Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014
On Tuesday, U.S. lawmakers introduced the Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014. U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., jointly introduced this legislation, which would end restrictions on international food aid programs.

“More than anything else, the mission of America’s food aid program is to save lives,” Coons said. “Our current system for acquiring and distributing food aid is inefficient and often hurts the very communities it is trying to help.”

1. Feed More People
The reformed food aid legislation would feed about 9 million people around the world.

2. Greater Efficiency
The legislation would make hundreds of millions of dollars more available per year. Currently, the food aid program has restrictions that require food to be produced in the United States rather than purchased locally. It costs more and takes months to reach people in disaster areas. It would also allow U.S. locally or regionally acquired commodities, cash transfers or vouchers to be used for aid.

3. Small Effect on U.S. Agriculture
U.S. food aid contributed merely 0.86 percent of total U.S. agricultural exports between 2002 and 2011 and just 1.41 percent of net farm income.

4. Let USAID Ship Food on Any Available Vessels
Currently, half of food aid must also be transported on U.S. vessels, which takes months and costs more. The cargo preference requirement means that aid is shipped at 46 percent higher than the market rate.

5. End Monetization
“Monetization” is a requirement that says 15 percent of all U.S. donated food must be sold first by aid organizations, which produces cash that funds development projects. Removing this would save 25 cents out of every taxpayer dollar, would feed 800,000 more people and make about $30 million per year more available. Many development supporters argue that monetization upsets local markets.

“At a time when our budget is strained and U.S. resources are limited, Congress needs to find ways to be more efficient and effective with every dollar,” Corker said.

– Colleen Moore

Sources: Reuters, Agri-Pulse
Photo: Africa Green Media

Many experts agree that buying healthy food has a barrier: the price. By eating nutritious foods, the world’s current obesity epidemic could be reduced drastically, but unfortunately, there may be a reason for why certain socioeconomic groups are more overweight than others.

The Harvard School of Public Health has now conducted research to see whether it is too expensive to eat healthy if you are making less money.

The short answer is yes, it can be.

Mayuree Rao, lead researcher in HSPH’s study, found that lean meats compared to fattier pieces of meat were globally more expensive. She was able to study 10 different countries, convert the food prices between countries and adjust the prices to correlate with inflation.

She found that although the level of difference varied, there was in fact a correlation between the more nutritious and healthier versions of food and the price. Generally, lean cuts of meat cost 29 cents more than the fattier cuts.

Grains, dairy and snack foods have less of a price barrier and often are enhanced with added vitamins and nutrients. This does not necessarily make them healthier though. Many snack foods and cereals have added vitamins and minerals, but are also high in added sugars, fats and are not made with whole grains, but instead refined grains.

Diets that were most beneficial and balanced with lean meats, vegetables, fruits and dairy cost approximately $1.50 more a day than the unhealthy options.

This may seem like a minimal impact to your wallet, but it is actually almost $50 more a month spent on groceries. For families that are on a tight budget it is understandable why the fresher and healthier choices are sometimes skipped over for the less nutritious, but more affordable options.

For low-income areas, healthier options like full-service grocers are not available. Residents are forced to use convenience stores, which do not always have fresh produce, and when they do, the fruits and vegetables available are not always the best quality and are therefore less appealing.

The availability of full-service grocery stores may be the answer. With more options that are accessible, low-income communities will be able to get some on-sale items and not have to resort to buying convenience store foods or buy meals from fast food restaurants.

– Becka Felcon

Sources: Food Research and Action Center, CNN
Photo: The Good

It is not uncommon for people to spend a lot of money on their appearance: make-up, monthly haircuts, manicures and pedicures, and sometimes extremes such as cosmetic surgery. Feeling well groomed in a world where appearance is frequently judged gives us a boost of confidence.

The most recent trend is teeth whitening, which comes in many forms. Celebrities constantly flaunt their pearly whites and it is no surprise that people are willing to spend extra money on products that promise them flawless, blinding white teeth. But is the cost really worth it when the same money could be better spent on causes that make a global difference?

The popular cosmetic service varies from whitening strips to whitening toothpastes to receiving professional bleaching at a dentist’s office.

Here is a cost comparison looking at how money spent on whitening products could provide mosquito nets for children fighting against the risk of malaria.

Crest Whitestrips, one of the most popular brands, range in price from $21 to $65 depending on the number of strips and the length of time one is supposed to wear the strips for. The most common version is the $30 pack, which can last people at least two months. After a year an individual can spend about $180 on whitening strips. The product claims it can whiten teeth just as effectively as a dentist’s professional whitening.

Lately most brands that carry average toothpaste and mouthwash also carry versions of those toothpastes and mouthwashes in whitening versions, ranging from Colgate and Crest to Sensodyne. These toothpastes and mouthwashes, although less costly than whitestrips or professional whitening, do usually cost more than the average product. They range from $5 to about $20 per item and do not necessarily produce the desired result. Depending on how much you pay and when you replace your toothpaste or mouthwash, the average person brushing twice daily can spend upwards of $30 to $120 dollars annually.

There are two versions of professional teeth whitening: Custom Bleaching Trays and Laser Teeth Whitening. Teeth Whitening Trays can cost anywhere between $150 to $1,500 per treatment, and Laser Teeth Whitening can cost a very expensive $500 to $2,500 per session. These treatments can take many different sessions in order to get the desired results.

Project Mosquito Net is a non-profit whose mission is to raise enough money to provide “insecticide treated bed nets to children and pregnant mothers in Kenya to prevent malaria infections and deaths.” One child is estimated to die every 30 seconds from malaria.

A mosquito net only costs $5 each, meaning that the average cost of a whitening toothpaste could provide one child or a pregnant woman with a net that could save their lives. If ten people donated the cost of one Laser Teeth Whitening session 1,000 children would be protected against deadly malaria.

Theoretically if 10 people donated their annual spending on $30 Crest Whitestrips, 360 nets would be able to be provided to children in Kenya. This puts into perspective how many lives could be changed if just a few people decided to help others instead of treating themselves.

Next time you purchase a whitening toothpaste, a box of Crest Whitestrips, or an expensive laser treatment, think about helping a young child or a pregnant woman in Kenya by providing them with protection against disease. You just might save a life.

– Becka Felcon

Sources: Dentistry for Madison, Smile Sensation, NBC News, Project Mosquito Net
Photo: Healthy Palm

cost of education
How much does it actually cost to build and run a school in some of the world’s poorest countries?

Everything comes back to education: areas that are the most overpopulated are also the poorest and least educated. Children that don’t receive an education will most likely spend a lifetime in extreme poverty, and, chances are, they will not educate their own children. So how much is the actual cost of education?

1. Angola

Lynn Cole, a resident of Illinois, runs RISE International – an organization that builds schools for as little as $12,000. Fueled by donations, the residents of Angola construct and run the school themselves.

2. Kenya

In January 2003, as an attempt to raise school enrollment, Kenya’s government eliminated fees and wrote a policy that provides textbooks and notebooks to schools. While more children are in school now because of this new policy, the cost of school uniforms has sky-rocketed. Each school has its own uniform, and discharges students who are not wearing one.  The average cost of school uniforms in Kenya is now $5.59 for girls and $6.10 for boys.

3. Nigeria

Similar to Kenya, formal school fees are no longer levied. However, books and uniforms now cost much more than they did previously, jumping from $1.63 per uniform to $4.22.

4. Bangladesh

CO-ID (Co-Operation In Development Australia Inc.) led by Fred Hyde, builds schools in the poorest areas of Bangladesh. Donation-run, it costs $8,000 to build a charity school, and another $8,000 each year to keep it running.

5. Congo

In the village of Butembo, about 75% of the population live on less than $2 a day. The average annual school fee per child is $25-$35 for primary school and $30-$50 for secondary school, which means that for most children, school isn’t an option.

6. Liberia

A school without an educated teacher benefits no one, meaning that teachers are often a school’s largest expense. To sponsor a teacher through the basic Liberian Teacher Training costs $120. To provide latrines for a school costs $500. The cost of 3-days residential teacher training for 60 teachers is $1,000. Aside from their training, the materials used by teachers also cost more than what is used by students. The books to teach a child for one year cost $8; a mathematics or science text book for one teacher costs $15.

7. Cameroon

Through the organization Building Schools for Africa, ten sets of school uniforms cost about $67; the tools and seeds for a school farm run at about $225; textbooks for ten children cost $250; it takes $1,000 to build new toilets; installing drinking water is roughly $1,671; a new classroom costs an average of $6,686.

8. Madagascar

A school that can offer its students at least one meal a day had an increased likelihood of maintaining its enrollment because some students aren’t fed at home. Feeding a school of 580 for 60 days costs $730.

9. Pakistan

A month of education for a child is attained by $10; $120 educates a child for a year; $710 stocks a primary school library; $955 stocks a secondary school library; $1,340 educates a child from KG-Grade X (11 years); $7,775 equips a computer lab; $180,500 supports an entire school for a year.

This demonstrates how much can be done with just a little funding, and how much more complicated running a school is after the initial construction. Contrary to Oprah Winfrey’s extravagant donation-budget, it doesn’t take $40 million to build a school. Sometimes the school already exists and it’s the teacher or the pencils that are missing. Sometimes schooling is available, but children can’t attend because they haven’t been dewormed.

Building a school is the easy part. The hard part is getting parents to send their kids, getting materials like paper, chalk as well as textbooks out to rural areas and maintaining a level of education that prepares student to be future leaders in their community.

– Lydia Caswell

Sources: Young Lives, Global Giving, Illinois Review, Fred Hyde, IRIN News, Ethnics Daily, SIM, Schools for Africa
Photo: Huffington Post

“I can’t do this all on my own” are the familiar musical lyrics that introduced each episode of “Scrubs” during it’s nine season run.  Though “Scrubs turned actor Zach Braff into a television and indie star, his new film project certainly shows how Braff cannot achieve his artistic goals “on [his] own.”

“Wish I Was Here” is a film written, directed and starring Zach Braff, picking up on the themes he first explored in his well-received debut film “Garden State” back in 2004.  The film follows a thirty-something actor, played by Braff, searching for a purpose in life and struggling to make ends meet for his two young children.

Other actors featured in the film include Kate Hudson, Anna Kendrick, Jim Parsons and “Scrubs” co-star Donald Faison. The film premiered to a standing ovation at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

What makes “Wish I Was Here” unique, however, is the fact that fans independently financed the film.  Braff, moreover, launched a Kickstarter campaign with a stated goal of $2 million since, according to the film’s Kickstarter page, Braff rejected traditional funding methods to avoid “signing away all artistic control.”

Braff also saw an opportunity for his fans to have a direct impact on the filmmaking process.

Incentives for donating to the film range from a production diary at $10 and a meet and greet with Braff for $600 to being cast in the film as a featured extra for $7,500.  These incentives, matched with the originality of the fundraiser, led to a final total of $3,105,473 donated by 46,520 individuals.

Though a $10 donation to Zach Braff’s film garners a production diary, 80% of the world’s population live off of less than $10 a day, with 660 million living on less than $2 a day.

What could you buy for the fight against global poverty with a $10 donation?

With $3, you could buy a bed net to protect one of the 18,000 children who die daily from mosquitos carrying deadly diseases while for $8.50, you could feed an entire family in a developing nation.  Though Braff’s film is no doubt an artistic achievement, it is easy to wonder what kind of impact his 46,520 backers could have made for global development.

Taylor Diamond

Sources: Kickstarter, UNICEF, Global Issues
Photo: Bustle

Election campaigns are big business in the U.S. With all the recent attention given to the amount of money being spent on them, it is interesting to look at how the cost of election campaign financing over the last presidential race measures up to current spending on development projects.

According to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), campaign spending for the 2012 fiscal year totaled nearly $7 billion. The presidential election campaign alone cost approximately $2.6 billion—the remainder having been spent on financing congressional campaigns.

The first presidential race since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC ruling conferred corporations with freedom of speech rights, the 2012 race saw $1.07 billion raised for Barack Obama and $992.5 million for Mitt Romney through their parties and affiliated Super PACs (highly specialized political committees which make no direct contributions to candidates but undertake independent expenditures towards the election campaign).

In comparison, the President’s new Power Africa initiative, which will help fund building electrical infrastructure for Africa is slated to cost the same $7 billion over the next five years. By contrast, however, powering Africa would bring basic access to electricity to the 90 million children who go to primary schools without it; or to the 255 million African patients who are served in health facilities (hospitals, clinics, etc.) in the dark.

It is argued that access to electricity has the greatest positive impact of basic infrastructural development projects. Given that some estimates indicate that for every $1 spent on modernized grids, between $2.80 and $6 is returned to the broader economy, it is no wonder that there is such a large movement seeking to electrify Africa.

This is exactly what the Electrify Africa Act, which is currently working its way through Congress, is meant to ensure. The bill seeks to address some of the shortcomings of the Power Africa initiative. While the President’s initiative is an important start, it represents 5% of the necessary $300 billion needed by 2030 to give electrical access to the 110 million African households currently off the grid.

In Sudan, students were able to improve their pass rate from 57% to 97% in one year with electric lighting. It doesn’t take much to help ensure that cases like these continue to spread across Africa as it is empowered with basic electrical access for all – but it does come at a cost.

The next time you see an election advertisement or hear about the cost of campaign finance on the news, pick up the phone and let your congressmen and women know that you support increased funding for the Power Africa initiative and that you would like to see more support for the Electrify Africa Act. It takes 30 seconds to help improve the lives of millions of Africans.

– Pedram Afshar

Sources: Open Secrets, RT, NY Times, ONE, National Geographic, Solar Aid
Photo: The Guardian

Officials across the nation are expressing concern over the latest technology on the internet: virtual currency.

Bitcoins are the one of the most common recognized digital currencies available on the web today. Disguised behind encrypted computer programs, the coins are becoming harder to find since their introduction in 2008. Once a user discovers a coin, they are able to store it in an online account.

The currency and any individual using it are untraceable and are garnering attention from authorities worldwide. Users of the currency remain anonymous through the use of identification numbers. Once a user knows the identification of another user, funds may be transferred to the receiver’s digital “wallet.” There are currently no restrictions on the types of products that may be purchased.

Investigations over the past few weeks have revealed the use of the currency to obtain illegal items including guns and drugs. But representatives of the Bitcoin Foundation argue that the currency is also being used for good.

The foundation currently operates as a self-governing institution that has been declared impenetrable by its creators. They maintain that the organization was founded in order to provide individuals with the ability to utilize their finances away from political oversight and other forms of outside influence.

Despite recent focus on illegal transactions using the currency, Bitcoins are also used for everyday purchases such as plane tickets and groceries. Currently, each coin is worth an estimated $1000 and is accepted at over 200 online retailers. Despite their worth, the number of coins available is severally limited.

Only 21 million coins were created and nearly 11 million have been found so far. If the remaining 10 million coins are found and retain a worth of at least $1000, then at least $10 billion of free money continues to await discovery. The potential impact on world poverty is startling.

The remaining Bitcoins could provide nearly 90 percent of UNICEF’s yearly budget ($11.7 billion.) It could cover the costs of both the World Food Programme ($4 billion) and the United Nation’s Development Programme ($5 billion.)

At its current rate, a third of the $30 billion annual windfall to end world hunger could also be paid.

– Jasmine D. Smith

Sources: ABC News, Huffington Post, Bitcoin Foundation

As the President of the Palestinian National Authority, Yasser Arafat dedicated his life to combating Israel for the sake of his nation’s right to self-determination. After decades of activism and leadership, Arafat’s life came to an end on November 11, 2004 after having suffered from a mysterious month-long illness. More puzzling than the onset of Arafat’s undetermined illness was his unexpected death.

Since Arafat had died while undergoing treatment in a French military hospital, no autopsy had been carried out immediately after his death. Under French law only his wife, Shuha, had the legal authority to request an autopsy at that time. Due to the absence of an autopsy, in the years since Arafat’s passing, a spectrum of rumors ranging from HIV to poisoning have been circulated. However, after years of speculation, Arafat’s body was exhumed for an autopsy in 2012.

To the dismay of many, even the autopsy of Arafat yielded inconclusive results. After separate laboratory testing conducted by Al Jareeza, France, and Russia, each result yielded inconsistent findings. According to Russia, an insufficient amount of polonium-210 was found in the remains of Arafat in order to conclusively declare poisoning as the cause of death. However, Al Jareeza ardently maintains the conviction that Arafat had indeed succumbed to poisoning by polonium-210. On the other hand, France stands a slightly neutral stance by concluding that while unusually high levels of polonium had been discovered in Arafat’s system, the cause of death was most likely natural causes in conjunction with a generalized infection.

Although the results and interpretation of Arafat’s autopsy are inconclusive, the staggering price of his exhumation is less bewildering. No official statements regarding the cost of the former Palestinian leader’s exhumation has been issued yet. However, according to The Guardian, a typical exhumation in the UK is priced at approximately £5,000 or $6, 867.

Under the assumption that a family of four needs $146 per week to purchase adequate and healthy groceries, the cost of exhuming Arafat could have bought a family of four living in the United States groceries for 46 weeks. Furthermore, since 50 percent of the world’s population subsides on less than $2.50 a day, Arafat’s exhumation could have also enabled an individual living in a non-industrialized nation to secure shelter, food, and clothing for almost 2,747 days, or roughly 7.5 years.

Although uncovering the truth behind Yasser Arafat’s death holds momentous political implications for Palestine and its international relations, the cost of the exhumation also has enormous political merit- we live in an age in which digging up the past is given more  care than shaping the immediate future. The cost of a single exhumation could also have been utilized to allow an impoverished child to see his or her 7th birthday.

Phoebe Pradhan

Sources: The Spectator, The Guardian 1, 2, USA Today, World Bank
Photo: The Times

Every year millions of Americans know the joy of spending the day or evening putting up their Christmas tree. And with Christmas fast approaching it is interesting to take a look at everyone’s favorite coniferous tree.

Decorating one’s home with evergreen trees is an ancient tradition dating back to the Romans. An ancient symbol of life in the midst of winter, this practice was eventually adopted by Christians at some point in the 16th century. Over the course of the next few hundred years the trees went from decorations of fruit and nuts, to candles and tinsel to today’s modem electric color, candy cane variant.

However you choose to decorate it, the Christmas tree has become a powerful symbol of Christmas. It just doesn’t feel like Christmas until old faithful is setup and decorated. It’s hard to imagine a Christmas without one—where would you put the presents?

In the U.S. there are approximately 25-35 million real Christmas trees and 9.5 million fake ones sold every year. At any given time there are 350 million Christmas trees growing on farms. Given that each tree takes about 7 years to fully mature that is a lot of space dedicated to Christmas trees.

Still, every year consumers purchase tees to the tune of $1.07 billion and $670 million for real and fake trees respectively.  That is a lot of money for a decoration that last about two weeks on average.

In comparison, the cost of helping rebuild homes in the Philippines is $10.25 million. Habitat for Humanity is taking donations now in an effort to help rebuild homes that were devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan. They currently have raised nearly $500,000 of an estimated $10 million needed. According to their website that equates to 87 homes rebuilt.

This year when you are enjoying your Christmas tree in the comfort of your home, give a thought to the thousands who were displaced and the millions suffering without a home in the Philippines.

Pedram Afshar

Sources: Statistic Brain, National Christmas Tree Association, History, Habitat for Humanity

Last week, Venezuelan Gabriela Isler became the sixty-second Miss Universe. The twenty-five-year old won the title during the greatest economic downturn in her country’s history.

Venezuela possesses the largest known oil reserves in the world but nearly 60 percent of its population is considered poor. Inflation continues to plague the country, rising to over 50 percent in the last year alone. And the current exchange rate has fallen to 6.3 bolivars for each U.S. dollar.

In an effort to combat the economy, President Nicolás Maduro mandated that prices be lowered in stores around the country. The mandate is the result of the government’s recent decision to grant Maduro power to rule by decree without legislative support.

Moreover, the country’s national debt has increased in recent years. Recent figures estimate that Venezuelan business owners owe between $700 million and $1.2 billion to their Panamanian suppliers.

In spite of its economic woes, Venezuela has continued to lend support and resources to maintain its participation in the Miss Universe pageant. Isler became the seventh Venezuelan to win the coveted title on November 9.

Along with the other contestants, Isler stayed at the Crowne Plaza World Trade Centre in Moscow whose accommodations cost between 6,500 to 95,000 rubles or $197 to $2,900 USD per night. Several candidates arrived as early as October 21 to prepare for the event.

The 86 participants also enjoyed products from a variety of luxury sponsors including IMAGE skincare, Yamamay swimsuits and Chinese Laundry shoes.

As the newest Miss Universe, Isler was asked to unveil a $1 million swimsuit designed by Yamamay for the occasion.

– Jasmine D. Smith

Sources: The Guardian, BBC, IB Times, Miss Universe