Arab spatial
    A new tracking tool to measure levels of food security in the Middle East was launched in February. International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) created the tool, known as Arab Spatial, with support from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

    The Middle East has long struggled with food security, and researchers, officials, and activists have had a difficult time addressing the problem due to a lack of information. Now, humanitarian aid workers and policymakers working to address food security issues in the region can turn to Arab Spatial for the most up-to-date information on malnutrition, rainfall, crop yields, and much more.

    Recent political upheaval has amplified food insecurity in the region. Many Middle Eastern countries depend on foreign imports of staples such as wheat flour. Political and social turmoil has disrupted commerce and economies, leading to lost jobs and even greater struggles for everyday people to put enough food on the table. Statistics on poverty in the Middle East are infrequent and often inaccurate; only about half of the countries provide public access to the numbers.

    But Arab Spatial will contribute to more open communication about how best to meet basic human needs in one of the least stable areas of the globe. Perrhian al-Riffai, a senior research analyst with IFPRI, said of Arab Spatial, “High quality and freely accessible knowledge is power, especially for evidence-based research for effective and efficient policy design and implementation throughout the Arab world.”

    Arab Spatial measures food security at the national, regional, and local level. More than 150 food security indicators, including information related to poverty, malnutrition, climate, crop production and prices, disease, and trade, can be used to create maps and data. This valuable information should give governments, NGOs, and non-profit organizations working to end food insecurity in the region more power to do so.

    – Kat Henrichs

    Source: IRN Middle East
    Photo: IRN

women
The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day deals with ending violence against women. So did the theme in 2009 (“Ending impunity for violence against women and girls”) and in 2007 (“Women and men united to end violence against women in girls”). While International Women’s Day can choose a theme that highlights different issues plaguing women in rural and urban areas, the UN seems to keep going back to violence against women.

Why?

Violence against women is still a huge issue across the world and looking at Zimbabwe, how large of an issue it is becomes apparent. In Zimbabwe, women may be faced with abuse from their spouses, family members, and even their children. Reported cases of domestic violence have risen from 1,940 cases in 2008 to 10,351 cases in 2011, according to AllAfrica.org. The number of domestic violence cases in 2012 are said to surpass even that number, showing that domestic violence is not going away and bringing attention to the issue, which the UN’s International Women’s Day is doing, as necessary.

Even though the country has taken great strides to end violence against women, a 2010-2011 Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey shows that 30 percent of women have experienced some form of domestic violence since the age of 15. This violence, most often, comes from the people that women should be able to trust, who are supposed to protect them. Women are asking questions now – “what has to happen for violence against women to end, what are the challenges, who will stand up and look straight in the eyes of perpetrators to say enough is enough?” – and demanding answers.

Women in Zimbabwe are using International Women’s Day to denounce all types of violence against women, and are coming together to demand answers.

– Angela Hooks 

Source: AllAfrica
Photo: AllAfrica

farmer
Women in Kenya are going back to a traditional practice to help hold communities together. The practice is that of communal agriculture and through a woman-led initiative, neighbors helping neighbors in farming will hopefully save the lives of over 700,000 Kenyans over a period of 20 years who would have died from inadequate nutrition.

The traditional practice used to be the norm, yet, climate change has made the outcomes of crops unpredictable and scarce resources threatened economic prosperity, forcing many to seek jobs in more urban areas. This weakened bonds between village members, which made maintaining peace within a village difficult and brought up other issues, such as problems between ethnic groups that had been living in harmony before. Weakened bonds between community members predisposed many Kenyan communities to violence in the elections of 2007 and into 2008. According to Nyokabi Wamuyu, a member of the women-led farm initiative, “Some people say they [we]re fighting for land while others do it to take political sides.”

Over the next three years, the women-led farm initiative is aimed at 3,400 women farmers in the eastern areas of Kenya and in the Rift Valley. The mission of the initiative “is to equip the women with skills to make income-generating farming more attractive than subsistence agriculture.” This will be done by teaching women to bond with other women over shared activities, providing activities that will give women the tools and techniques to negotiate prices and access agricultural activities via mobile devices.

This initiative succeeding will hopefully help bridge the gap between genders in Kenya. Even though the new Kenyan Constitution gives women rights to land and property, gender inequality still exists in many rural farm areas.

– Angela Hooks

Source: AllAfrica
Photo: Calista Jones

johnny-rockets-nigeria_opt
As living conditions gradually improve for many of the 1 billion people who live in poverty, nowhere is the change so notable as in Africa, where over 300 million people still live in poverty. While the total number of Africans living on less than $1.25 per day has decreased over the past decade, much of this improvement has been in urban areas. 70 percent of Africa’s poor live in rural areas, and most depend on agricultural pursuits for their food and livelihood.

For those middle class Africans who live in cities, however, there are more opportunities than ever before to spend money at global corporations. Huge multi-national businesses such as Wal-Mart, as well as fast food chains and restaurants such as KFC and Domino’s Pizza, have continued to invest in Africa’s growing economy by opening new locations in urban and semi-urban areas.

Nigeria is at the forefront of business growth and development in Africa. With over 160 million inhabitants, Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country. Over 60 percent of those 160 million people, most of them in rural areas, still live below the poverty line. However, about a quarter of the country’s population falls into the middle class, earning between $480 and $645 per month. As the Nigerian middle class grows, its appetite for foreign brands, services, and foods has also grown.

Nigeria’s urban residents pay the equivalent of $22 USD for a double bacon cheeseburger at the restaurant chain Johnny Rockets, which recently opened a diner in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city. A milkshake costs $11.25 USD. For the Nigerian middle class, dining at Johnny Rockets is a luxury they can afford only occasionally.

While those who have moved above the poverty line and into the middle class should have freedom in where and how to spend money, it is worthwhile to examine the potential negative impacts of the growth of multi-national corporations. The growth of global businesses contributes to ever-greater wealth inequality, as money becomes concentrated in the hands of the few who own and operate those businesses. Developing countries are better served by investing in and establishing strong local economies that utilize local talent and labor, support locally owned businesses, and keep wealth within the community.

– Kat Henrichs

Sources: Huffington Post, Rural Poverty Portal
Photo: Restaurant News

India_Solar_Energy_Poverty
A single NGO and India’s foremost energy research institute, Teri, has single-handedly provided solar-powered lights to over 500,000 homes throughout rural India.

No less than five years ago, much of rural India had no access to electricity, instead using kerosene lamps that were not only dangerous but also bad for the environment. These 400,000 people had no access to any form of electricity, and another 100,000 had only an inconsistent and unreliable connection.

In the last five years, Teri has provided these people with a much better alternative – solar-powered, LED lamps using solar panels and batteries.

As part of the Lighting One Billion Lives initiative, started in 2007, the NGO coordinates the distribution of lamps to some 2,000 villages, works with vendors and manufacturers to lower the price of lamps, trains personnel and provides tech support, and works with various other organizations to help run the charging stations. Each charging station provides around 50 solar-powered LED lamps that also double as phone chargers.

Teri has already seen a huge improvement in the cost and efficiency of the lamps. When started, the lamps costed around $100 each, however, the price is now down to $15-30 per lamp, and the battery life has tripled.

Teri, other NGOs, Bollywood stars, and individuals sponsor villages to provide the lanterns initially, after which a local villager becomes in charge of renting each lantern, for no more than the price of kerosene, on a daily basis.

The benefits of the program have been huge, including increased health benefits and cleaner air, more light for children to continue their schooling after dark, benefits for medical practices and shops, and entrepreneurship that villagers learn by manning the charging stations. At the current rate that Teri is coordinating villages to receive charging stations, soon almost every Indian village may have a clean, renewable light source.

Although India has been aiming to improve and increase its energy grid, the priority has been on cities and businesses, with rural villages not expected to receive electricity infrastructure for years, if at all.

Teri plans to expand their system of charging stations and LED solar lamps to various other countries including Afghanistan, Burma, Pakistan, Kenya, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone.

Christina Kindlon

Source: The Guardian

Mexico's First Midwifery SchoolIn Mexico, traditional midwifery services have been fallen steadily as women choose to have their babies in hospitals. However, many citizens who still live too far from hospitals need midwives. To meet this demand, Mexico has established its first public midwifery school, and young women are learning this ancient practice with the intent to graduate.

Guadalupe Maniero, the school’s director, explains that in Mexico, “hospitals are oversaturated, and so it’s a big problem.” Since the 2011 law that grants midwives a place among the country’s legally accepted medical professions, age-old stigmas have begun to fade. By helping to deliver babies, doctors have much more time to spend focusing on dangerous births in which the child and/or mother are in danger.

The four-year program grants its graduates certificates that allow them to practice in legitimate health centers. By interweaving longstanding cultural traditions with modern-day needs and practices, Mexico’s first midwifery school has the potential to benefit the entire country for years to come.

Jake Simon

Source: NPR

Celebrity Chefs Participate in Live Below the Line CampaignThe Australian-based Live Below the Line campaign, sponsored by the Global Poverty Project, is slated to begin its 2013 campaign this April. The campaign, which challenges people worldwide to live on just $1.50 per day for five days, was started in 2009 by Australian Richard Fleming, in an attempt to raise awareness and to fundraise for some 1.4 billion people around the world who live in extreme poverty. Now in its third year, Live Below the Line raised $2 million last year for global poverty.

This year, many of the UK’s most well-known chefs are taking part in the challenge to create meals for $1.50, which is the accepted global figure that defines extreme poverty. Award-winning chef Kevin Tew said, “It really makes you think about waste, you have to make things as simple as possible while making sure you get the right balance.”

Other celebrity chefs, including Gordon Ramsey, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the Fabulous Baker Brothers, Bill Granger and Jean-Christophe Novelli will participate in the campaign and create recipes that will maximize the little amount of food allotted in five days’ time.

Since people find $1.50 is usually not enough money to purchase meat, the chefs will come up with other recipes using cost-effective staples such as rice, oats, beans, and a few vegetables. Besides raising awareness for global poverty and food insecurity, Live Below the Line also hopes to create changes in participant’s everyday lives after completing the 5-day challenge.

The campaign also has other famous supporters, such as actor Hugh Jackman, and this year will be operating in the UK, the United States, Australia, with over 20,000 participants expected.

Christina Kindlon

Source: 4 News

New Pope is to be Elected on March 12th
Cardinals are convening in preparation for March 12th, the day the new pope is to be elected. However, this date is contingent upon if the 115 voting cardinals can settle debates they are having on issues plaguing the Roman Catholic Church. While cardinals have vowed secrecy, discussions between them have supposedly been leaked to Italian newspapers. These newspapers report that the Vatican bank and reformation of the Vatican’s bureaucracy are large issues being debated.

Thus, until agreements are made and debates are settled, the cardinals may have to vote time and time again. Why? Well, Papal elections require a two-thirds majority vote. Voting is done in secrecy and only when a two-thirds majority has been reached has a new pope been elected. The election of a new pope is signaled to the rest of the world through the appearance of white smoke from burnt ballots from the Sistine Chapel.

In 2005, the last time a pope was elected, elections took three days. How many days this election will take will be closely monitored, as it “is being seen as a reflection of the many challenges facing the Church,” according to BBC News. One of these challenges may have to deal with whether or not to elect an African pope. With more new members to the Church coming from African than European nations, the direction the Church takes for the future is very important and this direction will be determined by the pope that the cardinals choose. According to The New York Times, the cardinals seem to be looking for a pope that has the charisma of Pope John Paul II and the grit of Pope Rambo I. Whether a pope with these characteristics can be found and whether he will be the answer to the Church’s challenges will be determined soon.

– Angela Hooks

Sources: BBC, NY Times
Photo: BBC

Take a Quiz - Feed a Family in SyriaBy taking this short quiz, participants can literally feed a family in Syria. Sponsored and facilitated by the UN World Food Program (WFP), the five questions survey will help you learn more about the crisis in Syria and how the WFP is responding.

The questions range from the cost of living expenses to refugee status. One question asks, “Of all the refugees now living in Jordan how many are women & children?” Answer: of this particular Jordanian population of 60,000 refugees – 75% are women & children. The WFP provides nutritious ready-to-eat meals for anyone in need.

The UN has just counted the one-millionth refugee coming out of Syria. More than 70,000 people have died and two million have been internally displaced since the conflict began almost two years ago. Starting as demonstrations against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, the protests quickly turned violent as opponents of Mr. Assad took up arms against the brutal crackdown coming from the authorities. There is still no resolution in sight.

Find out more – and feed a family in Syria for a day.

– Mary Purcell

Source: WFP, BBC
Photo: unostamps

Early Marriage as a Form of ViolenceIn 2020, more than 140 million girls will be attending a wedding – their own. Of these 150 million girls, 50 million will be attending their own wedding before they have even celebrated their 15th birthday.

These numbers are based on current rates of early marriage, according to the UN.

Most child marriages occur in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. In fact, nearly half of all young women are married before the age of 18 in South Asia. In Africa, this percentage drops, but only to one-third.

In light of International Women’s Day, whether child marriage should be considered a form of violence against women and children is up for debate. According to UN Women, early marriage increases a girl’s chance of becoming a victim of sexual violence in the home. It also limits a girl’s access to education because she is often expected to have children and take care of her husband and household. It is also associated with increased health risks due to early pregnancy and motherhood.

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was recently presented a petition by the World Young Women’s Christian Association (WYWCA) that urged CSW to help end child marriage by 2030.

Yet, fighting early marriage will be an uphill battle. In many countries and cultures, marrying at a young age is traditional and is not seen as a problem. In some areas, particularly poorer countries, there are not enough resources for girls to continue in school as their male counterparts. Marriage serves as an easy way to justify girls abandoning their education to stay at home. Another issue plaguing poorer countries and people is the practice of a “bride price.” Some fathers will marry their daughters off for the price of a cow, especially during difficult times. According to Catherine Gotani Hara, Health Minister of Malawi, “Someone will come in and give a father a cow for a girl when they are eight or nine years old and when they reach puberty they will give another cow.” Out of need or necessity, a daughter may be worth two cows.

Getting around the barriers surrounding child marriage will require the support of governments and the passing of legislation that raises the legal age of marriage, as well as provides more resources for schools so that girls can reach the same level of education as their male counterparts. Currently, this is what happening in Malawi. The rate of child marriage in Malawi is currently 50 percent but by 2014, the age of legal marriage will hopefully have moved up from 15 to 18. Only time will tell if these steps will help eradicate child marriage.

– Angela Hooks

Source: Guardian