World Hunger on the Rise as 820m at Risk, UN Report Finds

More than 820 million people worldwide are still going hungry, according to a UN report that says reaching the target of zero hunger by 2030 is “an immense challenge”.

The number of people with not enough to eat has risen for the third year in a row as the population increases, after a decade when real progress was made. The underlying trend is stabilisation, when global agencies had hoped it would fall.

Millions of children are not getting the nutrition they need. The UN says the pace of progress in halving child stunting and reducing the number of low birthweight babies is too slow, which jeopardises the chances of achieving another of the sustainable development goals.
Nearly half of all child deaths in Africa stem from hunger, study shows
Read more

The report is from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the UN Children’s Fund (Unicef), the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization.

While hunger remains widespread, obesity – also related to malnutrition – continues to rise in all regions. There are 338 million school-age children and adolescents who are overweight and 672 million obese adults. Asia and Africa, which have nine out of 10 of all stunted children and more than nine out of 10 of all wasted children worldwide, are also home to nearly three-quarters of all overweight children worldwide, largely driven by unhealthy diets.

One in seven babies around the world were born with low birthweight in 2015, the report says, many of them to adolescent mothers. That puts them at risk of poor development.

The world’s population has steadily grown, with most people living in urban areas. Technology has “evolved at a dizzying pace, while the economy has become increasingly interconnected and globalised”, say the heads of the UN agencies in a foreword to the report.

“Many countries, however, have not witnessed sustained growth as part of this new economy. The world economy as a whole is not growing as much as expected.”

Climate breakdown is affecting agriculture and the number of farmers has declined. “All of this has led to major shifts in the way in which food is produced, distributed and consumed worldwide – and to new food security, nutrition and health challenges.”

Hunger is increasing in countries where economic growth is lagging and there is income inequality.

“Our actions to tackle these troubling trends will have to be bolder,” the UN leaders say. “We must foster pro-poor and inclusive structural transformation focusing on people and placing communities at the centre to reduce economic vulnerabilities and set ourselves on track to ending hunger, food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition.”

Read More

Nigeria Needs $24bn to Lift People Out of poverty — Oxfam

Oxfam has said it will cost about $24bn to lift all Nigerians living below the extreme poverty line of $1.90 out of poverty for one year.

The international organisation revealed in a new report that 69 per cent of Nigerians were living below the poverty line, adding, “Nigeria runs the most expensive governments in the world, with an over-bloated civil service, government advisers and aides, whose salaries are often very high.”

According to the report, the government at national and sub-national levels has been worsening inequality by under-funding public service, such as healthcare, education, water and sanitation and women’s empowerment.

The Interim Country Director, Oxfam Nigeria, Constant Tchona, gave the details in Abuja during the launch of the first regional report on the commitment to reducing inequality index.

The report said, “It will cost about $24bn to lift all Nigerians living below the extreme poverty line of $1.90 out of poverty for one year. This amount of money is just lower than the total wealth owned overall by the five richest Nigerians in 2016, which was equal to $29.9bn.

“Poverty in Nigeria is particularly outrageous because it has been growing in the context of an expanding economy where the benefits have been reaped by a minority of people, and have bypassed the majority of the population.”

According to Tchona, the richest man in Nigeria will take 42 years to spend all of his wealth at one million per day.

He said, “According to Oxfam’s calculations, the amount of money that the richest Nigerian man can earn annually from his wealth is sufficient to lift two million people out of poverty for one year.”

“The gap between the rich and the poor may be a worldwide problem but in Nigeria the scale of inequality is staggering. Nigeria is the only oil-producing nation in the league of five countries with the largest number of poor people. Official poverty rates remain high, at 46 per cent of the population or 62 per cent in strict per capita terms.”

He added, “Though the country’s economy has expanded at an average of six per cent every year since 2006, the paradox of growth in Nigeria is that as the country gets richer, more than half of its 200 million-strong population continues to live in abject poverty.

“With the misapplication of resources and priorities, economic growth in Nigeria has not created meaningful opportunities and employment as many of the country’s youth, including those with university degrees, are currently unemployed.”

Tchona outlined measures that should be taken by the government to end inequality in Nigeria.

He said, “There is an urgent need to critically examine the culture of governance and break the policies and norms that sustain the concentration of wealth and income at the top, to forestall the self-perpetuating cycle of inequality that subjugates many and sustain poverty in Nigeria.”

He said economic policies and development strategies should be formulated in a participatory manner and should have at the core reducing inequality as a key principle.

Tchona said the government should take urgent actions to bring down the cost of governance.

Read More

New UN Report Reveals that Hunger in Africa Continues to Rise

slickly 20 June 2019, Addis Ababa – Hunger in Africa continues to rise after many years of decline, threatening the continent’s hunger eradication efforts to meet the Malabo Goals 2025 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly the Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG2). New data presented in the joint UN report, the Africa Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition, released today, indicates that 237 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are suffering from chronic undernutrition, derailing the gains made in the past years.

The joint report by the Regional Office for Africa of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) was launched today in Addis Ababa at an event presided by FAO’s Deputy Director-General Climate and Natural Resources, Maria Helena Semedo.

It shows that more people continue to suffer from undernourishment in Africa than in any other region – evidence suggests that in 2017, 20 percent of the African population was undernourished.

“The worsening trend in Africa is due to difficult global economic and worsening environmental conditions and, in many countries, conflict and climate variability and extremes, sometimes combined. Economic growth slowed in 2016 due to weak commodity prices, in particular for oil and minerals. Food insecurity has worsened in countries affected by conflict, often exacerbated by drought or floods. For example, in Southern and Eastern Africa, many countries suffered from drought,” FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa, Abebe Haile-Gabriel, and ECA Executive Secretary, Vera Songwe, said in their joint foreword of the report.

Of the 257 million hungry people in Africa, 237 million are in sub-Saharan Africa and 20 million in Northern Africa. The annual UN report indicates that compared to 2015, there were an additional 34.5 million more undernourished people in Africa, of which 32.6 million in sub-Saharan Africa and 1.9 million in Northern Africa. Nearly half of the increase is due to the rise in the number of undernourished people in Western Africa, while another third is from Eastern Africa.

At the regional level, the prevalence of stunting in children under five is falling, but only few countries are on track to meet the global nutrition target for stunting. The number of overweight children under five continues to rise and is particularly high in Northern and Southern Africa. According to the regional report, progress towards meeting the World Health Organization’s global nutrition targets is slow at the continental level.

In many countries, notably in Eastern and Southern Africa, adverse climatic conditions due to El Niño led to a decline in agricultural production and soaring staple food prices. The economic and climatic situation has improved in 2017, but some countries continue to be affected by drought or poor rainfall.
Greater efforts and collaboration needed to achieve SDG 2

The report reveals that more efforts are needed to achieve SDG2 and the global nutrition targets amidst the important challenges faced by the continent, such as tackling youth employment and climate change. Agriculture and the rural sector must play a key role in creating decent jobs for the 10 to 12 million youths that join the labour market each year. Another present and growing threat to food security and nutrition in Africa, particularly to countries relying heavily on agriculture, is climate change. The effects of climate change, reduced precipitation and higher temperatures negatively influence the yields of staple food crops.

At the same time, there are significant opportunities for agriculture in developing intra-African trade, harnessing remittances for development, and investing in youth. Remittances from international and internal migration play an important role in reducing poverty and hunger as well as stimulating productive investments. International remittances amount to nearly $70 billion, about three percent of Africa’s GDP, and present an opportunity for national development that governments should work on to strengthen.

The signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement provides an opportunity to accelerate growth and sustainable development by increasing trade, including trade in agricultural products. Although agricultural intra-African exports rose from $2 billion in 2000 to $13.7 billion in 2013, they remain relatively modest and often informal. The report highlights that opening trade of food also carries risks to consumer and producer welfare, and governments should avoid using trade policy for multiple objectives but rather combine trade reform with additional instruments, such as safety nets and risk-mitigating programmes, to achieve food security and nutrition goals.

Call for greater action to address the threat from climate variability and extremes

This year’s Regional Overview, entitled, “Addressing the Threat from Climate Variability and Extremes for Food Security and Nutrition,” illustrates that climate variability and extremes, in part due to climate change, are important factors underlying the recent rise in food insecurity and severe food crises on the continent.

Many countries in Africa are at great risk to climate-related disasters and suffer from them frequently. Over the last ten years, climate-related disasters affected on average 16 million people and caused annually $0.67 billion in damages across the continent. Although not all of these shorter-term climate variations may be attributable to climate change, the evidence presented shows that more numerous and more frequent occurrences of climate extremes and a rise in climate variability are threatening to erode gains made towards ending hunger and malnutrition.

FAO and ECA stressed, “Greater urgency in building resilience of households, communities and countries to climate variability and extremes is needed. We need to face myriad of challenges to building institutional capacity in designing, coordinating and scaling up actions for risk monitoring and early warning systems, emergency preparedness and response, vulnerability reduction measures, shock-responsive social protection, and planning and implementing resilience-building measures. Strategies towards climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction must be aligned as well as coordinated with interventions in nutrition and food systems across sectors.”

In terms of developing climate adaptation strategies and implementation, the report highlights the need for greater efforts in data collection, monitoring and implementation of climate smart agriculture practices. Continued efforts through partnerships, blending climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, and long-term financing can bridge humanitarian and development approaches.

Key facts and figures

-Number of hungry people in Africa: 257 million or 1 in every 5 people
-Children under five affected by stunting (low height-for-age): 59 million (30.3 percent)
-Children under five affected by wasting (low weight-for-height): 13.8 million (7.1 percent)
-Children under five who are overweight (high weight-for-height): 9.7 million (5 percent)
-Percentage of women of reproductive age affected by anaemia: 38 percent
-Percentage of infants aged below 6 months who were exclusively breastfed: 43.5 percent
-Percentage of adults who are obese: 11.8 percent

Read More

The App that’s Improving Antenatal Care in Cameroon and Beyond

Using mobile technology, the GiftedMom platform offers vital health advice and emergency transport to pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa

Over lunch at a recent workshop, Agbor Ashu, the co-founder and medical director of social enterprise GiftedMom, showed me a small icon of a pregnant woman on his smartphone: “That’s the app,” he says. “You just click here and land on this homepage where you have multiple options: if you’re a mother-to-be, you can get advice based on your pregnancy stage; if you have a new-born baby, you can read about special care. You can also reach out to our medical team on duty via the chat and get reminders about your doctor’s appointment.” Noting the perplexed look on my face, he adds: “You’d be surprised how many women forget their doctor’s appointments – they have a thousand other preoccupations on their minds.”

Ashu believes simple solutions can be the most effective ones when it comes to improving people’s lives. After finishing medical school in Yaoundé, Cameroon, he entered government, enticed by the promise of stable employment. For a young doctor who believed in large-scale solutions for the healthcare sector, he soon realised it wasn’t enough for him. “Sitting at the hospital every day waiting for people to get sick would have limited the impact I wanted to create in society,” says Ashu.

In early 2015, Ashu started sharing his vision for improving access to healthcare with more senior colleagues. The encouragement he received from them was all he needed to kickstart things.

In October of the same year, having been introduced to Alain Nteff, who would later become GiftedMom’s co-founder, Ashu started engaging with different partners, including the Ministry of Public Health. With a stipend of about $80 per month, he was relying on friends to make ends meet. Many of his peers and relatives felt his ambitions were short-term and underdeveloped: “My parents needed me to be secure. I was advised to return to … continue working in the government, but deep within me, I knew what I had to do and resisted going back.”

Together with Nteff, Ashu set up GiftedMom, which aims to improve maternal health using mobile technologies. The platform helps pregnant women in underserved areas – initially in Cameroon, and now across Africa – have safe pregnancies and combats the lack of access and knowledge that has led to high mother and infant deaths in the country.

Capitalising on the high and growing number of mobile devices in sub-Saharan Africa, GiftedMom uses a customised SMS notification and voice education platform that expecting and new mothers can register for to receive advice about their health, including why it’s imperative to have regular check-ups. “There is a one-off subscription fee of less than $1. After that, customers can receive messages free of charge, including alerts for when vaccinations for newborns are due,” says Ashu.

The GiftedMom smartphone app was designed for both offline and online data collection, and can be used by community workers and medical personnel to register pregnant women and new mothers. Women can register for the service by using a toll-free code. In order to reach the estimated 35% of Cameroonian women who are illiterate, the team also developed voice technology in four widely spoken traditional languages.

An additional facet of GiftedMom’s services is its transport system. A woman with an emergency can alert the GPS Tricycle Transport, which will pick her up and take her to a health centre for treatment. The app provides mapping and location details, even for rural areas, and uses cell-tower triangulation technology to function without internet access. The tricycles are equipped with beds and another seat for health personnel.

There is huge scope for Ashu and his team to expand their services across the continent, as sub-Saharan Africa is the fastest growing mobile market today. There were 420m unique mobile subscribers in the region in late 2016, equivalent to a 43% penetration rate, with more than half a billion subscribers predicted by 2020. Mobile has emerged as the continent’s platform of choice for creating, distributing and consuming innovative digital solutions and services.

The mobile industry also plays an increasingly vital role in the social and economic development of the region: mobile connectivity has become the driving force for greater inclusion, while the mobile ecosystem, including network operators and device vendors, contributes significantly to economic growth and jobs. Many innovators and tech entrepreneurs like Ashu and Nteff are using the expansion of advanced mobile infrastructure in Africa and the growing adoption of smart devices to deliver solutions that directly respond to people’s primary needs. Across the region, mobile tech is enabling life-enhancing services that directly support the sustainable development goals (SDGs), complementing the efforts of governments and their development partners.

To date, GiftedMom has reached 120,000 pregnant women and mothers in rural and urban communities in Cameroon. This has increased the rate of antenatal care by an average of 80% and the rate of vaccination by 90%. And the company is not lacking ambition. In July, GiftedMom joined UNDP’s Business Call to Action with a pledge to expand its operations in three new African countries – Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Kenya.

Public health concerns, coupled with mobile penetration, represent a unique opportunity for inclusive businesses. With the vision of reaching 5 million users in the next three years across Africa, GiftedMom is unlocking a new market of consumers and I am convinced that they will be a major contributor to the realisation of the SDGs.

Read More

Opinion – How Social Entrepreneurs are using Tech-based Solutions to Tackle Global Poverty

Social entrepreneur Jack Sim argues that digital technology can be used to create opportunities for the world’s poorest populations, but a joined-up approach from stakeholders is needed.

The challenge of ending poverty for the world’s 3.7 billion poor is larger than any one entity can solve. Crucially, this task also presents a market opportunity so large that there is more than enough work for all active stakeholders to engage in. More than ever before, digital technology is making these opportunities easier to harness.

With technology now increasingly accessible – through cheap smartphones, e-payment and e-commerce systems – farmers can be connected directly to buyers, bypassing the need for a middleman, and thus reducing transaction costs and increasing independence.

These changes can have significant knock-on effects in other parts of their lives: with better prices, they can buy improved seeds to grow superior crops, which fetch higher prices. With extra income, farmers can send their kids to school or study online through free massive open online courses (Moocs). They can access “e-health” services, where doctors in cities diagnose patients in remote villages through video calls, and medications are dispensed at local village pharmacies. They can buy solar panels to pump water from boreholes, which can be filtered using affordable water tech, creating business opportunities to sell clean drinking water.

As more such trades are operated by the villagers themselves, velocity of money increases and local GDP rises, thus creating jobs and improving access to more quality of life products such as clothing, hairdressing and beauty products, handicrafts, micro-insurance, toilets and more.

As social entrepreneurs, we can help facilitate this growth. But first, we must remind ourselves that we do not own the poor. They are not the tools for our survival, or our road to glory. If we truly want to support them to rise from poverty, we should muster the combined power of all stakeholders to help them. We also need to persuade foreign aid and donors to fund a whole ecosystem approach instead of working in silos or competing wastefully.

We can borrow the Nine Basic Principles of Biomimicry by Janine Benyus when building our tech-driven ecosystems tailored to the low-income marketplace.

Here is my translation of the principles into practical actions:

1. Nature runs on sunlight
Solar energy tech can be scaled up to all off-grid communities. With energy, we can deliver water pumps, drip irrigation, wifi access, lighting, refrigeration, education, e-health, e-commerce, e-payment and more.

2. Nature uses only the energy it needs
Scale up our impact without scaling up our overheads. Don’t duplicate work.

3. Nature fits form to function
Blockchain has the potential to unblock any bureaucracy that hinders function.

4. Nature recycles everything
Recycle all proven ideas and don’t waste the opportunity to copy each other.

5. Nature rewards cooperation
Collaboration makes mission delivery cheaper, faster, better and easier. Those outside the collaborative ecosystem may become inefficient by comparison and become motivated to join the ecosystem.

6. Nature banks on diversity
We should bank on the diversity of our combined talents.

7. Nature demands local expertise
Decentralise and democratise distribution to local communities without having hierarchical cost structures.

8. Nature curbs excesses from within
Don’t spend excessively large amounts of time fundraising. Focus on leveraging peers to help you deliver impact wider and faster, so as to grow without overheads.

9. Nature taps the power of limits
Do only what you are good at and let the others do the rest in collaboration with you.

We know that there are already more than 4,000 proven social entrepreneurial business solutions that we can replicate. Technologies available span sectors such as agritech, energy, water, sanitation, e-payment, e-commerce, logitech, edutech, housing, e-health, fintech and smart city public policy, to name a few. We know that businesses want to open up this very exciting “base-of the-pyramid” (BoP) marketplace. We know that we do not have the trillions of dollars needed to deliver the 17 sustainable development goals. But if we can convert a significant portion into social business investments, and combine this with proven business models, we can solve the problem at exponential scale and speed, and at a much lower cost than traditional methods.

On my part, I’m building a 65,000 sq ft BoP design centre in Singapore. We want this to become a world trade centre for the poor and invite all interested parties to co-create and co-design the working mechanism so that it can become a replicable, open-source model. The idea is that anyone could start a similar centre around the world, allowing more social businesses to be connected with each other across borders as we strive to achieve a common goal: to improve the lives of those less fortunate than us.

This is our business call to action.

Read More

Why Nigeria Needs to Invest More in Healthcare, Education Reforms — DFID

The Department for International Development (DFID) says Nigeria needs to invest more in healthcare, education and economic reforms.

The country head of the oganisation, Debbie Palmer, said this on Monday during a conference organised by the Not Too Young To Run group in the nation’s capital, Abuja.

She explained that there are projections that soon Nigeria could become the third largest nation on earth which could mean a rise in the number of the working age and potentially, a boost in the nation’s GDP.

However, according to her, this can only be possible if the nation invests in its health, education and economic sectors.

Palmer said, “According to projections, Nigeria is set to become potentially, the third largest nation on earth by 2050 after China and India.

“So, what that means is, there will be a huge rise in the number of Nigeria’s working age over the next 50 years and in theory, this could transition Nigeria from being a lower middle-income country to being a higher middle-income country with a GDP per capita of over $8,000 per person.

“That is a bright future to work for and that would be a fantastic future for Nigeria.

“To get there, Nigeria needs to be investing in its healthcare, education and economic reforms.

“Because in a nutshell we’ve got huge numbers of Nigerians being born and we need those people to be nourished, educated, healthy, skilled and to become productive members of the society, having jobs and driving this economy forward”.

Also addressing the youths, the sponsor of the Not Too Young To Run bill in the House Of Representatives, Mr Tony Nwulu, asked them to walk their talk anytime they recite the country’s national anthem.

“The Not Too Young To Run initiative has truly brought us into the spirit of the national anthem. Today, we can actually say that we have answered that clarion call for young people to get involved in mainstream politics.

“So if you could have made it through your party primaries, go through the rigors and every other thing that goes with it and you emerged as a party candidate, then you know that you’ve truly been called to serve this country with strength and faith and I want all of us to continue to reflect on the national anthem,” he said.

The conference brought together candidates from 91 registered political parties to educate them on the need to build the right values that would help them deliver good governance and quality representation in Nigeria.

President Buhari had signed the ‘Not Too Young To Run’ Bill into law in May, reducing the age limit for presidential candidates from 40 to 35.

On the other hand, the minimum age for National and State Assembly members was reduced to 25.

The aim of the law is to increase the participation of young people in politics, as more than half of the nation’s population is below age 30.

Read More

World Bank Supports Efforts to Upgrade Djibouti Slums

WASHINGTON, November 9, 2018 – The World Bank approved an International Development Association (IDA) package of $20 million today to support Djibouti’s efforts to improve the living conditions for residents of urban areas, achieve its Zero Slum strategy.

Funded with a US$20 million from IDA, the World Bank’s fund for the poorest countries, combining credit and grant, the Integrated Slum Upgrading Project will improve access to urban and social services and to better job opportunities through increased mobility to more than 120,000 city dwellers.

“The Government of Djibouti has the ambition to eliminate slums in its territory and provide good living conditions to all its citizens” said Amina Abdi, Minister of Housing in Djibouti, “this operation is an important milestone of that transformational agenda and constitutes the first financing of a large restructuring program”.

Djibouti Ville’s high urban growth rate is a result of natural demographic growth combined with a continuous inflow of people both from rural areas inside Djibouti and from neighboring countries. While an increasing number of people relocated to the urban area in search for economic opportunities, many were also forced to leave their home due to repeated droughts over the past 30 years and conflicts in the region.

The population increase created new extensions at the outskirts of Djibouti. More than one third of the capital city’s population today lives in 13 rapidly growing slums. The expansion of these urban areas has mostly happened in an uncontrolled manner, making service provision challenging for authorities.

“This operation is an important step towards ensuring that all people in Djibouti live with adequate housing and social and mobility services”, said Atou Seck, World Bank Resident Representative for Djibouti. “Support will be provided for both investments and reforms, most notably on administration and regulation efforts already underway by the Government.”

In the targeted area, the project will support social infrastructure to relieve densely populated areas and facilitate public transportation, emergency assistance and the movement of people and goods. It will enable the government to develop an integrated urban development and slum prevention program. The strategy will enable sectoral ministries, such health and education, to strategically position health centers and schools, based on population’s demand, instead of land availability.

“People living in the project targeted area, youth and women in particular, will benefit from the jobs and new business opportunities created,” said Alexandra Le Courtois, Urban Development Specialist. “Children will walk shorter distances to school and residents will enjoy access to transport, water and streetlighting.”

The World Bank’s portfolio in Djibouti consists of eleven IDA-funded projects totaling US$ 150 million. The portfolio is focused on social safety nets, energy, rural community development, urban poverty reduction, health, education, modernization of public administration, governance and private sector development, with emphasis on women and youth.

Read More

China’s Billion Dollar Loans to Africa: Why US Should be Worried – Grant T. Harris

This week, China hosted leaders from across Africa for a summit in Beijing. The last summit was held in December 2015 in Johannesburg, South Africa, where Chinese President Xi Jinping announced $60 billion in funding support for infrastructure development in Africa.

The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation included an eye-popping announcement of billions of dollars more in Chinese financing to build infrastructure across the continent. But these massive loans can come with steep and opaque conditions.

It’s tempting for Americans to think this is not our problem. But as African countries sink deeper and deeper into Beijing’s carefully laid debt trap, the United States could pay a steep cost in reduced cooperation on counterterrorism and job creation.

Chinese debt has become the methamphetamines of infrastructure finance: highly addictive, readily available, and with long-term negative effects that far outweigh any temporary high. This is particularly true in sub-Saharan Africa, where China has become the largest provider of bilateral loans. Forty percent of sub-Saharan African countries are already at high risk of debt distress; by having so much debt concentrated in the hands of a single lender, they are dangerously beholden to their supplier.

Why does this matter? Because in Africa and elsewhere, governments have secured massive loans from Beijing using strategic assets—such as oil, minerals, and land rights— as collateral. If borrower nations find themselves unable to repay the loan, China can claim the strategic asset. Sri Lanka recently learned this the hard way and handed over control of the port of Hambantota, giving China a strategic foothold along a busy trade waterway.

According to Professor Brahma Chellaney at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, “several other countries, from Argentina to Namibia to Laos, have been ensnared in a Chinese debt trap, forcing them to confront agonizing choices in order to stave off default.”

While Chinese debt diplomacy may not seem relevant to most Americans, it is a serious threat to US national security. Most directly, China’s crafty negotiations and seizure of strategic assets can limit US influence and access overseas.

For instance, the tiny country of Djibouti is home to the most significant American military base in Africa. Thanks to Chinese loans, Djibouti’s debt-to-GDP ratio surged from 50 to 85 percent between 2014 and 2016. If Djibouti were to default and relinquish the port that resupplies the US base, American military capability in Africa and the Middle East could be seriously threatened.

More broadly, unsustainable levels of debt can destabilize African states, which also compromises American security interests. Over-leveraged governments can get caught in a downward spiral of credit downgrades, reckless economic policies, and reduced spending on social services. With economic stagnation comes fewer opportunities for Africa’s fast-growing and young population. And the toxic brew of economic hopelessness and political disillusionment can drive disaffected youth toward violent extremism. That can threaten Americans abroad and, potentially, even at home.

Finally, China’s debt diplomacy shuts out opportunities for US businesses. Not only do Beijing’s cheap infrastructure loans come with conditions to employ Chinese companies, they also set out technical specifications for projects like high-speed railways and wireless networks in a manner that favours Chinese firms. The combined effect of these efforts “would push the United States away from its current position in the global economy and move China toward the centre,” according to Jonathan Hillman, a fellow at the Center for International and Strategic Studies. China already earns $180 billion annually from its investments in Africa; if its debt diplomacy remains uncontested, it’s likely that even more revenues and jobs will flow to China, instead of the US.

But this outcome is far from inevitable. The US has plenty of good options, but it needs to dramatically step up its game and support alternatives to Beijing’s aggressive finance initiatives. Perhaps most fundamentally, the US needs to focus on boosting African economic growth. Helping African states to strengthen investment climates and economic governance will help them attract more private sector capital and provide more entry points for US companies. A key component is assisting African efforts to increase transparency, so that all the costs and benefits of project finance options are openly known. Fully staffing US embassies and offering more technical assistance to evaluate loan agreements and investment contracts would be a good start.

To date, the Trump Administration’s Africa policy has been adrift, defined more by racial epithets than any cohesive strategy or results. By comparison, China has a clear vision that will yield long-term benefits.

In Africa and around the world, much more needs to be done to confront Chinese debt diplomacy. If not, the US will pay a heavy price in its commercial and national security interests.

Harris is CEO of Harris Africa Partners LLC and advises companies on investing in Africa. He was senior director for Africa at the White House from 2011-2015.

Read More

The 2 Women Entrepreneurs Tackling Maternal Mortality in Nigeria (Devex)

Adepeju Jaiyeoba, a lawyer by training, created a simple, low-cost Mother’s Delivery Kit targeted to low-income, rural communities who may not be able to afford institutional care or do not have access to any. Photo by: Brown Button Foundation

LAGOS, Nigeria — Lebabatu Musa has been delivering babies for 13 years in Kafur, a village in Northwestern Nigeria’s Katsina state. Her work is complicated by the fact that hospitals in the area don’t always have the necessary equipment to treat their patients, nor the personnel to offer additional trainings to staff.

The use of condoms as a form of birth control, for example, was a practice Musa was unfamiliar with until a recent training offered by a local foundation. It wasn’t a topic she had been taught in school, she told Devex, and although condoms are sometimes available in her community, their use has not been advocated for by the hospitals or community health centers she has worked in.

Musa studied for three years at a school for health and nursing in Malumfashi to become a community health worker, but “there are no doctors in our schools, only health personnel,” Musa shared of her training.

As a result of inadequate health facilities and a lack of skilled personnel, 814 women will die for every 100,000 live births in Nigeria, according to a 2015 estimate from the World Health Organization.

Presently, less than 20 percent of health facilities offer emergency obstetric care and only 35 percent of deliveries are attended by skilled birth attendants. In Katsina, where Musa works, 5.1 percent of women were delivering their children in facilities in 2008, according to data from the United Kingdom government-funded, country-led Maternal and Newborn Child Health Programme. In 2017, the number had risen to 20.8 percent. Still, women across Nigeria’s densely populated northern region choose to give birth at home with the help of a traditional birth attendant.

Adepeju Jaiyeoba and Temie Giwa-Tubosun, two entrepreneurs who faced complications in their own pregnancies, are now leveraging technology to address the gaps in skills and resources that cost many new mothers their lives across the West African country.

Drawing on their personal experience, hyperlocal knowledge, and relying on simple innovations, the two women are determined to increase the odds of survival for new mothers, whether in urban Lagos or rural Zamfara.

The loss of a friend, and the birth of a low-cost delivery kit

Seven years ago, Jaiyeoba’s family friend opted to deliver her baby at Obafemi Awolowo University’s reputable teaching hospital in Southwestern Nigeria. The delivery would be safe, she thought, since the university is known for producing some of the most respected medical doctors in the country. But the young mother bled to death after a graduate doctor severed an artery while conducting a cesarean procedure and failed to take immediate action to repair it.

In response, Jaiyeoba, a lawyer by training, created a simple, low-cost Mother’s Delivery Kit targeted to low-income, rural communities who may not be able to afford institutional care or do not have access to any. This delivery kit helps women like Musa — community health workers and traditional birth attendants who are often the sole health care provider in rural areas — to deliver babies safely and hygienically. The kit is currently distributed to rural communities in 30 out of Nigeria’s 36 states.

Now, it’s Jaiyeoba’s own experience that drives her. While pregnant, she sought care at an expensive Lagos-based hospital to find out why she was tired, weak, and experiencing dizzy spells. She was told her blood pressure was low and given supplements to take. Jaiyeoba’s symptoms didn’t improve, and she would later find out on a medical trip to the United States that in fact, the iron supplements sold to her at a local Nigerian pharmacy recommended by the hospital were fake.

The Mother’s Delivery Kit — which costs 1,700 Nigerian naira ($4.74) but is provided for free to health workers during trainings — contains misoprostol, a life-saving pill used to prevent bleeding rather than control it. It also carries a mucus extractor used to prevent asphyxia in newborns. Adhesive pads are included in order to control bleeding temporarily in the event a woman needs to be transferred to a facility.

“With the kits, we have been able to not only encourage, but create behavioral change,” Jaiyeoba said in an interview at her Lagos home.

Before the kit, birth attendants in rural communities would attend to women on reused plastic sheets, for example, and then attempt to disinfect them with warm water and salt. Unknowingly, the practice put their next clients at risk of infection. The kit has provided an alternative in the form of a stark white, absorbent delivery mat, which stains immediately after use so attendants aren’t tempted to recycle it, Jaiyeoba said.

Alongside the Mothers’ Delivery Kit Jaiyeoba created, which was funded through grants from organizations such as the United States African Development Foundation, she also set up the Brown Button Foundation to train women on how to use the kit and any other skills they might be lacking. Brown Button also improves access to more formal health care by encouraging health workers to refer cases beyond their capacity to better-qualified facilities when the option exists, Jaiyeoba said.

Jaiyeoba’s work has not been without resistance or roadblocks. Given the religious, conservative nature of many rural Nigerian communities, she must first seek approval for her work from male members of the community. She is also often caught in competing political interests of different agencies or local government authorities — from which she must also seek approval — who seek to stake ownership of the work. For instance, a state health board and a local government chairman may delay launch because of a disagreement of who will present to the people, Jaiyeoba explained.

Read More

Drones for Development (Georgetown University)

Drones are everywhere these days. From the spectacle of Amazon-owned delivery drones at South by Southwest to the use of these devices by Hollywood producers to capture aerial footage, drones present a variety of opportunities for businesses, military officials, and civil society (there’s even such a thing as droneboarding: getting towed by a drone while on a snowboard or wakeboard). However, there is another realm of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that is far less talked about: drones for social good. Drones present a tremendous opportunity to revolutionize the international development sphere and scale social impact in a number of ways. In fact, people around the world, from small communities in northern Guatemala to large metropolitan areas in Central Africa, are already implementing drone use into their daily lives.

Frederick Mbuya, for example, is a consultant at the World Bank who works on open data and is using drones to improve traffic congestion in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. In a rapidly expanding city with poor infrastructure, traffic can cause tremendous economic costs and safety hazards. Drones provide data through aerial imagery and large scale topographic surveys, which helps government officials prevent traffic jams, avert citizens from entering flooded areas, and design safer, more effective transportation infrastructure. Mbuya is very hopeful of the technology’s potential, explaining that a $2000 drone can produce a dataset worth $50,000 in the hands of city planners.

Although this example is still in its embryonic stage, the application of drones for international development extends far beyond traffic in Tanzania. Innovators are offering ideas to use drones to deliver vital emergency supplies to previously inaccessible areas, produce video reports during disasters to coordinate relief-efforts, and track drought patterns to improve farming practices. Private companies, like Matternet and Flirtey, are using drones to deliver everything from building supplies and food to medicine and biological samples. Zipline International recently partnered with the government of Rwanda to use its fixed-wing cargo drones to deliver medical supplies to remote health clinics in the East African Nation, proving the efficacy of public-private partnerships in leveraging drone potential.

While there are countless uses for drones in the international development sphere, particularly for logistical support, mapping, and monitoring, national and local governments are not always receptive to the new technology: Nigerian drone permits cost over $4000, Zimbabwe regulations prohibit drone-use for delivery, and Uganda restricts drone importation. Security and privacy concerns tend to dominate the subject of unmanned robotics, often prompting new legislation that severely hinders the potential of drones for social good.

As drone technology continues to evolve and as innovators and government officials find new ways to utilize them, it is important to provide clarity in these applications so that nations can make the most informed decisions when issuing drone legislation. Similarly, enabling local capacity for UAVs in developing nations can increase communities’ willingness to use them, in tandem with effective, constantly updated regulations to ensure that these drones are put to use ethically and safely.

Kay Wachwitz, CEO & Founder of Drone Industry Insights, recently explained that “the drone industry as a whole is moving forward — the process itself will create opportunities for operators and organizations across the world that want to leverage the technology.” While the hype around drones for entertainment purposes is certainly well-deserved, the truly ground-breaking opportunities lie in their ability to drastically transform the way private and public actors can help their communities. If we look beyond speedy Amazon deliveries, international spying capabilities, and SuperBowl light shows, we’ll find a multitude of ways that drones are already doing social good. They are changing our world for the better, and there are still many more opportunities to be discovered.

Read More