The Central African Republic (CAR) has been plagued by a humanitarian crisis since the ouster of former President Francois Bozize by the rebel group Seleka. Since the former government was deposed in March of this year, CAR has fallen into a downward spiral of political instability. Seleka leader Michel Djotodia has indicated that elections will be held after an 18-month transition period during which he will remain in power. Yet only 4 months after the rebel takeover, CAR is already seeing the dire effects of its deteriorating security situation, particularly in the withdrawal of most aid organizations from the country.

Several UN agencies and multiple NGOs have pulled out of the Seleka-ruled CAR due to “lack of security.” Among them are UN agencies and organizations that had provided the aid which much of the population depended on for survival. According to data from 2011, 62% of the population of CAR was in poverty, and only half of its rural population had access to an “improved water source.” In such a state of poverty, and with such a shaky political standing, CAR is facing a grave crisis.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), an international organization also known as Doctors Without Borders, released a report in July explaining the grim reality faced by the citizens of CAR. Malaria cases, for example, have shot up since the Seleka takeover, with 33 percent more cases now than this time last year. Malnutrition and preventable disease have also become considerably more pronounced in recent months. MSF urges international agencies and organizations, from the United Nations to the European Union and African Union, to support CAR with funding and aid.

This week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon released a statement calling on the UN Security Council to take steps towards bringing stability to CAR. The country, he says, is suffering “a total breakdown of law and order.” The Security Council has not released a statement yet.

Lina Saud

Sources: The World Bank, BBC, Medecins Sans Frontieres
Photo: New York Times

Various Bedouin tribes have turned the Sinai Triangular Peninsula into a nightmare for Africa with their torture and human trafficking. The tribes profit through their kidnapping regime and ransom strategies, making millions of dollars in the process.

This kidnapping racket has existed for many years. Bedouin tribes snatch refugees during their flight from their home countries or while they are in refugee camps. Have left their homes to build a better life, the kidnapped victims largely originate from Eritrea, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Sudan, often on their way to Europe or Israel. There have been reports of bribed border-patrolmen who enable the kidnappings. The victims are next transported to Sinai, where they are tortured and held for ransom. Oftentimes, they are sold multiple times, passed from trader to trader with new ransoms each time. The ransom fees reach up to $50,000, an impossible amount for most African refugee families.

While held in the camps, sickening acts of torture take place. Various forms of physical torture, sexual torture, and starvation are among the most common. One means of transport involves placing the victims in metal shipping containers without ventilation or toilets. The Physicians for Human Rights director, Shahar Shoham, has reported over 1,300 individual incidents of torture in Sinai alone. However, Shoham reports the majority of torture cases go undocumented. Known torture methods include upside-down hanging, electric shocks, and pouring liquid plastic on them, sometimes while on the phone with their families in an attempt to scare their relatives into providing the ransom money.

According to the New York Times, abductors have captured over 7,000 refugees, with 4,000 of their victims dying durring imprisonment. Even if captives manage to escape or be released due to a paid ransom, their situation remains bleak. They are left to wander around the Israeli border and attempt to make the dangerous border-crossing. They must also avoid Israeli and Egyptian police, or risk being arrested or deported back to the countries they originally fled.

Even with all this information available, little is being done to address the problem. In fact, the problem is reported to be worsening. Friendly Bedouin tribes offer assistance to escaped torture camp victims, but do not have the political clout necessary to make any real change. Opponents of the torture camps fear a massive bloodshed if any attempts are made to stop the kidnapping heists. The Egyptian government has essentially turned a blind eye on this deadly region as well, leaving these victims on their own to fight for their rights.

– Allison Meade

Sources: CBN, Canada Free Press
Photo: Blogspot

Small-scale initiatives in Nairobi, Kenya are fostering community development throughout the country. Residents of the Hazina and Kisii neighborhoods of the Mukuru slums in Kenya have created the Haki Community Conversation, a local cooperative designed to help the Mukuru community. The Haki Community Conversation meets regularly to address issues to improve innovation and ingenuity within the community.

Community conversations have been utilized in many different countries and contexts, with the goal always the same: to foster discussion and solutions about the issues that plague the community. In the Mukuru slums of Nairobi, Kenya, the Haki Community Conversation has solved several problems. When it was first created, many people in the community did not have access to toilets. The group used a small grant and member dues to hire community members to build latrines, creating both jobs and sanitation in one single project. The Haki Community Conversation has also lobbied local schools to allow poorer students to pay cheaper rates to attend, and it has also provided pregnant women with free medical care during their pregnancy.

Nairobi is not the only place in Kenya where community conversations are having a positive impact, and simple logistical community problems are not the only issues which these gatherings address. Mary Sadera, a resident of Ol Posimuru, a rural area of Kenya’s Rift Valley, has experienced firsthand how community conversations can impact the social values and customs of a region.

In 2011, Landesa, an NGO that works to secure land rights for the poorest in the world, began a program in Ol Posimuru to raise awareness about the rights afforded to women by the new constitution enacted in 2010. Landesa worked with tribal elders in Ol Posimuru by conducting a series of community conversations about women’s rights. These involved the whole community and took the form of debates, workshops, and discussions.

The community intensely debated the new rights for women, but eventually decided that granting these rights was the right thing to do, especially once it was shown that families where the husband treated his wife as an equal partner functioned far better. According to an article in The Guardian, “Tribal elders told Landesa that they had been working in a vacuum. Community conversations gave them the space and the skills they needed to talk about and reflect on the content of the constitution and on women’s rights.”

The impact of these community based initiatives cannot be ignored. Development is often pictured as big waves of change, but in reality new policy must be implemented at the community level in order to be effective and fit the needs of the area. Community conversations are a simple and cheap way to get local communities actively involved and contributing their own innovation and ingenuity to their development.

Martin Drake

Sources: Take Part, The Guardian
Photo: Concern USA

Health reporter Harman Boparai recently travelled to India where he once practiced as a physician to learn more about child health in the country. In the pediatric ward at Panna District Hospital, Bopari reported that the children, who suffered from different illnesses and came from different villages, were all extremely undernourished. Nutrition has increasingly been recognized as a basic but crucial contributor for social and economic development.

According to the World Health Organization, 165 million children under 5 years of age suffered from stunted growth in 2011.This means that one in four of the world’s children did not get the right nutrients or food to grow. Of the total number of malnourished children in the world, one in every three lives in India. Adequate nutrition is essential in early childhood to ensure healthy growth, a strong immune system, proper organ formation and function, and neurological and cognitive development.

Economic growth and development also require well-nourished populations who have the capablity to learn new skills, think critically, and contribute to their communities. Boparai later traveled to New Delhi where he talked with individuals working on the issues. At Save the Children India, Shireen Miller, the nonprofit’s director for advocacy, explained that the implementation of government food security programs was essential to the survival of children in the country. “Malnutrition is a critical factor in child survival,” she said. “When we say that a child dies of illnesses like diarrhea and pneumonia, it is because of the fact that they’re malnourished which has reduced their ability to withstand that illness.”

According to UNICEF, in India, around 46 percent of all children under 3 are too small for their age, and 47 percent are underweight. The severity of the issue of malnutrition varies across states, with Kerala among the lowest rates at 27 percent, and Madhya Pradesh at the highest rate of 55 percent. To reverse the current trend, the Government of India started a program under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), which works to provide poor Indian children with the nutrients needed to grow and end malnutrition in India. The program not only provides immunization and supplementary nutrition, but also educates pregnant women and mothers of young children on health and nutrition.

ICDS in India is the world’s largest integrated early childhood program, with over 40,000 offices nationwide. The program today covers over 4.8 million expectant and nursing mothers and over 23 million children under the age of six. Of these children, approximately half participate in early learning activities. Across the developing world, 66 million children go to primary school hungry. This lack of nutrition means these children are less likely to perform at their full potential in school. The World Food Programme estimates that $3.2 billion is needed annually to reach all 66 million hungry school-aged children, or less than 0.2 percent of the world’s military spending.

Ali Warlich

Sources: Global Post, WHO, UNICEF, Global Issues

As development agencies, international research institutions, non-profit organizations, and funding and donor communities continue to search for ways to eradicate global poverty and hunger, many now believe that the answer may lie in family farming. Of the 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty, an estimated 800 million work in the agricultural sector, and the vast majority own very small plots of land. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has a High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE), and the panel has concluded that 96% of all agricultural holdings in Africa measure less than ten hectares. In China and India alone, there are 189 million and 112 million smallholder farmers respectively with plots measuring less than two hectares.

These smallholder family farms play a vital role in securing food for their communities. According to a World Bank report, an increase in one percent in agricultural GDP reduces poverty by four times as much as the same percentage increase in non-agricultural GDP. These families, however, are also some of those most at risk of hunger and poverty, and there must be a concerted effort to support their farms and the agricultural industry at large.

Over the next two years, The Food Think Tank and the FAO will work together to highlight the important role of family famers, and encourage other organizations to help family famers improve their working conditions by enhancing soil health, protecting water supplies, improving nutrition and increasing incomes. Here are five ways, presented by Food Thank and FAO, that NGOs and other organizations can help family famers alleviate global poverty.

1. Promote sustainable agriculture methods.
In order to increase yields, new farming methods can be employed, such as agroecology or ecological intensification. According to an analysis of 40 projects and programs, African smallholder farmers have experienced increased yields due to sustainable techniques, such as agroforestry and soil conservation.

2. Assist family famers in adapting to climate change and short-term climate variability.
As climate change continues to affect the agricultural industry, family farmers also bare the weight of environmental impacts. According to the IFAD, In Africa alone 75 million to 250 million more people will experience increased water stress by 2020 because of climate change. By supporting programs that teach sustainable practices in land and water management, organizations can help minimize the effects of year-to-year climate variability in the form of drought or flooding.

3. Promote policies to provide smallholders with legal titles to their land.
Over 1 billion poor people lack secure rights to land; by obtaining legal rights, farmers can increase productivity, investment in land and family income.

4. Increase access to local markets.
Since family famers produce on a small scale, they need chains of appropriate scale. Organizations such as Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) can provide platforms from which family farmers are able to sell their products directly to consumers.

5. Close the gender gap.
Currently, women do not have equal access to credit, land, inputs, and extension services when compared to their male counterparts. By closing the gender gap, 100 million to 150 million people could be lifted out of hunger.

– Chloe Isacke

Sources: Huffington Post, FAO
Photo: The Guardian

Laughter is fr universal language, and comedy is a much broader medium, than given credit for. Laughing is disarming, warm, enjoyable, and can help unite people. It isn’t a stretch to imagine that comedy can also connect and rally people to fight intractable problems. Humor can indeed be a powerful weapon against the scourge of something like global poverty and the absences of technology and education in communities. This is the very idea behind Comic Relief, an organization operating in the United Kingdom and abroad that stands up to poverty.

Existing officially as both a company and charity in the UK, Comic Relief began in 1985 during Christmas season at a Sudanese refugee camp. Renowned and well-meaning British comedians hoped to raise awareness of the Sudanese plight and the Ethiopian famine going on. The success of that first event spawned more live comedic appearances in Sudan and gave way to Red Nose Day in 1988, which brought much needed attention and money to the region that went directly to relief. Since that time, Comic Relief has grown in size and scope, spreading laughter and awareness of numerous other initiatives.

One of those other initiatives is Send My Friend to School (http://www.sendmyfriend.org/), a nonprofit movement in the UK working to make the Millennium Development Goal of education for all children a reality by 2015. A member of the Global Campaign for Education (GCE), the initiative boasts UK membership of over 10,000 schools and youth groups. Another initiative Comic Relief supports is the intrepid See Africa Differently (http://www.seeafricadifferently.com/) campaign, aimed at changing the world’s perception of the continent and sharing stories of real people there that aren’t covered in major news. For example, the London art scene has recently been enthralled with the works of West African artists.

A very personal and striking account of Comic Relief in action is the story of teen sisters Hazel and Hiayisani in Tembisa, South Africa. Orphaned after their mother’s sudden illness and death, older sister Hazel was now in the position of caring for herself and her sister. Poor and completely exposed to the worst of society, they were at risk of being split up by Social Services, falling into a life of crime or the world of sexual slavery. However, after finding the Bishop Simeon Trust, a Comic Relief partner in Tembisa, the girls were able to join other orphans. They now receive a stipend and care packages from the trust to live on, free education, and enjoy time at the Bishop Simeon facility with other teenagers.

Comic Relief is best known for its initial and ongoing fundraiser, Red Nose Day. Happening every few years, this international event is celebrated mainly in the UK and Africa. For those who participate, the objective is to put on a red nose and be ridiculous. Proceeds from the event go directly to initiatives like the ones mentioned above, aimed at education and the changing of negative international typecasts.

Comic Relief has shown that maybe laughter is the best medicine for social ails.

David Smith
Sources: Comic Relief –History, Send My Friend –About, West African Art Pops Up in London, Comic Relief –Hazel and Hiayisani, Africa, Red Nose Day –What Is It?
Photo: BBC


How to Prevent Poverty
Understanding how to prevent poverty has been an issue of great concern both in the United States and across the globe. Countries like the U.S., in a position to prevent poverty in less developed nations, are particularly interested in determining the causes of poverty in order to effectively alleviate poverty at home and abroad. By understanding what it is that leads to impoverishment in specific communities and countries, poverty reduction efforts are more likely to prevent poverty all over the world.

Though poverty and extreme poverty, as terms, have been defined as living under a certain dollar amount per day, what causes poverty is often much more complicated. The World Bank defines global poverty as a pronounced and multidimensional deprivation in wellbeing. That is, what it is to be considered poor or impoverished depends on a number of different conditions and factors that vary from community to community. For example, one family may have the dollar amount sufficient to feed itself but lack adequate access to education or water.

Because poverty represents such a wide variety of conditions, how to prevent poverty is an issue that requires a complex understanding of the circumstances in which one is working. Not only that, effective poverty prevention and reduction strategies will necessarily include either a multidimensional approach or take place in a network of projects that strive to prevent or reduce poverty on various levels. For instance, Plan Canada, a Canadian-based charity organization founded in 1937, takes a five-step approach in its strategy to prevent poverty worldwide.


Plan Canada’s Tools for How to Prevent Poverty


  • Education – Providing a quality education to children will create positive change in a child’s life.
  • Healthcare – Adequate access to healthcare is essential to ensuring health and wellness.
  • Water and Sanitation – Prevention of disease in communities is largely dependent on adequate facilities.
  • Economic Security – Though economic growth is not required, economic security provides families with sufficient stability to count on a consistent family income.
  • Child Participation – Helping children learn their rights and engage in civic duties sets the foundation for a strong community.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) reports that slower population growth and investments in reproductive health and HIV prevention, as well as women’s empowerment and gender equality are also important steps toward preventing poverty. In fact, the UNFPA considers universal access to reproductive health information and services to be an “essential” condition to achieve the U.N. Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

How to end poverty is a complicated question, but significant research like that taken to synthesize the reports discussed above suggests that it is not an impossible question to answer. Quite the contrary, there are thousands of organizations across the globe working on just that question every day. Collaborative and coordinated efforts, in recognition of the diverse causes of poverty, will no doubt win the day. In the meantime, these strategies continue to develop in scope and sophistication.

– Herman Watson

Sources: The Borgen Project, Plan Canada, United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Population Fund
Photo: Soda Head

However, while big businesses often do not do their share to improve the world we live in, companies like Alcoa who are doing extraordinary work. Alcoa, an enormous aluminum manufacturer based in Pittsburgh, and its charitable foundation gave $36.6 million to charitable causes in 2011. This represents roughly 6.7% of its pretax profits, making it the company that gave the greatest percentage of its pretax profits to charity in a 2012 analysis by The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

In March 2013, as part of International Corporate Philanthropy Day, Alcoa announced that it had given over $40 million dollars in grants in 2012. Additionally, its employees provided 800,000 hours of volunteer work that year.

The Alcoa Foundation, which celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2012, dedicates half of its funding to individual Alcoa locations around the world. This money is used to fund local initiatives that improve the communities in which Alcoa operates. Meanwhile, the other half of the foundation’s funding goes to globally focused partnerships aimed at achieving long-term results. Most of these larger programs are run by local communities and employees, ensuring that the big picture is not overrunning small-scale needs.

The purpose of the foundation is two-pronged. First, the foundation aims to improve environmental sustainability by practicing good stewardship. Additionally, it supports education and training where Alcoa can offer expertise to improve manufacturing, the environment, and safety.

The Alcoa Foundation has many significant partnerships that multiply the efficacy of its work. Thanks to joint efforts with Greening Australia, The Nature Conservancy, and Global ReLeaf, the Alcoa Foundation is halfway to its goal of planting 10 million trees by 2020. By working with DoSomething.org, the largest U.S. organization for socially minded teens, the Alcoa Foundation launched the largest youth-led aluminum can recycling drive in America. Over 50,000 teens worked together over two months to collect more than one million cans, enough to power New York’s Times Square for roughly a year. A partnership with the American Association of University Women led to Tech Trek, a week-long camp for girls passionate about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). The camp encouraged 70 middle-school girls to pursue math and science in school and their careers.

The Alcoa Foundation’s work is innovative and exciting. It takes aim at enormous global issues, as well as local ones to benefit diverse groups of people and encourage Alcoa employees to improve their communities and the world. The Alcoa foundation is a trailblazer in corporate stewardship, and one can only hope that many more companies will follow their lead.

Katie Fullerton

Sources: Alcoa, Philanthropy News Digest, Forbes
Photo: The Epoch Times

The United Methodist Committee on Relief, also know as UMCOR, is a humanitarian relief and development organization which aims transform and strengthen individual’s lives and their communities by providing humanitarian relief in the United States and abroad.

UMCOR helps communities which have been effected by natural disasters, war, or conflict. Although UMCOR is not a first response organization, its volunteers are always on high alert to help those in need. The United Methodist Committee on Relief aims to establish a “new normal” for the communities they are helping, and help each individual return to their everyday lives.

The organization empowers local businesses, hospitals, schools, and churches in Third world countries. UMCOR travels to different areas of the world visiting communities and addressing health, sanitation, poverty, sustainable agriculture, and food security issues.

UMCOR has helped millions around the world and believes that each and every individual has God given worth and dignity, which is why the organization does not discriminate against race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.

The organization helps communities recover from disaster and sustain their improvement. Volunteers remain in the communities after recovery has occurred to provide individuals with an education, training, and support. UMCOR also works towards preventing the spread of malaria and other health issues such as HIV/AIDS, maternal and child survival, water and sanitation, congressional health, and hospital strengthening.

UMCOR also partners with other organizations to address issues, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the U.N. Foundation. A representative from the U.N. Foundation stated that UMCOR is making a big difference in numerous individual’s lives by not wishing for a difference, but instead is going out there and is making a difference.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief is an organization which is making great strides in global development and international aid. By working in over 80 countries, and providing individuals with an education, training, and support, UMCOR has become a leading organization in humanitarian relief.

Grace Elizabeth Beal

Sources: UMCOR, Imagine No Malaria, UN Foundation

Namibia is currently facing its worst drought in three decades. Located in southwest Africa, Namibia is one of the driest countries in the world. All 13 regions of Namibia have been affected by the drought with major shortages of food and water, but the north has been hit the worst. In order to compensate, many families are forced to sell livestock, reduce the number of meals per day, or migrate to the cities in search of work. Angola has also been affected by the drought. With migrants from both Angola and Namibia flooding into nearby countries in search of food, the crisis is beginning to take on a regional dimension.

In Namibia’s northwestern Kunene region, agriculture is limited by the area’s dry and sandy soil. Local populations are semi-nomadic and rely heavily on livestock. In search of fresh pasture, these local populations have been forced from their villages and their traditional way of life. The young men are visibly absent from the region, as many of them have left their villages to find the distant stretches of pasture for their livestock.

Typically, Namibia experiences only light and erratic seasonal rains. For the last thirty years, the country has experienced low seasonal rainfall. But after a second year of failed rains, the country is now in a state of emergency. Because of the prolonged dry season, the Government estimates that 2013 crop yields will be 42 percent lower than those of 2012. With only one harvest per year, the country will not see another harvest season until March 2014. Namibia’s cereal crop output is expected to be 50 percent below average. A third of the population, some 780,000 people, are at risk of malnutrition – this includes 110,000 children under the age of five.

When declaring a state of emergency, Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohama said, “It has now been established that climate change is here to stay and humanity must find ways and means of mitigating its effect.” The Namibian government has committed $20.7 million in assistance to affected people, but aid so far has been insufficient.The Namibian government has warned that there might not be enough water for its people, which puts livestock at risk, further prolonging the crisis. Many families have applied for food aid, but few have received anything.

In order to help the 110,000 children at risk of malnutrition in Namibia, UNICEF has pledged $7.4 million to the country. According to Micaela Marques De Sousa, UNICEF’s Namibia representative, “Shortages of food and water are increasing the immediate threat of disease and malnutrition…But anecdotal reports already indicate children are dropping out of school, a clear sign of stress and vulnerability in families.” In addition, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has issued an appeal for $1.45 million, in hopes of helping 55,000 people in Northern Namibia.

Kelsey Ziomek

Sources: Reuters, The Guardian, OCHA, UN News Centre, The Washington Post, IOL News, IRIN Africa, ReliefWeb, UNICEF
Photo: Thomson Reuters Foundation