Archive for August, 2010

Slack-tivism: does social media hype help development?

Leslie Pitterson | 08.31.2010 in Millenium Development Goals,Women | Comments (1)

(Photo Credit: Women Deliver)

This week is the 2010 Global Maternal Health Conference in Delhi. Hosted by the Maternal Health Task Force at Engender Health and the The Public

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Health Foundation of India, the conference brings together policymakers from all over the world to focus on decreasing maternal mortality rates in the developing world by using public advocacy to inspire public will.

As the first session got under way, panelist Gita Sen, Professor of Public Policy at the India Institute of Management drew attention to some jarring news. Sen held up an article from the Hindustan Times, a report on a pregnant woman who died after giving birth in a busy market, mere miles away from where the conference was being held.

The story is unfortunately familiar to too many women around the world and reiterates the gravity of the issue at hand. However, as I sat at my desk at the UN and watched a live streaming of the conference I was struck by the fact that more and more, advocacy groups are coming together to focus on how to use social media to spread information about a cause as opposed to the cause itself.

The question is one that needs

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careful consideration, especially as the mediums to generate grassroots support expand every day. In the digital age, everything from Facebook to LinkedIn presents an opportunity to promote a cause and it seems that nearly every .org must also have a Twitter account. But for the women in developing countries, this issue is more than the latest fad in global health—it is their lives.

The conference is the latest event to highlight maternal mortality, the fifth Millennium Development Goal. This Goal has received a big boost of publicity in the build up to the September MDG Summit, with everyone from the Secretary-General to filmmakers; even supermodels are getting involved. However, the challenge

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of translating awareness into political will still presents an obstacle for NGOs and others hoping to push governments to prioritize the problem.

Big names, trendy topics, and webcasts create more public awareness regarding maternal mortality. But will this cause donors and governments to move from pledges to commitments? Does social media have the

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potential to not just identify the nameless women of the world but also improve their lives?

Ambassador Susan Rice speaks at UNESCO’S International Day for the Remembrance of Slavery And Its Abolition

Eryn-Ashlei Bailey | 08.27.2010 in Peace,UN Event | Comments (0)

Ambassador Susan E. Rice. (Photo Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras)

Ambassador Susan E. Rice of the United States to the United Nations spoke recently at the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and Its Abolition. Hosted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the annual international day to commemorate the tragedy of slavery and its repercussions was first initiated by UNESCO in 1994.

Rice spoke about the significance of the transatlantic slave trade and used the topic as an entry point for discussion on contemporary human-trafficking. “Some 12.3 million adults and children worldwide are relegated to forced labor…More than 100 countries still do not have laws, policies or regulations in place to prevent the deportation of trafficking victims.”

Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO said, “I invite all UNESCO’s partners, including national authorities, international and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society to provide opportunities for exchange and reflection that place emphasis on the beneficial effects of cultural diversity, recognizing the importance of the continuous transfers and exchanges among cultures and the links established since time immemorial.”

UNESCO examines the history of 19th and 20th century slavery through educational programs including the Slave Route Project. This compelling project uncovers the truths of slavery that are overlooked and ignored. Through collaborative scientific research, document collection and instrument development, UNESCO’s multifaceted project protects a delicate and transformative time period of world history, while investigating

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the effects of such a system on the multi-cultural society in which we live.

The international community continues to fight slavery and human trafficking. The

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Palermo Protocol aims to protect victims of slavery, particularly women and children. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime implements and enforces this protocol. The UN also adopted the Global Plan of Action Against Trafficking in Persons earlier this year in a concentrated effort to combat trafficking.

Slavery is typically an uncomfortable topic, often regarded as a moral blemish of humankind. While some choose to ignore this blemish, organizations and individuals like Rice and UNESCO are committed to conserving the reality and aftermath of it. Studying the institution of slavery will ensure that the system does not repeat itself. Knowledge is power. Power is Freedom. And Freedom is for all.

Resolutions and more resolutions: Does UN language help women in the DRC?

Leslie Pitterson | 08.24.2010 in Peace,Women | Comments (0)

A Congolese woman recovers at a hospital. (Photo Credit:

Today in Mexico, the United Nations held its 5th Annual World Young Women’s Forum.  Sponsored by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the conference addressed issues women face across the globe.  The forum focused on gender-based violence and called for a UN resolution to protect young women from sexual violence in conflict. However, news this week from the Democratic Republic of the Congo raises the question: will more UN language on the problem help solve it?

The issue of sexual violence was once again brought into international headlines when yesterday, after nearly three weeks of investigations, the United Nations confirmed allegations of the rapes of more than 150 women and children that occurred during a four day seizure of Luvungi town and surrounding villages after an initial attack by FDLR group and Congolese Mai-Mai rebels began on 30 July.  According to aid groups, the rapes were systematic and repeated throughout the duration of the seizure. The UN states that though UN peacekeepers were stationed in surrounding areas, they were unable to get through the roads blocked by the rebels. The nearest UN Peacekeeping bases were located 10 miles away in Kibua.

Since the start of war in the Congo over a decade ago, over 200,000 cases of rape have been reported, but this week’s media coverage shines a glaring light on the ineffectiveness of United Nations initiatives to translate into more than just rhetoric. In 2008, Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon launched his “UNiTE to End Violence against Women” campaign to adopt laws punishing sexual violence against women and girls. However, that same year, over 8,300 women in the DRC reported incidents of rape.

While violence against women has been highlighted throughout various UN led initiatives, the international body has remained unable to prevent sexual violence against women and girls in conflict. And, as UNIFEM calls for yet another UN resolution on sexual violence, one has to wonder- will these resolutions ever truly be enough?

Derek Jeter visits the United Nations for HOPE Week

Eryn-Ashlei Bailey | 08.20.2010 in UN Event | Comments (0)

Mohamed Kamara (front, second from the left). (Photo Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras)

Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees visited the United Nations on 18 August 2010 as part of the team’s HOPE (Helping Others Persevere and Excel)

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Week. HOPE Week began in 2009 as an opportunity for Yankees baseball players, staff, and coach Joe Girardi to honor five individuals for their inspiring stories and achievements. “HOPE week was such an important week for our entire team during our championship run in 2009,” Girardi stated. “It should be another great week.”

The 2010 HOPE Week lasted from 16-20th of August with a short stop at the UN on Thursday. All-star athletes of the New York major league baseball team honored 17-year-old Mohamed Kamar of Sierra Leone, who has certainly stepped up to the plate. Kamar survived conflict in his home country and is successfully pursuing an education in the Bronx while supporting his family.

The delegation included the Yankees players, representatives from the Department of Information, His Excellency Shekou M. Touray of Sierra Leone, and Kamar. Nevertheless, Kamar stood amongst the others, even baseball celebrity Derek Jeters. Kamar’s example of courage and hope sets a new standard for Hall of Famer’s in the minor and major leagues.

World Humanitarian Day falls short of addressing the new realities humanitarian workers face

Amanda Wheat | 08.19.2010 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

People around the world celebrate World Humanitarian Day. (Photocredit:

278 humanitarian workers have lost their lives in the past year; today the world pays its respect in various global locations. Here at the United Nations Headquarters, Sir John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, began the ceremonies by stating, “There are too many places where humanitarians workers, who once we were respected, today are targeted.”

This “active targeting” was apparent in Afghanistan earlier this month where ten health aid workers were brutally murdered.

In a world constantly ravaged by natural disasters and internal conflicts, the need for aid workers is ever increasing. But, unfortunately, so is the danger. According to the Aid Worker Security Data Base, 278 humanitarians were victims of 139 serious security incidents in 2009 compared to the 65 victims of 1999.

Kidnappings were the most common of these incidents, followed by assassinations and bombings. From 1999 to 2009, kidnaps increased from 20 to 92. Attacks and assassinations rose from 7

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to 32 and bombing incidents went from 3 to 23.

What World Humanitarian Day fails to address is why these incidents have experienced such a rapid increase and what is being done to stop them.

It seems that part of the humanitarian conversation—in addition to raising awareness and commemorating those we lost—should be how to increase protection for those workers who are still with us.

During his closing speech, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated, “Humanitarian workers are the face of the best that is within us acting in solidarity with those who are suffering.”

Is it not therefore in the best interest of the world to provide far better protection for its only army of peace?

Pakistan floods raise question: Who should be distributors of aid?

Leslie Pitterson | 08.16.2010 in Independent Journalism,Peace | Comments (0)

A Pakistan flood ladder. (Photo Credit: Reuters)

Ten days since the start of flooding in Pakistan, over 1,200 are reported dead and 13.8 million people remain in need of aid. In his appeal on Wednesday, former UN OCHA coordinator John Holmes called on the international community for over $459 million to fund the relief effort and provide emergency care for those affected by the flooding.

The initial response to the disaster has been slowed by the major infrastructure damage caused by the floods. World Food Programme reported some progress saying the mud and continued rain that had made it impossible for their helicopters to land in the affected areas had finally subsided. Still, with over 288,000 homes destroyed and over 1.5 million people evacuated,

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the aid cannot come soon enough. Now, fears of epidemic disease have been confirmed as the latest reports say the first case of the waterborne disease Cholera has been found in the disaster zone.

In various ways, this week’s media coverage of the flood has highlighted the issue of aid distribution. As the UN’s appeal for aid went out, the Taliban called on Pakistan to refuse any aid or relief assistance in order to “maintain sovereignty and independence.” On Tuesday, an article in The Globe and Mail noted the presence of Islamist charities as part of the relief effort and seemed to wonder what effects their help would have. Though the stories centered on

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the politics of aid, at the core each one remained a humanitarian concern.

This week, reports from the relief effort have raised questions within the development community: who should be distributors of aid? While there is no doubt on the need for an urgent response to what OCHA Spokesperson, Maurizio Giuliano has called the greatest humanitarian crisis in UN history, there has been continued questioning of who should distribute it. While the Pakistanis affected by the flood attempt to find ways to survive, does it matter the hand that feeds them?

Better beans by more sustainable means

Eryn-Ashlei Bailey | 08.13.2010 in Millenium Development Goals | Comments (0)

(Photo Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret)

Mediocre coffee is something neither coffee growers nor drinkers can live with. Implementing best-practice techniques in Harrar, Ethiopia, one the three major coffee regions, is thought to improve the life quality for these growers while also enriching the coffee experience for those who can’t make it past 9 a.m. without their coffee.

The Abyssinian Fund (AF), an NGO out of the Abyssininan Baptist Church in Harlem, New York, is currently training coffee farmers in Harrar on efficient agricultural practices. Men and women of the Harrar region rely heavily on the revenue generated from their coffee crops. The approach of AF is to provide expert advisement, planning, and infrastructure of a system that will empower the farmers on several fronts. The AF will also supply tools and other necessary equipment for the production of a superior crop.

The Reverend Nicholas S. Richards, Assistant Minister for Global Outreach at the Abyssinian Baptist Church, told Media Global “While we believe economic investments at the local level are key, supporting human service institutions strategically aligned to development is also essential to our work. Increased revenue does not trickle down to other levels of human development.”

A pragmatic solution for Harrar’s farmers is enhancing their agricultural program to ensure that better crops yield a higher financial return. However, the people of Harrar suffer other hardships including lack of clean drinking water and accessibility to educational facilities.

The AF will contribute to the installation of clean water sources and educational facilities in these areas. Following suite, farmers will contribute profits earned from production and market sales of their coffee crop to these initiatives.

The work of AF in Harrar, Ethiopia will advance the country towards meeting the 2015 Millennium Development Goals. Clean water will reduce the spread of water-borne disease; improve maternal health and other hygienic concerns. The education of children will promote literacy; better farming practices will mitigate the environmental damages that come from unsustainable agricultural techniques.

Millennium Development Villages: Friend or foe?

Amanda Wheat | 08.04.2010 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

Will these villagers thrive when the project is done? (Photocredit:

In 2004, Sauri, Kenya became the first ever Millennium Development Village. Today, there are 14 such villages throughout ten Africa countries; a number that suggests Jeffrey Sach’s project may be called a success.

The idea of the villages is to showcase how the basic tenets of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) can be achieved within five to ten years using community led-development, and of course, global funding.

For roughly $110 dollars per villager, or a total of $250,000 dollars per village per year, communities can lift themselves out of poverty via long-term investments in healthcare, education, infrastructure, and agriculture.

Members of the 14 Millennium Development Villages seem to agree that lives have drastically improved since the inception of the project, especially when it comes to healthcare and education. In Sauri for example, an entire maternity wing was added to the local clinic and two primary schools increased testing averages with new computers.

But just over six years later, the question of sustainability has come into play.  What happens when the aid stops flowing? Is less than ten years of help enough to correct problems that have plagued this continent for centuries? Or does the project create another “top-down” approach that simply makes the villages dependent on outside aid?

Like many MDG related quandaries, it seems that effort is better than no effort at all and Sach’s dream holds tremendous potential.