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Governments Make Big Commitments on Malnutrition

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This action is a reflection of growing attention that is being paid to both micronutrient deficiency and also the public health burdens of obesity. “More than 170 governments pledged Wednesday to do more to prevent malnutrition around the globe, adopting voluntary guidelines to promote healthy diets and reduce levels of obesity at the start of a three-day U.N. conference. Currently, 2 billion people — one-third of the world’s population — suffer from nutritional deficiencies, including vitamin A, iodine, iron and zinc. Such deficiencies caused 45 percent of all child deaths in 2013. At the same time, some 42 million children under age 5 are overweight and some 500 million adults were obese in 2010, U.N. figures show.” (AP

Some Actual Good News from the United States Congress…The Girls Count Act of 2014 passed the US House of Representatives. The legislation supports programs in developing countries that improve birth registration for girls and boys, and promotes policies that prevent discrimination against girls. (UN Foundation

Quote of the Day: From UNAIDS Chief Michel Sidibe, who says a “Fast Track Plan” on HIV/AIDS Could end the epidemic by 2030. “If we invest just $3 a day for each person living with HIV for the next five years, we would break the epidemic for good. And we know that each dollar invested will produce a $15 return.” (Reuters

On the Docket: The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves kicks off a two day summit in New York City. Hillary Clinton and Raj Shah are scheduled speakers.


The World Health Organization reports it is launching teo initiatives to stimulate the development of better and faster Ebola diagnostic tests for use in heavily disease-infected West African countries. (VOA

A Cuban doctor working in Sierra Leone has been diagnosed with Ebola, officials say, in what is thought to be a Cuban national’s  first case of the disease. (BBC

If a person can get treatment, he or she has nearly a 40 percent chance of surviving Ebola. But for a pregnant woman and her fetus, Ebola is almost a death sentence. One small study found a fatality rate around 95 percent. The woman invariably passes the virus to the fetus. And the fetus dies before labor, or it’s born and dies shortly after. (NPR

U.S. President Barack Obama says the fight against Ebola remains challenging, with cases increasing in Sierra Leone and a doctor contracting the disease there before dying in the United States on Monday. (VOA

Francisco Ferreira, the World Bank’s chief economist for Africa, told an audience in Johannesburg Wednesday that he expects the epidemic’s economic toll on West Africa will range from $3 to $4 billion, well below previous estimates of up to $32 billion.. (VOA

After five recent Ebola deaths, Mali has become a front line in the fight against the virus, especially in the border town of Kouremale which two of those victims passed through last month. Malian authorities, with help from the U.N. and aid groups, this week deployed medical teams at the border to try to stop the disease’s spread. (AP

The head of the World Health Organization refused Wednesday to respond to criticism about the U.N. agency’s performance in containing the Ebola outbreak, saying the focus now should be on helping countries contain it. (AP


Ex-rebels in the Central African Republic have been threatening to blow themselves up to protest a government attempt to relocate them from camps in the capital, Bangui. (VOA

The Miniskirt protest worked! Kenyan police arrested dozens of men suspected of stripping naked a woman in public on the grounds she was indecently dressed, just after a protest against similar attacks, local media reported. (Reuters

China’s “no strings attached” aid is being abused by African leaders who channel the lion’s share of funds to their home areas, U.S.-led researchers found in the first geo-referenced database of Chinese aid to the world’s poorest continent. (TRF

Boko Haram’s brief occupation of Chibok last week showed that no part of northeastern Nigerian is safe from the insurgency — not even the town where the militants kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls earlier this year. Analysts say the violent Islamist radicals are making gains along Nigeria’s border with Cameroon, and that the military has been unable to stop them. (VOA

Cameroon says it has pushed backed a group of suspected anti-Balaka rebels from the Central African Republic who attacked its territory Tuesday, apparently in an attempt to free one of their leaders. (VOA

The army officer who briefly seized power in Burkina Faso has been named prime minister of the country’s transitional government. (VOA

Around 4,000 workers in the Mauritius sugar industry went on indefinite strike on Wednesday over a pay dispute with sugar producers, potentially hitting output of the island’s key crop. (Reuters

United Nations and African human rights experts urged African countries and others around the world to lift bans on lobbying for gay rights after Botswana’s High Court ruled that a local group there had a right to be registered. (Reuters

About 500 schoolchildren broke classroom windows and damaged cars to protest a strike by their teachers in Malawi’s commercial capital, Blantyre, on Wednesday. (AP


An Egyptian woman died on Tuesday of H5N1 bird flu after coming into contact with infected birds, the second death from the disease in two days and the third in the country this year, a health ministry statement said. (Reuters

Syria’s once-promising economy has been set back more than 30 years by its brutal civil war, economists say, and it may never recover. Squeezed by sanctions and the fallout of the more than three-year-old conflict, the government faces dwindling revenues and is increasingly dependent on aid from key allies Iran and Russia. (AP

Libya’s warring parties in the eastern city of Benghazi agreed to a 12-hour humanitarian truce Wednesday. (AP


Half of all medicine available on the Afghan market has either been smuggled into the country or made under substandard conditions in neighboring Pakistan, according to a report released on Wednesday. (AP

The speaker of the parliament in Myanmar says the military-drafted constitution that bars opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president cannot be changed before elections next November. (VOA

India is racing to build toilets by 2019 for 600 million people or roughly half the population which lacks access to sanitization. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has put it high on the national agenda, but the challenge could be daunting in a country where defecating in the open is a common sight and is accepted by many as normal. (VOA

The Americas

A Honduran beauty queen has been found murdered just days before she was due to compete in the Miss World pageant in London, police said. (VOA

Legislatures in Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, Michigan and Missouri passed right-to-try laws this year as part of a nationwide effort spearheaded by the conservative Goldwater Institute, which hopes to get right-to-try laws on the books in all 50 US states. (NPR

Emission levels of greenhouse gases in Latin America’s biggest country were almost 8 percent higher in 2013 than one year earlier, a Brazilian network of environmental groups said. (AP

Colombia’s largest rebel group energetically defended negotiations aimed at ending a half-century insurgency even as those talks hung in the balance following the rebels’ surprise capture of an army general. (AP

Squatters who invaded government-built, low-income housing units earlier this month in a Rio de Janeiro suburb are leaving the complex. (AP


Things are looking good for Burkina Faso! (UN Dispatch

Snakebites, diarrhoea and violence: why India’s women need toilets (The Guardian

A giant pair of sunglasses is being called an insult to the memory of Nelson Mandela (GlobalPost

Nigeria journalist puts faces to girls kidnapped by Boko Haram (TRF

A Game-Changing Week on Climate Change (IPS

How to Publish Your Government Contracts (Center For Global Development

Neat interactive tracking of actions by Ebola response donors from ONE (A View From The Cave

House of Wild Cards – How Effective Is South Africa’s Opposition? (Daily Maverick
World Toilet Day quiz: are you an expert on the loo? (Guardian Development

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Michel Kafando

Things Are Looking Good for Burkina Faso

This is how the peaceful overthrow of a long serving African strongman is supposed to work.

Burkina Faso’s political, civilian, religious and traditional leaders have not only hammered out a transition plan for the next 12 months, but new transitional leaders have also been selected, a mere 20 days since the fall of Blaise Compaore. International pressure from regional and international actors – threatening sanctions if civilian rule and the constitution weren’t restored swiftly – played a part, but it is the work of the Burkinabe leadership, from all spectrums, which is responsible for moving the country forward in a confident manner. As with the fall of Blaise Compaore, the Burkinabe people did not rely on or need foreign intervention or assistance to move their agenda forward. Nor did they resort to violence.

Early on,  Lt. Col. Zida – formerly a part of Compaore’s presidential guard – dismissed the African Union’s ultimatum, giving the military two weeks to return to civilian rule or face sanction. And while the transition plan and interim leadership ended up being established within the two-week time frame, the AU’s ultimatum had fallen flat. Zida had claimed that the ultimatum didn’t bind Burkina Faso, and ECOWAS supported him by exhorting the international community to give Burkina Faso time to work out a transition plan and not immediately and arbitrarily impose sanctions on the country.

The interim head of state, 72 year old former foreign affairs minister and long serving ambassador the United Nations  Michel Kafando, was selected to preside over this transition phase following a transparent selection process. While he is fairly unknown to the Burkinabe public, he has a strong reputation, both inside and outside Burkina Faso. Zephirin Diabre, a key opposition leader, said that Kafando is “in tune with the expectations of the [October-November] revolution“, and is described by former colleagues and other diplomats as someone who will bring wisdom, competence and integrity to the post.

These glowing reviews notwithstanding, Kafando will have to prove himself as a level-headed leader who understands both the establishment and the people and carves a way forward, consensually, to help the country navigate a challenging transition. This should culminate with free, fair and democratic elections within a year. Along with Kafando as new head of state, Lt.Col. Zida has been selected as interim prime minister. According to observers in Burkina Faso, the two men appear to be willing to work together closely in the coming weeks and months. Zida, who was a relative unknown a few weeks ago, has stunned with his ability to bring back a certain degree of harmony to a country which seemed to teeter on the edge.

These positive developments are to be understood in the broader context of a country where much still needs to be done to ensure sustainable, inclusive economic growth. In 2013, Burkina Faso ranked 183 of 187 countries in the UN’s Human Development Index – which in part explains discontent with Compaore, who despite having presided over a period of growth and improvement in the country’s history, did little to create the conditions for a better educated, better employed and an overall improved society to flourish. So far, the signs are all positive that Burkina Faso’s transition will be peaceful and perhaps even usher in a new era of prosperity for the country.

 Photo credit: Republic of Togo’s Flickr stream

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An ebola survivor

“I am an Ebola Survivor. This is My Story”

There’s one category of people you don’t often hear from in the unfolding crisis in West Africa: actual survivors of ebola. In part, that is because the survival rate is low–less than 50%. But it’s also the case that African voices have been systematically excluded from much of the global conversation about this outbreak. 

This video from the World Food Program offers a unique perspective of an ebola survivor named Juliana Kemokai from a town that has been under quarantine in Sierra Leone.  It’s an incredible story, and is part of an important collection of mini-documentaries that UNICEF and the World Food Program are compiling from ebola affected countries in West Africa.

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Christie and Cuomo

Big Drop in American Volunteers to Ebola Zone

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It turns out unnecessary quarantine rules and the stigmatization of aid workers is undermining the fight to defeat ebola at its source. Thanks, Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo!“Aid groups have been warning about a possible “chilling effect” on volunteers since the two states’ rules were announced in late October. And now there is some data to back up those claims. The United States Agency for International Development, which handles applications from medical personnel volunteering to serve in West Africa, says applications declined by about 17 percent after October 26th, when the rules for mandatory quarantine rules were announced. “There was an unquestionable drop-off,” says USAID spokesman Matt Herrick. “And unfortunately, that decline has continued.” (NPR

New Data on Access to Clean Water and Sanitation…Global efforts to provide improved water and sanitation  for all are gaining momentum, but serious gaps in funding continue to hamper progress, according to a new report from the World Health Organization on behalf of UN-Water. The UN-Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water (GLAAS 2014), published biannually, presents data from 94 countries and 23 external support agencies….2.5 billion men, women and children around the world lack access to basic sanitation services. About 1 billion people continue to practice open defecation. An additional 748 million people do not have ready access to an improved source of drinking-water. (WHO

For your Bemusement….Here’s Bob Geldof getting pulled from live TV for an intemperate reaction to a perfectly legitimate line of inquiry. (Daily Mirror. And here’s the excellent Amanda Taub asking more perfectly legitimate questions. (Vox


The failure of a top Malian hospital to detect probable cases of Ebola has raised questions about whether the country’s health system is sufficiently prepared to tackle the disease. (IRIN

The United Nations is worried about the potential for further isolation of the hardest-hit nations in West Africa. (IPS

Why is Sierra Leone reporting an uptick in Ebola cases while Liberia’s outbreak is slowing? The chain of events in one village points up the obstacles that the country is facing. (NPR


Fewer babies could mean an “economic miracle” for sub-Saharan Africa, with gains of $500 billion a year over three decades for the region, the UN Population Fund said. (AFP

Michel Kafando was sworn in as transitional president of Burkina Faso on Tuesday, faced with the task of leading the West African country to elections in a year following a brief military takeover. (Reuters

South Africa plans to spend $2.2 billion over two years to buy HIV/AIDS drugs for public hospitals, a government minister said on Monday, as a study shows the prevalence of the virus is rising. (Reuters

Aid workers in Somalia, which faces worsening hunger three years after famine struck the country, believe the humanitarian system is “rotten” and are hamstrung by fears of being prosecuted for aiding terrorists, an expert said. (Reuters

Human Rights Watch accused police in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Tuesday of summarily executing at least 51 people in an anti-gang operation and of being responsible for the disappearance of at least 33 more. (Reuters

Guyana President Donald Ramotar’s decision to suspend parliament to avoid a no-confidence motion against him has plunged the small former British colony into political crisis, as foes decry the president as a dictator. (Reuters

 Sudan’s government and rebels from war-torn South Kordofan and Blue Nile adjourned a week of peace talks late Monday, with mediators claiming they were “not too far” from a deal. (AFP

Former rebels now serving in Cote d’Ivoire’s army erected barricades and blocked streets outside barracks across the country on Tuesday in protest over unpaid benefits and bonuses, military and diplomatic sources said. (Reuters


Tensions are incredibly high in Israel and Palestine following the murder of four rabbis in their Jerusalem synagogue tuesday morning by two Palestinian cousins who were not part of any known terrorist group. Haaretz

A U.N. panel of experts monitoring al-Qaida is recommending new sanctions that would authorize the seizure of tanker trucks carrying oil from areas in Syria and Iraq controlled by the Islamic State group or the Nusra Front. (AP

An Egyptian rights group said Tuesday the government has repeatedly violated the country’s new constitution, calling it a crime that must be addressed immediately. (AP

Spanish lawmakers were set to vote on Tuesday in favor of their government recognizing Palestine as a state in a symbolic move intended to promote peace between the Palestinians and Israel but which has angered the Jewish state. (Reuters


Students in Myanmar have threatened to protest nationwide if the government does not amend an education law that prohibits them from engaging in political activities and curbs academic freedom. (AP

More than 600 trafficking victims from Myanmar and Bangladesh have been rescued off the South Asian coast, a navy spokesman in Dhaka said on Tuesday, in the single biggest operation of its kind by Bangladesh authorities. (Reuters

Indonesia must stop subjecting female police recruits to physical tests in an effort to determine whether they are virgins, a leading human rights group said Tuesday, describing the practice as degrading and discriminatory. (AP

Myanmar’s influential parliament speaker said Tuesday that any changes to the military-drafted constitution that bars opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president will not take effect before next year’s election. (AP

Cambodia’s government is using the country’s judiciary to silence opposition parties and other critics of its policies, a United Nations investigator said on Tuesday. (Reuters

The UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to recommend that crimes against humanity in North Korea be referred to the International Criminal Court. Now, it’s up to the Security Council to decide if that will actually happen. (NYT

The Americas

The head of Brazil’s state-owned oil company Petrobras promises to improve the way it is run as it struggles to deal with a corruption scandal. (BBC

A tweet from the account of Colombia’s Marxist FARC rebel group’s peace negotiators said on Tuesday that kidnapped General Ruben Dario Alzate was a “prisoner of war”. But in a message from the same account minutes later, the FARC said its Twitter account had been hacked. It did not deny or confirm the general’s status. (Reuters


The Problem With “Safe Zones” in the Middle East (UN Dispatch

 Will There be Peace Between Iran and the West? (IPS

Even with social media boost, big challenges ahead for Rohingya advocates (GlobalPost

10 Million Stateless and Growing: How Donors Can Help (CGD

Is the BRICS moment over? (CNN

Nairobi’s ‘miniskirt’ march exposes sexual violence in Kenya (Guardian

Reflections on the Arab uprisings (Monkey Cage

Reactions to Reflections on the Arab Uprisings (Dart-Throwing Chimp

One Year Later—the Road to Resilience After Typhoon Haiyan (USAID Impact

Stitching a more sustainable garment industry for Haiti (Development that Works


Give women the same access to land, credit, advice and markets as men, and they could increase yields on their farms by more than 20 percent, boosting total global agricultural output by up to four percent, a leading land rights researcher said. (Reuters

New technology has “brought the bank” to millions of low-income women in a revolution that could help drive economic growth, according to an authority on women’s finance. (Reuters

More than 10,000 people protested in the Hungarian capital, demanding the ouster of the head of the tax authority and greater accountability from Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government. (AP

Sexual exploitation of adolescent girls in Uganda (Overseas Development Institute

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Mampang IDP site, the Philippines

A Forgotten Crisis in The Philippines

Zamboanga, Philippines — This month, the Philippines is marking the one-year anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan – one of the strongest typhoons ever to make landfall. The international response to the typhoon was immediate and robust – essential given the reality that over four million people were displaced by the storm.

But this week, I am in the Philippines to mark the one-year anniversary of another humanitarian crisis – one that is coming without fanfare.  

On September 2013, in the city of Zamboanga on the southern Philippines island of Mindanao, fighting broke out between the Moro National Liberation Front, a Muslim separatist group, and the Philippine Army. One hundred and twenty thousand people were displaced. The confrontation was the latest in a 40-year struggle by minority Muslim groups – comprised of indigenous ethnic people known collectively as “Moros” – for self-determination. 

My Refugees International colleague and I are in Zamboanga to assess the needs of the more than 38,000 who remain displaced. Seeing the state of the conditions in which they live, it seems hard to believe it has been over a year since the response to the crisis began. Unfortunately, unlike Haiyan, the international response to this crisis has been woefully inadequate.

There is no question that Typhoon Haiyan pulled humanitarian resources away from the response in Zamboanga. But the skeletal humanitarian staff in Zamboanga proved ill-equipped to manage the humanitarian challenges that one year later remain acute.

In the immediate aftermath of the September fighting, many of the displaced sought refuge in a local sports stadium. Today, there are still almost 2,000 families – close to 11,000 people – living in the sports stadium. These are some of the most vulnerable IDPs – primarily minority Muslims who had no secure land rights, who have been prohibited from returning to their home areas based on flimsy claims ranging from geo-hazards to security risks, and who are undoubtedly amongst the poorest and most disenfranchised. 

While progress has been made over the last year in moving IDPs out of evacuation centers – primarily the sports stadium – the national government has said that it wants all of the IDPs to be removed from the stadium by December 15th. Unfortunately, the alternative being proposed for the majority of those IDPs is even worse.

The site that will receive the bulk of those IDPs is a transitional site known as Mampang. It is a hastily constructed site with conditions that fall below humanitarian standards. At Mampang, the emphasis has so far been put on building shelters to house the IDPs. However, the same attention has not been paid to creating adequate access to water and sanitation, as well as to education, health centers, and livelihoods. 

Mampang currently hosts about 3,800 people. Those numbers will dramatically increase once the majority of the population from the sports stadium arrives. Currently, water is brought in to the site by a single, unpaved access road. When it rains, the road becomes impassible. IDPs are forced to walk through mud to get to the water – leaving the elderly, young, and infirm without access. As one IDP leader at the site told me, “…when water deliveries do come through, fights often break out among families who don’t have enough water to bathe or wash themselves.”  As I walked along the congested rows of bunkhouses, I noticed that the latrines and showers were locked. The reason I was given was that the septic tanks have not been emptied, and there is no water for showers. 

The nearest school is three kilometers away from Mampang, and there is no transport available for the children. Most of the children are not in school, and those who had been attending schools prior to their transfer to Mampang are dropping out. Another major problem with Mampang is its location. Mampang is removed from the city center, and far from the part of the sea where many of the IDPs once made their living fishing. We spoke with one woman in Mampang who cried as she told us that it is hard for her to look at the sea now because she is reminded of the life she and her family used to have.

If these issues are not resolved, conditions in Mampang will continue to deteriorate. Given that, it is absolutely unacceptable to move more people to Mampang until conditions meet humanitarian standards. Such a movement at this stage would go against the fundamental humanitarian principle of “do no harm.” Any agency engaged in facilitating that movement would be actively participating in the creation of conditions for an even greater humanitarian crisis. 

It is hard to know what will happen next in Zamboanga. To complicate matters even further, in August the national government wrote to UN agencies to inform them that the “humanitarian phase” of this crisis was over. Now there is concern that more agencies will close their offices and pull-out of Zamboanga.

The humanitarian crisis in Zamboanga is far from over. International humanitarian organizations must take the lead in changing the situation for Zamboanga’s IDPs. And it must happen fast.

Dara McLeod is the Director of Communications for Refugees International, a non-profit advocacy organization that accepts no government or UN funding.

Image credit: Dara McLeod Mampang IDP site, The Philippines 

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Drowning deaths worldwide

Map of the Day: Drowning as a Global Health Priority

Today’s map comes from a new World Health Organization report on the global health implications of drownings. It shows where drowning is a leading cause of children’s deaths around the world.

Drowning deaths worldwide

As you can see, much of the world does not keep data on deaths from drowning. And this is part of the problem.

The report finds that drowning accounts for about 372,000 deaths worldwide every year, most of which are in the developing world. This puts deaths from drowning at about two thirds the number of global deaths due to malnutrition and about half the total number of deaths due to malaria. In other words, drowning is a serious global health issue. And it’s been pretty much off-the-radar of the international health and development community.


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