Oxfam’s primer on foreign aid glosses over the military part | 

The anti-poverty organization Oxfam does a pretty good job of translating the fuzzy and sometimes absurd lingo used by the aid and development community.

What they don’t quite do is call baloney on the fact that much of our foreign aid is actually military aid. More on that in a bit.

Most people think the primary goal of aid and development is, or should be, to reduce poverty and inequity worldwide. Oxfam explores how the U.S. contributes to this noble goal in their third edition of Foreign Aid 101, which you can read about at this link or by downloading the report. The gist of the report is that foreign aid is an incredibly good buy and we could spend a lot more on aid and development.

Oxfam Foreign Aid Chart

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More attacks and polio cases harm Pakistan’s eradication effort | 

Pakistani security officials and relatives of tribal police assigned to guard polio workers who were killed in bomb blasts, pray next to the bodies during their funeral, near Peshawar.
Pakistani security officials and relatives of tribal police assigned to guard polio workers who were killed in bomb blasts, pray next to the bodies during their funeral, near Peshawar.
AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad

The year is young, but Pakistan has already endured a serious of setbacks in riding itself of polio. Two new cases were confirmed over the weekend in Peshwar. Meanwhile, a bomb attack on a polio vaccination team left 11 dead and 12 wounded.

The fight against polio has been far more literal than figurative. Since December 2012, more than 40 people working with or for polio vaccination in Pakistan have died. The increase in cases of polio from 58 in 2012 to 91 in 2013 is attributed to the poor vaccine coverage in the country. Attacks on vaccine workers has only made it harder to reach young people.

Police vehicles carrying officers meant to protect polio vaccine workers were struck by a bomb on Saturday. A second bomb went off a few minutes later, when a new convoy was sent in response to the first attack. A firefight ensued between the surviving officers and the unknown gunmen.

“An Attack on security personnel providing security to Polio Teams is an attack against Humanity,” said the Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Polio, Aysha Raza Farooq, in a Facebook post following the attacks. “Such coward attacks and conspiracies against our goal of Polio Free Pakistan will further strengthen our resolve to stamp this menace out of the country.”

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Afghanistan lagging on enforcing law protecting women against violence | 

Afghan women's self-help group.
Afghan women’s self-help group.
Canada in Afghanistan

The landmark law enacted in Afghanistan four years ago is providing little protection for women.

In 2011, Afghanistan was found to be the worst place to be a women, according to a survey by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The greatest threats to Afghan women, according to those polled, were non-sexual violence, a lack of access to economic resources and health.

The establishment of the Elimination of Violence Against Women law in August 2009 was heralded as an important advance for the safety of women. Some twenty-two acts were included in the law ranging from forced marriage and forced self-immolation to violence and the practice of giving away women to settle a dispute.

Yesterday, a report released by the UN raised serious concerns with the progress over the past four years.

“Implementation has been slow and uneven, with police still reluctant to enforce the legal prohibition against violence and harmful practices, and prosecutors and courts slow to enforce the legal protections in the law,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. Continue reading

The 10 stories you missed while following the Philippines | 

The disaster following Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines rightly has dominated the global twenty-four hour news cycle. Humanosphere has devoted more of our reporting time to the issue than anything else this week. With nearly one million people displaced and close to twelve million affected, the scope of the problem is vast and the relief effort has a long way to go.

While we were paying attention to the Philippines, there were other notable news stories that garnered less attention. Here are ten notable events and happenings (presented in no particular order) that you might have missed this week. It is by no means a comprehensive list. Do add anything else of note in the comments section.

1) Polio is worse this year in Pakistan, so the region is taking on the challenge by working together.

Gates Foundation

The number of polio cases in Pakistan have already exceeded the total from 2012. Health officials announced Wednesday that there are sixty-two cases of polio in 2013. The total for 2012 was fifty-eight. Pakistan is one of only polio-endemic countries, alongside Afghanistan and Nigeria.

Attacks on polio workers over the past year have hampered the effort to vaccinate children. An estimated 240,000 children living in the northwest were not vaccinated in August due to a ban by the Taliban.

The problem is affecting neighboring countries. An outbreak of polio in Syria was recently linked to Pakistan. To deal with the issue, the WHO is working with twenty-one Middle Eastern countries to stop polio in its tracks. However, much of what happens in Pakistan is out of the control of the UN and its neighbors.
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Measuring health progress in Afghanistan | 

Guest post by Katie Leach-Kemon, a policy translation specialist from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

In an Atlantic article last week, Justin Sandefur, a research fellow at the Center for Global Development, wrote about how US foreign aid for health to the government of Afghanistan is currently under threat due to scrutiny from auditors. Read Here’s the Best Thing the U.S. has Done in Afghanistan

Sandefur argues that US funds channeled to the Afghan government have played a major role in driving down child mortality in the country, and that these achievements could be jeopardized if the US cuts this funding as a result of auditors’ concerns.

How much progress has Afghanistan made in improving child health over time? According to estimates from the Global Burden of Disease Study (GBD) 2010, mortality rates in children under five in Afghanistan fell 48% between 1990 and 2010 (download the data here). Life expectancy at birth increased from 51.7 in 1990 to 57.3 in 2010 for females and 52.2 to 58.2 for males (below is the screen grab based on the data).

Chart: Healthy years lost to disability vs. life expectancy in Afghanistan, females, 1990-2010

Afghanistan Life Expectancy1

You can also view life expectancy estimates for Afghan females and males in our online tool and compare the country’s progress to that of other nations. Continue reading

Afghan photographers lead journalism revolution | 

Farzana Wahidy
Farzana Wahidy
Frame by Frame

When the Taliban were ousted in November 2001 a five year old rule that banned photography in Afghanistan was suddenly lifted. Press freedoms helped give rise to a class of Afghan reporters and photographers to tell the stories of the war and life in Afghanistan.

A new documentary follows four prominent Afghan photographers to tell their stories and how they have been working for the past decade to document their home country. Frame by Frame is a project by American directors Mo Scarpelli and Alexandria Bombach. They traveled to Afghanistan last fall to follow Pulitzer Prize winning war photographer Massoud Hossaini, Wakil Kohsar, Najibullah Mussafer and Farzana Wahidy, one of the few female photographers in Afghanistan. Continue reading

Bizarre Range of Aid Projects in Afghanistan | 

skateistan_logoWith millions to spend on aid projects on Afghanistan, the US has managed to provide funding for some rather strange projects. The New York Times reports on the range of grant recipients that have managed to succeed and fail.

One group, Young Women for Change, run by an Afghan woman attending college in the United States and two friends here, said it received American Embassy financing to put on a fashion show in February, which it described as a “female empowerment project.” The audience was largely foreigners and journalists.

“I think we should spend American money in more practical and lasting ways,” said Daoud Sultanzoy, a commentator for Tolo TV, an Afghan station that itself has received millions. “People come here with an idea and want to do it in this country, but they open us to critics and even attacks by the conservatives in this country, and there are many of them.”

Some bizarre-sounding aid groups have done very well. Skateistan, an Australian aid group that teaches skateboarding to Afghan children, would not seem to make much sense in a country where even the potholes have potholes. But it built a skate park and provided schooling and lunches for street children here, attracting support from several European governments.

Even the more straightforward projects have their problems. The article also mentions a USAID women empowerment project in Kandahar that would provide bikes for women. Problem is, says the article, that riding around in a bike while dressed in a full-body burqa is a bit challenging.

HT Glenna Gordon

We must end polio – if only so Bill Gates can talk about something else | 

That sounds flip. But it’s not meant to undermine the global campaign to eradicate polio or (continue to) irritate the media folks at the Gates Foundation. It’s meant to underline the frustration I assume Bill Gates and many other advocates of this important global health goal must feel, even if they don’t say so.

News analysis (of sorts)

Today, at the United Nations, Bill Gates, heads of state from the polio-plagued countries Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan, the head of the UN, the fiesty chief of the World Health Organization and other ‘global luminaries’ today repeated the call to push on with the ongoing effort to rid the world of polio.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the world is at a decisive moment and that he has made polio a “top priority” for his second term.

“Failure to eradicate polio would be unforgivable…. Failure is not an option,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization. India was recently declared polio free, a major achievement for the campaign.

Gates Foundation

Bill Gates and Jeff Raikes in Nigeria for polio vaccination

“The evidence is clear: if we all do our part, we can and will end this disease. But we must act quickly and give ourselves the very best chance to succeed,” said Gates, who had earlier explained on his personal blog why he flew 3,000 miles to speak for three minutes at this somewhat predictable event. “When we defeat polio, it will motivate us to aim for other great health and development milestones.”

Yeah, yeah. Same old stuff. But that last statement by Gates is key.

Chances are, this particular dog-and-pony show among all the other UN dog-and-pony shows — despite the alleged luminaries — may get only passing notice because, well, most people don’t really care about polio. That’s why they bring out luminaries – to get you to pay attention.

(NOTE: The first news report I saw on this gathering of luminosity was an AP story in which the reporter at the polio event asked Gates what he thinks of the new Windows 8 operating system. Gates said, “Very exciting.” No word if the journalist asked about polio….) Continue reading