Archive for the ‘UN’ Category

Talk the talk – but not walk the walk

1 December, 2008

That’s the way Larry Elliott in The Guardian sums up the donors lack of urgency in meeting the MDGs. Commenting on the just released UNESCO Education for All report, he writes:

“… donor countries can talk the talk but not walk the walk. According to the Unesco study, the aid required for even the most basic primary education provision in poor countries is US$11 bn (£7.2bn) a year. In 2006, spending amounted to around $4bn, leaving a funding gap of $7bn. To put that figure into context, it is around 10% of what Britain spent this autumn recapitalising the banking system”.

Maybe they will walk the walk at the UN Financing for Development summit now underway in Doha. But I wouldn’t hold your breath. “When financial systems fail, the consequences are highly visible and governments act,” concluded UNESCO’s Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura. He added “When education systems fail the consequences are less visible, but no less real”.

I would add that education is the only investment you can be sure of getting at least some return on – provided it’s of good quality and children complete a minimum of 4 years primary education. Well-educated people earn more in the labour market, and find it easier to absorb new technologies and methods when they run micro-enterprises and farms. Education is a means to break the inter-generational transmission of chronic poverty (see this CPRC study for Bangladesh).

And even if it didn’t raise income much – which might be the case in economies that are growing only slowly – it certainly improves health status, especially of children, when mothers are educated. Educated mothers are 50% more likely to immunize their children than mothers with no schooling (go here). Gender inequality in education has high costs for both the family and society (see this IFPRI study).

So the chronic underfunding of education reminds me of that old quotation: if you think education is expensive, try ignorance.


Global Finance – Doha: What Chance of Success?

1 December, 2008

World economic turmoil sets the scene for the UN Conference on Financing for Development in Doha (29 November to 2 December), the most important conference on this topic since the UN’s conference in Monterrey back in 2002. Go here for UN updates.

The last quarter of 2008 has seen a lot of talk-talk on development finance. The long-awaited High Level Forum on aid effectiveness was held in Accra in September as well as the UN’s high level event on the MDGs in New York. Calling an event ‘high-level’ lets the international community claim that progress has been made – just by getting senior people together in one place.

What will Doha bring? Can it make headway against the very strong currents now running through the global financial system? Will rich country donors be able to afford aid? On this and other issues see my WIDER Angle article with George Mavrotas – Development Finance: New Opportunities for Doha. We explore the topic further in our new UNU-WIDER book Development Finance in the Global Economy: The Road Ahead (Palgrave).

Carbon Taxes Will Need to be Higher to Pay for Development

25 September, 2008

Jeff Sachs and Bono are blogging on the FT web site during this week’s MDG summit in New York (go here). Today, Jeff reports that some bold and creative proposals are coming from the EU, Mexico and Norway, among others. Carbon taxation is to the fore, in particular.

“According to the Swiss Government’s proposal, a $2 per ton levy on carbon dioxide would raise around $48bn per year, money that could play a critical role in helping impoverished countries to meet the Millennium Development Goals and to adapt to climate change. I believe that we’ll be hearing a lot more about carbon levies in the months ahead, as a practical approach to climate change control and development finance”.

Back in 2003, we took a thorough look at innovative sources of finance in a UNU-WIDER project led by Tony Atkinson of Nuffied College, Oxford (go here). The study concluded that many of the proposals were feasible, including carbon taxes. I chipped in with a proposal for a global premium bond to fund chronic poverty reduction – based on the successful UK premium bond scheme (Addison and Chowdhury paper here).

Amongst all the innovative finance proposals, carbon taxes get the most support among economists (more than the popular Tobin  tax: although that may be boosted by the present financial malaise). They not only reduce carbon emissions (a global bad) but also, as Jeff Sachs says, they generate a flow of revenues to finance a step-up in official development assistance (both multilateral and bilateral) as well as global funds to deal with the urgent challenges of climate change, conflict, and HIV/AIDs (to name but three).

All of these problems just get worse without early action: notably climate change, since a stock of carbon is already in the atmosphere, warming the earth — which we will have to adapt to — even as we attempt to reduce the flow of carbon from new emissions. But this is true of conflict and viruses too: war generates more war (notably in the Congo where violence is still endemic after the supposed ‘peace deal’) and viruses mutate to become deadlier (notably unchecked TB).

Given the high returns to taking action now on these global bads, it would be worth accepting a much higher levy on carbon than the Swiss proposal. This would send a clear signal to the market, encouraging a faster rate of invention and adoption of clean technologies. And the additional funds could be spent on peace-keeping and more research for the diseases of the poor world.

But I worry that the US is way behind Europe in all of this, California perhaps excepted. Dealing with the present financial crisis is vital, but it is also a huge distraction from the larger issues such as climate change. And the present administration has been adamant in its opposition to global taxes. Does anybody detect much of a shift in the US position, the occasional piece of rhetoric aside?

The author is executive director of the Brooks World Poverty Institute, University of Manchester.

A Ribbon for Safe Motherhood

22 September, 2008

Every minute another woman dies during childbirth – or soon after from easily preventable causes. Many die before childbirth, in pregnancy. Death takes mothers, daughters, and wives from their communities, leaving widowers and orphans.

Today in Manchester I heard Sarah Brown and Brigid McConville speak movingly of their work with the White Ribbon Alliance for safe motherhood. WRA is an international alliance with members in 91 countries and National Alliances established in 11 – ranging from Burkina Faso to Bangladesh to Zambia. It is taking the campaign to New York this week for the UN Millennium Development Goal summit to push on the maternal health goal (MDG 5). Improvement has been limited: DFID sums it up:

“. There are two targets: one to reduce maternal deaths and the other to provide universal access to reproductive health. Little progress has been made over the past two decades and MDG 5 is severely off-track”.

Poverty is a cause of maternal death. An African woman has a 1 in 16 chance of dying from a pregnancy while a European has a 1 in 1,800 risk. And maternal mortality is a cause of poverty. The household loses not only a human life, but the income that the woman’s livelihood provides. The Chronic Poverty Report cites health crises, and the associated impact on the household’s resources (including health fees), as a big initiator of the descent into chronic poverty. This makes for hungry and sick children. Orphans are more likely to die after their mother’s death – their chance of death is three times the average for children in the 1-5 age group. One mother’s death thereby ripples across the generations.

Do check out the WRA video for their Promise to Mothers Lost campaign, and read Sarah Brown’s letter in Elle.

Sharing Poverty Information through IPC

8 August, 2008

This just in from the folks at the International Poverty Centre.

“IPC is pleased to announce a new section on its website: Poverty Networks. This new resource brings together web-based platforms that share development-related publications and initiatives. You will be able to access IPC’s collaborating networks on this website”.

Where did all the aid go?

8 April, 2008

The latest figures on aid released by the OECD are less than encouraging. The overall levels of aid fell for a second year running, from US$104.4bn in 2006 to US$95.6bn in 2007 (adjusting for inflation), representing a fall of 8.5% in real terms. Part of the reason for this is the particularly high levels of aid over the previous few years as large amounts of debt for Iraq and Nigeria were written off. The UK’s figures do not make good reading, with aid standing at $9.9bn in 2006 (once debt relief is removed) falling to US$8.8bn in real terms in 2007. This despite the pound rising against the dollar, which will serve to inflate the dollar value of the UK’s 2007 figures.

This pushes us further away from the target of aid reaching 0.7% of GDP. Some countries continue to do well, notably Norway at 0.95%, Sweden at 0.93% and Luxembourg at 0.90%. The UK has reached half-way, at 0.36% of GDP. Though they give the most in absolute terms (at $21.8bn), the US languishes at the bottom of the chart with only 0.16% of GDP given to aid. A number of European countries have pledged to reach the 0.7% target, notably Belgium (by 2010), Finland (2010), France (2012), Spain (2012) and the UK (2013), but on current trends this may seem like empty words. Furthermore, as Oxfam have pointed out, the G8 countries pledged at the Gleneagles summit in 2005 to give an additional $50bn in aid by 2010, but look likely to miss this target by as much as $30bn.

If there is to be any hope of achieving the Millennium Development Goals, aid budgets will need to increase. The UN is currently organising a follow-up conference to examine progress since the Monterrey Conference of 2002 on finance for development. Perhaps the opening session should ask why, when only one of eight regional groups is on track to meet all the MDGs, aid from the rich countries is declining.

China in Africa — More Light, Less Heat, Please

6 February, 2008

Much heat, but not enough light, is being generated by recent commentary on China’s economic and political drive into Africa. Here are 7 thoughts (maybe they add light, or just more heat — let us know):

1. China’s investment. Much needed: jobs and growth will flow. But also disquiet. Investment snapshots: China is now Zimbabwe’s biggest foreign investor (Mugabe has a friend); China has lent Gabon US$ 83 million for a hydro-electric dam (we await an environmental assessment); China is taking stakes in some of Africa’s biggest investors — Rio Tinto is the latest (hope this doesn’t weaken corporate social responsibility). Africa needs more investment, but China must act responsibly.

2. China is to get copper and cobalt in a loan deal with the DRC. Hmm, the murky world of foreign investment in the Congo — say no more. Plenty of western nations haven’t practiced what they preach in the DRC. Can China do better? Will countries that received debt relief from the OECD-DAC donors under the HIPC Initiative (and then the MDRI) again build unsustainable debt positions — this time with loans from China? Helmut Reisen over at the OECD Development Centre finds no evidence of ‘imprudent lending’ by China to debt relief beneficiaries — so far. But this is one to watch.

3. Aid. The World Bank has hitched its wagon to China — a real sign of the times. China helped replenish the World Bank’s soft-loan arm (the International Development Association) last year — the first time it has contributed to IDA. And World Bank President Robert Zoellick wants more joint project lending with China (and Justin Yifu Lin has been appointed as the Bank’s new chief economist). This is all good news. Now that China is a Bank partner its aid stands a chance of being more rigorously assessed. And this moves China closer to bringing its aid within the OECD-DAC framework (see Richard Manning). More transparency might result. But it’s early days still.

4. Human rights. Oh Dear. One positive: China watered down support for Mugabe last year (Mugabe has a fickle friend). A big negative: Darfur (Sudan has oil, Zimbabwe does not). China is a permanent UN Security Council member. It needs to live up to the associated responsibilities (not helped when the other members don’t, notably the present US administration — see John Bolton’s latest fulmination against the UN here — but only if you must).

5. The Chinese Development ‘Model’. African commentators have been talking up China as a model. Seems more appealing than the policies the western donors pushed for years. And who can ignore growth rates of 10% year on year (even if the numbers look a might suspect to us)? China has lifted the largest number of people out of poverty in history — and Africa could sure use a lot of that. But fans forget (i) China has an enormous internal market — so import substitution is a more viable strategy than in tiny African countries (Africa needs an EU-style free trade zone to get anywhere near the economies of scale that Chinese companies enjoy). (ii) China is very good at mobilizing public revenues from growth — and Africa’s tax systems are mostly awful (iii) China’s one party state can force its way through development blockages that Africa’s young democracies cannot — and woe betide any Chinese who protest too vigorously (most African government’s don’t monitor access to the Internet in the way China does: Mugabe excepted). (iv) China’s model has involved stupendous environmental damage — we don’t need any Three-Gorges style projects in Africa, thank you.

6. Authoritarian regimes can retain political power if they ride a vigorous private sector — delivering rising living standards to keep (most) people happy. This is China’s political model. It appeals to some African leaders (notably Ethiopia and Rwanda). But to succeed you have to limit your ‘take’ — not a lesson likely to find favour with Africa’s long-stranding authoritarians but one that Africa’s next generation of political leaders might note (hopefully democrats, but also new authoritarians overthrowing the old).

7. That ‘other China’ — Taiwan — offers a model of how to make a successful transition to democracy while retaining (and strengthening) a vigorous maket economy. Taiwan is one of development’s great poverty success stories — a point that gets lost amidst the clamour of praise for its big brother neighbour. Taiwan is also aiming to win African friends.

That’s my 7 points. A good source of information on China in Africa is the Centre for Chinese Studies at the University of Stellenbosch. They do a weekly briefing, where some of the news cited here comes from. For China itself go to the Centre for Chinese Studies at Manchester University. And remember what Chou En-lai said when asked about the effects of the French Revolution — “its too early to tell”. Maybe that’s the case for China in Africa.

Human Trafficking — the Dark Side of Globalization

29 January, 2008

The ease with which we can now travel, send money, and communicate has dramatically reduced the costs of shipping human beings — into prostitution and forced labour. Our recent post highlighted Hatti and Maiti Nepal and their work to help those trafficked in Nepal. The plight of Nigerian children trafficked through Manchester is reported here.

Now, Emma Thompson and Sam Roddick have teamed up to highlight this modern slavery at a UN forum which meets in Vienna in February (go to UN.GIFT). They are backing an art installation that dramatically explores globalization’s dark side.

7 cargo containers illustrate what happens to women sold into the global sex trade. Each container — by a different artist — shows the stages of the trafficking process, starting with hope and then descending into fear and despair.

The installation was first shown last September in London’s Trafalgar Square, to much praise (video here). Emma Thompson is Chair of the Helen Bamber Foundation, which helps the victims of human rights violations and raises awareness of human trafficking. (Helen Bamber herself worked to help concentration camp victims).

Last week, 11 Romanian children were taken into care after being seized from alleged child traffickers (who were using them for crime on Britain’s streets, including Manchester, in a modern version of Oliver Twist). Go here for why kids in Romania still get a hard deal.

The choice of containers for the exhibition is inspired. Globalization would not have been possible without the container. The introduction of this humble steel box from the 1950s onwards allowed a much faster turnaround at ports, thereby dramatically cutting the costs of global trade. Now it is used to smuggle people.

Abandoned containers have been turned into homes by the poor. But now the construction industry is starting to use them to build affordable homes (there is one housing development in London). And a new school in Cape Town is built using containers (go here)

Charles Taylor faces Justice. But Justice isn’t Enough

25 January, 2008

Liberia’s ex-president Charles Taylor now sits in the dock in The Hague, charged with 11 counts of war crimes in neighbouring Sierra Leone. (The International Criminal Court in The Hague has loaned the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone their facilities). The smartly-suited Taylor pleaded innocent. He has the ‘distinction’ of being the first former African state to go before an international war-crimes court. Chad’s Hisène Habré is up next, in a special court in Dakar, Senegal.

In the trial’s opening days, one witness, a churchman, described how child soldiers did their ‘work’; the ‘Small Boys Unit’ was especially brutal. But it’s not enough to provide accounts of Sierra Leone’s atrocities — these are well documented. To get a conviction a clear link has to be established between Taylor and events in Sierra Leone. Specifically, how he (allegedly) financed and guided the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). To work, the trial must be scrupulously fair.

Is all this worth it? (Yes: it sends a clear message. And a war-crimes tribunal is not expected any time soon in Liberia, so charging Taylor with crimes in Sierra Leone at least gets him into the Dock). Will it be a deterrent? (Increasingly so: worldwide, 10 ex-presidents and military dictators are facing the law on human rights charges. And for despots still in power, it might disturb their sleep). Can it provide true justice? (Only partly, many despots die safely in their bed — like Uganda’s Idi Amin. And you can’t bring back Liberia and Sierra Leone’s many dead). Will it slow down peace deals (Maybe, the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda are worried that they will end up in a court like Taylor: but that’s not a good reason to press ahead with capturing and trying war criminals).

However, removing individual ‘spoilers’ is not enough. Removing one Charles Taylor leaves many potential Taylors to take the stage if conditions remain ripe. This includes the poverty that supplies their recruits. You have to recreate a working relationship between the state and the people to deliver broad-based recovery (see my paper here).

A better and more prosperous future removes the oxygen in which the Charles Taylors of this world thrive. There is now lots of action in this area. See for example TechnoServe which helps rural entrepreneurs rebuild after war. The resulting employment at least offers an alternative livelihood to the violence that youngsters otherwise get sucked into. They also need a good education; especially the small boys (and girls) who get caught up in militias through no fault of their own (a big issue in northern Uganda).

Taylor’s case is expected to last at least a year, and you can track it at the Crimes of War web site. And for the bigger picture on how to deal with these bullies read the excellent Brian Urquhart in the NYRB. Stephen Ellis provides the background to Liberia in the authoritative Africa Yearbook.

Meanwhile, if Taylor has a broadband connection from his lodgings in The Hague, he should check out this UNICEF commercial against war — featuring those friendly Smurfs (go here). He can even learn to hum the tune…

David Beckham — New Goal: Ending Child Poverty

23 January, 2008

Former Manchester United star and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador David Beckham has appealed for the world to get moving on child poverty during a 4 day visit to Sierra Leone — where 27 per cent of children die before they reach five (in a country rebuilding after years of civil war). Dad-of-three Becks can be seen in a YouTube video here, visiting health clinics and feeding centres. “It’s shocking and tragic, especially when the solutions are simple”, he said.

And undernourished mothers produce weak children: with poverty being transmitted across the generations (check out CPRC policy briefs and CHIP).

Becks was appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 2005. You can see a video of him discussing his role here. He was inspired by UNICEF’s rapid action in dealing with the Asian Tsunami disaster, as well as his involvement with the United for UNICEF programme (under which Manchester United has raised £ 2 million since 1999).

Becks also took time out to kick a ball around with some of the locals (go here). Manchester United has a keen following in West Africa, recently boosted by signing Angolan forward Manucho who joins after the Africa Cup of Nations. Three United Stars — Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand, and Patrice Evra (born in Senegal) — feature in UNICEF AIDS-awareness posters in Sierra Leone (go here).

Meanwhile, Posh and the Spice Girls play Manchester …….