President Obama and Congress’ plan to double power to sub-Saharan Africa has people buzzing about an Africa where energy poverty is a thing of the past.

During a recent whirlwind tour of Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania, President Obama announced his Power Africa initiative, which would invest $16 billion to combat Africa’s energy deficit. Meanwhile in Congress, a bipartisan contingent led by Representatives Edward Royce (R-CA) and Elliot Engel (D-NY) introduced the Electrify Africa Act of 2013, which would provide over 20,000 megawatts of electricity to 50 million Africans by 2020.

So, why is the U.S. government so interested in turning on the lights in Africa?

The fact that millions of Africans are trying to get out of the dark certainly has something to do with it. In Senegal, only 42 percent of citizens have access to electricity. The situation in South Africa is much better where electricity is available to 75 percent of the populous. However, in Tanzania only 14 percent of the population is on the grid. This lack of energy availability continues to curtail the continent’s development.

Furthermore, the fact that the U.S. has the opportunity to reap enormous economic benefits also has something to do with it. By eradicating the energy gap and lifting Africa out of poverty through aid-based and market-driven approaches, the U.S. will be able to access markets that were previously closed.

The U.S. has a very successful track record of providing aid to countries in order for them to develop and then establishing trade partnerships with them.

Unlocking the trade potential Africa holds could be the answer to the economic woes the U.S. has been experiencing. An immense new consumer base could be created, which could mean more jobs and increased productivity.

The benefits to Africa could be profound as well–millions of people could enjoy an improved standard of life–while ushering in a new era for Africa from a hopeless continent to a legitimate investment and trade partner.

Diminishing global poverty by narrowing the energy gap is essential for any of these benefits to take place.

– Aaron Faust

Sources: White House Press Release, H.R. 2548: Electrify Africa Act of 2013, Access to electricity in SenegalWorld Bank
Photo: Philips

Poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa
The World Bank estimates that more than 69 percent of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa lives on less than $2 per day, making it one of the poorest regions in the world. Though the region has experienced strong economic growth during the last two decades, poverty alleviation remains a pressing issue for African leaders.

The numbers appear promising. In its latest African Pulse analysis, the World Bank says that Sub-Saharan Africa’s economic growth should grow to more than 5 percent over the next three years. Foreign investment, rising commodity prices and global economic recovery will all contribute to the region’s rapid development.

Punam Chuhan-Pole, a lead economist in the Bank’s Africa department, said: “If properly harnessed to unleash their full potential, these trends hold the promise of more growth, much less poverty, and accelerating shared prosperity for African countries.”

But questions remain as to whether the region’s economic growth will help mitigate poverty. Statistically, economic growth does not automatically reduce poverty; many resource-rich countries, such as Gabon and Nigeria, have fared worse in terms of poverty reduction than neighboring nations with fewer resources. So, how can Sub-Saharan Africa convert economic gains into poverty reduction?

According the World Bank report, “Better governance will need to underpin efforts to make growth more poverty reducing.” Better governance means more efficient mineral and wealth management, agricultural development and methods for controlling urbanization. It must also include strategies to deal with the region’s growing income inequality, which likely stems from systemic government corruption and a weak middle class.

In 2010, six of the ten most inequitable countries in the world were in Sub-Saharan Africa. In Mozambique, the poorest 20 percent of the population earns 5 percent of total income while the richest 20 percent take home more than 50 percent. The World Bank points out that Mozambique’s oil and gas reserves will be huge economic drivers over the next few years, but, as it stands now, the neediest will benefit the least from any economic gains.

It is difficult to cast economic growth in a negative light. However, Sub-Saharan Africa’s recent expansion has done little to improve poverty and income inequality in the region. Without responsible government and a strong, participatory middle class, economic gains will continue to enrich a small segment of the population. The rest of the people will continue finding ways to subsist on $2 dollars a day.

Daniel Bonasso

Sources: World Bank, UNDP, Overseas Development Institute

In 1986, Barry La Forgia embarked on a mission trip to Peru where he helped construct shelters for those burdened by poverty in the Amazon Jungle. Following the experience, he returned to San Diego, left his real estate and law practices, and, in March of 1988, formed the Southwest Medical Teams, which would later be called the International Relief Teams.

The organization was designed to link people in need with teams of individuals who had the skills to meet those needs. By the end of 1988, volunteer teams were sent to Oaxaca, Mexico to build a healthcare clinic, to Jamaica to provide care for the victims of Hurricane Gilbert, and to Armenia to treat victims of one of the largest earthquakes of the century.

Today, International Relief Teams (IRT) is a relief organization that assists victims of neglect, poverty, and disaster. The organization focuses their efforts on four areas: medical education and training, surgical and clinical outreach, building healthy communities, and disaster relief. By combining short-term relief efforts with long-term programs, International Relief Teams ultimately works to save and change lives.

IRT has proven to be effective in choosing appropriate responses to emergency situations and disasters so that its resources can be used in the most efficient way possible. Since it’s founding, IRT has deployed 405 disaster relief teams, a total of 2,328 volunteers, to aid victims of disaster both here in the U.S. and abroad. More than $89 million in emergency supplies and medicines have also been delivered to those in dire need.

The higher quality health care offered by medical professionals who were trained through IRT’s training and medical education programs in emerging countries has saved the lives of many. Since 1994, IRT has directly trained over 800 instructors in Russia, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia and Vietnam, who have then passed on this training to over 18,000 of their colleagues.

Since 1988, it has deployed 207 teams of clinical and surgical specialists to several countries, including Mexico, Cambodia, and Papua New Guinea. These teams have changed lives through the procedures they perform, such as restoring sight to those suffering from blindness and performing corrective surgery on individuals suffering disfigurement from accidents or birth defects.

In remote regions of the world where extreme poverty is a way of life, receiving medical treatment or life-changing surgery remains a far-off dream. IRT, however, is fighting to change that.

– Ali Warlich

Sources: International Relief Teams, Charity Navigator
Photo: Rescue

As the world population continues to shoot upwards, pressure increases on the environment and farmers across the globe to provide enough food and water to support the growing population. With droughts becoming more common, efficient methods of utilizing water in agriculture could make a significant impact in the access to food and water for the world.

The Farm Level Optimal Water Management Assistant for Irrigation Under Deficit, or FLOW-AID, brings researchers, engineers, and scientists together together to develop innovative new technologies to improve irrigation methods with the purpose of saving water. Their latest project maximizes water usage by decreasing the need for water use by up to 60 percent and simultaneously lessening fertilizer usage up to 30 percent.

FLOW-AID provides water-saving technology, which uses inexpensive wireless detectors that run on solar energy and give data to farmers about which areas of the crops need more or less water. This practice not only maximizes the efficiency of irrigation, but also improves plant health by producing the exact amount of water needed.

Farmers in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands currently utilize FLOW-AID technology. These test countries were chosen partially based off the varying natures of their climates, to determine how to adapt FLOW-AID to meet the different environmental needs of varying regions. Developers of FLOW-AID state that the technology is prepared to handle even the dryer climate of many nations in Africa. They have also pledged to keep the cost of the technology low enough for developing countries to adopt.

According to the United Nations, over 780 million people exist without any access to clean water, and 2.5 billion lack properly sanitized water. The number or people suffering from hunger and undernourishment falls around 870 million people based off the United Nation’s data, mirror the number of people without access to water. With creative technology, such as FLOW-AID, the world could maximize its resources and gain access to more food and water, working to reduce the strains on society from the world’s burgeoning population.

Allison Meade

Sources: Treehugger, Cespevi, United Nations
Photo: Gizmag

After the fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD V)  in Japan earlier this year, a meeting was held at the UN headquarters on the effect that TICAD V will have on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). When the goals expire in 2015, UN officials will need to assess the efficacy of the different goals and evaluate how to move forward. Japan has joined the conversation regarding post-2015 goals, and in particular, is looking to invest in Africa in hopes of creating future partnerships.

Africa is home to 34 of the world’s 49 Least Developed Countries (LDC), and Japan sees investment in these countries as vital in order to achieve meaningful and sustainable development. According to Babacar Cisse, Deputy Regional Director for the United Nations Development Program’s Regional Bureau for Africa, “The discussions and recommendations emerging from TICAD are expected to feed into the global discussions on post-2015.”

As a result of TICAD V, the Yokohama Declaration 2013 and the Yokohama Action Plan 2013-2017 were established, and these programs will use hindsight to build upon the shortcomings of the MDGs in preparation for the post-2015 development goals. Regarding policy areas, TICAD looks to focus on boosting economic growth, ensuring human security and addressing environmental issues and climate change. In order to achieve these goals, TICAD V outlined three main principles for African development: involving Africa in its own development agenda while providing international support, using the current MDGs as precursors to sustained development, and pledging $32 billion in Japanese aid to achieve the first two principles through strengthening and empowering young African leaders.

Advocates and scholars view this plan as a change from previous discussions about African development and helping LDCs. TICAD V is an African-specific development declaration, and addresses developing leadership among youth and building trade, areas that are not currently covered by the MDGs or current post-2015 plan. Furthermore, the plan promotes the involvement of experts from different fields and perspectives, in addition to backing its ideas with financial support. “The Action Plan also highlights the importance of private sector development, infrastructure, agricultural transformation, and employment creation,” said Cisse. As the international community prepares to put forward post-2015 development goals, TICAD V serves as an example of how the African continent can see positive development in the future.

Chloe Isacke

Sources: AllAfrica, TICAD
Photo: GaboNews

This year, Sense International, an organization targeting sensory disabilities in developing nations, launched its first deaf-blind curriculum in Kenya. The program will formalize education and promote specialized home care for over 17,000 deaf and blind children in a country with no precedent for disability education.

Sense International Kenya has been at work since 2005, when teachers began protesting in earnest to the Kenyan Institute of Education about the lack of programs and metrics to guide and measure deaf-blind education.

Kenya currently has 10 centers of education for the deaf-blind—in a country with a population of 42 million. The great demand for specialized care coupled with a total lack of curriculum has left many classrooms in chaos. Teachers with the best intentions, but no tools, have no recourse.

But the problems have roots far deeper than a lack of curriculum. For many families, the distance is just too great or boarding fees too expensive to enroll their children in the few special learning centers.

Without care or intervention, struggling families often can’t help but marginalize their deaf-blind children. Thousands of disabled people live shuttered, lonely lives due to a lack of education.

Sense International addresses these problems on several fronts. First, it recently pioneered a deaf-blind education program in Kenya, fully equipped with material and performance gauges on every academic level. It built the curriculum based on studiously researched input from parents and teachers of the deaf-blind, as well as established practices from its operations around the world in countries like Romania, Peru, India, and Uganda.

Sense also works with community organizations to ramp up specialized care for children with severe disabilities. They provide home-based education and therapy, train parents to care for their disabled children, and connect families with experts and organizations that offer advanced support.

Yet, perhaps most important of all, Sense advocates for policy geared toward the deaf-blind. For example, Tanzania, one of its countries of operation, currently subsidizes transport costs for disabled children to and from special learning centers. Sense is pressuring Kenya to adopt similar practices.

The notoriously bureaucratic Kenyan government presents another problem in itself. To combat this, Sense is cutting away at the red tape prohibiting reform by maintaining constant contact with leaders on sensitive issues.

“This project has shown just what can be achieved with political will and the expertise of organizations such as ourselves,” reports Edwin Osundwa, the country representative of Sense International Kenya. “We are proud of what has been achieved and are now keen to repeat the process for home-based education.”

John Mahon

Sources: Sense International, The Guardian
Photo: The Guardian

The Director-General for the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) recently met with the Iranian Foreign Ministry for Expatriates’ Affairs on August 6th. During this meeting the participants discussed activities of mutual interest including natural disaster management, environment protection, and Afghanistan reconstruction.

These activities would build upon the relationship already established between Iran and the JICA, the Japanese governmental agency responsible for official development assistance. In 2011 the Iranian government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the JICA.

JICA’s activities in Iran fall under five main headings: enhancement of domestic industries and vocational training, reduction of the income gap between urban and rural communities, environmental preservation, water resource management, and disaster prevention.

Under the first topic area, enhancement of domestic industries and vocational training, JICA provides extensive technical assistance to Iranian government officials and the private sector. These activities are hoped to provide job growth and opportunities for Iranian unemployed. The reduction of the income gap projects focus on agricultural development in the country. The activities include infrastructure development and rural community development. In addition, a JICA expert advises the Ministry of Jihad-e-Agriculture. Environmental protection activities include air pollution, energy management, ecosystem conservation, and wetland management among others. A JICA expert advises on water resource management and is placed under Iran’s Ministry of Energy. Iran is prone to devastating seismic earthquakes. JICA experts work closely with Iranian counterparts to devise forecasts and disaster management plans, as well as rehabilitation and reconstruction plans for the country.

The meeting with Iranian officials occurred after the Japanese government reaffirmed their commitment to ongoing sanctions again Iran in response to the country’s nuclear program. In March the US agreed to a 180-day extension for a waiver on Iran sanctions for Japan. Japan imports significant amounts of crude oil from Iran. However, an agreement between the US and Japan has permitted Japanese banks to access US financial systems, despite imposing the strict sanction against Iran. Japan agreed to continue to reduce their imports of Iranian crude oil.

Development programs implemented by other nations are often denied permission to operate inside Iran. However, the JICA has maintained a relationship with the country and successfully implemented activities in Iran since 2007. These development activities avoid more controversial topics such as women’s rights and democracy and governance but the relationship established between the two countries is also important to future programs and increased understanding. While Japan continues to reduce their imports of crude oil (depriving Iran out of much needed trade) it appears they will continue to cooperate on development programs that have the potential to positively affect Iranian citizens.

– Callie D. Coleman

Sources: FARS News Agency, JICA, Platts

Scientists are developing a solar powered device which quickly produces steam, and could be used to sanitize things quickly and easily in places where a lack of clean water for washing makes it difficult to keep things sanitary.

The steam is generated by solar power, so this appliance can be used in places that remain off the grid. Heat conductive nano-particles are the key to this sterilization system, which float around in a tank of water and harness the heating energy of the sun, creating steam that is dispersed through a long tube. The efficiency of this system is impressive, as it is able to convert more energy than solar panels. Thanks to funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Rice University researchers have already built working prototypes, and are prepared to give their solar steam a trial run in Kenya to see how effective the new technology will be for families and villages.

Lack of proper sanitation continues to be a major problem in the developing world, with 2.5 billion people living in dangerously unhygienic conditions. For many people, toilets, safe and reliable waste disposal, and sinks for hand-washing are luxuries rather than the norm. Without access to these basic technologies, which those in the developed world often take for granted as mundane and commonplace, billions of people go about their daily routines with high risk of contracting deadly bacterial diseases. Proper waste disposal systems saved burgeoning Western cities like London from recurring cholera epidemics at the turn of the 20th century. But today 2.1 billion people in the world still rely on unsafe waste disposal systems, and contaminated drinking water continues to plague the world’s poorest places.

For more information on steam sanitation technology, check out this video from the Rice University website to see the system in action, as it converts water and sunlight into bacteria-killing steam.

– Jennifer Bills

Sources: Rice University, Fast Co Exist
Photo: Gizmag

Today there are countless new innovations that can be used to improve the lives of the world’s poor. Below are just 5 unique inventions that have the potential to vastly change lives.

  1. The Hippo Roller – The Hippo roller gives people better access to water sources by allowing them to roll water containers across the ground. The trek to find water is a task that thousands of women and children must perform daily. They frequently walk long distances with heavy cans and containers to bring water home. The long walk is usually inefficient and arduous, and can often lead to spinal injuries as well. The Hippo Roller is an innovative device that allows people to roll 90 gallons of water across the ground. It consists of a barrel-shaped container that can be placed inside a rolling wheel. The container requires far less energy to move and can maximize the efficiency of carrying water.
  2. The XO Laptop – The XO laptop is part of the One Laptop per Child campaign. It is a small computer specially designed for children in developing nations. The purpose of this computer is to give children across the world the opportunity to learn more, in addition to connecting them to the rest of the world. This durable, low cost machine is wireless and has a powerful screen that can be read in direct sunlight. The laptop is rugged enough for children who go to school outdoors and durable enough for children in the most remote regions. By giving each child an XO laptop, One Laptop Per Child hopes to promote self-empowered education.
  3. The Peepoo Toilet – The Peepoo toilet is a slim biodegradable bag that can be used in the absence of a toilet or bathroom space. It is 10 grams in size and contains an inner layer that unfolds to form a wide tunnel. The bag has a urea liner that sanitizes the pathogens within human excrement. Within 2 to 4 weeks, the contents of the bag can be transformed into a fertilizer. Sound silly? In actuality, basic sanitation is something that 2.6 billion people in the world lack. Without proper latrines or hygienic facilities, humans can both contaminate the environment and transfer diseases to each other. The Peepoo toilet is just one way to protect environment and manage waste.
  4. PlumpyNut – PlumpyNut is a ready to eat and ready made food that can be used to fight child malnutrition. It is basically comprised of peanut better, powdered milk, powdered sugar and vitamin and mineral enrichments. One serving of PlumpyNut contains the nutritional equivalent of one glass of milk and a multi-vitamin. It requires no water and no cooking to eat and a day’s supply costs only $1. The product supports rapid weight gain and its sweet taste has proved to be extremely appealing to young children. The organization Doctors Without Borders has seen the tremendous impact that PlumpyNut has on severely malnourished children in Niger, Africa. The nutritious peanut flavored paste has brought back countless children from the brink of starvation.
  5. Jet Injection – Jet injectors use pressure to deliver vaccines and other immunizations directly into the skin. Rather than using needles, these medical devices provide vaccination through a fine stream of fluid that passes through skin into tissue. The model for the jet injector was actually used as early as the 1940s. Now they are disposable, and single use jet injectors help to eliminate the risk of re-using needles, particularly prevalent in low-resource regions. Regular needles run the risk of transferring diseases and can be easily misused. The Jet Injector allows for safer vaccination. Furthermore, jet injectors use 80 less vaccine than needle injections and therefore reduce waste and improve efficiency.

Grace Zhao

Sources: One Laptop Per Child, PeePoople, The Borgen Project, Jet Injector, CBS, Hippo Roller
Photo: Good Ventures