Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Net Mapping toolbox for development practitioners, an helpful tool to improve needs assessment, strategic planning and monitoring in projects

Case study project gum producers Sudan (1)
During the ShareFair event(26 - 29 September 2011)  currently on going at International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) I had the opportunity to participate yesterday to the presentation of Net - Map.
Case study project gum producers Sudan (2)
This interview-based mapping tool helps practitioners assessing needs, improve planning and monitoring in development projects. The methods helps better understand, visualize, discuss  the situations in which many different actors influence the final outcomes (Net-Map Brochure: 679 KB).  After the identification of all the relevant stakeholders to the project in question, in the second phase are defined the links among the various actors and assigned different colors to the links (e.g. who is giving money, influence the decisions, or give commands etc.). The use of influence towers helps to clarify the level of influence that certain actors play in the final success of the project.

Presentation made by Paolo Brunello

more information:
Communities and networks connection

Monday, 26 September 2011

The discovery and exploitation of natural resources in Bolivian Gran Chaco. An opportunity for national development but also a menace for local degradation

Map of the Gran Chaco region
The Gran Chaco is a plain region located west of the Paraguay river and east of the Andes shared among Paraguay, Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina.
The recent discovery of natural gas reserves in  Bolivia  put at risk the life of indigenous people and the unique environment of the Aguaragüe National Park and Integrated Management Natural Area (Parque Nacional y Área Natural de Manejo Integrado Serranía del Aguaragüe) in the Tarija Department .
The administration of the President Evo Morales has declared finding new natural gas fields a national priority. The elders and leaders in the indigenous community (Council of Captains) question the government´s approach in granting environmental permits for seismic exploration used to monitor the presence of natural gas in their territories. Communities are concerned about the dynamite explosions set up 15 metres underground, because the blasts shift the courses of underground water in an area where daily temperatures are above 30 degrees Celsius and other water sources are scarce. This seismic exploration also frightens off the local fauna as well as species that are sources of food for the indigenous peoples.

Of some 730,000 hectares that the government assigned to the oil companies, 317,218 are located in territories of Yaku-igua, Itika Guasu and Tentayapi Guaraní indigenous groups. Some 80,000 native peoples inhabit the region.
The oil companies operating in the area are: BG Bolivia Corporation (with British capital), the government´s Chaco SA, Petrobras, Argentina´s Pluspetrol, Repsol Bolivia (an affiliate of Spain´s Repsol), and Total  Bolivie, of France´s Total Corporation.
The oil industry is Bolivia´s principal source of tax revenues, and in 2008 oil profits generated 1.46 billion dollars and there is no willingness in the government to turn its attention to alternative activities for the region, such as tourism and attracting resources for preserving Bolivia´s forests.
Tarija Department has reserves of 41.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, 80 percent of the country´s total. Most of this fuel is exported to Brazil and Argentina.
The state-run oil and gas firm Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB) has decided last January the location for the Bolivia's Gran Chaco gas-to-liquids separation plant. The third biggest plant in South America which will be built in the Madrejones-Yacuiba area, in the southern Tarija department will be operational in 2014.
Indigenous people are worried about the increasing destruction of the Chaco region's natural heritage. The symptoms of this destruction include contamination of water sources, changes in climate and rainfall, deforestation and soil erosion. In 1926 the state-run oil company YPFB began drilling oil in the area, and when it ended operations in 1987, it left behind destroyed forests and oil wells that leak toxic liquids, which continue to affect the local flora and fauna.
Not just the exploration, but also the exploitation and commercial use will bring environmental damages.
The construction of pipelines and roads will be necessary to connect the gas fields with hub likes ports or plants.
The lack of regulations for consulting indigenous communities in Bolivia on initiatives that affect their territories is at the heart of a dispute over a road to facilitate traffic from Brazil, which would run through an enormous tropical national park self-governed by indigenous communities.
Evo Morales
President of Bolivia
The Bolivian government's enthusiasm over the construction of roads that would make it possible for Brazil to transport goods to the Pacific Ocean has come under fire from academics and from native protesters.
The government argues that exporters in Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay need the roads, to be able to cross this landlocked country of 1.09 million square km in west-central South America, to reach Pacific Ocean ports in Chile and Peru and ship their goods to China.

More Information:
Guarani oppose Evo Morales extractive policies
Morales Clashes with Native Protesters over Road through Tropical Park
Guaraní, Tapieté Peoples Fight Gas Exploration

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Land grabbing, the modern colonialism

Oxfam has just released and interesting report entitled Land and Power. The growing scandal surrounding the new wave of investments in land on the land grabbing phenomenon. It's emblematic the story of 20K farmers evicted by their properties in Uganda cited in the Oxfam website.  During the World Social Forum held in Dakar, Senegal last February 2011, social movements, organizations of small food producers and other civil societies organizations released a collective appeal against land grabbing. Over 650 organizations have already endorsed it. The petitioners demand that:

  • States, regional organizations and international institutions guarantee people's right to land and support family farming and agro-ecology. Appropriate agricultural policies should consider all different types of producers (indigenous peoples, pastoralists, artisanal fishermen, peasants, agrarian reform beneficiaries) and answer specifically to the needs of women and youth.
  • FAO to adopt strengthened Guidelines on Governance of Land and Natural Resources be strengthened, to be based on Human Rights as defined in the various charters and covenants - these rights being effective only if binding legal instruments are implemented at the national and international level to impose on the states compliance with their obligations.
  • Moreover, each state has to be held responsible for the impact of its policies or activities of its companies in the countries targeted by the investments. the supremacy of Human Rights must be reaffirmed over international trade and finance regimes, which are sources of speculation on natural resources and agricultural goods.
The petitioners also urge the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) at FAO to definitively reject the World Bank principles for responsible agricultural investment (RAI), which are illegitimate and inadequate to address the phenomenon, and to include the commitments of the ICARRD as well as the conclusions of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) in its Global Framework for Action.
Peasants affected by land grabbing will hand it over to governments during the negotiations on the Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in Rome from 10-14 October.

The so called Dakar Appeal against land grab has been already signed by almost 1K institutions. Among these also, ActionAid and The Oakland Institute the US Think Thank that wrote a number of reports on the bad situation in some African countries like Ethiopia and Sierra Leone. In the African continent the recent large scale investments in land are resulting in food insecurity, the displacement of small farmers, conflict, environmental devastation, water loss, and the further impoverishment and political instability of African nations.

More information at:
Food security and the global land grab
World Social Forum 2011 - Dakar, Senegal
Conference Report of ICARRD
Press release on the Oakland Institute website
Towards volontary guidelines on responsible governance of tenure of land and other natural resources (FAO report, 2009)
volontary guidelines on responsible governance of tenure of land and other natural resources (Zero Draft)

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Solar bottle lights - you just need to get some water to turn on the light

Isang Litrong Liwanag (A Liter of Light), is a sustainable lighting project which aims to bring the eco-friendly Solar Bottle Bulb to disprivileged communities nationwide in the Philippines. Small settlements near Metro Manila and other big cities in the Philippines are usually close together, with metal roofing blocking all the sun light and and no light reaches the homes even during daylight!
The Solar Bottle Bulb technology,  designed and developed by students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is based on the principles of Appropriate Technologies – a concept that provides simple and easily replicable technologies that address basic needs in developing communities.
 The MyShelter Foundation aims to brighten up one million homes in the Philippines by 2012.
 According to statistics from the National Electrification Commission in 2009, 3 million households still remain powerless outside Metro Manila. And even in the metro, families still continue to live in darkness. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) has reported that a large number of fire- related incidents involve faulty electrical connections. Informal settlements are high-risk areas, since the BFP does not conduct fire hazard inspections in these communities. MyShelter envisions sharing to unprivileged communities an economically- and ecologically-sustainable source of light that will provide an immediate solution.

Read more at:
Isang Litrong Liwanag: A campaign in lighting up thousands home in Payatas
Appropriate technology collaborative website

Sunday, 18 September 2011

21 September 2011 - International Day of Peace

The International Day of Peace was established in 1981 by resolution 36/67 of the United Nations General Assembly to coincide with its opening session, which was held annually on the third Tuesday of September. The first Peace Day was observed in September 1982. In 2001, the General Assembly by unanimous vote adopted resolution 55/282, which established 21 September as an annual day of non-violence and cease-fire. The UN invites all nations and people to honour a cessation of hostilities during the Day, and to otherwise commemorate the Day through education and public awareness on issues related to peace.
This year on its 30th anniversary - the Day’s theme is “Peace and Democracy: make your voice heard”. As mentioned in the UN website The Preamble to the United Nations Charter states that the Organization was founded to prevent and resolve international conflicts and help build a culture of peace in the world. Peace and democracy are inextricably linked. Together, they form a partnership that promotes the well-being of all. Embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, democracy supports an environment for a host of political rights and civil liberties.

poster of 30th edition

More information
International Day of Peace website
UN news website

Friday, 16 September 2011

Development aid and military spending around the world

What is going on at the Excel exposition centre in London's Docklands is something different from the colourful picture left. Every two year the UK capital, in the second week of September, is the hosting place for the Defence and Security Equipment International, the most important arms fair in the world.
Despite the elegant and comforting wording we are actually talking about buying and selling arms .
I don't want to be a moralist or a dreaming pacifist and I am aware that in various countries the military industry is one of the key sectors of the national economy with spin off effects on collateral industries . What I was curious about, after reading about the fair, was to check if there is any correlation or opposite trend in governments' spending for defence and development aid and the distance between the two voices in national budgets by what I came across in data and pages on Internet.
I am not going to reason about the definitions used in the documents reviewed but just presenting data that helped me understand the big picture.
Stockholm International 
Peace Research Institute
According to SIPRI, world military expenditure in 2010 reached $1630 billion, representing  2.6 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) or $236 for each person. Spending was 1.3 per cent higher in real terms than in 2009 and  50 per cent higher than in 2001. What is surprising me is the fact that emerging economies, like the BRIC countries, becoming important regional political players, are increasing their military expenditures. In particular, significant increases
continued in 2010 in South America (5.8 per cent) and Africa (5.2 per cent). In contrast, the increases in North America (2.8 per cent) and Asia and Oceania (1.4 per cent) were lower than in recent years, while in Europe spending fell for the first time since 1998 (by 2.8 per cent).

Thursday, 15 September 2011

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke at Sydney University and set sustainable development as the key issue for the planet

On 8th September 2011, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had a speech at Sydney University where he outlined the importance of sustainable development as the top issue facing the planet with the world's seven billionth person expected to be born next month.
The new UN strategy needs to put together the number of challenges the world is facing today in particular:

Climate change
Water scarcity 
Energy shortages
Global health issues 
Food insecurity 
Empowerment of the world's women

The UN will hold the 17th conference of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Durban, South Africa from 28 November to 9 December 2011.
This occasion represent the last chance to renew the Kyoto Protocol, the only binding global deal to cut greenhouse gases.
The Protocol's initial five-year commitment period, covering 37 industrialized countries, expires at the end of 2012. Ban said the summit needs to keep building on what has been achieved. "We need ambitious mitigation targets that ensure that any increase in global average temperature remains below two degrees Centigrade," he said.
"Moreover, given that the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol expires next year, a political formula must be found to ensure that a robust, post-2012 climate regime is agreed upon, and is not delayed by negotiating gamesmanship."
The Kyoto Protocol's future is uncertain because China and the United States, the world's top two polluters, are not subject to its constraints.

United Nations Framework
Climate Change

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

16 September 2011 - International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer

Ozone molecule
Ozone or trioxygen, is a triatomic molecule, consisting of three oxygen atoms. While the ozone in the lower atmosphere is an air pollutant with harmful effects on the respiratory systems of animals; the layer of ozone in the upper atmosphere is beneficial, preventing potentially damaging Ultraviolet (UV) light radiations from reaching the Earth's surface. Researchers over the past 40 years have monitored the status of the atmosphere and F. Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina discovered in 1974 that chlorine, chemical contained in the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), gas used in spray cans, foam packaging, and refrigeration materials, was responsible for the depletion of the ozone layer and the creation of the hole in the Antarctic region.
Since 1987, more than 150 countries have signed an international agreement, the Montreal Protocol, which called for a phased reduction in the release of CFCs such that the yearly amount added to the atmosphere in 1999 would be half that of 1986. Modifications of that treaty called for a complete ban on CFCs which began in January 1996. Even with this ban in effect, chlorine from CFCs will continue to accumulate in the atmosphere for another decade. It may take until the middle of the next century for ozone levels in the Antarctic to return to 1970s levels.

More globally, ozone depletion is expected to remain a fact of life for several decades to come, but thanks to the research that led to early recognition of the problem and steps that have been taken to address it, the potential consequences are much less severe than they otherwise would have been.
On 19 December 1994, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 16 September the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, commemorating the date, in 1987, on which the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was signed.

More information at:
Environmental Indicators: Ozone Depletion
NASA ozone watch
Ozone depletion phenomenon
UN news 23 August 2011

Thursday, 8 September 2011

World Risk Report 2011 just released

The Alliance Development Work (Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft), the alliance of German development and relief agencies providing long-term aid in the aftermath of major disasters, have just published in collaboration with the United Nations University and the Institute for Environment and Human Security the World Risk Report.

This publication shows that disaster risk is always composed of two components:
  • Exposure to natural hazards and climate change
  • Social vulnerability
The report clarifies that disasters cannot be attributed to meteorological or geological phenomena only, but that they are determined also by social structures and processes within a society (such as level of education, extent  of poverty, food situation or functioning of governmental institutions).
Thus, for example, the Netherlands and Hungary are relatively high exposed to natural hazards and climate change, but due to their social, economic and ecological situations, they have a comparatively good ranking in the risk index. Similarly, the earthquakes of Haiti and Japan strongly demonstrate this relationship. While 28,000 people died in the Japan earthquake (9.0 on the moment-magnitude scale), 220,000 people died in Haiti in a much weaker earthquake measuring 7.0 on the moment-magnitude scale. Owing to higher coping and adaptive capacities, e.g. building laws, there were significantly fewer victims in Japan.
The index examines four key components: exposure to hazards, susceptibility to damage caused by potential disasters, capacity to cope, and existing adaptation strategies. Assessing countries based on these components, the index identifies the Vanuatu, Tonga, the Philippines, Solomon Islands and Guatemala as the top five counties most at risk of disasters

Organizations working with humanitarian aid and natural disasters:
Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction
United Nations Office for the coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
ReliefWeb: In-depth profiles, updates and reports on countries and disasters.
United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction
United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The emergence of the middle class at global level is redesigning local societies' values

The current global crisis started in 2008 brought policies of austerity, mainly to the detriment of the middle class, in most of the western economies. The BRIC countries, in particular, as well as other Latin American and Asian states with the economic growth are experiencing  the birth or reinforcement of  the middle class in their societies.

Various indicators are used by a number of organizations to measure this trend:
  • The World Bank includes in the middle class people earning between  $2-$13 per day
  • The Asian and the African Development Banks use a range between $2-$20 to identify middle class members.
However, the results of these studies are quite similar and show that the middle class is constantly growing, even if at different rates, among all countries in the world.
This phenomenon has both political and economic interpretations. From an economic point of view, various studies predict, in the global market, the appearance of a new class of potential consumers which will absorb the overproduction of companies in Europe and North America and help develop locally the internal markets.
The second consideration focuses in particular on the political consequences of this growth. Polling evidence demonstrates that middle-class values are very distinctive and members of this class pay a lot of attention to their political and civil rights rather than the poor classes more concerned with the freedom from poverty.  This tendency have been used to explain the recent uprisings in Arabic countries.

Poverty line is fixed by the UN at $1 per day. Updated statistical data are available on the Millennium Development Goals Indicators site

For more readings:
The middle of the pyramid: dynamics of the middle class in Africa - African Development Bank (AfDB)
The Global Middle Class - Report from the Pew Research Center

Monday, 5 September 2011

15 September 2011 - International Day of Democracy

The UN General Assembly in 2007 with the general resolution A/62/7  encouraged Governments to strengthen national programmes devoted to the promotion and consolidation of democracy, and also decided that 15 September of each year should be observed as the International Day of Democracy.
The2011's theme will focus on the role of Parliaments in dealing with people's needs and requests and a number of events will be organized by the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
The 2011 celebration is very important also in relation to the protests for democracy and more freedom which  united people in a number of Arabic countries.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Wealthy tax payers in Germany and USA ask to pay more taxes to help their countries face the financial crisis

Robin Hood Memorial
Reading some articles on this issue immediately remind to me the legend of Robin Hood, the famous English character who stole from the rich to give to the poor. However, there are a number of reasons behind the choice of some tax payers to request to pay more taxes and reform the current tax systems in Western countries.

  • Unfair re-distribution of wealth 

According to a 2006 study from the Federal Reserve System, in the United States,at the end of 2001, 10% of the population owned 71% of the wealth and the top 1% owned 38%. On the other hand, the bottom 40% owned less than 1% of the nation's wealth. Furthermore, the distribution in the United States had been changing with indications there was a greater concentration of wealth held by the top 10% and top 1% of the population. In Germany, "hardly anywhere else in the world has the number of millionaires increased as much as in this country," said Mr. Dieter Lehmkuhl pointed out, while the incomes of most Germans had stagnated or even decreased. Lehmkuhl warned and urged the government to reinstate the property tax that had been abolished 12 years ago.
  • Impact and effectiveness of public spending
In many countries public resources are diverted from investments for collective purposes for lobbying and political interests usually in proximity of administrative and presidential polls. The situation is worsening also in conjunction with the heavy cut spending decided in various jurisdictions to face the global financial crisis.
For this reason, the initiative launched  in Germany by the  “Vermoegende für eine Vermoegensabgabe” (Wealthy people in favor of a wealth tax) demands that the new gains should be spent for specific projects in the areas of environmental protection, education and social services like health care and social welfare rather than be simply added to the general  budget.
  • Fighting tax evasion
The mission of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is to promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world. The fight to  tax  avoidance and tax evasion, which threaten government revenues, is one of the main issues of concern for the organization. The OECD promotes the Tax Information Exchange Agreements among countries to prevent evasion in foreign tax havens. The US Senate estimates revenue losses from tax evasion by U.S.-based firms and individuals at around 100 billion dollars a year. In many other countries, the sums run into billions of euros. This means fewer resources for infrastructure and services such as education and health, lowering standards of living in both developed and developing economies.

In the USA, Warren Buffet in the days of downgrading U.S., had proposed more taxes for the super riches, In Spain, if the socialist candidate Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba will win the November election, he could reintroduce a tax on assets for three years. So as to give new life to the Iberian banks.

To read more
Tax justice network
How I learned to avoid the taxman in the British Virgin Islands
Wikipedia - Distribution of wealth
Watch Warren Buffett say raise my taxes
OECD - Section on Taxation
OECD - Tax treaties