Rand Paul Misjudges Importance of Foreign AidSenator Rand Paul from Kentucky has made his opinion on American foreign aid quite clear. While there are people here in the United States who still suffer from lack of health insurance and inadequate education, Senator Rand Paul believes that American money should be spent on internal improvements.

However, with a consistent focus on strong national security by the last five or so presidencies, it is not that foreign aid should be cut or reduced. Rather, it should be moved around to be made better use of.

There is military aid, which aims to achieve a specific national security goal directly. This may include ammunition, military bases, or force training. The second category of foreign aid could be best labeled as ‘structural’ aid. Structural aid is given to countries as humanitarian aid, money to rebuild infrastructure, improve health care and education, among other areas. While some may wish to argue otherwise, structural aid allows countries to stabilize themselves internally to prevent outbreaks such as civil wars or terrorist-like groups from arising from the grievances the populace may have.

While military aid tries to end the problem after it comes out of hand, structural aid should be looked at as a way to prevent the problem before it even starts. However, it can be hard to differentiate between the most pressing needs of a foreign country and how that fits into America’s economic ability. Sometimes, nations are not in any political state to receive structural aid. For example, funding education and health care services in Syria is understandably difficult at the moment when rebels and government forces are constantly killing citizens and endangering their everyday lives.

Although it will be hard to convince our nation’s government of the usefulness of structural aid because its actual ‘return’ takes years to surface, pumping money into military aid and then criticizing the use of structural aid ignores the link between both categories and minimizing threats to our national security.

The U.S. presence in countries should not have to start only when wars break out. We should utilize our outstanding resources and analysts to pinpoint countries that are currently able to make the most use out of American aid and begin smoothing out the small bumps on the road before they turn into dangerous potholes.

– Deena Dulgerian

Indian Startup Provides Mobile InformationWhile many of us could not imagine a cell phone plan without unlimited data, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that hundreds of millions of people rely on basic messaging phones. Aside from the constant criticism about society being too attached to their cell phones, in reality, mobile browsers and apps provide unbelievable services at the tip of your fingers; students use it to access classroom web pages and complete homework, entire businesses can be run without stepping foot into an office, and you can book an entire European vacation from a single travel app.

One Indian startup company decided to change all that for the hundreds of millions who did not have these services. In 2008, Deepak Ravindran and his friends started Innoz, an external mobile search engine that provides mobile information and applications through SMS.

Through SmsGYAN, their own designed ‘answer engine’, users are able to use hashtags to designate which app they want to use. A specific question or format is sent in the text message, and an answer is immediately sent to the phone. With hundreds of different apps, Innoz is able to reach more than 120 million mobile phone users and sends out anywhere from 5 to 10 million answers a day.

With 20 different categories to choose from ranging from games and news to sports and productivity, Innoz includes apps such as #MATHS which sends math problems to the users phone. Other useful and interesting apps include: #STEVE, quotes from Steve Jobs, #JOBS, which lists jobs available in the user’s area, and #AEROTRIX, which helps teach practical aerospace. There is even #ipc4w which provides information of the different punishments for crimes against women.

This company has opened up a massive world of knowledge and is making it available to people who either cannot afford smart phones or live in areas where such technology has not become part of everyday life. It allows anyone to gain access to college information, hospital information, and even statistics about their favorite cricket players.

It levels the playing field for the farmer who must catch his train on the railway but never had an up-to-date schedule to rely on. It gives the struggling student a chance to learn new material and give themselves a boost in the classroom. For companies such as Innoz, the focus is on an audience that craves to have information at their fingertips but doesn’t have the means to receive it, until now.

– Deena Dulgerian
Source: SiliconIndia

US AID Praises Filipino Volunteer OrganizationThe United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department of Health commended a volunteer-based organization in the Philippines named the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines (FPOP). The group, located in Iloilo City, teaches young students in poor villages about preventing unplanned pregnancy and provides reproductive education. Many low-income families living in the Philippines do not have access to family planning services, so the Filipino volunteer organization has been working diligently to provide this much-needed information.

Volunteers for FPOP complete extensive training in preparation to teach adolescents about reproductive health. These volunteers are able to educate students on family planning, the importance of preventing teen pregnancy, and birth spacing. The FPOP also reaches out to the LGBT community for peer counseling, thus providing a safe and open place for these students to ask questions and learn about sexual health.

The FPOP in Iloilo City has partnered with the Department of Education to incorporate reproductive education and family planning into the current school curriculum. Now, students in the 5th and 6th grade may learn about preventing pregnancy in science, health or social studies classes. So far, one elementary school and one high school have begun to include FPOP information in their classrooms.

Six barangays, or small villages, have seen the benefits of the FPOP. Not only are students better educated on topics that greatly affect their futures, but they also have the opportunity to positively interact with mentors from the FPOP. Clearly, this is a wonderful organization that deeply impacts its community and deserves praise from USAID.

– Mary Penn

Source: Sun Star Iloilo
Photo: Flickr

Republicans Support More Minimalist Foreign Policy

The above word is used a great deal when describing Republicans’ take on foreign policy. The Republican take requires America to be aggressive, taking on a very large role in worldwide interactions in order to maintain its political advantages and in order for American foreign policies to remain crucial and imperative worldwide. However, an aggressive foreign policy approach means that America has been involved in a lot of wars and conflicts across the globe, leading to increased military and defense spending. Cutting back on defense spending could push back on the many cuts the government has recently made as a result of the sequester, helping to decrease the national debt and allowing for higher spending in other areas.

Now, a new generation of Republicans, led by Senator Rand Paul, seems to be hinting at a different Republican approach to foreign policy that could do just that – cut military and defense spending. This different approach, some argue, has some elements of increasing US isolationism. Yet, ultimately, according to Senator Paul, his approach that the United States should take a more minimalist foreign policy approach is more realistic than other options. A minimalist foreign policy approach would have more limitations on presidential power and American power abroad (two areas that Rand Paul sees as needing to be limited, which he reasoned was the justification behind his filibuster of President Obama’s drone policy last week).

Whether or not this new approach will continue to be seriously considered or grow support is unknown. According to the President of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard N. Haass, Rand Paul is proposing that a more minimalist foreign policy approach would be the solution to finding a new Republican brand as they approach 2016. It would be a means of ensuring that the US overreaching in another country, as was done in Iraq and many of the US’s other ongoing military involvements, does not occur again.

In terms of foreign aid, a more minimalist foreign policy may mean a more minimalist domestic policy as well. Turning focus inward and safeguarding national interests within the United States may provide less incentive to provide foreign aid, especially in situations that involve conflict or have turbulent political implications.

– Angela Hooks

Source: NY Times
Photo: Facebook

Increased Food and Farm Productivity in Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia

It is estimated that over 277 million people across the continent of Africa obtain their livelihoods through agriculture. Many of these people are located in Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia. In fact, agriculture is a large component of the economies in these three countries. Improving food and farm productivity in these three countries could help in the fight against poverty. Agricultural productivity has been found to be a critical component in eradicating poverty because it creates food security and helps to protect the environment.

Recently, the World Bank Board of Executive Directors has approved an International Development Association credit of $89.4 million to aid in food and farm productivity in Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia. The credit will go towards the creation of Regional Centers of Leadership for food staples, such as rice and maize, help spread technological advancements, such as mobile phones, as well as will help boost agricultural research capacity and help spread technological advancements, such as mobile phones and help train farmers and provide agricultural knowledge. At least 30 percent of farmers chosen to receive aid or benefit from the aid are women.

Michael Morris and Melissa Brown, World Bank Co-Task Team Leaders, said, “The agricultural sector has a strong influence on growth, employment, food security and poverty reduction efforts benefiting the entire economy…successful implementation of this innovative project that takes a farmer-centric approach to development and dissemination of improved crop varieties and promising farm practices” will be beneficial to a multitude of people and help in the fight against poverty.

– Angela Hooks

Source: allAfrica
Photo: Guardian

UN Says Poverty has Decreased Throughout the Developing WorldAccording to a new study released by the United Nations, global poverty has seen drastic decreased in recent times, and “up to 80 percent of the world’s middle class will live in developing countries by 2030.”

Calling the rapid reduction in poverty an “epochal global rebalancing,” the UN says that rising incomes and economic development have engendered a rising middle class and have lifted hundreds of millions of people out of severe poverty, citing that at least 40 developing countries with growing economies have contributed to these latest figures.

Helen Clarke, the UN’s Development Program Administrator, said that these countries created fast economic growth by accepting foreign investment and focusing on improving infrastructure and increased education for their citizens.

Also cited as a reason for improved well-being was the GDP boom that occurred in India, China, and Brazil, where China and India managed to double output within the last 20 years.

The study, using the Human Development Index (HDI) as a measurement, also acknowledged other developing countries as having greatly improved individual well-being, with Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Angola “among 14 countries that have recorded gains in HDI of more than 2 percent a year since 2000.”

The UN found that global poverty has nearly decreased in half since 1990 when it was recorded at 43 percent. In 2008, global poverty was recorded at just 22 percent. The study highlighted that within this time period, 500 million people in China alone rose out of extreme poverty.

The report found that the largest factor in the reduction of poverty in recent years as global trade, which grew by 22 percent since 1980, which contributes to greater and more rapid economic growth.

Christina Kindlon

Source: Financial Times
Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Denmark

Sustainably Grown Palm Oil: The Future of Fast Food?
What’s better than deep-fried dough covered in sugar? Turns out, Dunkin Donuts has an answer: sugarcoated, deep-fried dough that doesn’t destroy the rain forest.

Palm oil has become a key ingredient in many processed food products, including fast food and as many as 50 percent of foods sold in grocery stores. Palm oil has surged in popularity over the last few years not because of its taste or nutritional value, but because of the consumer backlash against trans fats, which are known to contribute to the development of a number of diseases. Because palm oil is solid at room temperature, food manufacturers use it in products like Oreos that require a soft yet thick texture.

The replacement of traditional solid fat sources with palm oil has had unintended consequences. Palm oil is made from the pulp of the fruit of oil palm trees, which grow mainly in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Brazil. The top two palm oil-producing countries are Indonesia and Malaysia, where thousands of acres of rain forest have been cut down and replaced with oil palm plantations.

While the production and exportation of palm oil has supported the economies of these countries, the extensive deforestation and habitat destruction associated with its production will have only negative long-term consequences. Greenhouse gas emissions have increased dramatically in Indonesia due to the carbon released as a byproduct of deforestation. One unique population of orangutans that lives only in Aceh, Indonesia is nearing extinction due to fires raging through the expanses of palm oil plantations next to its rain forest habitat.

Local communities of people who depend on forest resources for their livelihoods have fought to end the destruction, but little has been done on a global scale to stop it.

That is, until now. Dunkin Donuts has announced its intention to use only sustainably grown palm oil in making its donuts. While it remains to be seen exactly what changes the popular food chain will make in order to source sustainably grown palm oil, the decision is certainly a step in the right direction.

As long as the global market has access to unsustainably produced palm oil, food corporations will continue to purchase it and use it in products, contributing further to environmental destruction. Consumers must stand up to protect the rainforest and those who depend on it by purchasing only those products made with sustainably grown palm oil.

– Kat Henrichs

Sources: NPR, Rainforest Action Network
Photo: Wikipedia

IKEA Plans to Only Use Sustainable CottonThe retail giant IKEA is working harder to decrease its environmental footprint and to benefit the workers at the far reaches of its supply chain. The company recently announced that by the end of 2015, it will only purchase cotton that complies with standards set by the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI). This change came as a result of the UNDP’s support of the Business Call to Action (BCtA), a campaign that works to help businesses shift towards practices that benefit global development.

BCI, founded by a group of companies including IKEA, works to ensure that cotton grown around the world is grown in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner. Additionally, they prioritize fair trade practices so that the workers who grow the cotton itself are fairly compensated and enjoy a higher quality of life. By reducing the number of pesticides and decreasing the costs of external waste products, the income of cotton farmers can actually increase.

IKEA currently buys more cotton than any other commodity except wood. Today, only 34 percent of that cotton complies with BCI standards. Over the next three years, IKEA seeks to complete its transition to 100 percent BCI-approved cotton, with the goal of guaranteeing sustainable cotton at an affordable price—ideally the same price as any other cotton.

Jake Simon

Source: UNDP
Photo: Greenpeace

Bono’s TED Talk has compacted twenty-five years of anti-poverty campaigning into a ten minute presentation for a TED conference which was held this past February. The result is a passionate call for people to stay involved and stay informed about all the great work that is and has been happening in the fight against extreme poverty.

Much of the progress that has been made does not make the news but Bono sees how people, technology, and the sharing of information is turning inequality on its head; sighting the Arab Spring as a momentous shift in history. He emphasizes how facts change minds and hearts, bring new awareness and action, bring better action, and bring change in a phenomenon he names “factivism.”

Here are some facts. Since 2000:

  • Eight million AIDS patients have been receiving retroviral drugs
  • Malaria deaths have been cut in some countries by 75%
  • Child mortality rate of children under the age of 5 is down by 2.65 million deaths per year
  • 7,256 children’s lives are saved each day

The global rate of extreme poverty has declined from 43% in 1990 to 21% in 2010.

The population of people living on less than $1.25 per day has been cut in half in the last 20 years, and the facts show that this extreme poverty can be cut to virtually zero within a generation — worldwide. Bono encourages everyone to continue their efforts for lasting progress by:

  • Telling politicians not to cut foreign aid funding
  • Join campaigns that make sure all natural resources (and their profits) are shared with the people of that country
  • Continue citizen participation by demanding transparency of government spending (anti-corruption)
  • Become a “factivist” – share the facts with others about successes and hardships within global inequality

– Mary Purcell

Source: ONE.org

Combating Undernutrition
Each year, 3 million children die from undernutrition.

There are more than 165 million children under the age of five suffering from stunted growth, a marker for malnutrition.

In the media, malnourished children are often portrayed as being skinny with protruding stomachs. Yet, a protruding stomach is not the only marker for undernutrition. In fact, undernutrition comes in many different shapes and sizes. Stunted height, especially before the age of five, is a marker  “of multiple deprivations regarding food intake, care and play, clean water, good sanitation and health care,” according to The Guardian.

Children that face undernutrition in the first 1,000 days after conception are unable to fully, properly develop. Brain-synapse development and the development of the immune system are especially vulnerable and incorrect development of these major parts of the body can have long-lasting and serious effects on a person. Further, undernutrition leads to the deaths of 1 in 3 children and 1 in 5 mothers in developing countries.

The European Commission has recently launched a new effort that will hope to decrease the number of stunted children by 7 million by addressing malnutrition by the year 2025. This will be done through the provision of funds from donors – and from the EU humanitarian and development budgets – as well as by making this a global movement. Everyone must get involved to combat malnutrition, which is usually the result of impoverished situations that make it hard to access food, healthcare, clean water and sanitation, and education.

– Angela Hooks

Sources: New Europe, The Guardian
Photo: UN