Humanitarian News moved to a new server

Humanitarian News new layout

Those of you following my different blogs, will have noticed I have been struggling with GoDaddy, the hosting service for some sites since the longest time.

After months of virus infections on some sites, security failures, lack of performance and repeated downtime, I decided to move some of my blogs to another host.

The first, and most complex of all sites, Humanitarian News, was the first one to move. Since I started Humanitarian News, the site had completely outgrown its server: We have now collected and indexed close to 300,000 news articles and blogs on nonprofit topics. The site now gets 20,000 visitors per month, with sometimes over 40 simultaneous users.

With the help of Fabio and Andrea, two Linux/PHP/MySQL/CSS/Drupal gurus, we move Humanitarian News to its new server over the weekend. Something I wanted to do since months, but never had the time, and certainly didn't have the knowledge. So now, the deed is done: Humanitarian News has moved, and is purring on the new server, happy like a cat next to a stove. The response time is much better than ever before.

While moving, we implemented a new search engine (called "SOLR", for the nerds amongst you), which indexes all posts much faster, and generates search results in a flash.

What is even more important: we enable the customized RSS feeds once again. This is a powerful feature which allows visitors to create their own RSS feed, out of any search criteria.
For instance, if you are interested in the latest on the Pakistan floods, the search will give you these results. Clicking on the RSS icon next to the search bar will generate this feed.

Once you generated a feed, you can import it in your RSS reader, display it on a widget on your blog, or even generate a daily email with the latest articles on that topic.

As Humanitarian News monitors and collects articles from 1,000+ different websites, the customized RSS feeds give you an instantaneous overview of the latest articles on your favourite topics, from pretty much the "cream" of all nonprofit news/blog sources.

Next steps will be to move Have Impact and BlogTips to the new server.


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Shell in Nigeria.

Discovered via Platform London

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The Millennium Development Goals in pictures

equal opportunities for women

Remember my post announcing the UNDP-Olympus-AFP Foundation Photo Contest, called Picture This? People could submit pictures symbolizing the work done on the different Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

The project received over 3,000 submissions from around the world, and some of them are simply breathtaking. Including the touching picture aboved, submitted by Joydeep Mukherjee, titled "Equal Work".

While the purpose of the contest was to shed a positive light on the progress towards the MDGs, I am not sure this particular picture really does. Are we actually making progress on MDG#3 "Promote gender equality and empower women"? That is why I think this picture is so powerful. According to me, it puts it all in question, in a very simple but gripping way.

Oh, by the way, a bit of a lost opportunity for UNDP to make this contest a real advocacy event: Of the 3,000 pictures submitted, I can only find the winners, unless if I look really well for a link to all entries.
I can not embed neither the slideshow of the winners (even though it is a Flickr roll), nor any of the other pictures in the winners' series. There is no social media bookmarking (Twitter, Facebook) on the winner's pages.
I hope that next year, they will have the voting done on the amount of times each picture is twittered, for instance. Would combine crowdsourcing, advocacy and good use of social media.

Oh, and I would also like to see a Creative Commons copyright prominently displayed.

Oh, and I'd like better quality resizing of the pictures. The quality of the front page slideshow pictures is much better than the resized ones in each of the category pages.

(Why can't I just keep my mouth shut. What's wrong with me?)

Picture courtesy Joydeep Mukherjee

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Viva Alitalia - This is why the pope kisses the ground after a flight

As part of the series The Flying Fun on The Road, here is an interesting event to further relativate the "Science of Flying".

When we landed with an Alitalia Airbus A321 last Sunday, the cabin sound and light installation went completely bezerk for the whole of the 20 minutes we were taxiing to our gate. Both the rhythmic flickering and rapping beat in the speakers made it look and feel like a night at the disco.

I imagined one of the flight attendants coming from the back rapping to the tunes of Cobra Starship:

I have had it with these motherf**king snakes
on this motherf**king plane! (oh-ah)

Times are strange (ho-ho)
We got a free upgrade for
snakes on a plane. (ho-ho)
F**k 'em, I don't care. (ho)
Bought the cheap champagne, (ho)
we're going down in flames, hey. (hey,hey)

Oh, I'm ready for it (ho-ho)
Come on, bring it. (ho-ho)
Oh, I'm ready for it (ho-ho)
Come on, bring it. (ho-ho)

But none did. There was no announcement to apologize -leave alone explain-, and no reaction from the flight attendants other than a chuckle.

I guess the fact we were already on the ground, made things a bit "lighter" for all. I wonder how people would have felt if this were to happen in mid-flight. Would they still joke "Ahhhhlitalia"?

Or is this how a cabin looks like before things really start to go wrong...

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The Majestic Plastic Bag

We featured several good and bad examples of advocacy for nonprofit causes. Here is a type we have not featured before: "The Majestic Plastic Bag" is a "mockumentary": it uses the format of a documentary, in a sarcastic jacket, to drive home a strong message.

The video is made by Heal the Bay, a nonprofit environmental organization dedicated to making Southern California coastal waters and watersheds safe, healthy and clean. They use research, education, community action and advocacy to pursue their mission.

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Turning plastic garbage into oil

Discovered via Our World 2.0

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Major US bomb alert. A stuffed horse.

Seriously, How deep can the fear of terrorism attacks run?...

Not so seriously:
Two-year-old Timmy Johnson, spokesman for Toddlers for Justice, who claimed responsibility for the stuffed horse attack, said in a written statement that if they can not burn Korans, they have a constitutional right to display horses in parks.

His girlfriend, two-and-a-half year old Suzy Elderman confirmed they are planning similar attacks using Barbie dolls...

Sarah Palin is rumoured to comment on the incident, using Facebook.

Discovered via American Everyman

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Monsanto, aid and politics

the world according to Monsanto

Two years ago, I published a post about "The World According to Monsanto - The Horror of Commercial GM Crops" which also included a link to a must-see documentary. The documentary showed clearly how Monsanto was encroaching on the seed (and thus food-) markets in developing countries in a pretty straightforward way: they buy up as many seed distributors as possible. Through this network, they offer their GMO seeds - which need their own pesticides to be productive - at a price far lower than traditional seeds. Once the traditional seeds are competed off the market, they will stay off the market, as no new traditional crops are grown to generate traditional seeds.
Once Monsanto has the monopoly of the country's seed market, the prices are increased.

Monsanto has not been sitting still in developing countries. They steadily moved into the aid world, including strengthening their ties with the Gates Foundation. Their common projects came under fire as having too close links to large-scale industrial agriculture and consequently, they were accused of pushing the use of genetically modified crops. A move which was fully compliant with the US foreign policy, it seems.

Earlier this year, Monsanto announced the donation of hybrid seeds to Haitian farmers, under the auspices of USAid, in what I would call an obvious mix of politics, aid and commerce.
That donation spurred a lot of criticism from within the aid community, and the Haitian farmers themselves.

Strangely enough (or not?), a recently completed assessment of seed availability in Haiti found that plenty of seeds for traditional crops exist within the country. The report recommended seeds from outside of the country not to be introduced.
Interestingly enough, the report was funded partially by USAid, the backers of the Monsanto-Haiti deal. Would USAid therefor admit the Monsanto deal was an error? Maybe they should, if you read the report's main findings:

  1. Emergency seed aid should be used only to address emergency problems, and those in which seed security is a problem. Note that current farmer projections for August/September 2010 suggest that farmers can access the seed they need.
  2. Any seeds made available to farmers through aid interventions have to be shown to a) be adapted to local conditions, b) fit well with farmers preferences, and c) be of a quality ‘at least as good’ as what farmers normally use. One should never introduce varieties in an emergency context which have not been tested in the given agro-ecological site and under farmers’ management conditions. (..)
  3. Direct Seed Distribution (DSD) is best used when there are problems of seed availability.(Several agro-dealers in Léogâne indicated they had substantial supplies of maize seed unsold while free seed aid was being delivered. Business was being compromised at the critical moment it needed to be strengthened. While Léogâne is somewhat unique in currently having an input dealer network, such outlets will likely become more numerous in near future: these should be supported, rather than undermined). (...)
  4. Novel improved varieties should generally not be introduced to a broad population in the context of an emergency distribution. (...)

Once again: when commercial interests and foreign politics get mixed up in aid, you get a poisoned blend where the interest of the poor is no longer core. To say the least.
Will anything change? Hardly. It looks like after the war on terror, the wars for oil, the next wars will be for food. Whoever dominates the food market, has the power. In that scenario, Monsanto will even become a stronger ally of US foreign policy.

Picture courtesy Ethical Consumer

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Pakistan: I wished I was wrong - Part I

pakistan floods

Remember, I predicted that despite all the humanitarian trumpet-ing that "Pakistan was the biggest humanitarian emergency ever seen", funding would not be forthcoming? Simply because the main donor countries would not step forward, and the world sentiment is not particularly filled with loved for anything happening in countries filled with mosques?

Guess what.

Of the 460 million USD humanitarian appeal, only 307 million is funded to date.

Oxfam cries foul. And so does the latest hired humanitarian employee, Ms Amos. Who also happens to be the new UN Emergency Relief Coordinator. According to her, in the past two weeks, only $20 million USD was received on the half a billion appeal. Twenty-million in two weeks. For a natural disaster? If that does not prove a point, nothing will.

As goes with natural disasters: if the money does not arrive one month after, forget about it. It is out of the news. Press, people, and donors have moved on.

The next time I will write about Pakistan, the post title will be "Pakistan: I wished I was wrong - Part II". It will to about my second prediction on Pakistan. The first killing of an aidworker since the crisis.

I wish I am proven wrong on this one.

I am telling you, to survive in the aid world, you really need a harness of cynism.

Picture courtesy REUTERS/Athar Hussain

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How Bush started

For the "whatever" department of quotes...

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New aidworker blogs

On the road in Africa

The list of blogging aidworkers grows. Here are my latest additions:

  • After Africa: Long time blogger and cyberfriend Pernille faces her new challenge: after years in Bosnia, Uganda and Tanzania, she now works an NGO back home in Denmark.
  • Underwater Desert blogging, by Casey in the US, about Somalia. Or is it the other way round?
  • Chhaya Path, is Nisha's blog, who shuttles between India and Kenya
  • Shotgunshack blogs from different parts of the world, inspired by a video from the Talking Heads.
  • Rachel in Erbil (Iraq), after "Rachel in Kitgum" (Uganda) and "Rachel in Goma" (DRC)...

Remember, I aggregate the latest posts of all aidworkers' blogs on AidBlogs, twittered via @AidBlogs.

Picture courtesy of Pernille

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Human Rights for Dummies

If you don't understand what human rights are all about, after this video, then mmm...

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