Overview: African Hunger

About 265 million people are chronically malnourished across sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Millions without the means to sustain their way of life
  • Rising food and transport costs

Despite years of emergency and development aid, underlying problems such as poverty, HIV/AIDS and climate change remain unsolved. Traditional social organisations and welfare systems capable of looking after the most vulnerable are collapsing under the weight of extreme poverty combined with explosive rates of HIV infection.

Soaring food costs have exacerbated the situation for the poorest, especially the urban poor, and pushed more people closer to the edge of emergency.

Increasingly, organisations such as the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation are saying aid should be provided in the form of cash or food coupons rather than food shipments, which can affect producers and markets in recipient countries and distort international trade. 

 In the search for solutions, the debate over hunger in Africa continues to attract a complex range of intersecting and often contradictory opinions, theories, interests and ambitions. It is also characterised by an almost complete lack of global consensus as to what needs to be done about it.

(From AlertNet.org)

Not a drop to drink

Human damage to 80 percent of  the world’s rivers threatens the water security of  about 5 billion people, according to a study appearing in the September 30 issue of Nature.

And as many as 20,000 species of waterlife are at risk or face extinction because of human activities, the report says. 

It’s the first global water  study to examine combined human influences and their effects on water security and biodiversity.  Scientists collected data on 23 human  influences, such as pollution, dam construction, water extraction for irrigation, and introduction of alien fish species.

Scientists found that 30 of the planet’s 47 largest rivers have suffered at least moderate damage from human activities. The Yangtze, the Nile, the Ganges and the Mississippi rivers are among them. The researchers urged countries to invest in preventing damage to water sources, instead of the far more costly alternative of reversing damage once it has begun.

Read more at Rivers in Crisis.

Global goodwill and generosity

 Charities Aid Foundation of the U.K. recently came up with a new way to measure generosity. Generosity indices are not new, but many measure solely on the basis of economic factors, such total international aid as a percentage of GDP. 

But Charities Aid Foundation  surveyed 153 nations and ranked countries on their willingness to donate time and money and on their willingness to help strangers.

The foundation asked people if they had donated money or time in the last month and if they had helped a stranger in the last month. Haven’t seen the full  methodology, but it’s great to see someone’s working to see social capital, wealth and generosity in new ways.

Very happy to see some of our favorite countries among the top dozen.  Special congratulations to the infrequently recognized Lao PDR. Great folks.

Ins and outs of “The Box”

Everybody’s worked with an evangelist for “thinking outside the box.” I love ’em all. But all too often the outside-the-box folks come up with terrific, visionary, world-shaking  ideas … and that’s it.

The revolutionary idea impresses everyone in the meeting. Then the proud visionary leaves the room with a “make-it-happen” directive that drops like a grenade among the unfortunates who must implement it.

Can’t help but admire the “mad scientists” and big thinkers. Where would we be without them?

But clever ideas are nothing without the heavy-lifting required to implement them. In a more perfect world, the visionary would stick around long enough to help dope out the real world details of turning a brilliant idea into an exciting, well-planned, well-executed replicable and sustainable solution.
At a grant-writing seminar the other day, a presenter summed it up nicely. “Don’t just think outside the box,” he said. “Make the box bigger.”

Geoengineering: A solution to climate change?

Climate Change scientists are now considering whether humanity should try to modify the Earth’s climate to avoid the predicted drastic rise in global temperatures.
“There’s definitely a shift under way from [geoengineering] being a sort of science-fiction oddity to [it being] something that is a strategy being considered,” says Jamais Cascio, an environmental futurist and a research fellow at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, CA.
Cascio published a book on geoengineering, “Hacking the Earth,” last year. Two more books on the subject will be published soon.  And both the British Parliament and U.S. Congress are conducting investigations.
But the science of “geoengineering” is a little explored so far. The ethical and legal ramifications are also daunting.
Most scientists insist such schemes should be attempted only after careful consideration and only as a last resort if disastrous climate changes begin to be felt. And they should never be a substitute for reducing emissions. At best, geoengineering represents a “thumb in the dike” – a temporary and partial solution.
As Cascio puts it, “It’s a stay of execution, not a pardon.” Read more from the Christian Science Monitor.

Local cleanup yields bounty of fast-trash

We were among the hundreds of volunteers who collected trash around the city the other day as part of the national Great American Cleanup. Can’t really be sure how many of the 800 turned out because the weather was miserable – rainy and cool. We were soaked within 10 minutes anyway so we were happy to carry on.

Two of us were assigned a one-mile road section within Little Rock’s Boyle Park. We went up one side and down the other over the course of about three hours.

Amazing to me was that probably 80 percent of the debris in the three large bags of trash and recycleables we collected came from fast-food restaurants. We found little mustard and ketchup containers, burger wrapers, plastic foam cups, plastic straws and so on. Also interesting was the fact that most of the fast-trash came from one side of the road – the side leading from a cluster of burger joints up the road. (And it goes without saying that we found many beer and soft drink containers too.)

It might be fun to lay all the trash out on a tarp and separate it into piles for each of the restaurants. Then we might return it to each of the restaurants, saying, “We think your customers may have dropped these.” Didn’t do it of course, but a mass action along those lines might turn some heads at Burger Headquarters.

I also thought an intense cleanup of a road like that one might make a good field trip for an Anthropology 101 course. Archeologists and anthropologists are always fascinated by midden piles unearthed on digs. These are essentially trash dumps in settlements or temporary camps. Close analysis of the refuse tells you a lot about the people who stayed there and how they lived.

Mystery: No one knows what’s causing the big bee die-off

Every third bite of food we consume depends on pollination by bees. But the bees are disappearing and no-one seems to know why.

News of a mass die-off of bees first broke in 2006. By the spring of 2007 it was clear that the newly dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder was widespread. A quarter of all U.S. beekeepers had suffered losses and more than 30 percent of all bee colonies in the country were wiped out. Huge die-offs also came in Australia, Canada, Brazil, China, Europe and other regions. In Britain, losses averaged more than 30 per cent over 2007-08.

Is Globalization to blame?

Read more in The New Internationalist