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

For those looking for new ways to alleviate global hunger, lab-grown meat may not be the cure-all solution that researchers are claiming it to be.

Many scientists and animal welfare activists are praising the new in-vitro hamburger, declaring it a “step towards a day when meat can be produced in a cost-effective, time-efficient, and completely animal-free manner.” These supporters posit that producing in-vitro meat (IVM) could reduce the animal suffering, negative environmental woes, and overall human health risks associated with the structure of modern, industrial factory farming.

How does IVM work, exactly? Mark Post, a Dutch researcher from the University of Maastricht and lead researcher in the IVM project explains that scientists can grow animal muscle by collecting healthy animals and culturing them in a sterile environment, thus avoiding inhumane slaughter practices and establishing a safer food supply.

Some people, however, are not quite as enthusiastic about the prospect of lab-grown meat. Foremost, critics point out that IVM is likely to be an expensive item for quite some time—the first in-vitro hamburger cost researchers $325,000 to produce. That’s a lot of money, especially for a burger that taste-testers reported as having a “yuck factor”.

What’s more, vegan groups like the Dutch Vegan Society suggest that veganism and vegetarianism already exist as ways to access a safer food supply and avoid cruel slaughter practices, thus making IVM an overpriced, extraneous solution.

The Dutch Vegan Society questions why anyone would choose IVM when many plant-based protein options like vegan and vegetarian burgers already exist on the market that taste better and look like meat products that people are familiar with.

That is—why would people who do not approve of the modern meat industry opt for IVM meat if it does not taste any more like meat than the vegan burgers already on the shelves for under $5?

Even further, many argue that the real solution to feeding the world is through reforming agricultural practices, distribution, and access to markets in the developing world. The developing world will not find a solution to its hunger crisis in a lab-grown hamburger that they cannot produce themselves, thus subjecting them to further exploitation by global markets that are already pitted against them.

Rather, Kanayo Nwanze, the president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, claims that “Africa can—and should—feed Africa”. That is, for agriculture thrive and yield the greatest returns in struggling developing countries around the world, “development efforts must focus on the smallholding farming sector,” rather than on developing new, expensive scientific solutions abroad.

If anything, the lab-grown burger has sparked a useful discussion about the merits of a plant-based diet and the ways in which technological “quick fixes” to global health and poverty crises can fall short.

In the wake of technological advancement like IVM, economists, politicians, and humanitarians are beginning to understand that perhaps the only way to get rid of global hunger is to reform developing countries from the “ground up” by improving agricultural infrastructure and providing impoverished countries with the means to produce their way out of poverty.

– Alexandra Bruschi

Sources: Scotland on Sunday, CNN, Huffington Post, The Dutch Vegan Society
Photo: Discovery

In global relations, a states ability to influence others is inextricably hinged upon power. How a given state chooses to exert this power is conditional upon two characteristics: what type of power it may posses, whether it be military, economic, or diplomatic; what their desired outcome may be. Historically, the most visible type of power is hard, or military, power. Without dispute, hard power, as a show of force, certainly plays a role in coercing states actions. Objectively, however, adequate influence relies on not only the stick, but also the carrot.

In the simplest of terms, directing action, whether it is of an animal or a state, is often far more effectual when sought through rewards rather than punishment. If you wish to train a puppy to sit, you will find far more success with treats rather than with punishment. States aren’t much different.

The one principal to bear in mind is the fact that, no matter what, a state will always act in its own interest. This is why the United States arms both the Israeli army as well as the Saudi Arabian army. At its core, a states decision to act in any meaningful way is conditional upon the whims of its leaders. Influencing these leaders is the key to achieving a desired outcome.

In a recent article, I discussed what it meant to be a failed state. While political scientists have yet to develop a concrete definition of a failed state, most agree that falling below the Montevideo criteria indicates an inability to function as a state, resulting in questions of the leaders legitimacy. Of these criteria, the most critical to is the states ability to provide for its population. For a powerful nation such as the United States, aiding in the development and legitimacy of a far off state works wonders in influencing a course of action.

Political scientist Joseph Nye coined this aid, or soft power as “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion.” While this term may be new for many, the core ideal of which it represents is certainly nothing new. Foreign aid, to name one, is the most powerful form of soft power. In a recent press release, the United States State Department, has justified this aid “The FY2014 budget request of $47.8 billion supports U.S. engagement in over 180 countries, and provides the people and programs necessary to protect U.S. interests, promote peace and ensure America’s leadership in the world.

While this request amounts to less than 1% of the FY2014 budget, the diplomacy leverage it affords us is invaluable. In fact, the first line of diplomatic defense when a state goes rogue, is to sanction, or cut off, this aid.

Over the course of the passed decade, the merits of soft power have proven so effectual that certain aspects have been absorbed into the military. As part of General McChrystals counterinsurgency plan (COIN), along with partnering with Afghan leaders, is to leverage economic initiatives. Through helping build up communities, it is hoped that the United States and allied forces will discourage destruction and extremism. Moreover, through building schools and hospitals, the plan aimed to win the hearts and minds of the populace, effectively dislodging the seeds of extremism.

Through foreign aid and other aspects of soft power, we have seen global development enter an era of increasing promise. Through such programs, previously underdeveloped countries are coming online and, subsequently, poverty rates continue to drop. While military preeminence and the doctrine of second-strike capability played an ominous role in keeping war at bay in the past, it seems that for further development, it must become nothing more than a relic of the past.

 – Thomas van der List
Sources: UCLA International,

1. Malala Yousafzai works tirelessly as a young advocate for female education, despite being shot in the head last year by the Taliban for these very same efforts. She—in her bravery and brilliance– exemplifies the struggle for girls’ education everywhere.

2. Hillary Rodham Clinton, having served as the first lady and Secretary of State, is now a partner with her husband and daughter at the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation. Within the organization, she has committed herself to improving access to female education and empowering women worldwide.

3. Richard Robbins directed Girl Rising, the extremely popular new documentary that tells the stories of nine struggling girls in the developing world. The film, which has met with great success, espouses the urgent global need for equal access to education.

4. Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn published “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” in 2010, a compelling journalistic account of the developing world, and more specifically, of its disadvantaged women. The book, which spans the entire globe and a diverse set of lifestyles, seems to somehow convey a singular edict: in order to progess—particularly in the developing world– we must provide all women access to an adequate education.

5. Lawrence Chickering has worked for more than thirty years in order to improve the conditions of girls in the developing world, particularly in India, a country where 40% of women are not educated beyond the fifth grade level. His NGO, Educate Girls Globally, has significantly improved female enrollment, retention, and performance in India’s government schools, giving girls access to a variety of transformative resources.

– Anna Purcell

Sources: CBS News, Huffington Post, The Guardian

The United States Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC) has released a publication titled the “Report on Reports” every year since 2008. These publications are designed to analyze reports issued by different groups that address development and diplomacy, and to then come to a consensus about the best way to address certain areas.

The USGLC was established in 1995 and works with over 400 businesses and non-governmental organizations to create viable solutions for global development and diplomacy. They also work with religious leaders, academics, and community leaders in an effort to reach out to people from many different perspectives.

Members of the USGLC Advisory Board include Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright, Hillary Clinton, Henry Kissinger, and Condoleezza Rice.

The 2012 Report on Reports was issued in June of this year. The report, which analyzed more than 30 reports across the political spectrum, outlined six major areas of consensus that the USGLC wanted to focus on in order to improve the United States’ diplomatic relationships and development efforts across the globe.

The first area identified is to strengthen civilian power. The USGLC concluded that the civilian foreign service workforce must continue to grow in order to protect national security and promote our interests.

The second area of consensus is to ensure results-driven development, emphasizing transparency, accountability, and regular evaluations of all development efforts.

The third area is to leverage the private sector. Rather than focusing purely on public and governmental development efforts, the USGLC supports increased cooperation with private sector groups like academic institutions and foundations.

The fourth area identified is to maintain sufficient resources, particularly to support civilian contributions to national security.

The fifth area of consensus is to improve coordination among the players, especially streamlining government agencies to improve coordination, clarity of leadership, and consistency in our development and diplomacy.

The sixth and final area is simply to prioritize. The USGLC emphasizes that although the need for development will continue to increase, we must do our best to match that need with our efforts.

Clearly, the overall emphasis of the 2012 Report on Reports is increased civilian and private-sector participation in U.S. diplomacy and development efforts across the globe. The Center for Strategic and International Studies noted that this will require support for budget reallocation from both ends of the political spectrum to fund this increased participation in these efforts. Furthermore, the bipartisan emphasis of the Report on Reports indicates the need for policymakers to reach across political lines in order to pursue the best interests of both the United States and the developing world.

What does this mean for the United States and the way that it proceeds in its global development efforts? In simple terms, the 2012 USGLC Report on Reports seeks to expand the base of participants in global development by including the civilian and private sectors and also seeks to improve bipartisan cooperation about these efforts. As we move forward in the upcoming years, the USGLC’s recommendations will improve the efficiency, participation, and success of our diplomatic and developmental projects around the world.

– Sarah Russell Cansler

Sources: United Global Leadership Coalition, United States Global Leadership Coalition 2013 Reports on Reports, The Center For Strategic and International Studies
Photo: One

AECOM has announced that USAID has granted the organization a $18.7 million contact to implement the Water Security for Resilient Economic Growth and Stability Program in the Philippines. The program known as “Be Secure” will aim to achieve improved access to water services and more-resilient communities. To do this, AECOM will partner with the government of the Philippines to promote good governance and expand water security.

Over the next four years, AECOM will work with WaterLinks, a Philippine non-profit that forms peer-to-peer partnerships between water services providers, to implement the Be Secure Project. AECOM plans to support local stakeholders, advance wastewater-treatment service delivery, improve sustainable water supply, increase resilience to climate-related water stress and hydrological extremes.

“We are excited to provide an innovative technical approach to help respond to urgent water-security challenges in the Philippines,” said AECOM Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John M. Dionisio. “We developed and tested this approach over the last 15 years implementing USAID-funded water services, climate change and environmental projects in country.”

AECOM is a provider of professional technical and management support services to a wide range of markets, including water, energy, environmental, facilities, transportation, and government around the globe. AECOM provides solutions to create, sustain and enhance the world’s built, natural, and social environments.

Ali Warlich

Sources: AECOM

For many poor families, a safe place to save, or simply access to a small loan could be a ticket out of poverty. However, this basic service is not available for a large portion of families, particularly those living in rural areas. Even where loans are available, the poor often do not qualify for them. Saving for Change (SfC),launched by Oxfam America, provides these critical services to nearly 680,000 members, most of whom are women.

Traditional community finance or “microfinance” institutions give those who do not have access to credit the opportunity to borrow a small amount of money. Once this loan is paid back, the borrowers are able to increase the loan amount, allowing them to build small businesses or homes. Oxfam, however, takes a slightly different approach to this microfinance model, forming large numbers of savings and credit groups in the poorest parts of the world.

Members of these groups have the ability to share their savings and make loans with each other using their own resources rather than taking out a loan from a credit union, bank, or microfinance institution. Villagers come together to make groups of about 20 people that function like a community bank, to save money, make loans, and even pay each other interest, which adds to the group fund.

Typically, members are trained to save regularly by meeting each week to put a few cents into the savings box, and to borrow from the group’s fund as needed in the form of loans that are later paid back with interest. At the end of the cycle, usually about one year, the fund is divided among members who receive a portion of the profit in addition to their own savings. The return on the savings is 30 to 40 percent or more.

The end of the savings cycle is also scheduled strategically, usually before the start of the hungry season when members are most vulnerable. The money distributed is used primarily by women for livestock, food, and business, with 41 percent of the share-outs going towards income-generating purposes.

An extensive study entitled “Saving for Change: Financial Inclusion and Resilience for the World’s Poorest People”, conducted by Oxfam America and Freedom from Hunger in May, found promising results on the impact of community-based savings groups. The study was done in Mali over a three-year period, where villages were randomly selected to either receive the savings program or not. The study found that among those who join Saving for Change:

  • 82 percent live on less than $1.25 a day
  • Most members are financially and socially active women, many who own livestock or run a business
  • Women who join are more likely to be in a leadership role in the household or community
  • Women who are less socially active tend to join about six months after the first group formed in their village

The study also reported that women in Saving for Change villages felt the following advantages:

  • Saved 31 percent more than women in control villages
  • Took out twice as many loans from savings groups
  • Were 10 percent less likely to be chronically food insecure than those in control villages
  • Increased livestock holdings, owning 13 percent more livestock than those in control villages ($120 more), which can buy three ewes, four goats, or one calf
  • Reported more village-level solidarity than non-SfC members

Ali Warlich

Sources: Christian Science Monitor
Photo: Oxfam

Double Fortified Rice
Because salt is nearly universally used as a condiment, it represents an excellent avenue by which to affect the diet of almost any population. With this in mind, the addition of essential nutrients to salt is seen as an effective way to combat micronutrient deficiencies worldwide.

The concept of fortifying salt with both iodine and iron was first conceived in 1969, but it took years of research and technological advances to make the process possible. When both iron and iodine were first added to salt, multiple obstacles presented themselves. These included the instability of iodine compounds when combined with iron, the oxidation of iron, and the development of unappealing color in the salt. Decades later, after these issues had been carefully addressed, Double Fortified Salt was born.

The Micronutrient Initiative partnered with the University of Toronto to conduct groundbreaking research funded in part by the Canadian International Development Agency and the World Bank. This research produced a method by which salt can be effectively fortified with both iron and iodine without compromising the product. One of the most exciting details about this initiative is the price tag. At roughly 18 to 20 cents per person per year, double fortification of salt will inevitably save money by preventing many of the health complications that accompany iron and iodine deficiencies.

Of course, the final judge of the product is the consumer. If no one wants to use the amazing new salt, its effectiveness is irrelevant. Once tests had been done to ensure the stability and efficacy of double fortified salt, consumer surveys were conducted in Nigeria and Kenya. These tests confirmed that consumers found the product acceptable, giving the Micronutrient Initiative and its affiliates the green light to move forward with large-scale production. Commercial production in India was met with success, and other countries, such as Bangladesh, have since joined the initiative.

Salt is fortified with iodine fairly consistently, with roughly 70% of people worldwide consuming iodized salt. However, inadequate iodine consumption is still the leading preventable cause of brain damage in the world today, and universal salt iodization is the most effective way to ensure that those at risk are receiving enough of this essential nutrient.

Meanwhile, iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world today, and it has terrible consequences. Iron is instrumental in blood formation and a lack of it often causes blood hemoglobin levels to plummet, a condition known as anemia. An estimated 2 billion people worldwide suffer from anemia. Almost half of all women in developing nations experience iron deficiency that can cause complications in pregnancy, low birth weight, and infant and maternal deaths.

The capacity to fortify salt with both iron and iodine is an opportunity to fight poverty on many fronts. Decreased incidence of iodine deficiency will prevent 18 million children from being born mentally impaired each year and will improve the overall of health of many more. Iron supplementation will improve maternal and infant health, and protect multitudes of people from developing anemia. These enhancements in health will correspond with higher quality of life for billions of people around the world.

Katie Fullerton

Sources: Micronutrient Initiative DFS, Micronutrient Initiative Iodine

By now, it is a well known fact that clean water is necessary for drinking and hygiene. About 1.1 billion people go without clean water every day and must rely on polluted or infected supplies to survive. Even more than that go without basic sanitation. But, water is not just for human consumption and cleanliness. Access to good water can be the difference between eating and starving for rural farmers throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. In order to grow sufficient crops, farmers need water and frequently must rely on sparse rains and transporting water on their own to provide for the plants they are attempting to grow.

Only four percent of rural farmland is irrigated, even though up to 40 million hectares are proven to be appropriate for irrigation. Farming in Africa has proven to be a difficult endeavor at the best of times. Rainfall has become unpredictable and crop yield is often too low to feed a family, let alone to sell in a market. The frustrating part is that there is plenty of water available underground, but the farmers lack an affordable way to actually obtain it.

Large, centralized irrigation schemes are usually built around a major dam and were very successful, especially during the so-called Green Revolution. Millions of people were brought out of hunger as a result. But they often proved to be environmentally destructive and tend to be very expensive to build and use, especially for those living in Africa.

The answer to providing access to crop irrigation for poor rural farmers in Africa could be much smaller, like the treadle pump. The pump is used by stepping up and down with the long poles, or treadles, that activate the suction and pump water out of the ground. One family told Sandra Postel, who of the National Geographic Freshwater Initiative, that their $35 investment brought them $100 in revenue the first year they used it.

The downfall of a pump like this is that it requires a lot of physical work to use and ends up taking time away from other important activities like schooling and harvesting. Nonetheless, several companies such as KickStart have created variations of the treadle pump to help spread the use of irrigation. With their affordable irrigation pumps, KickStart has been able to help 750,000 Africans pull themselves out of poverty. Groups like FarmAfrica have gone in and taught the farmers how to use the pumps and what crops to grow to get the best yield. Until small motorized pumps are more universally available and affordable, the benefits of being able to grow enough food to eat and sell seriously outweigh the issue of having to operate to pump manually.

– Chelsea Evans

Sources: Global Issues, National Geographic, FarmAfrica, KickStart
Photo: Indiegogo