“There’s never been a larger need of humanitarian assistance in the world”

The new head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, has spoken about his first weeks in the job and how there has “never been a larger need of humanitarian assistance in the world.”

He talks to UN News about his role and shares his thoughts on current events such as the crisis in Myanmar with half a million Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh and how they can be supported there. He also spoke about his first visit holding the post, to the Lake Chad Basin where there are fears that ten million people are “a step away from starvation.”

There are 145 million people in need of the humanitarian assistance the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) provides. Lowcock says that overall “the global humanitarian system is an effective system. Every year we reach tens of millions of people and we save millions of lives, but we don’t have all the resources we need and we’re facing some big challenges. So, the system needs to step up a bit more, and we need to get a bit more support for our work.”

Top of Lowcock’s priorities was to enable more countries to deal with famines and food crises. Through developing systems and better safety nets he believes that such crises can be averted. He also mentioned atrocities committed by combatants as well as refugee crises.

The tone of the interview was largely positive about the impact that the OCHA and UN can have on humanitarian issues, while not shying away from the harsh realities of the system.

The Gardiner Foundation works on providing microinvestment to entrepreneurs and self employed people through our Trade To Aid initiative. We have also developed an Emergency Fund that can be used to support humanitarian efforts in crises and emergencies.

One in five of world’s population to be over 60 years old by 2050

1st October was the International Day of Older Persons and the United Nations and other organisations have been emphasising the importance of provisions for eldercare.

The World Health Organization has also put out new Guidelines on Integrated Care for Older People that looks at the unique needs of older people. They are more likely to suffer from chronic conditions, multiple conditions and linked conditions than other people. But medical services are mostly oriented around acute, single medical issues. The integration also refers to the co-operation between health care and social care provision.

Director-General of the WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, pointed out some interesting statistics: by 2050 one in five people in the world will be aged 60 or over.

This is not an issue only for developing countries. The WHO press release quotes a survey in 11 high-income countries that said up to 41% of over 65s reported care coordination problems in the last two years.

“The world’s health systems aren’t ready for older populations,” says Dr John Beard, Director of the Department of Ageing and Life course at WHO.

“Everyone at all levels of health and social care, from front-line providers through to senior leaders, has a role to play to help improve the health of older people. WHO’s new guidelines provide the evidence for primary care workers to put the comprehensive needs of older people, not just the diseases they come in to discuss, at the centre of the way they provide care.”

The Gardiner Foundation focuses on people of working age as being able to sustainably lift themselves out of poverty through self employment. But the benefits felt by those people also helps their families and communities, including older family members and those in the community.

Photo by JORGE LOPEZ on Unsplash

African nations speak on climate change at UN Assembly

The United Nations General Assembly concluded last month, the 72nd such meeting. The theme this year was “Focusing on People – Striving for Peace and a Decent Life for All on a Sustainable Planet”.

Last week we looked at the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Eritrea, Osman Saleh Mohammed, who said that talk of an African Renaissance was “misplaced and premature.”

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister of Lesotho, Motsoahae Thomas Thabane, spoke to the Assembly about the importance of technology in development and in efforts against climate change. This was echoed by Prime Minister Jose Ulisses de Pina Correia E. Silva of Cabo Verde.

Expressing solidarity with the victims of recent hurricanes, the Prime Minister of Cabo Verde said:

The consequences are devastating for regions and countries that are most vulnerable from an environmental and economic point of view, such as small island states and regions. Every new day is late for vigorous and globalized action on the factors that trigger and accelerate climate change. Each island that disappear because of climate change will be a nightmare for humanity.

Lesotho’s Prime Minister said:

We reiterate our appeal that small countries like Lesotho, including Small Island States, be empowered with technologies to deal with and adapt to climate change challenges. Attainment of sustainable development will elude us if there is no genuine commitment by all including our Development Partners.

Indeed, the principles of common but differentiated responsibility and economic might and capability between the developed and the developing nations, are critical for our success in building a sustainable world.

We, therefore, call on the international community to continue mobilizing and providing additional financial resources to Africa for climate friendly technologies to address, both the urgent adaptation and mitigation needs of Africa, and other developing countries.

The repercussions of climate change are felt most severely by vulnerable people in developing countries so this is a repeated issue. Representatives are explicit about how preventing climate change will help them in meeting Sustainable Development Goals and benefit their countries in other ways.

At the Gardiner Foundation we believe that lasting development is best achieved through entrepreneurship and small business where people can work themselves out of poverty in a sustainable way. That improves not only their own lives but also the situation of their family, community and wider economy. Reflecting the preoccupations of their communities, these businesses often address issues around climate change, renewable energy, health, education and infrastructure.

Photo by Simon Schmitt on Unsplash

African Renaissance talk “misplaced and premature”

The annual United Nations General Assembly has been host to some powerful discussions last week. Of particular interest was the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Eritrea, Osman Saleh Mohammed. He asserted that talk of an African Renaissance was “misplaced and premature.”

Taking issue with the increasingly popular notion that African countries and the continent as a whole is entering a Renaissance period, Mr Mohammed played the idea down in his speech (PDF).

Africa remains the most marginalized of all continents. Undoubtedly, there is some progress, more in some countries than others. But talk of an African Renaissance, of fastest growing economies is misplaced and premature. We should not flatter ourselves, or allow others to flatter us.

Despite what might seem like a negative stance, it is a realistic view and a hopeful one. Mohammed notes the challenges facing the African nations – how despite being home to 60% of the world’s resources most of the profit from them is taken by foreign companies. Which means that all other areas of society remain underdeveloped.

He continued, saying that:

It is only when Africa’s economies, the quality of its infrastructure, the standards of its health and educational institutions, the level of its artistic, scientific and technological products, the effectiveness of its institutions and enterprises, and more importantly the quality of life of its citizens, reflect more accurately its great potential that we can rightly speak of Africa taking its rightful place in the world.

But he also stated confidence that Eritrea would meet its Sustainable Development Goals, and in advance.

Although not the originator of the term, the idea of an African Renaissance has been popularised by former South Africa President Thabo Mbeki. While it is a great aim and important goal, the measuring stick for achievement is not formalised and clearly there is debate as to what exactly it means and how it can be recognised.

To the rest of the world Mr Mohammed’s speech is an urgent reminder that there can be no complacency in tackling the issues facing the continent.

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The vital importance of school meals

The vital importance of school meals is being highlighted by the World Food Programme as it reveals a lack of funding means they cannot be provided for up to 1.5 million children.

In a press release Abdou Dieng, West and Central Africa Regional Director of the World Food Programme, revealed the funding shortfall. The WFP are the main and sometimes sole provider of school meals across the region. But a $76 million shortfall is putting those meals at risk.

Dieng emphasised how vitally important school meals are – often being the only nutritious food that a child eats all day. Studies show that school meals improve not only performance in school but attendance, and they are a key tool in persuading parents to send children – particularly girls – to school.

“This is a crisis for education, but also a crisis for nutrition and food security which are the fundamental pillars of development,” said Dieng, adding that, “By failing to fully fund school meals, we are collectively short-changing the next generation and Africa’s future.”

It is this inter-connectedness that means this is not simply a question solely of school meals, hunger, or education. It straddles these issues and shows how they come together with repercussions and knock-on effects. Education cannot properly take place without food security. Without education future prospects and food security are that much more tenuous. Healthcare issues are more likely to arise and the economy suffers. Each is connected and cannot be addressed singly waiting for another to catch up.

The Gardiner Foundation believes the best way to tackle these issues is for individuals to lift themselves, their families and their community out of poverty through self employment and small businesses. Alleviating poverty has a ripple effect across education, hunger, healthcare and other issues for the whole community.

Ripple effect of women’s empowerment

At the Gardiner Foundation we are big proponents of the ripple effect when it comes to development and alleviating some of the biggest challenges facing the world right now. We believe that self employment and entrepreneurship is the most effective and sustainable way for someone to lift not only themselves but their family and community out of poverty.

Women For Women is an extraordinary charity that sponsors and organises women on a one year programme learning skills to empower and achieve stability and self sufficiency in their lives. They have released figures from their 2016 graduates that shows not only great progress but how these areas all overlap.

After the programme the graduates were making 3 times the earnings and 87% were saving some of that money, compared to just a third beforehand.

There were massive increases in nutrition planning – from 25 to 99% – and family planning – from 30 to 87% – in the health and wellbeing area.

At enrolment only a third participated in financial decision making at home, which after graduation rose to 87%, plus 12% ran for a leadership position in their community.

Creating and connecting to networks of support is the final area for the programme. Pre-enrolment only 10% had educated another woman on her rights, and 20% belonged to a savings group. Post enrolment 89% were reaching out to other women and 63% were in a savings group.

Over 31,000 women went through the programme last year in countries including Afghanistan, Northern Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria. These incredible statistics show the knock-on effect that can be generated by empowerment and strengthening these key areas. Then to have nearly 9 in 10 graduates connecting and supporting other women really amplifies those efforts.

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Tax upset for small businesses in Ethiopia

New tax increases on small businesses in Ethiopia are discussed in a Guardian article last week. In a bid to reduce their reliance on aid and boost tax receipts, the Ethiopian government has introduced hikes of up to 300% and re-assessed traders’ liability in a shake-up that has seen protests and the closure of many businesses.

Tax liability in Ethiopia is on a sliding scale and is estimated as small businesses do not have to keep accounts. The system has been criticised by Ethiopian lawyers and business consultants.

As a result, many small businesses such as grocery shops, cafes and the service industry, are facing far larger tax bills that they were unprepared for and cannot afford. Many will close their businesses and find employment rather than remain self employed.

Ethiopia has seen challenging economic times recently – inflation is at around 10% after hitting highs of 40% in 2011. The country’s income from tax is lower than the sub-Saharan average and the Guardian reports that a third of the country’s budget, totalling over £10 billion, comes from aid and loans.

The workforce is heavily concentrated in what is described as a “semi formal economic sector” of smallholder agriculture – up to 80% of people are employed in this area.

The Gardiner Foundation believes that entrepreneurship, small businesses and self employment are the best, most sustainable ways for individuals to lift themselves from poverty. As a result not only the individual benefits but their family, community and on the national level too.

This alleviation of poverty has a knock-on effect into education and healthcare as well as improving circumstances for other local businesses. It is an important ecosystem that can thrive but is always vulnerable to accidents or ill health, disaster, conflict and other factors.

Photo by Jakub Kapusnak on Unsplash

#WalkTogether for Mandela’s legacy

The Elders are a group of independent global leaders working together for peace and human rights. Founded by Nelson Mandela they advocate on humanitarian issues. The Gardiner Foundation has highlighted their work several times, including most recently with Graça Machel and Mary Robinson campaigning for universal healthcare coverage in Tanzania.

Mandela launched The Elders on 18th July 2007 – his 89th birthday. Now, 10 years later, the group is celebrating its first decade with a new campaign – Walk Together.

Walk Together is billed as continuing Mandela’s long walk to freedom and more necessary than ever. The aim is “to help bridge the deepening global fault lines of division, hate and xenophobia that is leading to inward-facing populism.”

Visit the site to watch the inspirational video and learn more about the work of the Elders and #WalkTogether. There is more information on the goals of the campaign and a “sparks of hope” section for sharing inspirational stories of the movements that are changing the world for the better. You can subscribe for news and updates, or follow along on Twitter and social media.

One of the new members of the Elders, Ricardo Lagos, spoke about his experiences at the launch of the campaign and his hopes for the movement.

“How Mandela would have dealt with these issues in today’s world, and how we can best uphold his values in this changed environment, is what will be discussed as we walk together in the year ahead.

Global freedoms are under threat from an ugly mood of nationalism, xenophobia, populism and intolerance.”

The Gardiner Foundation will be sharing news from the campaign and looking forward to seeing the positive impact it can bring about. We will also continue to spotlight work done, particularly in African countries, covering eliminating poverty, moving towards universal healthcare coverage and promoting education.

Thousands at risk in Sierra Leone flooding

It is thought that several hundred people have been killed by flooding and landslides in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown. That number includes over a hundred children.

Responses from the World Food Program, UN agencies such as UNICEF and the government were taking place within hours of the disaster. The WFP distributed 7,500 food parcels.

“The scale of the damage is unprecedented,” said a UNICEF representative. “Children have been left homeless, vulnerable and terrified. We must do all we can to protect them from disease and exploitation,” he added.

Sierra Leone’s Office for National Security estimated that 3000 people had lost their homes, as well as food and water supplies being endangered in many nearby neighbourhoods.

The devastation is yet another reminder of how vulnerable communities can be to natural disasters. Even with a fast and effective government and aid response such a tragedy has long-lasting effects.

Too many people’s lives are precariously balanced so that even an accident can have a ruinous effect. As we have seen in previous weeks looking at universal healthcare, there is a delicate and easily disrupted balance between healthcare, education, poverty and other factors. People most vulnerable to natural disasters are also the ones least prepared for them and most impacted.

At the Gardiner Foundation we believe that the most effective way for an individual to lift themselves out of poverty is through running their own business. In turn this benefits their family, community and national economy. It has a positive knock on effect on healthcare, education, local infrastructure and much more.

In the reverse, damage to any of those factors can plunge families into poverty, affect education and healthcare and much more. It’s to be hoped that a swift and effective response to the tragedy in Sierra Leone can spare as many people as possible.

New Director-General for the WHO

The World Health Organisation elected a new Director-General in May, the first time the organisation has chosen from multiple candidates. The winner was Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who took office in July.

Dr Tedros is the former Ethiopian Minister of Health, where he led a comprehensive reform of the healthcare system. He is a strong believer in universal healthcare and often says “all roads lead to universal health coverage.”

In his inaugural speech to the WHO staff he said:

“About 400 million people have no access, as you know, to even basic health care. Many more have access but will endure financial hardship. During the coming weeks, we will be looking at how best to implement the relevant Sustainable Development Goal, achieving universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health care services, and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.”

Dr Tedros also reaffirmed his commitment to the goals he ran on in his candidacy,

  • universal health coverage
  • health emergencies
  • women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health
  • health impacts of climate and environmental change

He also wants to work on transforming the WHO and work closely with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Dr Tedros was born in Eritrea in 1965 and has attended the University of Asmara, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the University of Nottingham where he gained a PhD in Community Health, becoming a world-respected researcher on malaria. Before becoming Director-General of the WHO he has also worked on global campaigns against HIV/AIDS and was co-chair of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Board.

In Eritrea and Ethiopia a person’s given name is used rather than family names.

Image courtesy of www.drtedros.com