Russia Institutes Public Smoking Ban
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill into law that has created Russia’s first public smoking ban. People will no longer be allowed to smoke in restaurants, trains or entranceways into public housing. Additionally, beaches, children’s playgrounds and other public places are now off-limits to smokers.

The measure had been a significant part of the government’s plan for bettering overall public health. Its effects include rolling prohibitions on where people can smoke, as well as new limits on marketing and selling tobacco products. All but one member of the State Duma voted in favor of the bill.

Lung cancers are the fourth-biggest cause of death in Russia, and more than 40 percent of Russians smoke cigarettes. The World Health Organization (WHO) conducted a study of smoking in Russia in 2011, and the results pointed out many of the deficiencies which this bill solves. For example, “the retail price of a pack of 20 of the cheapest brand of cigarettes in 2010 was 11 roubles.” This is the equivalent of 36 US cents or roughly one-third of the cost of a bottle of water in Moscow.

Russia’s new smoking laws on public smoking ban increase the minimum price allowed to be charged for a pack of cigarettes, hoping to reduce the amount people spend on tobacco while increasing the tax revenue for each pack sold.

Jake Simon

Sources: BBC, World Life Expectancy, Numbeo

Bhutan: World Leader in Organic Farming

Bhutan, a small country located in the Himalayan Mountains between China and India, has announced its plan to become the first country to use entirely organic agricultural methods. The country has demonstrated its commitment to sustainability in many of its policies and practices, and now Bhutan is a world leader in organic farming practices.

The country has not set a date for when the change will be complete. Minister of Agriculture and Forests Pema Gyamtsho stated, “Going organic will take time… We cannot do it tomorrow. Instead we will achieve it region by region and crop by crop.” Organic agriculture is a method of growing crops that uses no chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides.

Agrarian culture and lifestyle dominate Bhutan, where many politicians are also farmers, and most farmers already utilize organic growing methods. Minister Gyamtsho cited several reasons for the country’s push to go entirely organic, including increased food production. He hopes that Bhutan will increase its high quality food exports to neighboring India and China, while retaining food security for its citizens. Other reasons for the complete organic transition include the country’s strong Buddhist beliefs, and the negative effects of chemicals on the natural environment.

Like the rest of the world, Bhutan’s future depends on how it reacts to global issues such as climate change, population growth, and food security. While Bhutanese farmers who already practice organic methods surely support the government’s decision, other famers are unsure about growing crops without chemicals. In some regions, the last few years of warm temperatures and unpredictable weather have yielded smaller harvests and more pests. Some family farmers whose children have moved into the city are forced to use chemicals to maintain sufficient levels of productivity.

Nevertheless, the nutritious products of organic agriculture continue to be in high demand around the world. Organic farmers use natural methods to control pests and practice soil-building techniques, such as composting. Building and maintaining healthy soil is necessary for long-term sustainable agricultural systems. While there is debate over whether organic farming practices produce a lower yield per acre than conventional practices, there is no question that chemically based farming is detrimental to natural ecosystems.

With a population of around one million people, Bhutan is a unique country in many ways. Rather than using Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to measure prosperity and growth, Bhutan gauges its citizens’ productivity and health according to Gross National Happiness (GNH). As a world leader in organic farming practices, Bhutan will continue its track record of setting a standard for sustainable development that other countries can model.

Kat Henrichs

Source: Guardian

Photo: NPR

Shanta_opt

Shanta Devarajan, a leading World Bank economist, said that while African nations are spending more on education and other community-related industries, the mismanagement of these funds is a current problem.

Devarajan’s advice? Allow the people of impoverished communities to make their own decisions regarding the spending of money. Devarajan cited that one of the benefits of putting aid money in the hands of the people would be added accountability for civil servants. He also asserts that making civil servants more accountable would decrease the misallocation of funds and improve the quality of services provided by civil servants.

Cirino Heteng, South Sudan’s Minister for Youth and Sports, conceded that including the poor in the decision-making process would help, but defended the current policy by saying that more supervision was needed. Heteng accused the current minister of education of being unaware of what the hierarchy beneath him is doing because he rarely visits the schools.

One way or the other, both sides promote the idea that the community be more involved in the allocation of funds.

South Sudan is a new official country as it seceded from Sudan in July of 2011. Problems such as the allocation of aid and hierarchical structure may therefore just be symptoms of a newly established government.

– Pete Grapentien

Source Voice of America

coinage 3
President Obama’s push to increase the national minimum wage to $9.00 has stirred up plenty of conversations lately. This has been a very divisive issue over which party lines are clearly drawn. Politicians, news anchors, lobbyists, and economists have been debating the importance of the possible change that $1.75 could make here at home. Here in my home state of Ohio, the increase would be $1.30. But, what could that bit of money do elsewhere?

The World Bank found that in 2008 about 1.4 billion people in the developing world depended on a cost of living of less than $1.25 and set this amount as the definitive worldwide poverty line. Roughly one in every four inhabitants of any given developing country is estimated to fall under this category. While that number has been dropping steadily over the past decade, it is still a frighteningly high number. So, what can you get for $1.25?

In Kenya your $1.25 could buy you:
-2 0.33 liter bottles of Coca-cola
or
-2 loaves of bread
or
-1 liter of gasoline

But forget luxury items like a dozen eggs, that run at a market low of $1.44. And with the cheapest transportation available you’d better need no more than two buses to get where you’re going since they will cost you $0.50 each way, and that’s a day without any food cost at all. You may think that the American dollar would buy more abroad but it is important to remember that the $1.25 line used to mark poverty level is based on the purchase power parity, or the relative price that the same grouping of goods would cost in different markets. Even with this in mind, my $1.79 cup of coffee that I’m drinking now would be more than unattainable for a person living below the poverty level.

So, keep in mind that $1.25 can make a difference. Thankfully, the number of people living in poverty is decreasing each year. With great effort, we can keep that trend going.

– Kevin Sullivan

Source: NumbeoWorld Bank
Photo: 
Traditii Romania

Revolutionary Rice Farming In IndiaAn Indian farmer from Bihar, the poorest state in India, has managed to grow a world record of 22.4 tonnes of rice on one hectare of land. Sumant Kumar of the village of Darveshpura is just one of many other farmers who have managed to reap more than 17 tonnes of rice. Agricultural scientists and development experts are both bewildered and excited as to how record amounts of rice are being grown using only farmyard manure and without the use of herbicides. This revolution of rice farming in India has the potential to greatly reduce poverty in a world where a huge majority live off a diet of rice.

Before Kumar’s crop of 22.4 tonnes, the record was held at 19.4 tonnes by Chinese agricultural scientist Yuan Longping who is known as the “father of rice.” Also outdone were scientists of the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines and some of the biggest European and American seed and GM companies. These record growths aren’t stopping with rice either. Six months after Kumar’s record-breaking crop, his friend Nitish broke another world record for growing potatoes. Another Bihari farmer, Ravidra Kumar, broke the Indian record for growing wheat. With all these recent developments, the village of Darveshpura is quickly gaining a reputation as India’s “miracle village.”

Scientists and development experts have conducted tests on the soil to determine the cause of these “super yields.” Besides a richness in silicon, the key catalyst has been found to be the utilization of a farming method known as System of Rice (or Root) Intensification (SRI). SRI consists of nurturing half as many seeds as normally are done and transplanting them when younger in the grid pattern to keep the soil from drying faster. This “less is more” method has led to increased yields of wheat, potatoes, sugar cane, and many other crops and opens a door to a long-term sustainable alternative to the “green revolution” which involves changing the genes and soil nutrients to improve yields.

Agricultural scientists are at odds as to whether the SRI method is the main cause of such high yields. Regardless, it is increasingly being accepted as one of the most significant developments for farmers in the past half-century. Dr. Surendra Chaurassa from the Department of Agriculture of Bihar believes that this could change the way rice farming in India is being done and recommends that every state in India incorporate the method. “Farmers use less seeds, less water and less chemicals but they get more without having to invest more,” he said.

As Dr. Chaurassa describes it, the process is “revolutionary” especially in a nation where 93% of the population of 100 million depends on growing rice and potatoes. Bihar, the poorest state in India, is now in the middle of this “new green grassroots revolution.” Nitish Kumar who can now afford to send his children to school and spend more on health says, “In previous years, farming has not been very profitable. Now I realize it can be.”

– Rafael Panlilio

Source: The Guardian

Why Investing in Africa is the Right MoveAccording to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), there is a 16 percent chance that global growth will dip below two percent this year. An unlikely contender as far as investment options are concerned, investing in Africa may be a lucrative opportunity for investors looking for solace in a declining global market.

Africa is notorious for being a troubled continent. However, as the economic problems begin to fade, stock markets are projected to rise, making Africa a prime candidate to overtake Asia in terms of economic growth by 2015.

The IMF has estimated that in the next five years, 10 out of the 20 fastest-growing economies will be in sub-Saharan Africa and two will be in North Africa. An example of exploding economic growth is Nigeria, where the average income has quadrupled since 2000. Sierra Leone, Ghana, Kenya, and Ethiopia are all seeing quick economic inclines as well.

While African markets are becoming more and more likely to expand rapidly in the next few years, making investing in Africa a lucrative choice, many investors are still reluctant to invest due to the lack of liquidity (ability to buy and sell) of African stock.

– Pete Grapentien

Source: The Telegraph

Women Entrepreneurs, Champions Against Poverty
In the rural Nicaraguan community of La Laguna, Ana Cecilia Acuña is joining the ranks of a growing group of women entrepreneurs worldwide and defying the traditional gender roles of her community while improving the lives of everyone around her. Ana grew up in poverty, often without enough food to eat and working when she was young to pay for school. As an adult, Ana opened up a store that feeds her community with items such as oil and rice funded by micro loans from the non-profit organization Opportunity International.

One problem that faced her community was obtaining potable water from a viable source. With encouragement from Opportunity International, she joined the La Laguna Community Cooperative and later became the first woman member of the board. The cooperative then received a loan for enough money to dig a well and create water pipes that serve many of the families in the community. Soon they plan to have potable water running to each of the 3,800 people in the area. Fresh water in their homes supplants the previous method of walking seven kilometers to fill up a bucket of water. Currently, Ana Cecilia Acuña is one of five employees of the cooperative and is proud to make enough money to move out of her mother’s house and pay for her son’s school fees.

According to Vicki Escarra of Opportunity International, “when a woman is given an opportunity to change her life, she invests 90% back into her family.” From there the women entrepreneurs will invest what they make into their community. It is with the belief in this principal that Opportunity International hopes to raise $50 million for their One Woman Initiative that will provide two million women worldwide, like Ana, with loans to start their own small business. Seventy percent of the people who live on $2 or less a day are women. It is easy to feel helpless to make real change when faced with the daunting statistics of poverty, but the growing popularity of organizations that fund entrepreneurs using micro loans make it more accessible than ever to make real change in someone’s life on a small budget.

– Sean Morales

Source: The Huffington Post
Photo: TechnoServe

Does International Aid Help Or Not?
In the never-ending debate about whether international aid helps or not, Al-Jazeera’s Counting the Cost gets four experts’ insight. Will Ruddick, a young scholar at the Institute of Leadership and Sustainability who has spent time in Kenya, argues that such resource-rich countries might not need as much as 300 million dollars in food aid every year. He argues that it’s not the aid itself, it’s the Western economic model which has been proven inefficient when it comes to international aid and development.

Ruddick thinks that a new economic model is needed, one that’s similar to the Swiss model, where there are monetary innovations to reach the goals of sustainable development. He says that micro-finance lending and entrepreneurial models are causing more social stratification thereby amounting to more debt. Ruddick suggests policies that move to something that creates more networks and communities, an implementation that involves the local affected and recipient communities.

In Keyna, there is a wide dependence on anti-retroviral drugs for HIV as opposed to development. Ruddick argues that there should be more of a push from international aid organizations to help these people develop the needed drugs locally; aid and development aren’t necessarily linked. Networks must be encouraged and created to help local people help each other. According to Ruddick, Kenya is exporting 3 billion dollars worth of food to Europe, and yet every year, with the consistency of food aid to Kenya, people are still underfed and starving.

In Jerusalem, Palestine, Dr. Nora Murad argues that “aid” is subsidizing the Israeli occupation that it’s allowing the Israeli army to occupy cost-free because every time a road, a school, or a hospital is destroyed, the international community pays for it rather than have the Israeli army replace it. Thus, in places like Palestine, the international community needs to politically intervene to better implement any aid that goes to Palestine. “The Israeli occupation costs the Palestinian economy 6.8 billion dollars per year,” Dr. Murad argues. She also argues that recipients of aid, in her case she’s talking about Palestinian communities specifically, should have control over their own development resources and be able to make development decisions.

Alan Duncan, the British minister of state in the department of international development, argues that they don’t deal directly with untrusted governments, they focus on the “real economies” of “real people,” that they are the “engine of development,” and such a development is precisely what his department is pushing for. He explains that the private sector is so important and that the existent aid model isn’t flawed, and that they “underpin the basic building blocks of an agricultural economy,” to help the underdeveloped internal economy of Africa. In regards to Palestine, he says that the kind of aid that goes to Palestine is to equip the Palestinian Authority to be a future government, the development is thus working in such specific political circumstances.

The head of development finance and public services at Oxfam, Emma Seery, comments by saying that her organization is more focused on development than aid, they focus on policies in an effort to put an end to extreme inequality. So the question is this: we know that foreign aid helps, and that poor countries are appreciative of this gift but are the right policies being implemented to sustain growth and development? Is there a need for a new more efficient economic model?

– Leen Abdallah

Source: Al Jazeera
Photo: Google

5 Critical Factors In Rwanda’s Healthcare SuccessJust in the last ten years in Rwanda, deaths from HIV, TB, and malaria have dropped by 80 percent, annual child deaths have fallen by 63 percent, maternal mortality has dropped by 60 percent, and life expectancy has doubled. All at an average annual healthcare cost of $55 per person.

Normally, after horrific national traumas, like Rwanda’s genocide of almost a million people in 1994, countries fall into a cycle of poverty and economic stagnation. Poor health and disease cripple workers and then the national economy, leaving the country ineffective to break out of depression.

A recent article in BMJ, led by Dr. Paul Farmer, Chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, examined data from the World Health Organization (WHO) and attempted to identify why Rwanda was able to make such dramatic progress when so many other nations have failed before them.

They identified 5 critical factors In Rwanda’s healthcare success:

1. The government formed a centralized plan for economic development, with one of the pillars being health care; knowing that, without improving health, poverty would persist. There were heavy research and reliance on facts and data to formulate their health metrics.

2. Aid allocation was controlled and monitored; the government insisted that all aid agencies meet transparency and accountability standards consistent with the national development plan.

3. A treatment plan addressing all the associated issues around AIDS was implemented:  tuberculosis, malnutrition, need for in-home care, community health workers, “psychosocial” support, primary and prenatal care.

4. Financial incentive was given to coordinate care; a performance-based financing system was set up to pay hospitals, clinics and community health workers to follow-up on patients and improve primary care.

5. Universal health insurance for all citizens, with particular attention to providing for the most vulnerable populations. The average, annual out-of-pocket health spending was cut in half, and households experiencing health care bills that force them into poverty were significantly reduced. (Half the funding came from international donors and a half from annual premiums of less than $2 per person.)

Access to healthcare for ALL citizens is a prerequisite for controlling diseases and thus allowing for economic growth to lift people, and nations, out of poverty. The medical advances in Rwanda have pushed their economic growth, the GDP per person has tripled, and millions have been lifted from poverty over the last decade. Rwanda offers a replicable model for the delivery of high-quality healthcare and effective oversight, and even with limited resources.

– Mary Purcell

Source: The Atlantic

A Voice for the Poor
There are billions of people in the world today who are currently living under the shaky circumstances of poverty. One in five people in the world survive on less than $2/day, while 1.5 billion struggle with less than $1/day. This shocking truth affects people everywhere and creates a lack of hope and opportunity.

Although there is aid money that is accessible, cash transfers have become comparably effective way to help the poor. In the effort to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goal of eradicating extreme poverty, cash transfers have played a significant role in reducing the high number of people living in extreme poverty. While the benefits of having access to cash transfers are well known, the people who are most in need of them believe that the value and improvement of the system can be better. For the poor, their voices remain unheard.

Cash transfer programs in developing countries have been viewed as an effective and fast way to provide aid.  Because of how money is distributed, the money is not being given to everybody due to eligibility concerns and a lack of people properly applying before deadlines. Some countries such as Kenya had trouble trying to figure out the application process for cash transfer programs. Like many people living in poverty stricken area, many are unaware of what to do and are more focused on surviving.

While there are always benefits to receiving money, there is also conflict in the process of collecting it. Elderly people in Uganda have had a difficult time trying to voice their issues whenever mistakes occurred. Whenever there is any kind of conflict, elders are faced with the problem of whether to address it or not. They don’t believe that a voice truly exists for them. Not being able to share their complaints has a lot to do with their fear of having their benefits taken away from them.

As the poor are struggling to reach out to share their voice, there is an ethical argument for them to have a say in society. Although they already face such vast conflicts in their life as the poorest in society, discrimination plays into their lives on the basis of gender, age, disability, ethnicity, sexuality and religion.

Being able to find a voice for the poor is not only going to better their lives, but it will properly open up a different perspective on how unjust the poor are treated. This issue is not that these programs are not already effective enough in combating poverty, but by having their own voice, the poor can address their issues with aid systems to the government and donors for improvement, efficiency, and fairness.

Jada Chin

Source: The Guardian
Photo: Council on Foreign Relations