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Tuesday:  October 27, 2014

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in World Bank (12)

Friday
Mar302012

BRICS 4th Meeting: `Non-West, Not Anti-West' (REPORT)  

(Video via IBTIMES)

Top emerging economies, coming under the banner of BRICS, on Thursday criticized the West for financial mismanagement, called for a "merit-based" selection of the next World Bank chief, rued the slow pace of reforms in the International Monetary Fund, declared that dialogue was the only way to a peaceful resolution in Syria and Iran, but failed to go beyond motherhood statements and give the bloc a meaningful push.

The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries took baby steps towards facilitating intra-BRICS trade and investment in local currency, but failed to reach any agreement on a BRICS development bank. They signed an agreement to extend credits in local currencies under the BRICS Interbank Cooperation Mechanism.

However, the suggestion for a BRICS Development Bank was pushed to a later date, since there were major differences among the members.

Spreading themselves beyond economics, the BRICS members articulated an alternative political vision with regard to current international issues.

(PHOTO: BRICS summit handout of leader photo op; l to r, Brazil's Dilma Rousseff, Russia's Dmitry Medvedev, India's Manmohan Singh, China's Hu Jintao, South Africa's Jacob Zuma) "The views were more non-West, than anti-West", explained an official. While these were mainly broad-brush positions on current events, their importance lay in the fact that five emerging global leaders actually sat across the table to agree on these points.

In a statement at the end of the plenary session, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, "The world is passing through uncertain times. The rapid recovery of the BRICS economies from the financial crisis highlighted their role as growth drivers of the global economy. Our cooperation is intended to explore meaningful partnerships for common development, address global challenges together and contribute to furthering world peace, stability and security."

In its Delhi Declaration, BRICS members opposed violence as a way of resolving political crises in other countries. "Global interests would best be served by dealing with the crisis through peaceful means that encourage broad national dialogues..." On Syria, BRICS supported the Arab League and special envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan.

On Iran, they observed, "We recognize Iran's right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy consistent with its international obligations, and support resolution of the issues involved through political and diplomatic means and dialogue between the parties concerned, including between the IAEA and Iran and in accordance with the provisions of the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions."

The BRICS nations put their might behind Afghanistan, saying it needed "time, development assistance and cooperation, preferential access to world markets, foreign investment and a clear end-state strategy."  Israel was rapped on the knuckles for its settlement policy, but BRICS advocated direct negotiations with the Palestinians. The underlying theme was a repudiation of the western developed countries' approach, without actually getting into the details.

In an action plan, BRICS leaders agreed to meet before United Nations General Assembly meeting every September, much like the Non-Aligned Movement and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation meetings; regular gatherings of finance ministers, central bank governors, trade ministers, national security advisers, etc.

(PHOTO: BRICS handout of finance ministers shaking hands in cooperation)But underneath the camaraderie and the determination to strike a different path, serious differences exist. On the economic front, it would be a tussle between India and China, while Russia is pushing the political agenda, particularly on Iran and Syria, where BRICS supported the Russian viewpoint. India and Brazil pushed through their joint pitch for reform of the UN Security Council, which China has not been enthusiastic about, although Russia supports it.

While the BRICS joint statement blamed the Eurozone crisis for the state of the global economy, Indian officials saw this as a way of deflecting criticism of China manipulating its own currency, which also leads to a lot of distortions.

The BRICS development bank too has been kicked down the road, because India still has many reservations. The PM, in fact, preferred to focus on improving the World Bank rather than creating a new institution, as China does.

"We must address the important issue of expanding the capital base of the World Bank and other multinational development banks to enable these institutions to perform their appropriate role in financing infrastructure development," the declaration read.

Indian finance officials see the BRICS Bank idea primarily as a way of legitimizing the use of Chinese currency overseas. Second, they feel that any BRICS bank would essentially be a Chinese bank, because none of the other countries have the financial depth to fuel such an institution. India wants the global financial architecture to change, but at a much slower pace. South Africa supports the Bank, but Brazil cannot, because it already funds the Latin American development bank.

On the election of the next chief of the World Bank, the five countries did not even attempt to find a consensus candidate that could have been an alternative to the Korean-American chosen by the US.

The G20 received a unanimous thumbs-up as a forum for global financial governance and agreed to coordinate positions at the body. Russian president Medvedev said, "We confirmed all agreements on our cooperation in updating the international currency and financial system. One of the goals here is to renovate the IMF. We analyzed the situation in the world economics and came to an agreement on a further coordination of actions within our organization, including preparation for the next G20 summit."

South African president Jacob Zuma made a spirited call for including the development concerns of sub-Saharan Africa in the BRICS development plans. "We feel that Africa is being treated with respect. There is no feeling that people are looking down on our continent."

--- This article first appeared in the Times of India

Related:          BRICS nations stepping up innovation to improve healthcare: Study

Related:          BRICS: Not bound by ‘unilateral’ sanctions on Iran

Related:          BRICS countries call for World Bank Presidency voting review

Related:          Protests outside Hu Jintao's hotel

Wednesday
Mar282012

In India, Empower the Health-Care Consumer with Knowledge (PERSPECTIVE) 

(PHOTO: `The Prescription' - Health education must be expanded to create awareness of secondary prevention, the working of the health-care system & the importance of health insurance/K. Gopinathan)By Poongothai Aladi Aruna

To enjoy the fruits of economic reforms holistically, it is mandatory for India to focus on health education.

A couple of years ago, two incidents made me realize that the importance of health education - as an invaluable tool, key to preventive and diagnostic health care - is poorly understood. The first was when a group of women instigated by higher officials in their beedi company made a representation to me that they were against the government's idea of a logo with a skull stating “smoking is injurious to health” on the beedi packets they produce, as that would be detrimental to their livelihood.  The second was during the Assembly session when an elected member requested the then transport minister to go easy on government drivers reprimanded for drunken or rash driving.

These two case scenarios are not straightforward livelihood issues but are rather complex with a negative impact on the health, economic, and social well-being of our country. Health education is very often construed to be within the realms of sanitation, hygiene, maternal and childcare, yet even in these areas the impact of health education is incomplete and patchy. In developed countries, health education is a key component of the healthcare system and the budget.

Empowering the health-care consumer with the knowledge to understand the health-care system and to question health-care providers should be the goal of health literacy programs.

(PHOTO: Open sewage is often the main water supply in Africa/HUMNEWS)Inadequate sanitation, sub-optimal reproductive health and prevalence of life-threatening infectious diseases were all global phenomena a few hundred years ago. Industrialization and affluence alone did not contribute to optimal human development indicators in developed nations but intensive social engineering through vigorous health education programs contributed to these positive changes. India with its inherent diversity, paradoxes and its recently acquired economic prosperity, has to battle with communicable, non-communicable illnesses and psychosocial disorders.

A rise in road traffic accidents, illnesses related to alcohol, tobacco consumption and psychosocial disorders are increasingly affecting the most productive age group of our country. The long-term repercussions of these preventable deaths can become a huge burden to the nation's economy. Hence there is an urgent need not to restrict health education to primary prevention but expand it to create awareness of secondary prevention, the working of the health-care system, the importance of health insurance, etc.

For positive behavioral changes

To combat these public health problems with our limited health resources and to obtain maximum gain it is essential to create an innovative health education policy that would lead to intrinsic positive behavioral changes amid our general populace. Health education leads to empowerment and emancipation of health-care consumers resulting in a standardised quality health-care system.

Postgraduate, graduate and diploma courses on health education with adequate job opportunities should be created for health educators. Research suggests that an improvement in health literacy has a positive effect on the nation's economy.  A World Bank report indicates that the economic impact of inadequate sanitation in India in 2006 was Rs.1.7 trillion, and in 2010, Rs.2.4 trillion.

(PHOTO: Interestingemails.com) The Planning Commission of India states that India accounts for 9.5 per cent of the total 1.2 million deaths from road traffic accidents, incurring an annual loss of Rs.550 billion. If just these public health problems alone can result in a loss of several trillion rupees, the amount of both direct and indirect losses to the exchequer will be an unimaginable sum when the remaining diseases are calculated.

Undoubtedly the economic reforms have uplifted millions from poverty, but one major illness, an unexpected death or severe injury from a road traffic accident will push them back to their below the poverty (starting) line. Cost-benefit analysis, cost-effective analysis and cost utility analysis are useful and powerful tools for decision making.

To enjoy the fruits of economic reforms holistically, it is mandatory for India to focus on health education, as the huge savings will enable us to achieve the millennium development goals that would in turn lead to the creation of an effective social security system on a par or even superior to what is there in the developed nations. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “it is health that is real wealth, and not pieces of gold or silver.”

---This opinion editorial originally appeared in The Hindu. The author is a practicing obstetrician and gynecologist in India; and a former Tamil Nadu Minister.

Friday
Mar232012

A New World {Bank} Order? (REPORT)

(Video, The White House)

(HN, March, 23, 2012) - And then there were two.  When US President Obama nominated his World Bank candidate Jim Yong Kim today just hours before the deadline, the choice was a surprise.  

(The World Bank Logo) The deadline for nominations to replace the current president, Robert Zoellick, is 18:00 (6:00P) Washington time (22:00 GMT) tonight.

"I am nominating Dr. Kim to be the next president of the World Bank", said Obama.  "I can think of no one more able to help families, communities, and entire nations break out of poverty, which is the stated goal of the World Bank," he said.

Obama pointed to Dr. Kim's international experience in his statement "He has worked in rural villages and squatter settlements just as he has worked in the halls of power and privilege."

Dr. Kim is a US academic who currently heads Dartmouth College and is by career, a doctor and former director of the HIV/Aids department at the World Health Organization. Dr. Kim also co-founded the health organization `Partners in Health' in 1987 along with Dr. Paul Farmer; and has been lauded on innovation lists from Time to Fast Company.

Paul Farmer, chair of the Department of Global Health at Harvard University, praised the nomination.  "It is time for a development professional to lead the world's leading development agency," he said.

The pick for one of the world's leading development banks could have also gone to another well-known American who openly campaigned for the job, global economist Jeffrey Sachs.

(PHOTO: Dr. Jeffrey Sachs/The Earth Institute) Earth Institute founder, UN advisor, emerging market government consultant Jeffrey Sachs announced his own bid for the World Bank presidency last Fall saying, "The inside process has produced 11 out of 11 politically-orientated appointments.  Not one of them has been a development professional. It has been seven bankers, three defense or military officials, and one congressman."

But following Dr. Kim's nomination, Sachs announced his withdrawal from the race tweeting,   "Jim Kim is a superb nominee for WB. I support him 100%. I thank all who supported me and know they'll be very pleased with today's news".

Sachs had support from several developing countries of the G20 including Costa Rica, Kenya, Haiti, Jordan, Malaysia, East Timor, Bhutan, Guatemala and Chile who openly backed his bid.

Dr. Kim, 52, had not been among the names rumored to be under consideration by President Obama, which included former White House adviser Larry Summers, Pepsi head Indra Nooyi,  UN ambassador Susan Rice, economist Laura Tyson, Senator John Kerry and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"This is one of the most critical institutions fighting poverty and providing assistance to developing countries in the world today," Dr Kim said in a letter to students at his university.

AFRICA'S CHOICE

The nomination has set up a two person race for the Bank's top spot as three African countries - Angola, Nigeria and South Africa have pledged their support to Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, the Nigerian Finance minister and a respected economist, diplomat and former World Bank managing director, as their World Bank choice.

(PHOTO: Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala/The Nation) Of the competition Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala has said: "I consider the World Bank a very important institution for the world, and particularly for developing countries deserving of the best leadership, so I look forward to a contest of very strong candidates.  And am I confident? Absolutely."

It was also believed that Brazil was set to nominate former Colombian finance minister, Jose Antonio Ocampo, but on Thursday, Colombia's current finance minister, Juan Carlos Echeverry, said the country was instead focused on a bid for the presidency of the International Labor Organization which it felt it could win.  Mr. Ocampo had agreed to stand for the World Bank post, but Brazil, needed Colombia's support to proceed.  It is unclear if they will nominate someone else by tonight's deadline.

HOW DOES THE WORLD BANK CHOOSE ITS LEADERS?

A US citizen has led the Bank since it was founded in 1944, but developing nations say it is time for change.  The World Bank presidency is chosen by the organization's board, which has 25 representatives of the Bank's 187 member countries.  Some, like the US and the UK have their own seats, like the UN Security Council. Others are grouped by constituencies.

The goal is to choose a new president by consensus, but a simple majority will do. Votes in the World Bank - and in the IMF too - are weighted by financial contribution.  The US accounts for 16% of the vote; EU countries have 29% and Japan as the next largest voting partner.

The World Bank has 13,000 staff in more than 100 countries, and loan funding is expected to reach $26 billion this year.

G8 ECONOMIC DOMINANCE

In recent years the emerging markets of the world have loudly voiced their opinion that the 'monopoly' of G8 dominance over the world's economic system must be changed to incorporate the fastest growing, largest populations of the world such as Asia, Africa and Latin America into the decision making process.

The United States will now face its first unprecedented challenge to its hold on the World Bank presidency with at least one candidate in opposition; setting up the first contested bid for the top job at the global development lender.

The rise of emerging economies such as China, India, Russia and Brazil has put pressure on the United States and Europe to throw open the selection process for both the Bank and the IMF tho these giants have quietly accepted the situation. Mexico, to its credit as this year’s chair of the G20 did not hesitate to make a bid for the IMF leadership last year.

(PHOTO: Christine Lagarde/Wikipedia) The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were created at the conference at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire in 1944 as a way to standardize trade between nations after the devastation of the Great Depression and World War II.  An unspoken agreement has  traditionally seen a US national head the World Bank and a European run the IMF - currently France's Christine Lagarde.

And it seems the `Geographic Gap' (tm) countries (*HUM research) have support in their arguments for more inclusion.  Recently three former chief economists of the World Bank - Francois Bourguignon, Nicholas Stern and Joseph Stiglitz wrote an editorial saying about the World Bank selection process, "To say it is merit-based, and to choose an American repeatedly, shows scant respect to the citizens of other countries". 

Other critics - from academics to non-governmental organizations - have long argued that the World Bank is ineffectual and even damaging to developing countries because of its emphasis on free market economics. 

The current president, Robert Zoellick, is to step down from his role at the institution when his five-year term comes to an end on 30 June.

(PHOTO: Paul Wolfowitz/Wikipedia) Mr. Zoellick, 58, was nominated for the role in 2007 by then US President George W. Bush, following an employee relationship scandal between then World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz who resigned when it was discovered he had negotiated preferential compensation treatment  for his girlfriend Shaha Riza with the US State Department, shortly after he became bank president in 2005.

The deadline for nominations is 6 p.m. Washington time (2200 GMT). Then the World Bank board of member countries will shortlist the names of two or three candidates and finalize its choice by the time of IMF and World Bank semi-annual meetings on April 21.

--- HUMNEWS, (c) 2012

RELATED:  Kenya, End U.S. Monopoly Over World Bank (Perspective)

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Wednesday
Jan182012

World Bank Report Projects a Difficult Year Ahead (NEWS BRIEF) 

The World Bank cut its global growth forecast in both developed and poorer nations by the most in three years, in its twice-yearly report issued late on Tuesday, saying that a recession in the euro region threatens to exacerbate a slowdown particularly in several major developing countries.

“Europe appears to have entered a recession, and grown in several major developing countries (Brazil, India and to a lesser extent Russia, South Africa and Turkey) has slowed,” the bank said as it updated forecasts made last June.

The world economy  will grow 2.5 percent this year, down from a June estimate of 3.6 percent, the   Washington-based institution said. The euro area may contract 0.3 percent, compared with a previous estimate of a 1.8 percent gain. The U.S. growth outlook was cut to 2.2 percent from 2.9 percent.

“The world is different than it was six months ago”, said Andrew Burns, head of the bank’s global economics team and lead author of the report. “This is going to be a very difficult year.”

Two major reasons for the projected global slowdown are noted in the report: Europe’s debt crisis has worsened and several big developing countries have taken steps to prevent growth from fueling inflation.

Economies in developing countries will continue to out-pace those of wealthier, developed countries, according to the World Bank, but the Bank also lowered its forecasts for growth in these countries to 5.4 per cent in 2012 and 6 per cent in 2013 – this is down from previous estimates of 6.2 per cent and 6.3 per cent respectively.

School Girls in Oecusse, Timor-Leste. Photo: Barbara Ratusznik/World BankThe report also noted that “the downturn in Europe and weaker growth in developing countries raises the risk that the two developments reinforce one another, resulting in an even weaker outcome”. – It also said that while Europe is moving toward long-term solutions to its debt problems, the markets remain skittish.

It also noted the failure so far to resolve high debts and deficits in Japan and the United States and slow growth in other high-income countries, and cautioned those facts could trigger sudden shocks in the global economy.

The 2012 forecast for Japan was cut to 1.9 per cent growth from 2.6 percent in June. China’s growth will slow to 8.4 percent this year, the same as an interim revised projection released in November.

In addition, political tensions in the Middle East and North Africa could disrupt oil supplies and add another blow to global prospects, the World Bank noted of the challenges facing the economy.

“Although contained for the moment, the risk of a broader freezing up of capital markets and a global crisis similar in magnitude to the Lehman crisis in 2008 remains,” the World Bank said.

Should that happen, it said developing countries are more vulnerable than they were in 2008 because they could find themselves facing reduced capital flows and softer trade.

Slower global expansion is already showing through softer trade figures and lower commodity prices, according to the World Bank.

“No country or region will escape the consequences of a serious downturn”, said the World Bank, adding that developing countries must now plan how to soften the impact of a potential crisis.

- HUMNEWS Staff, Agencies

Thursday
Nov032011

Interpol and 13 nations come together to save tigers (REPORT) 

(PHOTO: SustainabilityNinja) at their 80th General Assembly, Interpol the world’s largest international police organization with 190 member countries launched a campaign to help save the world's last wild tigers in the 13 Asian countries where they still exist.  Conservationists praised the move.

"Having a force like Interpol working on this will give the effort a great boost," Mike Baltzer, head of WWF's Tigers Alive Initiative, said Thursday, a day after the campaign was unveiled.

The project, called “Project Predators” will link international wildlife officials with customs and law enforcement officers in the 13 nations to help stem poaching and smuggling of tiger parts for use in expensive traditional medicines.  

The initiative will provide capacity building to law enforcement agencies to combat tiger crimes, strengthen their ability to work with wildlife officials using advanced, intelligence-led methods of investigation and will also encourage countries to establish and resource National Tiger Crime Task Forces.

Poaching and habitat fragmentation have caused Asia's wild tiger population to decline from about 100,000 in 1900 to fewer than 3,500 today, according to Interpol.

Their habitat spans China, Russia, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Tigers do not live in the wild on other continents.  In November 2010, leaders from the 13 countries pledged to double the world's wild tiger population by 2022.

The Interpol project "will reduce trafficking in tiger parts, with the add-on effect of reducing other wildlife crime in Asia," Robert Zoellick, head of the World Bank and founder of the Global Tiger Initiative that will oversee the project, told Interpol delegates in a video address.

The project calls for connecting Asian law enforcement and customs officers with wildlife officials from the U.S., Britain, the World Bank and the Smithsonian Institution.

---HUMNEWS, agencies

Thursday
Feb032011

World food prices at an historic high (Report) 

photo courtesy UN News(HN, February 3, 2011) --  World food prices have surged, for the seventh consecutive month, to a new historic peak in January, according to the updated FAO Food Price Index, a commodity basket that regularly tracks monthly changes in global food prices.

The index averaged 231 points in January and was up 3.4 percent from December – the highest level since the FAO started to measure in 1990 and higher than in June 2008 when the cost of food sparked violent protests in countries including Egypt, Haiti and Cameroon.

“These high prices are likely to persist in the months to come, FAO economist Abdolreza Abbassian said.

The individual group components of the index, apart from meat, all registered rises in January.

The Cereal Price Index averaged 245 points in January reflecting rises in the price of wheat and grain which had already gone up due to poor weather conditions this past year in countries such as Russia and the Ukraine and was driven higher by flooding in Australia, which is a major wheat exporter.

Political unrest

The high price of food seems to have been the spark that has unleashed a series of anti-government demonstrations, protests in several countries in the Middle East, beginning in Tunisia, where a young man set himself on fire after being prevented from selling fruits and vegetables, and spreading to Algeria, Yemen, Jordan and Egypt.

The Middle East and North Africa are the two regions that import the largest amount of cereal and countries in the area have been hit especially hard by the harvest shortages in Russia and the Ukraine this year.

Today the Moldovan government has decided to ban all wheat exports until the next harvest in an effort to prevent a large increase in the price of bread. The Prime Minister stated that the order should have been made earlier to avoid the “panic” that he says has already taken hold of the population.

wheat, file photoChallenges

Surging global food prices are just one of the many challenges that people face throughout the world. Climate change, growing population, and water sources are also affecting the overall food production and availability. As many countries grow increasingly dependent on food imports, they grow more vulnerable to natural disaster and market fluctuations taking place half-way around the world from them.

In India, The Financial Times reported earlier this week that food prices have hit their highest point in more than a year. Food prices are up by at least 18 percent from last year in a country where millions are spending more than 50 percent of their total income on food.

Rises are particularly high for dairy products, up 6.2% from December. Prices were driven higher by a combination of lower supply and increasing demand in emerging economies such as China and India.

The demand for food is expected to continue to grow as a result both of population grown and rising incomes according the FAO. Demand for cereals (for food and animal feed) is projected to reach some 3 billion tons by 2050. Annual cereal production will have to grow by almost a billion tons (2.1 billion tons today), and meat production by over 200 million tons to reach a total of 470 million tons in 2050, 72 percent of which will be consumed in developing countries, up from the 58 percent today.

The production of biofuels could also increase the demand for agricultural commodities, depending on energy prices and government policies.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick has asked global leaders to “put food first” and tackle the problem of price volatility.

“We are going to be facing a broader trend of increasing commodity prices, including food commodity prices”, he said.

Commodities prices have been on the rise generally with copper hitting a record high of $10,000 a ton.

Oil was also up on Thursday with Brent crude rising to $103.37 a barrel.

- HUMNews Staff

Thursday
Jan132011

World Bank Ups Growth Forecast for Sub-Saharan Africa (Report)

(HN, January 13, 2010) - Growth in Sub-Saharan Africa - the world's poorest region - will expand by as much as 5.3 percent in 2011, up from 1.7 percent in 2009, acccording to the World Bank.Tourism remittances are up in many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, boosting economic prospects 

"In Sub-Saharan Africa, if you take out South Africa then we are at average growth rates of above 6 percent, similar growth rates as they achieved during the period before the crisis; overall, a very strong growth picture," said Hans Timmer, Director for the Prospects Group at the World Bank.

The latest Bank forecast for economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa is an increase from 5.1 percent and is connected to the global economy recovery, and improved outlook for oil producers such as Nigeria and Angola.

The biggest risk to the continent's growth is another slump in the global economy as most African countries have “depleted the fiscal space they had created during the pre-crisis period and have not had time to rebuild it,” the Bank said.

Some countries saw a welcome uptick in tourist arrivals - especially South Africa, thanks to the World Cup. However, Cape Verde, Kenya, Mauritius, Seychelles, and Tanzania also experienced an increase in tourism revenue, the Bank said.

Also positive is that remittance flows to Sub-Saharan Africa, which remained nearly flat during the crisis, registered a modest 1 percent gain in 2010 to reach $21 billion, the Bank says.

Remittance flows are important in supporting household consumption in a number of Sub-Saharan African countries, accounting for up to 25 percent of GDP in Lesotho and about 10 percent in Cape Verde, Senegal and Togo.

There are some dark clouds on the horizon for the region - especially climate change, which weighs heavily on the Bank's agenda for Africa.

Africa is facing an annual loss of 1 to 2 percent annual GDP because of climate variability, the Bank said in its latest Annual Report.

"Global temperature increases are expected to lead to reduced rainfall, water shortages, and compressed growing periods in Western and Southern Africa, and to increased rainfall, heavier flooding, and fiercer and more frequent cyclones in Northeast Africa," said the Bank.

An ongoing drought in Niger, Chad and northern Nigeria is ruining harvests and has forced thousands of families to seek emergency food aid for their severely malnourished children.

A mother holds her child at the Intensive Nutritional Rehabilitation Centre, which treats undernourished children in Niger. CREDIT: UnicefToday, UNICEF announced a new 3-million Euro commitment from the European Commission for Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) for emergency food aid for more than 50,000 children in seven drought-hit states in northern Nigeria. The children's agency has reported a spike in admission of severely malnourished children to therapeutic feeding centres in places like Niger. Soaring food prices are partially to blame.

"When prices of staples soar, the poor bear the brunt. Without global action, people in poor countries will be deprived of adequate and nutritious food, with tragic consequences for individuals and for the future prosperity of their countries." World Bank President Robert Zoellick said recently in an opinion piece.

- HUMNEWS staff, World Bank

Saturday
Jan012011

HUMNEWS Person of the Year: Orphan Sephora in Lesotho

(HN, January 1, 2011) - Sephora celebrated New Years Day today the same way she observed it ever since she lost her mother five years ago - cleaning the small house she shares with her grandmother in a remote village in Lesotho.The HIV epidemic in Lesotho has hit children disproportionately hard. CREDIT: HUMNEWS

Sephora is known to aid agencies and statisticians as a "double orphan." She lost both parents to AIDS, giving her unenviable membership in the orphan community in this impoverished southern African country - a neglected group now estimated to number between 270,000 and 400,000.

Like Sephora, almost half of all orphans in Lesotho do not live with either parent. Almost 20 percent of all orphans have lost both biological parents.

Most of the orphans in Lesotho come from families devastated by HIV AIDS. Lesotho has the third highest HIV AIDS rate in the world - with almost 30 percent of the adult population affected - according to the charitable organization Sentebale. It estimates that every day, 100 children in Lesotho are devastated by the death of a parent. With so few orphanages in the country only about one percent have access to institutionalized care.

An 'orphan' is defined by the United Nations as a child who has 'lost one or both parents'. Worldwide, it is estimated that more than 16 million children under 18 have been orphaned by AIDS. Around 14.8 million of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa, according to international HIV and AIDS charity AVERT.

Sadly, Sephora was born into a family with parents belonging to the highest risk groups: her father was a migrant miner in neighbouring South Africa and her mother was among the 40,000 people toiling away in Lesotho's garment factories.

Now at 14, Sephora does not attend school - she hasn't been inside a classroom for many years. Even when she was in school she was forced to repeat classes due to low marks and non-attendance. The stress of living in a troubled household made studying difficult. And even
though primary education in Lesotho is compulsory and free - there were weeks in winter time when Sephora didn't have shoes and stayed home. There were also days when teachers sent her home because she didn't have money for basic stationary items.

Sephora wasn't enrolled in Grade One until she was 10 years old - in fact about half of children I'm Lesotho start Grade One at six years old and above. Each year almost a quarter of all students must repeat classes and drop-out rates are extremely high. Only two percent of boys and eight percent of girls from the lowest wealth quintiles enroll in secondary school, which is not free.

Sephora's younger brother, Oscar, does attend school - one of the reasons is he receives a free meal at lunch paid for by the World Food Program (WFP). On some days, her hungry grandmother goes to the school yard to get a portion of Oscar's lunch. Sadly the school feeding program may be discontinued shortly due to funding shortages.

Sephora says she and her classmates have never touched a computer or surfed the Internet. There is a dire lack of good-quality textbooks and education on how to protect themselves from HIV/Aids and other dangerous diseases. A recent study of southern African countries funded by UNESCO pegged Lesotho's children as having the lowest knowledge of HIV and Aids prevention measures.

Indeed, Sephora had the odds stacked up against her well before she was born. With one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world her chances of either contracting the disease during birth or becoming infected as teenager was extremely high. The district of Leribe, where Sephora lives, has the highest prevalence rate in the country, at 30 percent. By the time she reaches 24, she could be among half of all women at that age that have been infected. And by the time she reaches
18 she will have probably reached middle age: life expectancy in Lesotho is just at around 40 years old.

According to UNICEF: "The nexus of significant levels of poverty, chronic food insecurity and a high prevalence of HIV has dealt a serious blow to child survival, development and protection in Lesotho."

When Sephora's parents were still alive they rarely sought health treatment for themselves or their children. Only 34 percent of poor households live within an hour of the nearest health facility. Even
those who do make it to a clinic are more likely than not to find a lack of medicines, poorly trained health care workers and few doctors. It is still unclear where doctors will be found to staff a multi-million dollar hospital in the capital Maseru.

Lesotho is a small mountainous country of 1.9 million people surrounded by South Africa. With about half of all households living in poverty, it has been mostly sidelined by the economic miracle happening across the border. When the 2010 World Cup was held in South Africa, many of Sephora's relatives were prevented from traveling to their jobs across the border due to a sudden border tightening imposed by the Government of Jacob Zuma.

So for Sephora - and the millions of other Aids orphans on the African continent, today will be just another day. Many will be asking, as they start a new decade, whether change will come quickly enough to bring them back into school before they become adults, to bring them at least one meal a day, and to save them from deadly diseases such as HIV/Aids.

Sephora represents the millions of children like her living with poverty, disease and inequity and is a character composed by HUMNEWS based on official statistics, mostly from the World Bank, and on interviews, other data collected by HUMNEWS and on real children we've met in Lesotho. She is HUMNEWS' person of note for 2010.
To help children in Lesotho such as Sephora, visit Sentebale and Catholic Relief Services (CRS). Both have substantial and well-regarded programmes for children impacted by HIV and Aids.

Lesotho is one of the 116 countries in the geographic gap covered exclusively by HUMNEWS.

Monday
Dec132010

New Hydroelectric Project to Provide Laos With Huge Cash Influx (News Brief)

(HN, December 13, 2010) -- The landlocked Southeast Asian country of Laos - one of the poorest in the world - is celebrating the arrival of a new revenue stream in the form of the Nam Theun 2 hydropower facility.

Operating since April, the controversial 1,070 megawatt plant was officially inaugurated late last week. Over 90% of the electricity generated is being sold to neighbouring Thailand, providing Laos with a $2 billion revenue stream over the next 25 years.Will the fresh income from hydro projects trickle down to this family in Vientiane? CREDIT: Michael Bociurkiw/HUMNEWS

Officials say the funds are earmarked for the nationwide improvement of health and education services, and other poverty alleviation programs.

The influx of revenue could not have come at a better time. Laos, like many other developing countries, has taken a huge economic blow from the global economic downturn: foreign remittances from overseas workers has slumped and so have orders for textile products. Tourists have also been in short supply, despite the hosting of the Asian Games in Vientiane in December 2009. Aid agencies feared that the Communist government may be tempted to institute budget cuts to education and health.

But officials behind the project put forth a positive spin, suggesting it will go a long way in eradicating poverty - especially in the country's backward northern provinces.

"This project is a testament to the fact that when hydropower projects are done right, in a socially and environmentally responsible manner, the benefits are considerable," said Kunio Senga, Director General of the Asian Development Bank's Southeast Asia Department.

Before the Nam Theun 2 - located on a river of the same name, which is a tributary of the Mekong - more than half of the families in the nearby Nakai Plateau villages lived in poverty. Child mortality rates were high, clean drinking water was scarce, and sanitation was almost non-existent.

"Today, the vast majority of residents say they are better off than ever before," said Senga.

The ADB said displaced families have been provided with new hardwood homes complete with electricity, clean water and sanitation facilities.

CREDIT: International RiversThese improvements, coupled with improved healthcare services, have resulted in a measurable decline in child and infant mortality rates, with parasitic infections falling by 90 percent, according to the ADB.

"This is an incredibly complex project, and numerous challenges have arisen along the way," said Senga. "By working closely with communities we strive to address their concerns - from compensation to the need for more land - and to introduce programs tailored to their specific needs. We will continue to closely monitor the situation."

The project has also placed great emphasis on environmental management. Over $60 million has been invested in downstream water quality management, with better than expected results, says the ADB.

However environmental groups still have reservations about the overall benefit of the project.

US-based watchdog International Rivers says there are still questions about the sustainability of livelihoods for the more than 6,000 villagers relocated for the dam, and tens of thousands more downstream.

"It's way too early to call this project a success," Ikuko Matsumoto, Lao programme director for the group was quoted as saying.

Laos is highly dependent on outside assistance. The ADB provided $120 million in support of the $1.43 billion project. Twenty-seven different financing institutions also supported it, including the World Bank, the European Investment Bank, and Agence Francaise du Developpement.

The Nam Theun 2 Power Company is jointly owned by Electricite de France International, Electricity Generating Public Company (Thailand), and the Government of Laos.

The World Bank estimates the project will account for almost 40% of Laos's economic growth this year.

"The idea of the Laotian government is to become the 'battery' of Southeast Asia, because they've got tremendous hydropower potential, so what we're trying to emphasize is, please take the model and the lessons," World Bank President Robert Zoellick said after a visit to the project with The Associated Press in October.

- HUMNEWS staff, ADB, files

Sunday
Nov212010

World leaders seek to save the tiger from extinction (Report) 

Tiger - photo courtesy of WorldWildlifeFund (WWF) (HN, November 21, 2010) An unprecedented 13- state summit that  aims to double the tigers population by the next Year of the Tiger in 2022 begins in Russia today.

Russian prime minister and self-proclaimed animal lover Vladimir Putin opened his native city to the world's first gathering of leaders from nations where the tiger's free rein has been squeezed ever-tighter by poachers.

"This is an unprecedented gathering of world leaders (that aims) to double the number of tigers," Jim Adams, Vice President for the East Asia and Pacific Region at the World Bank, said at the opening ceremony of the four-day event.  

The number of tigers in the wild has dwindled from 100,000 to 3,200 in the past century, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)  The main threats to tigers are the destruction of their habitats in Asia - due to economic and industrial expansion - and poachers.

The wildlife charity warns that the tiger could become extinct within the next 12 years unless urgent action is taken.

Poachers represent a huge threat to the tiger's survival. The use of tiger bones in traditional Chinese medicines is widely known, although the ingredient hasn't been listed in official Chinese manuals for pharmaceuticals since 1993. Tiger is also served in high priced restaurants so that millionaires can eat endangered species to demonstrate their wealth. 

"It's essential to eliminate poaching," said Adams. "Solutions must begin at the local level. Trans-boundary cooperation must be reinforced."

The summit's Russian hosts said that a global initiative on tigers could provide lessons for other joint environmental pursuits.

The tiger summit will provide an example "for other challenges such as global warming," Russian Natural Resources Minister Yury Trutnev told the gathering.

The high-profile summit is due to be attended by Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and delegations from India and Bangladesh -- the three nations with the largest volume of tiger skin and other organ trafficking.

Russia is the only country to have seen its tiger population rise in recent years. It had just 80 to 100 in the 1960s but now has around 500, with experts praising Putin for taking an active role in the cause.

Putin has personally championed the protection of the Amur Tiger in the country's Far East and was hailed by the Russian media for firing a tranquillizer dart at one of the fabled beasts in 2008.

The conference is expected to tackle the burden of funding a 12-year plan that reaches across the 13 nations. It is also believed to be the world's first gathering of leaders to address the fate of a single species.

But consensus on the need to save the tiger has been hampered by a lack of coordination on the ground to stop the trafficking of tiger parts such as paws and bones -- all prized in traditional Asian medicine.

Apart from Russia, 12 other countries host fragile tiger populations -- Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam.

Experts stress that India and China are by far the biggest players in saving the beast.

India is home to half of the world population while the Chinese remain the world's biggest consumers of tiger products despite global bans.

-HUMNEWS Staff

Monday
Sep202010

EXCLUSIVE: Study Finds Massive Failure of HIV AIDS prevention education in Africa

(HN, September 20, 2010) - As a major UN review of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) opens today, a new study has cast doubt on the effectiveness of millions of dollars of donor money pumped into HIV AIDS prevention education in Africa.

Moreover, the study, supported by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), calls for “a comprehensive review and evaluation of all aspects of the delivery of HIV AIDS prevention education programmes in African schools.”

In short, the landmark study of 60,000 Grade Six pupils and their teachers in over 2500 schools in 15 countries, finds that students within most of the countries have “a generally low level of knowledge about HIV AIDS.” Only 20-40 percent of pupils reached the minimal knowledge level and less than 10 percent reached the desirable level.A remote classroom in southern Africa CREDIT: HUMNEWS

The results are nothing short of damning and its authors of the study by the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ) don’t hold back in their criticism.

“These research results should send major shockwaves through those governments, international agencies and development partners that have made substantial investments in HIV AIDS preventative education programmes for Africa.”

The authors point out that Grade Six pupils in Africa tend to be at a very vulnerable age and yet “their knowledge about HIV AIDS is clearly inadequate for the task of guiding their decisions about behaviours that will protect and promote health.

“This is not an acceptable outcome - given the extreme human suffering caused by HIV infection and the massive amount of effort that has been devoted to large-scale HIV AIDS prevention education programmes.”

Major donors for HIV AIDS prevention programmes in Africa include the Irish Government, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the UN and the Fast-track Initiative - which groups such donors as the World Bank, Australia, Canada, the US, UNICEF and the European Community.

Ironically, the study found that Grade Six teachers in Africa have very high knowledge levels about HIV AIDS. Said the study: “Almost all teachers in the SACMEQ countries reached the minimal knowledge level and around 80-90 percent of teachers in most SACMEQ countries reached the desirable knowledge level.”

The authors called for a comprehensive review of the delivery of HIV AIDS education programmes in Africa - and further research into explanations for the yawning knowledge gap.         

“For some reason the knowledge in the teachers’ heads isn’t being transferred to the students,” said a UN official in southern Africa, who cant be identified because he doesn’t have authority to speak.

In some African countries, teaching HIV and AIDS - especially with curriculum containing explicit HIV information - is a tricky proposition, because of conservative beliefs or opposition from the Catholic church. In Lesotho, for example, most schools are church-owned and some education materials need to be signed off by the bishops overseeing them.

Education experts in the region say reaching children as young as possible with credible, preventative education is critical if there is to be a hope of stemming the HIV epidemic in this generation. Children as young as 10 need to be targeted given that the age of sexual debut in many African countries is as low as 12.

In the SACMEQ study, students in Mauritius, Lesotho and Zimbabwe scored the lowest and those in Malawi, Swaziland and Tanzania scored the highest. Yet even in Tanzania, the highest scoring, only 24 percent reached the desirable level.

SACMEQ studies are customarily seen as authoritative because the international, non-profit consortium groups the Ministries of Education in 15 countries in southern and eastern Africa. SACMEQ researchers used a recognized testing tool to probe students’ and teachers’ knowledge. The test has “a high level or reliability...and is suitable for placing pupils and their teachers on a common scale of knowledge about HIV-AIDS.”

According to UNAIDS, there are more than 20 million people living with HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa, and around 10 percent of these people are below 15 years of age.

A UNESCO official who co-authored the study did not respond to email inquiries.

--- Reporting by HUMNEWS staff

Wednesday
Sep152010

South African World Cup Border Policy Turns Lesotho Into "Gaza of Africa"

A river divides some parts of Lesotho with South Africa(HN, September 15, 2010) -- Border controls imposed at South Africa's border posts with Lesotho during the World Cup are causing havoc with the small mountain kingdom's economy.

The situation has deteriorated to the point where one senior government official in Maseru said it has transformed the landlocked nation into "the Gaza of Africa" - equating it to a blockade by South Africa.

Last weekend HUMNEWS visited the main crossing between the two countries at the Maseru Bridge. Pedestrians and car drivers alike were reporting waits of up to 90 minutes Friday. However diplomats and expatriate business people say they have also experienced waits up to four hours to make a crossing that used to take just 5 minutes.

The costly bottleneck started in the run-up to the World Cup in June, when South Africa unilaterally slapped new conditions on Lesotho nationals. The change - reportedly demanded by FIFA amid reports of criminality originating from Lesotho - meant that passports needed to be produced for entry into South Africa instead of just six-month certificates that did not require time-consuming id scans.

During Friday's inspection, HUMNEWS calculated at least a one to two minute processing times per traveller. To make matters worse, the South Africans have only one pedestrian checkpoint in each direction and few vehicle booths.

For the expatriate community and for business people crossing back and forth on day trips, the delays translate into huge delays - and costs. One hotel manager who lives in Ladybrand - a popular border town on the South African side of the border - complained it has turned a commute that had taken just 30 minutes into a multi hour headache.

Commercial and private vehicles compete for space on the narrow border bridgePeople had hoped that the misery would be alleviated when South African President Jacob Zuma visited Lesotho last month on an official state visit. But according to published reports the issue was hardly raised, if at all. The Government of Lesotho has little leverage on its larger, wealthier neighbour as it relies on the latter for most of its food supply. 

It’s not only ordinary people and commuters being inconvenienced. Trucks laden with crucial imports are also stuck in long lines. On Friday the only vehicles that moved quickly were in a heavily guarded armoured vehicle convey carrying diamonds - a crucial export from Lesotho.

The border changes couldn't come at a worse time for Lesotho, one of the poorest nations in the world. The country of 2-million is struggling to deal with the impact of the global economy crisis - which has slowed the flow of foreign remittances and triggered at least 10,000 layoffs in the garment industry. One of Lesotho's main streams of income - revenue from the South African Customs Union - has been dropping, from 35% of GDP in 2009/10 to a meager 14% in 2010/11, according to the World Bank. Since 1990, an estimated 65,000 mining jobs based in South Africa have been lost.

The new controls are also hurting border businesses on the South African side. Lesotho national and expatriates who used to cross on weekend are cutting down on spontaneous cross-border shopping trips.

Diplomats have expressed concern about serious medical cases being tied up at the border due to the new controls. And business owners worry about the knock-on effect it will have on Lesotho's small but important tourism and convention business. There are frequent and convenient daily flights between Maseru and Johannesburg - operated and controlled by South African Airways - but flights tend to be expensive and fill-up quickly.

Expatriate workers say if the border chaos continues for much longer, it could make it harder to attract aid workers and consultants to the small nation. "Being able to crossing on a moment's notice into South Africa on weekends - even if just to walk our dogs - is one of the biggest benefits of working here," said one.

Part of the government's new economic policy is to transform Maseru into a dynamic economic node, integrated with the southern African regional economy. It also wants to link Lesotho small agribusiness into the high end of the South African value chain. But these goals now seem more distant than even with the ongoing border squeeze.

Said the World Bank in a report issued this year: "Inefficient customs procedures and processes on Lesotho's borders with South Africa hamper trade with this important neighbour."

---- Reporting by HUMNEWS in Maseru, Lesotho.