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Alright. ENOUGH. Make Me Do It!

 

In the fight against extreme poverty, time is never on our side. If we're not moving forward, we're falling backwards.

That's why last week's deep and callous cuts to the US aid and development budget were so heart-breaking.   It was a big stride in the wrong direction. 

Here is quick recap:  as part of the agreement on the fiscal year 2011 budget, Democrats and Republicans agreed to carve out $8 billion in appropriations to the State Department.  Included in these cuts were:

·      USAID operations: $122 million

·      Millennium Challenge Corporation (which oversees $7 billion in poverty reduction compacts): $380 million

·      Global AIDS initiative: $155 million 

·      Climate change/energy initiatives: $400 million

·      Peace Corps: $71 million

·      United Nations Contribution: $304 million

It's worse than it looks because, as Foreign Policy magazine noted, "the impact of these cuts...is even more severe because the 2011 fiscal year is half over, meaning that the cuts must be made before the end of the fiscal year Oct. 1."

Last week Rajiv Shah the USAid Administrator testified that the effects of previously proposed cuts would conservatively cost 70,000 children’s lives.

Some commentators point out that many in Congress wanted to slash even more from these programs. They cite the Republican Study Group plan to defund USAID entirely by way of comparison.  But we didn't join this fight to settle for "it could have been worse".  

We must change the debate and shift the dynamics.  Last week showed that the political cost of making such draconian cuts to these critical programs is too low.  It is just way too easy for politicians to wield the axe without fear of consequence.

When progressive activists filed into the Oval Office to complain to Franklin D Roosevelt that he wasn't doing enough to promote their causes, his response resonates today:

Make me do it

 

That is our call to action.  

We have seen success in the UK and Australia where proposed cuts of this magnitude prompted a public reaction that was swift and unmistakable.  Activists and voters alike have risen up in strident opposition -- in letters and opinion pages, on talkback radio and television, in political offices and on the streets.  

This helps explains why, in the UK, aid and development funding is set aside and protected from exactly this kind of political assault.  It is ring fenced.   

Are political leaders in these countries more intrinsically virtuous than their US counterparts?  Of course not.  The difference is that the political dynamic forces leaders in the UK, Australia and elsewhere to weigh the benefits of slashing aid funding against the electoral backlash it would trigger.  This shows how we can win.  We make them do it.

We tour the US every day, meeting with thousands of highly-engaged young people striving to make a difference.  We need to harness this energy into meaningful political action.  But this demands much more than clicks and new online petitions. We need real action across America.  We need to raise our collective voice above the static and make our message irresistible to the wider public.  Only by doing this can we hope to dissuade political leaders from such reckless disregard for world's poorest communities. 

To take real action, visit http://www.globalpovertyproject.com/pages/USA_Tour_Routes

 

Posted by Hugh Evans - GPP CEO in Poverty for column GPP - United States on Apr 14th 2011, 02:20

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

Anna Hazare Fighting Corruption in India

 

Q: How many hours do you think it would take to spark a peaceful national movement inspiring over a billion people to compel their government to stamp out corruption?
A: 98.

Q. And how much food would you consume in those 98 hours?
A. None.

Sounds pretty spectacular doesn’t it? It’s exactly what Anna Hazare, a 71 year old Indian civil activist from India did just last week. Fed up after decades of experiencing rampant corruption Anna decided that the only way to make the government listen was to go on a hunger strike.

Until his demands were met. Or, until his death.

From April 5 till April 9 Hazare fasted. And in those five days a peaceful revolution took place. All over India people took to the streets campaigning in solidarity with Anna calling for the government to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill. This would create an independent body which will have the power to prosecute politicians and bureaucrats without government permission.

As inspiring as his individual deed is it is the peaceful revolution that has occurred within India over the last week that is the greater story.

The scale of what ordinary, everyday people in India have had to endure as a result of corruption is astonishing.

As Kailash Chand in the Guardian outlines,

Over the past six decades, the four pillars of democracy, the legislature, judiciary, executive and the press, have all developed serious problems in India. The rule of law stands subverted and moral values seriously eroded. The civil rights of women and children suffer blatant violations. Daily newspapers are replete with news of rape, dowry-deaths, trafficking, abduction and murder. The weak, the elderly and those living alone are robbed and killed every day. The police authorities prefer to look the other way. Attempts to lodge complaints with them are simply stonewalled unless some activist take the cudgels of justice in their hands. Members of the hallowed corridors of the law courts have succumbed to the temptations of underhand deals. Shanti Bhushan, a leading lawyer, claimed that half of the 16 supreme court chief justices before whom he had appeared were corrupt.

If that isn’t bad enough, one more statistic is the fact that in Bangalore (a city in the South East of India) the average patient in a maternity ward pays approximately US $22 in bribes to receive adequate medical care.

$22 may not sound like much. But for the over 450 million Indians who currently live on or less than US $1.25 a day that amounts to around 3 weeks wages.

That’s why we at the Global Poverty Project are excited to see Anna Hazare, along with millions of his fellow Indians, peacefully demand that the Government stamp out corruption. As they have experienced firsthand, corruption undermines their ability to lift themselves out of poverty.  

Posted by Perrin Wilkins (Corruption Campaigner) in Corruption & Governance for column Success Stories on Apr 12th 2011, 11:32

How much food do you waste?

 

Today, we live in a globally connected society in which the food we buy can be sourced from thousands of miles away. This also means that the way we choose to consume affects others.

As the world’s population expands, so too does demand for food. Yet at the same time, most of this population growth is in poorer countries where hunger and malnutrition are common. This presents us a challenge – how to feed the world whilst minimising harmful impacts on the environment. One potential solution lies with you and I...

In January 2011, the UK Government Office for Science published a report titled "The Future of Food and Farming", on this very issue. The report argues that in order to “address the unprecedented challenges that lie ahead the food system needs to change more radically”. One newly recognised solution that the report highlights surrounds reducing food waste by producers and consumers.

From “production to plate” around 30% of food is wasted, with some estimates suggesting the figure is as high as a staggering 50%. So where is this food going?

After food is grown, some produce may be physically lost occur during harvesting and processing. Further losses may be due to disease, deterioration, or failure to meet quality standards during storage and transportation. These losses are typically more in low-income countries where storage facilities and transport infrastructure is poor. Academics have estimated that producer loss amount to 13-15% in South Asia. Food producers may not have the ability to reduce their losses therefore governments must do more to help.

Household surveys carried out in the UK, US, and Australia find that between 15% and 25% of food purchased ends up in the bin. One possible contributor to this wastage is that food is cheap. The government report suggests that the increasing food prices that we see for some food items today will naturally lead to us to buy less extravagantly. Although, the report stresses that this isn’t enough and that greater awareness of the amount of food we waste is required.

A further reason for food waste is that "best before" dates may not be accurate, leading us to throw away perfectly good food. The report calls for introduction of mass-produced sensor technology into perishable food products that would allow us to better manage our food.

Food services such as restaurants and supermarkets are thought to waste around 20%. Instead, food that is fit for human consumption could be redistributed via schemes such as Fareshare in the UK, and food not fit for human consumption could be used in animal feed or energy source.

Ultimately, the report estimates that if we could half the total amount of food wasted to 15% then the amount of food that we need by 2050 could be reduced by 25% of today’s production. As individuals, we have the capability to reduce the 925 million people that are hungry and provide for future population, we just need to make the conscious decision to do so.

If you'd like to understand more about the challenge of hunger and poverty, sign up to spend 5 days living below the line - eating and drinking on your local equivalent of the extreme poverty line - UK, Australia, USA.

Posted by Rohan Mohanty (GPP Intern) in Hunger for column Live Below the Line on Apr 11th 2011, 09:52

Our meeting with the PM

 

Last week I met with the Australian PM Julia Gillard, to discuss the Global Poverty Project's call to make the eradication of polio a priority issue at the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) being held in Perth this year.

I handed the Prime Minister a letter signed by over 700  Australians, outlining 10 reasons Australia should step up their efforts to eradicate this debilitating disease.

This meeting is the first of many taking place this year around the country (and the world) focused on the eradication of polio – a cause which has been making considerable progress since Australian Rotarians commenced their global eradication push in 1979.

Since then, we have seen incidences of the disease reduced by 99%, and the number of polio-endemic countries reduced to just 4 countries worldwide. We are now in a position where we could see this disease eliminated entirely by 2014. As I discussed with the Prime Minister last week; arguments in favour of eradication have never been more compelling. While the cost of health and vaccination investments needed to eliminate polio is estimated at $710 million, the cost of maintaining polio cases at current levels for the next 20 years is predicted to be $10 billion. Moreover, according to the World Health Organisation, if the goal of eradication were to be abandoned and replaced with that of containment, the number of cases of polio recorded could increase from 1,300 to as many as 250,000 per year.

An Australian commitment to eradication would be significant for a number of reasons. not only will it protect future generations from the paralysis, disability and death caused by this preventable disease, but it would also demonstrate  the investment value of foreign aid – highlighting the life-changing impact aid dollars have and emphasising the importance of our foreign aid program.

This was something that particularly hit a chord with the Prime Minister. Reflecting on a conversation she had recently with Melinda Gates, and recent media coverage - the Prime Minister agreed that it was important to highlight the positive impact of our foreign aid investment. With many leaders from developing countries expected to be present at this October’s CHOGM meeting, the Prime Minister said she was interested in CHOGM having a clear development focus, and said she would consider  including  polio eradication as an agenda item to be considered by  Commonwealth leaders at the meeting. It is my belief that with focused efforts and continued public attention on this important issue, we can build on the incredible efforts of Australian Rotarians since 1979, and create the momentum and public pressure needed for world leaders to make a commitment to eradicate polio from our world within 3 years.

As Bono once said “we can’t blame the politicians because we have to give them permission to spend what is in the end our money.”

This is why the Global Poverty Project, in partnership with countless Rotary clubs and districts around Australia, are embarking on an education and advocacy campaign in the lead up to this October’s CHOGM meeting, to raise public awareness about the unprecedented opportunity we have to see an End to Polio.

Globally, we stand on the cusp of a historic event. If eradicated, polio would be only the second disease to be eradicated from our world in the history of humanity. We now have the chance to finish what Australian Rotarians started in 1979 – and we look to leadership by the Commonwealth in bringing this about.

To join the Global Poverty Project’s campaign to End Polio, sign up below. Michael Sheldrick is the Australian Campaign Manager for the Global Poverty Project, an education and advocacy organisation  focused on ensuring both the public and private sectors in OECD nations take action to contribute to the end of extreme poverty.

Posted by Michael Sheldrick - Polio Campaign Manager in Aid, Global Health, Poverty for column Action Stories on Apr 5th 2011, 21:14