News: An Alternative for Famine: Get an Insurance!

Source: Newsweek web exclusive 13 March 2007

By Jeffrey Bartholet

A U.N. agency has come up with a radical new idea to pre-empt drought-related famines: insurance.

Famines generally follow a grim script: first the rains fail, then aid agencies issue dire warnings, and finally the United Nations scrambles to raise money and send food aid as journalists write stories of horror and tragedy. In the worst cases, real alarms don't go off until the starving appear on television screens. Even when peasants are spared death, they often lose everything they own—including animals and seeds.

Does it have to unfold like this? The World Food Programme is trying a radical new idea: famine insurance. In this approach, a country secures an insurance policy against a catastrophic drought. If the rains come, the insurance company keeps its premium. But if rains fail and disaster is sure to strike, the international insurer pays out well before people go hungry. Richard Wilcox, director of business planning for the U.N. World Food Programme, hatched the idea in a pilot program for Ethiopia last fall. Now he's planning to enlarge the experiment. He spoke to NEWSWEEK's Jeffrey Bartholet in Washington. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: A mutual acquaintance refers to you as the "guru of famine insurance."
Richard Wilcox: There have been weather contracts used in different areas—primarily in the energy business, but also in agriculture in developed countries—for the past decade. Our contribution was to say that this is a tool that can work in development.

Can you tell me about the pilot program?
We ran the first pilot in Ethiopia. We chose Ethiopia, which is the most complicated country in sub-Saharan Africa to do food security…

I'd think that Somalia would be far more complicated.
Well, let's say a country that has a government. All we wanted to do was to build contingency funding for a catastrophic year. The easiest way is to ask a donor to set aside funds. But countries don't want to set aside contingency funds of significant magnitude just to have them sit there. So we translated the potential losses [for Ethiopian peasants] into an index that correlates with rainfall, took all of that data and sent it out to the international reinsurance market—eight large reinsurers that had both the credit rating and experience in the precipitation markets to be interested in this kind of work. We got six responses, and a French company called AXA Re won that first contract.

A premium of $930,000 to get coverage of $7 million?
Yes, $7.8 million

Who paid the premium?
The United States paid 90 percent of it, and a European donor, Denmark, paid 10 percent.

Why did they do it?
It was meant to have a demonstration effect—to show that these kinds of contracts can be done. To get the attention of the financial markets, as well as the aid business.

Did it succeed?
Oh, I think it has. We're going for a second phase in Ethiopia, which is moving beyond having coverage just for the catastrophic years. The coverage we're developing now is for a three-year drought-protection scheme that also covers pastoralist areas, which is technically quite challenging, but I think we've cracked that nut.

In the pilot, the drought didn't come and the insurer got to keep the premium?

Correct me if I'm wrong in my understanding of pastoral coverage: this is to protect against the depletion of forage for grazing. If there is not enough forage, contingency funds will kick in to help the herders?
That's the idea, right.

Now, if the pastoralists get money when they overgraze, won't that encourage overgrazing and the further destruction of the environment, perhaps to the point where no one will want to insure them?
The way this works, it is triggered only by objective conditions on the ground. In the absence of rainfall, there is less grass to graze on. [But] we're trying to figure out what kind of intervention is appropriate. I don't have a happy answer on what exactly a contingency plan would look like.

To what extent is climate change driving this idea?
It's one of the big drivers. There are three reasons we're constructing this whole system: one is the increasing cost of destitution with growing populations. Ethiopia today has about 70 million people; by 2030 it's projected to go up to 130 or 140 million.
Now, as long as dependence on rainfall continues and rainfall is volatile, the cost of intervening to save lives and livelihoods grows significantly. The second factor is dignity for the beneficiaries. In the system as it exists now, we essentially advertise misery to raise funds—showing people's lives at their worst in order to sell our interventions. What we want to do instead is protect people's potential—to say, yes, these are productive people who have a future and need protection from weather shocks. It's very different approach. The third big factor in this is climate change.
There is a consensus that, yes, the climate is changing. What exactly that will mean for a country like Ethiopia is still unclear. But conceivably, you'll have conditions worsening, populations growing and the price tag becoming unmanageable. We need to design a system that is as cost-effective as possible.

That's where the insurers come in?
What's important about involving the international risk markets is that a lot of the expertise on climate change resides there. The people who are spending most to research climate change are the big reinsurance companies. That is their business. And we can't go to them and say, "Out of the goodness of your hearts and your sense of social responsibility, we want you to look at the climate in Ethiopia."

Are there other schemes being considered for weather insurance in the developing world?
We'd like to do coverage for much of sub-Saharan Africa. The risk cycle in Africa is the same every year: it starts with the cyclone season in Madagascar [and] Mozambique, then it's the harvest failure or flood, depending on how things go in southern Africa, then the same in the Sahel area and then the harvest cycle hits the Horn of Africa. So we'd like those risk exposures built into one big portfolio for sub-Saharan Africa. With that you could optimize the financing of it significantly.

How many countries in Africa would have the necessary data? Even in Ethiopia, who monitors the rainfall stations?
The way it works in Ethiopia is that there's a third party that is the verifier, an American company based in Maryland. It's the same company that does all rainfall verification for commercial contracts in the U.S.

Is it all drought insurance, or is there flood insurance as well?
Flood insurance is doable, seismic risk is doable, cyclone risk is doable. Seismic risk and cyclone risk are easy, because they don't require local data. Our problem in spreading this wider is not on the technical side, but government interest and donors. When we started this work, we were taken to task for exceeding the mandate of the organization.

Is there insurance to cover you for bad bureaucracy?

Did you think up this idea yourself? Were you sitting around one day and thinking, hey, what about using international financial mechanisms to address the risk of drought in the developing world?
The idea came from a discussion of what is this organization, what do we do? Are we just a logistics provider? On one level that is what the organization does. But what is our function from the viewpoint of the beneficiary? Well, from their viewpoint, we are in fact an insurance provider. We step in when there are significant losses. That was the logic behind this work.

Are there people within the organization who don't want you to be an insurance provider?
It's within the organization itself, and within the governing structure. And, in a way, it's for good reason. Nobody has given WFP a mandate [for this]. A number of donors think this is interesting, but perhaps somebody else should be doing it.

Yet you've been able to launch a three-year program.
We're planning the three-year program, and we're obliged to report back to our board in November with a proposal for the appropriate institutional setting for this type of work.

Is there a nemesis? Somebody trying to kill the idea?
Different donors have reacted with different levels of enthusiasm. The U.S. has been the strongest supporter. Others have asked if this is appropriate. Spending money that is meant to help poor people on contracts with major international financial houses strikes a number of aid agencies as being wrong. Then our argument is: we are not pushing insurance per se. If donors want to have contingency money just sitting in escrow accounts, fine.

Pictures courtesy WFP/Goni Boulama
Article: Copyright Newsweek

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India Climate Change Adaptation and Food Security videos

Here are the testimonial videos we shot in February 2011 for the CCAFS project (Climate Change Adaptation and Food Security) in Punjab and Bihar (India):

Clip#101: Mohamed Fakir (Punjab - India)

Clip#103: Dilbag Singh and Paramjit Singh (Punjab - India)

Clip#104: Ardaman Singh (Punjab - India)

Clip#105: Dr.R.P.Singh (Punjab - India)

Clip#106: Indramani Kumar (Bihar - India)

Clip#107: Anil Kumar-Singh (Bihar - India)

Clip#108: Susila Devi (Bihar - India)

Clip#109: Arjun Sharma (Bihar - India)

Clip#110: Ramniwash Kumar (Bihar - India)

Clip#113: Prof R.K.P. Singh talking to Sugreev Singh and Suryabansh Singh (Bihar - India)

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News: Kosovo, the Birth of a Nation

This is a story from "L.", a friend working in Kosovo. The story of Kovoso's independence, seen from within.

Friday Feb 15, 2008.

It's the coldest day of this year, 2008.... Last night, as we were all holding our breath waiting to see what would happen during the meeting of the Assembly, it started snowing... At first it was really light, almost invisible, but little by little it came down in heaps... We've all been joking that the icing on the cake would be an electricity cut just when they're making the announcement. Lately, it's gone back to 5 - 7, 9 - 11 or 11 - 1, depending on the areas.

We're going to one of our favorite places, Tirona, a restaurant where there aren't many 'internationals', where they serve you fried fish and they've got the best rajkia. The owner, who's a friend, has the TV on. We're all staring at the screen. Well! we finally understand that the Assembly hasn't decided anything.. And the electricity is cut at 11 pm....

This month, the past few weeks - we've all been waiting, waiting for someone to make a move, and yesterday, long-held emotions started emerging. The uncertainty of what would happen with the OSCE and with the work takes a back seat. Little by little we're only talking about when it'll be, what day...
Rumors start, and there's only one thing here that travels faster than light and the air that our lungs breath in, and that's the rumors.. Whish! Just like a match that lights and is used up in a matter of seconds. Rumors that the announcement may be on Friday...

My colleague leaves work since he has to go to Gjilana to pick up his parents and bring them to Pristina. Just in case, as he doesn't want to be caught off guard if the announcement comes through when he's passing by Gracanica, one of the biggest Serbian enclaves a few kilometers away from Pristina. At 1.30 pm everything stops.

Everyone is aware there is a press conference set up by Thaci. But at the end, we all just heave again.... nothing! Thaci, like any good politician, well trained by the west (who also knows how to justify himself and sell the importance of human rights and his protection) simply announces that the new Kosovar state will always respect and protect minorities... Boooorriiinnggg! No-one would ever believe that, but he's got to say it. Just like the Serbs say they are concerned for the Kosovar Serbs while they couldn't have been more neglected and forgotten. In the Serbian enclave of North Mitrovica, the unemployment rates are soaring.

The OSCE has a month-old new 'minorities' program that's been tasking us left, right and centre to sell this new concept. Yet to the Russians, to the Serbs, to those that do not want to hear of us taking part and ensuring that our priority is working for the minorities.. Anyways... The next time we're betting on is 11.30 pm... Not quite there yet, the people sigh.. It's calm on the streets. It's snowing and sooooo cold! Since midday, businesses have started putting up Albanian flags.. The storefronts and balconies are filled with red and black flags...

Saturday Feb 16, 2008.

Pristina awakens, below zero and ready to explode.... In the media, it says that the EU has finally approved a civilian mission to be deployed from February until June (ahhh, we finally have a reference point... June, June... You've got to read between the lines).. Just like Thaci's announcement that Sunday, 17 January, will be the long-awaited declaration, the intention, the independence??? We, the internationals, have our instructions... Not really clear but instructions nonetheless, of what our behavior should be like... Of course, these instructions have reached the media (look at the above reference to 'rumors and gossip'... this is just so internalized!!)... The OSCE is neutral and after the declaration, celebrations are expected... Our chief of security says that during these celebrations, there will be "happy shooting" and then as an afterthought, he says since all what goes up must come down, we need to stay inside..

There have been other messages from the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General. He's saying that UNMIK (under which the OSCE falls) cannot take any sides and as a result, we must abstain from participating in any activities or festivities in an official capacity... Anyways, now, to avoid press infiltrations - there are no more written messages.. more rumors that we've been instructed not to celebrate in public or in private, no DANCING???? At least, they haven't forbidden us from drinking.. Better than nothing... And we still don't know whether we should be at work or not on Monday... If we don't, does that mean we've taken a side? Or can it be disguised as a 'security issue'? But c'mon, there haven't been any security problems... At least not in Pristina. We're really lucky.

Today, the streets of Pristina were packed.. Usually when the weekend arrives, there is a mass exodus of internationals to Greece, Montenegro, Bulgaria or wherever. In a calmer fashion the Kosovars that come to work in Pristina during the week, go home on the weekends to the towns to be with their families... Today, however, there's a commotion, people frozen yet happy, cars filled with flags...

Today is a great day for the United States. Today in Kosovo is the second place in the world where the USA's adored.. Today's not a good day to be Spanish, Greek, nor Russian... Io, io sono Italiana!!! [Me, me, I am Italian!]Or maybe I should change my name to Mary or Amy and put on a stronger American accent... Nah, no way!!!! Car horns, traffic jams, firecrackers.. Can't help but smile for the people. Who am I to say whether they are ready or not for a state.... I'm not morally justified to say anything.. Yet I can support and feel a lot of love for this place that we've been 'protecting', 'taking care of', we command it and are at the mercy of it, knowing full well that this day would come...

This place needs love. Like so many in this precious world of ours, hurting and screaming from pain, forgotten by the rest, but home to all... Yes, it needs a lot of love, like everyone. There are no security problems. But that doesn't mean I'm not full alert... For the first time today, I've turned on my handheld radio, but there's nothing, no news.. Hey! someone just said something!! Yay!!!... "Pero I can't hear anything..." "Repeat, over, over..." Nothing... I can still hear the horns in the streets... Yesterday I went to the supermarket since it would be three days of celebrations, partying.. I have bottled water, money, my passport, credit on the phone, my Spanish mobile on and what else?? Well nothing, as we're the privileged ones in Pristina... To the north, where the river Ibar passes, there could be problems... The KFOR/NATO soldiers are deployed to risky places, fully equipped in their armored vehicles,.. In their element, I suppose, since the military does need a conflict, right?

Serbian ministers have been sent out to all the Serbian enclaves. In Mitrovica today, a group of Serbian ministers are gathering to prevent any problems, to calm people down, but as a good friend of mine says: "Mitrovica doesn't belong to anyone, they've been abandoned by the Serbs and of course, by the Albanians..." And when there's neglect, the emptiness is filled by weapons, that's basic survival instinct. Either they protects themselves or nothing. That's a pressure cooker there.

As for the rest of the place, it's filled with Albanians from all over, filled with excited people, already celebrating. Filled with journalists crammed into the Hotel Grand Pristina... The great circus of journalists looking for stories to sell, sniffing out stories from street corners, taking the best photo that'll come out in the front pages.,You go out to the streets and they'll stick a camera in your face... Such a pain! I feel like this place is my home and it exasperates me that people come to exploit it. Actually, a load of Internationals have escaped and there's just a few of us that didn't want to miss the birth of the first country in the 21st century, to go with these people who waited, who dreamed, who worked for a free Kosovo. They don't care what may happen tomorrow. Here the important thing is not to be part of Serbia, the Serbia that humiliated them, massacred them, held them back.... They don't forget... But does suffering, having been a victim, justify everything?

On TV, they don't stop putting the war documentaries, the refugee camps, it's their day today... It's fine by me... They know they'll have hard times, even worse, but they take it on, they accept it, because there's no other way. This is what we've been telling them.. "You're going to be independent". And what happens to the defeated minority (since thanks to us, it was the Albanian guerrillas that won...)?? The worse thing is that no one cares, starting with the Serbia they keep calling out to. If Serbia's putting money in, supporting parallel structures, it's only to mess with the others. And all of this will preempt future conflicts? Would it be better if they continue being a part of Serbia and then all of them a part of the EU? This region's a power keg, it's in the air, in the earth, in the blood of these people, from Bosnia to Albania... And what do we get out of this? Some become allies that can have one more place to plant secret bases, others take this opportunity to show off their power...

Anyways, at least they've sorted out the international legal issues... Since resolution 1244 continues to be in force... Until there's another resolution from the Security Council, which there won't be, 1244 will continue applying. It indicates the UN Secretariat is authorized to establish, with the assistance of the relevant international organizations, an international civil presence in Kosovo.... Well we'll go from being UNMIK to the EU, which will help implement the Athisaari Plan although it wasn't part of the Security Council's resolution. All the laws linked to this plan are ready and tomorrow, the Assembly will pass them. The state will invite the EU to come in and provide support. And of course they'll do it, since they need the EU's financial assistance. They're not as stupid as to create substantial problems that may jeopardize this. The danger, or better said alarming situation in the North, worries them while in the south, there's celebration, happiness...

All these emotions, I'm exhausted and happy. I haven't fulfilled what I'm here to do, but I'll do all that I can to get as much as I can ready... To me, this is the countdown... I don't really know the countdown to what, but without a doubt it will be a countdown to my leaving this place which has given me so much, which still gives me for the future.. I feel a little sorry, but I'm excited and I've got the strength, faith, always with peace and love... Tomorrow I'll go out to celebrate, to the street, to watch, to soak in this experience, in this birth.... Because tomorrow, Kosovo will be independent.

The follow-up story of "L", you find here.

Thanks again for the story, "L". And flowers to "E", for the translation!
Pictures courtesy AP (Bela Szandelszky, Darko Bandic), Dimitar Dilkoff/Agence France-Presse-Getty Images

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News: Kosovo, Independency Day


L, a friend working in Kosovo, sent me her story of the Kosovo Independence day, a sequel to her previous post.

Sunday morning, Feb 17 2008.
Kosovo awakens to another cold day, covered in a mantle of snow. It might be its last day as a Serbian province. We have agreed to meet for brunch in the market, at what we call "Police Avenue", right in front of the Justice and Police Department. There are a lot of known faces, internationals, some with a hangover from the day before, taking re-hydration salts to recover and get ready for today, the big day..

On Nena Theresa Street, paved a few months ago, they've been preparing since the early morning. This is where the celebration's epicenter will take place. There is a stage and stalls sell everything: food, drinks, t-shirts (damn, I didn't get a chance to get mine) and fire crackers. The first laughs, first stories of the night before come out, of how our Serbian friends are holding up, of the news that we keep getting...

None of us have the hand-held radios with us. (it's just so big and the battery doesn't last at all!!), but we're really well-connected through our mobiles. At the moment the mobile network is working, so all is well... We're sending calming messages. "Tell your mother to call mine", we laugh... Yes, the fun begins, good times...

Little by little we all start showing up and the coffee shop's filled up! Just about everything is closed and no, the stores haven't stocked up... Most of the people spend their time cruising around. In Kosovo, how do they celebrate independence? By, beeping the car horn!!

M and I have to pick up MC at the airport... He lent us his car when he was away on vacation.. It was a real trek from the OSCE parking lot, where we even seem to have trouble getting out. We don't know if the road to the airport is blocked or not. They say the road to Skopje is closed as it goes through a Serbian enclave.

We pick up MC, who's wearing a short-sleeved shirt. We drop him off at his place. While he changes, we open a bottle of sparkling wine. Then, we start making our way to the center to meet with the colleagues. We leave the car parked and walk. The happy shooting starts. You can't imagine the amount of shooting... We cut through the football field, behind the UNMIK clinic and what once was the Serbian Secret Service building. It was was bombed by NATO and is been kept as-is to mark the end of the Serbian regime. And to remember what will never be again.. The AK47 machine guns keep on blasting. What a rush, I'm not sure why but it's fascinating.

The wind slices my face. If I stay on the street one more second I'll freeze. My fingers, my toes hurt. I jump at the heater in the restaurant, again in Police Avenue, just as the police replaces the old UNMIK police flag with the KPS (Kosovo Police Service) one... People clap their hands as the flag's being raised. We smile at each other. It's impossible not to feel like we're a part of it, not be infected by the excitement and celebrations. And the shootings continue.

Sunday, Feb 17 2008, 4 PM.
We decide to go drink rajkias. We'd promised the De-rada waiters that we'd pass by and say hi... We are regulars at the De-rada brasserie. It's close to home and they've got good wine. We closed the bar on a number of occasions. The chiquitos know us, and pamper us. J and L come to join us.. We switch from rajkia to wine. The TV is on and we watch the Assembly members sign the declaration, with Thaci at the back... When the last member signs, all hell breaks loose.. Flags, music, dancing, shouting. It's really hard for us not to dance, our hands, our arms, our legs, it all moves almost against our will. It is just like in the story of the Pied Piper, we finally give in... We keep bumping into more colleagues, the desire and excitement doesn't wane in this commotion intensified by the alcohol that runs through our veins. Laughter, hugs, dancing, shouting.

We're starving so we stop at home to refuel. In a split second, M and I have organized a dinner for eight, as in the background we can hear a melange of news (in Albanian) and football. Between all of the commotion, we hear a conversation on the handheld radio. Me, as usual, can't understand a thing so M gives her callsign and asks what is going on. Apparently, they've bombed the UN/EU building in Mitrovica and there's been two people injured at Nena Theresa street due to the happy shootings.

Next stop is D's house with a balcony overlooking Nena Theresa Street. Madre mia, the excitement! The music from the stage, people are pressed against each other due to the cold, and the happiness. The whole street is filled with flags. Firecrackers exploding. We start drinking gin and tonics, and once we're warm enough, we head down to the street again to be a part of the crowd! It's been a while we've been shoving the instructions and restrictions under the heavy rug of neutrality. We just "are" at this moment! We are just as concerned for the Serbs as we are for the Albanians, but we are people with feelings and we just can't stand at one side!

We've been in touch with North Mitrovica all day and there hasn't been a problem. All is calm, so we let ourselves go, enveloped in the warmth of the alcohol, the independence, the birth of a new nation (or as the pessimists say, the confirmation of dependency). We're enveloped in the knowing that we're forming part of history, of change, of being in the middle, of the fact that tomorrow everything will be different. We are smack at the epicenter. We dance. More firecrackers...

All of the sudden, Thaci appears on stage. We don't get to see him but the roaring the crowd says it all... Kosova free, "Erime Pavaresia", "UCK". I can't help but shout it as well. I don't think. I don't want to think. I let myself get swallowed in the passion. M, MC and I hug each other. D catches it on the video camera. The fire works start. We look all over the place, euphoric, excited, freezing but happy. The day is reaching its end.

We go home, I'm a little feverish. Once inside, I keep my coat on. More gin tonic and the TV in the background. We watch the repeats of the Assembly meeting, Thaci's speeches, the EU foreign ministers, Thaci, the streets. Chatting away, tired but satisfied. We've participated in the independence of others, of friends, colleagues, of people that we've come to help. Resolution 1244 has survived an earthquake. It was set up to put an end to a state of emergency, it was meant to be temporary and has survived eight years. The problem was no-one had the courage to take a decision seven years ago and now the people have taken the step. For them, the important thing is not to be a part of Serbia. Thaci has been repeatedly saying in his speech that the rights of all minorities will be respected and protected. This speech was imposed, of course, as a condition for what he has done. So if today we are where we are, it's because of all of us.

The international community also don't know how to were this is heading. Are we heading towards a 4th Balkan war? But isn't the EU here to provide an economic solution and take us all in. The EU wouldn't let a war happen, right? But the Serbian mayors of Kosovar municipalities have said today the EU is not the only power as long as Russia and Serbia are there. There's no turning back now, there was no turning back seven years ago but what is the vested interest? There are no natural resources in Kosovo, so it's not an Iraq or a Darfur. And it's not for a small piece of land to place an off-limits military base on. So what is it? It's a lack of interest, to ensure that attention is diverted to other issues. It's nothing and it's the decadent, rotten level our politics have reached....

Monday, Feb 18 2008.
Today, there's been a demonstration in North Mitrovica. All's calm. BBC focused for a couple of seconds on the Kosovo independence and return to the elections in Pakistan. Much more important? So far, Albania and Saudi Arabia have recognized Kosovo as an independent state.

We are back at the De-rada, with CH, MC and M, when a guy walks in and announces the EU's just recognized Kosova. Cheers, shouts, dancing and rajkia for everyone. Once more. Once more: "Kosovo is independent!"

Thanks again to "L" for the story and "E" for the editing.
Pictures courtesy AP (Visar Kryeziu, Darko Bandic, Dimitri Messinis)

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News: China, the West and Darfur: Why Do We Still Buy This Shit?

April 8, 2007.

Warning: This piece is opinionated.

1. Darfur According to the Chinese State Media: "Stable and Natural"

Reuters Alertnet reports:
"A Chinese government delegation visited refugee camps and met officials in western Sudan's strife-torn Darfur province to "get acquainted" with the situation there, Chinese state media reported on Sunday.

More than 200,000 people are believed to have died in Darfur and some 2.5 million have been driven from their homes into squalid camps since ethnic tensions erupted into revolt in 2003.

The United States and other Western powers have sought to authorise U.N. peacekeepers to quell violence in Darfur, where government-backed militia have been fighting rebel forces. African Union troops have failed to stop massacres.

China, which buys much of Sudan's oil and wields veto power over U.N. resolutions, is facing rising criticism from Western governments and rights campaigners for having rejected U.N. forces without Khartoum's agreement.

On Saturday the delegation, lead by Beijing government envoy Zhai Juan, went to Abu Shouk Camp, in North Darfur province, and met provincial governor Youssef Kibir, Xinhua news agency said.

"Administrative officials said that life of some 50,000 internally displaced people (at the camp) was stable and natural," Xinhua reported.

Continuing their four-day official visit, the delegation also visited a refugee camp with 14,000 people in Nyala, South Darfur province, and met provincial governor Al-Haj Atta al-Mannan Idris.

Idris said the general situation was "stable and improving", but "sporadic fighting" had occurred between rebel factions and tribes in the recent period, Xinhua added.

Last week Chinese Defence Minister Cao Gangchuan offered visiting Sudanese Joint Chief of Staff, Haj Ahmed El Gaili, stronger military cooperation while also urging that Sudan consider a peace proposal put forward by the now retired U.N. secretary-general, Kofi Annan.

2. Sudan and China: an "OW"-relationship: "Oil out, Weapons in."
(Also called a "win-win relationship"...)

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, "China takes 64 percent of Sudan's oil exports". The same report states that "China has sold the Islamic government in Khartoum weapons and $100 million worth of Shenyang fighter planes, including twelve supersonic F-7 jets. Experts say any military air presence exercised by the government—including the helicopter gunships reportedly used to terrorize civilians in Darfur—comes from China."

China is one of Sudan's major sources of weapons, says a
BBC report.

3. So, we in the West, get good scores on this one?

Nah, don't think so.. The media reports cited above might be allied to the West and Western politics, and are all to happy to report China's debatable interest in oil import from and weapons export to Sudan. Because... well, because it is China who gets the oil and the business, and not the West... So let's relativate it a bit:

When last year, the UN Security Council is debated a US draft resolution on the Sudan crisis, based on colliding views whether a genocide is or is not happening in Darfur, the issue of Sudan's oil is became a key factor. If an oil export embargo was approved, China and India would have lost their influence over Sudan's vast oil reserves and a Khartoum regime change would open up these resources to the West. The US is in favour of sanctions (hey I wonder why!), China is against (surprise!).
The population of Darfur is presently, as the UN puts it, suffering from "the world's worst humanitarian crisis." It is well documented that the Khartoum government bares much of the responsibility for this suffering, which the UN calls "ethnic cleansing" and the US called "genocide". It is however also well documented that the US through its closest African allies, helped train the SLA and JEM Darfuri rebels that initiated Khartoum's violent reaction. (source:
Afrol News)
[Just something that crossed my mind: Remember the Taliban used to be backed by the US (through the Pakistani Secret Service) in their fight against the Mujaheddin and Russian influences... That one ran out of hand also, did it not?]

According to the "European Coalition on Oil in Sudan",
here is a list of the companies who have oil interests in Sudan. Or in a map format. Quite a few of non-Chinese (European, North-American) companies have interests also!

Still, China is fast emerging as one of the world’s biggest, most secretive and irresponsible arms exporters, according to a
report issued by Amnesty International.

4. So.. What is the conclusion?

So, what should we conclude? The US has Iraq, China has its Darfur for main oil supplies and everyone should be happy? Or should the conclusion be that if we would use more alternative energy sources, the world would be a better place, not only for the environment, but also for the refugees, terrorism and civil unrest? One thing is for sure: the situation in Darfur is "NOT stable and natural" as the Chinese and Sudanese media reported today... Unless if we all accept an ongoing genocide is "stable", because it has been ongoing since so long, and "natural" as... well... as it is in Africa of course... That's where people kill each other naturally, no?

Some excellent video footage by Philip Cox:

A more recent video by BBC reporter Jonah Fisher:

Pictures courtesy WFP

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West-Africa Climate Change Adaptation and Food Security videos

Here are the testimonial videos we shot for the CCAFS project (Climate Change Adaptation and Food Security) in Ghana, Burkina Faso and Mali (West Africa).

Clip#1: Tidiane Diarra (Mali)

Clip#2: Mahamane Diallo (Mali)

Clip#3: Amadou Fane (Mali)

Clip#4: Arouna Bayoko (Mali)

Clip#5: Sara Togo (Mali)

Clip#6: Yusif Hadi (Ghana)

Clip#7: Jumuo Namaayi (Ghana)

Clip#8: Naakpi Kuunwena (Ghana)

Clip #10: Joel Yiri (Ghana)

Clip #11: Bougouna Sogoba (Mali)

Clip #13: Ganame Adama (Burkina Faso)

Clip #14: Helene Nana (Burkina Faso)

Clip #15: Ganame Ousseni (Burkina Faso)

Clip #16: Hermann Togo (Burkina Faso)

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Kenya Climate Change Adaptation and Food Security videos

These are the CCAFS (Climate Change Adaptation and Food Security) interviews we did with Kenyan farmers on their adaptation to climate change (October 2010).


Celeste and Julia:






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News: 19 cents to feed a child for a day.

Update March 2008: For the sake of precision: due to the recent fuel and food price increase, the cost to feed a child per day is now 25 cents.

I received a lot of queries about the 19 cents it costs to feed a child a day. Here is some background info:

1/ Question: Part of what programme does that figure come from?
Answer: That figure comes from the WFP School Feeding Programme. As much as 'feeding the hungry' is a short term solution to the 'hunger issue', 'proper education' is one of the pillars for a longer term solution to the problem of poverty (and 'hunger' as a result of it).
To encourage kids to come to school in developing countries, WFP provides them with a free meal.

2/ Question: How is the figure calculated. It can not be that low, can it?
I asked a WFP expert. Here is her...
It is an average that was calculated in 2000, by simply taking all that WFP spent on school feeding programs by country and dividing it by the number of beneficiaries and then by an estimated average number of school days per year (we used 180). It was across all countries and all types of school feeding (just school breakfast or snacks, just school lunches, two meals a day/breakfast + lunch, boarding school meals of three meals per day, and/or take-home rations which may be provided as the only WFP input, or may be combined with one of the meals described).
Depending on the country, the costs actually varied from about 6 cents a day up to about a dollar a day. [Note: At the same point in history, the U.S. public school lunch program cost about $2.12 per day, but of course the meals were much more sophisticated and varied than the WFP-provided school meals.]

Since 2000, WFP has:
- almost doubled the number of beneficiaries
- improved our reporting systems and calculations, and added some parts of the "essential package" (especially micronutrient fortification, de-worming and HIV/AIDS prevention education) everywhere we can.

So the food cost per day has actually dropped a bit (due to economies of scale and more accurate accounting), but we have maintained the 19 cents per day in order to ensure that we are responsibly addressing those essential elements that WFP can implement (as strongly recommended by our donors, school feeding and education experts and others).

3/ Question: What does that US$0.19 per day buy? What 'meal' are the children given?
Again, I asked a WFP expert. Her
Answer: School meals vary dramatically from one country to the next, but the WFP component generally consists of:
- a grain-based and fortified flour such as Corn-Soy Blend (CSB) or Wheat-Soy Blend (WSB) along with oil, sugar and/or salt. Those basic components can be used for a nutritious drink or porridge; or
- a staple grain (such as rice, sorghum or millet) along with "condiments" (oil, sugar and/or salt), to which the community adds the ingredients for a sauce; or fortified biscuits (baked in either a "salty" or a "sweet" form to accommodate local taste preferences).

Take-home rations are included in these calculations, and they consist of one or more food items (usually one) which is of significant value in that location. So in Pakistan, it is a can of cooking oil, in another country it is a bag of wheat or corn, etc.. Take-home rations are economic incentives for the family to send their child/children to school and generally are given monthly or quarterly to students who have maintained good school attendance. We do not require that the child him/herself eat that food. That is why take-home rations are sometimes combined with in-school meals. The take-home rations serve as the economic incentive for the parents to send the child to school/offset the loss of the child's labor at home, but a nutritious school meal is required to ensure that the child is not hungry and has enough energy to learn.
WFP has found take-home rations to be an extremely effective method of increasing school enrolment and attendance of girls and child laborers (in food-insecure locations where girls are not attending school or where child labor is a particular problem), and we have been also been having good results with take-home rations combined with school meals for children from households affected by HIV/AIDS and other particularly vulnerable children.

4/ Question: Does the 19 cents per day include the overhead, the transport, etc..
Answer: Yes, the US$0.19/day includes the total cost. The food itself, the cost to the organisation to deliver the food, manage the process, the cost to monitor the school feeding system ensuring the food gets where it supposed to go, etc...

Still interested in more?
Here you find all background material.

For updated humanitarian news, check out The Other World News

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News: The New African Genocide

Source: CBS News online
08 March 2007

Less than ten miles from Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's mansion in Harare — the largest private residence on the African continent — Cleophus Masxigora digs for mice. On a good day, he told me, he can find 100 to 200. To capture the vermin, he burns brush to immobilize them, then kills them with several thumps of a shovel. This practice has become so widespread in Zimbabwe that, as a Zimbabwean journalist informed me, state-run television has broadcast warnings against citizens setting brush fires. Masxigora began hunting mice to support (and feed) his wife and three children soon after Mugabe began confiscating thousands of productive, white-owned farms in 2000, a policy that has since led to mass starvation. Not long ago, Zimbabwe, the "breadbasket of Africa," exported meat and produced what was widely considered to be Africa's finest livestock. Today, Masxigora tells me that each mouse nets $30 Zim dollars, about 12 cents, which makes him a wealthy man in Zimbabwe. "This is beef to us," he told me in August.

The conditions Mugabe rendered in Zimbabwe do not merely stem from idealistic economic and social policies gone awry. He has undertaken a campaign of violence and starvation against political opponents, the fallout of which is killing tens of thousands, if not more, every year. In 2005, there were roughly 4,000 more deaths each week than births, a rate that the famine has surely increased. This is worse than brutality. The United Nations says that "deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part" constitutes genocide, and that is exactly what Robert Mugabe has wrought.

The genocide in Zimbabwe is not as stark as others. There are no cattle cars and gas chambers. There are no machete-wielding gangs roaming the countryside. There are no helicopter gunships or Janjaweed. The killing in Zimbabwe is slow, oftentimes indirect, and not particularly bloody. But Mugabe's campaign of mass murder against those who oppose him has been no less deliberate than any of the other genocides in human history.
It all began with Mugabe's land seizures in 2000, in which he booted white farmers from the property they owned and replaced them with political hacks who have no interest in agriculture. The results were disastrous. Zimbabwe annually requires 1.8 million metric tons of maize. Yet, in 2006, for instance, it faced an 850,000 metric ton deficit — of which planned imports would cover just 60 percent, with only 28 percent of that delivered by December. The country also requires 400,000 tons of wheat annually, yet, last year, it produced only 218,000 tons by the government's count — meaning the true total was likely far less. As early as 2002, the BBC was reporting that people in Matabeleland, the southern region of the country where the minority Ndebele tribe lives, were starving. That same year, on the eve of a massive drought, the Minister of Zimbabwean State Security said, "We would be better off with only six million people — with our own who support the liberation struggle. We don't want all these extra people." Today, according to the World Food Program, 38 percent of Zimbabweans are malnourished.

The fallout has rippled through society: Zimbabwe has the world's highest inflation rate (1,600 percent annually, expected to hit 4,000 by the end of the year) and an HIV prevalence of at least 18 percent, and probably higher. It also has the lowest life expectancy, by far, in the world: 34 for women and 37 for men (it was 62 in 1990). Last year, 42,000 women died from childbirth; less than a decade ago, this figure was under 1,000. The weekly death rate exceeds Darfur's.

Meanwhile, Mugabe's party, ZANU-PF, is wielding the food shortage as a weapon against the opposition. The government's Grain Marketing Board frequently denies food aid to people in districts that voted against Mugabe in recent elections; only those with ZANU-PF membership cards are able to get rations. Several people I spoke with in Harare's poor township of Hatcliffe told me that the army and the police regularly interfere with food distribution from USAID, UNICEF, and other international aid groups. In 2002, USAID director Andrew Natsios publicly scolded Mugabe for manipulating American food aid, a practice that has continued unabated. And a 2004 Amnesty International report warned that "[T]he government has used the food shortages for political purposes and to punish political opponents."

Then, as if starvation weren't bad enough, Mugabe unleashed more destruction in May 2005. Operation Murambatsvina (Shona for "Drive out Filth") aimed to "re-ruralize" some 1 million Zimbabweans — mostly poor, urban shanty dwellers from areas that voted against Mugabe in parliamentary elections just weeks earlier. Mugabe's henchmen forcibly cleared the slums. A United Nations report filed by a special representative of the secretary-general, found that the operation was "carried out in an indiscriminate and unjustified manner, with indifference to human suffering, and, in repeated cases, with disregard to several provisions of national and international legal frameworks." The Fourth Geneva Convention considers the "deportation or forcible transfer of population" to be a crime against humanity.

There is historic and legal precedent to warrant calling these policies genocide. In 1996, U.N Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali declared that Rwandan Hutu refugees living in Zaire might be potential victims of "genocide by starvation." In December of 2006, the former Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam (also known as the "African Pol Pot") was found guilty of genocide by a court in his own country after a twelve-year trial. His government was convicted of having "conspired to destroy a political group and kill people with impunity" — not only through actual murder, but by creating and prolonging the 1984 Tigray famine, in which some 1.5 million people died. In 1991, Mariam escaped from Ethiopia, finding asylum in, of all places, Mugabe's Zimbabwe.

Incidentally, the starvation and transfer of Mugabe's opponents isn't the first time he has has unleashed a genocidal campaign against his own people. Not long after taking power, in the mid-'80s, Mugabe's North Korean-trained ZANU-PF army killed an estimated 25,000 Ndebeles (the minority tribe to Mugabe's own Shona majority) in an operation known as the Gukurahundi (Shona for "the early rain which washes away the chaff"). The Matabeleland massacre ended, once and for all, any Ndebele challenge to Mugabe's power.
People are finally beginning to call it like they see it in Zimbabwe. R.W. Johnson, an Oxford-trained academic and for many years the London Sunday Times' southern Africa correspondent, declared in a recent dispatch that "A vast human cull is under way in Zimbabwe and the great majority of deaths are a direct result of deliberate government policies. Ignored by the United Nations, it is a genocide perhaps 10 times greater than Darfur's and more than twice as large as Rwanda's." (Johnson reported the widely published number of three million Zimbabwean refugees in South Africa and one million who have fled elsewhere, leaving a population of 14 million in Zimbabwe. But the government itself publishes an official figure of 12 million citizens, leaving 2 million people "missing.") And Arnold Tsunga, chairman of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (an NGO devoted to democracy and the rule of law in Zimbabwe), called Mugabe's policies "smart genocide," because they have taken place unnoticed by governments, aid organizations, and the international press.

Will anything come of it? This month, South Africa took over the rotating U.N. Security Council presidency. Although it's a perfect opportunity to publicize Mugabe's crimes, South Africa, the regional power, has emboldened Mugabe by endorsing every instance of his election-theft (flying in the face of international observer teams), supplying him with economic aid, and strengthening the countries' military alliance. So it's likely nothing will happen.

Last month, Mugabe and 10,000 of his supporters gathered in a soccer stadium to celebrate his eighty-third birthday — gorging on giant cakes, tons of corn meal, and 38 cattle slaughtered specifically for the event. "We are terribly disappointed," one man — who brought his wife and children to the event but was not allowed in — told the Guardian. "This was an opportunity for us to get a proper meal." So, while Mugabe feasts, men like Cleophus Masxigora continue to scour for mice.

For updated humanitarian news, check out The Other World News

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News: The Evil That Men Do Lives After Them

Source: Ottawa Citizen 08 March 2007

By Sheila Sisulu

Annie's life was good -- she had studied agriculture at a university and her husband was a gold and diamond trader. Together, they lived with their children in a four-bedroom house in Bukavu, which lies on the eastern border of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Yes, they had lived well. That is, until her husband was forced to flee for his life and she was gang-raped by five of the government soldiers looking for him. When they returned, they told her, they would kill her.

She didn't wait -- she took her children and went in search of peace and safety. But before she found it, she was stopped by a rebel ambush and sexually violated with bottles. Only then did she make it to a refugee camp, where for the past year she has been living in a mud house and sleeping on the ground with her nine children.

Annie's story is all too familiar. The faces may change, the details vary and the language in which it's told may be different, but there is always one constant -- the violence that specifically targets women and girls.

Gender violence can be found in every country, in every continent. But in developing countries or countries involved in conflict, violence toward women is rife. Its perpetrators do not consider age or status. They only consider the fact that their victims are female.

Women and girls, identified as the mothers of future generations in a community or ethnic group under attack, are intentionally targeted for violent acts. During Liberia's 14-year civil war, 40 per cent of the female population were raped. Nearly half of Liberian women now live with lasting injuries due to the force and the objects used against them, not to mention deep, psychological scarring. Many are now supporting themselves by the only means they have -- transactional sex -- which exposes them to more violence and increases their chances of contracting diseases like HIV/AIDS.

Systematic rape, torture or sexual enslavement has been used to suppress, terrify and destabilize communities all over the world, from Haiti to DRC to Burma (officially Myanmar.) During Sierra Leone's long and bloody civil war, thousands of women and girls as young as seven were kidnapped into sexual slavery. Others were forced to become soldiers, to kill and commit atrocious crimes. Many had to do both.

Sadly, violence against women and girls is not confined to times of war. For many girls, it begins at birth, with female infanticide. Or, for some 6,000 girls every day, it begins with female genital mutilation, a cultural practice found in many parts of the world, particularly in Africa. This early experience often heralds a longer line of abuses and violations. At some point in her life, at least one in three women has suffered physical or sexual abuse: forced childhood marriage, kidnapping and trafficking, forced prostitution, domestic violence, legal discrimination, exploitation of widows. If they are pregnant or very young, the risk of severe, sustained and repeated attacks is greater still.

How is it that seven years after the new millennium, when mankind has reached such dizzying summits in science, technology and rational thinking, that such appalling and primitive abuses continue, with no end in sight?

Ending gender violence also means ending impunity for those who commit it. And yet, in many places, rapists and abusers roam free of punishment and vilification. In order to change this -- for it must be changed -- societies must alter. Cultural norms, politics, economics, religion, conflicts must all be examined and the resulting understanding used to convey the unacceptability of violence against women and girls. Initiatives specifically aimed toward the protection of women's rights, bodies and futures need to be formed, and existing ones encouraged.

But most of all, factors that contribute to gender violence -- poverty, ignorance, hunger -- need to be rooted out and eradicated.

The United Nations World Food Programme is working to this end. Its long-standing practice of putting food aid directly into the hands of women not only empowers them, but also helps ensure nourishment will get to those who need it most, as experience has shown.

WFP also provides food to accompany training and education for women and girls. In Bangladesh, women learn about their rights as well as new skills that will make them less dependent and therefore less vulnerable. With such skills women are also less likely to resort to transactional sex.

In Liberia and the DRC, WFP provides food to survivors of gender-based abuse who can then stay in hospital for the full recovery time. In Afghanistan and elsewhere, girls who go to school for a set number of days receive school meals as well as take-home rations for their families. Education helps girls -- and boys -- break out of the trap of ignorance and poverty where physical abuse festers.

With the help and support of the international community, governments can be held accountable to implement policies and practices designed to protect women, and efforts of local women's organizations, police or security forces can be co-ordinated. But more importantly, attitudes can be changed. An unfortunate sense of resignation toward gender violence is pervasive, a sense of "these things happen." But in its most basic form it is permissiveness; resignation fosters impunity for perpetrators and only puts more women and girls at risk.

Yes, these things do indeed happen. But they needn't and they shouldn't. Now is the time to take action.

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