concentrated on shrinking the global area where malaria still prevails.
It suggests some countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, may be better pursuing a policy of controlling the disease rather than one of eradication.
The report's authors include Professor Richard Feacham of University of California's Global Health Group and researchers from the Clinton Health Access Initiative.
Saving lives
In an editorial accompanying the series, the Lancet's editor-in-chief Dr Richard Horton and executive editor Dr Pamela Das, argue control may save more lives.
"If existing control efforts were indeed scaled up, by 2015, 1.14 million children's lives could be saved in sub-Saharan Africa alone. This finding is important. The quest for elimination must not distract existing good malaria control work," they write.
They also conclude that "malaria will only be truly eradicable when an effective vaccine is fully available".
Responding to the report in a statement, Robert Newman, director of the WHO's Global Malaria Programme, said the ultimate goal had to be eradication
"WHO has always supported - and will always continue to support - endemic countries in their efforts to control and eliminate malaria," he writes.
"It is entirely feasible to eliminate malaria from countries and regions where the intensity of transmission is low to moderate, and where health systems are strong.
"Eliminating malaria from countries where the intensity of transmission is high and stable, such as in tropical Africa, will require more potent tools and stronger health systems than are available today."

A global malaria map

Shrinking map

Malaria is caused by five species of a parasite that can be carried from human to human by mosquitoes.
Over the last 150 years, the portion of the world where malaria is still endemic has shrunk, but the disease is still endemic in 99 countries.
However 32 of these countries, most of them on the edges of the endemic zone, are attempting to eradicate the disease, while the rest are trying to reduce infections and deaths though control measures.
But switching from a policy of controlling the disease to one of eradication brings with it problems and risks, according to the report.
The authors point out that malaria and mosquitoes do not respect national borders and that both parasite and insect may develop resistance to existing drugs.
They also warn switching funds from control to eradication may negatively impact upon measures which have been shown to reduce infection and mortality.
The picture is further complicated by the fact that countries are dealing with two main malaria parasite species - Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax.
While there is more research available on the former and more drugs available to combat it, most of the countries trying to eliminate malaria currently are largely threatened by the latter species P vivax.
A combination of drugs from the artemisinin family are generally used to tackle P falciparum while primaquine is the only registered drug available to combat P vivax.
The Gates Foundation was unavailable for comment.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

POVERTY: Corruption hampers MDGs - Transparency International

LONDON, 27 October 2010 (IRIN) - Corruption siphons off 20-30 percent of funding for basic services, estimates non-profit Transparency International (TI), and tackling it should be higher on the international development agenda.

“Corruption is a tax, and adds to the overall bill of development efforts - the percentage of resources could be as high as 20 or 30 percent,” TI’s programmes’ director, Christiaan Poortman, told IRIN, following the launch of the 2010 Perceptions of Corruption Index. “It will hamper the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals,” he added.
Research by TI into corruption in the water sector estimates in some countries that 30 percent of funds are siphoned off. Similar figures are emerging for construction. “Corruption also means quality in these sectors goes down - so in construction, the quality of the buildings will be poorer... They would collapse in the next earthquake. It really can be a matter of life and death,” Poortman added.
The Perceptions of Corruption Index, launched on 26 October, shows corruption levels in the 178 countries reviewed have changed very little on previous years. On a scale of 10 (low corruption) to 0 (highly corrupt), almost three-quarters of the 178 countries measured, scored below five.
Many fragile states, with a legacy of conflict, fare worst. The bottom 10 scorers in the index are: Somalia, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Sudan, Chad, Burundi and Equatorial Guinea.
TI advocates stricter implementation of the UN Convention against Corruption, the only global initiative that provides a framework for putting an end to corruption. Under the convention, all signatories are being reviewed for their anti-corruption efforts over the next three years.
Leaders must display a commitment to getting rid of corruption, said Poortman, who cited Zambia, Botswana and the USA as setting a good example.
Corruption is on the agenda of the upcoming November G20 meeting in Seoul. “With global financial reform, stamping out corruption is now on the agenda of the G20, so it does get more traction than it used to, but whether or not major changes are being made at a governance level, is unclear,” said Poortman.
Other target areas to diminish corruption include strengthening institutions; strengthening the rule of law; making decision-making transparent; educating youths and setting up better whistle-blower protection schemes. “If you muzzle civil society and go after people who try to do the right thing, that is a major disincentive.”
Corruption scores have improved since 2009 for Bhutan, Chile, Ecuador, Macedonia, Gambia, Haiti, Jamaica, Kuwait, and Qatar; and declined for the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Madagascar, Niger and the USA.

POVERTY: Global food crisis forecast as prices reach record highs

An Indian farming family
An Indian farming family carry bundles of paddy from a rice field in the northeastern state of Tripura. India has had food price inflation of 17% in the last year. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Rising food prices and shortages could cause instability in many countries as the cost of staple foods and vegetables reached their highest levels in two years, with scientists predicting further widespread droughts and floods.
Although food stocks are generally good despite much of this year's harvests being wiped out in Pakistan and Russia, sugar and rice remain at a record price.
Global wheat and maize prices recently jumped nearly 30% in a few weeks while meat prices are at 20-year highs, according to the key Reuters-Jefferies commodity price indicator. Last week, the US predicted that global wheat harvests would be 30m tonnes lower than last year, a 5.5% fall. Meanwhile, the price of tomatoes in Egypt, garlic in China and bread in Pakistan are at near-record levels.
"The situation has deteriorated since September," said Abdolreza Abbassian of the UN food and agriculture organisation. "In the last few weeks there have been signs we are heading the same way as in 2008.
"We may not get to the prices of 2008 but this time they could stay high much longer."
However, opinions are sharply divided over whether these prices signal a world food crisis like the one in 2008 that helped cause riots in 25 countries, or simply reflect volatility in global commodity markets as countries claw their way through recession.
"A food crisis on the scale of two or three years ago is not imminent, but the underlying causes [of what happened then] are still there," said Chris Leather, Oxfam's food policy adviser.
"Prices are volatile and there is a lot of nervousness in the market. There are big differences between now and 2008. Harvests are generally better, global food stocks are better."
But other analysts highlight the food riots in Mozambique that killed 12 people last month and claim that spiralling prices could promote further political turmoil.
They say this is particularly possible if the price of oil jumps, if there are further climatic shocks – suchas the floods in Pakistan or the heatwave in Russia – or if speculators buy deeper into global food markets.
"There is growing concern among countries about continuing volatility and uncertainty in food markets," said Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank. "These concerns have been compounded by recent increases in grain prices.
"World food price volatility remains significant and in some countries, the volatility is adding to already higher local food prices."
The bank last week said that food price volatility would last a further five years, and asked governments to contribute to a crisis fund after requests for more than $1bn (£635m) from developing countries were made.
"The food riots in Mozambique can be repeated anywhere in the coming years," said Devinder Sharma, a leading Indian food analyst.
"Unless the world encourages developing countries to become self-sufficient in food grains, the threat of impending food riots will remain hanging over nations.
"The UN has expressed concern, but there is no effort to remove the imbalances in the food management system that is responsible for the crisis."
Mounting anger has greeted food price inflation of 21% in Egypt in the last year, along with 17% rises in India and similar amounts in many other countries. Prices in the UK have risen 22% in three years.
The governments of Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Indonesia, Brazil and the Philippines have all warned of possible food shortages next year, citing floods and droughts in 2010, expected extreme weather next year, and speculation by traders who are buying up food stocks for release when prices rise.
Food prices worldwide are not yet at the same level as 2008, but the UN's food price index rose 5% last month and now stands at its highest level in two years.
World wheat and maize prices have risen 57%, rice 45% and sugar 55% over the last six months and soybeans are at their highest price for 16 months.
UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier de Schutter, says a combination of environmental degradation, urbanisation and large-scale land acquisitions by foreign investors for biofuels is squeezing land suitable for agriculture.
"Worldwide, 5m to 10m hectares of agricultural land are being lost annually due to severe degradation and another 19.5m are lost for industrial uses and urbanisation," he says in a new report.
"But the pressure on land resulting from these factors has been boosted in recent years by policies favouring large-scale industrial plantations.
"According to the World Bank, more than one-third of large-scale land acquisitions are intended to produce agrofuels."
But the World Development Movement (WDM) in London warned that food speculation by hedge funds, pension funds and investment banks was likely to prompt further inflation.
According to the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission, speculators on the trading floor of the Chicago Exchange bought futures contracts for about 40m tonnes of maize and 6m tonnes of wheat in the summer.
Longtime hedge fund manager Mike Masters, who has worked with WDM, said: "Because there is already much more capital available in the world than hard commodities, speculators can increase the price of consumable commodities, like foodstuffs or energy, much higher than traditional consumers and producers can react.
"When derivative markets are linked to commodity markets, this nearly unlimited capital from the financial sector can cause excessive price volatility."
US government reports of much cooler-than-normal water temperatures in the Pacific, which traditionally lead to extreme weather around the world, last week added to food price uncertainties.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

TUBERCULOSIS: Structure of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis

Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2010 Oct 18.
Structure of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis D-alanine:D-alanine Ligase: a target of the anti-tuberculosis drug D-cycloserine.
Bruning JB, Murillo AC, Chacon O, Barletta RG, Sacchettini JC.
From the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Texas A&M University,  and the School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, University of Nebraska Lincoln.
D-alanine:D-alanine ligase (EC, Ddl) catalyzes the ATP driven ligation of two D-alanine (D-ala) molecules to form the D-alanyl:D-alanine dipeptide. This molecule is a key building block in peptidoglycan biosynthesis making Ddl an attractive target for drug development. D-cycloserine (DCS), an analog of D-ala and a prototype Ddl inhibitor, has shown promise for the treatment of tuberculosis. Here, we report the crystal structure of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis Ddl at a resolution of 2.1 Å. This structure indicates that Ddl is a dimer and consists of three discrete domains; the ligand binding cavity is at the intersection of all three domains and conjoined by several loop regions. The M. tuberculosis apo Ddl structure shows a novel conformation that has not yet been observed in Ddl enzymes from other species. The nucleotide and D-alanine binding pockets are flexible, requiring significant structural rearrangement of the bordering regions for entry and binding of both ATP and D-ala molecules. Solution affinity and kinetic studies showed that DCS interacts with Ddl in a manner similar to D-ala. Each ligand binds to two binding sites that have significant differences in affinity with the first binding site exhibiting high affinity. DCS inhibits the enzyme with an IC50 of 0.37 mM under standard assay conditions, implicating a preferential and weak inhibition at the second, lower affinity, binding site. Moreover, DCS binding is tighter at higher ATP concentrations. The crystal structure illustrates potential drugable sites that may result in the development of more effective Ddl inhibitors.

TUBERCULOSIS: Canada: First Nations: Feds' plan to tackle First Nations TB cases 'disappointing'

Jen Skerritt
October 18, 2010
A federal health committee previously urged Health Canada to move quickly to step up its fight against TB and be more accountable about how it tracks, treats and monitors TB cases.
Health Canada's plan to reduce disproportionately high rates of tuberculosis among First Nations falls short, according to critics who called the government response "superficial" and "disappointing."
Last week, Health Canada quietly released their response to a slew of recommendations to revamp Canada's TB strategy to eliminate a disease critics have called a "national embarrassment." Rates of TB infection among Canadian aboriginals are roughly 31 times higher than among non-aboriginals.
A federal health committee previously urged Health Canada to move quickly to step up its fight against TB and be more accountable about how it tracks, treats and monitors TB cases. In April, a panel of experts — including former Manitoba TB control director Dr. Earl Hershfield and University of Manitoba professor Dr. Pamela Orr — testified at a House of Commons committee that there are no national standards on monitoring and controlling TB and there are insufficient resources and medical staff to fight the disease on reserves.
While First Nations leaders and medical experts were optimistic the recommendations would lead to a concrete plan to tackle the scourge on reserves, they said the federal government response lacked substance and was short on specifics.
Health Canada's response, posted online last week, reiterated previous health, housing, and economic funding announcements and said the government will take the recommendations into consideration as it renews its national TB strategy. Health Canada said it is collaborating with TB experts, provinces, territories, and First Nation and Inuit partners on its renewed strategy, which "is expected to begin in 2011 using a phased-in approach."
Hershfield called the response "disappointing," and said there was no indication the federal government plans to address the root causes of TB.
"They are regurgitating old plans and I don't think there's anything in here that would encourage me that they're going to do anything," Hershfield said. "It's a superficial government report making sure that every T is crossed and I is dotted and using the right words without any substance."
Manitoba is a national hot spot of TB that experts say is a byproduct of overcrowded homes, malnutrition and poor health. The airborne disease is rampant in many northern Manitoba communities where cramped living quarters help it spread.
Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief David Harper said he found it "disturbing" that Health Canada mentioned TB's connection with overcrowded, poor homes toward the end of their response, and did not make a solid commitment to solve the current housing crisis. Harper said infectious diseases such as TB and MRSA will continue to spread until the federal government improves the current situation.
"Bottom line is this is spreading rapidly and is still spreading today from one community to another," he said of TB.

TUBERCULOSIS: Man who sparked tuberculosis scare can sue CDC, court rules

An American lawyer who sparked a tuberculosis scare in 2007 after flying to Europe and back while infected with the disease can sue the U.S. government for privacy invasion, a federal appeals court has ruled.
Andrew Speaker became the first American to be quarantined since 1963 for a rare form of tuberculosis after returning from his European wedding.
Speaker first tested positive for tuberculosis in March 2007, according to court documents. During his treatment, he alleges that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention became aware of his travel plans and assured him he was not contagious.
After he left, the CDC reclassified his tuberculosis as extensively drug-resistant, a more virulent strain, and urged him to return on a chartered flight at his own expense.
Unable to afford a private plane, Speaker says, he booked a commercial flight to Montreal, Quebec, and drove overland to New York, where he checked into a hospital and was served with a federal quarantine order.
Ultimately, his elevated diagnosis proved erroneous, but not before his identity was released to national media outlets, court documents state.
The Georgia-based attorney apologized on national television but later sued the government, saying the publicity destroyed his marriage, damaged his professional reputation and subjected him to criticism and false allegations that he was forced to defend.
On Friday, a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overruled a lower court and said Speaker could sue the CDC for disclosing his identity and confidential medical information related to his treatment based on a "reasonable inference" that the CDC was the source of the disclosure.

MALARIA: Award-winning malaria scientist warns of drug resistance

 Oct. 25, 2010
The most effective malaria treatment ever discovered was not developed by a team of scientists in a high-tech lab. It was created using a traditional Chinese herbal remedy that had been used to treat illness for hundreds of years.

Malaria is caused by a parasite that is injected into humans by mosquitos. - Malaria is caused by a parasite that is injected into humans by mosquitos. | Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

The treatment is made using a compound, artemisinin, isolated from a herb used in traditional Chinese medicine. It is 95 per cent effective at curing malaria, according to the World Health Organization.
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But Nicholas White, one of the scientists who pioneered the development of artemisinin-based malaria therapies, is warning that growing parasite resistance to the treatment, spurred in large part by the massive marketing of counterfeit versions, could have major consequences down the road – perhaps even making the drug ineffective.
Malaria is caused by a parasite, which is spread to humans by infected mosquitoes. It causes a variety of symptoms, including fever and chills, and can progress to more serious illness or death.
Dr. White, director of Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research at Mahidol University in Bangkok and one of the world’s leading malaria experts, is being honoured in Toronto this week as winner of the 2010 Canada Gairdner Global Health Award, given to those who have made major scientific advances in the developing world.
Six other individuals, including one Canadian, will also receive awards for their contributions to medicine and science at an awards gala in Toronto on Thursday. The Canada Gairdner award, one of the world’s most prestigious medical honours, has developed a reputation for early recognition of future Nobel prize winners.
Dr. White said he first came across the use of artemisinin to treat malaria in a small Chinese journal in 1981. The treatment had been used there for years,and appeared to be safe and effective, he said.
It was a major breakthrough, since drugs that were commonly prescribed to treat malaria at the time failed to work in many people, largely because of parasite resistance.
“[It was] almost too good to be true,” Dr. White said in an interview.
But after years of trying to convince the international health bureaucracy of how important artemisinin-based therapies could be, Dr. White said he continued to face resistance from officials who felt the treatment hadn’t been studied well enough.
“Although there was a lot of evidence the drug worked, no one was recommending them or using them,” Dr. White said.
His team launched its own trials to try to prove how well the drug worked, and what a difference it could make in the fight against malaria, which kills at least a million people around the world every year.
Amir Attaran, who holds a Canada Research Chair in Law, Population Health and Global Development Policy at the University of Ottawa, was one of the advocates who pressed Dr. White’s case for wide acceptance of artemisinin-based malaria therapies.
Eventually, after years of work and political fighting, the World Health Organization began recommending a few years ago that artemisinin drugs should be the first line of treatment for malaria, so long as it was used in combination with other anti-malarial drugs.
It’s an important caveat. Evidence shows that resistance to artemisinin treatments, when they are given on their own, is rising because the drugs weaken the parasite but don’t kill it. Combining treatment with other anti-malarial drugs cures about 95 per cent of cases and dramatically reduces the risk of drug resistance.
The WHO’s recommendations might not mean much, however, unless something is done to curb the market for counterfeit artemisinin drugs. These often contain small amounts of artemisinin – not enough to treat the malaria, but enough for the bug to develop resistance. Furthermore, people who take counterfeit artemisinin don’t take the recommended combination of other anti-malarial drugs, which also greatly increases the chance of drug resistance.
It’s a major problem that could threaten the future effectiveness of artemisinin-based therapies, Dr. White said.
“We have no idea what the real true proportion of counterfeits are, but some people say up to half are fake.”
Programs have been put in place to subsidize the cost of the drug and make them widely available for a lower cost, which should help eliminate the black market for counterfeit drugs, Dr. White said.
It is still an uphill battle, and one that needs much more support from wealthy, developed countries such as Canada, he added. But his achievements, set in motion by Chinese researchers who recognized the importance of an ancient herbal remedy, mean the eradication of malaria is once again a possibility.

Monday, 25 October 2010

POVERTY: The Mystery of Economic Growth

AKASH KAPUR October 21, 2010
EDAYANCHAVADI, INDIA — Around here, in rural South India, development over the last few decades has been an uneven process.
Some people rise, others fall. Some get rich, some stay poor.
The rich build concrete houses, buy motorcycles and send their children to private schools. The poor live in thatch huts, work part-time as agricultural laborers and pull their children out of school young.
Development is an unpredictable business. The rich and poor often grow up in the same village. They are beneficiaries, or victims, of the same government policies. Their lives are determined by the same weather patterns and infrastructural constraints.
One of the central questions facing India — and, indeed, the developing world as a whole — is why some people, or countries, move ahead, while others fall behind.
An answer to this question would have huge implications for public policy. In India, torn between an attachment to socialism and a new infatuation with capitalism, it could help find a balance between the state and markets in poverty alleviation schemes.
More generally, as India continues to grow rapidly, a better understanding of its path to development might be applied to other regions of the world, where poverty is proving less tractable.
For all its temptations, however, the search for a policy toolkit toward development is fraught with pitfalls. Over the last 60 years or so, the international development community has come up with model after model, theory after theory, in search of just such a toolkit.
It has, at various times, promoted the benefits of huge, often conditional, inputs of foreign aid, the rigors of shock therapy, the virtues of free trade and the promise of the Washington Consensus (a set of policies prescribed and often imposed by agencies like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the U.S. Treasury).
Yet for all the efforts to come up with a general theory of development, the truth is that economic growth remains something of a mystery. This is the conclusion of a recent anthology, “What Works in Development?”, published by the Brookings Institution. The essays lead to the conclusion that there is no clear way to ease poverty, and — as the editors, William Easterly and Jessica Cohen, state in their introduction — “no consensus on ‘what works’ for growth and development.”
Mr. Easterly, a former World Bank economist, has elsewhere shown that there is little correspondence between a nation’s economic growth and the extent to which it follows international development prescriptions. Analyzing data for 1980 to 2002, he found that countries that grew the fastest received considerably less foreign aid and spent less time under I.M.F. tutelage than those that grew the slowest. This doesn’t mean that following the orthodoxy harms development, but it does suggest that rapid growth is possible without international aid or advice.
Part of the problem, it turns out, may be the very attempt to follow a model. Progress — economic or otherwise — is a notoriously subjective phenomenon. It is context sensitive, and highly dependent on local conditions. It is, in particular, resistant to the uniformity implicit in even the most sophisticated models.
This view, once held by a fringe, is entering the mainstream. It was given voice last month by none other than Robert B. Zoellick, president of the World Bank, when he spoke of the need for “rethinking” development economics and “a questioning of prevailing paradigms.”
Facts speak for themselves. It has become increasingly evident that many of the most successful growth stories have resulted not from slavishly following an external set of policy directives, but from pursuing unconventional — and locally attuned — solutions.
The rise of Southeast Asia (and more recently China), for example, represented a repudiation of textbook views about the proper role of the government and of the relationship between markets and the state.
India’s recent growth, too, can be seen as a result of a determination to follow its own path. While it is true that the country began its climb out of socialist torpor under World Bank and I.M.F. supervision, many aspects of its growth since then contravene the conventional model. A notable example is the country’s refusal to fully liberalize its capital markets or allow unrestricted foreign investment. This refusal, lamented by advocates of the Washington Consensus, is now credited with having spared India the worst of the recent financial crisis.
Jessica Wallack, an economist who heads the Center for Development Finance, a research organization in Chennai, suggests, also, that India may have benefited in some ways from moving slowly toward the privatization of public assets (again, a contravention of development orthodoxy). She argues that, given social inequality, corruption and limited institutional capacity, rapid privatization could, much as in the former Soviet Union, have “resulted in greater concentration of wealth in a few people’s hands.”
A further example might be the nation’s Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, a major public works program that has dismayed those who advocate market solutions to unemployment, yet that is undeniably easing poverty in much of rural India.
Each of these policies has a price. But their salient feature (and, arguably, the reason for their relative success) is a sensitivity to context — the fact that they are responses to genuine needs, and that they are designed taking into account particular local conditions, such as the reality of corruption.
Ultimately, it is this sensitivity, this ability to accommodate context and local detail, that works best in development. The type of grinding, sweaty work it implies — time in the field, in villages and on farms, learning about cultures and social structures — is certainly less glamorous than designing overarching theories to rid the world of poverty.
But poverty is an unglamorous business. It is only fitting that the most effective way to address it would be through small, low-key and often backbreaking interventions.
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POVERTY: Mali's big challenge is finding funds for small schemes

mali crops
An onion plant encircled with stones. Photograph: Madeleine Bunting for the Guardian
The village of Dandoli is perched on a slight rise on a rocky plateau so that we see the distinctive thatched roves of the grain stores silhouetted against the harsh sun as we approach down the rough track. The village is built of neatly cut rocks, but the low buildings give little shelter. Dandoli is one of a string of villages alongside a small river, and their livelihood depends on its water.
The chief, Ambadimgue Temboli, greets me with great ceremony and introduces his committee and advisers. He is nearing 80 and admits his eyesight is failing, but his mind is crystal clear and he laments the loss of the forests which used to sustain his people and their land. Hunger was something he knew little about as he grew up, he explains. If the harvest was not good, there were always animals and birds to hunt and wild fruits to gather. But the thick forests he knew as a young boy have disappeared. And now the sand and wind are refashioning the land around him.
A few miles from Dandoli, I was shown a graphic illustration of what he was talking about. The land was riven by a massive gully, about 500 metres wide; it had created a strange landscape scored and and pleated by the rain and wind, with pillars of sandy soil still standing. It had been an area of farmland, but was now in the process of being stripped back to bare rock and scree.
Chief Temboli says the rainy season is shorter and when the rain comes, it's heavier. Flash floods can cut small valleys and then pour silt into the river. A few years ago, heavy rain led to flooding so that the river burst its banks and washed away the small vegetable plots on which the villages depend for income. A small local non- governmental organisation, AEDM, has helped them to build new plots using better techniques.
As the mayor explains, the key is composting. He recounts with pride the methods they have adopted using a mixture of ash, animal dung and vegetable waste. Standing there by the compost bins, I was struck by how such huge issues as climate adaptation and food security for millions of people come down to such micro matters as composting. It is not primarily technology that is needed – although it has its place – but far more prosaic solutions which are well within the reach and capability of small communities.
The vegetable plots have been rebuilt with painful effort. Patches of level bare rock are used and low stone walls are built to create a form of raised bed. More stone walls, a foot deep, are laid in a lattice work so that each growing area is no more than 2ft square. The walls help keep the soil in place, preventing it from being washed away or the wind in the dry season from dispersing it as dust. The women gather baskets of earth enriched with compost to fill the beds. It is a back-breaking labour. During the growing season, the women fill gourds with water several times a day from the river, 200 yards away, to sprinkle over their tiny plots.
The biggest crop is onions, which can be sold in the local market, but AEDM has introduced other varieties of vegetables to ensure a wider range of nutrients for the villagers than just the staple millet on which they depend for the bulk of their diet.
I notice one plot – it is encircled with stones but there is room for only a few plants, another plot has a single onion seedling. The effort is immense, the results are pitifully small to our eyes, but the villagers talk with enthusiasm about the difference these onion plots are making.
When the politicians negotiate climate adaptation finance in Cancun next month, it will be these kinds of small-scale schemes replicated a million times which can protect lives from hunger. But the challenge to get funds down to this kind of micro level is daunting; it's one of the paradoxes well-established in aid and now evident in climate adaptation, that the simplest, cheapest small-scale solutions are often the last to get the funding they need.

POVERTY: Food insecurity plagues poverty-stricken Gaza Strip

Ahmed Aldabba
At the beginning of every month, Sobheya Bakroun, a tall, brown-skinned woman goes to an aid distribution center in Gaza run by the World Food Program (WFP) to get food for her 15-member family to survive.
Sobheya has become a breadwinner since she got divorced. Her brother, the only man in her family, lost his job six years ago and has been suffering from diabetes for two years.
"I do a man's job," Sobheya said as she struggled among tens of men to reach a blue window, where she would hand over a green card proving her eligibility and get her supply of food - three bags of flour, some powdered milk, sugar, tea and several bottles of cooking oil.
Back at home, Sobheya's family celebrated the arrival of food like it was a festival. Their house, situated in a neighborhood east of Gaza City where Israeli tanks and armored vehicles can be seen now and then, looks bare and empty with a number of broken plastic chairs being its only furniture.
The woman, standing in her kitchen which only has an old cooker and a used Israeli-made fridge, sighed and said "sometimes we don' t have bread or flour to make bread."
"Of course it's not enough (referring to the WFP supplies), but it's better than nothing," Sobheya said. Food scarcity, a huge problem of her family has now been removed, but what remains is the fear that they may not get any food because of the unstable political conditions in the Gaza Strip.
Over the past four years, the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip experienced dire financial situation as a result of the economic sanctions imposed by Israel, leaving tens of thousands of Gazans living in destitution and among food insecurity.
According to WFP, around 61 percent of the Gaza Strip population are food insecure and are in need of assistance, however, Israel's blockade limited the fight against food scarcity and malnutrition.
Meanwhile, head of WFP's Gaza office Jean-Noel Gentile said that under the Israeli blockade, the purchasing power lowered and jobless rate hit 40 percent, which lead to the dire situation in the enclave.
Gentile said WFP currently provides 240,000 non-refugees in the Gaza Strip with stable food assistance, while the UN Relief and Works Agency takes care of the strip's 750,000 refugees.

POVERTY: Zimbabwe: Towards Eradication of Global Poverty

Published by the government of Zimbabwe 14 October 2010
The writer is an independent economist and finance analyst.

Harare — The UN Summit on Millennium Development Goals in September came amid a world awakening to the likely failure of meeting the 2015 deadline (against a 1990 baseline) with a mere five years remaining.
With the global economy still in the resuscitation ward from the devastating and debilitating effects of the global meltdown, UN secretary general Ban Ki- moon called for urgent action to steer the ship to harbour -- slashing poverty, hunger, child mortality under the auspicious theme "We can end poverty by 2015".
The Millennium Development Goals aim at eradicating global poverty, hence the millennium declaration: "We will spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanising conditions of extreme poverty, to which more than a billion of them are currently subjected. We are committed to make the right to development a reality for everyone and to freeing the entire human race from want."
These have gone through an evolutionary metamorphosis drawing from different UN symposiums. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development adopted the same goals that were further refined in 2001.
The goals to which Zimbabwe is also part cover eight primary goals with 18 targets and 48 indicators. These in essence are:
l Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger;
l Achieving universal primary education;
l Promote gender equality and empower women;
l Reduce child mortality;
l Improve maternal health;
l Combat HIV and Aids, malaria and other diseases;
l Ensure environmental sustainability;
l Develop a global partner for development.
The first review of these goals was done in 2005, however the stock take by the summit revealed a target miss by most if not all the partners unless and until measures to accelerate the growth pace are adopted.
A research synopsis done by DFID indicated a study done on 30 countries which shockingly revealed that only 15 of the signatories were on target to meeting the MDG 1 (eradication of extreme poverty and hunger).
In addition 20 of the nations needed corrective action attaining the MDG 2 target of universal primary education and that only seven were on track to meeting the fifth goal of maternal health.
President Mugabe spoke at the summit calling for the lifting of the debilitating effects of sanctions on Zimbabwe, which are derailing efforts by the inclusive Government to steer the country to former prosperity.
Sadc echoed his sentiments, which called for assistance to countries which, are way off the target and also further appealed for the lifting of sanctions against Cuba.
What has contributed to most nations failing to be on course to meeting the targets included poor resources among a host of other ailments especially for the African countries and the emerging markets. A general lack of focus, accountability and a general sense of laxity on the part of individual countries were identified.
Some frightening and eye-brow raising facts revealed that no country in sub-Saharan Africa was on course to meeting these goals. The general progress has generally been uneven.
Overally, it was identified that people still living in abject poverty and hunger surpass the US$1 billion mark.
The phenomenon of multiple crises has not made life any easier, climate change, the global financial crises, volatile energy and food prices, loss of biodiversity have all made it worse.
Sovereignty of nations, national ownership and leadership are indispensable in the development process. The summit alluded to the fact that all countries ought to draw a sense of ownership and responsibility from the citizenry to the statesman.
Gender equality and overall empowerment of women were noted as chief pre-requisite to economic and social development. A call for full and effective implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was emphasised.
It was also acknowledged and noted of the successes in developing countries in combating extreme poverty, improving school enrolment and child health (Zimbabwe topping the list in terms of literacy rate). Reduction of child deaths; expansion of access to clean water; improving the prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV; expanding access to HIV and Aids prevention; treatment, controlling and care of malaria, tuberculosis and neglected tropical diseases were also covered.
Overally the plenary noted that progress has been slow and uneven between and within countries. Hunger and malnutrition were identified as having risen in the period 2007-2009.
The need for external funding especially for developing countries was noted as a chief pre-requisite especially for the achievement of goal 8 -- developing a global partnership for development.
A call was made for the implementation of Almaty programme and focus shifted to the Brussels Programme of action for the least developed countries for the decade 2001-2010 and now focus is on the all-important Fourth United Nations conference on the Least Developed Countries to be held in Instanbul in 2011.
Way Forward
The summit conclusively agreed that all countries were to continue implementing and monitoring their development strategies.
A re-affirmation of the Monterrey Consensus and the Doha declaration on financing for development in its entirety was also stressed.
A call was made for further reform and modernisation of the global financial architecture to aid preventive and response mechanisms in cases of emergencies.
In line with the continual isolation of the developing countries, most of which are African, the plenary agreed on the need to have greater representation in world bodies namely the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
It was noted the importance of promoting sustained, inclusive and equitable economic growth for all countries in order to accelerate progress.
A strong promotion was done for the Global Jobs Pact and the need for job creation the world over stressed.
The donor community and aid agencies were called upon to provide adequate, timely and predictable assistance to conflict stricken countries.
The fight against corruption at both the national and international level was made a top priority red-light district.
The summit conclusively agreed that the promotion and protection of human rights will not be overemphasised as these are chief pre-requisite to global development.
Gender equality was also acknowledged as paramount to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.
It was also noted of the importance of strengthening regional and sub-regional co-operation for accelerating national development strategy implementation.
Efforts to support South-South co-operation triangular co-operation were emphasised but the plenary agreed that this should not be a substitute for South-North co-operation but instead should be all embracing.
Over and above this, the summit was a resounding success in reminding humanity of the need to wipe away poverty for the betterment of mankind.
Most importantly it gave a refocus of the commitment each and every nation made and reminded the signatories to the MDGs of their role in improving the global community echoing the sentiments of the former secretary general Kofi Annan.
He said: "On this international day for the eradication of poverty, let us recognise that extreme poverty is a threat to human security everywhere.
Let us recall that poverty is a denial of human rights. For the first time in history, in this age of unprecedented wealth and technical prowess, we have the power to save humanity from this shameful scourge. Let us summon the will to do it".

POVERTY: ‘Culture of Poverty’ Makes a Comeback

For more than 40 years, social scientists investigating the causes of poverty have tended to treat cultural explanations like Lord Voldemort: That Which Must Not Be Named.
The reticence was a legacy of the ugly battles that erupted after Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then an assistant labor secretary in the Johnson administration, introduced the idea of a “culture of poverty” to the public in a startling 1965 report. Although Moynihan didn’t coin the phrase (that distinction belongs to the anthropologist Oscar Lewis), his description of the urban black family as caught in an inescapable “tangle of pathology” of unmarried mothers and welfare dependency was seen as attributing self-perpetuating moral deficiencies to black people, as if blaming them for their own misfortune.
Moynihan’s analysis never lost its appeal to conservative thinkers, whose arguments ultimately succeeded when President Bill Clinton signed a bill in 1996 “ending welfare as we know it.” But in the overwhelmingly liberal ranks of academic sociology and anthropology the word “culture” became a live grenade, and the idea that attitudes and behavior patterns kept people poor was shunned.
Now, after decades of silence, these scholars are speaking openly about you-know-what, conceding that culture and persistent poverty are enmeshed.
“We’ve finally reached the stage where people aren’t afraid of being politically incorrect,” said Douglas S. Massey, a sociologist at Princeton who has argued that Moynihan was unfairly maligned.
The old debate has shaped the new. Last month Princeton and the Brookings Institution released a collection of papers on unmarried parents, a subject, it noted, that became off-limits after the Moynihan report. At the recent annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, attendees discussed the resurgence of scholarship on culture. And in Washington last spring, social scientists participated in a Congressional briefing on culture and poverty linked to a special issue of The Annals, the journal of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.
“Culture is back on the poverty research agenda,” the introduction declares, acknowledging that it should never have been removed.
The topic has generated interest on Capitol Hill because so much of the research intersects with policy debates. Views of the cultural roots of poverty “play important roles in shaping how lawmakers choose to address poverty issues,” Representative Lynn Woolsey, Democrat of California, noted at the briefing.
This surge of academic research also comes as the percentage of Americans living in poverty hit a 15-year high: one in seven, or 44 million.
With these studies come many new and varied definitions of culture, but they all differ from the ’60s-era model in these crucial respects: Today, social scientists are rejecting the notion of a monolithic and unchanging culture of poverty. And they attribute destructive attitudes and behavior not to inherent moral character but to sustained racism and isolation.
To Robert J. Sampson, a sociologist at Harvard, culture is best understood as “shared understandings.”
“I study inequality, and the dominant focus is on structures of poverty,” he said. But he added that the reason a neighborhood turns into a “poverty trap” is also related to a common perception of the way people in a community act and think. When people see graffiti and garbage, do they find it acceptable or see serious disorder? Do they respect the legal system or have a high level of “moral cynicism,” believing that “laws were made to be broken”?
As part of a large research project in Chicago, Professor Sampson walked through different neighborhoods this summer, dropping stamped, addressed envelopes to see how many people would pick up an apparently lost letter and mail it, a sign that looking out for others is part of the community’s culture.
In some neighborhoods, like Grand Boulevard, where the notorious Robert Taylor public housing projects once stood, almost no envelopes were mailed; in others researchers received more than half of the letters back. Income levels did not necessarily explain the difference, Professor Sampson said, but rather the community’s cultural norms, the levels of moral cynicism and disorder.
The shared perception of a neighborhood — is it on the rise or stagnant? — does a better job of predicting a community’s future than the actual level of poverty, he said.
William Julius Wilson, whose pioneering work boldly confronted ghetto life while focusing on economic explanations for persistent poverty, defines culture as the way “individuals in a community develop an understanding of how the world works and make decisions based on that understanding.”
For some young black men, Professor Wilson, a Harvard sociologist, said, the world works like this: “If you don’t develop a tough demeanor, you won’t survive. If you have access to weapons, you get them, and if you get into a fight, you have to use them.”
Seeking to recapture the topic from economists, sociologists have ventured into poor neighborhoods to delve deeper into the attitudes of residents. Their results have challenged some common assumptions, like the belief that poor mothers remain single because they don’t value marriage.
In Philadelphia, for example, low-income mothers told the sociologists Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas that they thought marriage was profoundly important, even sacred, but doubted that their partners were “marriage material.” Their results have prompted some lawmakers and poverty experts to conclude that programs that promote marriage without changing economic and social conditions are unlikely to work.
Mario Luis Small, a sociologist at the University of Chicago and an editor of The Annals’ special issue, tried to figure out why some New York City mothers with children in day care developed networks of support while others did not. As he explained in his 2009 book, “Unanticipated Gains,” the answer did not depend on income or ethnicity, but rather the rules of the day-care institution. Centers that held frequent field trips, organized parents’ associations and had pick-up and drop-off procedures created more opportunities for parents to connect.
Younger academics like Professor Small, 35, attributed the upswing in cultural explanations to a “new generation of scholars without the baggage of that debate.”
Scholars like Professor Wilson, 74, who have tilled the field much longer, mentioned the development of more sophisticated data and analytical tools. He said he felt compelled to look more closely at culture after the publication of Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein’s controversial 1994 book, “The Bell Curve,” which attributed African-Americans’ lower I.Q. scores to genetics.
The authors claimed to have taken family background into account, Professor Wilson said, but “they had not captured the cumulative effects of living in poor, racially segregated neighborhoods.”
He added, “I realized we needed a comprehensive measure of the environment, that we must consider structural and cultural forces.”
He mentioned a study by Professor Sampson, 54, that found that growing up in areas where violence limits socializing outside the family and where parents haven’t attended college stunts verbal ability, lowering I.Q. scores by as much as six points, the equivalent of missing more than a year in school.
Changes outside campuses have made conversation about the cultural roots of poverty easier than it was in the ’60s. Divorce, living together without marrying, and single motherhood are now commonplace. At the same time prominent African-Americans have begun to speak out on the subject. In 2004 the comedian Bill Cosby made headlines when he criticized poor blacks for “not parenting” and dropping out of school. President Obama, who was abandoned by his father, has repeatedly talked about “responsible fatherhood.”
Conservatives also deserve credit, said Kay S. Hymowitz, a fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, for their sustained focus on family values and marriage even when cultural explanations were disparaged.
Still, worries about blaming the victim persist. Policy makers and the public still tend to view poverty through one of two competing lenses, Michèle Lamont, another editor of the special issue of The Annals, said: “Are the poor poor because they are lazy, or are the poor poor because they are a victim of the markets?”
So even now some sociologists avoid words like “values” and “morals” or reject the idea that, as The Annals put it, “a group’s culture is more or less coherent.” Watered-down definitions of culture, Ms. Hymowitz complained, reduce some of the new work to “sociological pablum.”
“If anthropologists had come away from doing field work in New Guinea concluding ‘everyone’s different,’ but sometimes people help each other out,” she wrote in an e-mail, “there would be no field of anthropology — and no word culture for cultural sociologists to bend to their will.”
Fuzzy definitions or not, culture is back. This prompted mock surprise from Rep. Woolsey at last spring’s Congressional briefing: “What a concept. Values, norms, beliefs play very important roles in the way people meet the challenges of poverty.”

POVERTY: The Culture of Poverty.

Monica Potts October 18, 2010
The New York Times reports on the resurgence of sociological research looking into the "culture" of poverty. Those in liberal circles, of course, view the premise that cultural mores lead to poverty with skepticism; it bears too much resemblance to Daniel Patrick Moynihan's idea of cultural pathology, which he introduced in his infamous report, released during the Johnson administration. He blamed a lot of the problems of poverty African Americans faced in the 1960s on their family structures.
But the idea that shared values, norms, and expectations are affected by the material conditions in which people find themselves, and can also reinforce those conditions, is pretty much a no-brainer. The sociologists the Times quotes each define culture slightly differently, but it's worth noting that almost all of them describe culture as a response to societal structures and inequality. None of them argues that poor people don't value work, for example, but the type of jobs that are practically available for members of a community might change the type of work they see as worthwhile to pursue.
But the piece falls apart when the writer, Patricia Cohen, has to give it the newspaper treatment. Because most of the academics she speaks to are liberal, she gives a nod to a conservative, Kay S. Hymowitz, who argues that conservatives have been keeping talk of "culture" in the anti-poverty policy arena all these years. The problem is that Hymowitz equates culture with "family values" and "marriage," and disagrees, of course, with the previously quoted sociologists.
Watered-down definitions of culture, Ms. Hymowitz complained, reduce some of the new work to 'sociological pablum.'
'If anthropologists had come away from doing field work in New Guinea concluding ‘everyone’s different,’ but sometimes people help each other out,' she wrote in an e-mail, 'there would be no field of anthropology — and no word culture for cultural sociologists to bend to their will.'
But that oversimplifies the word "culture," as I've tried to explain before. Anthropologists spend a lot of time arguing about the definition of culture, and some would say that we shouldn't even use the word any more. Definitions of culture in anthropology can go on for pages and pages, but it usually ends up divorced from the reductive starting point that Hymowitz's definition assumes. The important thing is, you can't isolate culture as one element of a society and change it without changing anything else. You can't ignore the roles racism, lack of fundamental necessities, and social isolation play in shaping culture, and you can't use it as a convenient way to blame poverty on the individuals who suffer from it. Culture is a complicated concept, but that's not how many in the U.S. understand it, and it's worth being suspicious of tossing the word around for that reason alone.

POVERTY: Nigeria and West Africa

By John Amoda

JOHN Ighodaro in the Vanguard of Wednesday October 6, 2010 titled his story thusly: “Population of seven W-African states equals the poor in Nigeria”. He was quoting Mr. Adama who made this known at a workshop in Calabar.
“According to (Mr. Adama) about 78 million Nigerians (54% of the population) live below poverty line of less than a dollar a day. This number of people make up more than the combined population of Ghana, Togo, Sierra Leone, Benin Republic, Liberia, Gambia, and Cote D’Ivoire which is 67.3 million.”
Whether this is a conservative estimate or not, such statistics beg for explanation. Why are there so many people living in poverty in Nigeria?
Are many so poor because they are uneducated? Again the following question introducing tips for unemployed graduates: “Are you an unemployed graduate?” in the Sunday 3, October 2010 NEXT ON SUNDAY show that lack of education is not the explanation.
Mr. Adama’s poor are not necessarily the unemployed. Some may be employed but earn per day less than a dollar, or take home less than a dollar.
The above incidence of poverty in Nigeria is not unique to the country. Poverty in the other 52 countries in Africa is of configuration similar to Nigeria’s. This is the case because poverty in Africa is first and foremost a consequence of the structuring of economies. The economic integration in Africa of conquered territories as provinces of European empires enable us to see clearly why this is the case. Claude Ake explains how cocoa was introduced into the Gold Coast (now Ghana).
“When the Gold Coast (now Ghana) was colonised, it did not farm cocoa. The colonial government decided that the country would be suitable ground for farming cocoa and duly introduced the crop. In 1865 the country started exporting cocoa, and by 1901 it was the leading producer of the commodity in the world. It quickly became a mono-cultural cocoa economy; by 1939 cocoa accounted for 80 percent of the value of its exports” (Ake, Claude, Democracy and Development in Africa P.2).
The introduction of cocoa is a shorthand for the restructuring of the economies of the pre-colonised societies so as to make those employed in cocoa production an economic caste. Those not engaged in cocoa production became redundant in what had become a cocoa economy. Similarly the introduction of cotton production in Uganda followed the same pattern as that of cocoa. We quote from Mahmood Mamdani: “The first cotton flower was taken to Uganda by the BCGA through a Church Missionary Society missionary.
K. Borup in 1903 formed the Uganda Company and imported 2.5 tons of five different kinds of seeds which were distributed to 27 in eight districts of Buganda. The results were so promising that the government took the lead and, through the BCGA, began to import and distribute American Black Rattler seeds to growers in Buganda, Busoga, and Ankole in 1905.
The production of cotton in these early years was the result of compulsion, exercised through the mailo landlord-cum-chief rather than directly by the colonial state. As state officials explained. The average peasant of the Protectorate (is) so indolent that it (is) unlikely that he would have embarked on it (cotton production) on any considerable scale if he had not been more or less driven to making experiments by the chief or the headman on whose land he happened to be a tenant”.
In time, however, state officials became more circumspect. In 1925, when charges of “forced cultivation of cotton” were laid before the Ormsby-Gore Commission, the government maintained that the peasant chose to grow cotton “of his own free will”, and released a copy of an instructional telegram from the chief secretary to the provincial commissioner, Western Province.
“I am directed by the Governor to state that the line to be adopted is not to be one of definite pressure towards cotton production. Natives to be informed that three courses are open, cotton, labour for government, labour for planters, but no attempt to be made to induce them to choose any one in preference to the other.
Only one thing to be made clear that they cannot be permitted to do nothing, and can be of no use to themselves or the country. Inform D.C Mbara accordingly.” (Mahmood Mamdani- Politics and Class Formation in Uganda Pp. 45-46).
The details not mentioned in the case of the introduction of cocoa in the Gold Coast are highlighted in the case of the introduction of Cotton in Uganda because they are generic in the strategy informing the introduction cocoa, cotton, mineral mining etc in the colonies.
The introduction is the summary of the process of the economic conversion of the pre-colonial economies into the colonial. In this conversion process populations that are essential to the production of the colonial commodities are differentiated from the segments that are deemed redundant to the colonial production.
The economically redundant are expendable and as such constitute the colonial underclass, the indigent and impoverished whose condition is the result of the economic use of state power. The concept of poverty employed by the World Bank, namely those living below the poverty line does not apply to the category of the economically expendable, those without place in the economy.
Every restructure of economies create its categories of the essential, the marginal and of the expendable. Populations needed by the economy are able to use their economic importance as bargaining chips and can mobilise for living wages and opportunities.
Those that have no place in the economy are the indigent, unemployable. It is the third category of the marginally important that have a history of under-employment and unemployment- it is this category that are presently captured by the statistical measure of those living below the poverty line.
Economic self-enlightment therefore compel the state and the producers to provide living wages for the economically essential populations.
It is by this line of explication that we get to appreciate the differences of economic conditions of segments of the Nigerian population. The question to be answered is how to describe the poor in Nigeria. Are they the economically redundant, and thus expendable? Are they mainly the marginal? Are they both the expendable and the marginal? What is the geography of the poor?
Are the expendable mainly rural and who must fend for themselves? What is the character of the urban poor? From this perspective the security implications of the structuring of economies can be appreciated especially in the context where electioneering has fuelled the ethnification and tribalization of population.

Sunday, 24 October 2010


TO MAKE it harder for bioterrorists to build dangerous viruses from scratch, guidelines for firms who supply "custom DNA" are being introduced in the US.
The US and other countries restrict who can work with certain germs, but it might be possible to build some viruses from their genes. A number of firms supply DNA sequences to order. A 2005 investigation by New Scientist raised alarms when it found that only five out of 12 of these firms in North America and Europe always screened orders for sequences that might be used in bioweapons.
The US now wants firms to verify a customer's identity and make sure they are not on a list of banned buyers. It also wants them to screen orders for sequences that are unique to Select Agents, a list of microbes the US deems dangerous.
However, scientists commenting on the draft rules earlier this year fear that sequences from microbes other than Select Agents might also be dangerous. The US Department of Health says not enough is known about them to say which ones should arouse a firm's suspicions. Other potential weaknesses include the fact that the rules are voluntary, and that much custom DNA is made outside the US.

Friday, 22 October 2010

POVERTY: Jobs not charity will end poverty

Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim says the only way to get people out of poverty is by giving them jobs and not just charity.
Slim says modern society is based on the welfare of others and, in his words: "the best investment we can make is to fight poverty."
He has said he has no interest in competing with U.S. billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, who have donated large portions of their fortunes to charities.
Slim, one of the world's richest men, owns Telefonos de Mexico SA, which controls more than 90 percent of Mexico's fixed phone lines. His other business holdings run the gamut from construction to music, restaurants to cigarettes.

POVERTY: IFAD Rural Poverty Report

The Rural Poverty Report 2011 provides a coherent and comprehensive look at rural poverty, its global consequences and the prospects for eradicating it.

Since the last Rural Poverty Report was published by IFAD in 2001, there has been progress toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals. But 1.4 billion people continue to live in extreme poverty – and more than 70 percent of them are living in rural areas of developing countries, while the latest measurements show that 925 million of them are undernourished.
Young people and children make up the single largest group among poor rural people, and the Report emphasizes the importance of creating new and better opportunities for them – in particular, with a focus on expanding educational opportunities that specifically address the skills young people will need to succeed in the rural context.
The key global challenge underlying this report is that to feed the nine billion people who will inhabit the Earth by 2050, food production will have to be raised 70 percent and agricultural output in developing countries will have to double. Addressing this challenge will require that smallholder agriculture play a much more effective role in these countries, that rural areas make the most of opportunities for non-farm employment growth, and that greater and more effective efforts are made to address the concerns of poor rural people as food buyers.
Through extensive research by a team of international, regional and national experts in the field of poverty reduction – as well as through case studies and interviews with poor rural people themselves – the report provides unique insights into rural poverty around the world and how the livelihoods of the rural poor are changing. It explores the challenges that make it so difficult for rural people to overcome poverty, and identifies opportunities and the way forward to greater prosperity. And it highlights policies and actions that governments and development practitioners can take to support the efforts of rural people to overcome poverty.

POVERTY: Global poverty: The view from the anthills of Persuguié, Trickle Up

By Bill Abrams
October 13, 2010
I have a suggestion for the U.N. next September, when the General Assembly begins its session, don’t meet in Manhattan. Instead, go to Persuguié, Mali.
If you want to inspire the world to take dramatic and courageous action to cut global poverty in half, as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) aspire to do, you need the world to see poverty where it happens. Conferences, Presidential speeches, studies, celebrities, frameworks, press conferences, panels, blogs – the stuff of this year’s UN focus on the MDGs – all have their place. But there’s no place better to talk about poverty than Persuguié.
I’ve just come back from 10 days in Mali, the fifth poorest on the UN Human Development Index of 182 nations. Only 46 percent of the population over 15 can read and write. More than one-third of its 13.4 million people live in poverty. Life expectancy there is about 50 for men and 53 for women.
Persuguié is a village with about 400 residents. When I arrived, I was introduced to the village chief, who is said to be 114 years old. When he founded the village in 1950, nearby tribesmen warned that the area was cursed with too many “djiin” – bad spirits – but he was undiscouraged.
Trickle Up, which helps women start or expand businesses as a way out of extreme poverty, will begin work in Persuguié soon; we will be the only NGO (non-government organization) present. I came here for a look at the “before” part of the Trickle Up story. A number of children had swollen bellies and copper-colored hair, often a sign of serious malnutrition. People sustained themselves by growing millet, herding goats and cattle, harvesting a mango-like fruit called sebe, and/or cutting firewood and then walking 2-3 hours to Sévaré to sell it at about 60 cents per bundle. (I write “and/or” because people usually have to have several livelihood activities in order to make a living.)
I sat on the ground with a group of about 50 villagers (curious children watching from the perimeter), as they spoke of several years of drought and their hope for a better harvest this year, their lack of money to send their children to school, of lives of poverty that repeated the lives of their parents and grandparents. The stories were similar to the ones I’ve heard, during my five years at Trickle Up, in dozens of villages in Africa, India and Central America.
We also talked about the local “hungry season,” the months leading up to the harvest, when there is little income, often coupled with higher food prices, and so people simply can’t get enough to eat every day. Just to survive, they eat one meal a day instead of two or three (and on some days have only sugared water to give their children), can be forced to migrate to distant factories, brick kilns and large-scale farms, or take on debt that can crush them.
But I’d never heard a hungry season experience like the one described in Persuguié. When food is scarce and even inexpensive millet is hard to come by, the villagers have discovered a secret store of grain. They follow the ants that have collected small mounds of millet that have fallen on the ground through the year during storage or milling. The ants store the grain underground; by discovering their hiding places, the villagers are able to recover some millet and eat another day.
No humans should ever have to live like that. And, if the world would come spend a day in Persuguié, they wouldn’t.
Bill Abrams is the president of Trickle Up, which is based in New York and works in West Africa, India and Central America. A new 18-minute documentary on Trickle Up’s work in India is featured at This blog post is written for the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, which has been observed every October 17th since 1987.

POVERTY: Energy Poverty: NGOs Question How the World Bank Will Bring Power to the Powerless

Chad Dobson
Executive Director of the Bank Information Center (BIC)

Co-authored by Rebecca Harris
On Friday, October 8, civil society organizations convened at the World Bank for a panel discussion entitled, "Energy: Poverty, Sustainability and Climate Change." The event was part of the Civil Society Policy Forum of this year's World Bank/IMF Annual Meetings, held in Washington, DC.
The Bank is currently reviewing its energy sector strategy, the importance of which is not lost on the wider NGO community, as this document will guide the World Bank's substantial energy lending portfolio - approximately $13 billion in FY2010 alone - for the next decade. As the Bank shapes its energy sector strategy, a draft of which is expected to be published for public comment in February 2011, civil society emphasized that World Bank energy investments must absolutely prioritize energy access for the poor, as well as low carbon development. Though the Bank has made significant strides in sustainability, FY2010 was a record year for coal lending at the institution, topping out at $4.4 billion, eclipsing the also record-setting $3.4 billion for renewable energy/energy efficiency lending for the year.
Furthermore, despite World Bank arguments to the contrary, a recently released study produced by Oil Change International indicates that World Bank fossil fuel investments do little, if nothing, to directly address the energy needs of the poor. According to the study, in an analysis of 26 World Bank fossil fuel investments, not a single project clearly identified energy access for the poor as a direct target! It was within this context that the panel, chaired by Nicholas Ma of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, addressed the various dimensions of energy and sustainability.
Srinivas Krishnaswamy of the Vasudha Foundation examined energy poverty through the lens of India's experience. He highlighted the fact that in India, the "top 20" consumes 53% of Indian electricity, while the "bottom 40" consumes a mere 13%. Mr. Krishnaswamy made the case that the World Bank should lead the way in funding low carbon energy generation, even if it is costlier at the outset. He stated that the World Bank should be the "knowledge manager" regarding renewable energy/energy efficiency technologies and that the institution has a role to play in mitigating investors' doubts in the renewable energy industry. He also argued that "equitable access is the key," noting that "more electricity doesn't necessarily bring power to the powerless." This point was poignantly illustrated by a slide containing two maps of India, one depicting the location of large scale fossil fuel projects and the other indicating energy access for the poor, with little overlap between the two.
Sena Alouka from Jeunes Volontaires por l'Environnement presented on hydropower and the World Bank. He raised the issue of energy investments for the purpose of export, particularly in energy impoverished countries, citing DR Congo as an example. He referred to it as "the darkest country on the continent" and noted that several large dams will be/have been built in order to "send energy to Spain..." and other "powerful" countries, leaving the majority of the country in the dark, so to speak. Mr. Alouka highlighted the socially and environmentally destructive qualities of large hydropower projects and insisted that if the World Bank must finance hydropower projects that these investments should, at the very least, comply with the guidelines set forth by the World Commissions on Dams (WCD) report, published in 2000 and ironically, commissioned by the World Bank. He argued that in May 2005, the private bank, HSBC made the decision to no longer finance dams that do not meet the WCD guidelines. As a publicly-financed institution, the World Bank must do the same.
Peter Bakvis of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) addressed energy from the standpoint of labor. He reminded the audience that "unionists were among the first environmentalists," dispelling the myth that the concerns of labor and the environment are somehow at odds with one another. He emphasized that the "current path of development will lead to destruction of the planet and that will be of benefit to no one." He continued, noting that "the World Bank hasn't taken their responsibilities seriously;" in that the largest percentage of energy investments is currently allocated for 250 year-old technologies, concluding that "we think the 'Knowledge Bank' can do better than that."
Perhaps the spirit of the event was best captured during the Q&A period following the panel when Mr. Krishnaswamy was asked to define "energy access." He replied that "just because the light bulb is on, it doesn't mean that energy needs are being met." He continued, "Lighting, heating, livelihood options, that's how I'd define energy access." As the World Bank continues to draft its Energy Strategy in the months to come, we hope they remain cognizant of this definition.

POVERTY: Terrorism and Poverty are linked

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani has said that the battle of fighting extremism and terrorism cannot be won comprehensively without forming global alliances and partnerships for the eradication of poverty.
“The observance of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on October 17 draws our attention to the phenomenon of poverty with its lasting impact on the poor and highlights their problems and predicaments,” the PM said in a message on the occasion of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.
He said that the day calls for concerted efforts to take urgent steps for the eradication of poverty by focusing on the pro-poor initiatives. It raises awareness about the plight of the poor and fosters discussions on employment of anti-poverty strategies, he said.
Gilani said that in the absence of an equitable economic order, the scourges of terrorism and extremism find conducive environment to thrive.
He said that there is a need to acknowledge the role of poverty in spawning these negative forces and formulating fresh strategies to counter them in a proactive fashion.
Poverty remains a major hindrance in the realisation of potential of the nations and societies, the PM said and added that the goal of sustainable national development cannot be achieved without improving the lot of the poor and converting them into productive members of society.
A society, which is free from hunger, poverty and deprivations, can get to the climax of material progress and also realise its moral aims, he said. He said that it is heartening to note that the international community has woken up to the reality of meeting the poverty challenge by pooling its resources together.
He said the government regards poverty as a daunting challenge and is committed to the implementation of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), especially the one dealing with the eradication of poverty.
The government has undertaken a holistic reform agenda in the economic sector aimed at boosting growth, cutting down unemployment, mobilising indigenous resources and fetching investment, he said.
“Our long-term panacea to stem the trend of economic downfall lies in widening the tax base, reducing fiscal deficit, documenting economy and plugging key areas of tax evasion through data-matching and risk profiling,” the prime minister said.
The cycle of poverty can only be broken through domestic resource generation and macroeconomic stability, he said and added that for this to be possible, the government has introduced critical reforms characterised by a planned increase of tax to GDP ratio up to 13% in the medium term, cutting down on non-development expenditure, and putting in place more equitable tax structure.
Gilani said that Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) is the government’s major anti-poverty initiative, which has won accolades from the World Bank and other international financial institutions for transparency of its operations and extent of outreach.
With an allocation of Rs 50 billion in the fiscal year 2010-11, BISP seeks to empower the downtrodden sections of society especially women, he said.

TUBERCULOSIS: New Tuberculosis Medicine Urgently Needed

Patients queue at the multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis hospital in Maseru, Lesotho, 18 Mar 2010 (file photo)

Medical researchers are concerned the lack of new medicines developed to treat tuberculosis will encourage drug-resistant strains. More than 200 researchers are meeting at a symposium in Cameroon this week to discuss future steps.
Head of the Novartis Institutions for Developing World Medical Research, Dr. Paul Herrling, said there are many reasons tuberculosis is an increasing problem in places like Sub-Saharan Africa.
"The first one is that the last medicines that we had for TB are about 40 years old," he explained. "And one thing that people did not know at that time, is that this is a very, very clever bacteria - like many others. And when they are treated with the same medicines for a long time, they learn to escape it."
The Novartis Institute is holding the symposium to address challenges and try to determine possible solutions to tuberculosis. Herrling added it that it was crucial to hold the conference in a country that is affected by tuberculosis, because too often the scientists developing the treatments do not understand the everyday realities of their patients.
"It is extremely important to understand not only the molecular biology of your patients, but their culture, their environment, their problems," said Herrling. "And so very often our scientists, they live in laboratories working on TB sitting in Harvard or in London, and they have no clue as to what the disease really is. And on the other hand, local doctors here have no access to the most modern science."
The institute notes that of the 9 million people diagnosed with tuberculosis last year, 30 percent live in Africa. The disease also is increasingly prevalent among people with HIV/AIDS and kills two million annually.
"So many people are infected with tuberculosis, but they are healthy and have no symptoms, because their immune system keeps it in check," Herrling said. "And of course, exactly what HIV does, it weakens your immune system and then those people who were healthy before now become actively sick and can infect others. So it is very much reinforcing or making the problem much worse."
Some patients in rural Africa have a problem completing treatment with an antibiotic called isoniazid. Many fail to complete the treatment that lasts from six to eight months, and even more in some cases.

TUBERCULOSIS: The “Global Plan to Stop TB 2011-2015

UN-backed initiative aiming to eliminate tuberculosis launched
13 October 2010 – A new initiative designed to combat tuberculosis, which claims the lives of nearly two million people across the world every year, could accelerate progress towards eliminating the disease if governments and donors commit enough funds to the plan, the United Nations health agency said today.
The “Global Plan to Stop TB 2011-2015: Transforming the Fight Towards Elimination of Tuberculosis” identifies all the research gaps that need to be filled to make rapid TB tests available, bring faster treatment regimens and a fully effective vaccine to market, according to the UN World Health Organization (WHO).
Although TB is curable, the treatment requires taking a combination of drugs for at least six months. Laboratories in most countries are still using a century-old diagnostic method that involves searching for TB bacteria derived from a person's sputum under a microscope. There is still no vaccine able to prevent pulmonary TB, the most common form of the disease.
Some 9 million people become ill with TB every year, claiming nearly 2 million lives annually.
The new scheme unveiled today by the WHO-hosted Stop TB Partnership shows public health programmes how to promote universal access to TB care, including how to modernize diagnostic laboratories and adopt revolutionary tests that have recently become available.
It seeks to provide diagnosis and treatment approaches recommended by WHO for 32 million people over the next five years.
“There is an urgent need to scale up action against TB – 10 million people, including 4 million women and children, will lose their lives unnecessarily between now and 2015 if we fail,” said Margaret Chan, the agency’s Director-General.
“TB control works, with global incidence of the disease declining since 2004, although much too slowly,” she added.
The Global Plan provides a clear roadmap for addressing drug-resistant TB, calling for 7 million people to be tested for multi-drug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) and one million confirmed cases treated according to international standards over the next five years.
Every year, half a million people die from HIV/AIDS-related TB. If the plan’s targets are met, by the end of 2015, all TB patients will be tested for HIV and, if the test is positive, they will receive anti-retroviral drugs and other appropriate HIV/AIDS care. All patients being treated for HIV will be screened for TB and receive the preventive therapy or treatment necessary.
The new initiative calls for $37 billion for TB care between 2011 and 2015. A funding gap of about $ 14 billion – nearly $3 billion per year – will still remain and needs to be filled by international donors.
It includes a separate calculation of the funding required to meet targets for research and development – a total of $10 billion, or $2 billion per year. High-income countries and those with growing economies will need to increase their investment in research and development to fill an estimated gap of about $7 billion, or $1.4 billion per year.
In addition to helping public health programmes adopt already existing modern diagnostic tests, the scheme sets a research agenda aimed at creating two new “while-you-wait” rapid tests that trained staff at even the most basic health outposts can use to diagnose TB accurately.

TUBERCULOSIS: WHO: New action plan lays the foundation for tuberculosis elimination

13 OCTOBER 2010
New action plan lays the foundation for tuberculosis elimination. Targets are realistic, but a projected shortfall of US$ 4.2 billion per year for TB care and crucial research must be filled
The world could be on its way towards eliminating tuberculosis (TB) if governments and donors fully invest in a plan released today by the Stop TB Partnership. The global plan to stop TB 2011-2015: transforming the fight towards elimination of tuberculosis for the first time identifies all the research gaps that need to be filled to bring rapid TB tests, faster treatment regimens and a fully effective vaccine to market. It also shows public health programmes how to drive universal access to TB care, including how to modernize diagnostic laboratories and adopt revolutionary TB tests that have recently become available.
Action needed against TB
"There is an urgent need to scale up action against TB - 10 million people, including 4 million women and children, will lose their lives unnecessarily between now and 2015 if we fail," says Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO, which hosts the Stop TB Partnership. "TB control works, with global incidence of the disease declining since 2004, although much too slowly."
Twenty-two countries, including South Africa, bear 80% of the burden of TB worldwide. Some 9 million people become ill with active TB and nearly 2 million die each year. The new Global Plan sets out to provide diagnosis and treatment approaches recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) for 32 million people over the next five years.
Blueprint to cut global TB deaths by half
"The Global Plan to Stop TB provides an urgently needed blueprint to cut global TB deaths by half," says Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, Minister of Health of South Africa. "In South Africa we have embarked on an ambitious agenda for reducing the toll of TB on our people, and we are committed to meeting the Global Plan's targets. We call on world leaders to invest in the plan, which can help move us towards ridding the world of TB."
Although TB is curable, the treatment requires taking a combination of drugs for at least six months. Laboratories in most countries are still using a century-old diagnostic method that involves searching for TB bacteria derived from a person's sputum under a microscope. And there is still no vaccine able to prevent pulmonary TB, the most common form of the disease.
"While-you-wait" rapid TB tests
In addition to helping public health programmes adopt already existing modern diagnostic tests, the Global Plan sets a research agenda aimed at engendering two new "while-you-wait" rapid tests that trained staff at even the most basic health outposts can use to diagnose TB accurately. By 2015, the aim is for three new drug regimens - one for drug-sensitive TB and two for drug-resistant TB - to be going through Phase III clinical trials, the final step before drugs are released to market. Four vaccine candidates should be at the same stage of testing.
Addressing drug-resistant TB
The Global Plan provides a clear roadmap for addressing drug-resistant TB. It calls for 7 million people to be tested for multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) and one million confirmed cases treated according to international standards over the next five years.
Half a million people die each year from HIV-associated TB. Provided the plan's targets are met, by the end of 2015, all TB patients will be tested for HIV and, if the test is positive, receive anti-retroviral drugs and other appropriate HIV care. In HIV treatment settings, all patients will be screened for TB and receive appropriate preventive therapy or treatment as needed.
On financing, the Global Plan calls for US$ 37 billion for implementation of TB care between 2011 and 2015. A funding gap of about US$ 14 billion - approximately US$ 2.8 billion per year - will remain and needs to be filled by international donors.
The plan includes a separate calculation of the funding required to meet targets for research and development: a total of US$ 10 billion, or US$ 2 billion per year. High-income countries and those with growing economies will need to increase their investment in research and development to fill an estimated gap of about US$ 7 billion, or US$ 1.4 billion per year
In 2006 the Stop TB Partnership launched the Global Plan to Stop TB 2006-2015. The new roadmap for 2011-2015 follows on that earlier plan while setting new and more ambitious targets for the next five years.
For more information, please contact:
Judith Mandelbaum-Schmid, Mobile: +41 79 254 68 35, E-mail:

TUBERCULOSIS: SLU launches clinical trial for new tuberculosis vaccine

Veronique LaCapra, St. Louis Public Radio (2010-10-11)
Saint Louis University is launching a study of a potential new vaccine for tuberculosis.
The human clinical trial will test the safety of the new vaccine, and its ability to induce an immune response against TB.
There already is a TB vaccine that can protect people from developing some of the worst complications of the disease.
But SLU lead researcher Dr. Daniel Hoft said the existing vaccine can't prevent people from getting infected with TB in the first place.
"So what we'd like to do is develop a vaccine that can prevent infection, or even better, a vaccine that could work given to people after they get infected to upregulate their immune system to eradicate the infection."
Because of its limited efficacy, the current vaccine is usually only given where TB is most common, like Southeast Asia and Africa.
Hoft said the new vaccine has been genetically engineered to produce a stronger immune response.
"If it truly can prevent infection, or eradicate infection that's already established, that would be something that would be used in a much wider area, including at least high-risk populations in the United States."
Those in the U.S. at highest risk are immigrants from countries where TB is endemic, and residents of inner cities where crowded conditions facilitate the airborne spread of the disease, Hoft explained.
More than a third of the world's population is infected with TB bacteria, including about ten million Americans. Worldwide, almost two million people die from the disease each year, most of them in developing countries.
SLU's phase 1 clinical trial for the new TB vaccine is scheduled to begin before the end of the year. Anyone interested in participating can register for future follow up.