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Outbreak of Plague in Madagascar

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The WHO is sounding an alarm as the bubonic plague reaches the densely populated capital. “An outbreak of the plague has killed 40 people in Madagascar since late August, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday, warning that there is a risk of the disease spreading rapidly in the country’s capital, Antananarivo…There are now 119 confirmed cases of the plague in the country. So far, there have been two cases and one death recorded in Antananarivo, but those figures could climb quickly due to “the city’s high population density and the weakness of the healthcare system”, the WHO warned.” (France 24  

Iran Nuke Deal on Hold…Today was meant to be the deadline for an agreement between Iran and the United States and the rest of the Permanent member of the Security Council and Germany in which Iran would curb its nuclear program in exchange for an easing of sanctions. It looks as if that deadline of the talks may be extended further. (BBC


Mali has recorded a new case of Ebola in the capital Bamako after the friend of a nurse who died of ebola this month tested positive for the disease, the health ministry said on Saturday. (Reuters

The United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response is establishing an office in Mali to help support the West African country’s ongoing efforts to combat and contain the Ebola virus, according to Ari Gaitanis, head of the public information unit at the U.N. Officials say when established, the U.N. Office will reinforce Mali’s operational response by strengthening the West African nation’s level of preparedness and assisting with cross-border coordination of Ebola efforts. (VOA

A Cuban doctor who is being treated for Ebola in Switzerland is optimistic that an experimental drug will allow him to recover. (AP

Ebola has crippled the provision of treatment and care to people living with HIV/AIDS in Liberia, according to health workers and patients. (IRIN


Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe has changed the constitution of his ruling ZANU-PF party to allow him to directly appoint his deputies, giving the 90-year-old sole power to anoint his successor, party sources said on Sunday. (Reuters

The Somali Islamist militant group al Shabaab said it had staged an attack in Kenya on Saturday in which gunmen ordered non-Muslims off a bus and shot 28 dead, while sparing Muslim passengers. (Reuters

Witnesses and authorities in Nigeria say suspected Boko Haram gunmen killed at least 25 people in the country’s northeast. (VOA

Residents say hundreds of women have marched topless through a town in the Central African Republic to protest sectarian violence. (AP

The spokesman for the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur says the Sudanese government has asked his mission to prepare plans to exit the country. (AP


Tunisians went to the polls on Sunday to vote for their first directly elected president, in the final step to be taken to full democracy after the 2011 revolution that ended the rule of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. (Reuters

A prominent activist group monitoring Syria’s civil war says U.S.-led airstrikes in the country have killed more than 900 people since the campaign against Islamic State militants began in September. (VOA

A new congressional report concludes there was no wrongdoing by the U.S. military and the CIA in the response to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012. (VOA

The United States pledged an additional $135 million in aid for the victims of the Syrian war on Saturday, much of it to help the United Nations with a funding shortfall it had warned could force it to scale back food distribution. (Reuters

Iraqi forces battling the Islamic State group focused their offensive Sunday on the city of Ramadi, backed by Sunni tribal fighters that the U.S. plans to arm. (AP

Across the vast region under Islamic State control, the group is actively conscripting children for battle and committing abuses against the most vulnerable at a young age, according to a growing body of evidence assembled from residents, activists, independent experts and human rights groups. (AP


New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. (VOA

At least 45 people were killed and 60 wounded on Sunday in a suicide bomb attack at a volleyball ground in Afghanistan’s Paktika province, officials said. (The Hindu

Cambodian opposition members say they are worried about the country becoming too dependent on aid money from China. (VOA

The military chief of Myanmar, has told VOA the constitutional clause barring opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president is not aimed at her in particular. (VOA

The Americas

A global deal to combat climate change in 2015 looks more likely after promises for action by China, the United States and the European Union, but any agreement will probably be too weak to halt rising temperatures. (Reuters


Why won’t the U.S. ratify the U.N.’s child rights treaty? (The Washington Post

Africa’s private sector can drive continent’s development (The Guardian

Why Save The Children’s Global Legacy Award to Tony Blair matters for C4D (Aidnography

Jimmy Carter says Bible no justification for discriminating against women (GlobalPost

The Double Burden of Malnutrition (Inter Press Service

How not to write about Africa: Use “African Spring” (Africa is a Country

International development: Murder, one log frame at a time (Daily Maverick

Hiding Under Ebola to Dehumanise Africans (Daily Independent


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hillary clinton cookstoves

The Clean Cookstoves Movement Just Got a Huge Boost

(Cookstoves Future Summit, New York) — Despite four million annual deaths as a result of black carbon smoke inhalation and the other dangers of open fire cooking, cookstove initiatives have historically only received little attention in the world of aid and development. That changed with the advent of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves in 2010. And at the final day of the first-ever Cookstoves Future Summit, it’s clear that governments, NGOs and the private sector are laying the foundation for a long term commitment to create sustainable markets for clean cookstoves. 

According to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, 21% of global black carbon emissions can be attributed to cookstoves that use ‘dirty’ fuel sources like wood, coal, charcoal, dung, and crop wastes.  Having a clean cookstove, however, can save one to two tons of carbon emissions per year. This does not just mean a healthier environment and healthier individuals but also represents a possible business opportunity and way to finance further cookstove development.  The emissions reductions could be certified and then sold on the carbon market, meaning companies needing to emit more carbon could ‘buy’ the reduction as an offset to their own emissions. The Alliance does have a Carbon Finance Platform available but much more emphasis on this kind of ‘cross-cutting’ opportunity would likely get the private sector more interested in investing money into cookstove design, production, and distribution.

The most important financing focus today however has been on the different country commitments announced.  It seems that aid and development agencies have made at least some progress in, as executive director of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves Radha Mutiah noted, “mov[ing] [cookstoves] from the periphery of the developmental and environmental landscapes, to its very core.”

In all, over $400 million was pledged over the next three years. The UK and Norway announced they will commit $50 million and $40 million, respectively to various clean coookstove efforts. Ghana’s pledge of $5 million is far lower, but their focus on improving rural clean fuel distribution is critical because it’s an often-ignored infrastructure issue and something really only those governments of countries where ‘dirty’ cookstoves are prevalent themselves can address. 

Raj Shah, Administrator of U.S. Agency for International Aid and Development (USAID) announced that the U.S. will commit $200 million to “develop, scale, and test groundbreaking solutions” for cleaner cookstoves.  It is a large and wide-ranging commitment, but the most unique aspect is an additional partnership with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) among others. It will involve a $100 million “credit facility to develop and deploy household technologies” which will provide “subsidized lending to companies and small-scale enterprises” in the 52 countries where clean cookstoves, solar lamps, reusable water filters are most necessary. 

As Shah noted this kind of financing mechanism “lays the groundwork for vibrant local economies” and seems the most practical one made today. With 3 billion people using cookstoves every day, often burning ‘dirty’ fuel, financing will need to be inclusive and address several issues at once — from environmental concerns to local economies and infrastructure. The solutions need to be as multi-faceted as the problem itself and the discussions taking place today at the conclusion of the Summit show that countries are are finally waking up to that fact.  

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Kids enjoying a walk in the park in Hyderabad

Happy 25th Birthday, Convention on the Rights of the Child!

The recognition that children have special, specific civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights - above and beyond what is guaranteed in national laws and other international treaties – was a major breakthrough in the protection and advancement of children’s rights worldwide. The growing understanding that young people face particular challenges and forms of discrimination, led to the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most rapidly and widely ratified human rights treaty in history, with 194 state parties. Today, almost every nation on the planet has ratified the treaty, except for Somalia, South Sudan, and… the United States.

Despite the lack of American support and buy-in, the Convention on the Rights of the Child helped to invigorate the development of national laws to better protect children and guarantee their education. The Convention also provides a critical legal framework for local, regional and global activists to design and implement campaigns and push for the adoption of laws and regulations that have a positive impact on children’s health, education and well-being. Since its introduction in 1989, the state of the world’s children has dramatically improved: rates of enrolment in primary education, literacy rates and  early childhood mortality are all areas of significant improvement, as shown in the graphs below: 

Primary education enrolment rates worldwide: 2000-2012 (Source: UNICEF)

Youth literacy rates – 1985-2012 (Source: UNICEF)

Neonatal mortality rate by region, 1990 and 2013 (Source: UNICEF)

But while there is certainly much to celebrate on the anniversary of this important legal instrument, much remains to be done to continue to buttress the protection of children’s rights worldwide. Child marriage, child labor, the egregious, ongoing, chronic violations of the rights of children caught up in conflict are among the serious challenges still facing today’s youth. In Syria alone, for example, 2.8 million children are out of school and thousands of schools have been destroyed. “The health and the soul and the intelligence of a society are measured by how the human rights of its youngest – its smallest children – are recognized everywhere,” Anthony Lake, head of UNICEF, said yesterday during an event to commemorate the 25th anniversary. It is our job, our responsibility, our obligation under the Convention to show every child the best of humanity: cooperation, not conflict; humanity, not hatred; reconciliation, not revenge,” Mr. Lake added. “That, in the end, is the central message and meaning of the Convention: the importance of preparing today’s children to become tomorrow’s adults, tomorrow’s leaders.”

To mark the anniversary, UNICEF launched the #IMAGINE project, bringing together major global artists and UNICEF ambassadors under the aegis of a musical and technological initiative to highlight the challenges children face the world over. Below is a clip from the #IMAGINE project, in honor of the Convention’s 25th anniversary: 

Photo credit: kids enjoying a walk at Zoo Park in Hydrabad, flickr user venkataramesh kommoju

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Screen Shot 2014-11-21 at 9.07.27 AM

Green Climate Fund is Funded…Sort of

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A pledging conference in Berlin netted $9.3 billion toward a $10 billion goal. The Green Climate Fund is a key lynchpin of international efforts to curb climate emissions by helping developing countries adapt to the effects of climate change, like rising sea levels and desertification. It will also help fund the development of cleaner energy sources so developing countries need not rely so heavily on fossil fuels. Despite the shortfall, Germany’s environment minister said she was satisfied by the result because some countries had indicated they would increase their contribution in the coming months.”I’m confident that we will reach the $10 billion goal,” Barbara Hendricks told reporters. “$9.3 billion is already pretty close.” Hendricks said Canada had made a surprise announcement that it would contribute, without saying yet how much. Campaign group Oxfam described the amount collected so far as “only a bare minimum,” noting that rich countries such as Australia, Austria and Belgium hadn’t offered anything yet.”  (AP

There’s Hope for International Crisis Reporting After all!….IRIN gets a new life, thanks to a $25m boost. IRIN, one of the few media organisations dedicated to reporting on the complexities of humanitarian relief, will be relaunched next year after facing closure. (Guardian

Quote of the Day…The inimitable Swedish epidemiologist Hans Rosling, from a New York Times article  detailing disputes between donors and the Liberian government over ebola response and data collection. “‘We are absolutely sure that we cannot be sure about the data.’ In an interview, he said that to improve reporting of cases, he gave a $13,000 Swedish government grant to ‘a chronically honest church lady’ to buy cellphone scratch cards for health officials in remote areas.”

Comings and Goings…Nancy Lindborg is going to be the next president of the United States Institute for Peace. She currently serves as an acting assistant administrator at USAID and will replace USIP President Bill Taylor on February 2. (USIP )


The spread of Ebola remains “intense” in most of Sierra Leone even as things have improved somewhat in the two other countries hardest hit, the World Health Organization says. (AP

Thieves in Guinea have stolen a cooler containing the blood samples of suspected Ebola patients. The robbers took the samples after attacking a vehicle on a remote highway Thursday. (VOA

While many West African countries, including Sierra Leone, generally have a strong social network that supports children during times of hardship and need, some of these orphans are facing stigmatization and even rejection. Many of the children are also experiencing severe stress and fear after having watched the death of a loved one, or perhaps from even having survived the virus themselves. (IRIN

Knowing where the Ebola hot spots are in a country is crucial to getting an outbreak quickly under control. Many have criticized the initial slow response to the West Africa outbreak, saying it’s a big reason the virus quickly spread. Now, a German research center is developing a project to monitor Ebola and other outbreaks in real time. (VOA

Health authorities in Mali say they are monitoring 338 people linked with the country’s six fatal Ebola cases, and most of them under daily surveillance. (VOA


Nigerian police fired tear gas and prevented the Speaker of the lower house of parliament, who has defected to the opposition, from presiding over a session on Thursday. (Reuters

The leader of a vigilante fighter group in Nigeria says Boko Haram militants have killed about 45 people in an attack on a village. (WaPo

The contest to replace Zambia’s recently deceased president is becoming a family affair as the late president’s widow said Wednesday she will seek to become the ruling party’s presidential candidate. (AP

Somalia’s president said on Thursday a military campaign would push Islamist al Shabaab fighters out of all towns and major territories by the end of the year, though the militants would still be able to mount guerrilla attacks. (Reuters

The United Nations has begun to investigate suspected human rights abuses in Eritrea blamed for an exodus of migrants from the Horn of Africa country, U.N. officials said on Thursday. (Reuters

Longstanding humanitarian needs in South Sudan’s Aweil North County, where some 30,000 people are displaced, are largely unmet. (IRIN

With a virus threatening the crops of up to 70 percent of Kenya’s maize farmers, a number of lawmakers are calling for the country’s controversial ban on GMOs – genetically modified organisms – to be lifted for the sake of food security. (VOA

In some remote Zimbabwean districts, local communities and governments have created “maternity waiting homes” at hospitals, where expecting mothers can stay during the last six weeks of their pregnancies. The homes, built with European Union funding, are aimed at reducing maternal mortality and educating new mothers about how to look after their newborns. (VOA

Mozambique has one of the world’s highest rates of cervical cancer, a disease that kills 4,000 women there every year. A new plan to vaccinate 10-year-old girls could turn the tide in the fight against a devastating illness. (VOA

A social cash transfer program in Ghana under which funds and health insurance premiums are provided by government to extremely poor families now covers more than 77,000 households throughout the country. (VOA


UN chief Ban Ki-moon cautioned against tackling violent Islamic extremism through military means alone and urged governments to avoid counter-terrorism responses that could lead to rights abuses. (AP

With Turkey’s government-run refugee camps operating at full capacity, more than 1 million Syrian refugees who have flocked to Turkey to escape fighting at home are struggling to survive on their own, according to an Amnesty International report. (AP

The first doctor to be brought to trial in Egypt on charges of female genital mutilation (FGM) has been acquitted, crushing hopes that the landmark verdict would discourage Egyptian doctors from conducting the endemic practice. (Guardian

Yemen’s security crisis is leading to a rapid expansion in the people smuggling trade, with thousands of migrants from the Horn of Africa desperate to use the country as a gateway to Saudi Arabia. (IRIN


The smuggling of Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar is so lucrative that Thai fishermen are converting their boats to carry humans, police, locals and officials in southern Thailand said. (Reuters

A self-styled Indian religious leader was charged on Thursday with sedition and waging war against the state after a days-long siege of his sprawling compound ended in his arrest along with 450 hardcore followers. (Reuters

Three Thai university students were taken into police custody on Thursday for handing out free tickets to the latest film in the Hunger Games series, from which Thai protesters have borrowed a gesture of resistance to a totalitarian government. (Reuters

 Slowly but surely, NGOs and UN bodies are admitting it publicly – they are dealing with the Taliban again. While such deals have been developing in private for several years, NGOs have been hesitant to discuss their relations with the Afghan Islamist group because of political pressure and counter terrorism legislation. (IRIN

The Americas

Cloth diapers, baking soda to make deodorant and vinegar to mop the floor. That’s not the shopping list of an eco-friendly hipster, it’s how an increasing number of resourceful Venezuelans are making do in a time of severe shortages. (AP

Mass protests are expected across Mexico for 43 missing students, whom the authorities say were murdered by a drugs gang. (BBC

Facing conflict of interest accusations over the Mexican first lady’s mansion, President Enrique Pena Nieto disclosed late on Wednesday he owned nine separate real estate properties among his total personal assets worth at least 45.2 million pesos ($3.3 million). (Reuters


The Geopolitical implications of success or failure at the Iran Nuke Talks, which have a  looming deadline (Global Dispatches Podcast

Here are 9 facts that show every day is International Men’s Day (GlobalPost

Child labor laws: A step back for advancing Bolivia? (BBC

Payment by Results: One Size Doesn’t Fit All (CGD

Are Mass Killings by IS Group Genocide? (VOA

True Gender Equality for Both Women and Men (Inter Press Service

After Ebola: Five Lessons for Outbreak Response (Center For Global Development


Four human rights groups have released a tool that lets users check whether their computer has been infected with surveillance software. (AP

Children suffering abuse and exploitation would have the right to take their governments to an international human rights court under proposals announced by Gordon Brown. (Guardian

The global cost of obesity has risen to $2 trillion annually — nearly as much as smoking or the combined impact of armed violence, war and terrorism, according to a new report released Thursday. (AP

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Cookstoves Future Summit, Day 1:

(Cookstoves Future Summit, New York) – Unless you are a serious camper, most of us in the developed world do not really think about cookstoves, let alone how they operate and their massive global impact. Cookstove devices, from the rudimentary to the latest designs, are a crucial part of daily life for 3 billion people around the world who depend on them for basic sustenance. And they exist at the nexus of three critical forces that will drive the global conversation for the foreseeable future: women’s rights, environmental issues, and the public-private partnership model.

Here at Cookstoves Future Summit in New York, these conversations are in full swing.

Environmental Impact

Professor Tami Bond of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne rang true with the crowd today, saying that “everything we do changes the atmosphere.” In light of the recent U.S. – China climate deal and UN negotiations next year in Paris, the world is focusing on reducing carbon emissions. Though much of that focus is on big polluters like manufacturing plants and automobiles, nearly 21% of global black carbon emissions come from cookstove smoke, according to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves.

Most cookstoves use inefficient fuels that contribute to not only black carbon emissions but also methane, another harmful greenhouse gas. Common fuels like coal, charcoal, wood, dung, and crop wastes burn dirty, but are used because communities have no access to cleaner sources of energy like electricity or solar power.

Another impact between human use of cookstoves and the environment is the obvious deforestation surrounding these communities. The tragic irony is that many are destroying the forests for wood not just to use for cookstoves, but to produce charcoal from the land off of which they once lived.

Perhaps the most stunning effect of cookstoves, obvious to any outsider who has visited a rural community that uses these stoves, is the basic air quality issue. The number of deaths caused by inhalation of fine particles and carbon monoxide combined with the dangers of an open fire in an under-ventilated space is staggering. In India and China both around 1 million people die a year from related pulmonary issues, with thousands dying across African and Latin American countries.

Women’s rights

The environmental impacts of cookstoves are also directly related to women’s rights and empowerment.  Anita Shankar of Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health explained during a panel that women are bearing the brunt of the negative health effects of ‘dirty cookstoves.’ Shankar says “women’s empowerment is…often seen as a byproduct of clean energy access,” but really she says it comes from the micro-entrepreneurial ability of women in these cookstove communities.  

Introducing clean cookstoves to a market not only goes a long way in reducing carbon emissions and improves the environment, but allows women an avenue of income and improves their health and education, and that of their children. The impact seems to be exponential as Shankar describes a study her group conducted in Kenya.  Taking a look at a group of 250 male and female entrepreneurs tasked with selling clean cookstoves, she found that women outsold men at a 3-to-1 rate. Shankar came to the conclusion that clean cookstoves are a perfect medium for empowering women because “not only do women know cooking and know how to sell cooking…they can to explain how to use it well. So it’s not just about getting the cookstove that’s important, it’s about using it correctly, and using it consistently.”

Private-Public Partnership

UN Under Secretary General Kandeh Yumkella spoke in a tone not often used by UN officials, one that business people can clearly understand when noting “we don’t have to stop people from using [existing cookstoves], we have to incentivize them to switch.”

With 3 billion people relying on cookstoves daily, cleaner cookstoves are products with immense market potential even given the economic constraints of most of the consumers. Pushing for universal adoption of clean cooking solutions and incentivizing even a small portion of that population makes business sense in many ways.  

Part of the public-private sector nexus in the cookstove space has to do with infrastructure development, specifically in the electricity and power grid industry. Yumkella notes that any investments that are made for clean cooking must be “part of broader energy sector reforms.” He notes that especially in Africa, the UN and World Bank are saying “do for the energy sector what you did for mobile telephones. Deregulate, incentivize, government can facilitate but let the private sector do their business properly.”  

The private sector seems to be ready to take on the challenge on the cookstove design side of the business, with several models displayed in an exhibit at the Summit but companies will need to be resilient enough to enter emerging markets with confusing and often binding regulations, working in markets on a micro-scale.

“Here is a problem that affects 3 billion people, and the solution is within our grasp and within our means,” executive director of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves Radha Muthiah noted this morning.  The design is there, and now the market development needs to follow.  Cleaner cooking adoption will not just improve the environment, positively and dramatically change the lives women and girls, but also benefit the private sector – incentives not so clearly visible for other global problems.

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The Geopolitical Implications of a Nuclear Deal with Iran

The USA and Iran may remake the geopolitics of the Middle East with a successful outcome of a nuclear deal. Failure to reach a nuclear agreement between the USA and Iran will come with its own set of profound consequences. I speak with Alireza Nader of the Rand Corporation about the regional and global implications of both failure and success in reaching a nuclear deal with Iran. We discuss the potential shifting of alliances in the Middle East, how a detente between the USA and Iran may affect the conflict in Syria, and how Saudi Arabia may respond to a diplomatic breakthrough. Have a listen…and subscribe!

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