Archive for the ‘Current Events’ category

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…)

In Memory of Slain Peace Corps Benin Volunteer Kate Puzey

March 20, 2009

Some of you may have heard about the recent death of Peace Corps volunteer Kate Puzey who was serving in the Republic of Benin.

Originally from Georgia, Puzey was recently found dead outside her home under what seem to be suspicious circumstances. An investigation into the cause of her death is underway, and while there have been talks of murder, no one from Benin or the U.S. has confirmed it to be murder.

A wonderful piece has been written about Kate, her death’s impact on her community of service, as well as what the local villagers living in the vicinity of her site had to say about this tragic news. The post has generated several moving comments as well.

Sincere condolences go out to her family, friends and Peace Corps colleagues.

[H/T to via Twitter feed.]

Putting Haiti Back on the Radar Through Volunteerism and International Awareness

March 11, 2009

Haiti is one of those countries that tends to fall off the international radar – unless something bad happens, such as a hurricane, civil unrest or political corruption. Otherwise, as the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, the country seems to symbolize what happens when a nation undergoes donor fatigue. Over the years, the world has continuously poured money into the country only to see little progress being made…and so we forget that Haiti even exists.

As one who has spent time in Haiti in the past, I have noticed that while foreign aid organizations or government assistance quietly come and go, it is volunteerism at the grassroots level that keeps the country afloat. I’m talking about volunteer work groups, mostly coming from the U.S., who pair up with local organizations or individuals to pitch in where they can.

I haven’t been to Haiti since 2000, but from my recollection, these volunteers consist of church groups, college work teams (I remember crossing paths with some students from Chatham College) and visiting physicians who bring with them their own team of experts. (The Peace Corps also operates in Haiti.) (more…)

International Women’s Day Weekend Celebrations Around the World

March 6, 2009

Sunday, March 6, is International Women’s Day.

Here’s a look at how countries around the world are celebrating:

Ethiopia: The U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa recognized in a ceremony today, female students who have excelled in the fight against HIV/AIDS and gender-based violence. The event was hosted by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The United States and Ethiopia have formed a partnership in addressing needs and combatting the tragedies that result from both HIV/AIDS and gender-based violence.

India: Local men’s organizations are participating in joint celebrations with women’s groups. NGO groups such as Naari Samata Manch, Purush Uvach, Men Against Violence and Abuse (MAVA), Masoom, Maaher, Miloon Saryajani, Samyak and Stree Mukti Sanghatna are among them. “There are quite a few men’s organisations which have been supporting the cause of women’s rights. We want to bring these groups to the fore through this unique programme,” Anand Pawar, executive director, Samyak, said.

Turkemistan: The country will host a women’s arts festival which will include “paintings, traditional carpet ornaments, sculptures, jewelry, ceramics, and metal works from more than 70 female artists.” Their works will be on display at various museums in Ashgabat on March 8.

Poland: Tradtionally, Women’s Day in Poland has been marked by giving flowers, chocolates and gifts to women, however, over time the holiday has morphed into a day of women’s rights dialogue.For 10 years now, the International Women’s Day has been an opportunity for women to voice their opinions and persuade people that women share common interests and promote the idea that they should be more active and independent: do business, get into politics, demand equality within the family and in the workplace. For 10 years, the Polish organization called Porozumienie Kobiet 8 Marca (March 8 Women’s Alliance), supported by many women’s groups, has been organizing the biggest demonstration of women’s rights supporters, widely known as Manifa (march of protesters). It has become a grassroots democratic movement. The Manifas are being organized in many Polish cities, by local committees, comprised of NGOs, university gender studies programs, scientific associations, and informal groups or individuals.”

Italy: And in Rome, people will be rocking out to a sold-out Women’s Day concert which will include a tribute to South African civil rights activist Miriam Makeba who passed away in Italy last year.

How are you celebrating in your part of the world?

Some Questions About Poverty Tourism

March 2, 2009

poverty porn??, originally uploaded by bhowmik.

The movie “Slumdog Millionaire” may be remembered for being more than just an award-winning movie. If anything, the film has generated a lot of discussion about various issues with poverty stealing the spotlight.

According to a USA Today article, thanks to the success of “Slumdog,” what is known as poverty tourism – paid tours into the slums of various countries – has taken off in India, reopening a continuous debate over the ethics of such a concept.

The movie’s recent premiere in Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) sparked complaints among some of Dharavi’s estimated 1 million residents, who live and work in an area smaller than New York’s Central Park. But it also has boosted business for Reality Tours and Travel, which leads eight to 15 tourists a day on guided tours of the slum.

Reality Tours co-founder Chris Way estimates that sales are up by about 25% since Slumdog Millionaire’s release. Though he credits some of the increase to a gradual rebound in tourism after terrorist attacks in Mumbai killed more than 170 people in November, publicity surrounding the film has played a big role.

It has become a heated debate with critics claiming the tours are nothing but voyeurism…people pay money to oggle at the poor in a less than dignifying manner, taking photos and intruding on their lifestyles. It’s exploitation in the literal sense.

Those in support of the concept say otherwise, claiming such tours can be eye-opening experiences and life-changing events for people who may not otherwise venture outside their comfort zones. Some tour agencies use their profits to give back to the poverty-stricken communities they give tours in and other require participants to be active in the development of the areas they tour.

Still, the debate leaves unanswered one huge question: Is poverty tourism ethical?

For me, it’s hard to say since I have never experienced a poverty tour myself. However, despite all the good that can come out of it, one thing continues to bother me and that is the value of human dignity. Is it even possible to conduct a poverty tour and allow the inhabitants of the community being toured a sense of human dignity? For even the poor deserve that right.