Information and stories about developing countries.

5 Ways That Africa is ImprovingIn the past, Africa has been a notoriously troubled continent. While some African countries are plagued by political turmoil, some are plagued by poverty, while others are just plagued by English nobility. With all of the media attention to the problems in Africa, it would seem that the continent is caught in a downward spiral. But is that necessarily true?

Here are five ways that Africa is improving:

1. Africa’s Economy is Flourishing 
As a continent, Africa’s economy is projected to grow 6% in 2013 while the world’s collective economic growth for this year is projected to be around 1.2%. At 6%, Africa has eclipsed even U.S. growth, which is projected to be around 2.5%.

2. Children Are Putting Down Guns and Picking Up Books
Fewer children bear arms and records numbers are going to school. Africa as a whole has around 12 guns for every 100 people. Although this pales in comparison to the United States’ one gun per person ratio, many African countries are trying to limit gun sales and restrict the use of existing guns.

3. HIV Rates Are Dropping
HIV infections have fallen by 75%. Safe sex programs and advice has been disseminated through Africa, sometimes in the form of soap operas. Whatever the strategy, it’s been working as HIV rates continue to plummet.

4. Foreign Investment is Increasing
Foreign investment in Africa has tripled while the economic markets in many countries remain uncultivated and untapped. This presents the perfect opportunity for businesses to invest in Africa.

5. Average Personal Income is Growing
75% of African countries have an average an income of $1,000 per person. While $1,000 a year isn’t much, it is over the global poverty standard of $1.25.

These victories are huge, it shows that Africa is improving. However, there is still more progress to be made and more work to be done. As long as philanthropic organizations and individuals keep assisting with helpful information and other forms of support, big improvements are on the horizon in Africa.

– Pete Grapentien

Source The Economist

Indian Budget Promotes Greater Social InclusionIn India, the effect of economic slowdown is not obvious. On the surface, economic activity is lively as businesses appear to be thriving and new ones are being created. This year, however, growth is predicted to be at around 5 percent.  Emphasizing a need to increase Indian growth to 8 percent, how it was prior to the global economic crisis, Indian Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram presented the new Indian budget last Thursday. Chidambaram’s plan involved placing focus on greater social inclusion and a need to tax the super-rich of India.

Outlined in the presented Indian budget were plans to increase spending on education and vocational training, agriculture, and health by 17 percent, 22 percent and 24 percent respectively. An additional $1.8 billion was set aside for food subsidies as part of a plan to ensure food security and combat malnutrition, especially in remote rural areas. The Finance Minister’s recommendations also included improving the living situation of disenfranchised groups, including lower castes, minorities and women, for greater social inclusion and sustainable growth.

“There is a compelling moral case for equity but it is also necessary if there is to be sustained growth,” Chidambaram said.

Additional revenue to fund these programs would come in part from a 10 percent surcharge on 42,800 Indian taxpayers who reported a taxable income of more than 10 million rupees or $180,000 in the last year. Companies earning more than 5 million rupees would pay an additional 5 percent tax surcharge. This tax surcharge would be in effect for just one year. Chidambaram was optimistic that rich Indians would take well to this additional surcharge confident that they would pay “cheerfully.”

Since his appointment as Finance Minister in August, Chidambaram has worked to prevent a predicted fiscal deficit of 5.8 percent in GDP. Through forced expenditure cuts, he has managed to halt the fiscal deficit at 5.2 percent. Chidambaram pledges to lower the fiscal deficit for next year to 4.8 percent.

– Rafael Panlilio

Source: CNN
Photo: Reuters

Can Soap Operas Help Fight Poverty?While the era of the soap operas may be coming to a close in the United States, in many Arabic countries soaps are becoming more and more popular. This increase has come from the unusual mix of American melodrama characteristics (love, family turmoil, deceit, etc.) with cultural values that audiences can identify with.

Surprisingly, soap operas have a history of influencing impoverished communities for the better. In South Africa, a soap opera addressed safe sex and it was found that the viewers of the soap were four times more likely to use condoms than non-viewers. In Mexico City, a soap opera aired that discussed the issue of child literacy. This caused enrollment in literacy programs to skyrocket throughout the entire city.  Even in Colorado, many low-income families increased their child’s health insurance after viewing a soap opera discussing child health problems.

One of the ways in which soap operas can aid in the fight against poverty is through awareness. With such a large audience, a soap opera could be an incredible tool used for spreading awareness about social, health, and economic issues facing impoverished communities. In this way, altering the content of a soap opera to contain relevant content for viewers would only increase ratings.

Although the effectiveness of soap operas being used as an educational tool isn’t full-proof, the idea of altering soap operas, at least slightly, to educate impoverished communities on governmental and social issues seems like an effective strategy to raise awareness about social issues, injustices, and aid in the struggle against poverty.

– Pete Grapentien

Source: Al Jazeera

Tapping Into African Economies
On both sides of the American political spectrum, certain wariness exists about the economic powerhouse of China. Especially in the news right now, many of our politicians are brainstorming ways to keep up with and hopefully outpace Chinese growth. However, one of the secrets to China’s success might be its interest in working with developing nations.

Spring is inching closer and with it comes the Spring Festival. The Spring Festival is a traditional Chinese holiday in which families visit friends to refresh and strengthen friendships. China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi took this opportunity to visit China’s African trading partners on February 20.

According to The Economist, the growth of developing African economies is set to outpace their Asian counterparts by 2015. The Chinese government took notice of the opportunity presented by African markets years ago and has forged a strong partnership with many developing African nations. Through tapping into African economies, African countries are able to export their natural resources to China, which the Chinese then use to manufacture into their own exports.

China has taken notice that the development of Africa provides additional opportunities for China to strengthen its economy even further. Perhaps it is this investment in developing and impoverished nations that provides an economic edge to China in today’s changing global marketplace.

With the majority of our top trading partners being former recipients of U.S. aid, the United States has a previous history of success with turning impoverished nations into valuable business partners. By continuing this legacy and cultivating opportunities to decrease poverty in Africa with firm business relationships, we’ll be tapping into a pivotal market that China has been benefiting from for years.

– Pete Grapentien


Teenager Helps Residents of a Garbage DumpWhile most teenage girls her age are reluctant to take out the trash, Courtney Quigley is begging her parents to return to Guatemala City to help the poverty-stricken residents of a garbage dump there. In the past, Courtney has worked with Potter House, a nonprofit which helps the 11,000 people living in the garbage dump. Out of that population, 6,500 are children.

According to the Lake Zurich Patch, Courtney first fell in love with Guatemala when she was nine and her family took a trip to build playgrounds with Kids Around the World, an organization whose primary goal is to provide safe play equipment for children who find it difficult to be “just a kid.” Courtney describes the garbage dump as being 40 acres filled with trash and yet the children somehow manage to stay positive and in high spirits.

While her family has been on other mission trips, Courtney has fallen in love with Guatemala. She was able to return in 2011, meeting a family of seven who lived in a 9 x 10 shack. One of the children, a 15-year-old girl, was pregnant and Courtney decided that something needed to be done to help improve their living condition.

To help, Courtney and her friends are hosting a “Hope’s in Style” fashion show fundraiser on February 24 at the Garlands Center in Barrington, Illinois.

Although she is now living in the United States, the memory of the children in Guatemala still remains vivid in her mind.

“There is nothing here that is hopeful, but when you shake hands, hug, and talk to people, they are so full of hope, so full of faith,” Courtney said. Their determination to make the best of their situation is what inspires her to keep moving forward.

 – Pete Grapentien

Source: Lake Zurich Patch

Filmed in 2012, ‘Open Heart’ documents the journey of eight patients going through surgery at the Salam Center in Khartoum, Sudan. Salam is Africa’s only state-of-the-art, free-of-charge cardiac hospital offering children’s heart surgery and has been operating since 2007.

‘Open Heart’ follows Dr. Gino Strada, a surgeon at Salam and features Angelique Tuyishimere, the six-year-old daughter of a Rawandan farmer. Close to a third of the patients at Salam are under 14 making children’s heart surgery a common occurence at Salam.

Salam employs four cardiac surgeons  and is set up for 1,500 operations per year. However, due to funding issues, last year only 600 patients were operated on. Dr. Strada is forward about admitting the need in Africa is more than Salam can aid, but is still very happy with the progress that has been made and optimistic about the future.

Now, Davidson and the doctors – Rusingiza and Strada – will be attending the Oscars. If passport and visa issues are resolved, six-year-old Angelique and her dad will also be attending. Although he stands the chance of being honored at the Oscars, documentarian Kief Davidson still has not lost sight of the original problem being addressed – the lack of affordable healthcare in Africa, especially concerning the preventable diseases fought at Salam.

– Pete Grapentien

Source ABC News

Human Development Report Has Good News

After the longest time of a Northern-dominated global economy, the Global South seems to be catching up. This year’s United Nations Development Program’s annual report has some incredible news: lots of livelihoods have improved and are continuing to move in the right direction in terms of development. The Human Development Report suggests that 40 countries are doing better economically and socially. According to The Yemen Times, these improving nations aren’t solely the “economic tigers” of the world, such as China, and Brazil; they also include Turkey, Mexico, South Africa and several more.

The good news is that countries that were once considered “backward” are rising up to the plate, demanding that their voices be heard. Such a shift in global development and human well-being tips the scale for the dominating countries, mainly the United States, member nations of the European Union, and Japan, which have always set and controlled policies.

The UNDP collected measurements of income, literacy levels, gender rights, and longevity to form this year’s rankings, and the results evinced sustainable success and growth: “a fifth of the nations surveyed – all in the developing world – did better than expected.” Although sub-Saharan African countries did not do so well as to be included in this “rise of the South” phenomena, and there is clearly much more to be done, this year’s results are evidence that much good is being generated nonetheless. There is hope that more work will continue to result in greater improvements.

– Leen Abdallah

Source: Yemen Times
Photo: Static

UK Ends Aid to IndiaWhen it comes to foreign aid, most news stories focus on one country starting to give to another, not ending their giving. Usually, one country makes a financial commitment to a developing country, hoping that there will be growth, and they follow through with their promise.

However, the UK recently announced that it would stop providing foreign aid to India in the year 2015. What will this mean for India? What could it signify for the greater developing world?

India has been growing at a pretty astounding rate over the past few years. India boasted extraordinary economic growth rates of 8.2% and 9.6% in 2009 and 2010 respectively, leading the world’s developing countries. India’s success has been incredible. The world’s second most populated country has been experiencing an economic boom that any other country would be envious of. The United Kingdom has been granting foreign aid to India to encourage such growth for the last 50 years. The UK has now decided to cut out its foreign aid to India beginning in 2015.

The UK’s aid makes up about 15% of the total incoming foreign aid that India receives. This statistic has caused some to seriously worry about how other donor countries will react to this motion. Could cutting aid to the most successful developing countries become a trend?

While India is indeed one of the most rapidly advancing nations in the developing world, the country is still home to more than 1.2 billion people. Many of them represent the working poor and the impoverished and have yet to see the benefits of their country’s rapid growth. It is important that other donor countries and charitable organizations continue to invest in India as the country goes through its growing pains and aspires to more widespread prosperity.

Organizations like Oxfam are working to make sure that donors remain committed to their programs in India and other successful developing countries. Simply because the UK will no longer send foreign aid to India, it does not mean that all other donor countries will follow suit. At the same time, we should keep considering the case for foreign aid to the most successful countries in the developing world. These are economies that are growing with astounding speed and to stop giving to these countries now could lead to a serious shortfall in their future development.

This sort of growth does not occur without any collateral damage. In the end, the importance of seeing foreign aid programs through to the end is absolutely paramount.

– Kevin Sullivan

Source: Digital Jouranl, World Bank
Photo: Disaboom

Who is Benefiting From Land and Water Grabbing?It is assumed that the already existing gap between developed and developing nations is large and apparent enough that wealthier nations would try and fill this gap and bring these opposite ends closer together. According to an ABC Environmental article, however, wealthy nations are instead competing over ‘land’ and ‘water grabbing’ to appease their growing populations and the “stressed” supply of basic necessities such as food and water. Investors in a foreign land, or better yet, the land-grabbers, are countries and investment firms from biofuel producers to large-scale farming operations (agricultural investors).

Since 2000, the major countries that have contributed to this land purchasing are the U.S., Malaysia, the U.K., China, and the U.A.E. Experts aren’t sure of these investors’ motives but it is clear that they are only focusing on buying land where there is clear access to water.

‘Land grabbing’ is defined by Paolo D’Odorico, a professor at the University of Virginia, as “a deal for about two km2 or more that converts an environmentally important area currently used by local people to commercial production.” According to an environmental study, 454 billion cubic meters sums up the ‘water-grabbing’ per year by corporations on a global scale, which is about 5 percent of the world’s annual water consumption. According to the public database Land Matrix “1,217 deals have taken place, which transferred over 830,000 square kilometers of land” since 2000, with 62 percent of such deals happening in Africa alone.

From 2005 to 2009, during a major food price crisis, land purchases, which fall under a very low level of regulation, skyrocketed. In 2011, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the U.N. released guidelines that advise investors to consider the people and communities whose land is being used. However, such guidelines are viewed as humanitarian concerns and have little enforcement, meaning that they aren’t strict enough to have corporations and investors abide by them or even care for them.

Governments who are interested in and have been leasing and selling land to foreign countries and investors are mainly those in Eastern Africa and Southeast Asia. They are interested in these sales because they want to modernize their farming and believe this is the way to do it. However, the reality is that the resulting development from such ‘land and water grabbing’ depends on the investors’ terms and conditions, as well as their sense of morality.

The main problem is that the majority of these sales are happening in poor countries in which there are high rates of hunger and where resources valuable to the local populations are being purchased by wealthier developed nations or even by private corporations. The main question of the matter is this: Who is benefiting from land and water grabbing? Are these sales helping the local people since it is their land? Or are these purchases only concerned about foreign benefits and the population concerns of developed nations?

– Leen Abdallah

Source: ABC
Photo: Water Governance

The media is constantly overflowing with updates on technological advancements and products, but their emphasis is truly reflective of the most important aspect of our changing world. Technology, as the humanitarian world has seen in the past decade or so, is not just a luxury for consumers in the first world. In fact, perhaps the greatest use of technology has been in developing countries.

Last week, the now-former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held a small ceremony for the newest collaborative initiative coming out of the Department of State called “The Open Book Project”. Along with the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO), MIT, Rice University, and the non-profit Creative Commons, among other educational organizations, The Open Book Project strives to extend open educational resources (OERs) to the Arab world in their native language.

While many countries are familiar with OERs, which allow free access to non-commercial users to legally license material for educational or research purposes, translating American textbooks and materials into Arabic is a huge step towards providing much-needed information in an area that does not have adequate access to the best universities or schools.

Websites such as or are priceless tools for young children and adults alike who want to learn more or further their knowledge. In the Arab world, where education can be limited by wealth, geography or gender, The Open Book Project hopes to break these boundaries. This is much more than a technological program; it can and should be seen as an example of “educational diplomacy”. It is a promising relationship between the United States and the Arab League as they come together on the issue of improving the opportunities for young people around the world.

Ambassador Mohammed Al Hussaini Al Sharif, the Arab League’s envoy to the U.S., sees The Open Book Project as “a huge step forward in the Arab-American relations”. By presenting themselves as supporters of increasing education and access to such resources, not only will the United States be improving its public image but more importantly, it is making huge strides in terms of addressing the many issues surrounding global poverty. Education is the main key to achieving success no matter what country someone lives in. By opening up this portal to documents, textbooks, lectures, research and other types of media, The Open Book Project will help people around the world to become productive and active members within their own communities.

Deena Dulgerian

Source:U.S. Dept. of State,Voice of America