Whoa, it’s already Friday! Time for another podcast!
This week, East Coast correspondent Tom Murphy and I ramble and argue but mostly agree with each other about lots of things happening in the humanitarian sphere – you might even call it the Humanosphere. We cover USAID’s “fake Twitter” fiasco,” new developments in World Vision’s gay marriage “flip flop” fiasco, as well how much money there is in global health (spoiler: not enough!) and what it’s actually being used for (spoiler redux: it should bolster the public sector, not get funneled into one-off gadgets and gizmos). I’m sure there are other fiascos out there we didn’t have time for.
All of that may sound like bad news, but here’s the good news: Tom and I bring our humano-nerd powers to bear on sorting through it all, so you don’t have to! And you get to observe the interplay between my tendency to paint people of different political persuasions (World Vision donors who don’t believe in gay marriage, for example) with a broad, unflattering brush, and Tom’s level-headed attempts to contextualize and rationalize their beliefs.
Don’t worry, nerdliness isn’t contagious through headphones or speakers.
Want to hear more podcasts? Subscribe and rate us on iTunes.
World Vision USA, the large Christian aid organization headquartered just outside of Seattle, earlier this week announced it had changed its policy and would begin hiring Christians in same-sex marriage.
World Vision USA President Rich Stearns had championed the move saying it was “Symbolic of how we can come together even though we disagree.”
But in less than two days, World Vision USA reversed itself saying it had made a ‘mistake’ – the mistake, apparently, being that it had not anticipated the massive criticism it would get from many in the religious community who oppose gay marriage.
“This a depressing step backwards from what had seemed a very progressive move forward by World Vision,” said Ed Carr, an aid and development expert at the University of South Carolina. “After only a day or so, they’re back on the wrong side of history.”
- Celebrating the 2007 SuperBowl losers in Zambia
- World Vision
In case you haven’t heard, a Seattle football team named after a diurnal, fish-eating bird of prey won the Super Bowl.
And once again, World Vision will be seeking to mislead the poor of the developing world as to the true outcome by distributing to the far corners of the planet tens of thousands of T-shirts that proclaim the Denver Broncos as the 2014 Super Bowl champions.
This is a funny story, to me anyway. Not so for everybody, however. To begin with, I’m kidding about the intent of this annual clothing donation scheme. The Seattle-based (well, Federal Way) Christian aid and relief organization, one of the largest such organizations in the world which does great humanitarian work in some of the most difficult regions, is just trying to make use of clothing the NFL has banned from America.
The prohibited items are items of clothing that falsely proclaim the Broncos as winners of a game in which they were severely trounced by the Seahawks.
Every year, before the Super Bowl, NFL merchandisers print up something like 200,000 t-shirts, hoodies and caps declaring both sides in the contest champions. This is done so fans at the close of the game can immediately buy the winners’ gear. The clothing with the losers emblazoned on it gets donated to organizations like World Vision that, in turn, ship it to poor communities overseas.
In the aid world, this is called a “gift-in-kind” (GIK) donation or, for those critical of this kind of assistance, SWEDOW – Stuff We Don’t Want (coinage @Talesfromthehood). Continue reading
- Protesters in Austin, Tx.
- Elizabeth Brossa
US Senator John McCain is an unlikely ally for President Obama’s sales pitch to launch a military intervention in Syria. Congress has some time to decide what it will do before it reconvenes, but non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are working in and around Syria are pushing for the US to do more, just not with its military.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) issued a strong statement on Sunday condemning the spectre of US attacks in Syria calling such an intervention “largely divorced from the interests of the Syrian people.”
It will be impossible to reach an international consensus, even if there is definitive evidence that chemical weapons were used in Syria, says ICG. Much of that is due to the 2003 campaign to invade Iraq based on reported weapons of mass destruction that turned out to be false. More importantly, the group raises concerns that strikes will raise the level of violence and not prove to be an adequate deterrent to chemical weapon use.
“The Syrians we meet are crying out for peace,” agrees Oxfam America president Raymond C. Offenheiser. “Ultimately, there must be a political solution to the crisis. Military intervention should be an option of last resort.” Continue reading
- Congolese farmer.
When it comes to the priorities of fragile and conflict-affected states, nutrition is often low on the list.
Forty-two countries around the world are classified as fragile and conflict-affected states (FCS), but only half have joined a UN-backed nutrition scheme called Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN).
Governments often favor instant solutions to hunger problems at the expense of longer term changes that will eliminate chronic under-nutrition.
The trend over the past few decades is to invest the majority of money on nutrition into emergency food distribution and in kind donations.
Donors like the United States will provide food from US farmers to feed people facing hunger in a country like Somalia, but do little to support programs that ensure that persistent hunger ends.
As much of 90% of food distributions come with an expiration date. Once the predetermined date is met the project ends.
It doesn’t have to be this way, says Sebastian Taylor of World Vision.
“There is an astonishingly low investments in agriculture by donors,” said Taylor to Humanosphere. “Countries need to develop a national program for development in which agriculture productivity is a core strategy and reducing malnutrition is a part of it.” Continue reading
Congress has again preserved American exceptionalism, and in so doing ensured millions more people in poor countries will go hungry.
The Obama Administration has proposed changing our food aid system, which nearly all aid and development experts agree is inefficient and self-serving due to the uniquely American requirement that we buy food here from American farmers and ship it overseas on American ships. On Wednesday, the House had a chance to change this by voting on legislation to reform food aid – a bill regarded by many as a very modest step in the right direction.
The arguments against it were bipartisan and focused mostly on how the changes would affect us, as opposed to the needy overseas:
- “[Food aid] is not broken. It is about humanitarian, economic and national security…We don’t need to destroy something that’s worked for fifty years,” claimed Rep. John Garamendi of California.
- Rep. Nick Rahall, from West Virgina, argued, “The effect would be to undermine the integrity of our maritime fleet…Once these jobs are gone, they’re gone forever.”
- And Rep. Rob Andrews from New Jersey worried the act would open the door to “corruption” of US food aid in poor countries. Another representative claimed that food aid would no longer be branded with the American flag.
Ed Royce, a Republican who represents California’s 39th district and co-authored the amendment aimd at reforming food aid, called those ideas “myths.” And they are. Royce chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee and knows what he’s talking about.
“We are not talking about sending bags of cash so they can spend it on whatever they want,” he explained. “US labels will still be prominent. The defense department has said this will not affect military readiness in any way.”
He made an impassioned plea for changes to our “archaic” food system: “Our food aid takes too long to arrive.” He cited a former official who testified, “I watched people die, waiting for food aid to arrive.”
But his pleas fell on largely deaf ears. The House voted down the amendment, 220 to 203. Continue reading
Tom Paulson reported this week on a disagreement between aid groups on the Obama administration’s proposed common-sense reforms to the country’s food aid. The US is the largest food aid supplier in the world, routinely sending food overseas to humanitarian hotspots. But it does so in a remarkably outdated and inefficient way.
For this week’s podcast, we invited two humanitarian heavyweights to weigh in: World Vision (based in Federal Way, WA), which opposes the food aid reforms, and Oxfam, a supporter of the measures. World Vision told us they wanted to participate but reversed themselves at the last moment. So Tom spoke at length with Eric Munoz, a senior policy advisor based in Oxfam’s Washington D.C. office, and Jonathan Scanlon from the group’s Seattle office, about the issues.
We’re curious: What exactly is wrong with food aid right now? (Spoiler: the system was designed in the 1950s.) The harder question is, what should be changed? Who are the political constituencies involved and why are groups like World Vision opposed? And what are the prospects, realistically, for the reforms being encated? These questions have enormous implications for places like Haiti, Somalia, and so many others around the globe where American food aid is delivered.
But first we discuss the headlines, including China’s startling rates of cancer and the multi-trillion dollar economic cost of malnutrition. Tune in below.
Editor’s note: Members of the humanitarian community say they just want to feed the hungry and do not wish to be characterized as fighting with each other over food aid.
Too bad. They are fighting with each other, over an effort to reform America’s long-standing approach to food aid – an approach that many experts agree is unequaled when it comes to being self-serving and wasteful. A look at two key players in the politics of fixing food aid.
- Flickr, pinehurst19475
Maybe you’ve heard of the nearly trillion-dollar U.S. Farm Bill.
News reports on this massive, quinquennial (every five years) piece of Congressional legislation often devolve into some inside-baseball rant over one particular item like farm subsidies or food stamps – or, conversely, seem as unwieldly and difficult to follow as a blimp in a tornado. That’s why most non-farmers or non-agribusiness types normally don’t pay much attention to this massive bill despite the fact that it affects every one of us. It’s about food, after all.
One of the many special interests embedded within the Farm Bill is international food aid. This is a $1.8 billion collection of programs with names like Food for Peace or Food for Progress nominally created by our country’s desire to feed the hungry and needy overseas. Nearly a billion people suffer from hunger worldwide and the U.S. is the world’s leading supplier of food aid.
Food aid is shaping up to be one of the most hotly contended issues in the frequently hotly contended Farm Bill. Continue reading