Posts

Clinton Advocates for Clean Drinking Water
Effective collaboration between corporations, nongovernmental organizations, governments and individuals can help eliminate mortality caused by unclean drinking water, according to Chelsea Clinton.

Through her work with the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), the daughter of the former US president has visited communities to witness the benefits of work being done to fight water-borne diseases. The tremendous strides made in recent years inspire hope that an end to deaths caused by public health scourges like water-borne illnesses and AIDS is possible, Clinton says.

“From reducing the prevalence of HIV/AIDS to providing clean drinking water to rural communities, these programs are examples of how, when corporations, NGOs, governments, and people work together, incredible strides can be made to [overcome] challenges that were once thought intractable. These achievements give me hope that other countries will be able to replicate these models and provide similar health care access to individuals — and that, in my lifetime, we’ll achieve an AIDS-free generation and eliminate mortality caused by unclean water,” Clinton wrote in a recent Huffington Post column about her travels in Asia.

Unclean water is responsible for thousands of deaths annually from cholera, diarrhea and other water-borne illnesses.  Globally, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), 2,000 children die every day from diarrheal diseases caused by unsafe water. That is more than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined.

The Clinton Global Initiative is currently in a partnership with Procter & Gamble (P&G) to deliver clean water in Myanmar (also known as Burma). Clinton visited a village there where P&G had been working for a couple of months. P&G has made a  commitment to CGI to deliver more than two billion liters of clean drinking water every year by 2020, the goal being to save one life every hour of every day of every week of every year.

P&G also recently announced a partnership with USAID focused on child and maternal health in Myanmar, which will provide 200 million more liters of clean drinking water in the next two years. The initiative will provide villages with P&G Purifier of Water packets. The investment will be about $2 million over the first two years of the partnership, according to USAID. This is not the first time USAID has partnered with P&G to provide clean drinking water. The two organizations have previously partnered in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Malawi, Nicaragua, Pakistan and other countries.

– Liza Casabona

Sources: Huffington Post, USAID
Photo: NY Magazine

South_east_aisa_farming_opt

Home to 600 million people, the region of South-East Asia is a source of precious resources and a strong work force. Still, many suffer from hunger and malnutrition, which is why it is important to achieve food security in this region. Boosting the agriculture sector in this region is essential to economic growth and development. With the growing obstacles of climate change and depletion of natural resources it is important to focus on creating long-lasting policies and reform on the agriculture sector of this region.

However, farmers are going to need a lot of help from the government to achieve food security in this region. Farms require investment in knowledge and tools as well as having a say in the government. In South-East Asia most farms are very small, usually 2 hectares of land or less, and run primarily by women. The government should focus on policies that support farmer’s organizations, empower and educate women as well as raise awareness about property rights.

World leaders have begun to take steps to implement some of the policies stated above at the World Economic Forum on East Asia taking place in Myanmar. They have proposed a new initiative called New Vision for Agriculture, which is trying to facilitate a public-private collaboration to achieve food security as well as environmental stability. It urges for an increase in investment in agriculture to boost economic growth. It highlights innovative ways for the public and private sectors to work together to achieve the best outcome. Exceptional effort from all actors is necessary to reach the common goal of food security in South-East Asia.

– Catherine Ulrich

Source: WE Blog
Photo: Trend Southeast

Myanmar Leader Takes Steps to Fight Poverty
The history of Myanmar is one that allowed poverty to thrive and its people to suffer. However, in the past two years, the newly elected democratic government has been taking strides to lift the country from the depths of poverty and destruction to which it had sunk. President Thein Sein made a commitment Sunday to fight poverty and rebuild Myanmar’s economy.

Myanmar has ample water resources, an efficient labor force, an advantageous climate, and abundant natural resources which make economic development a natural reality. President Sein acknowledged this foundation in his speech in Yangon, the former capital of Myanmar. He also acknowledged that Myanmar is one of the poorest among the LDC’s (least developed countries). It is going to take hard work, coordinated efforts, and top priorities to lift Myanmar out of poverty.

Poverty alleviation is a priority with the new government. Myanmar was at one time a country full of hope and economic prospects. It was a bright light in Southeast Asia prior to the years of military control that caused Myanmar to fall far behind its neighbors. According to the Asian Development Bank, a quarter of the population of Myanmar lives below the nation’s poverty line.

The plan to alleviate poverty launched by President Sein’s government includes micro-finance loans as a tool to help rid the nation of poverty. Those loans worth several million dollars will be given to households and workers who can utilize the loans to lift themselves out of poverty.  It is a step in the right direction and a glimmer of hope in a nation that has been dark for so long.

– Amanda Kloeppel
Source: Channel News Asia

Worst Dictators still alive

The worst dictators have a strange kind of fame. Many manage to escape widespread awareness until their regime turns irredeemably bloody or repressive. As a result of their bizarre behaviour and the extensive list of human rights violations committed under their rule, figures such as Idi Amin, Muammar Qaddafi and Kim Jong Il are now household names. Yet their notoriety grew at the end of their reigns, when their own people had revolted or their regime was nearing its final days. However, there are a number of dictators in the world in power today committing great crimes against their own people unchecked. Here are the top 5 worst dictators in the world.

1. Isias Afewerki, Eritrea

In power since 1993, Afewerki has plunged Eritrea into a living nightmare for its residents. Starting out, as many do, as an idealistic young revolutionary, Afewerki was chosen as the country’s first president after its liberation from Ethiopia. Yet after gaining the position, Afewerki essentially cut off democracy, with the country operating under a one party system and no free press. Interceptions from cables paint a desperate picture of the nation, as seen in the excerpt: ”Young Eritreans are fleeing their country in droves, the economy appears to be in a death spiral, Eritrea’s prisons are overflowing, and the country’s unhinged dictator remains cruel and defiant.”

2. Omar al-Bashir, Sudan

Though he has been in power during comparatively good economic times, Omar al-Bashir has led Sudan to becoming one of the bloodiest and most conflicted countries in the region. Bashir was at the helm of the country during Sudan’s horrific genocide, which saw upward of 300,000 deaths, largely at the hands of militant groups that were said to have government support. He has been accused by the International Criminal Court of crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes. The unceasing violent conflicts that characterized his reign ultimately led to South Sudan’s secession from the state. The new territory, however, quickly entered into war with Sudan over oil disputes and into yet another bloody conflict.

3. Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan

Ruling since 1989, Karimov’s term was first extended, and then he was reinstated in a sham election which was discounted entirely by watchdogs, against a political opponent who publicly admitted he himself had voted for Karimov. There is little to no religious or press freedom, with universities told not to train students in the realm of public issues. Brutal torture is seen as routine in the Uzbek judicial system, with Human Rights Watch expressing repeated concern over the accepted practices in Uzbek prisons. Karimov is still to call for an investigation into the Andijan massacre, where hundreds of people were killed. He also made international headlines in 2002 after evidence emerged that he had boiled one of his prisoners to death. Repeatedly named as one of ‘Parade’ magazine’s worst dictators, international rights groups have had great difficulty in breaching Uzbekistan’s borders and little success in implementing reforms.

4. Bashar Al-Assad, Syria

In a stunning display of irony, Syria’s blood-soaked dictator started his career in medicine and is a trained ophthalmologist. Inheriting power after his father and older brother died, Assad’s cruelty showed after the start of the Arab Spring. After a violent crackdown on not only rebels, but civilians, his government has no real way of restoring order and remaining in power, yet Assad stubbornly refuses to concede to any agreements. Many international leaders have called on Assad to recognize the reality of the Syrian rebellion and step down, with Britain even stating it would consider taking in Assad if it meant his departure from the state. Support from Iran and Russia, however, have strengthened the leader long enough to continue Syria’s endless and bloody war, with Assad himself showing no signs of remorse or weakening of resolve.

5. U Thein Sein, Myanmar

Thein Sein started on the right foot. His actions in opening up Myanmar garnered praise from Western leaders such as Barack Obama and Ban-Ki Moon and he was recently given a peace award from the International Crisis Group. This image sits uncomfortably with the Thein Sein of recent days. Having initially opened dialogue with Myanmar’s Aung Sang Suu Kyi, she was again recently threatened, as was a Democracy League operating in the country. He is also accused of blatantly ignoring a deepening crisis in his own country with the violent persecution of the Royingha Muslims. His actions in response to the crisis have attracted accusations of ethnic cleansing. In response, Thein Sein has recently spoken to the international press making clear that he is not afraid to use violence to maintain order, with the unsettling statement, “I will not hesitate to use force as a last resort to protect the lives and safeguard the property of the general public.”

Sources: Parade, HRW, Foreign Policy,  BBC
Photo: Atlanta Blackstar

refugee populations
An estimated 15.2 million people in the world are refugees, people forced to leave their home countries because of persecution, war, or other kinds of violence. That’s the equivalent of the populations of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco combined.

Who are these people? Where do they come from? And where do they currently reside? Data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees give us the following snapshot of these populations: of the 15.2 million refugees, 46% are under 18, and 48% are female. Most of these people have been forced to move to developing nations, which host an estimated 80% of the world’s refugee population.

The country with the largest refugee population in the world is Pakistan, which hosts an estimated 1.7 million refugees. Many of these refugees are from neighboring Afghanistan, the country that produces the greatest number of refugees, an estimated 2.7 million people. To place these numbers in a global context, below is a list of the world’s top 5 largest refugee populations by the nation of origin.

Largest Refugee Populations

1. Afghanistan –  2.7 million refugees worldwide

2. Iraq – 1.7 million

3. Somalia –  770,000

4. Democratic Republic of Congo – 477,000

5. Myanmar – 415,000

 

Refugees from these and other countries are forced to move across the globe, many of them ending up in Pakistan, Iran, Syria, Germany, and Jordan, the top 5 on the list of host countries. Jordan, Syria, Congo, Chad, and Montenegro are the countries with the highest proportion of refugees per 1,000 people. The United States currently hosts an estimated 265,000 refugees.

Although numbers like these are sometimes hard to grasp, compiling this kind of data is vital for refugee aid organizations like UNHCR, which rely on data to plan ways to help the people and countries involved. UNHCR publishes an annual Global Trends Report on refugee populations. The next such report is due in June 2013.

– Délice Williams

Sources: UNHCR, The Guardian, MSN Causes
Photo: Guardian

Violence in Myanmar Continues to SpreadViolence in central Myanmar has broken out in recent days between Buddhists and Muslims. Estimates of the death toll from a recent rampage through a Muslim area are anywhere from 20 to 40; some of the victims include children. Buddhist attackers have burned mosques and entire Muslim neighborhoods to the ground in bitter offensives against one of the few minority groups in an overwhelmingly Buddhist nation.

Regions of Myanmar have experienced protracted violence, with a majority of the victims being Muslim. Over 150 people have died in the past year as attacks spread inland from coastal areas. Often, police and military units fail or outright refuse to intervene. The national government has ceded some of its authoritarian power in recent years, which had previously helped to quash inter-ethnic violence swiftly. While human rights advocates have been cautiously optimistic about these reforms, the lack of protection for victims of vicious attacks demonstrates how far Myanmar has yet to go.

President Obama has made Myanmar a focus of his travels in Southeast Asia; in November 2012 he was the first American president to ever visit the country. He met with the opposition leader, longtime political dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, who cautioned him against being too optimistic when victory appears close. Mr. Obama’s efforts to foster democracy in Myanmar are reflective of his overarching strategy of diplomacy and engagement with those leaders who he seeks to persuade on human rights issues. Now, as inter-ethnic clashes are on the rise, it is time for Myanmar to demonstrate its commitment to a society that protects the livelihoods of all its citizens.

Jake Simon

Sources: New York Times, Reuters

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

 

How Myanmar Will Avoid Being Earth's Most Isolated CountryHaving less cell phone usage than North Korea has made Myanmar one of the most isolated countries on the planet. Upon the United States’ decision to lift sanctions on the country, USAID was happy to sponsor a delegation of executives from Cisco, Google, Microsoft and other organizations to explore the possibility of establishing tech training centers in the newly open Myanmar market.

A little over two decades ago, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Myanmar when the military junta killed thousands of civilian protestors in one brutal onslaught. Currently, a new civilian government has been established and many of these sanctions have been lifted.

Companies like Google and Microsoft are offering Myanmar more than just tech services by establishing training centers in the country. The effect of these centers will be a reinforcement of Myanmar’s technological infrastructure.  The widespread availability of internet and cellular service allows a greater opportunity for online learning and social organizing via websites such as Twitter which can be used through either SMS messages or the internet.

Another avenue that becomes easier to access is international development and trade. By contributing to tech growth, Google, Cisco and Microsoft are also helping Myanmar contribute to the global economy. This in turn allows Myanmar to grow its own economy and strengthen foreign relations.

-Pete Grapentien
Source Yahoo News

Myanmar_US_Treasury_Banks
Last week, the United States announced that it would lift sanctions on four of Myanmar’s largest banks in hopes of continued economic development in the country, and as a reward for continued improvements in the country’s political system. As sanctions are lifted, the banks will now have access to the United States’ financial system and have the opportunity to interact with U.S. businesses and citizens. The four banks that will benefit, according to the Treasury Department, are the Myanmar Economic Bank, Myanmar Investment and Commercial Bank, Asia Green Development Bank and Ayeyarwady Bank.

The Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, David Cohen, stated, “Increased access to Burma’s banking system for our companies and non-governmental organizations will help to facilitate Burma’s continued social and economic development.”

Although most restrictions have been lifted, there are still mechanisms in place that allow the U.S. government to monitor the banks in case of a negative change in recent political reforms. In a similar gesture last summer, the U.S. Treasury began allowing U.S. companies to deal with Myanmar by way of investing and administering other financial assistance – as long as all transactions were recorded and disclosed.

This trend has continued for the last two years, as the European Union along with the U.S. have backed away from conditional restrictions regarding Myanmar’s political situation, which included the release of political prisoners.

Myanmar officials stated that previous sanctions had prevented the country from growing its economy and eradicating widespread poverty.

Christina Kindlon

Source: Reuters