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Great expectations

9. Juli 2020 - 15:31
Malawi’s new president must fight corruption, stimulate the economy and get a grip on Covid-19





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The new head of state was elected in very unusual circumstances. The presidential election was only held because Malawi’s Supreme Court annulled the one held in May 2019 (see my comment in D+C/E+Z e-paper 2020/03). Last year, the administration of incumbent Peter Mutharika had manipulated the results so blatantly that people spoke of the “tipp-ex elections”. In spring, the judges ordered that new elections had to be held. Opposition groups joined forces in support of Chakwera, who won with almost 58 % of the votes. Thanks to the judges, democracy has thus prevailed.

On the other hand, judges may well have made Malawi’s health problems worse. The Mutharika administration had planned a Covid-19 lockdown, but it never took force because the Constitutional Court blocked it in late April (see my entry in the Covid-19 diary of D+C/E+Z e-paper 2020/05). A short time later, the Supreme Court upheld its decision. To many Malawians, Covid-19 did not matter. Campaign rallies attracted masses of people, but there were no hand-washing facilities, no face masks and no social distancing.

Now the disease seems to be spreading fast.

By 9 July, 1942 infections were reported. That was 44 % more than at the end of June. According to, 25 patients had died. Health experts warned that measures had to be taken fast to stem the spread of Covid-19 and that the country would otherwise face a serious health crisis. Doctors say that the country’s health system is over-stretched and under-funded, which is typical of sub-Saharan countries.

Many people think, however, that institutional dysfunction is particularly bad in Malawi. The country has a special reputation for corruption and mismanagement. Chakwera spelled out these problems on the campaign trail: “This country needs fixing. There is a lot of corruption and a lot of money is being stolen.” He promised not only to redeem the country from “years of misrule”, but also to “end hunger”.

To fight poverty, he wants to double the fertiliser subsidy to the benefit of millions of smallholder farms. According to the International Monetary Fund, however, African economies are headed for the worst crisis in decades, with national economies set to shrink. The problems the new government must tackle will probably prove much greater than assumed during the election campaign.

The new head of state is a former preacher. Chakwera even used to be the president of the Assemblies of God, one of the most important religious denominations in Malawi. People hope he will live up to his promises.

Raphael Mweninguwe is a journalist who lives in Malawi.

Kategorien: english

Helping Zambians to see

8. Juli 2020 - 10:58
China is at the forefront of helping Zambia to fight cataracts, an eye disease that can lead to blindness

She is one of the lucky ones, however. Thanks to a Chinese programme offering free cataract surgery, Mumba received an operation that removed her cataracts. “I am so excited that my sight is fully restored,” she says.

Mumba is one of a small but growing number of Zambians benefitting from a push to fight cataracts and other eye diseases. The campaign is supported by donations from international NGOs, private health-care providers and foreign governments, particularly the Chinese government.

Cataracts are a major cause of blindness in Zambia, particularly among the elderly. About 12 million people worldwide are blind because of cataracts, says Sightsavers, a global health-care organisation that supported 355,000 cataracts operations worldwide in 2018.

In Zambia, about 75,000 people are blind because of cataracts, according to See International, a US-based eye care provider, citing Zambian Ministry of Health data. Overall, it says, “treatable or preventable conditions account for approximately 80% of blindness cases in Zambia.”

In addition to its human cost, blindness takes a tremendous economic toll on Zambia, with an estimated total annual loss of $ 56 million. Zambians have poor access to eye care, with only 15 ophthalmologists serving over 14 million residents, See International says.

Part of the problem is lack of public information. According to Eye for Zambia, a Dutch organisation that supports eye care in Zambia, 43% of affected people are unaware of possible treatment. The country also lacks equipment and training for eye care, and high transport costs impede access to the few available eye care facilities.

The Chinese government is at the forefront of efforts to help. It funded a programme called “Bright Journey” that provides free cataract surgery in Lusaka and the southern provinces. So far, China has sent 21 medical teams to Zambia, providing diagnosis and treatment of common eye diseases as well as treatment of difficult cases.

The teams also train local doctors and provide materials and equipment. “As long as cataracts affect daily life and work, surgery can be considered,” says Dr. Huang Shunde, director of the “Bright Journey” programme.

The surgeons use a method called phacoemulsification and intraocular lens implantation. “In this surgery, the nucleus of lens is crushed and sucked out by ultrasound, and a foldable intraocular lens is implanted at the same time, so that the object is refocused on the retina, and the patient will be able to gain vision after the operation,” Dr. Shunde says. One of the patients treated is Bright Nkamba, a 48 year old bus driver from Lusaka. “My eyesight is now back to normal,” he says.” I am so grateful that this operation was a success.”

The Zambian government expressed thanks for the Chinese support. “It is with a deep sense of gratitude that I recognise the government of China’s dedication to the provision of quality health services to Zambia,” says Kennedy Malama, permanent secretary at the Zambian Health Ministry.

Derrick Silimina is a freelance journalist based in Lusaka. He focuses on Zambian agriculture and sustainability issues.

Kategorien: english

Kolkata, New York, Venice

8. Juli 2020 - 10:34
Amitav Ghosh’s novel “Gun island” deals with global heating and global migration

In “The great derangement”, an essay Ghosh published in 2017, he wrote that factual reality of the climate crisis exceeded the scope of a novel (see D+C/E+Z blogpost from 19 November 2018). For one thing, environmental change was a global phenomenon, he pointed out, while novels were expected to deal with a specific time and place. Moreover, Ghosh wrote back then, the impacts of global heating seem to be unthinkable.

The author has now convincingly risen to those challenges. “Gun island” tackles the global phenomenon from a distinctly Bengali perspective. The first chapters are set in Kolkata and a remote island in the Ganges Delta, where storms are intensifying, coasts are being eroded and biodiversity is dwind­ling. This beautiful, but constantly shifting and dangerous landscape was the location of an earlier Ghosh novel, “The hungry tide” (2004). Some characters from “The hungry tide” reappear – and it becomes clear that life has become ever more precarious.

Young men in particular are eager to leave. Ghosh traces two of them as they attempt to get to Italy. On their trip, they join Bangladeshis and easily blend in with them. The novelist shows that national borders are erratic results of history rather than anything one might consider natural.

One of Ghosh’s two migrants from West Bengal makes it to Venice, an ancient city threatened by the rising sea level. As has become typical of Italy, this city has a considerable community of Bangladesh immigrants, most of whom do poorly paying menial jobs, typically without any legal protection. Ghosh’s other young man is diverted to Egypt, from where he tries to get to Italy too.

There is another kind of migration however. Some of Ghosh’s protagonists are academically successful Bengalis with careers in the USA. The lead protagonist is a Bengali scholar who has become a New York City-based rare-bookseller. Crucial scenes of the novel play in a wild-fire engulfed Los Angeles.

During a short stay in Venice, the bookseller meets the illegal immigrant by coincidence. They know one another from a dramatic encounter in the Ganges Delta which culminated in a person being bitten by a cobra and only barely surviving.

A leitmotif of “Gun island” is a popular Bengali legend about a merchant who is hounded by a snake goddess. The merchant tries to escape and goes on an adventurous journey overseas which to some extent resembles Homer’s Odyssey.

The novel starts with the bookseller becoming interested in the myth once more. His PhD thesis had shown that the legend probably originated during the little ice age of the 17th century, when failed harvests and other calamities caused serious problems all over the world – including the 30-years war in Germany (see Hans Dembowski in Monitor section of D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2017/10). As “Gun island” progresses, the bookseller eventually concludes that the legendary merchant himself must have found his way to Venice.

As the plot unfolds, the bookseller’s life story begins to resemble the merchants’ Odyssey. He keeps encountering poisonous creatures and only narrowly escapes. He sticks to rational reasoning as an academically trained person should, but he increasingly becomes aware of the relevance of premonition and the scope for supernatural experience in human life.

There is thus a spiritual dimension to the book, and that fits another point Ghosh made in the “The great derangement”. In view of the current crises humanity is facing, he finds the pronouncements of faith leaders, and in particular Pope Francis, more convincing than the language of multilateral agreements and government policies.

The plot has many surprising twists, but the general setting is plausible. Though the happy ending is tinged by death, it resembles religious miracle narratives and is perhaps a bit too euphoric.

Ghosh, A., 2019: Gun island. London: John Murray.
Ghosh, A., 2017: The great derangement. Chicago: University Press.
Ghosh, A., 2005 (paperback): The hungry tide. London: HarperCollins.

Kategorien: english

New approach to conflict prevention

6. Juli 2020 - 12:40
Realignment of UN peace work and conflict prevention

Teresa Whitfield, director of Policy and Mediation of the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, says the new concept will require a radical organisational transformation at the UN: “There will be no more sharp cuts between preventive diplomacy and linear peacebuilding aimed at enduring peace.” The UN now takes an integral approach to thinking through peace processes.

According to Whitfield, this implies there can be no peace without development or without respect for human rights. Peace work needs to take into account new issues such as climate security and root-cause analysis as well as conflict mediation. Aspects such as development and poverty reduction also need to be integrated. But, as Whitfield points out: “Practical implementation is a major challenge, especially in an organisation where a silo mentality prevails.”

However, as the researcher told participants in a Development and Peace Foundation (SEF) online conference on “Crisis Prevention: From Ambition to Action. New Pathways for the UN” in June, she believes the UN has already made considerable progress. The organisation has significantly improved its mediation work, she said, analysing conflicts more intelligently and involving not only governments in crisis intervention and peace work but now also civil society and non-governmental organisations. She also sees a positive sign in the UN leadership’s strong commitment to inclusion and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with the pledge to “leave no one behind”.

But Whitfield also explained to the conference that the conflicts ongoing today are much more complex and harder to resolve than those in the past. Conflict resolution is complicated by the following:

  • Many internal conflicts have an international dimension, which makes them impossible to resolve by traditional methods.
  • The armed groups involved are highly fragmented. There are no longer just two conflicting parties such as government and opposition; there are a whole range of players, with different objectives and financial backers.

Examples include the civil wars in Libya, Yemen and Syria. Problems in the UN Security Council make matters worse. All five permanent members have a power of veto, so they can block important decisions. The other, non-permanent members do not have this power and can do practically nothing about it.

Adriana Erthal Abdenur from the Instituto Igarapé, an independent security and development think tank based in Rio de Janeiro, praised the new UN approach at the SEF conference. In her opinion, however, the UN should do more to promote South-South cooperation. So far – she said – South-South cooperation has been understood in extremely narrow terms as technical assistance. At the same time, new actors such as China, India, Indonesia, Turkey and even small states like Timor-Leste are taking innovative approaches to conflict prevention. A vast amount of knowledge and resources is available but not being sufficiently harnessed in the UN process, Abdenur says.

The researcher points to other major innovations at the UN such as the Climate Security Mechanism (CSM), an inter-agency cooperation between the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, UN Development Programme and UN Environment Programme. The CSM is designed to facilitate a more comprehensive UN response to climate-related security risks. Abdenur believes this topic needs to be spread “on a broad base within the organisation”, meaning that all measures and programmes must take climate-related security risks into account.

A great deal has been done in the UN to make processes inclusive. Many measures, such as mediation, have been shifted from governmental level to different actors. One example is Colombia, where after long negotiations and lots of pressure from civil society, a peace agreement was finally reached in 2016 between the government and the country’s largest rebel group, FARC.

Abdenur stressed one point in particular at the online conference: “UN member states and other relevant actors need to be convinced that conflict prevention is not only more economical but also much more effective and saves more lives than a reactive approach.” There is lots of evidence for this, she claimed, referring participants to the UN and World Bank study “Pathways for Peace”.

In a research paper, Abdenur points to another major change that is needed if conflict prevention is to be more than just a buzzword: risk assessment methodologies need to be improved. New technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) should be harnessed for this. The UN is currently working on innovative techniques that use big data and AI to help assess national crisis situations. The experts hope that with these new methods they will be able to predict crises and conflicts faster and more precisely and ideally prevent them in advance.


Whitfield, T., 2019: Mediating in a Complex World.

Abdenur, A., 2019: Making Conflict Prevention a Concrete Reality at the UN.

UN and World Bank, 2018: Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict.

Kategorien: english

A battle for the soul of Islam

6. Juli 2020 - 12:16
A feature film shows the threat of violent Islam coming to Senegal

The Islamist fundamentalists came into town softly at first, bearing cash and gifts. They slowly won the favour of townspeople and gained authority. And then they took control – imposing a harsh and violent rule on unsuspecting people who had practiced a gentle form of Islam for centuries.

That is the main story line of a gripping new film by a young Senegalese filmmaker, Mamadou Dia. The film was shown in February at the Film Museum in Frankfurt in the presence of the director, who spoke with the audience afterwards about what he has to say in this film, and why.

On one level the film, titled “Baamum Nafi” (“Nafi’s father”), is a family drama. It concerns two brothers, one known only as “the Tierno”, the town’s long-serving Imam, who leads his people with a gentle hand. The Tierno, a much-loved but somewhat weak figure, has lived in the town all his life.

His older brother, Ousmane, on the other hand, received their father’s support to travel abroad and expand his horizons. Ousmane became a follower of a radical fundamentalist known only as “the Sheikh”. He returned to his home town as an agent of the Sheikh, bringing with him the violent jihadist’s cash and gifts with which to buy influence, and a band of thugs with whom to take control.

Complicating matters is that the two brothers are also fathers, and their teenage children – the Tierno’s daughter Nafi and Ousmane’s son Tokara – are in love and wish to marry. In view of their traditionalist families, the kids are quite avant-garde: the beautiful and intelligent Nafi wishes to study medicine in Dakar and become a doctor, and the gentle and talented Tokara wishes to study dance and become a professional dancer. They support each other in their aspirations.

The two fathers are unaware of these modernist winds blowing through their own homes. They are focused on their struggles with each other: the Tierno’s bitterness that he did not have Ousmane’s opportunities in the world; their differences over how the wedding of their children should be conducted; and their battle to control the town and determine how Islam will be practiced there.

The Tierno is clearly the more sympathetic of the two brothers. But the towns­people, blinded by cash gifts and by arguments about “true Islam” meant to undermine the Tierno’s authority, gradually shift to Ousmane’s camp.

Then the dark side of Islamist fundamentalism starts to appear. Women are required to cover themselves from head to toe with chadors. Forced marriages take place in a mass ceremony. Girls skipping rope run away when the religious overseers approach, knowing that anything that looks like fun is against the new rules. Unmarried couples holding hands in public are seen as a problem.

It gets worse. A petty thief is punished harshly; one sees a sword coming down, and while a severed hand is not shown, viewers get the idea. A town that was previously easy-going and tolerant turns into a fearful place gripped by corrupt, power-mad rulers using religion to impose a reign of terror.

Clearly, a new interpretation of Islam has taken hold. The townspeople are ambivalent; many were taken by surprise. At one point the two brothers debate what Islam actually means. Is it a religion of tolerance and charity, as the Tierno understands it? Or is it a harsh system of rules based on strict interpretation and punitive application of Koranic precepts, as seen by Ousmane?

The film ultimately is a tragedy. To be able to marry, Nafi and Tokara carry out a trick to get around Islamist rules. The gambit ends badly. But towards the end, Nafi does go off to the University and one gets the sense that many townspeople have come to see the reign of terror for what it is, and turn against it.

Interestingly, this film was made in Mamadou Dia’s home town of Matam, in northeastern Senegal, right on the border of Mauritania. Only two professional actors were in – those portraying the two brothers. Every­one else in the film is a resident of Matam.

That arrangement gives the film a documentary aspect – showing daily life in a small town – while weaving in fictional elements to show how violent Islamism can infiltrate a peaceful town. It also meant Dia – who previously worked as a journalist across Africa – could produce his first feature-length film on a low budget.

In his comments to the audience in Frankfurt after the screening, Dia explained why he made this film. “In 2014 I went to New York to study film. Every time I said I am a Muslim, people had a certain idea of what that is, and I had to explain, ‘no, Senegal is different, that is not how we live Islam.’” Senegal is officially a secular state and it outlaws violent fundamentalism. In local towns, the practice of Islam is often mixed with pre-Islamic traditions.

Dia noted that fundamentalism is an interpretation of Islam and is not necessarily linked to violence. “There are a billion Muslims in the world. There is not just one type of Muslim; there is a whole range. In Senegal, we call Muslims who eat pork and drink alcohol ‘Muslims of the left’, and there are many other types as well. The one percent of Muslims who go around killing people, the so-called Jihadists, kill more Muslims than any other religion.”

In response to an audience member from Mali, who noted that violent Islamism has infiltrated much of the Sahel region including Mali, Dia said: “Senegal is not safer or stronger than Mali or Burkina Faso. We all want to live in peaceful places. Senegal is secular and extremism hasn’t happened yet. I wanted to tell the people of Senegal not to wait for extremism to hit before we talk about it. That is why I made the film: to get the debate started.”

Baamum Nafi (Nafi’s father), 2019, Senegal, director: Mamadou Dia.

Kategorien: english

“Governance is fundamental”

6. Juli 2020 - 9:41
UNDP chief explains how the concepts of “human development” and “sustainable development” are converging

When the UNDP launched the Human Development Index (HDI) in 1990, the guiding idea was to empower people to take their fates into their own hands. Do I remember that correctly?
Yes, but that was not the singular motivation. The Human Development Index introduced a broader approach to advance human wellbeing termed the human development approach. This methodology is about expanding the richness of human life, rather than simply the richness of the economy in which human beings live. The index was a response to the dominant paradigm back then – that is, powerful institutions were simply equating development with economic growth and rising per-capita incomes. That was the era of structural adjustment and the Washington Consensus, both of which were entirely geared towards market dynamics. Human wellbeing did not get much attention. On behalf of the UNDP, Amartya Sen and Mahbub ul Haq, two prominent economists, designed the HDI in a way that took into account important other components that were overlooked – especially education and health outcomes. Both elements are extremely important to a person’s wellbeing. It is critical to measure a country’s progress in these areas to see where there are gaps and address them – to ensure that people can indeed reach their full potential.

Has the HDI changed the development paradigm?
Yes, in many ways the HDI has become mainstream. Consider, for example, the fact that the World Bank launched its own Human Capital Index in 2018, which aims to measure progress in some of the same areas. However, the debate does not stand still, and we strive to improve the concept accordingly. We are now focusing more and more on inequality. Last year’s Human Development Report showed, for example, that more equal societies often outperform more unequal societies. That is true in spite of lower per-capita incomes. For the first time, this year’s report will include an assessment of how inequality and environmental problems are intrinsically linked. It is critical to better understand how issues like pollution or the destruction of ecosystems hurt poor people much more than rich people – and design ways to address this imbalance.

Is human development ultimately the same as sustainable development?
The two concepts are certainly converging, but they have a different history. Human development is more squarely focused on human beings. It was conceived to counter an understanding of development that purely took economic indicators into account. The concept of sustainable development was formulated for different reasons. It was adopted by the UN at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 after many years of debate. The fundamental idea is that future generations must enjoy the same opportunities as people do today. One implication of this is the principle that business activity must not damage or destroy the natural environment. However, global warming and the loss of ecosystems and biodiversity is quite obviously harming the outlook for future generations. The Earth Summit also emphasised that the rich regions of the world cannot prosper at the expense of disadvantaged regions. Every human being deserves the same opportunities in life. The three pillars of sustainability, as understood in Rio – social inclusion, environmental protection and the long-term viability of businesses – remain critically important today.

A core element of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is the principle to “leave no one behind”. Does it make sense to trace the SDGs back to the Earth Summit?
Yes, and we can trace their germination back to previous international debates as well. The UN has a long history of thought leadership in these matters. The Brundtland Commission was very important in the late 1980s, as was the Brandt Commission in the early 1980s.

To what extent is improved governance – at national as well as global levels – essential to achieving the SDGs?
Governance is absolutely fundamental. It is about how we interact with one another. It is about fairness, rule of law, values and so on. The rights of individual persons depend on governance. That also applies to the rights of minorities and other vulnerable groups. However, it is difficult to measure the quality of governance, not least because there are ideological differences. Nonetheless, the SDGs reflect a multilateral consensus. By using them as the yardstick, there is actually some scope to measure how effective countries’ governance systems are. Apart from governments, many other actors have to play their part in governance, of course – from the private-sector to civil-society organisations or research institutes. Governance is about more than just government action, and that is especially true at the global level. We do not have a “world government”, but we do have governance systems that regulate many important things from telecoms and postal services to trade and maritime safety. The Covid-19 pandemic proves once again how important global governance is. Unless we work together to contain the virus everywhere, it is liable to re-emerge and spread rapidly again. Indeed, an economic slowdown in one part of the world will have a major knock-on effect and hurt other regions of the world. If we want the world economy to recover, we will need stimulus programmes for every country – not only the prosperous ones.

Is the global governance system up to task?
Let me say first that the system is remarkably strong. Don’t forget that its institutions were largely built during the Cold War. In spite of that era’s fundamental tensions, multilateral institutions grew, and today, they are managing important tasks quite successfully. It is true, however, that the multilateral system faces considerable constraints. It is somewhat remarkable to consider that the budget of the UN Secretary-General is about the same size as the budget of the New York City Fire Department. It is hard to deny that the multilateral system is underfunded. The UN Security Council should have been reformed many years ago for its membership to better reflect current power relations. Moreover, we need increased respect for international law. Indeed, a renewed commitment to global governance would be a welcome development.

But many governments now emphasise sovereignty and want to put their nations’ interests first.
Well, it is a false dichotomy to try to choose between global governance and sovereignty. Global governance benefits all nations – and it does not require a country to surrender sovereignty. On the contrary, global governance results from sovereign countries joining forces to rise to challenges together. The plain truth is that countries can only achieve certain objectives through cooperation – aims which are impossible if they go alone. Indeed, the great challenges that humankind now faces, exceed the capacities of every single nation state. Most notably, no country can manage the climate crisis on its own. And world trade and the global financial architecture require cooperation. The rapid spread of Covid-19 and its lack of respect for borders is a stark reminder of this fact. Crises will keep getting worse unless we can rely on strong, respected and effective global institutions.

I’d like to return to where we started. It seems to me that the paradigm that equates growth with development is still quite strong. To some extent, it even marks the SDGs which emphasise the importance of private-sector businesses and market dynamics. Does that not fly in the face of human development?
No, not really. It is another fallacy to believe that we must choose between economic prosperity and environmental sustainability. That is something the experts agree on. Economies can – and must – develop further without destroying the environment. Germany is actually a good example of development that is not purely linked to economic growth but rather, it is about fostering green growth and sustainable development. The country’s performance in the past ten years or so has been good. There was full employment before the Covid-19 crisis began, but the growth rate was actually very disappointing in comparison with previous decades. The more an economy matures, the less important growth becomes. Nonetheless, many policymakers in all countries, are stuck in the old growth mindset. Too many finance ministries around the world still do not have an office or at least an expert team to assess environmental sustainability issues. Once again, more, not less cooperation in this area, is the best way to make progress.

Some critics say that the entire notion of development is toxic because former colonial powers are imposing their will on the rest of the world. They say humankind needs a fundamental “restart”. What is your response?
I think that this is a mostly hypothetical reasoning without much relevance to what happens next in our world. Throughout history, different cultures have interacted with one another. There was a constant exchange leading to both opportunities and risks. It is impossible to go back in history and start from scratch. We must work together to meet the challenges that our species is collectively facing right now – most notably climate change.

Achim Steiner is the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Kategorien: english

Clearing the air

3. Juli 2020 - 9:51
Indoor air pollution from cooking with biomass continues to increase the vulnerability of India’s poor to respiratory diseases and Covid-19

Considering the many unknowns surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s worth noting that at least one factor is indisputable: having a respiratory disease increases one’s vulnerability to the virus.

Respiratory disease is clearly linked to air pollution. So it follows that air pollution increases the risks associated with the Coronavirus. In the USA, Italy and Britain, researchers have shown that exposure to particulate matter increases people’s Covid-19 infection rates and mortality.

However bad air pollution may be in the US, Italy or the UK, it is far worse in cities in much of the developing world. Moreover, the health hazards from indoor air pollution may be even greater than those from outdoor pollution. The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that it is indeed the greatest health risk many women face. Traditional cooking with biomass fuels – usually firewood or cow dung – often leads to life-threatening levels of indoor pollution. Things are especially bad in rural areas.

In India alone, indoor pollution from cooking with biomass causes about half a million deaths per year. Things might be better if people knew how harmful indoor air pollution can be.

In 2016, the Indian government launched a large programme to cover the upfront costs of access to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) as a clean cooking fuel. Over 80 million households adopted the new technology, but many still use traditional biomass for most of their cooking nonetheless. Apart from unawareness of health risks, main reasons are the high price of cylinder refills (the equivalent of about $ 6.5 for a six-week supply for a family of five) and supply bottlenecks. Moreover, people mention security concerns and say the food tastes different.

The good news is that once rural residents know how harmful traditional fuels are, they change their behaviour. In an experimental study we carried out in the Indian state of Rajasthan, we found that many of the households that received information on health hazards related to traditional fuels started using LPG much more frequently. After awareness raising, about 30 % of the households doubled their LPG consumption during the weeks our research observed. That strong reaction was not a surprise. Among the control group, which was not given information, only 13 % were aware of major health issues involved. Most knew, of course, that cooking with cow dung and firewood temporarily irritates the throat and the eyes, but they had no idea of long-term consequences.

Apparently, the communications related to the LPG programme were not clear enough. They referred to LPG as a “clean fuel”, but that reference could be understood as a remedy for the blackened kitchen walls. The marketing campaign did not address serious health issues directly, but highlighted the opportunity to get something that might otherwise be out of reach.

That error should be corrected fast. In view of Covid-19, the Indian government decided to include free LPG cylinders in its Corona support programme for the poor. This is a good opportunity to emphasise the link between pollution, respiratory health and Covid-19.

Only if people know about the risks posed by traditional fuels are they empowered to make conscious choices within their limited budgets. Having that knowledge can also help people to make rational fuel choices in future, once the Covid-19 emergency has passed.

Zahno, M., Michaelowa, K., Dasgupta, P., and Sachdeva, I., 2020: Health awareness and the transition towards clean cooking fuels: Evidence from Rajasthan. PLoS ONE 15(4): e0231931.

Katharina Michaelowa is a professor of political economy and development at the University of Zurich and at the Centre for Comparative and International Studies.

Martina Zahno is a PhD candidate in political economy and development at the University of Zurich.


Kategorien: english

Help from the sky

3. Juli 2020 - 9:23
For Africa’s remote and impoverished communities, help may soon come from drones flying through the sky

This year Malawi opened a new training centre for the development of drone technology and for the analysis and visual presentation of data collected by drones. The centre – the African Drone and Data Academy (ADDA) – is supported by Unicef, the UN agency for children, and by aid organisations from several countries.

Malawi has also created a corridor to test drone flights for humanitarian purposes. The corridor – for drone flights within a restricted zone up to 400 meters above ground level – is located near Kasungu airport in the Central Region. A student working there has built a drone that flew 17 kilometres, Unicef says.

The aims of both the air corridor and the ADDA training centre include speeding deliveries of critical items such as laboratory samples and emergency medical supplies to and from all parts of the country, and ultimately all parts of Africa. Many remote areas rely on much slower road and ferry transport.

Drones are also used to collect data that helps to prevent and respond to natural disasters such as droughts and floods. For example, the devices collect data that pinpoint mosquito-breeding sites so that officials can fight malaria and other diseases more effectively.

ADDA supports these aims by responding to “a lack of skills in drone and data technology in Malawi and the wider African continent,” says Rebecca Phwitiko from Unicef. Developing drone technology for humanitarian purposes fits in well with the agency‘s mission to improve the lives of children. “We want to advance technologies that deliver services more effectively to hard-to-reach communities,” says Phwitiko. “This includes new products and programming that support children’s growth, development, education and protection.”

The ADDA trainees are Africans aged between 18 and 24 years who can show proficiency in English. Students also must have university training in a field of science, technology, engineering or mathematics or equivalent practical experience.

The first cohort has already received certificates for completing ADDA courses in drone technology and data analysis. Those students can now use their skills in their home countries, which include Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Botswana, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and host country Malawi.

In all of these countries, poor transport links can delay supplies of critically needed items and medicines such as malaria drugs, antibiotics, blood transfusion kits and vaccines. Especially in poor and remote communities, health care can be hard to find. With Malawi’s drone technology and training initiatives, help may soon come from the sky.

Raphael Mweninguwe is a freelance journalist based in Malawi.

Kategorien: english

No panacea

1. Juli 2020 - 16:04
REDD+ money is reinvested in forest protection and sustainable land use

REDD+ is about countries getting paid for reducing emissions. Money is disbursed as a reward for slowing down deforestation, increased afforestation or other protective measures. How does that work?
Well, it is a complex process. First of all, countries that want to benefit from REDD+ payments must build the needed capacities in political, institutional and technical terms. They not only need a national REDD+ strategy, but must also measure the extent of their country’s forest cover. Moreover, they need a mechanism to disburse funds. The people who live in the forest and depend on them must be involved. They often belong to indigenous peoples and other marginalised communities. The data national forest monitoring systems generate are essential for any REDD+ scheme. Satellites are used to assess how the forest cover changes, and annual emissions are calculated on that basis. The point of reference is the average trend of several previous years. If deforestation is reduced, the country is rewarded with results-based payments. Currently, one ton of reduced emissions is worth five dollars. The money must be reinvested in forest protection and sustainable land use.

Does that work out well?
It is too early to tell. The first rules were only defined in 2013 in the Warsaw Framework for REDD+. The multilateral funds that disburse money had to be established too. Examples include the Green Climate Fund, the FCPF Carbon Fund and the BioCarbon Fund. Disbursements have only begun recently. In the meantime, most countries have laid the foundations for taking part in REDD+. Germany added momentum from 2012 on with the REDD Early Movers Programme. In its context, we are cooperating with nations and subnational regions where deforestation has been slowing down and relevant institutions exist. We have started implementing REDD+ in Columbia, Ecuador and the two Brazilian states of Acre and Mato Grosso.

Has implementation lead to results?
Well, the programme has helped to raise awareness, both among government agencies and in society in general, for why forests matter, what indigenous people need and how to build institutions. That matters. Moreover, farmers who cultivate rubber and Brazil nut are now contributing to sustainable forestry. That said, deforestation is still getting worse in many tropical countries. Things were getting better in Brazil for some time, but now the trend has been reversed again. In other countries, however, deforestation is indeed slowing down. Indonesia is an example and it will soon receive REDD+ money. It is too early to make a final assessment, but REDD+ will certainly not prove to be a panacea. Logging, conversion of forests to farmland and mining are important drivers of deforestation. These issues must be addressed by private-sector companies and financial-sector institutions, including some based in Western countries.

Originally private-sector involvement was planned to be an important part of REDD+ funding. Now it is actually rather small. What is the reason?
It had been the intention from the beginning that one day the carbon reduction could be traded on a carbon market. Currently, the funding is ODA-based, so public money is used. That’s also how the multilateral funds that disburse the money work. Emissions trading is becoming ever more important, however. Demand is growing. A prominent example is the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) which is currently accrediting REDD+ programmes.

Is five dollars per ton of carbon not too small an incentive?
Getting the incentive right is obviously essential. Five dollars may indeed not be enough. Norway has recently offered Gabon ten dollars in a REDD+ programme. That might become the trend. Most multilateral funds, so far, have agreed to pay five dollars. That does not mean that a higher price cannot be agreed in the next phase.

Johannes Berliner works as a consultant for KfW Development Bank.

Kategorien: english

Environmental destruction

1. Juli 2020 - 10:39
Poverty is an important driver of deforestation in sub-Saharan countries

In Côte d’Ivoire, about 80 % of the original forest cover has disappeared. Much of it has given way to cocoa and coffee plantations. Many wonder if at least some of the country’s pristine forests can be saved. The EU REDD Facility, which supports action on reducing climate-relevant emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, reckons that the annual rate of deforestation in Côte d’Ivoire is about three percent.

Things look similarly bad in Nigeria. According to Muhtari Aminu-Kano, who heads the non-governmental Nigerian Conservation Foundation, 96 % of the original forests are gone. He says the main drivers of deforestation are the growing population’s demand for more farmland and firewood as well as the timber business. Aminu-Kano warns that biodiversity is being lost and that this trend will have harmful impacts on people.

Poor people’s survival strategies matter in other places as well. The WWF, an international non-governmental organisation, reports that two African regions are among the “deforestation fronts” which will account for 80 % of global forest losses in the next 10 years: the Congo basin and Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya on the Indian Ocean. The main causes are said to be small-scale agriculture and the demand for firewood and charcoal. The WWF considers unsustainable logging, mining and infrastructure construction to be important secondary causes in both regions.

It is worth emphasising that, in the WWF assessment, poor people’s needs are especially important. They are prevalent in many other sub-Saharan countries (for the Ugandan example, see Gloria Laker Aciro Adiiki in Focus section of D+C/E+C e-Paper 2020/04). The implication is that alleviating poverty is necessary to stop deforestation. More productive livelihoods and smallholder farming are needed. Poor people’s access to electric power and more efficient energy resources matters as well. These are huge challenges with an immediate bearing on forests, though many relevant policy interventions do not tackle forest issues directly.

Nonetheless, it is certainly necessary to regulate the logging industry and implement forest protection schemes. In some cases, better law enforcement would do the job. For example, there is a long-standing pattern of rosewood being illegally harvested in Senegal and smuggled to the Gambia, from where it is exported to China. According to the BBC, the trafficking is worth up to $ 50 million annually.

Large-scale forest programmes can be hard to implement. An example is the Great Green Wall. The idea is to use afforestation as a means to stop desertification on the Sahara’s southern fringes. A forest belt of trees is to be planted along a stretch of almost 8,000 km length from Senegal in the West to Djibouti in the East. The African Union endorsed this project in 2007, but so far, not much progress has been made.

The Nigerian environmentalist Nnimmo Bassey appreciates the Great Green Wall in principle, but he has pointed out that involving the local people is essential for the long-term success (see Tribune section of D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2019/03). That is, of course, true of forest-related policies in general.

Liberia is a small West African country with the forest cover that is still comparatively dense. There are disputes over forest use, however. Large-scale plantations have been spreading, especially where the timber industry cleared land. Efforts are now being made to give local people more say in community management. As a study published by the independent World Resources Institute concluded, women matter in particular. Though they often have a deep understanding of related issues because they depend on forest resources, they tend to be excluded from decision-making processes. Having to take care of their families, they are not expected to become engaged in politics and typically lack the time for such engagement anyway. More gender justice would thus contribute to a healthier environment.

Karim Okanla is a media scholar and freelance author based in Benin.

Kategorien: english

Nothing is true

26. Juni 2020 - 15:22
Why populists depend on systematical disinformation

As Peter Pomerantsev has argued about Russian President Vladimir Putin, populist leaders want people to feel that “nothing is true and everything is possible” (see Hans Dembowski in Tribune section of D+C/E+Z e-paper 2018/06). President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil similarly depends on disinformation. Depressingly, top leaders of many countries do so, including, for example, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Narendra Modi in India, Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Boris Johnson in Britain, Donald Trump in the USA and Iván Duque Márquez in Colombia. Other governments also cheat occasionally, but politicians with authoritarian leanings and a tendency to focus on a vague idea of national greatness need to lie systematically. They thrive on hounding scapegoats – communists, immigrants and minorities but also “the elite” or independent media. Leaders like Bolsonaro pretend to be fighting for “the” people, which they suggest is a homogenous entity.

In reality, they serve powerful special interests. In contrast to what the president says, Brazil’s forest fires do not help indigenous communities. They please the lobbies of ranchers and plantation owners. The president’s aggressive rhetoric against supposed enemies serves to distract from actual policy impacts.

Like other populists, Bolsonaro and his team want to destroy or at least discredit fact-based truth. He casts doubt on both independent science and independent journalism, pretending that they only provide a selection of many different alternative perceptions of reality, and that they are at odds with “the” people’s “real” interests. To reinforce that message, automated computer programmes and paid people keep reiterating the same untruths on social media. They follow the example of Joseph Goebbels, who was Nazi Germany’s propaganda minister. He declared that “a lie repeated a thousand times becomes true”.

Bolsonaro’s vicious propaganda is two-pronged. It tirelessly repeats the lies that it wants to be believed and it fiercely attacks the reputation of anyone who dares prove those lies wrong.

Kategorien: english

Lying about Brazil’s forests

26. Juni 2020 - 15:07
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro falsely says deforestation is not a problem

In October last year, devastating fires turned several parts of Brazil’s Amazonian forests into ashes. Indigenous people and other marginalised communities suffered in particular, and the entire river basin’s ecology is increasingly at risk (see Carmen Josse in Tribune section of D+C/E+Z e-paper 2019/10). Nonetheless, Bolsonaro addressed an audience of investors in Saudi Arabia and told them that the fires did not worry him. He declared them to be a “typical practice of local and indigenous people in an attempt to transform extractivism into agriculture”.

Experts were shocked, and so was the general public. French President Emmanuel Macron even spoke of a disaster and pointed out that Brazil had to take urgent action. Unless environmental standards are observed, European environmentalists do not want a trade deal between the EU and Mercosur to be ratified. Brazil belongs to the regional organisation Mercosur.

Bolsonaro dismisses any criticism. In autumn, he said: “A few weeks ago, Brazil was severely attacked by a European head of state on the Amazon issue.” He insisted that indigenous people burn down the forest for survival and claimed that this was one of the reasons why he “did not identify with previous policies regarding the Amazon”. Under his predecessors, land was reserved for conservation managed by indigenous communities. Rules of that kind limited how far agribusiness companies could expand operations. They want more land and benefit from the fires that, under Bolsonaro, are clearing forests.

In late 2019, international observers wondered why a head of state would deny science, use false pre3mises and lie about policies that were actually quite successful. Brazilians watching him closely had no doubt. It was an attempt to confuse the public and make the fires seem like something natural.

Systematic obfuscation

Governments run by right-wing populists like Bolsonaro have a strong tendency to obfuscate and mislead (see box). The reason is that empirical facts clash with populist propaganda. Bolsonaro does not want the public to believe what the providers of unbiased, scientific information say, so he does what he can to undermine their credibility.

Accordingly, Bolsonaro turned against the National Institute for Space Research (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais – INPE) in August last year. INPE is a government agency that uses satellite images to monitor Brazil. Among other things, it documents the state of Brazilian forests. Its Deter system documents logging in real time. INPE’s methodology is endorsed by NASA, the US space agency. Ricardo Salles, the environment minister supported Bolsonaro’s attack on INPE. Both politicians stated they needed better and more accurate data. They fired Ricardo Galvão, the physicist who was leading the institute.

International observers were shocked. “Jair Bolsonaro and his anti-environment minister, Ricardo Salles, made a bold attempt to lower the iron curtain on Amazon deforestation data – live and before the eyes of the entire world,” stated a comment in El País, the leading Spanish newspaper. “The government’s undisguised intention is to censor INPE and create a monitoring system in tune with the fictional world of Bolsonarism.”

The government has recently been sued for failing to protect the Amazon forest. Cases have been filed by an organisation of environment-ministry staff members, opposition parties and the NGOs Greenpeace and Instituto Socioambiental. Deutsche Welle reported that they argue Bolsonaro’s government acted wrongly by weakening inspections related to timber exports and by cutting climate-protecting funding.

The science is clear: the global climate is changing, and forests are dwindling in many countries. The two trends are mutually reinforcing. In order to protect humankind from ever worsening disasters, they must be stopped. Brazil’s forests are probably the world’s most important – because of their sheer size and their great biodiversity. Making matters more worrisome, deforestation in Brazil may be close to a tipping point after which the forests may be unable to regrow as they did in the past.

Faster deforestation

Bolsonaro won the presidential elections in 2018 and took office on 1 January 2019. His campaign promised to:

  • discontinue environmental assessments,
  • end the protection of specific forest areas and
  • erase demarcations that define indigenous land.

That agenda obviously adds up to faster deforestation. According to Imazon, an independent think tank, 1,722 square kilometres were cleared in the months January to May 2020. That was 39 % more forest area than in the same period a year earlier when Bolsonaro had just taken office.

Brazil’s federal government is taking an anti-science approach not only in regard to forest issues. Its response to the global Covid-19 pandemic has been equally problematic right from the start (see Gilberto Scofield Jr. in Covid-19 diary in D+C/E+Z e-paper 2020/06). Even though the deadly disease is now spreading fast in Brazil (see Thuany Rodrigues in Covid-19 diary in D+C/E+Z e-paper 2020/06), Bolsonaro has not changed his stance. On 7 June, his government stopped publishing total numbers of infections and deaths. According to the website, however, the country had counted almost 690,000 infections by 8 June, more than any other country apart from the USA, and the disease had killed more than 37,000 Brazilians. Many of them, however, belong to black and indigenous communities who, in the right-wing populists’ eyes, do not count as real citizens. In view of all the untruths, many people hope that the truth will soon catch up with Bolsonaro. He is suspected of corruption and obstruction of justice. The Supreme Court authorised investigations in late April. Democracy depends on checks and balances, and Bolsonaro has done his best to blunt them since taking power. The good news is that he has not managed to subvert all state institutions. A leaked video that showed him and his cabinet denigrating the judiciary, moreover, has hurt his own credibility.

His supporters, however, still hope that he will somehow manage to make his make-belief promises come true. That will never happen. Brazil cannot be a homogenous nation that excludes anyone who is somehow different and thrives on destroying the environment. Brazil is a diverse nation – and no society will last if it destroys the foundations on which it depends.

Jorge Soares is the pseudonym of a Brazilian Journalist who wrote this story before being told by his employer that, in these politically troubled times, he may no longer publish opinion pieces.

Kategorien: english

Why we need global cooperation

26. Juni 2020 - 11:11
Hans Dembowski spells out some thoughts on global governance ahead of Shattuck Center panel discussion on Friday 3 July

A system that destroys its environment ultimately destroys itself. The reason is that systems are components of the environments in which they exist and on which they depend. That is a very basic tenet of systems theory.

It makes sense to see our species as a single biological system – and obviously, humankind is destroying the natural environment we all depend on. Frightening trends include climate change, the dwindling of biodiversity, the depletion of ocean resources, desertification, deforestation, pollution with long-lasting plastic and more. If these trends are not stopped and reversed, disasters lie ahead. No country will be safe. Without some kind of global governance were all nations have a say, humanity will pay an enormous price.

In a similar way, our species as a whole is exposed to Covid-19. We can only protect our own individual nations if we manage to protect all other nations as well. As long as the pandemic is spreading in some parts of the world, getting a grip on it at the national level is only of limited use. Infections are likely to flare up again elsewhere, and keeping borders closed is not an attractive solution, even though narrow-minded nationalists may like the idea.

They neglect the harm and the pain closed borders cause. Frustration about not being able to travel was an important reason for the collapse of communist rule in East Germany.

It is worth bearing in mind, moreover, that individual nations’ economies are ultimately subsystems of the global economy. Closed borders hurt exporters as well as importers. They reduce opportunity. The bigger markets are, the more opportunities they offer, which is why many emerging markets have benefited from WTO membership. China is the most striking example, but not the only one.

By contrast, there is no example of a developing country that prospered thanks to isolationism and autarky.

As I have argued before, Covid-19 is a double challenge:

  • First of all, health-care systems around the world must cope with the pandemic. Humankind has a common interest in things not spinning out of control anywhere. Nurses and doctors need protective gear everywhere. As research advances and it becomes clearer which therapies work and which don’t, the relevant resources must be made available everywhere. Once there is a vaccine, it must be used to maximum impact. Immunising one nation entirely makes much less sense than to start immunising health-care staff everywhere. The point is that no one is really protected until everyone is.
  • Second, the global economy has taken a hit. Aggregate demand has been radically reduced by lockdowns, and on the supply side, production has stalled in many industries too. There is a need for stimulus spending everywhere. Even more urgent, social protection must be beefed up for those who have lost their normal incomes. Since national economies are interdependent, global cooperation will prove useful.

Global cooperation is required on many other issues, of course. Fighting organised crime, ensuring financial stability and maintaining peace are among the challenges that no national government can rise to successfully on its own.

Digitalisation, moreover, is changing societies everywhere. Global rules concerning data privacy or the deliberate spread of disinformation would be helpful. We do not have them. Even worse, the hugely profitable multinational corporations that dominate the internet hardly pay taxes. Their business practices are disruptive. The global community basically allows them to rake in the benefits, but does not make them contribute to repairing the damage.

In view of all the issues that require global governance, it is bizarre that populist leaders have successfully agitated against multilateralism. It is even more bizarre that media pundits started to theorise that the era of globalists was over and nationalists were now resurgent. What they failed to do was to explain how any kind of “my nation first” approach could ever successfully tackle the big global challenges. Nor could they explain how many leaders who all put their narrowly understood national interest first can ever forge lasting alliances with one another.

It is interesting to note in this context, that Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Jair Bolsonaro, three of the world's most important populist leaders, appear to be having a particularly bad Covid-19 pandemic. In the USA, Britain and Brazil, infection rates are awful, and the death toll terrible. Their governments’ responses to this crisis were guided by wishful thinking, but not well considered.

This is most certain linked to the fact that all three of them have so far thrived politically on aggressive rhetoric. What they never offered is detailed policies designed to solve complex problems. They claim to be making their nation great again. But they do not define greatness in any meaningful way. They show no interest in social inclusion. They do not seem to care about equal opportunities. They promise some kind of world leadership - which is odd, because they do not make any proposals on how to solve humankind's pressing problems.

The international community deserves better. We need prudent global governance – and it can only result from sensible cooperation.

Kategorien: english

Human action

25. Juni 2020 - 14:36
Deforestation continues on a global level although it is damaging to human interests in several ways

Three hundred years ago, deforestation and resource extraction had become so bad in Germany that the paradigm of sustainability was invented. It applied only to forestry initially. The idea was to keep forests stable by not cutting down more trees than regrow over a certain time span. Today, the international community demands sustainability in all industries. Short-term profiteering is often based on excessive resource extraction nonetheless.

Today, about one third of Germany has a forest cover once again. Internationally, however, deforestation keeps getting worse. In particular, the huge tropical forests, which are of great climate relevance, are being destroyed. The most prominent example is the world’s largest forest system in the Amazon basin. Deforestation rates there had actually declined for a while, but then started to increase again, with things getting especially bad after Jair Bolsonaro became president of Brazil.

Agriculture, the timber industry and mining are depleting forest areas elsewhere too – from Siberia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The damage is tremendous, especially where primary forests disappear. They are the habitats of most terrestrial animal and plant species. The erosion of biodiversity is depressing and not only for sentimental reasons. Food security and human health depend on biodiversity, and that is especially true in low-income countries.

Local communities are affected worst. They not only live in the forest, but their livelihoods depend on the forest. They use the resources sustainably, and many belong to indigenous peoples. However, their rights tend to be violated, their habitats eroded and their essential resources depleted.

Deforestation alters regional climates moreover. Patterns of rainfall change and desertification intensifies. Of course, deforestation also exacerbates global climate change. Dead trees release carbon, and storage capacity is lost.

In some countries, forest protection has improved, for example in Indonesia. The international donor community is making efforts to support such action by setting appropriate incentives and helping to implement programmes. It is also true, however, that the consumerism of high-income countries is a driver of deforestation. Environmental destruction is financially lucrative because of their demand for things like timber, soy and palm oil. Soybeans are needed for meat production, and palm oil is used as a fuel and as a component of food and cosmetic products.

In recent months, deforestation has made headlines as forest fires in Brazil and later bush fires in Australia attracted global attention. Disasters of that kind are shocking. Hopefully, they will eventually trigger preventive action. It actually does not make much difference whether forests are set ablaze intentionally or whether fires result from unusual heat and dryness. Either way, human behaviour is the root cause. To some extent, this is actually good news. It means that deforestation is not our fate. It is up to us to stop it.

Katja Dombrowski is a member of the editorial team of D+C Development and Cooperation / E+Z Entwicklung und Zusammenarbeit.


Kategorien: english

Modified strategy

23. Juni 2020 - 12:37
Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development plans to reduce the number of partners for bilateral governmental cooperation

The strategy paper points out that several global crises are escalating. Climate change, violent conflict and fragile statehood are mentioned explicitly, and so is hunger, which has recently begun to spread again. As the world population further increases, moreover, ecological habitats are shrinking. The authors warn that our species would need two Earths if all nations lived the way the high-income countries do, but we only have one. Given that it is UN consensus to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) within this decade, time is said to be short.

Development policy, the BMZ argues, is a cross-cutting issue that concerns the entire federal government. The reform proposals are meant to make the use of official development assistance (ODA) even more strategic, effective and efficient. One way to achieve this is to focus on a smaller number of Germany’s partner countries for bilateral governmental cooperation. It will sink from currently 85 to 60 in the future.

Germany’s bilateral governmental cooperation is implemented by federal institutions including the GIZ, KfW, PTB (the national metrology institute) and BGR (which specialises in geosciences and resources). Other forms of cooperation – for example with churches or civil-society agencies engaging non-governmental organisations abroad – are not affected by the reduction. Funding for multilateral programmes (EU, UN, international finance institutions, et cetera) will also continue as before. Finally, the BMZ wants to intensify support for private-sector investments in developing countries and emerging markets. Such support is not bilateral cooperation.

The top priority of German ODA remains to overcome hunger and poverty. The strategy paper lists the following core topics:

  • food security,
  • peace,
  • skills training and sustainable economic growth,
  • climate/energy and
  • ecology/natural resources.

Moreover, spending on public-health programmes is to increase.

Henceforth, the BMZ expects bilateral partners to make even faster progress in regard to governance, human rights and fighting corruption. Countries with particularly strong developmental ambitions – for example Ethiopia, Ghana or Tunisia – are to get particularly strong support. They are called “Reform Partners” in the strategy paper. On the other hand, progress in some countries, including Costa Rica or Mongolia, is considered to have been so good in recent years that further governmental funding from Germany is no longer appropriate.

Where governance disappoints – think of Myanmar or Burundi for instance – bilateral German agencies will no longer be active in the future. They will also withdraw from partner countries where Germany’s role has been only marginal compared with that of other donor countries. Haiti in Sierra Leone are indicated as examples.

For bilateral cooperation, the BMZ has defined three categories of partners: “Bilateral Partners“, “Global Partners” and “Nexus and Peace Partners”. To a large extent, conventional ODA will characterise cooperation with bilateral partners. The above-mentioned Reform Partners are a subcategory of Bilateral Partners, and so are Transformation Partners in the former East Bloc. Global Partners, by contrast, are emerging markets like Brazil China or India, and cooperation with them will be geared to tackling global challenges such as climate change. Cooperation with Nexus and Peace Partners, in turn, will focus on regions marked by strife and the flight of refugees. The goal is to reduce violence and stabilise societies.

BMZ, 2020: „BMZ 2030“.

Kategorien: english

Irrigation helps to cope with climate change

23. Juni 2020 - 12:16
Irrigation is helping many of Zambia’s rain-dependent small-hold farmers to survive

Zambia’s once vibrant agriculture sector is falling victim to climate change. Steadily rising temperatures, prolonged droughts and erratic rainfall are threatening crop yields and livelihoods. The trend is likely to worsen as climate change proceeds, environmental experts say.

Severe drought in the western and southern provinces during the rainy seasons in 2017 and 2018, as well as floods in the north, made more than 2.3 million Zambians dependent on food aid, according to donor organisations.

Ironically, Zambia as a whole has plenty of water. Its rivers, lakes and underground reserves account for 40 % of southern Africa’s water resources. But the water is not always available in the right place or at the right time.

Zambia’s most cultivated crop is maize, and it is a thirsty plant. Others include cotton, soybeans, tobacco, groundnuts and paprika. Agronomists say that irrigation boosts yields to between twice and four times the levels of rain-fed agriculture and could be an important part of the solution to a shortfall in productivity in the sector.

In view of the country’s twin water calamities – too much water in some places and too little in others – Zambia is investing in dams and irrigation systems to even out its supplies. As part of these plans, several programmes are under way to bring irrigation systems to small farms and reduce their centuries-old dependence on rain.

The Agricultural Sector Investment Programme, a joint initiative of the government and the World Bank, informs farmers and investors about “climate-smart” technologies, including irrigation. The programme also promotes crop diversification, commercial horticulture and reducing post-harvest losses.

The government and outside donors are also investing in early warning communication networks to alert communities to coming natural disasters such as droughts and floods, so they can prepare.

Separately, Zambia’s National Environmental Action Plan is promoting sustainable agricultural practices. Among other measures, the government is encouraging more efficient use of water and the use of computer-based tools for mapping drought- and flood-prone areas.

Currently, irrigation systems are found mostly on large-scale commercial farms, while small-scale farmers tend to depend on increasingly unpredictable rainfalls. But under various educational and subsidised financing schemes, this is starting to change. Irrigation equipment, including drip-watering systems and solar-powered water pumps, are appearing on small farms as well.

“This equipment is in high demand among farmers, and even small-scale farmers see the value of irrigating instead of depending on rainfall,” says Kelvin Tembo, who sells irrigation equipment in Mkushi District in central Zambia.

Smallholder farmer Charity Bumba of Chongwe, east of Lusaka, agrees. She has been irrigating her winter maize crops with a combination of underground water sources and irrigation equipment for several years, as the impact of climate change has become increasingly clear. “I cannot imagine how I would earn income without irrigation,” she says. “It keeps my business running year-round.”

In Gwembe in southern Zambia, smallholder farmer Pauline Kandela is still depending on rain. On a recent Sunday morning, a downpour finally came after a prolonged dry spell. “This is encouraging after a long while,” she says. “I hope for a good harvest next year.”

Improved infrastructure will help Zambia adapt to global warming. If climate change spins out of control, however, that will simply not do. The advanced nations must do more to mitigate the risks by curbing carbon emissions. Since sub-Saharan Africa hardly emits relevant gases, its countries have not contributed much to causing the problem (see Jakkie Cilliers in Tribune section of D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2020/07).

Derrick Silimina is a freelance journalist based in Lusaka, Zambia. He focuses on Zambian agriculture and sustainability issues.

Kategorien: english

Working in fear

22. Juni 2020 - 12:18
Journalists exposing crime and corruption in Guatemala work in an atmosphere of fear and impunity

Guerra had received death threats before the attack and made this known on social media. But the national police ignored the information, according to the Guatemala Journalists Association. And the newly expanded Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes against Journalists says it was unaware of threats against Guerra prior to the attack.

Guatemala is a dangerous place for journalists. Since 2007, 20 journalists have been killed in the country, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco). In addition to killings there have been uncounted numbers of threats, acts of intimidation, and attacks that have not resulted in death.

Other forms of obstruction include censorship, self-censorship out of fear and restricted access to official information. Journalists writing about drug trafficking and other organised crime, public mismanagement and activities of the country’s security forces are the most likely to encounter various forms of interference.

Reporters Without Borders (Reporteros Sin Fronteros, RSF) ranks Guatemala 116th out of 180 countries in its 2019 World Press Freedom Index, unchanged from its 2018 ranking. “Exposing political or administrative corruption and embezzlement can lead to threats and physical violence,” RSF says. “Murders of journalists are still frequent, and Guatemala continues to be one of the Western Hemisphere’s most dangerous countries for the media.”

Similarly, the Committee to Protect Journalists, an international advocacy organisation, reports that “conditions for press freedom in the country are fundamentally flawed. Without legal reforms, a genuine government commitment to transparency, and resources to combat impunity in attacks on the press, journalists will remain at risk.”

The background to reprisals against journalists is widespread corruption in government and business. Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perception Index ranks Guatemala as 146th out of 180 countries.

The risks to journalists are highest in rural areas, where journalists live in close proximity to those they investigate, and typically have nowhere to hide. Violent crimes carried out against journalists reporting corruption by local authorities typically go unsolved.

In addition to facing reprisals for their reporting, journalists deal with obstruction when searching for public information. The new government of President Alejandro Giammattei has promised improvements in access to information, but at the same time it has moved to centralise the flow of government information. The new government is also looking into accrediting journalists who cover the president – a procedure that until now has not been considered necessary in Guatemala.

Meanwhile, the Prosecutor's Office of Crimes against Journalists, which was created to improve the situation, has problems carrying out its job. The organisation lacks the funds to deal with the large number of claims of violence against journalists.

In 2012, Guatemala joined an international declaration pledging to protect journalists. More than seven years later, journalists are waiting for this commitment to be translated into meaningful measures. While they wait, they continue to work in an atmosphere of fear.



UNESCO observatory of killed journalists – Guatemala:

RSF – Guatemala:

CPJ – Guatemala:

Gildaneliz Barrientos is a journalist in Guatemala.

Kategorien: english

Gloomy outlook

22. Juni 2020 - 9:38
Kenya is struggling to cope with the Covid-19 challenges

The World Bank reckons the economic outlook to be gloomy for Kenya because of the disease, with GDP expected to contract. The Bank says that is a “a rare, severe event.”  

Kenya reported its first confirmed Covid-19 case on 12 March. The government responded fast. It immediately:

  • restricted travel,
  • closed all learning institutions,
  • suspended public gatherings and religious services,
  • imposed a nighttime curfew, and
  • instructed anyone who could to work from home.

It is promoting preventive practices and enforcing social distancing in public places. Repression has been harsh, however, and the Independent Policing Oversight Authority reported in June that officers killed at least 15 people.

Since the first case was reported, there has been a gradual increase of new infections. By 17 June, almost 3,900 Covid-19 cases were counted and 105 patients were reported dead. Public health officials expected the peak to come in August or September. Health-care investments are being ramped up, but Kenya’s health-care delivery system is clearly overburdened. According to the news agency Reuters, the country only has 518 intensive-care beds with 94 % already occupied by non-Covid-19 patients. When the pandemic peaks, Kenya may need 4,500 ventilators. There are only 297 in the country.

With nearly 50 million people, Kenya is the largest economy in East Africa. An estimated 60 % to 70 % of its urban people live in crowded slums that lack basic services and are perfect breeding grounds for infectious diseases. Sanitation is a problem even in the best of times. Adequate hygiene is hardly possible, and self-quarantine seems a far-fetched idea. It came as no surprise that the national health ministry identified densely populated areas in Nairobi as Covid-19 hotspots.   

Endemic poverty makes masses of people more vulnerable. According to official data, almost a third (36.1%) of Kenyans live below the poverty line. Informal laborers account for more than 80 % of the workforce. They lack social protection, so unemployment means desperate poverty.  

Compounding the problems, the country’s sector has been hit hard. Deloitte, the multinational accountancy firm, expects export revenues to decline by at least 25 % ($ 1.5 billion) this year. Productivity in the cut-flower industry has dropped by 90 %. The tourism sector has come to standstill. The economic slowdown has become self-reinforcing moreover. As consumers and businesses spend less, incomes are declining too and spending must be reduced further.   

Kenya must maintain a delicate balance. The great challenge is to keep the rate of new infections low enough for the health system to cope whilst restarting the economy at the same time.  

Across Africa, the scenario is bleak. The health risks must not be underestimated.  The UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) has warned that even with intense social distancing, the continent of 1.3 billion may see nearly 123 million cases this year, and 300,000 people could die of the disease. Kenya is a comparatively prosperous country. Economies and health sectors tend to be weaker elsewhere.

Mahwish Gul is a consultant from Pakistan who specialises in development management and has recently moved to Nairobi.

Kategorien: english

Demands for equality and justice

18. Juni 2020 - 15:36
How BLM is making the USA great, though not in a way that Trump would appreciate

Racism in the USA is a serious issue. The death of George Floyd at the hands – or more precisely under the knee – of the Minneapolis police was yet more proof. A lot must change in the USA.

However, many simple clichés about racism in the USA are too simple. Nuances need to be considered. I think the following points are important:

  • Yes, the number of black people killed by the police is disproportionately high, and so is their incarceration rate, but no, police violence and excessive criminal sentencing do not only concern them. White people are affected too, and the poorer they are, the worse the impacts are. Class and race issues tend to overlap.
  • It is true that affirmative action has not solved the problems in the USA, but no, it was neither meaningless nor cynical. What it did was to create a prosperous black middle-class, the children of which again benefit from affirmative action. To a considerable extent, racism in the US among poor white people is about not being able to benefit from affirmative action while prosperous children of black dentists or lawyers do benefit.
  • Yes, racist attitudes of individual persons matter, but no, that is not what hurts black students most. Structural racism is more important. Black communities all too often are only being served by worse public schools than white neighbourhoods. These schools have fewer teachers per student and less resources in general. On the other hand, if a black child manages to perform well nonetheless, there are opportunities, not least thanks to affirmative action. At the same time, prosperous parents of whatever skin colour often opt for private schools to ensure their children are taught well. To some extent, prosperous black kids then get easier access to top universities thanks to affirmative action. Again, class and race interact in important ways.

It is true that racism persists in awful ways, but no, the general public in the USA is not entirely neglecting the problem. To some extent, there is awareness in Europe too, but we are lagging behind. My impression, moreover, is that the UK and France are ahead of Germany in accepting that there is a problem. In Germany, we like to pretend that we don’t have a problem because our minority communities, apart from the Turkish one, are so small they are almost invisible.

There is racism in other world regions too. I’ve lived in India for a while and founded it striking that racism was actually worse there than in Germany. Upper caste Hindus have irritating patterns of looking down on others – Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis, immigrants. African students told me they felt quite uncomfortable in India. Media reports from China indicate that things may be even worse there, but I have no personal experience.

It is true of course, that black people are underrepresented in US politics, but no, their representation is not irrelevant. Exclusion of specific social groups can actually be worse in Africa itself. At D+C, we once had an intern whose father was from Kenya. She pointed out to me that a Luo – Raila Odinga – could not become president of Kenya. By contrast, another Luo – Barack Obama – became president of the USA.

I think it is absolutely necessary to spell out the harmful legacies of slavery and colonialism, but I also think that we need to consider racism in nuanced and detailed ways. Simply blaming the West is insufficient. In a way that Trump will probably never understand his nation is actually assuming the role of world leadership right now. The protests that erupted there have spread to many other countries – and even forcing the UN to consider racism within its system. It is amazing that a police killing in Minneapolis has sparked protest movements internationally. The British public is now discussing atrocities of the colonial era, and mainstream German media are beginning to look for systemic racism in our country. 

To a considerable extent, BLM is thus making the USA a global leader again – though not in a way President Donald Trump or white supremacists would appreciated. One of the most surprising things is that the protest  movement has become multiracial. When BLM emerged during the Ferguson protests six years ago, it was a black movement.  

On the other hand, had Trump carried out the violent clampdown he was tweeting about, Beijing would have felt free to send the military into Hong Kong. His approach has failed. In a most unusual way, US generals are now openly displaying their disapproval of Trump. One reason is that they do not want racism to undermine the cohesion of the troops. Many soldiers are black (about 17 %), and so are about 8 % of the military leadership.

That does not change anything about racism is awful. That is true of the personal as well as the systemic variety. US society remains unacceptably racist – but as the past two weeks have shown, it is also a leader in challenging racism. Yes, I agree, the progress that has been made in race relations in the USA since the civil-rights movement was slow and not as far-reaching as needed.

Many other countries, however, have made less progress. What other western capital city has seen so many people of colour in top cabinet positions in the past 20 years as Washington did? Of course it makes a difference to have role models like Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, Barack Obama, Susan Rice or Loretta Lynch. And it is a very healthy trend that protests in the USA are now resonating all around the world.

Kategorien: english

Falling back

17. Juni 2020 - 10:42
Corona pandemic threatens development success in eastern Africa

Even before Covid-19, food security was deteriorating at a global level. According to the World Food Programme’s Global Report on Food Crisis 2020, the number of people suffering food insecurity rose from 113 million in 2018 to 135 million in 2019. The member countries of the Eastern African regional organisation IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) accounted for about 20 % of the people concerned. The IGAD members are Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, Uganda and Sudan. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, they normally depend on about 8.5 million tons of cereal imports per year.

Agriculture is by far the most important industry in this world region. However, rain fall has become ever less predictable in the course of the climate crisis, and rain-fed agriculture has suffered accordingly. Recurring droughts and flash floods severely affect livelihoods (see my comment in Opinion section of D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2017/05). The infrastructure that is needed in view of the changing climate has not been built to a sufficient extent.

This year, things look particularly bad. One of the problems is a devastating locust plague which resulted from unusual weather conditions. For many decades, these insects have not haunted eastern Africa so harmfully. Even if this was the only problem, IGAD members would struggle to cope. Unfortunately, there are several more problems.

Covid-19 is spreading in the region. The global pandemic arrived relatively late in mid-March. At first, it only increased slowly, but it suddenly changed gear in May. By mid-June, Djibouti, the smallest IGAD member, had counted 4,500 infections and 43 dead, according to To a considerable extent, the urgent health crisis has distracted governments’ attention from the plight of small farmers and pastoralists.

State capacities tend to be weak in this world region – and that is true of infrastructures too. Diminished harvests mean higher food prices. Subsistence farmers suffer in particular. Most people’s livelihoods depend on agriculture, so a crisis in the sector must make poverty worse. People’s self-esteem and community cohesion are affected negatively. Compounding problems, the Covid-19 pandemic means that health-care institutions are even more overburdened than they normally are. Issues such as malaria, measles, Guinea worm and others are not getting the attention they need. Vaccination programmes and veterinary services for livestock farmers have been winding down to considerable extent.

When disasters strike, the international community normally offers some support. This year, however, all governments are absorbed by domestic worries. Depressingly, African countries have so far not managed to coordinate the kind of trans-border action that the pandemic requires. That political and social instability haunts many countries, adds to the problems.

Eastern Africa did see progress in the past 20 years. Food security had improved, poverty was reduced, and indicators for health and education had become better. Two global initiatives were helpful, first the Millennium Development Goals and since 2015 the Sustainable Development Goals. The global community must not allow the positive developments to be undone. In the recovery efforts in the post-Covid-19 era, hard hit countries will deserve special attention.

Belay Begashaw is the director general of the Sustainable Development Goals Center for Africa (SDGC/A) in Kigali, Rwanda.

Kategorien: english