Archive for April 2009

The “Swine Flu,” the Economy and Developing Nations

April 29, 2009

Piggy bank, originally uploaded by mag3737

Discussion is bubbling over the spread of the latest human epidemic also known as “the swine flu.” Among the babble is the disease’s impact on the developing world – both physically and economically. Below are some links addressing the issue:

The Potential Economic Impact of Pandemic Flu on Poor Countries: More Serious than a Sneezing Pork Chop – One of the first things this post questions is the appropriateness of the term “swine flu.”

The impact of this pandemic flu outbreak has little to do with pigs. And a lot to do with people.

Every time there is a global flu epidemic, we seem to want to blame it on something. In 1918 we called it the Spanish flu, though Spaniards had nothing to do with it. For the last few years we blamed it on birds, calling it the “avian flu” as if it were the birds’ fault. Now we’re blaming it on pigs, by calling it the “swine flu”. In an effort to appease the public, several countries have banned the import of pork!

None of this makes any sense. When was the last time you saw a sneezing pork chop?

The genetic code of a specific influenza virus may have snippets of a whole menagerie of viruses, but once it starts to spread among humans, it is a human flu epidemic. Let’s just call it the pandemic flu and get on with it.

It then goes on to calculate the pandemic flu’s affect on poor countries economically when added to the current financial crisis and closes by offering some suggestions on how to deal with it from here (in terms of assisting those said countries.)

Swine flu fear catching fast in weak world economy – On a similar note as the Global Development Views post, this article takes a look at the bigger picture in terms of how the flu has impacted an already weak global economy, as well as the potential damage it can do if not contained soon. Included is a warning to developing nations:

A report by the World Bank, updated last year, estimated that a severe pandemic — like the Spanish flu outbreak in 1918 that killed between 40 million and 100 million people — would cause a nearly 5 percent drop in global economic activity, costing the world about $3.1 trillion.

“Even a mild pandemic has significant consequences for global economic output,” a pair of Australian researchers wrote in a 2006 report cited by the World Bank.

In a global recession, a pandemic could present a greater threat. On Friday, the World Bank warned developing nations that slashing public health budgets could put their citizens’ health at risk.

And finally, a piece that sums up what has already been mentioned before in terms of the flu’s impact:

Swine flu will hit poor countries hardest – A piece that expresses concern that anti-virals, once made available, won’t be easily affordable or accessible to those in poor nations.


The Truth about Biotechnology, Agriculture and Sustainable Development

April 27, 2009

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel wants a more civil debate about them. Britain’s Prince Charles thinks they will lead to “real disaster,” and farmers in India are allegedly committing mass suicide because of them. In case you haven’t figured out what I’m talking about, maybe one of these terms will ring a bell: biotech crops, biotechnology, genetically enhanced seeds/grains or genetically modified organisms. The debate over this “gene revolution” is becoming especially important as global concerns about food security have made nations skittish about food production, supplies and whether biotechnology is a possible solution to their concerns. The issue of food security is so hot right now that just a few days ago the U.N. called for sustainable agricultural spending in Asia, stating that last year’s crisis was “a warning of things to come.”

While the fear-mongering headlines against biotechnology may seem alarming (ie. articles about how GMOs are bad for our health, the environment and the livelihoods of farmers worldwide) there’s another side of the story you most likely aren’t hearing. Biotech crops have a proven track record of alleviating poverty in developing countries and providing a sustainable lifestyle for farmers (and nations) who have adopted this technology. (Note, none of my notes are coming from GMO seed producers or distributors but from secondary sources.)

From a 2008 report issued by the non-profit International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications:

  • Biotech crops have improved the income and quality of life of small and resource-poor farmers and their families, and contributed to the alleviation of their poverty – case studies are cited in Brief 39 for India, China, South Africa, and the Philippines.
  • The impressive contribution of biotech crops to sustainability is reviewed: 1) Contributing to food, feed and fiber security including more affordable food (lower prices); 2) Conserving biodiversity; 3) Contributing to the alleviation of poverty and hunger; 4) Reducing agriculture’s environmental footprint; 5) Helping mitigate climate change and reducing greenhouse gases; 6) Contributing to more cost-effective production of biofuels; and 7) Contributing to sustainable economic benefits worth US$44 billion from 1996 to 2007. In summary, collectively these seven thrusts are a significant contribution to sustainability and the potential for the future is enormous.
  • Five principal developing countries: China, India, Argentina, Brazil and South Africa, with a combined population of 2.6 billion, are exerting leadership with biotech crops, and driving global adoption – benefits from biotech crops are spurring strong political will and substantial new investments in biotech crops in several of these lead countries. [Emphasis mine.]
  • Of the economic gains of US$44 billion during the period 1996 to 2007, 44% were due to substantial yield gains, and 56% due to a reduction in production costs (including a 359,000 tonne a.i. saving in pesticides); the production gains of 141 million tons, would have required 43 million additional hectares had biotech crops not been deployed – a land-saving technology.

And the list goes on. Case studies supporting the report’s findings can be found on the ISAAA Web site. (more…)

Why Do Celebrities Ignore North Korea?

April 24, 2009

I admit, this could be a blessing in disguise, but the question remains.

Is North Korea just not sexy enough? Do stars not want to be affiliated with propping up the Kim Jong Il regime? (I could foresee the North Korean propaganda that would result from Bono holding a charity concert in NYC or Pyongyang for that matter. Of course, the Dear Leader himself is known to be an admirer of many things coming from Hollywood.) Or does the lack of transparency just make it not worth the effort? And if that’s the case, what’s not stopping celebrities from donating their statuses to the victims of other corrupt governments?

When I was growing up, we were told as kids to eat all the food on our plates because children were starving in Ethiopia (this was in the 1980s). These days, parents might as well tell their sons and daughters to eat all their veggies as there are kids dying of hunger in North Korea. Unfortunately, there are kids dying of starvation in many countries and as a result, emphasis or awareness on North Korea’s humanitarian disaster loses out to other nations also struggling with malnourishment.

But this goes back to my original question: What dictates, in the world of stardom, why one country receives attention and another does not? (more…)

The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act and a Plea for HR 1066

April 22, 2009

Yesterday President Obama signed into law the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation that, among many things, will establish the Volunteers for Prosperity (VfP) program in the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and expand the number of AmeriCorps slots from 75,000 to 250,000 by 2017, in addition to increasing volunteer opportunities at home and abroad.

The Serve America Act will provide incentives for students and senior citizens to participate in volunteer community service and includes the Nonprofit Capacity Building Initiative, designed to expand organizational development assistance to small and midsize nonprofits. [OMB Watch]

Next on the books: The passing of HR 1066, otherwise known as the Peace Corps Expansion Act 2009. There is still a lot of work to be done in terms of making this a reality. HR 1066 would essentially “pave the way for an expanded and improved Peace Corps by authorizing Congress to provide $450 million, $600 million and $750 million in 2010, 2011 and 2012” respectively.

According to an email I received last week, 101 members of Congress have co-sponsored Congressman Sam Farr’s Colombia 64-66 bill to more than double the Peace Corps’ budget, but that is not enough to make it a reality and more support is therefore needed. Those campaigning for the cause have a goal of obtaining 150 co-sponsors for the bill by June 1, 2009.

As there are 334 congressmen/women who still have not co-sponsored HR 1066, citizens are encouraged to write their congress person urging them to support the bill.

A sample letter can be accessed here.

For a list of co-sponsors who, as of the writing of this post have not yet come on board in support of HR 1066, please feel to contact me at: blog [at] – I would be happy to forward the list to interested parties.

If you believe Peace Corps deserves extra assistance for expansion purposes, please write to your Congress person urging them to get behind the Peace Corps Expansion Act 2009 if they have not done so already. Washington has already recognized that service is valued and expanding the Peace Corps is another way of following through on that belief.

BBC’s “Develop or Die” Debate

April 20, 2009

Earlier this year, BBC ran a series on sustainable development titled “Develop or Die.” I have compiled the two-part program focusing on Asia after having found the clips on YouTube.

My thoughts: While there is some finger-pointing toward the West (especially the U.S.), there is recognition that each country needs to take responsibility as well, especially in encouraging sustainable innovations within their own borders. That is an important recognition, although there probably always will be finger-pointing to some extent.

As per the YouTube description:

A debate from BBC series “Develop or Die” on the challenges facing Asian countries in their need to develop further while at the same time facing the need to do so sustainably and in an ecologically friendly way. Discussing options, alternatives, challenges and advantages of sustainable development. Recorded from BBC News on 22.02.2009.

Peace Corps Days: Reminiscing

April 17, 2009

Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan volunteers - 2001.

Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan memories.

Ah, life as a Peace Corps volunteer. Sure, it’s romantic – going out to save the the world by living and volunteering in a developing country, learning a new language, immersing oneself in a different culture and seeing parts of the globe one never thought they’d see.

But as I was looking through various Peace Corps Volunteer blogs on the Peace Corps Journals site, I was reminded of the other side of the adventure: The challenges of learning a new language, surviving the intense pre-service training, competition among other volunteers in terms of who accomplished what and feelings of frustration as a result, being a woman in a culture where gender equality is still developing, battling (sometimes constant) illness and other struggles – enough to write a book on depending on your mood. As a volunteer, these are things you are prepared for in the back of your enthusiastic little mind before you venture off into the field, but they are nevertheless the very same things you are unprepared for when they become a reality.

Still, it’s all part of the journey, right? And at least you get bragging rights. How many people can say, “I had giardia, intestinal worms and a bacterial infection all at the same time?” [See last link.] No kidding, such conversations were normal among those in my group during our time in Kyrgyzstan, so much that it became a joke despite the potential severity of the situation.

But despite the challenges and moments of frustration, I can recall some pretty awesome times as well. Like the moment you realize your language skills are starting to come together, or when you realize you are actually accomplishing a lot at your site. Also, all the Kyrgyz friends I made, the foods I ate (yes, I ate a sheep’s eyeball!), the traditional weddings, birthday parties, festivals and outings I attended and workshops I participated in or led.

I’m especially reminded of all this as I read about Rwanda’s first group of Peace Corps volunteers since 1994, and I know they are going to come back from their service completely different people – most likely for the better. (Also, I’m a bit jealous – I would have loved to have served in Rwanda as it’s a place I’ve read a lot about.) Anyway, as I read about this newly sworn-in group, I am reminded of my swearing-in day in Kyrgyzstan, the day that recognized the completion of our group’s pre-service training with the next step of being dispatched to our permanent sites. Some, like myself, were going to be the only Peace Corps volunteer/American for miles around. I remember the excitement, anxiety, camaraderie and sudden loneliness I felt all at the same time. And as I looked through various blogs on the Peace Corps Journals site, I was also reminded of the friends I made, the crazy times we shared, the adventures we experienced and just a lot of laughter.

Although my Peace Corps experience did not end on a happy note (we were evacuated from the area in light of the 9/11 events which brought our neighbor Afghanistan into the picture), the experience was an unforgetful one for me. I started off thinking that I was going to give myself to the world, but in the end, it was the the world that actually gave itself to me. And it’s still giving.

Can Ecotourism Save Haiti?

April 15, 2009

Spider Lily – Haiti, originally uploaded by alan2onion.

As the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, Haiti’s troubles have escalated due to political instability, poor living conditions, natural disaster and perhaps a bit of donor fatigue. However, recently the country has made it back into the international spotlight with global donors agreeing this week to pledge $324 million in aid to the impoverished Caribbean nation.

There is no doubt that such aid is desperately needed, but the question still remains: What can Haiti to do save itself?

The obvious thing would be to look at Haiti’s past. Before political turmoil hit the country, it was a popular tourist destination and a common stop for many Caribbean cruise lines. The remains of gorgeous beach resorts still exist in the country today, but few are open for business. Will they ever reopen their doors? Can tourism make a come-back in Haiti and serve as a self-sustainable means of development?

Yes, voices familiar with Haiti’s situation say, especially when it comes to the potential ecotourism brings as the nature and wildlife in Haiti could attract many visitors hoping to observe and help save the country’s threatened ecosystems. But much needs to be done in preparation before such a venture becomes a reality. (more…)