The aid debate continues in the media and on blogs | 

The debate over aid does not want to go away, but it is moving away from general statements about whether it works or not. Regardless of who is right and what we believe, it is promising to see the conversation taking a far more constructive tone. However, the present discussions are not likely to convert people to the pro- or anti-aid camps.

The latest round of disagreement follows on the heels of NYU economist and aid skeptic Bill Easterly’s new book. In it, he argues that technocratic experts have undermined the rights of people around the world. Aid, at times, has been a tool to provide support for leaders that restrict things people can say and do in their countries. In the long term, that undermines advances within a country or region.

Easterly has been making the media rounds to debate whether foreign aid is on the wrong side of human rights. On Wednesday, Easterly joined CARE USA’s CEO Helene Gayle to debate foreign aid on Fareed Zakaria’s television show. Zakaria plays a moderator of sorts who seems a bit of an aid supporter.

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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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Why economic growth is not enough to end poverty | 

The long and often still held tenet of development is that economic growth is needed to ensure that a country improves. In other words, poverty will end when more people are making more money.

It makes a lot of sense at the face of it, but the stunning pace of global economic growth has not helped everyone, especially the people who need it most. Economist and former Oxfam staffer Kate Raworth makes the case for thinking beyond economic growth in this short talk animated by the The RSA.

Are you convinced by her argument? I’d love to hear from other economists as to why she is right or wrong.

Things are not getting better for the extreme poor | 


Bill Gates rightly said that things are getting better around the world. It is the case for the majority, but not for the extreme poor.

Inequality has become a sort of international topic du jour. President Obama mentioned it in his State of the Union, the Pope brought up the issue at the end of 2013 and Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz is concerned by inequality.

Oxfam made the point by citing that the world’s 85 richest people have the same amount of money as the poorest ~3.5 billion in the world, in a recent report. It called for immediate action to halt the progress of inequality.

“Without a concerted effort to tackle inequality, the cascade of privilege and of disadvantage will continue down the generations,” said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director for Oxfam International.

“We cannot hope to win the fight against poverty without tackling inequality. Widening inequality is creating a vicious circle where wealth and power are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, leaving the rest of us to fight over crumbs from the top table.” Continue reading

If the global elites at Davos see inequality as the problem, what’s their solution? | 

Davos, World Economic Forum
World Economic Forum

This week, the advocacy group Oxfam released a report that generated some stunning headlines, mostly around one shocking statistic: “85 richest people as wealthy as poorest half of the world” was typical.

The Oxfam report Working for the Few quoted former US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we cannot have both.”

Everyone knows the richest today are fabulously wealthy and even Oxfam accepts that some level of inequality is necessary – and good, as a reward for innovation and initiative. But… Continue reading

Hard winter arrives for underprepared Syrian refugees | 

Preparing for winter in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley
Preparing for winter in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley

The upcoming winter in Lebanon brought the first snowfall to parts of the country on Wednesday. It is an unwelcome sign for the 2.2 million Syrian refugees living outside of the country right now.

Temperatures fell to as low as 20ºF as the refugees must cope with little or no heat. Winter is a particularly hard time and the acceleration of people fleeing from Syria over the past year weighs heavy on the humanitarian response.

Current predictions indicate that this year’s winter will be harsh in countries where Syrian refugees are living, such as Lebanon and Jordan.

Nearly 3 million people received supplies to help cope with the winter, including high thermal blankets and extra plastic sheeting, from UNHCR. Still, many people are relying solely on the blankets to keep warm during the cold months.

“Most of these people used to live relatively decent lives. They were not used to worrying about hunger and keeping warm,” explained Phillips, Campaigns and Policy Director for Oxfam GB, to Humanosphere. “It is a huge shock psychologically.”

Because many of the people who left Syria were not living in poverty, they arrived in neighboring countries with some assets. With little or no opportunity to make an income, families are turning to personal savings and finally selling off valuables.

But the money is running out.
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Hunger Games: The Refugee Shelter | 

The latest Hunger Games movie is ‘catching fire’ (had to use the pun) across the US. It is also providing shelter for refugees.


Oxfam GB’s Ben Phillips snapped a photo of a Syrian refugee shelter in Lebanon that used a Hunger Games movie poster. His tweets from today describe the hardships faced by the refugees. Syrians displaced in Lebanon are spending twice their incomes just to get by.

“We took our kids out of school because the teachers made them empty the trash instead of lessons – only Syrian kids were made to do that,” said one refugee to Phillips.

A total of 1.5 million Syrian refugees are hosted by five neighboring countries. The UN’s latest appeal says that 6.8 million people in and around Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Phillips is tweeting stories and pictures this week as he meets Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan.

Remittances to Somalia survive another day in the UK | 

Somali activists on the "Boris bikes."
Somali activists on the “Boris bikes” in London.
Oxfam GB

Somali campaigners rode through the city of London last month on the Barclays bank-sponsored “Boris bikes” to protest the bank’s decision to cease its cash transfer work in Somalia. The bank did not change its mind, but the campaigners won an important victory this week.

Barclays bank’s plan to cut the legs from the remittance flow in Somalia was temporarily halted by a court injunction.

Dahabshiil, an Emirati cash transfer company, is challenging the decision by Barclays to cut off remittances in response to concerns over money laundering and the funding of terrorists. Supporters of the transfers, including Dahabsiil, point out that the overwhelming majority of the money is sent to support individuals and families. The estimated $1.3 billion that is sent in the form of remittances to Somalia has a major economic impact on the country.

Somalis living abroad who send money home to Somalia will continue to do so until the UK high court finishes hearing the case against Barclays. Continue reading