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Helping the Poor in Latin America: Saving with Reliable MeasuresThe definition of poverty in Latin America has multiple standards. Twenty years ago, foreign academic fields and institutions considered those with an individual monthly income of less than 60 dollars as poor, and less than 30 dollars as extremely poor. In addition, economic development in Latin American nations vary, while their different standards on salary, labor productivity, and purchasing power indicate varied distributions on social wealth. There is no doubt that helping the poor in Latin America urges global attention. Current population of poverty rates in Latin American countries are unevenly proportioned, as it is as high as 50 percent in the Honduras and Guatemala, and as low as 5 to 10 percent in Chile, Uruguay and Argentina.

Poverty in Latin America stands for complex, chronic, chaotic events with cumulated difficulties to handle. Considering a representative nation with a significantly reduced poverty rate such as Chile, the successful experience is at least owing to two points. For one thing, continuous economic growth brings about more opportunities for employment, providing a solid foundation for helping people to overcome poverty. For the other, the government pays relatively high concerns on poverty issues and carries out certain measures to solve concrete problems related to the poor. Organizations guided by political leaders and officers of each level are dedicated to eliminating poverty and the national annual budget used for social welfare, takes a large proportion of their total expenditure. Looking at Chile as an example, it seems to be that a combination of both economic and social progress is needed in order to help the poor.

What are some other effective ways of helping the poor in Latin America? Besides the mutual efforts of individuals and governments helping the poor, other factors such as natural disasters, political unrest, and financial crises could easily aggravate the alleviated poverty reduction. As voices of experience, Latin American countries should regulate and execute social policies to help the poor with orientations on their actual needs and viabilities. Those individuals who are categorized as extremely poor must be prioritized, and the existing mechanism of economy also needs to balance assisting the poor and preventing reoccurrences of unemployment or poverty. Providing freedom of necessity on immigration, insurance, trade, and shelters require common agreement.

Poverty comes hand in hand with discrimination and inequality towards women in Latin America. It is a topic related to poverty treatment that cannot be emphasized enough. Distribution of wealth between genders are also uneven. Hence, governments must consider increasing the hiring of female labors, as well as leverage better welfare to single mothers and any family with multiple kids.

In sum, quite a few national and regional programs on helping the poor in Latin America have released poverty issues at certain degrees, with the root of poverty being originated from some kind of unfair distribution. The unique solution towards poverty is by means of fair distribution on social wealth. While justice of distribution requires a long way to go for helping and saving the poor in Latin America, decreasing instances of poverty is not impossible, involving important aspects of both national and social systems.

– Xin Gao

Photo: Flickr

Foreign_Aid_Investments
The Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, or IHME, the top international agency for global health data collection and analysis, has provided a new report which scores the impact of foreign aid investments made over the past fifteen years.

The study, recently published in the Lancet Medical Journal, determined that between 2000 and 2014, low and middle-income nations invested $133 billion US into child health initiatives. These investments are estimated to have saved the lives of 20 million infants and children.

An additional $73.6 billion US of foreign aid investments provided by donors, both governmental and privatized, accounted for the saving of an additional 14 million infant and child lives, the IHME estimates.

In total, an estimated 34 million children’s lives have been saved in the past 15 years. The report estimates that US foreign aid investments saved the largest number of children under-five, with 3.3 million lives saved. The UK was also noted as a significant factor in this progress, and is estimated to have saved 1.7 million lives through their own development funding. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation proved to be the largest privatized donor, having saved an estimated 1.5 million lives.

Ray Chambers, the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Financing the Health Millennium Development Goals and Malaria, collaborated with the IHME to produce this report and hopes to use this form of analysis in the future to track the success of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Chambers stated in an interview about the new score, “We know that despite the efforts of governments and donors to improve health in low-income and middle-income countries, too many children die before the age of five. Without a way to monitor and publicly share progress regularly, we will miss the opportunity to build on the momentum we have seen since the millennium declaration.”

The IHME estimates that within the most impoverished nations, the cost to save a child’s life is about $4,000 US. The organization stated in its report that within countries such as Tanzania and Haiti, the costs are $4,205. They estimate within nations such as Botswana and Thailand, where economies are more developed, that the costs to save a child’s life are above $10,000 US due to high health care costs.

The Director of the IHME, Dr. Christopher Murray, stated in a recent interview, “You can spend $4,000 on many different things, but there are very few places where the money would deliver the kind of impact you get by investing it in child health.” He continued in reasoning, “If you invest in the poorest countries, you will see the biggest impact in child health because the costs of things like nutrition programmes, vaccines and primary care are lower.”

The report analyzed both governmental and privatized donors, and included internationally renowned agencies such the Global Fund, World Bank, UNICEF, USAid, and Gavi. The study concluded that the efforts and financial support of Gavi, a global non-profit organization focused on vaccination, has saved over 2.2 million lives.

Looking towards future development initiatives such as the Sustainable Development Goals, Dr. Murray has stressed, “We have seen such incredible success in saving children’s lives over the past 15 years. We need to take what we have learned from that experience and push for more progress and more accountability as we enter the era of the Global Goals for Sustainable Development.” The Sustainable Development Goals were developed at the UN Rio+20 Conference in 2012, and are designed to build upon the progress of the Millennium Development Goals in the coming years.

James Thornton

Sources: The Guardian, News Medical
Photo: Flickr

USAID-Falling-Apart

The United States Agency for International Development, USAID, is the United States’ lead agency for international development and poverty reduction. The organization is credited with a multitude of successes, but in recent years it has faced organizational problems that have for the most part gone unnoticed by governmental higher-ups.

These organizational pitfalls threaten the agency’s ability to combat poverty and promote development worldwide. Recently, USAID has come under attack in the news for providing the wrong geographical coordinates for health centers that the agency funded in Afghanistan. A further look into the organization to find what internal problems are facilitating such mistakes revealed administrative and staffing discrepancies.

The USAID staff has become a major debilitating problem for the agency. There seems to be a rift between new and established staff members when there needs to be collaboration and unity among them. The veterans of the agency should be advising and teaching the newer members so that when they move on or retire, the staff remains steady and prepared. According to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, two-thirds of USAID’s professional staff has left. Over 50% of professionals still with the organization are over retirement age. As these older employees are gearing up to leave, the agency is left with a young, new workforce. Over 70% of USAID’s younger employees have less than five years of work experience.

Another problem USAID is facing is the lack of support from Obama’s administration. The slip up in Afghanistan was acknowledged but underscored by USAID, who defended the error with the fact that knowing the geographical coordinates for the center is not the first priority. However, the mistake undermines international credibility and domestic trust in the agency. USAID officials are also claiming that as the United States continues to prepare to fully leave Afghanistan, their own on-the-ground operations are threatened by a lack of firsthand protection. However, the avoidance and negation of blame that such statements allude to may come from a larger internal frustration with a lack of attention from the government and a lack of experienced staff.

Continued increases in spending on military and defense, despite widespread support of development as a better investment for long-term national security measures, undermines the work that USAID can do. Military-led humanitarian efforts rarely focus on the real core issues contributing to the problems and instead expend energy on the symptoms, which makes it unsustainable and often ineffective in the long-term.

The development sector of the government receives only a fraction of what the military receives. Development needs to be made a priority in order for it to receive the recognition and funding that it deserves so it can not only improve countries around the world, but our own country as well.

Emma Dowd

Sources: Foreign Policy, Huffington Post, U.S. Global Leadership Coalition
Photo: Washington Post

brussels_european_union
This year, from November 26 to the following day of the same month, world leaders will gather at the European Union Development Days (EDD) in Brussels to discuss the future of international development. Among the speakers are the Prime Minister of Jamaica, members of the European Parliament, representatives of the International Trade Centre and more.

The aim of the EDD is to “foster engagement and facilitate the implementation of the agenda for greater aid effectiveness.” The event also helps create and share new strategies, networks and relationships in order to improve international aid and development. The EDD also allows individuals to become involved and attend the event as “stakeholders” as the issue at hand is one that affects us all.

This gathering is occurring at a monumental time as countries across the globe have been cutting back on international aid. The European Union recently agreed on a seven-year budget framework and is in the process of trying to implement it. By making aid more efficient, the E.U. and other countries can remove corruption and disorganization from the process of international aid.

The issues that will be discussed at EDD include climate change, food security, health, human rights, the post-2015 agenda, youth and other pressing matters. The willingness of representatives and individuals from areas all across the globe to unite in the name of international aid proves the significance and wide impact of international development. This event should bring about new approaches and motivation within the realm of international relations and development. The conference can be monitored on the European Union Development Days Website.

– Lienna Feleke-Eshete
Sources: EU Dev Days, Devex

Aid_Data_2.0
It is easy to get excited about all the new information we now have about the world’s development projects. Maps and tables, charts and graphs flood our inboxes with ‘big data.’ Most recently, AidData published a huge dataset on Tracking Chinese Aid to Africa. All the hype has caused some backlash, and rightfully so. Big data is still data and requires the same careful handling as any other dataset. This is not meant to dull enthusiasm or lessen the use of data. This is a precaution against the misuse and overgeneralization of big data. One size does not fit all, and overgeneralizations from large or small datasets can be dangerous. Here are Big Data’s 4 downsides found by practitioners and academics.

1) Big data is not a panacea. One size does not fit all. The dynamic nature of development projects means that many are time-place specific. While sweeping data collection projects can lead to better practices at high-level institutions, implementing policies based on improperly generalized data is bad policy and poor use of data.

2) Difficulties in filtering relevant information. Data from developing countries regarding health systems, political upheaval, natural disasters, etc. are most often reported by vulnerable people experiencing the event first hand. The sourcing of the data is often social media. Aside from possible problems with the validity of the data, the sheer amount of potential data is enormous. Key word searches across selected media yield thousands of data points which have to be carefully reviewed to filter for relevancy. The computer programs are simply not nuanced enough to pull out the differences between hate speech, for example, and slang (as shown in a study on mapping hate speech in twitter recently). Additionally, a parallel problem is availability of reliable and secure statistical processing. Unlike data processing for pharmaceutical companies, aid data processing is not backed by billions of dollars in profit.

3) Data exhaustion on the ground. By the time social scientists are through cleaning, manipulating, and making sense of the data, the situation on the ground has often changed. This is called “data exhaustion.” The big data collectors (UN, World Bank, USAID, AidData) are constantly playing catch up. This means that the people on the ground are not able to use the most up-to-date information. The use of social media has mitigated the delay; however, data extraction and implementation of policies based on data is a top-down approach that may not accord with the culture of the project or practical feasibility. For example, the best way to empower women according to big data analyses might be to get women into the work place allowing them independent incomes. The on-the-ground reality might be that they are already responsible for non-paid work, such as childcare or maintaining subsistence crops, which already takes up their whole day.

4) Validity of data is questionable. As indicated by the debates over the validity of AidData’s Tracking Chinese Aid to Africa, socially sourced data cannot be the only source of data to influence policy. Self-reporting has inherent “barriers, blindspots and biases.” For example, the information collected from the Arab Spring was based on self-reporting of goings-on. The outside world used information from texts, Tweets, Facebook and blog posts to analyze the situation.

These four potential downsides of  big data all suggest the need for caution in using data to inform development policy.

– Katherine Zobre

Source: Relief Web
Photo:
AidData

aid-for-trade-wto-women-workers_opt
Aid for Trade is a holistic approach to incorporating developing economies into global trade networks by assisting them in increasing exports and market access. Aid for Trade was initiated at the WTO Ministerial Conference in 2005, and the program has since increased its scope to include building production capacity (financial services, businesses, and industry), trade-related infrastructure (communications, energy, transportation), and trade policy and regulations.

When the Aid for Trade initiative began, it was unclear whether it would receive funding or be successful. Now that it has been implemented for over a decade, it is time to reexamine the links between trade, development, and poverty reduction that Aid for Trade aims to strengthen.

The principle behind Aid for Trade is that increased trade should benefit inhabitants of developing countries, whether or not they are directly involved in the program. One Aid for Trade program teaches Ugandan farmers how to grow and process dried fruit to be sold into the European cereal market. The farmers involved should benefit from increased income, market access, and productivity, and Uganda should benefit from increased exports.

Most evaluations of the effectiveness of Aid for Trade programs take place within 18 months of a given program’s initiation. This is not enough time to measure whether the program has truly been successful at reducing poverty in a sustainable way. Additionally, evaluations often do not take into account a program’s impact on those not involved; how did the fruit-growing education program impact farmers who did not receive additional training and support?

A new study on European trade assistance aid, commissioned by NGOs Traidcraft and the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, suggests that there may be “hidden losers” to Aid for Trade initiatives. For example, South African fruit growers increased exports to Europe after trade sanctions were lifted. They earned higher wages and improved their standard of living. However, the demand for cheaper fruit also caused some growers to lower wages and to replace full-time employees with temporary, often migrant workers, who did not enjoy the benefits.

The study also found that the majority of trade assistance goes to middle-income countries rather than to the least developed countries (LCDs) that Aid for Trade is directed towards. Little evidence exists to prove Aid for Trade’s effectiveness in reducing extreme poverty; this is likely a result of short-term program evaluations that take place before real impact can be measured, as well as lack of donor interest in, and therefore funding for, impact evaluations.

Overall, there are many obstacles to determining whether or not Aid for Trade has been successful thus far. More thorough, accurate, and long-term evaluations of poverty rates are necessary in order to determine the tangible successes or failures of Aid for Trade.

– Kat Henrichs

Sources: OECD, International Center for Trade and Sustainable Development, The Guardian
Photo: European Commission

myanmar-USAID-aid-effectiveness

A Brookings Institution article by Lex Rieffel and James Fox (Former Chief, Economic Growth Evaluation at USAID/Policy & Program) analyses aid effectiveness in Myanmar. “The transition in Myanmar that began two years ago — from a military to a quasi-civilian government — is the largest and most encouraging turnaround in the developing world in years.”

They give significant credit to President Thein Sein and social activist Aung San Suu Kyi for collaborating to lift the country out of turmoil. Their three main obstacles or agendas were: ending the civil war, providing an institutional framework to increase the general standard of living, and sharing the wealth of the country’s natural resources with the whole population.

When other countries saw the progress being made, then the World Bank, USAID, and more than 100 other aid agencies and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) started to offer rapid assistance to Myanmar. This time, the aid agencies and government officials are intent on making sure aid is delivered effectively. All donors have committed to adhere to the 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, and all subsequent additions to it. And the Myanmar government held an all-donor meeting in January 2013, to get an agreement on ground rules for spending aid effectively.

However, here are five common ways aid can be ineffective:

• Senior government officials of Myanmar end up spending hours every day meeting with delegations from international NGO’s and donor countries – not just their aid agencies but also their government representatives, corporations, media, and more. The endless meetings divert the attention of the local officials, not allowing them to formulate and implement actual progress.

• Each aid organization has its own pressure to “make a difference,” to show results.  For instance, USAID has allocated millions of dollars for their own agriculture sector projects, but only committed $600,000 to the multi-donor LIFT Fund – which is a more effective way of delivering aid.

• Local staff from financial institutions are overwhelmed by the donor organizations’ need to “move the money.” Pressure to distribute project funds is ever-present.

• Donors are often non-transparent as each competes to gain the most favorable position within a region.

• Host countries engage in “donor shopping” to get the most money for the least change.

So, for Myanmar, here are the three ways to make aid more effective:

• Slow down and do more collaborative operations. This act does not overwhelm local officials. Donors should help control the pace, and commit at least 30 percent of their funding to joint operations.

• Provide “scholarships for foreign study.” It will take years for Myanmar to raise its standard of education to the level required for meeting its development objectives. The solution is education abroad, so the students can return home with knowledge to invest in the country. This form of aid also has the least potential for mis-use.

• “Be more innovative” – for instance “cash on delivery aid.” This reinforces good management within the local government, minimizes the administrative burden of the rapid aid influx, and ensures that every dollar of aid goes to support successful projects.

– Mary Purcell

Source: Brookings
Photo: USA Myanmar

 

USAID Claims Further Transparency and Accountability

Financial foreign assistance is one of the most powerful ways that developed nations can help lower-income countries fight their way through poverty. It also provides the most immediate results, given that aid investment is effectively distributed both to short-term direct programs as well as long-term indirect programs. Many in aid-giving communities, including the United States, criticize foreign aid spending because they believe it a wasteful investment, used to line administrator’s pockets or be lackadaisically distributed to corrupt governments.

Futuregov estimates that annually, around $150b is contributed globally to aid and assist socio-economic and social development.

Given the global community’s demands for greater accountability and transparency in funding, the AidData Centre for Development Policy organization was established.  The organization is “a joint venture between the College of William & Mary, Development Gateway, Brigham Young University, the University of Texas at Austin, and Esri.” AidData will be funded $25 million over five years in its conjoined efforts with the United States Agency for International Development.

The program will combine the work of experts in a menagerie of different fields to track and make public the effects of specific foreign aid projects. The purpose of the program assessments is also self-reflective, as programs become more stringently criticized. The aim is to have less money spent will have efficiently maximized impacts.

Nina Narang

Source: futureGOV
Photo: BIPPS