Mega-dams might not be worth the trouble | 

Construction on the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
Construction on the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

Egypt and Ethiopia are at odds over the construction of the $4-billion hydroelectric Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam along the Nile River. The project is slated to complete by 2017 and Egypt is worried that it will affect its water supply.

Similarly, another dam project in Ethiopia’s Omo River Basin has sparked concerns by human rights groups. The project and the government’s move to clear land in the region put 500,000 indigenous people in Ethiopia and neighboring Kenya at risk, warns Human Rights Watch. Some 150,000 indigenous people will be relocated from the Omo Valley as a part of the nation’s controversial ‘villigization’ program.

“Ethiopia can develop its land and resources but it shouldn’t run roughshod over the rights of its indigenous communities,” said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The people who rely on the land for their livelihoods have the right to compensation and the right to reject plans that will completely transform their lives.”

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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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Coming to your local refugee camp: Ikea | 


Everybody’s favorite do-it-yourself furniture warehouse, Ikea, is getting in on the humanitarian game.

The charitable arm of the Swedish company Ikea unveiled a new partnership with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Refugee Housing Unit to design better homes for refugees.  It is a part of a €73 million commitment to improving the lives of refugees in camps in Ethiopia, Sudan and Bangladesh. Shelters are one facets of the commitment which also touches on education and family reunification, but they are certainly catching some attention.

The “Refugee Shelter” comes with solar panels, higher ceilings and insulated walls. It is a sturdier structure than the tents are often used and one that can maintain temperature for regions that face harsh winters, such as Syria and its neighboring countries. Continue reading

Attempting to put more ‘Green’ into the heart of development | 

Fish market Antananarivo Madagascar

Per Edin

Fish market Antananarivo Madagascar

Developing countries need long term economic growth to continue toward a path toward prosperity.

The aid buzzword sustainability is often used to describe maintaining progress, but the Organization for Economic Coordination and Development (OECD) says it should also apply to the environment.

As the global population swells from 7 billion now to 9 billion in 2050 the demand for food, water and energy will place more stress on countries at the structural and physical levels.

Putting Green Growth at the Heart of Developmentreleased this week to coincide with World Environment Day, calls attention to the idea of green development for donor countries and developing countries alike. It reflects the lessons learned from a previous OECD publication advocating for green development and last year’s RIO+20 Summit.

“We found a lot of suspicion and hostility around the notions of green growth when we tried this a few years ago,” said co-author Jan Corfee-Morlot to Humanosphere.

“There was a suspicion that green growth was a masquerade to force a vision on developing countries, which was not our intent at all. So we took a closer look at the suspicions and went to see how countries went about green growth strategies.” Continue reading

If a journalist is arrested in Ethiopia and jailed for 18 years, does he make a sound? | 

Eskinder Nega was arrested after raising questions about arrests under Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism legislation in September 2011. Now he serves an 18 year sentence thanks to the very law he questioned.

“The Ethiopian government is treating calls for peaceful protest as a terrorist act and is outlawing the legitimate activity of journalists and opposition members,” said Amnesty International‘s Ethiopia researcher Claire Beston at the time of sentencing.

Rights groups raised attention to the use of the law to circumvent speech and dissent. Nearly a year later, Nega remains in jail. His attempt to appeal the ruling two weeks ago failed. The judge upheld the sentencing decision, saying it was correct.

“The truth will set us free,” said Nega to the public following the ruling. “We want the Ethiopian public to know that the truth will reveal itself, it’s only a matter of time.”

A year and a half of truth later and Nega is still in jail. He is not the lone victim of Ethiopia’s crackdown of opposition figures and abuse of its terrorism law. Ethiopia is one of the worst places in the world to be a journalist. 79 journalists fled Ethiopia between 2001 and 2011, the most of any country in the world. The press freedom index categorized Ethiopia among the most difficult countries for press. Continue reading

How to get from watching a famine to actually doing something about it | 

Digging for drinking water in a dry riverbed
Digging for drinking water in a dry riverbed

Experts knew it was coming. In March of 2011 the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net) warned that low rains in the Horn of the Africa would make parts food insecure through June.

“A poor season could result in a major crisis. Therefore, these areas require especially close monitoring over the coming months,” warned the report.

Despite the warnings of a potential crisis, little action was taken. When the rains did not come and the drought led to famine in parts of Somalia by July it was too late for some people. Food and fuel prices spiked. An estimated 11.5 million people needed immediate humanitarian assistance, said the UN, and tens of thousands died.

In just a span of 90 days, an estimated 29,000 Somali children died.

“The greatest tragedy is that the world saw this disaster coming but did not prevent it. Across Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti and Somalia this crisis has played out very differently, but common to all of them was a slow response to early warnings,” said former UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland last year. Continue reading

African agriculture threatened by funding drought & bad trade policies | 

Morgana Wingard

African countries are making promising agricultural gains, but the progress remains in the balance due to a $4.4 billion funding shortfall, warns a new report by the ONE Campaign. That is in addition to $11 billion in agriculture funding pledged by G8 nations that has yet to be disbursed.

The ONE report cites 2013 as an important year for agriculture in Africa because it is a time when international and domestic funding agreements come to an end.

“African leaders have the opportunity to deliver on their goals of lifting millions from extreme poverty and hunger and preventing chronic malnutrition by meeting these commitments,” write the report’s authors.

Edward Carr of the University of South Carolina was generally supportive of the report, but noted that the problem of agriculture may be one that is about markets rather than production.

“There is no discussion on the massive rate of loss between farm gate and market in this region,” said Carr. “The report raises further questions. Is there really a production shortfall or a marketable crop shortfall?” Continue reading