South African nations off pace for MDGs on water and sanitation | 

Tanzania - Girl misses school to carry water home.
Girl misses school to carry water home. (Tanzania)
Tom Murphy

Only two countries in Southern Africa are likely to achieve improved access to safe water and improved sanitation, by the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The more than 100 million people without safe water and the 174 million without proper sanitation face serious health risks, due to the problem.

“Southern African governments must meet their past promises on water and sanitation and, together with donors, invest at the levels needed to put an end to the crisis that causes hundreds of thousands of children’s lives to be prematurely and needlessly extinguished,” said Robert Kampala, Water Aid’s Head of Region for Southern Africa.

Falling behind means that 40 million people who should have gained access to safe water by 2015 will not. Catching up will come at a price, says the UK-based NGO Water Aid in a new report. The region needs to see spending increase by $3.6 billion per year if it wants to fix the problem.

The massive problem comes with deadly consequences. More than half of all children in Madagascar are affected by diarrhoeal disease, which is more often than not the result of poor water and sanitation. Diarrhea alone kills 14,000 children under five years old each year, in the country. The effects extend to missed school and work, both of which make it harder for families to earn and living, thus slowing down progress for an entire nation.

The news is slightly better for safe water advances than it is for sanitation, in the region. Of the 12 countries in the region, 7 are nearing universal access for water. The rest are off track, says the report. At present, less than half of all people living in the DR Congo, Madagascar and Mozambique have access to clean water. Sanitation is far worse with only three countries on track.

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Taking a closer look at whether anti-malaria programs really work | 

Malaria and the mosquitoes that carry it met a formidable foe in the form of nets laced with deadly pesticides a decade ago. Hanging a net above the bed so that it drapes around the people inside provided protection from mosquito bites while not making it hotter in tropical locations nor harming the people that use them.

Programs flourished that distributed and/or sold the bed nets. People used them and progress towards ending malaria seemed on track.

Ten years later malaria is still around and the mosquitoes are showing signs of resistance to the insecticide used in the bed nets. Journalist Amy Costello, host of the podcast Tiny Spark, recently traveled to Malawi to see what was actually happening in the fight against malaria. She sees mosquitoes that are surviving the only pesticide used in bed nets to kill them and families using bed nets with giant holes.

The story was carried by Public Radio International’s The World earlier this week. It’s the first in a series of stories called Tracking Charity. Like she does with the malaria piece, Amy will travel around the world to see if aid projects are delivering on their promises.

“To my mind, the most important barometer of aid effectiveness is how it impacts the people it is trying to help. That is why I will put the recipients of aid at the forefront of every story I report,” explains Costello in introducing the series.

“I am interested in knowing if programs work for them. I want to find out what happens to people who live at the end of dirt roads when charitable projects don’t pan out as promised.”

In this week’s podcast, I spoke with with Amy about the project (our producer re-recorded my questions to improve audio quality). We discuss her previous investigations into TOMS shoes and medical volunteers following the Haitian earthquake. Costello explains why she is driven to take a tougher look at the business of doing good and the resistance she receives from people in and out of the charity sector.

And don’t miss a podcast! Subscribe on iTunes.

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China’s Colonizing Africa? Not so Much | 

When people take a break from debating whether Africa is or is not rising, they like to talk about China. The emerging economic powerhouse is making its mark on Sub Saharan Africa by support port projects in Kenya, mines in Zambia and standing behind the Sudanese government.

The activities mean China is slowly becoming a development player and does have an impact on the other big donors. A project from AidData and William & Mary University estimated that China has committed $75 billion for aid and development projects in Africa.  That is less than the $90 billion committed by the US during the same period. However, some fear that China is using its money to not only wield influence over the continent, but impose a sort of neo-colonial rule over some countries. Continue reading

Madonna visits Malawi to check on charity, leaves in a huff over lack of VIP treatment | 

Madonna dancing during her recent trip to Malawi.
Madonna dancing during her recent trip to Malawi.
Madonna’s Instagram

You probably heard this one before. It starts with Madonna going to Malawi…

In the past the story ends with her visiting on of her projects in the country or adopting a kid. Her trip this month featured a twist ending.

Madonna did spend her time in Malawi visiting the projects that her charity, Raising Malawi, with her children in tow. Being an international superstar and philanthropic activities, Madonna and her entourage entered the country like VIPs.

That means, according to the Telegraph, that they get to skip the immigration lines, have access to a special lounge and are provided limo service to and from their private plane.

Fast forward to the end of the trip. The rock star and her entourage get majorly dissed!  Continue reading

Dispatch from inside the Malawi protests: An African spring? | 


Flickr, tlupic

Malawi protesters

Malawi is in upheaval.

Just as when Tunisians first rose up against their government, few outside are paying much attention.

The same basic forces — unemployment, high food prices, human rights abuses and mistrust of government — which sparked the revolt in Tunisia and then led to today’s widespread popular revolution across the Arab world, is now at play in this small, southeastern African nation.

Time magazine sees From Malawi to Senegal, signs of a Sub-Saharan Arab Spring:

Malawi is the latest in a series of sub-Saharan countries to face political unrest in recent months — what some analysts claim are echoes of the Arab Spring that swept North Africa and the Middle East earlier this year.

Jailed Malawi journalist Collins Mtika set free, for now | 

Collins Mtika

My friend and journalist colleague in Malawi, Collins Mtika, was released from jail yesterday.

I took notice of Collins’ arrest last week thanks to Sika Holman (here is her blog on the Malawi protests). I tweeted about it, emailed about it and eventually wrote about what little I knew — that Collins had been taken away by the police for doing his job, covering public protests.

He wasn’t the only journalist in Malawi detained, or beaten up, by the police. But he’s the only one I know there.

I talked to him today after his release. Here’s a report on his release from the Malawi Democrat.

Collins said he was jailed for four days and nights, in a cell crowded with others– some bleeding from gunshot wounds, some sick with diarrhea. It was too crowded to lie down in so he basically went four days without sleep. Very hot. No toilet. No food provided (see his graphic description below).

Collins was detained without charge by the police for doing his job — covering protests against the government. This was in the northern city of Mzuzu.

“They never charged me but I was told I was being held for writing stories critical of the government,” he told me by telephone yesterday.

The people of Malawi are not the only ones critical of their government. Today, the U.S. government announced it was suspending aid to Malawi because of concern about human rights abuses.

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Malawi crackdown on protests, journalists and my friend Collins | 

Collins Mtika

Last I heard, my friend and colleague Collins Mtika — a journalist in Malawi — was in jail.

There have been protests in Malawi over high food prices, corruption in government (remember how the so-called “Arab spring” started?).

As a result, Malawi’s President Bingu wa Mutharika has cracked down hard, which has led to some deaths, alleged government death threats against protest leaders, all of which is causing many to go into hiding.

Obviously, this is a story journalists need to cover.

I met Collins at an AIDS conference in Atlanta not long ago. We were both there thanks to funding by the National Press Foundation. Collins is a big, quiet guy with a gentle laugh.

Just before the unrest erupted in Malawi, I had been corresponding by email with him, asking for his help in a little dispute I was having with another Malawian journalist (not relevant).

Then, last week when the protests erupted, I learned Collins had been arrested and was being held without charge. Other journalists were beaten by police, according to reports.

There’s a lot going on around the world and this is, perhaps, a small story compared to other tragedies and conflicts. But I know Collins and I intend to pay attention to what happens to him. That’s one way we all hold governments and those in authority to account.

I hope other local organizations with connections in Malawi will put pressure on the Mutharika government to respect freedom of the press, democracy and the rule of law. I imagine (but don’t know, off the top of my head) that there may be a number of organizations here in Seattle working on global health or anti-poverty projects in Malawi.

I don’t know much about the Malawi Seattle Association except that it is aimed at improving business ties between this poor African nation and the Seattle business community. A first step might be for the government to stop putting journalists in jail and accusing them of treason just for doing their job.

Guardian: Time to abandon the democracy vs dictatorship debate? | 

Flickr, People's Open Graphics

Mussolini praises Mubarak

The Guardian has published this very thought-provoking article arguing we need to stop thinking so simplistically when it comes to pushing for political progress in other countries.

Well, who would argue with that?

But David Booth, with the Overseas Development Institute, actually appears to be suggesting donors and development organizations stop demanding dictatorial or authoritarian regimes convert to open and free democratic governance — especially in Africa. Booth says:

We should be thinking more actively about alternative ways of improving governance based on the “local reforms” and practical hybrid institutions that we are finding here and there in several countries (Ghana, Malawi, Niger), and more comprehensively in at least one (Rwanda).

Malawi? Wasn’t the British ambassador just kicked out for describing it as a dictatorship? Here’s a BBC columnist asking if Malawi is slipping back into dictatorship. Continue reading