UN And MSF At Odds Over Future of Humanitarian Work

May 10, 2016 –  Medecins Sans Frontiers’ decision last week to withdraw from the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) taking place later this month highlights the tension between aid organizations and the United Nations over the future of humanitarian work.

In a statement, MSF said the summit threatens “to dissolve humanitarian assistance into wider development, peace-building and political agendas.”

The Nobel-prize winning group, which has lost several staff members and had its hospitals bombed over the past year in conflict zones, added that it failed to see how the WHS would address the urgent needs of people living in conflict in Syria, Yemen, South Sudan and other areas of armed violence.

At the heart of the matter is the UN’s desire to promote resilience in doing humanitarian and development work. While MSF say that humanitarian work should be kept separate from development work, the United Nations increasingly sees the two working in tandem.

Those inside the UN advocating for a joint approach point out that countries that emerge from conflict or other complex emergencies do not have a stronger society or systems when the emergency or conflict is over, and very often have a recurrence within five or ten years. For this reason, the UN and the WHS are asking how can countries that have repeated crisis be put on a sustainable path after a crisis.

With this in mind, there is a push to have humanitarian and development actors work in tandem, unlike the traditional sequential approach where aid workers come in and do their work and once they leave development workers come in and try to rebuild the society.

However, because of the core humanitarian principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence, humanitarian actors avoid working with local governments and once they leave the society is no more robust nor does it have a better emergency response system because aid organizations set up their own parallel systems that bypass the local governments, which should be the first line of response.

Another reason for the push towards resilience is that many crises are slow onset and protracted and it’s not necessarily a humanitarian response first and then a development response. Syria is a case in point where the crises is in its sixth year and it is both a humanitarian crisis – tending to the wounded and feeding the hungry – and a development crisis – establishing schools, devising cash for work programs – and it is also a transnational crisis affecting primarily its neighboring countries but also beyond, as in the case of Europe and the debate over refugees.

One can only admire the great work that MSF does around the globe in responding to emergencies and the great sacrifices it has made in doing so, and it it easy to sympathize with their decision not to attend the WHS.

Yet, an opportunity may have been lost in exploring how best to respond to future emergencies with the decision of MSF not to attend, given its status in the humanitarian world. Natural disasters are increasing and new conflicts continue to emerge and escalate at an alarming rate. Dealing with these crises exogenously is not going to work – outsiders going in and then leaving.

Core humanitarian principles – neutrality, independence, impartiality – need to be respected but they do not preclude the recognition and use of local systems. The question is how can local systems be used by respecting impartiality and neutrality and independence. 

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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Proper Handwashing Facilities Still a Rarity in Poorer Countries

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Oct. 15, 2015 –  Diarrheal diseases are one of the leading causes of child deaths globally, responsible for an estimated 2.2. million deaths annually, more than from Malaria, HIV and Aids, and measles combined yet most homes in poorer countries lack handwashing facilities with soap and water.

Proper handwashing is key to reducing diarrheal diseases but according to a joint report from the World Health Organization and UNICEF less than 10 percent of homes in many low-income countries do not have soap and water.

The report, released ahead of World Handwashing Day, which is marked on Oct. 15th, showed that 1 percent of the population in Liberia, 2 percent in Rwanda and 3 percent in Malawi have a facility at home with soap and water.

The report was compiled from household surveys and analyzed results from 54 low and middle-income countries, mostly in Asia and Africa.

In Afghanistan, 39 percent of homes have a facility with soap and water while in Pakistan, the figure is 54 percent.

Of the African countries surveyed, Tunisia, 78 percent, and Namibia, 47 percent, had the highest rates of homes with soap and water facilities.

Other countries with low rates include Haiti, 22 percent, Central African Republic, 14 percent, Uganda, 8 percent and Sierra Leone, 7 percent.

Were the MDGs Successful?

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September 23, 2015 - The Millennium Development Goals expire at the end of this year and will be replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals that will be adopted by UN member states on Friday.

But as advocates have pointed out, particularly those from the least developed countries, the MDG agenda is still unfinished business and will be incorporated into the new, and expanded, global goals that will run until 2030.

Here we take stock of what has been achieved since 2000 when the eight Millennium Development Goals were adopted, and the gaps that remain.

Goal 1 – Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

The number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen from 1.75 billion in 1999 to 836 million in 2015 but about 800 million people still live in extreme poverty and suffer from hunger. Over 160 million children under the age of five have inadequate height for their age due to malnutrition.

Goal 2 – Achieve universal primary education

The number of out-of-school children of primary school age worldwide fell by almost half, to an estimated 57 million in 2015, down from 100 million in 2000. Primary school net enrollment rate in the developing regions has reached 91 percent in 2015 from 83 percent in 2000. Further efforts needed to achieve universal primary education.

Goal 3 – Promote gender equality and empower women

The average proportion of women in parliament has increased from 14 percent to 22 percent since 2000, but remains low in absolute terms. Globally, about three-quarters of working-age men participate in the labor force, compared to only half of working-age women. Women earn 24 percent less than men globally.

Goal 4 – Reduce child mortality

The global under-five mortality rate has declined by more than half, dropping from 90 to 43 deaths per 1,000 live births between 1990 and 2015. More work is needed to improve child survival rates. Every minute around the world, 11 children die before their fifth birthday, mostly from preventable causes.

Goal 5 – Improve maternal health

The global maternal mortality ratio has fallen from 330 to 210 deaths per 100,000 live births between 2000 and 2013. Only half of pregnant women receive the recommended amount of antenatal care.

Goal 6 – Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

New HIV infections fell by 40 percent between 2000 and 2013, from an estimated 3.5 million cases to 2.1 million. In sub-Saharan Africa, still less than 40 percent of youth aged 15 to 24 years had correct knowledge of HIV transmission in 2014. Over 6.2 million malaria deaths have been averted between 2000 and 2015

Goal 7 – Ensure environmental sustainability

Between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of the global population using an improved sanitation facility has risen from 54 percent to 68 percent, and those using an improved drinking water source increased from 76 percent to 91 percent. Globally, 147 countries have met the MDG drinking water target, 95 countries have met the MDG sanitation target and 77 countries have met both. Emissions of carbon dioxide rose from 23.8 to 33.0 billion metric tons from 2000 to 2012.

Goal 8 –  Develop a global partnership for development

Official development assistance from developed countries rose 66 percent in real terms between 2000 and 2014, to USD 135.2bn. Funding will remain a critical factor for the post-2015 development agenda.

Related Story: Understanding the Sustainable Development Goals – Five Key Questions

Understanding the Sustainable Development Goals: Five Key Questions

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Aug. 31, 2015 – Heads of state will gather at the United Nations from Sept. 25-27 to adopt a new set of development goals to replace the MDGs which expire at the end of the year.

The new set of goals go beyond the poverty reduction, hunger and infectious diseases focus of the MDGs and include goals on climate, peace and non-communicable diseases. They are also universal – unlike the MDGs, which focused only on developing countries.

UN Tribune asked three experts to respond to five key questions about the future goals.

Martin Edwards is an associate professor and director of the Center for United Nations and Global Governance Studies at Seton Hall University @MartinSEdwards

Shannon Kindornay is an adjunct research professor at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University @SKindornay

Angel Hsu is an assistant professor and director of the Data-driven Environmental Group at Yale University @ecoangelhsu

1) What are the main positives in the 17 proposed Sustainable Development Goals?

Martin Edwards: One of the strengths of the goals is their comprehensiveness. They’re no longer just about the developing world – as many of the concerns in them – education, health, conservation, and rule of law, are shared across the globe. The authors of the SDGs realized that we can’t combat poverty globally without making states stronger and reducing the likelihood of civil wars, and thus a new focus in goal 16 on building effective and accountable institutions.

Shannon Kindornay: The goals represent an integrated vision for sustainable development taking into consideration the three pillars (economy, society and environment) as well as peace and partnership. Given the historic separation of the development and environment communities, this is an important gain – not just in terms of the types of goals included for each are, but the integration of elements of the three pillars within goal areas.

The goals are also the product of inter-governmental negotiations with inputs from citizens, civil society, academia, private sector, local and regional govt, etc. They form an important consensus going forward, even if detractors argue they are not ‘neat enough’ and there are ‘too many.’ Sustainable development is complex. The world we live in is complex. The goals go a long way towards reflecting this reality.

Angel Hsu: The SDGs will set the development agenda for the next few decades, so there is a real opportunity to shape global political agendas. Although there are critics that may gripe that some issues were left out of the goals, it was a Herculean task to narrow the list of SDGs from thousands of proposals to the eventual 17 goals. The UNCSD can be lauded for attempting to make the process of determining the SDGs inclusive, through multiple campaigns (ie myWorld) to allow for people to register which issues are most important to them. In terms of environment, which is the area I study most closely in relation to the SDGs, I was happy to see cross-cutting indicators and goals (ie, a goal for cities, which are becoming increasingly important units of environmental policy) included.

2) What are the main omissions in the 17 proposed SDGs?

ME: With this many goals, targets, and indicators, it’s really hard to make the claim that we’ve missed something important. Some issues, like the status of the global LGBT community, are important, but sadly politically tricky, and this never became a goal in its own right.

The bigger challenges that we’re going to face are dealing with trade-offs between the goals. I worry about promising action on climate while promising sustained economic growth and full employment while increasing access to energy all at the same time. We might not be able to get everything here, so our attempts to advance some goals might come at the expense of others. This might be a difficult concept for the public to grasp.

SK: Certainly one of the critiques of Transforming our World is around the use of rights language and international human rights frameworks. The SDGs (and their follow-up and review) could have been strengthened by explicit reference to international human rights law though this was likely impossible from the outset given the preferences of any number of states.

AH: What I along with others have been saying is that 17 goals, 169 proposed indicators are too many. The same process that aimed to be inclusive may ultimately thwart their success. 17 goals and 169 indicators are too many issues for policymakers to track. It is also unclear how many governments will be able to sufficiently monitor and track progress towards the SDGs. Even though the UN called for a “data revolution” to aid in future SDG monitoring, so far the proposals put forth are not revolutionary. They speak to the need to build statistical capacity in national governments instead of looking to the potential for big data, the private sector, and citizens to help source needed data (see my Nature commentary).

Many also criticize SDG goal 13 on climate for lacking specificity and clear indicators, instead pegging the SDG goal to the UNFCCC and upcoming Paris talks. But it’s a larger reflection of the global community and countries’ inability to agree on specific targets and indicators. Returning to the measurement question, on which I work most closely, there are serious concerns about the ability of governments to actually measure many of the goals concerning social equity, inclusivity, etc.

3) Are the goals and targets specific enough? Are they universal enough?

ME: We learned one thing from the MDG experience: measurement matters. So the conversations about moving to specific indicators is still underway (and will be until next year) and this is not necessarily a bad thing. But, this having been said: universality is a problem. A review of the proposed indicators in March of this year found that only 16% of them met the “gold standard” of being feasible, suitable, and relevant. The barrier here is not finding measures. The barrier is about capacity to ensure that national statistical offices survey what we need. With the advent of the goals requires many developing countries to put new efforts into improving their statistical offices so that they can actually measure at a disaggregated level what we need to know.

SK: The goals are likely fine. The targets would have benefitted greatly from technical proofing (to make them SMART so to speak) and this is a missed opportunity – though again, I understand the politics of why they were not opened up (states did not want to risk agreement from the OWG, particularly that a target they support might be removed for technical reasons).

On the universality side, in my opinion the goals are certainly universal. As a vision for the world we want to see and an framework for measuring global progress, the targets are again fine (notwithstanding comments above). But, do all targets make sense in all countries and should we worry about monitoring them in all countries? I am not convinced of this. As I argued in a paper with Sarah Twigg, I believe we need a differentiated approach to how the targets are applied, and correspondingly, who measures them to support global monitoring.

The big question still out there, in my opinion, is how all of this will be adapted to country context. We know states will be encouraged to identify national level targets. How this is done, whether room exists to go beyond identifying the level of national ambition on global targets to include more specialized targets at the country level – that remains to be seen.

AHI’ve spoken a lot about the goals and targets – I think they are meant as a starting point but they obviously represent political compromise. Same goes for the universality question – the SDGs are meant to be universal in the way MDGs were primarily aimed at developing countries. But developing countries say that they need financing to implement them, so I think there could be a real challenge in implementation because the previous model of having developed countries finance the MDG implementation and measurement may not work for the SDGs. In looking at the UNFCCC negotiations, the issue of finance and payment for loss and damages is one of the most intractable issues.

4) How should the implementation of the SDGs be measured?

ME: It’s going to be measured at the national, regional, and global levels, which is certainly fine. While we might have issues with the specifics, this is a strong improvement over the MDGs. The global level will be led by the soon to be formed High Level Political Forum, and the regional level will incorporate peer review.

It’s the national level that we need to pay the most attention to, though. If countries don’t publicly assess their progress in meeting the goals, civil society will have a hard time pressuring governments. Civil society is the glue between the goals and their successful implementation.

SK: Implementation will need to be measured in a number of ways  – global and national progress understood in terms of broad macro level trends (will use official statistics in all likelihood with few exceptions) but also making use of real-time information and unofficial data sources to inform day-to-day decision making, interventions, etc. Citizen generated data for example, has the potential to improve accountabilities at local to national levels, as well as feed into global follow-up processes. The devil will be figuring out how to best use these different sources of information and for what purpose, particularly at country level.

AH: I’ve written about the measurement question before, see here and here.

5) How should the SDGs be financed?

ME: This is a challenge. The Addis Summit was to be all about financing the SDGs, but the Eurozone economic crisis coupled with political dysfunction in the US has reduced the generosity of the OECD countries. In its place, there was a greater impetus on domestic revenue generation – meaning tax increases. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – some developing countries are at a stage where moving from excise taxes to income taxes makes sense, but there is a danger that developing countries might find it harder to spend the money they need to make the SDGs work.

The SDGs will be financed differently across countries. HICs and many MICs will use domestic public finance. LDCs and other states with limited capacity will rely more greatly on external public finance. Obviously private investment is also important, however I think we need to be smart about our expectations and our approach. We need to worry about the quality of private finance as much as the quantity, and where it goes to whose benefit.

SK: Perhaps more importantly than above, is how we address systemic issues that limit resources available to finance the SDGs and how we support the capacity of developing countries to raise their own domestic resources. Advancements on trade, taxation and illicit capital flight would greatly expand resources available for development. Concrete commitments and support to domestic resource mobilization and institutional strengthening in developing countries would help increase capacities to raise and use domestic resources – which should be our end game as far as the financing discussion is concerned.

- Denis Fitzgerald @denisfitz

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Understanding Resilience – An Interview with the UNDP’s Samuel Doe

Peace and Stability Post-2015

Understanding Resilience – An Interview with the UNDP’s Samuel Doe

 Samuel Doe is the UNDP policy adviser for crisis, fragility and resilience (photo: Josh Styer/EMU)


Samuel Doe is the UNDP policy adviser for crisis, fragility and resilience (photo: Josh Styer/EMU)

July 10, 2015 – When Samuel Doe was growing up during Liberia’s 1990s civil-war he recalls aid workers distributing wheat to feed the hungry.

“Liberians never ate wheat. We had to learn to eat wheat,” he says. “It wasn’t our decision.” He also remembers mothers queuing up to receive cooked porridge to feed their babies and aid workers insisting on feeding the babies themselves. “They did not trust the mothers would feed their babies.”

“That sort of indignity is becoming less and less now,” says Doe, who is the UN Development Program’s policy adviser on resilience, an often-used and misunderstood term that is transforming the way aid and development work.

At a fundamental level, “resilience is about harnessing agency, the intentional action of human beings and believing that human beings can make dignified decisions that over time strengthen their independence, strengthen their interdependence and their self-reliance,” Doe explains.

But how does that translate on the ground for the UN and international NGO’s doing aid and development work and what were the reasons behind the shift to a resilience approach?

There are four broad reasons, Doe says.

The first is a realization that, with a lot of complex emergencies, once the response and recovery phase is over, these countries do not have a stronger society and stronger systems.

“We find them repeatedly again and again falling back onto those conditions of fragility that have been exacerbated by the crisis. Countries that have gone through war and have recurrence in 2-3, maybe 5-10 years,” Doe says. “Countries that have repeated disasters have been depleted of human resources and social capital. That is one of the reasons why people begin to ask how can we make the humanitarian response and recovery processes put countries on a path that is sustainable after a disaster.”

“The second reason behind the motivation, the push to resilience, is that prior to this thinking we have always thought in the international system that there is a sequential approach, a sequential relationship between humanitarian response and development. So there is a crisis, the first line actors are humanitarians, they do their bit then they get out and then we come in and then development people pick up the pieces. But, increasingly, depending on the quality of work that humanitarians do, they are likely inadvertently to make the development space more difficult.”

“For example in many humanitarian responses there is a tendency to develop parallel systems: we can’t work with the governments so we will establish our own coordination system, which brought about the cluster system. We will set up our own accountability system. The funding mechanism will go directly to the implementing organizations that we will work with. So government being the primary actor to responding to disaster is often left out in these emergency response.”

“Parallel systems that are developed in a crisis context that then overcrowd the local government systems over time make them almost inoperable to assume responsibility once the response is over. Many governments are saying increasingly that unless we use the country systems in preparing and responding to disasters it will be difficult for these countries to develop much more robust systems against future disasters.”

The third reason is that emergencies are increasingly slow-onset, says Doe, and aid and development work is happening at the same time.

“Take the case of Syria, the case of the Horn of Africa, or the case of the Sahel. There is no relief and then development. There is relief and then development constantly interacting because it’s a slow-onset crisis, it’s a protracted crisis. This illusion that humanitarians will do their bit, they will get out and then we’ll come in does not work. Therefore we have to cultivate a new way of working that allows development actors and humanitarian actors to work in the same space at the same time but that then puts a lot of pressure on the humanitarians who say well ‘we need the core humanitarian principles to still be respected,’ principles of neutrality, independence, impartiality. These need to be respected but they do not preclude the recognition and use of local systems. So how can local systems be used by respecting impartiality and neutrality and independence. This is the discourse we are pushing.”

The fourth reason is that the architecture of the development and humanitarian communities reflects the financial architecture of the donor communities so there are donors that fund only humanitarian work and donors that only fund development work. “There is no bridge conceptually or operationally for humanitarians to tap into development funds and vice versa,” Doe says.

But slowly UN appeals are being reconfigured to move away from short-term appeals, months or up to one year, to multi-year appeals that address both the humanitarian emergency and the underlying development issues.

So how will a resilience approach be implemented and what lessons have been learned from the past?

“Society should have the capacity to predict risk and if possible prevent risk using development, prevent the threat factors that are preventable,” says Doe. “So say, for example, we look at the Ebola crisis in West Africa, we’re saying the recovery plan should emphasize the resilience of the countries because when the crisis happened, it only took three months for Ebola to destroy the institutions the international community had invested billions into in Liberia and Sierra Leone. It took just three months for the economy to go into free fall, for the health systems to collapse completely. The highest donor support in Liberia was to the health sector. The system that we put the most money into was the system that collapsed in three months. What gave way to that?”

“Prior to Ebola, Liberia had literally 51 doctors for 4.5 million people. More than two-thirds of those doctors were concentrated in Monrovia, Although we’re investing in building the infrastructure of the health system, we’re building the clinics, but the Liberian medical school was producing less than 20 doctors every year. It’s appalling that the doctors being produced weren’t equipped to deal with very basic supply chain management, access of rural clinics to supplies, roads that were inaccessible. Even basic gloves were not in villages and clinics. So the way we invested in the health system focused a lot on payment of salaries, focused a lot on building the infrastructure but the human capital that is necessary to sustain those systems was less invested in. So our investment was sort of skewered to different priorities.”

A major push behind resilience thinking is strengthening local governments as they are the front-line responders to a crisis.

“If we do risk sensitive development we need to emphasize local government systems, emphasize working with local governments, making sure local governments and administrative bodies are strong, that local governments have their own preparedness capacity in place,” Doe says. “That there is a strong, fluid, very active supply line, a communication line that runs across local and central governments. We’ve  seen that in the Ebola crisis, we’ve seen that in other crisis: when the local systems are functioning, when the local communities are actively engaging the systems, the response capacity is fast and is effective.”

The resilience approach is now being used for the Syrian crisis and Doe explains the thinking that lead to this.

“There was tension between humanitarians and the development people. At some point the humanitarians said this is a humanitarian crisis, we want to focus on humanitarian issues. we do not want the development actors to confuse this, but over time we all realized that this crisis is going on years and it’s transnational. Turkey is affected, Jordan is affected, Lebanon is affected. They all have refugees. The refugees are not all in camps, they’re in homes, some are working. So you can’t use the way we do humanitarian response in that setting.”

“In Lebanon for example you have two shifts of schools, morning and in the afternoon, so maybe you have to increase the salaries of teachers. Paying that cannot come through a humanitarian fund, it goes through the government. That is the kind of thing that is happening. Strengthening systems of governments so that they deliver on a humanitarian crisis. Rather than strengthening humanitarian systems so that they deliver only humanitarian aid. So that is the distinction that is being made in the Syrian situation.”

Prepaid cards distributed to Syrian refugees in Jordan.

Prepaid cards distributed to Syrian refugees in Jordan.

Another example Doe gave is the credit card system used in Jordan where Syrian refugees are given prepaid cards instead of aid workers determining what goods and services the refugees need, the refugees decide for themselves.

“They have credit cards now, they can go to a bank, use their credit card and get their funds for their own welfare. That’s an example of choice, of empowerment. So giving them choice giving them the freedom of choice is an important outcome or characteristic of building resilience. It’s dignity,” says Doe, who was instrumental in designing the 3RP plan for Syria.

Although resilience has been a buzzword for the past few years, it is only now that it is being codified. The United Nations is about to release its UN System Principles on Building Resilience, a document two years in the making that involved not just the UN’s humanitarian and development arms but also international NGO’s working on the ground.

“It’s an amazing process, just to have a blueprint, something that is codified,” Doe says. Now the hard work starts. “Multi-year appeals, getting donors to  change their way of thinking, trying to really get governments thinking too that this is about ownership: this is your crisis. Working together more coherently getting coordination systems way ahead of time, making sure we have preparedness -  we spend billions of dollars on response but less than one percent on readiness of countries, changing that paradigm, making sure we spend a bit more money on getting people ready. Are these schools ready, are they producing the right human capital?”

Doe also says a more integrated early warning system, not just for food and conflict, but also pathogens is needed. He said there’s currently a push to get the EU to develop its own Center for Disease Control so that it too can provide global disease surveillance.

The stark reason why the UN is changing the way aid and development is done is simply because natural disasters are increasing and new conflicts continue to emerge and escalate at an alarming rate. This underlies the resilience approach.

“We will not be able to deal with all of these exogenously, just from outsiders going in,” Doe says. “That’s not going to work.”

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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Post-2015 Must Address Plight of Poor Urban Mothers and their Children

Child in slum in Kampala, Uganda next to open sewage -  Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Child in slum in Kampala, Uganda next to open sewage – Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

May 8, 2015 – Save the Children says UN member states must make a commitment to tackling inequality in the post-2015 development agenda and in particular the disparities in urban settings where the poorest kids are twice as likely to die before their fifth birthday as the richest.

The organization’s annual State of the World’s Mothers report examined child death rates in cities. And from Delhi to Washington DC, the data showed that the poorest lack access to pre-natal care, skilled birth attendance and proper nutrition resulting in “alarmingly high risks of death,” according to the report released this week.

“We specifically looked at the urban inequities because more and more families are going to cities to have a better life for their families,” Save the Children CEO Carolyn Miles told UN Tribune. But the poor are often confined to slums without access to proper sanitation and clean water supply.

“It really is about inequity and for us it’s about how do you reach those poorest children and more and more of those children are in urban slums,” Miles said.

The report says the post-2015 agenda must set specific targets for improving the wellbeing of urban mothers and children. While generally there has been good progress in reducing child and maternal mortality globally, this is not the case for the urban poor.

Specifically, Save the Children says the post-2015 framework should:

Ensure that all mothers, newborns and children have access to quality essential health services and other basic resources no matter where they live, how wealthy they are, or on the basis of their ethnic identity.

Include an explicit commitment that no target will be considered to have been met unless it has been met for all social and economic groups. This means that the proposed targets for child and newborn mortality should be achieved by all sectors of society within a country, not just at the national level.

Asked what low-cost high-impact interventions work best for tackling hight rates of child mortality in urban settings, Miles explained the work her organization does in community healthcare.

“A big part of what we do in urban settings are these community healthcare programs. They are local people – they could be women or men – who live in those communities and we train them on basic healthcare and we train them on working with mothers during pregnancy and making sure they’re eating the right things as much as possible, they’re going to the clinics for regular checkups, they have a plan for when they give birth for where they’re going to go – they’re not going to have their baby at home – they’re actually going to go to a hospital,” Miles explained.

“Those community health workers are really important and they look after that baby in that first really critical month for newborns,” she added. “You can implement that program for not a lot of money and you can do it in large numbers in urban slums, it’s very effective.”

Besides economic inequities, there are gender inequalities too with more girls than boys dying in their first five years. This is often a result of the prioritizing of boys over girls when it comes to health and nutrition, Miles said.

There are also more poorer women than men living in urban areas due to a number of factors including employment and wage discrimination and an increase in lone-mother households.

It is no surprise then that the report found that countries that come tops for gender equality – the Nordic states – are also the best places to be a mother while countries that rank low on gender equality indexes are at the bottom.

Top Five Countries
1 Norway
2 Finland
3 Iceland
4 Denmark
5 Sweden

Bottom Five Countries
175 Niger
176 Mali
177 Central African Republic
178 Democratic Republic of the Congo
179 Somalia

Source: Save the Children 2015 Mothers’ Index  Rankings

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

ODA from Major Economies Stable at $135 Billion

oda figures 2014
April 8, 2015 – Aid from the 29 members of the OECD’s Development Assistant Committee totaled $135 billion in 2014, on par with the previous year which set a record for overseas development assistance.

The members of DAC, which consist of most EU countries as well as Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Switzerland and the United States, gave the bulk of the assistance to sub-Saharan African countries ($39 billion) followed by South and Central Asia ($23 billion), and Far and East Asia ($12 billion).

Aid to the Middle East, where the conflict in Syria has left 12 million people in need, totaled $11.7 billion in 2014.

The top DAC donors last year were the United States, $32 billion, United Kingdom, $19 billion, Germany, $16 billion, France, $10 billion, and Japan, $9 billion.

Five of the countries exceeded the 0.7 percent of GDP UN target for ODA: Sweden, 1.1 percent; Luxembourg, 1.07 percent; Norway, 0.99 percent, Denmark, 0.85 percent and the UK, 0.71 percent. (see charts)

G7 countries contributed a total of 0.27 percent of their GDP with Japan and the United States both contributing 0.19 percent of their GDP to ODA. Non-G7 countries contributed 0.37 percent of their GDP to ODA.

The OECD report showed that aid to the world’s least developed countries dropped 16 percent this year to $25 billion.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

US Senators Urge Funding for UNFPA as Republicans Hold Purse Strings

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Feb. 6, 2015 – A group of US senators is urging President Obama to continue funding the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) as the threat of Republican-controlled legislatures pulling funds for the agency looms.

The Republican Party won significant gains in the house and senate in the midterm elections and US funding for UN climate and population programs are under threat. Under President George W. Bush, the US withheld funds for the UNFPA claiming in part that the agency supported Chinese government programs which include forced abortions and coercive sterilizations.

The 22 senators, including Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein and Kirsten Gillibrand, in a Jan. 27 letter, wrote that “U.S. funding for UNFPA supports a range of global activities including the provision of voluntary family planning information, education and services, training and deployment of skilled birth attendants and midwives, and work to help end the harmful practices of female genital mutilation and child marriage.”

We are disappointed that despite UNFPA’s critical work around the world, a number of misperceptions about the organization persist,” the letter added.

On its website, the UNFPA says it “does not promote abortion as a family planning method.”

The US has contributed some $30 million annually to the agency under the Obama administration. From 2001-2008, a total of $244 million in Congressionally approved funding was blocked by the Executive Branch.

The UNFPA receives some $450 million yearly with Sweden ($66M), Norway ($59M), the Netherlands ($49M) and Denmark ($44M) the top donors.

Since the Helms amendment to the foreign aid package in 1973, US foreign aid is prohibited from being used to pay for abortion as a method of family planning “or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.”

The senators conclude their letter by saying, “support for UNFPA is cost-effective, saves lives and supports our broader diplomatic, development and national security priorities.”

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Ethiopia Among Countries to Meet MDG Hunger Target

A fruit and vegetable market in Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. (credit: wikimedia)

Dec. 1, 2014 – Fifteen developing countries in 2014 have met the MDG 1 hunger goal of reducing by half the number of undernourished people from 1990 levels.

Ethiopia, the 13th most populous nation in the world and Africa’s second most populous behind Nigeria, is among the 15 to reach the target this year. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization said on Sunday that the prevalence of undernourishment in the country has decreased from 74.8 percent in 1990-92, to 35 percent in 2012-14.

But there are still some 33 million Ethiopians without enough food each day, almost one-third of the country’s 96 million people.

Brazil, Cameroon, Iran and Mexico were also among the fifteen countries this year to meet the hunger goal. The prevalence of undernourishment in these countries was much lower than in Ethiopia with Brazil reducing hunger from 14.8 percent of its population in 1990-92, to 1.7 percent in 2012-14, while the number of hungry in Cameroon declined to 2.3 million people compared with 4.7 million in 1990.

Globally, there are some 805 million people who do not have enough food to eat each day. In China, which met the hunger goal in June this year, 10.6 percent of the population are undernourished while in India, which has not yet met the target, 15.2 percent of people are undernourished. Combined, these two countries account for 340 million of the world’s undernourished people, 40 percent of the overall total.

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Hunger is the biggest public health threat globally, according to the World Health Organization and is a contributory factor in the death of 3.1 million children under five every year.

While progress is being made in the fight against hunger, conflict is driving food insecurity in a number of places including Yemen, Sudan, South Sudan, Iraq, Gaza and Syria. On Monday, the World Food Program announced it was suspending a food aid scheme for 1.7 million Syrian refugees due to a lack of funding. The agency said it needs $64 million in December to resume its voucher scheme in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.

The Millennium Development Goals are set to expire in December 2015 and will be replaced by a new set of post-2015 goals.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Republicans Likely to Nix Funding for UN Climate Agencies After Midterms

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Nov. 4, 2014 – The $12 million that the United States Senate has allocated to UN climate agencies is expected to be among the first casualties if Republican take control of the chamber following Tuesday’s midterm elections.

The current Senate bill on funding for state and foreign operations includes $11,700,000 for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Control (IPCC) and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). The bill was approved by a current Democrat-controlled sub-committee in June but has yet to be put to a full vote.

However, the House version of the bill passed by a Republican-controlled sub-committee, also in June, states that “none of the funds in this Act may be made available for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change/United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.”

While the sum involved is miniscule compared to the overall $48 billion budget approved by both sub-committees, it represents a combined one-third of the $7 million IPCC and $26 million UNFCC budgets.

The pulling of this funding will be a big blow to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon ahead of next year’s climate talks in Paris. Ban has made climate change his signature issue and is hoping that a global pact can be agreed before he steps down in 2016.

A Republican-controlled Senate will also scupper what slim chances there already were that the US would ratify the Arms Trade Treaty and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

Funding for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) will also likely get nixed by a Republican-controlled Senate. The House bill denies any funding to the agency while the Senate version allocates $37.5 million to the UNFPA – the agency which promotes family planning and reproductive health. Under President George W. Bush, all funding for the agency was withheld. President Obama restored this funding after his election.

UNRWA, the agency that supports Palestinian refugees, could also see its funds cut under a Republican Senate. The US is the largest single donor to the agency.

In a further blow to the US relationship with the UN, under a Republican-controlled Senate, Rand Paul, who last year proposed an amendment calling for the US to stop providing funds to the United Nations, would take over as chair of the subcommittee responsible for oversight of the United States participation in the United Nations system.

Among the new batch of Republican senators is Joni Ernst from Iowa who has stated that the UN wants to take Iowan farmers off their land and move them into cities.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz