Child mortality worldwide is down, but it’s not always clear why | 

Somali mother cradles her malnourished, ill child
Somali mother cradles her malnourished, ill child
UN

Child mortality is widely recognized as an indicator of a community’s overall health, with reductions in child deaths often cited as evidence of the impact of a particular intervention.

Two high-profile events in Washington, DC, and Johannesburg, South Africa recently celebrated the progress made worldwide in reducing maternal and child deaths over the past twenty years – and called for greater international investment to sustain and build on the success. That’s based on the assumption we already know which interventions are succeeding under real-life conditions, and which ones are most effective.

Yet linking cause and effect, even with a global health gold standard like child mortality, is not always a simple matter.

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Aid workers mixed in reaction to critical report on emergency aid industry | 

Staff with Doctors Without Borders respond to the Haitian cholera outbreak, in December 2010.
Staff with Doctors Without Borders respond to the Haitian cholera outbreak, in December 2010.

A sharp tongued report from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) this week has riled up the humanitarian industry. The medical relief organization uses examples from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and Jordan to illustrate the failures of emergency response. A provocative title pointedly asks Where is Everyone?
The hope is that the report will lurch organizations out of their foot holdings and improve the overall impact of emergency response efforts.

The report has accomplished its main goal in using shame to spur on a much needed discussion about the state of emergency response. Journalist and aid critic Ian Birrell used the report to further chastise a broken industry. He concluded in his piece for the Guardian that “too many aid groups have evolved into self-serving corporations dressed in the clothing of compassion.” MSF’s findings show that Birrell’s claims are not entirely unwarranted.

Aid workers who specialize in emergency relief have pointed out the things that MSF gets right, especially on the UN.

“There are very few activities undertaken by UN agencies, including those with mandates,” said one emergency aid worker speaking on the condition of anonymity to Humanosphere.

“Much of what they do/funding they have is passed through to operational agencies, once they’ve taken their cut for overhead. Worst part about it is that the UN wont pay for the services they require from agencies in order to account for the funds they’ve provided.”

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News in the Humanosphere: South Sudan’s Gloomy Birthday | 

People arrive at dawn to Awerial settlement fleeing the conflict in and around the town Bor, in January 2014.
People arrive at dawn to Awerial settlement fleeing the conflict in and around the town Bor, in January 2014.
Oxfam International

South Sudan celebrated its third independence day and things have never been worse. “ A political crisis that devolved into fighting last December has displaced 1.4 million people and left an estimated 10,000 people dead. Activists working in and around the young nation are concerned about its future.Chief among the concerns is humanitarian problems caused by protracted instability. Assistance is only reaching 2 million of the 4.5 million in need, said Noah Gottschalk, Senior Policy Advisor for Oxfam America , in a press briefing yesterday. That is not even what is most worrying.“South Sudan is at very serious risk of experiencing a famine this year,” said Gottschalk. “We have the opportunity now to prevent a famine.” (Humanosphere)

Plus:

A group of seven major international aid agencies said they face a shortfall of $89 million just when the South Sudan humanitarian crisis edges closer to the risk of famine. Speaking out on the 3rd anniversary of the country’s independence they warned their aid efforts to help hundreds of thousands of people caught up in the conflict was under threat due to a lack of funds.

And…Floods, malaria and malnutrition are making life worse for internally displaced people staying at camps in South Sudan. (VOA)

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As South Sudan falters, aid industry called out for its failures | 

Workers offload sacks of cereals distributed by the UN's World Food Programme from a truck in Minkaman, South Sudan.
Workers offload sacks of cereals distributed by the UN’s World Food Programme from a truck in Minkaman, South Sudan.
AP Photo/Matthew Abbott

The marking of three years of independence in South Sudan will be cause for little celebration. A political crisis that devolved into fighting last December has displaced 1.4 million people and left an estimated 10,000 people dead. Activists working in and around the young nation are concerned about its future.

Chief among the concerns is humanitarian problems caused by protracted instability. Assistance is only reaching 2 million of the 4.5 million in need, said Noah Gottschalk, Senior Policy Advisor for Oxfam America , in a press briefing yesterday. That is not even what is most worrying.

“South Sudan is at very serious risk of experiencing a famine this year,” said Gottschalk. “We have the opportunity now to prevent a famine.”

“Even though the rains have started, people were unable to plant crops. Meaning that the food that they are running out of now will not be replaced by new stocks.”

Fighting has been isolated to three of South Sudan’s ten states, but there is evidence that it may soon spread. The fighting contributes to the problem of humanitarian access. The rainy season has arrived, making it much harder to get to parts of South Sudan due to the country’s poor infrastructure. Aid agencies worry that their shipments could be looted.

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News in the Humanosphere: Presidential Palace in Mogadishu Attacked | 

Top Stories

The president was not inside the palace when it was attacked, says Somali officials. But this attack is another audacious example of al Shebab’s resilience. “Somalia’s Islamist Shabaab rebels carried out a major bomb and armed assault against the country’s presidential palace late Tuesday, penetrating the heavily-fortified complex before blowing themselves up.” (Bangkok Post)

With 17 months before the MDGs reach their targets by the December 2015 deadline, the United Nations is trumpeting its limited successes – but with guarded optimism. (IPS)

UN Agrees to New Peacekeeping Payment Formula…A potential budget crisis is avoided. “After weeks of negotiation, UN member states agreed to a new compensation rate for UN Peacekeeping. The new rate amounts to a 10% raise for the first two years, to $1,332/soldier/month, and then further increasing to $1,365 in the third year and $1,410 in the fourth. In other words, it will cost the United Nations just under $16,000 for each of the approximately 100,000 blue helmets serving across 16 missions in 2014.” (UN Dispatch)

Ebola Update: Fifty new cases of Ebola and 25 deaths have been reported in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea since July 3, as the deadly virus continues to spread in families, the WHO said on Tuesday. (Reuters)

Africa

Facing censure at home and overseas for a perceived failure to protect civilians from violent Islamists, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has launched an international media offensive to try to turn the tide of public opinion in his favor. (Reuters)

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Getting at the root of extreme weather’s connection to civil conflict | 

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind

There is ample research connecting external causes, like climate and food prices, to conflict. Yesterday, I reported on new research showing that US food aid can prolong smaller civil conflicts. In the case of that study and others, the lingering question is also the most important, what external factors drive conflict as opposed to other issues?

A series of recent research does not necessarily answer the question, but show how a diversity of factors are to blame, not a single reason. In the first paper, Marc Bellemare of the University of Minnesota shows that food price is connected to social unrest, but it is overall changes in price levels, not volatile shifts that are associated with unrest.

“While rising food prices appear to cause food riots, food price volatility is at best negatively associated with and at worst unrelated to social unrest. These findings go against much of the prevailing rhetoric surrounding food prices,” writes Bellemare.

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News in the Humanosphere: United Nations Secretariat Extends Same Sex Partner Benefits | 

The UN announced it was changing its policy and would begin extending benefits to same-sex couples that worked for the organization. The new policy became effective June 26, and will impact the UN’s approximately 43,000 employees worldwide. “Previously, the United Nations only recognized the unions of staffers who came from countries where gay marriage is legal, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said. “This is a step forward that many of the staffers at the United Nations had been seeking for some time,” Haq said.  (USA Today)

Bahrain Expels Top US Diplomat…The Bahraini government formally made the top American human rights diplomat, Assistant Secretary of State for Rights, Democracy and Labor Tom Malinowski persona non grata. The USA has a large naval base in Bahrain and provides the monarchy with significant military assistance. (BBC)

The UN and international NGOs are failing to respond to humanitarian emergencies despite having more resources at their disposal than ever before, warned MSF. (Guardian)

According to World Bank official Daryl Fields, understanding the water-energy nexus is critical for addressing growth and human development, urbanization and climate change, but many policy-makers are finding it challenging to transform this concept into a reality. (IPS)

Africa

International donors who withheld aid over Uganda’s anti-gay bill “misinterpreted” the law whose main focus was to stop promotion of homosexuality to children and others, the government said. (AP)

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Amid UN food ration cuts, how US food aid prolongs civil conflicts | 

USAID-provided lentils and soy-oil are readied for distribution to citizens of Petonville, Haiti.
USAID-provided lentils and soy-oil are readied for distribution to citizens of Petonville, Haiti.
USAID

The UN announced last week that it was forced to cut food rations for nearly 800,000 refugees in Africa. A shortage of funding was behind the World Food Programme (WFP) and refugee agency (UNHCR) making cuts as much as 60%. The impact could be far reaching as people displaced across the continent face hunger.

The hardest hit areas are also places experiencing ongoing conflict. For decades food aid has been provided to people in need due to crop failures, droughts and displacement. The thinking being that immediate food aid can save lives and avert the present crisis so that families can get back on track when the problem goes away.

That might not be the case when it comes to conflicts.  In fact, new research indicates that food aid helps to prolong smaller civil-conflicts. It raises the question as to whether food aid, in the case of countries like South Sudan and Central African Republic, might not be the optimal response to both hunger and ending the problems that led to the spike in hunger.

“An increase in US food aid increases the incidence of armed civil conflict in recipient countries. US food aid does not crowd out other forms of aid or aid from other donors. Thus, the increase in conflict is really due to an increase in aid,” say economists Nathan Nunn of Harvard University and Nancy Qian of Yale University.

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