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Post Bin Laden's Death: Charlie Wilson's Real War

 

Osama bin Laden's death is a pivot point for Pakistan.  Just as the 'Arab Spring' is bringing about greater democracy and freedoms in North Africa and the Arab world, the decline of Al Qaeda and its ideology must be used to open up new wells of opportunity in Pakistan.  This is especially true in the field of education. Consider this sobering fact: of the 67 million children who miss out on schooling, 25 million of them live in Pakistan. It is impossible to comprehend the cost to that country in economic and social terms of this education emergency.  Above all, it is a moral travesty.  

Even though the vast majority of its citizens love peace and yearn for stability, it is neither a coincidence nor a surprise that Pakistan has become a haven for extremists.  When educational and economic opportunity is beyond reach because the state is failing generation after generation of children, radicalism and fear of the outside always finds a home.  

Bin Laden's death is a moment of reckoning for the small number of extremists who remain wedded to jihadist ideology that would repress women and girls and trample on human freedoms.   It is clear that their hate-filled ideas offer no solution to the millions living in poverty in Muslim countries.  The death of Osama Bin Laden doesn't mean the end of terrorism -- not by a long shot -- but it surely offers leaders and citizens the chance to imagine and build a future that does away with terrorism.  

In places like Indonesia, people have discovered how extending the reach of opportunity can help build more productive, healthier and happier communities.  As we wrote about here, Australia invests millions every year in helping the Indonesian Government build schools and colleges because both countries understand that peace in the region benefits from more open minds and fewer clenched fists.  

But look at Pakistan, which receives billions in military aid each year to help it fight terrorism, far more than it receives in grants to build classrooms.  Let's hope the people of Pakistan make the most of recent events and stand up for a reversal of such wrong-headed priorities.  The question today is: will the people and government of Pakistan take hold of the moment?  

 

Children Standing Up for Children

 

Most of us probably don’t know that in 1989 the United Nations passed the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) that gave special protection and rights to all children around the world under the age of 18. It became the most agreed human rights convention ever and stressed the responsibility of every adult to make these rights a reality.

This means that for the past 20+ years, every young person under 18, regardless of what country they live in, has possessed the legal right to a good standard of living, clean drinking water, nutritious food, health care, education and even the right to relax and play. Yet despite this convention, children’s rights in developing countries often get pushed to the bottom of the political agenda and forgotten by society.

That’s why the Global Poverty Project has teamed up with Plan Australia to make this short clip to raise awareness about the rights of children so that we can all make sure these rights are protected and our governments deliver on their promises to honor them. Our presenters will soon be taking out this message to schoolkids across Australia to show them what their rights are and why they should help stand up for other children who are being denied these rights in developing countries around the world.

Click here to sign up for a presentation at your school.

Posted by Ashli Alberty in Poverty, Education for column Issue Analysis on Apr 28th 2011, 08:41

The flick of a switch - electricity & poverty

 

In this guest post, Daniel Choudhury from e.quinox outlines the importance of electricity in fighting poverty - and innovative student-developed solution to help give some of the world's poorest greatest access. We met Daniel and his team at a 1.4 Billion Reasons presentation in London - and were inspired by he and his group's commitment as everyday people, to doing what they could.

You will probably agree that turning on a light is no big deal. A simple flick of a switch, one most unconscious movement of the hand, and the darkness of the night is effectively eliminated.

For a staggering 1.4 billion people across the globe, however, this simple equation does not apply. The reason: No access to electricity, and therefore no means to produce light other than by open fire, oil, gas or kerosene. On top of commonly unaffordable prices, these light sources bear a variety of health impacts that can range from simple burns to chronic diseases.

The non-profit, humanitarian organization e.quinox endeavors to solve the challenge of rural electrification in developing countries. By developing a solution that is technically viable, financially sustainable and replicable on a large scale, the entirely student-run team from Imperial College London hopes to be able to spread their idea in as many countries as possible. Their vision is to give a large number of remote communities access to electricity, by having other organizations, governments and charities take up their “blue-print” and tailor it to their own respective needs, whilst calling upon the expertise of e.quinox and like-minded organizations.

e.quinox’s model to provide affordable and safe electricity is simple, yet unique. It relies on a centralized power generation hub, the so-called “Energy Kiosk”, and decentralized distribution via battery boxes. The Energy Kiosks are flexible in the sense that they can be powered in a multitude of ways. Current installations include Solar Power or Hydro Power, and one Kiosk is even grid-connected – the use of appropriate technology is key. The battery boxes, supplied each with an LED light and a light holder, also contain the same 230V AC output as any ordinary socket and can be recharged after depletion. Benefiters of e.quinox’s solution can therefore not only use the battery for lighting, but are also able to charge their mobile phones and shavers or power small radios. This allows e.quinox’s current 400 customers in three different Rwandan villages to set up or expand their own businesses. e.quinox strongly believes that the empowerment of the local economy and the instigation of entrepreneurial spirit are key elements to effectively reduce poverty.

Roger Liew, Chairman of e.quinox, illustrates: “Even when a national electric grid is nearby, people in developing countries often can’t gain any access to it, simply because of the high initial and running costs that a connection typically entails. Our system, however, is made economically affordable by undermining the price that our customers would have to pay for alternative, more hazardous lighting solutions. This payment can be made either on a monthly basis or for every single recharge, allowing customers to choose the best suitable model for their own demand.”

Once an individual kiosk’s financial sustainability has been proven, it will be handed over to the local community or government, creating a situation whereby the supported communities no longer have to rely on external support. This financial independence is often overlooked by humanitarian aid ventures, but vital to any community’s long-term development. In essence, this idea of a ‘social business’ allows this form of humanitarian work not to be simple short-term assistance, but to have a prolonged effect and to allow communities to help themselves.

e.quinox is currently competing in the JP Morgan Give-It-Away contest to secure $50,000 for future projects. The competition can only be won through votes from the public, so give e.quinox your support by going to http://www.e.quinox.org/vote and selecting e.quinox as the organization of your choice! Don’t keep this link to yourself either, share it with your friends, families and colleagues! The e.quinox team is grateful for every bit of support and affirms to make every single penny count.

 

Posted by Daniel Choudhury (Guest Blogger) in Technology for column Issue Analysis on Apr 26th 2011, 08:31

Update on Pakistan's Education Emergency

 

As we described in our blog a few weeks ago, there is currently an education emergency in Pakistan keeping 25 million children from receiving an education, 7 million of whom will never even finish primary school. The March for Education campaign vowed to make March the month where Pakistan focused on nothing but education and they succeeded!

With the support of people like our readers who signed their petition to global leaders to end the education emergency in Pakistan, they were able to get the topic at the top of the political agenda. In his first visit to Pakistan last week, Prime Minister David Cameron alongside Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani announced the UK is dedicated to a new program of assistance to put 4 million Pakistani children into school by 2015, to train 90,000 new teachers, and to provide 6 million textbooks. You can see footage of the announcement on the Independent's website.

This is a huge win for the Pakistan Education Task Force’s campaign and shows the power of our voices when we band together to help end the issues stemming from extreme poverty. Thank you to all of you who helped make this possible.

However, there is still much to be accomplished in this battle to end the education problems Pakistan is experiencing. They still need more people to sign the petition to continue putting pressure on other global leaders to join Pakistan and the UK in building the education system. 4 million children in school by 2015 is a huge step in the right direction, but that still leaves 21 million children without the chance to attend school.

Let’s keep the momentum going and get even more support behind this campaign so we can make sure no child is left without an education and the chance for a bright future.

Posted by Ashli Alberty in What Can I Do?, Education for column Issue Analysis on Apr 19th 2011, 09:04

Knowing where the aid money goes

 

The Australian government are about to announce the findings of their review into foreign aid. The UK has just released theirs. Both have focused on aid transparency - making sure that the public, officials and poor country government and citizens can know where the money has come from and where it's going. In this blog, we look at what's happening in the world of aid transparency.

Recently a new standard was agreed to for the publication of aid to developing countries. This may not sound too interesting, or effective but it has lasting implications for the aid sector. Working just like resource transparency legislation that the British government announced that it would be supporting, a uniform aid standard makes it far easier to trace where money is being spent, because with an increased level of accountability citizens are empowered with a vital source of information with which to hold their governments to account.

Currently, there is no mandatory standard outlining what to publish, how to publish it and what form that takes.

Such an outcome has been the result of the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). Launched on September 4, 2008, IATI is a coalition of donor governments, governments of developing countries and NGOs whose aim is to make information about aid spending ‘easier to access, use and understand.’ Currently there are 18 donors who are IATI signatories including the World Bank, United Nations Development Programme and countries such as Sweden to Australia. In addition 19 developing countries have endorsed IATI from across the world Honduras to Ghana and Papua New Guinea.

So what do the standards require?

The new standards establish universal definitions setting out how much money is being provided, when it was, or is, due to be paid out and how funds are expected to be used. They are part of the broader movement for aid transparency that aims to benefit recipient governments, donors and aid agencies and southern citizens and their representatives.

With the IATI, participating donors will publish their aid information in one place and one format. For recipient governments this greater aid transparency means that they are able to know how much aid is invested, from whom and where it being spent. Having the information available in one place is essential for their budget planning for two reasons; first, a lack of funds means that a government cannot implement it’s plans and second, a lack of predictability means that government’s are unable to effectively plan in the first place.

This problem has real world implications. For example, in 2007 the Sierra Leone government received $US 26 million less than it had budgeted – money that had already been budgeted for spending on poverty reduction.

For donors such as governments, aid agencies and private foundations, aid transparency ensures that their efforts will be most effective reducing the likelihood of overlap. An example of this occurred in 2000 when the United Nations Development Programme undertook a review of the aid spent on the Palestinian territories – most aid projects were focused on urban areas while rural and refugee camps –in the direst need of aid – were neglected. And it’s for cases like these that the IATI is focused.

For citizens in recipient countries greater levels of aid information benefit civil society as they provide another vital source of information enabling them to hold their governments to account. With another avenue that can potentially be abused for corruption no longer available civil society organisations can track and challenge the discrepancies between aid received and aid spent.

Lastly, aid transparency challenges existing misconceptions that currently exist in donor countries. As we blogged last week, many in America think that up to one-fifth of their budget is sent overseas as aid. And it’s a similar story in the UK. Here, people estimated that government spending on overseas aid was 18.55% when the actual figure is only 1.3%.

It’s these misunderstandings that drive people’s cynicism towards aid - because they don’t know how much is spent, or where the money goes, they are overestimating the amount and underestimating the effectiveness of aid.

That’s why the Global Poverty Project supports the IATI. As another mechanism for increasing transparency and accountability it empowers citizens of aid recipient countries to hold their governments to account. And, in the process, it dispels common myths surrounding aid and the real progress being made.  

Posted by Perrin Wilkins (Corruption Campaigner) in Aid for column Issue Analysis on Apr 13th 2011, 08:22