Wednesday, 26 June 2013

WATCH: Hunger and Nutrition – what do we know?

This new animation introduces the Hunger and NutritionCommitment Index (HANCI) which ranks governments on their political commitment to tackling hunger and undernutrition.

HANCI makes it easier for individuals and organisations to see what their government has promised on hunger and undernutrition. It allows them to compare government actions and covers policies and spending of both developing countries and donor countries.

We hope that HANCI will be used to hold governments to account and strengthen demands for better policies and more effective action on hunger and undernutrition. For this to happen, people working on hunger and nutrition need to know that this key information is available.

Please take a look at the website, watch the film and help spread the word by sharing these links with your networks and contacts.

If you are on twitter, here are some suggested tweets:

VIDEO: #Hunger & under #nutrition – what do we know? Now we have the data to hold govts to account #HANCI

New research on what govts are doing on #hunger and #malnutrition can help make sure govts keep their promises #HANCI

HANCI is produced by the Institute of Development Studies with funding from DFID and Irish Aid.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Aid and our changing environment

Sometimes it’s great to get the long view. Last week at the ReCom meeting in Stockholm on the above subject, we were confronted with a quick run-through of the history of human land use. Quite appropriate as the signs advertising the “Stockholm marathon” are already up around the city – and just the thing to work up an appetite.

Thomas Hertel’s model took us through pre-settlement land undisturbed by human impact, to frontier development, subsistence farming, intensifying, to intensive land use. If you take it on further, of course, the typology presented in different ways is also the history of human migration and urbanization. 

The implications of this for Africa were expertly elaborated by Ephraim Nkonya, a Tanzanian specialist from the International Food Policy Institute. With global warming, marginal land can easily be tipped over into being unproductive land. Population growth and new demand for food is scheduled to increase dramatically in coming decades. The greatest potential availability of land to be brought under cultivation is in Africa  (hence the current land grabs from external countries and companies) and Latin/Central America. The gap between current yields per hectare and maximum potential yields is highest in Sub Saharan Africa. However, what Africa and the world do not need is for Africa to decimate its remaining forests to bring more and more land into farming. Everything points to the need for intensification of production on land already in use and a focus on increasing yield.

Of course, there was much more besides on this vast subject. A draft position paper is already available. Difficult though the challenges are, that paper concludes that climate change is unlikely to preclude realistic prospects for growth prior to 2040. Emphasis should be given to agricultural research, regional  (ie. cross border) river management and the vulnerability of infrastructure to extreme events.

The position paper concludes that key institutions such as REDD+ (forests), the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) , the Global Environment Facility (GEF)  and the Green Climate Fund ( GCF)  are based on reasonable analysis, but impaired by the lack of financing and demand for what they offer. Currently the Green Climate Fund is “essentially a hollow shell” due to lack of finance. Other key international institutions related to agriculture are in need of reform to achieve greater impact.  A critical independent report on the work of the Food and Agriculture Organisation is cited in the position paper.

Some of the themes emerging throughout the day were:

  • The need to remove the most obvious perverse incentives – in particular fossil fuel subsidies
  • Rather than using subsidies, the international community and governments should concentrate on ensuring that there is a well functioning carbon market and reliable national policy frameworks
  • A pragmatic approach that rather than imagining that a wholesale reform of instruments would be achieved - making existing instruments work better would be the way forward. So far it is OECD and Middle Income Countries which have benefited primarily from green private investment
  • Action is needed to reduce investment risk for green finance.
The realism apparent extended to the appearance of the Swedish and Danish development ministers who stressed that development aid has a specific role in assisting the world’s poor in their responses to climate change, but aid budgets cannot be expected to pay the bill for climate change mitigation. They were “multitasking” on that day – we heard the applause from a neighbouring hall in the SIDA headquarters as they spoke at a launch meeting for the UN High Level Panel on Post-2015 Development.
I asked them if they were satisfied with the outcome of the High Level Panel’s discussion on international development post-2015. Both expressed satisfaction – Gunnilla Carlsson (Sweden) that the emphasis on the eradication of extreme poverty has been maintained and Christian Friiis Bach (Denmark) that the good start made in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has been consolidated into a broader agenda: extreme poverty; sustainable development; jobs and inclusive growth; peace and effective, accountable institutions  - as well as the need for global partnership on development. It remains to be seen whether the efforts to achieve the MDGs will result in renewed commitment to this extensive agenda, or whether the Member States of the UN will feel they have just finished a marathon and have no appetite for a new, more challenging set of objectives.
Carlsson also argued convincingly that the aid budget should not be pressurized to sort out all the problems of climate change. It should primarily help the poorest to find ways of living in response to the results of climate change, rather than picking up the bill for all that needs to be done on mitigation.
Dr Roger Williamson is a Visiting Fellow in the Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction Team. He is currently undertaking research on urban poverty and the Millennium Development Goals at the Institute of Development Studies.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

A Post-Revolutionary Egyptian Tragedy: Nancy Okail and the Case of NGOs vs. the People of Egypt.

For most doctoral students in International Development the three or four years spent undertaking a PhD can feel like a prison sentence. I, and my fellow PhD colleagues at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), spend the majority of our time confined to a desk and only get ‘let out’ for a period of intensive fieldwork. As we finally begin to throw off the shackles of the PhD, submitting the draft of our thesis, we ask ourselves what impact our work has had, if any, in the wider world. We ask ourselves, ‘what next?’ I’m sure when Nancy Okail, a recent IDS doctoral graduate, asked herself these questions she didn’t expect to be facing a real prison sentence while standing inside a cage in an Egyptian courtroom.

I first met Nancy when I started my PhD in the autumn of 2008. Already halfway through her own PhD, she struck me as intelligent, reflective and deeply committed. When she finished her doctorate Nancy chose not to follow the usual route into academia but wanted to return home to Egypt to contribute to the post-Mubarak efforts to strengthen democracy.

In August 2011 Nancy took up a post as Freedom House’s Egypt Country Director to oversee a programme aimed at promoting democracy, human rights and a free media. Yet, shortly after arriving in Egypt she and other colleagues at Freedom House faced harassment and intimidation from the interim military-led authorities. At the same time a smear campaign was spread by the state-run media, suggesting that foreign funded non-government organisations (NGOs) were working to destabilise the country. Then in December the Egyptian authorities raided the offices of a number of foreign-funded NGOs involved in democratisation, including that of Freedom House. Nancy and 42 other staff members, including 17 Americans, from a number of NGOs were arrested. They were charged with working with funds received from a foreign government without a license. This charge carries a sentence of five years incarceration and such a ruling can only be given with evidence of intent to ‘overthrow the status quo’. Bearing in mind that numerous civil society organisations operate without a license in Egypt and that these laws are used by the Egyptian authorities to manipulate the NGOs working in Egypt, the case is clearly highly political in nature. Follow this link to read Mariz Tadros’s well-informed analysis of the background and questionable nature of the sentencing.

In March of the following year the Egyptian authorities permitted the 17 American NGO staff members to return home. Following their release the case received significantly less coverage in the international media. For those left behind the situation became increasingly dire. As a result, Nancy and a number of the other Egyptians who had been arrested fled the country. Yet, with the election of the Muslim Brotherhood, led by Mohammed Morsi, in June 2012 hopes were momentarily revived. It was thought this government would pursue a more even-handed line. However, little changed. The case continued in a manner that demonstrated the continued stifling of political freedoms. Last week, after a long and emotional wait, the verdict was finally delivered. Nancy was sentenced in absentia and received a maximum five-year prison term. Listen to Nancy's response to the ruling and what it suggests for Egypt’s political transition here.

Nancy’s case (and that of her 25 Egyptian NGO colleagues) demonstrates the risks for those who choose to support political freedoms and democratisation in the face of state opposition. Moreover, it exemplifies the serious resistance to, if not, lack of positive reform in Egypt’s post-revolutionary political system. There is mounting evidence that the Egyptian government is taking steps to exclude minority groups, to restrict political dissent, and to concentrate power in the hands of the executive branch of government. As I type these words I ask myself, has democracy been served in the wake of the monumental demonstrations seen in Tahrir Square? And, what kinds of political change have these demonstrations stimulated?

I wrote this blog with a simple desire to show solidarity for a previous PhD colleague and to raise awareness about the tragic circumstances she and her fellow Egyptians find themselves in. When I began writing, ‘fellow Egyptians’ referred to the 25 Egyptians charged alongside Nancy in this NGO crackdown. Yet, now, as I reach the end of this blog I realise that the tragedy not only relates to Nancy and her 25 colleagues, but also extends to the hundreds of thousands of Egyptians who demonstrated in Tahrir Square for a more democratic future for their country.

Naysan Adlparvar is a PhD candidate within the IDS Participation, Power and Social Change research team. His research investigates the changing pattern of identity and relations between ethno-sectarian groups in Bamyan, in the Central Highlands of Afghanistan, and assesses how these relations were formed from 1890s to the present day.

Un-safe waters? Or how a balloon when inflated in the deep can become overblown up to burst in the surface.

We recently celebrated the World Water Day, also noted by IDS, namely in the insightful blog post by Lyla Mehta, of the Knowledge, Society and Technology research team (KNOTS). The blog post as well as the event organized by IDS and APPG for International Development, opportunely named “Universal access to water and sanitation: more than a pipedream?”, raised questions on whether having achieved the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on access to water really meant reaching the important milestone we aspired to.

In the backdrop comes the March 6th 2012 press statement that MDG drinking water target was reached. The main question posed there was: how universal (emphasis added) was the provision of safe water? However, some of my fieldwork travels in Timor-Leste have brought me to question how safe is the water we are lead to believe so many people have now access to, thanks to the effort sustained under the MDGs.

Rural Water Provision – plumbing in Suco Fatumasi,
Bazartete Sub-District, Liquiça District, Timor-Leste

But what was indeed the MDG drinking water target (MDG 7, target 7c) ? As it is stated, the goal was to “[h]alve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking-water and basic sanitation”. Committed to this objective in Timor-Leste, following the Aid Transparency Portal are international agencies such as the Asian Development Bank and bilateral aid agencies from countries such as Japan, the US, Korea, New Zealand, Australia and regions such as the European Union. As a symbol of this commitment, the Australian Aid Agency, AUSAID, announced in October 2012 to have brought clean water to the Timorese district of Covalima. One cannot fail to notice a first nuance in the statement: it is not “safe water”, it is “clean water” that was brought to the district. But, nonetheless, “[a]s a result of the system, over 2,000 people in [the village of] Matai [district of Covalima] have access to water just metres from their homes.” But was that really the commitment stated in the MDGs?

Following WHO guidelines, “[s]afe drinking-water, as defined by the Guidelines, does not represent any significant risk to health over a lifetime of consumption, including different sensitivities that may occur between life stages.” The importance of have safe drinking water can be seen in the depth of regulation put in place by law in countries such as Canada, the US, Australia and regions such as the European Union, and recommendations in countries such as South Africa or Brazil just to give some examples. Again, as an example it seems fitting to quote the Australian Safe Drinking Water Act:

                                  “For the purposes of this Act, drinking water is unsafe if the water:

                                 (a) causes, or is likely to cause, harm to a person who consumes the water; or
                                 (b) is the means by which an illness has been, or is likely to be, transmitted; or
                                 (c) contains any pathogen, substance, chemical or blue-green algal toxin, whether

                                      alone or in combination, at levels that may pose a risk to human health (subject
                                      to any tolerance, condition or circumstance determined or agreed by the Minister
                                      or the Chief Executive for the purposes of this provision); or
                                  (d) is not otherwise, or may not otherwise be, reasonably fit for human consumption.”

While on fieldwork, in the sites I conducted some of my interviews, I got the chance to see some of the water provision infrastructure built under some of these programmes.

Rural Water Provision – plumbing in Suco Fatumasi,
Bazartete Sub-District,  Liquiça District, Timor-Leste
The picture to the right depicts a pipe that brings “clean water” (Bé Mós, as it says in Tétum) to the small village/suco of Fatumasi, in the sub-district of Bazartete. The pipes are on open air or dug in the pathways almost at the surface, in constant contact with the elements. This particular one, in the photo,  held by sticks dug in the earth is a clearly fragile “construction”. The joints are isolated with rubber tyres, that, though flexible cannot, in any way, assure that no water contamination will come to happen, foremost from the industrial rubber itself.

In the island of Ataúro, I saw one pipe being held on the top of a few stones, piled to keep the angle of it so that the water would flow properly. That pile of relatively rounded stones, polished by a river that passed just below had no hint of cement gluing them, making it fairly easy for a passing wild animal to accidently throw it down and eventually break the pipe. Some of the pipes in Ataúro have indeed bridged the distances to faraway villages, having been placed in the cliffs just by the shore, not high enough to prevent stormy seas to hit them with the waves nor protected from an eventual landslide to break them. However, their placement makes a maintenance or replacement effort a daring one.

Rural Water Provision – water  facility in Suco Parlamento,
Lautem Sub-District, Lautem District, Timor-Leste

In the village of Moro, suco Parlamento, Lautem district, I got to see a water collection facility. This was one of the many natural pools the village has. This particular one was, as the next picture shows, protected with fences so as to avoid any farm animal in the neighborhood (goats, pigs or cows walk freely in the village) to contaminate the water. The facilities do show the provision of a space where some water treatment may occur. However, this, I was told was only done for the pipes serving the bigger village of Lautém. The local community used water piped from the two other pools.

Those were inviting swimming pools and other than the slight sulphurous smell, their freshness made the delight of children and of those that washed their clothes there. The picture below shows a villager getting some water from one of such, unprotected, pools. A pipe is visible, coming from the smaller pool where the villager collects his water. This pipe, I was told, is one of those that takes water to that village and others nearby.

Rural Water Provision – another pool in Suco Parlamento,
Lautem Sub-District, Lautem District, Timor-Leste

One cannot, in all fairness avoid to be concerned about how safe this water is. Yet, infrastructures like these make Timor-Leste to be a country where 91% of the urban population and 60% of the rural population was said to have access to “improved water” in 2010.

And here the waters become turbid. The fact is, the celebrated achievement of the water MDG target does not state that the number of people without access to safe drinking water will reduce but the number of people without access to “improved water”. And what is this? This is the accomplished downgrading of an ambitious goal. Following the definition provided by the WHO / UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation, in charge of measuring the countries’ achievements regarding this MDG goal, “An improved drinking-water source is defined as one that, by nature of its construction or through active intervention, is protected from outside contamination, in particular from contamination with faecal matter.” It includes water sources such as piped water into dwelling, piped water to yard/plot, public tap or standpipe, tube well or borehole, protected dug well, protected spring, or rainwater.

However, as put by the participants in the IDS-APPG venue, one cannot be sure the water from a well does not get contaminated. In fact, with some of the infrastructures I could see, one cannot be certain even piped water into dwellings is free of contamination. Let’s be clear on one thing. Having water closer to where people live is a good thing. Having it piped into school facilities, as the AUSAID BESIK programme has done, in some cases, is something to cheer. However, no one can claim this water is safe! And the fact is, Timorese people still have the general practice of boiling the water before drinking it (unfortunately not before using it to wash vegetables and other food).

If someone gets some diving lessons, she or he may learn that if you fill a balloon with air near the depths, as it goes to the surface it tends to become overblown and eventually may burst. The “success” of the water MDG may be one of this cases. In the depth of the challenges to reduce illness and foster livelihoods by increasing the access to water, some improvements were made. Those were, in many cases, quite simple, like the building of wells or introducing pumps. Others, as in some places of Timor, entailed the plumbing of water through kilometres of pipes. Yet, as the news of these improvements reached the surface, they were clearly overblown. Paraphrasing Mark Twain, the news of this success were clearly exaggerated, at least in Timor-Leste. What is troublesome here is that this is not only an issue of maintenance, as correctly mentioned in the IDS-APPG venue. It is also an issue of ill construction and the lack of provision of proper construction supervision.

In the future, one is to expect the results of the access to water to be assessed. It is likely that, by then, the lack of maintenance will make these, already fragile infrastructures to meet early failures and prompt further investments and, maybe, further aid. It is troublesome to think that those that badly constructed the current systems may still get to profit from their replacement. Meanwhile, if I could, I would like to suggest a small reflection. If access to water is a human right, if we, in the “global North”, do not feel safe about water consumption without the heavy failsafe regulations we impose, how can we accept such weak systems to be propelled as an MDG success? These are but few examples in one country. The only hope is that these are not examples of what is found around the developing world. Otherwise, this “success” may make us sail through seriously unsafe waters as countries are measured against clearly downgraded targets. As Lyla said, “[t]he MDG definition of ‘improved’ sources does nothing to address issues concerning water quality and issues concerning operation and maintenance of the service,” and this allowed for clearly less that fitting water provision systems put in place. In the end, one cannot but hold strong reservations on how effectively these systems will prevent illness and foster livelihoods.