Tom Murphy

Correspondent

Tom Murphy is a Boston-based reporter for Humanosphere. Tom is a prolific writer-blogger and editor of the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy(at)humanosphere.org.

Author Archives: Tom Murphy

3.7 million in South Sudan face severe hunger crisis | 

Woman sits with food aid, in the north of South Sudan.
Woman sits with food aid, in the north of South Sudan.
ECHO

Hunger looms over South Sudan. World leaders have spent the past few weeks trying to raise the alarm to garner enough public attention and funding to prevent a hunger crisis.

Some 7 million people are at risk of food insecurity. The UN launched a $230 million appeal in early April to respond to the problem. Then there are the 3.7 million people, nearly one out of every three people in South Sudan, that are at severe risk of hunger.

Fighting in South Sudan since December is responsible for displacing more than 1 million people from their homes. The upcoming rainy season is a vital time for food security because it is when crops are usually planted. It is also the period when food stocks from the previous harvest season begin to run out.

The ongoing fighting and instability has disrupted the country, meaning that some will miss the planting season due to a lack of resources or other factors. A missed or poor planting season would put people already struggling at greater risk, especially young children.

UNICEF warned that as many as 50,000 children could die if the international response in South Sudan does not gain the necessary support. A total of $1.27 billion is necessary to respond to the totality of the crisis in South Sudan, says the UN. Only 36% of the funding has been raised so far. The pleas to act now to prevent hunger hope to revive funding for the response.

The US, EU and UN rushed to sign a call to action for the country in Washington over the weekend. Representatives from the three groups gathered to pledge $80 million for South Sudan. That is in addition to the $100 million that was pledged in the prior week. The money will be used to reach the nearly 5 million people who need assistance because of the ongoing crisis in South Sudan.

“We know that if we work together we can deal with this challenge,” said UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, at the signing. “But we also know that without improved and significant resourcing now, we face a situation next year where South Sudan is in an even worse situation than it is right now.”

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Why did Congolese soldiers kill a surrendered militia leader? | 

Congolese military (FARDC) members.
Congolese military (FARDC) members.
Radio Okapi

The death of a Congolese militia leader who surrendered to the military is raising serious questions.

A brutal militia leader known as Morgan surrendered to the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Saturday. He was joined by somewhere around 40 of his militia members.

He was killed during a firefight while being transported to be taken in by the UN peacekeeping force in the Congo. According to the government, Morgan and some of his men tried to escape from the soldiers providing escort.

“He caused a shootout which resulted in the deaths of two army soldiers and two of his own men. He tried to flee but suffered a serious injury,” said government spokesman Lambert Mende to Reuters on Monday.

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Private health care for diarrhea in Africa kills 20,000 kids annually | 

A nurse gives oral rehydration salts to a two-year-old in Sierra Leone.
A nurse gives oral rehydration salts to a two-year-old in Sierra Leone.
UNICEF

Children in sub-Saharan Africa who suffer from diarrhea are receiving lifesaving treatment at a lower rate when visiting private hospitals as compared to public ones. Closing that gap would save an estimated 20,000 lives each year.

When a child present signs of diarrhea, hospitals are supposed to instruct parents to give the child oral rehydration salts (ORS). The basic mixture of water with a little bit of sugar and salt prevents the child from dying from dehydration. It’s wide use over the past few decades has saved millions of lives. However, it is not always available nor is it recommended in every case.

“Clearly the private sector is not following public health guidelines in the way that the public health sector is doing,” said Zachary Wagner, co-author and doctoral student in public health at the University of California, to Humanosphere.

The findings from his research, with Neeraj Sood, PhD, the study’s senior author and director of research at the Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, were published yesterday in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

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Conflict minerals advocates win and suffer setback in appeal decision | 

A Congolese tin miner sifts through ground rocks to separate out the cassiterite, in the town of Nyabibwe, eastern Congo, a once bustling outpost fueled by artisanal cassiterite mining.
A Congolese tin miner sifts through ground rocks to separate out the cassiterite, in the town of Nyabibwe, eastern Congo, a once bustling outpost fueled by artisanal cassiterite mining.
AP Photo/Marc Hofer

A US appeals court determined on Monday that a US Securities and Exchange Commission rule compelling public companies to disclose whether or not their products contain “conflict minerals” is a violation of their free speech rights.

The rule, Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill, has been controversial from its inception. It’s intent is to track where minerals that appear in everyday electronics, such as cell phones, are fueling conflict and supporting armed groups. The corporations that extract the minerals say the new rules place an undue burden on their work and violate their rights.

The court partially agreed. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rules were not entirely struck down by the ruling. It does represent a minor set-back for the advocates who have campaigned for transparency in the mining sector in conflict-affected countries. The real losers are the corporate lobby groups that brought forward the lawsuit.

“At the end of the day this is a huge loss for the National Association of Manufacturers,” said Laura Seay,  assistant professor of Government at Colby College, to Humanosphere. ”They still have to file through the SEC whether their supply chains were audited and free of conflict minerals. What has changed is that these companies do not have to disclose to their investors whether or not they are using conflict free minerals. ”

The Enough Project, a Washington DC-based advocacy group who took an active role in crafting and campaigning for 1502, called the ruling a ‘step backward for atrocity prevention.”

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Safe drinking water keeps Cambodian kids in school | 

Children walking to school, Kampong Cham, Cambodia.
Children walking to school, Kampong Cham, Cambodia.
Karen Murphy

If you build it, he will come. In the case of Cambodian schools it is more like: if you provide safe drinking water, kids will go to school.

When schools provided treated water in containers, the rate of absence for students dropped. That is what research published in the health journal PLOS One last month finds.

What makes the study notable is that it shows that the water itself, not necessarily the health gains, are what get kids come to school.

The association between safe drinking water and school attendance is strongest during the dry season. Why students in Cambodia are not going to school during the rainy season is not entirely known.

Paul Hunter, professor of health protection at the University of East Anglia, the study’s lead other and his co-authors surmise that it is due to the farming season.

“There were also strong seasonal effects as absenteeism in several of the schools increased dramatically during the wet season, irrespective of water delivery. We were informed that this increase in absenteeism during the early wet season was partly because children were frequently kept off school to help in the fields,” they write in the study.

What is almost entirely certain is that providing safe drinking water gets kids to go to school during the dry season. They know this because of a delivery problem at one of the schools.

The design of the program was for every class to have one 20 liter bottle of safe drinking water each day. School children then had the opportunity to take water as they wanted, each day. Roughly each student had a half liter of water available each day, costing less than half of a penny per day for each student ($1.40/yr).

The school where deliveries of water were inconsistent saw student attendance react to whether or not the water was at the school. The researchers determined that there was a 2.9% reduction in absenteeism for every container of water delivered at the school. Students were more likely to go to school because of the safe drinking water, not necessarily because of how the water may make them healthier.

The water provided may also have mattered. The 1001F water distributed at the schools was filtered and disinfected by UV light. The use of chlorine is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to treat water, but some people complain that the water does not taste good. The researchers posit that the choice of water may have contributed as an additional incentive for kids to attend school.

“Any scheme to increase drinking water provision in the classroom that does not ensure that that water is safe to drink is likely to put the children at risk of waterborne disease. However, providing safe water in the school environment does not necessarily mean children will drink it,” conclude the authors.

“Indeed taste appears to be a major determinant affecting whether or not people continue to use safe drinking water sources.”

Like most other research, the study concludes that more research is needed. There is a recommendation for a randomized control trial to get a better sense of what is happening and how much credit safe drinking water deserves for keeping kids in school.

World needs to get its shit together on climate change | 

The effects of drought on maize on an experimental plot at the the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute's Kiboko Research Station.
The effects of drought on maize on an experimental plot at the the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute’s Kiboko Research Station.
Anne Wangalachi/CIMMYT

Another week. Another meeting. Another paper. Another warning that climate change is a big deal.

It’s the annoying broken record playing in the background so quietly that most people don’t hear it. The few that do hear the repeated calls for immediate action to slow down the progress of climate change are trying to make the world’s leaders pay attention and actually do something.

The latest warning comes in the form of a report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In far more technical terms, the hundreds of scientists who participated in the report agree that we are all screwed if greenhouse gas emissions are not cut. This will have an impact in every part of the world, falling hardest on the world’s poor who are already vulnerable to shocks like erratic rains, droughts and natural disasters.

It is careful to say that climate change alone is not going to doom the world. There are other factors that are already making things hard for some people, from lack of economic opportunity to inadequate healthcare access. These are the kind of areas where worldwide progress has been made, but are at risk if climate change is not reigned in.

For his part, Columbia University’s Steven Cohen is a glass half-full kind of guy when it comes to climate change. The Executive Director of the Earth Institute blogged about his optimism in the Huffington Post following the post-IPCC report hysteria. In it, Cohen said he believes solutions will be found to the problem that go well beyond simply reducing the amount of carbon we toss up into the air.

“The issue we face is not our survival, but our willingness to accept the final triumph of technology at the expense of the planet we are biologically and emotionally connected to. Currently, we do not have the technology to supplant nature. For that reason, and possibly others, the IPCC’s projections do not consider the possibility that natural systems could be replaced by artificial ones,” he wrote.

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Will the US foreign aid budget continue its decline? | 

US Foreain Aid snapshot

An increase in the foreign affairs budget for 2014 saw an end to a four year decline in the US. Discussions are now taking place over the Fiscal Year 2015 budget and the downward trend may resume.

That is what will happen if Rep Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget proposal wins out. If President Obama gets his way, funds will hold steady at $44.1 billion. While it looks likely that foreign aid will be safe from cuts, thanks to is strong supporters, being back on the chopping block is a cause for concern for foreign aid supporters.

Ryan’s cuts into foreign aid appear to be based more on a belief that it is an unnecessary expenditure. The proposed Ryan budget led to public cries to protect the US foreign aid budget. Supporters like to point out that it represents less than 1% of the total federal budget.

Making cuts to such a small program will do little to help reduce US government debt and will harm the people who benefit from US aid work. Ryan has acknowledged this fact in the past, but continues to propose cuts. Foreign aid advocates are pushing against Ryan’s plan by pointing to the damage it will cause to US foreign policy interests.

“Now is not the time to cut America’s vital tools of national security given the growing number of hotspots around the globe,” said General Anthony Zinni, Co-Chair of U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s National Security Advisory Council. “The International Affairs Budget has already seen large reductions in the past few years, and now is not the time to diminish America’s leadership in the world.”

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