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Inadequate infrastructure

19. Juni 2018 - 14:42
In early July, the taps may run dry in Cape Town

The reservoirs of six major dams normally supply Cape Town with water. Their storage levels were at record lows at the end of the 2017’s rain season. From then on, the big question was: will the taps run dry in an agglomeration of 4 million people?

At first, people made fun of the looming crisis. For example, I got phone calls from family and friends who mockingly enquired about the last time I had taken a shower. But as the water levels in the reservoirs kept going down, panic set in.

The national government’s Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) advised the city to keep its water consumption under 500 million litres a day. The city responded with a target of 450 million litres per day. The figure means that people may only use 50 litres per day per person. The implication is that showers become a luxury. Households that use too much water are fined. However, the water utility lacks reliable data on water leakages, illegal connections and other losses.

The city announced a disaster plan. The plan has three phases:

  • In the first phase, water-demand is strictly managed.
  • In the second phase, only critical institutions such as hospitals will be serviced. The phase will be triggered, when the storage level of the reservoir drops to a certain level.
  • In the third phase, no more surface water will be available, and bottled water is to be distributed to the people. This phase starts on “day zero”.

Initially, experts expected 12 April to be that day. Government officials now reckon that day zero may occur next summer. Things have turned out a bit better than feared, so the crisis did not escalate beyond phase one.

First of all, Cape Towners consumed nearly 50 percent less water per person in the first months of this year than they did in the respective months of 2015. Nonetheless, the target of 450 million litres has been exceeded by about 15 %. Some rainfall helped to improve the dams’ storage levels.

The crisis is not over however. The bitter truth is that Cape Town is simply not prepared for the kind of drought that has hit South Africa. Climate patterns are changing. The South African Weather Service, a government agency, forecasts a consistent decline in rainfall for the country, along with longer and much warmer summers. Scientists say that the current crisis is linked to the El Niño phenomenon, a multi-year oscillation of ocean temperatures. It is obvious, however, that previous El Niño phases did not lead to this kind of crisis.

Quite evidently, South African authorities failed to plan for rapid urbanisation. From 1995 to 2015, the population of Cape Town grew by more than 50 %. Investment in water and sanitation infrastructure did not keep pace. Professor Horman Chitonge from the University of Cape Town says that many cities across the continent rely on old infrastructure, so demand tends to exceed capacities considerably.

Moreover, the coordination between the three levels of government (local, provincial and national) is poor. Confusion and conflict are common. Indeed, the city of Cape Town actually threatened to sue the DWS for failing to provide necessary support. On 8 February, the DWS therefore declared a national disaster in the three Cape provinces. As a consequence, additional national funding has become available.

The city of Cape Town is now considering future options. It is piloting a desalination plant. Moreover, the exploitation of ground water resources is being taken into account. The urban planners know that they must find alternatives to the current over-dependence on surface water.

The situation remains tense. Nonetheless, the people hope that national, provincial and local authorities have learned important lessons. The most important is probably that draught does not lead to water shortages. Water shortages result from inadequate infrastructure – which, in turn, is evidence of planning failures. Climate change has no mercy on authorities that are stuck in the past instead of rising to the challenges of the future.

Majaletje Mathume is a South African student activist.

Kategorien: english

Clean energy

19. Juni 2018 - 14:10
To fully electrify Bangladesh by 2020, the government should invest in renewable energy

Modern civilisation depends on energy. In Bangladesh, electric-power generation mostly relies on natural gas and other fossil fuels. Power stations pollute the environment and emit large amounts of carbon dioxide, contributing to climate change.

Renewable energy is the cleaner and more sustainable alternative. Its availability is linked to geographic location and climatic parameters, including temperature, rainfall, air velocity, sunshine duration and humidity. Bangladesh’s geography provides good opportunities for renewable energy.

The government of Bangladesh wants to fully electrify the country by 2020. Currently, 38 % of the people still do not have access to electricity. About 89 % of electric power is generated from natural gas. The share of renewable energy is a mere 0.5 %. To meet energy needs, the government is currently establishing a nuclear power plant and a coal-based one. Environmental organisations strongly oppose both, considering them to be unsustainable and dangerous. They worry about accidents, the disposal of nuclear waste, air pollution and carbon emissions.

Harnessing climate data

It is safer and environmentally less destructive to generate electricity from wind and solar radiation. Both is feasible in Bangladesh. National and international experts see favourable conditions. It matters, moreover, that grid expansion will not be possible in many parts of the country in the near future. Grid expansion is expensive and does not make sense in remote areas that are hard to reach – for instance, because of major water bodies – or where there are only few consumers with sufficient purchasing power. In such places, renewable sources make off-grid solutions viable and affordable.

Climate data is available online. I have developed a web application that can help people to use such data. It analyses and visualises long-term average temperatures, wind speeds, hours of sunshine, relative humidity and average rainfall. Users of the app navigate a map of Bangladesh. Different layers show the potential of different renewable options in specific places. It uses the lowest administrative unit, providing specific information for the areas covered by the police stations (“thanas”).

Various efficiency criteria are used to identify the best renewable energy option for every place. There are options beyond power generation, including solar cookers for example. They are indicated too. Of course, users are free to use the information as they think is best.

From very early ages, coastal people in Bangladesh used solar exposure to make dry fish. Up-to-date solar dryers work best when the temperature is high and the relative humidity is low. They require space, which is generally available in rural areas. The efficiency of solar cookers and ovens basically depends on hours of sunshine and temperatures. Strong winds can affect efficiency.

Areas with more than six hours of daily sunshine and low wind speeds are best. My app provides this kind of information too.

Bangladesh’s solar exposure is high, and photovoltaic cells are available all over the country. However, it makes sense to choose devices that suit a location’s temperature. Heat reduces the efficiency of solar cells, and solar panels must work well when temperatures are high, which is the case in many places.

Coastal regions and mountain areas provide the most favourable conditions for producing economically viable wind power. The minimum wind velocity is three to four meters per second. The best areas for wind-power instalments are the coastal region and the Chittagong hills.

My app offers rainfall data too. Rainwater can be stored in collection tanks on top of houses and drained to the kitchen and toilet for domestic use. If schemes are designed well, natural water flows can be used to pump water into storage tanks. My app uses three categories: areas with high pump rates, moderate pump rates and low pump rates. The potential for rain water collection is best in the eastern part of the country due to the slopes.

The app can guide government agencies, private-sector companies and civil-society activists. It can boost the understanding of the potential of renewable energy and drive implementation at the local level, maximising power generation for sustainable development. The app can also be used to assess the marketing potential for specific devices.

Bangladesh needs sustainable energy infrastructure. It is a tropical delta country with a vast network of rivers and channels. Soils are fertile, but land is limited, so the scope for farming is limited too. Energy demand is increasing due to economic growth, rapid urbanisation and industrialisation. The country is densely populated, and that is set to get worse. Though annual population growth has declined dramatically from almost three percent in 1980, it was still 1.1 % in 2016, according to World Bank statistics.

Of course, my app can be reproduced in other countries. All over the world, climate data is becoming more important – not least in regard to energy production.

Md Reaid Alam is a geographer from Bangladesh who is currently a post-grad student at the University of Applied Sciences Stuttgart. His master programme is involved in AGEP – the German Association of Postgraduate Programmes with special Relevance to Developing Countries. He designed the app described in the essay in Stuttgart.


To get an idea of how the app works, please go to:,20.0669,99.5488,29.4211


Kategorien: english

Unspoken competition

18. Juni 2018 - 15:26
Downsides of international humanitarian aid after Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013

In the devastated city of Tacloban, Karl Gaspar, a Catholic monk, saw NGO workers staying in the most expensive hotels, eating in the best restaurants and cruising in brand new SUVs through streets “where dead bodies wait to be identified and buried in mass graves”. Moreover, he noted that many pledges never materialised. In his book (Gaspar 2014) on the experience, he wrote: “As of 8 September 2014, the country has received P 71 billion ($ 1.626 billion) worth of foreign aid pledges in cash and in kind, but only P 15 billion ($ 349.404 million) has been received so far.”

He also noted that there was a serious lack of coordination on the ground. According to Gaspar, collaborative efforts seemed “weak and inadequate” while an “unspoken competition” seemed to exist among humanitarian agencies. He concludes two things:

  • Instead of relying on obviously over-burdened local government units, humanitarian agencies should tap the resources of the affected communities to organise relief distribution.
  • Assistance should be discontinued as soon as people get back on their feet in order not to encourage aid dependence.

Gaspar pointed out that he did not wish “to disparage all the agencies who came to the affected areas and did manage to serve the needs of the survivors”, but added that “one can’t help but notice some very disturbing tendencies. The Catholic monk in particular praised the Bhuddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, which is based in Taiwan, for being “one of the first to provide the most needed aid to the survivors”.

Gaspar has a long history of personal engagement in the Philippines, by the way. He was a political prisoner for some time during the rule of dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Gaspar, K.-M., 2014: Desperately seeking God’s attention: Yolanda survivors’ hope beyond heartbreaking lamentations. Quezon City: Institute of Spirituality in Asia.

Kategorien: english

Changing attitude

18. Juni 2018 - 14:58
The Philippines’ paradigm shift in regard to disaster preparedness

Natural disasters are part of life in the Philippines’ over 7,000 islands. By the time many Filipinos turn 21, they are likely to have experienced more than 200 tropical cyclones with top wind speeds of at least 118 km/h. Storms often cause severe flooding and landslides. Earthquakes and volcano eruptions are common too.

In 2017, the Philippines with 100 million people ranked third behind the Vanuatu and Tonga, two small Pacific island nations, according to the World Risk Index. The index is compiled by an alliance of German non-governmental organisations (“Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft”) and assesses 173 countries’ exposure to natural disaster risks as well as their ability to cope.

“Whether natural hazards turn into disasters depends not only on the intensity of an event but is also crucially determined by a society’s level of development,” says Isagani Serrano, the president of the non-governmental Rural Reconstruction Movement and a co-convenor of Social Watch Philippines.

Pedro Walpole of Ateneo de Manila, a highly respected Catholic university, agrees. In his view, natural events like typhoons only become disasters when humans die. His grim forecast is this will continue to happen because “in the Philippines, we have an awful lot of very poor, marginalised people who have no place to go.”

This view is reinforced by Social Watch data:

  • Over half the nation’s people live along coastlines, exposing them to typhoons and storm surges.
  • Slightly more than a quarter are so poor that they cannot recover material losses or repair damages.
  • One fifth are undernourished, so they are vulnerable to the health challenges of a storm’s aftermath.

Filipino’s traditional attitude to calamities is best expressed by the aphorism “bahala na”, which means “let’s leave it up to God”. Foreigners often consider it fatalistic. Filipinos seem to be resigned to accept nature’s wrath. The prominent scholar Alfredo Lagmay, who passed away in 2005, proposed a rather different interpretation of “bahala na” however. He argued it invited risk-taking while faced with possible failure. “It gives a person courage to see himself through hard times,” he said. It is “like dancing with the cosmos.”

For decades after independence in 1946, government responses to disasters were largely fatalistic and opportunistic. All administrations basically followed the same morning-after-the-storm ritual. The idea was that little could be done to prevent disasters, so policymakers’ job was to deliver relief fast after a disaster struck. Affected families were crammed in school rooms until floods subsided. Typically, bags of rice and food cans were marked with the name of the politician who doled them out. Relief efforts were thus really re-election efforts. This practice has fallen into disrepute.

Apart from handing out supplies, there was no job for local governments. It was the army’s task to conduct search and rescue missions. It also cleared and repaired roads.

Failure to handle a catastrophe competently could end political careers. Typhoon Ketsana flooded Metro Manila in September 2009. Then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had groomed her Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro to run for president in 2010. He failed miserably to send rubber boats to rescue trapped homeowners from the flood waters – and that contributed to sinking his presidential campaign. Under the impression of the typhoon, however, the government changed its stance.

Innovative approach

In 2010, the Arroyo-dominated Congress approved landmark legislation. It created the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC). Both disaster risk management (DRM) and disaster risk reduction (DRR) were innovative concepts. The new law fulfilled the Philippines’ commitment to implement the Hyogo Framework for Action, which had been the result of a UN conference on resilience building in Japan in 2005.

The new law marked a paradigm shift, according to Carmelita Laverinto of the Office of Civil Defence. She says that governments and relief agencies earlier viewed disasters as “one-off events” and responded accordingly. In her view, neither the social and economic implications of disasters nor their causes were appropriately taken into account.

By contrast, the new law directed the bureaucracy to be “proactive” instead of merely “reactive”. From the national level down to the local government units (LGUs – towns, cities and provinces), state institutions must now implement DRM and DRR.

DRM has become a year-round agenda with the NDRRMC setting targets and policies for disaster preparedness. LGUs must now prepare “hazard maps”, identifying areas that are prone to landslides, storm surges, flooding and other disaster impacts. Previously, such maps – if they were prepared at all – were kept secret. Real estate developers used political connections to build, for instance, housing on dry river beds and landslide prone areas. DRR is about decreasing the vulnerabilities and boosting capacities of the communities concerned.

In an audit in 2014, Laverinto found that:

  • no town or city had yet been awarded the national Seal of Disaster Preparedness, and
  • the main reason was the mismatch between institutional responsibilities and LGU capacities.

The LGUs simply lacked staff trained in DRR and DRM. They also lacked mechanisms for early warnings, search and rescue missions, evacuation, health care et cetera. Things have improved a bit since 2014, and several dozen cities and towns have won the seal in the meantime. One reason was certainly Typhoon Haiyan.

Typhoon Haiyan

In November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan brutally showed that local level resilience had not been built adequately. The super storm devastated the city of Tacloban, the island of Leyte and, more generally, the Visayas region in central Philippines. International humanitarian agencies soon arrived. Their interventions were badly needed and welcome, though some downsides were noticed (see box).

In the disaster area, Lourdes Padilla-Espenido represented WeDpro, a civil-society organisation fighting for the rights of women and youth. She reports that the “LGUs themselves were traumatised.” Because leading officials and staffers had lost loved ones and homes, it took them long to take action.

However, Espenido saw at least two bright spots of preventive action having delivered results:

  • Several houses in the town of Palo, which was nearly levelled, were still standing. It turned out that what they had in common was that they had been constructed according to the Building Code.
  • In a coastal area of Capiz province, the storm surge did not smash the community the way it did in Tacloban. Residents told Espenido that they had “been saved by the mangroves”. The village had expanded the mangrove forest with support from a foreign donor.

On the downside, then Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez, who belongs to the extended family of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, failed to fully warn the residents. The reason was that he did not know what “storm surge” means. Mar Roxas, who was the national cabinet member responsible for LGUs, forgot to bring a satellite phone to the disaster area. Then President Benigno Aquino III was seen as cold and uncaring because he did not show his emotions. He later said that he had controlled his emotions to get things done. The people of Leyte, however, felt let down.

One of those who was warmly welcomed bringing relief goods to Tacloban in November 2013 was Rodrigo Duterte, then serving of Davao City in Mindanao. Almost in tears, Duterte told the media, “God must have been somewhere else,” when the storm hit.

Today, Duterte is president. It is now his job to protect the nation from disaster. DRR and DRM should be high on the agenda. It is therefore not encouraging that he has slashed the Calamity Fund for disaster relief. For 2016, the Aquino administration had budgeted the equivalent of about $ 7.4 billion for this purpose. In Duterte’s budget for 2017, that figure dropped by about 40 %. For 2018, the absolute number increased again slightly to $ 385 million, but it now includes $ 196 million for the rehabilitation of Marawi, the city on Mindanao which was liberated from an Islamist militia after extended fighting by the armed forces. It also includes $ 39 million for the rehabilitation of the world famous island resort of Boracay. The Calamity Fund thus has only about $ 150 million for any disasters this year. A single typhoon could wipe it out.

Social Watch leader Serrano says Duterte’s cuts were surprising. Given the country’s risk exposure, he says, disaster preparedness must be a priority. On the bright side, while Duterte has lambasted the UN for criticising his extremely violent war on drugs (see D+C/E+Z e-Paper, 2017/10, p. 15), close cooperation continues on disaster relief and mitigation between the NDRRMC and Office of Civil Defense and UN agencies.

Raissa Robles is an investigative journalist and publisher based in Manila.

Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft: World Risk Report 2017:

Kategorien: english

Valid criticism of established powers; excessive praise for rising ones

18. Juni 2018 - 12:46
Monday, June 18, 2018 - 10:45Hans DembowskiKishore Mahbubani asks: “Has the west lost it?”Kishore Mahbubani is a public intellectual from Singapore, where he teaches public policy at the national university. He has a long track-record of criticising western powers. His latest book, however, expresses the hope that they might finally stick live up to their own principles. Most of all, he wants them to practice the multilateralism they have been preaching to others for decades.

Mahbubani spells out “the west’s” interest in a rules-bound global order in a convincing manner. He emphasises, for example, that the EU has brought about lasting peace on the continent that used to be rocked by wars.

In a somewhat surprising twist, moreover, Mahbubani warns the western powers, whose hegemony is waning fast, that they are about to waste a great opportunity. Explicitly referring to Steven Pinker and his many statistics on child mortality, hunger, war and accidents, the scholar from Singapore writes that people in emerging markets and developing countries are aware of how positive recent trends were internationally. In his eyes, the west should endorse multilateral policy approaches to ensure that global goals are achieved.

He worries, however, that domestic frustration in view of the west’s own relative stagnation is leading to short sighted and destructive nationalism. He makes it quite clear that Donald Trump’s policymaking is not making his country great again. The USA is becoming increasingly isolated.  

I appreciate Mahbubani’s work. He has always excelled in pointing out western governments’ double standards and post-colonial arrogance. On the other hand, he has downplayed the harsher sides of authoritarian rule in many Asian countries. His new book “Has the west lost it?” fits this pattern.

Mahbubani’s message is that China and India will rise to become the world’s largest economies – as they were for millennia before the colonial era. According to Mahbubani, this trend cannot be stopped. He praises the west for having replaced feudalism with reasoned policymaking, for overcoming fatalism and driving technological progress. However, he declares that Asian, African and Latin American countries have learned those lessons and are applying them. One chapter actually has the title “The gift of western wisdom”.

On the foundation of “reasoned thinking”, the author argues, economies are growing fast, and “the rest” is catching up with “the west”. He points out, for example, that the G7’s share of global GDP was 31.5 % in 2015, whereas the seven biggest emerging markets together accounted for 36.3 %.

Mahbubani declares: “The west has been at the forefront of world history for almost 200 years. Now it has to learn to share, even abandon, that position and adapt to a world it can no longer dominate.”  The former UN ambassador accuses the west of several serious mistakes in recent years. Western arrogance, he argues, has fuelled resentment in many places, including Russia as well as  predominantly Muslim countries.

Generally speaking, western interference in foreign countries’ domestic affaires, according to Mahbubani, tends to be “thoughtless” and counter productive. The worst example was probably the Iraq war, which President George W. Bush launched on the basis of lies but without a mandate from the UN Security Council. Mahbubani adds that he appreciates the reasons why many US citizens are appalled by Russian interference in the 2016 elections, but he also emphasises that consecutive US administrations interfered in many elections all over the world. 

Instead of trying to impose their will, Mahbubani admonishes western governments: “We can and should strengthen multilateral institutions of global governance, like the UN, the IMF, the World Bank and the WHO to take care of common global challenges.” He calls for a new global consensus and argues that the “Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which espouse many universal values, can provide the foundation”. By living up to multilateral principles, the west can entrench those values, which may then bind the rising powers, Mahbubani argues. Cynical manipulation, by contrast, will only speed up western decline.

Western policymakers are well advised to pay attention to Mahbubani. He articulates grievances that are shared by many people in developing countries and emerging markets. That said, readers in the less advantaged countries should carefully check whether everything he writes is really accurate.

For example, he offers no serious evidence for his claims that President Xi Jinping of China feels accountable to his people or that Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India is keen on improving good governance. Both leaders are known for restricting the civil-society space and maximising their personal grip on power. China’s spectacular successes in the fight against poverty, however, occurred before Xi rose to power, and its people are less and less allowed to express criticism.

In India, where the press is still free, Modi critics certainly do not share Mahbubani’s assessment. Check out what Aditi Roy Ghatak or Arfan Khanum Sherwani worte in D+C.

Mahbubani’s criticism of the west certainly deserves more attention that his praise for authoritarian leadership. His definition of good governance as “functional” rather than democratic governance is not convincing. Singapore is an unusual country in the sense that it is known both for comparatively authoritarian rule and comparatively low levels of corruption. To people living there it may seem that strongman-imposed order is benign. In most places, that is not so – at least not in the long run. Dictatorship typically goes along with exploitation and abuse. Developmental dictatorships are the exception.

The assessment of Dani Rodrik, the Turkish-born Harvard economist, is much more convincing: At this point, neither the G7 nor the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) are in a position to lead. The BRICS lack a coherent vision. It is ironic, moreover, that the lack of democracy in China and Russia reduces these authoritarian regimes’ authority at the global level. I summed up his latest book in a recent blogpost. I’d like to add once more that while repression may strengthen a leader’s grip on power, it erodes the regime’s legitimacy which means it becomes less effective.


Kishore Mahbubani, 2018: Has the west lost it? A provocation. London: Allen Lane.

Sustainable business and sustainable environmentInternational relations and cooperation
Kategorien: english

Feeling the heat

15. Juni 2018 - 12:13
Erosion and other impacts of climate change on urban life in Benin

Coastal erosion is nothing new, of course, but it is becoming stronger. Cotonou, Benin’s commercial capital, is affected. Experts warned of catastrophe as early as 2000 unless vigorous action was taken immediately. Though the government has not been idle, the problems are growing.

The advance of the Atlantic Ocean has wreaked havoc on the coastal village of Djeffa, for example. It is situated halfway between Cotonou and Porto-Novo, Benin’s nearby political capital. The waves have washed away huts in which people lived. The shoreline has moved north by several dozen meters. Uncontrolled sand mining on the beach compounded the problem of course.

A new urban neighbourhood of Cotonou is being hit too. It is called PK 10. It is only a few kilometres away from the downtown area. Homes, hotels and beach resorts have been lost to the sea. The once popular Palm Beach Hotel, for example, collapsed. Many of the buildings still standing in PK 10 may be doomed as well. Experts reckon the sea level will rise by up to 60 centimetres in the next 20 years. Investments in the growing tourism industry, which the incumbent government has vowed to promote, are similarly under threat.

The challenges are huge. Embankments and other kinds of coastal protection must be fortified. Indeed, parts of Cotonou, a city with a population of more than 1.5 million, lie below sea level. Should there be violent floods, they could be submerged and possibly even wiped off the map.

The efforts made so far have proven insufficient. In 2008, the government launched a project to protect the coastline. It spent the equivalent of € 4 million on concrete barriers and levees along strategic parts of the coast. However, erosion has worsened nonetheless – and the trend was actually compounded by refurbishing and extension works at the Free Port of Cotonou. The harbour and its access routes were deepened.

In 2014, the government started more forceful efforts to protect the coast, building new levees near the Free Port. So far, € 70 million have been spent. In other places, measures are being taken at the local level. To really control erosion, however, much more needs to be done.

International action deserves consideration. Other coastal cities in West Africa face similar problems, including Lagos and Lomé. Important roads, including the one from Cotonou to Lagos, run along the shore. Massive flooding may thus disrupt vitally important traffic.

Infrastructure work in Lagos, moreover, may aggravate problems in Benin. The port facilities of Nigeria’s commercial hub are being expanded too. The good news is that donor institutions such as the World Bank have expressed readiness to provide the funding. On the other hand, it is obvious that action must be taken at the grassroots level everywhere. International schemes will only ever be as good as their local implementation.

Climate change is affecting urban life in other ways as well. Experts at Benin’s University of Abomey-Calavi say that weather patterns are changing in different ways in the various regions of Benin. Two common trends, however, are more heat and less precipitation. The rainy season has become unpredictable, and the intensity of precipitation has dropped by an alarming 50 % to 74 % in the past five years.

Crops have been lost, and domestically grown food has become rarer and more expensive on urban markets. Moreover, according to surveys by the University of Abomey-Calavi, meat and milk production has dropped, and previously unknown diseases are now affecting the health of livestock across the country. As consumers in Porto-Novo know, moreover, freshwater fish is becoming ever more costly and harder to find.

Part of the reason is that a local river in Porto-Novo is now clogged with invasive and obnoxious plants almost all year round. The vegetation is a potent fish repellent and makes it harder for fishermen to cast out their nets. Less rain, moreover, means that rivers’ water levels are lower than they used to be.

Karim Okanla is a lecturer at the Houdegbe North American University Benin in Cotonou.

Kategorien: english

Healthy change

15. Juni 2018 - 11:53
How Bangladesh reduced the average number of children per woman to a mere 2.1

Bangladesh is the regional front runner. The World Bank reports that the TFR was 6.6 in what was then East Pakistan in 1960. The rate has since been reduced by more than two thirds. The achievement is important because sustainable development requires a stable population.

In Bangladesh, the first family-planning programmes were launched in the 1960s. They did not deliver impressive results. An important reason was that they focused entirely on contraception methods, but failed to tackle issues of maternal and child health as well. What really encourages parents to opt for smaller families is lower infant and child mortality. If they think some of their children will die, they want to have several to make sure that some survive. If they expect their children to live, however, they want to invest in their education to maximise their chances in life. On average, healthier families are therefore smaller families.

After independence from Pakistan, Bangladesh ran very successful vaccination programmes. Moreover, basic health services began to improve, mostly due to non-governmental efforts. However, the government also recognised the need to focus on maternal and child health. More children than before lived beyond their fifth birthday.

Experience shows that close cooperation of state institutions and civil society is useful. In 1978, the Bangladeshi government started to promote family-planning services through family-welfare assistants, most of whom were professionally trained paramedics, nurses and birth attendants. Their job was to reach out to village women at the grassroots level. The point was to advise mothers about the benefits of having a small family, but they offered comprehensive advice on other things and helped families to get access to competent health care.

Bangladesh is a least-developed country. We do not have enough medical doctors. As the experience of Gonoshasthaya Kendra (GK), a non-governmental health-care provider, and others shows, however, paramedics can provide most essential health services. For complicated cases, of course, they need a referral system with professional doctors.

Especially in rural areas, traditional midwives have always been important – and they still are. They enjoy the trust of their communities. It makes sense to update their knowledge and involve them in family-planning promotion.

Education gives women more decision-making power about how many children to bear – and girls who go to school tend to get married later. Moreover, gender roles are changing – not least thanks to micro-finance organisations. They have been giving women access to credit for decades.

It is noteworthy that religion was not a major obstacle to promoting birth control in Bangladesh. Our recent history probably played a role. In the liberation war of 1971, many women were raped, and some became pregnant. They did not want the babies of the oppressors, so they needed abortions. Even though our country is predominantly Muslim and has a rather conservative culture, people sympathised with the pregnant rape victims. The humanitarian catastrophe actually provided an opportunity to take a progressive approach to family planning. Religious clerics did not pose a threat to family-planning efforts as they did in Pakistan.

Bangladesh is still a poor country, but we have made some progress. The vast majority of people enjoy food security today, but the poor suffer malnutrition. Masses still lack appropriate shelter. Due to rural poverty, cities are growing fast without proper infrastructure. Impacts of climate change are being felt. Future challenges are daunting, but not insolvable.

It is a great achievement that Bangladesh has lowered the TFR to 2.1. However, average data always hide some issues. The fertility rates are still higher for poor families in rural areas. Health-care services must improve further – and so must social and physical infrastructure in general.

Najma Rizvi is a professor emerita of anthropology of Gono Bishwabidyalay, the university started by GK, the health NGO.

Kategorien: english

Urgent need for action

13. Juni 2018 - 13:19
Syrian refugee children are exposed to many stress factors that can lead to permanent health problems

More than 5 million Syrians have fled their homeland, and half of them are children. According to UN figures, another 6 million people are on the run within Syria (also see article by Mona Naggar, p. 33). In February 2018, employees of the international aid organisation World Vision had the opportunity to interview over 1,200 Syrian refugee children aged 11 to 17 in southern Syria, Lebanon and Jordan about their current situation. The result is documented in the recently published study “Beyond survival”.

The displaced children who are still in Syria have the most immediate fear of war, the report states. However, the conflict has dramatically changed all children’s family circumstances and social environment. They tend to live in difficult conditions of poverty. They miss family members and friends who were previously part of their lives. Their future is uncertain.

A major problem for all the children surveyed was the cramped living situation. More than 70 % of children in southern Syria and Lebanon said they lived in the same room with at least three people, in Jordan even 80 % said so. Tense housing often leads to domestic violence. In both southern Syria and Lebanon, over 60 % of the children reported they were living in unsafe dwellings – for example without access to water or electricity or in damaged buildings. According to the report, more than half of all children had no access to health care. Every fifth refugee child in Lebanon and southern Syria does not get enough to eat.

Many of the children surveyed stated that they had to work in order to increase their family’s income. Three out of five children interviewed in Lebanon did not go to school at all. According to the report, the situation was somewhat better in southern Syria and Jordan, where eight and 11 % respectively did not attend school.

In southern Syria, 99 % of the surveyed children suffered educational stress factors – be it violence at school or problems with teaching materials. In Lebanon the respective share was 86 %, in Jordan 52 %. Many of the children said they could not focus on homework because of the crowded housing situation. The children did not only complain about problems with the teaching materials. Especially in the southern regions of the country they reported physical punishment and severe verbal abuse at school. World Vision points out that the teachers are under considerable pressure themselves, and that also affects the classroom situation.

The children’s stories in “Beyond Survival” describe the struggle they are exposed to. Such stress can lead to long-term mental problems such as post-traumatic stress syndrome, depression and anxiety. The stress factors must be addressed, World Vision demands. Otherwise, children will face long-term health problems such as heart disease, strokes, low resistance. Social concerns arise as well, including violence and lifelong poverty.

According to Wynn Flaten, head of Syria aid at World Vision, the goal is not only to ensure the bare survival of girls and boys, but rather to protect their childhood as such so that they can grow up to be physically and mentally healthy persons. World Vision appeals to everyone involved: the violence must end, the families must be supported and reunited. Psychosocial support programmes are urgently needed to enable children to develop the capacity for reconciliation and to build a better future for their country.

World Vision, 2018: Beyond survival. Seven years of war on Syria’s children.

Kategorien: english

Sustainability pays

13. Juni 2018 - 13:03
Managers must be made aware of the advantages of sustainability

DEG funds and supports businesses in developing countries, but also provides advice on the opportunities that go along with environmental and social sustainability. Successful companies provide ample evidence.

For example, a company can use waste to generate power, which helps to reduce costs and can even become a business model in itself. In Mexico, DEG is financing a leading wood-processing company which diversified into producing medium-density fibre (MDF) boards. For this purpose, the company uses other companies’ saw dust as well as small pieces of wood that result from the sustainable management of municipal forests. The MDF boards are certified according to North America’s Eco-Certified Composite (ECC) Sustainability Standard. Moreover, the company has set up a bio-mass plant to generate electricity and heat. This will reduce carbon emissions in nearby municipalities, where the use of diesel generators was previously common. DEG gave advice on how best to combine MDF production and power generation.

Even companies that use up-to-date technology have scope for improving resource efficiency in production lines, buildings and logistics. Greater efficiency lowers costs. Deep Catch Trading is an example from Southern Africa. This company stores, transports and markets frozen food. The cooling system accounts for the lion’s share of its energy use. After advice initiated by DEG, several simple, but most effective investments were made in a warehouse and an office building in Windoek, Namibia. The measures included heat recovery, photovoltaics and insulation of the freezer-facility roof. The company reduced carbon emissions, and the investment costs were recovered within a few years.

The certification of products and production processes, moreover, gives companies access to additional markets. In southern Brazil, for instance, a DEG partner is doing forestry according to the sustainability standards of the Forest Stewardship Councils (FSC). Thanks to FSC-certification, its goods are now being sold in the USA.

It takes an extra effort to comply with international environmental and social standards in developing countries and emerging markets. The effort pays off, however, for example in terms of facilitating access to financial-service providers. This was confirmed last year by an independent consultancy which evaluated financial intermediaries on behalf of DEG.

Human resources matter too. Though this issue has not attracted much attention in sustainability discourse so far, managing staff in an appropriate way is essential for sustained success. Once more, Deep Catch Trading is an example. The company grew fast for two years, but then struggled to find competent new staff. Consultants helped Deep Catch to identify exactly what skills were needed, and on this basis the company defined requirement profiles for existing jobs as well as for positions yet to be created. Moreover, it developed training programmes concerning leadership, marketing and customer service. Deep Catch soon hired additional people, most of whom stayed with the company long term. As a result, profits are increasing.

Examples like these prove that environmental and social sustainability contributes to private-sector success in developing countries and emerging markets. The approach helps companies to prepare for future challenges, stay competitive and keep developing.

Martin Geiger heads the Department for Sustainability and Corporate Governance at DEG – Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft, which is Germany’s development finance institution. It supports private-sector investments and is part of KfW, Germany’s governmental development bank.

Kategorien: english

The budget deficit is the core problem

13. Juni 2018 - 9:47
IMF agrees to support Argentina with $ 50 billion loan

Argentina’s government has passed its first major economic and fiscal test successfully. The kind of challenges that now lie ahead have been mastered several times in the past. The economy is recovering – slowly, but steadily. I am proud of this development.

It is true that the peso’s exchange rate has fallen, but the decline of other currencies in our world region was almost as steep. The main reason for this trend was the appreciation of the dollar due to rising interest rates in the USA.  

The huge budget deficit, which has been burdening Argentina for decades, makes us especially vulnerable in times of capital-market volatility. Because of bad governance in the past, we have become used to the peso being pegged to the dollar. If the exchange-rate changes even marginally, many people are afraid of crisis.

We are not afraid, however. We have ways and means to deal with exchange-rate fluctuations. At no point in recent months were we on the brink of any serious crisis. What happened was that we faced some liquidity and coordination problems, and specific measures had to be taken:

  • the central bank had to raise interest rates,
  • the government had to turn to the International Monetary Fund for support and
  • it had to reduce the budget deficit.

An important milestone was the success of the “Lebacs”, bonds issued by the central bank. In view of declining volatility, it had to issue new Lebacs. Demand was stronger than expected, which showed that the decisions taken by the government and the signals it set were sufficient to restore trust in our economy.

International responses – from Washington to Berlin to the G20 – contributed to stabilisation. The world considers us a reliable partner once more. Over the next three years, the IMF’s $ 50 billion dollar loan will help us to achieve a balanced budget (before debt servicing).

President Mauricio Macri has not backtracked from his optimistic aspirations, even though some doubt they are realistic. In a policy statement two years ago, he promised economic normalisation. This promise has not been broken, and it will not be broken. Macri warns against talking down our nation’s outlook.

One reason for the recent coordination and communication problems was the central bank’s independence, which must be maintained. Moreover, Argentina must reduce the budget deficit. It puts a heavy burden on all citizens, making the country dependent on foreign financing, which means it is vulnerable. That is the core problem.

Our nation needs predictability. We must be sure that uncontrolled government spending will not sink our economy once more. The big challenge is that Argentinians – led by the government – must now solve a problem that has been evident for many decades and that plunged us into crisis after the turn of the millennium.

Today, the public sector accounts for 70 % of the jobs in some provinces. Therefore, we are doing our best to create real jobs, for example, by teaching people the skills that are in labour-market demand. The best social-protection policy is to create employment.

During the turbulences of recent weeks, Argentina’s largest wind farm became operational. The investment costs amounted to $ 3 billion. Moreover, we have gained access to a new market: China has opened its borders for fresh and frozen meat. This means an additional 200 million potential consumers. It also deserves to be mentioned that the demand for organic food is growing around the world and creating additional demand for Argentinian goods.

Real solutions require international cooperation and mutual support. We must ensure that the blessings of progress benefit everyone, including those who have the least. To be fair and equitable, globalisation must be inclusive.  

Cornelia Schmidt-Liermann is a member of Argentina’s parliament and belongs to the party of President Mauricio Macri.
Twitter: @CorneliaSL

Kategorien: english

Due to Donald Trump, the G7 is in disarray

11. Juni 2018 - 15:22
Monday, June 11, 2018 - 15:15Hans DembowskiThis may be the end of the Atlantic allianceThe headline of my last blogpost suggested that neither the BRICS nor the G7 are in a position to lead the global community. What happened at the G7 summit in Quebec and afterwards shows that this assessment was correct.

Three years ago, I argued that the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), the informal organisation of the emerging markets, lacked the coherence of the G7, the group of long-established economic powers. While the BRICS situation has not improved since, the G7 situation just deteriorated dramatically.

In the blogpost last week, I referred to Harvard economist Dani Rodrik. I wrote: “In the professor’s eyes, the established economic powers have lost the dynamism and the credibility to assume global leadership, and US President Donald Trump’s erratic policies are compounding the problems.”

One of the top headlines yesterday was that Trump retracted his consent to the communique negotiated at the G7 summit in Quebec. He did so in a tweet, in which he also called Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “dishonest and weak”.

Apparently, Trump was angry because of a press conference, during which Trudeau said that Canadians would “not be pushed around”. Moreover, Trudeau said he found “insulting” that Trump claimed US tariffs imposed on Canada served “national security”. Trudeau’s statements are consistent with what he said before the summit, so his stance neither looks dishonest nor weak.

What really looks weak is the G7 and any notion of “the west” (including Japan) leading the world. The way the leader of the most powerful G7 member treats his counterparts shows an utter lack of respect. The G7, moreover, obviously lacks coherence if the consensus reached at a summit in cumbersome negotiations is cancelled within hours.

It needs to be stressed that the lack of reliability undermines Washington’s authority. If the president cancels agreements at whim, it does not make much sense to conclude agreements with him in the first place. Indeed, even some conservative media pundits in the USA point out that Trump is not making America “great again”. For example, the assessment of Max Boot, who was always close to the Republicans before Trump rose to power, in the Washinton Post (which uses a paywall and limits the number of articles non-subscribers may access) is: “The Atlantic alliance was born in Canada in 1941 and may well have died there in 2018.” He blames “Trump’s stupid and self-destructive actions”.

The influence of the G7 has been decreasing for quite some time. In the mid-1980s, its member countries accounted for about two thirds of global GDP. Today, they account for about one half. Emerging markets have grown faster and gained relevance accordingly.

The financial crisis that started in 2008 diminished the standing of the G7 dramatically. It was triggered by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Wall Street bank. The crisis proved that financial markets are not inherently stable. A tenet of G7 orthodoxy had been that policymakers should do their best to attract private-sector investments, but should not interfere in markets otherwise.

The crisis hit the G7 countries so hard that they were suddenly forced to coordinate economic policymaking with emerging markets. The G20 was born.

A little later, the BRICS teamed up and began hosting annual summits of their own. The aspiration was obviously to establish an alternative to the G7. One driving motive was that the BRICS felt marginalised in the governance systems of international financial institutions (IFIs) like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the regional development banks. China, in particular, had campaigned for more voting rights in IFI settings, but failed to achieve its goal.

In the meantime, the BRICS have set up new IFIs, in which their clout is stronger – for example the New Development Bank in Shanghai, which belongs to the five BRICS countries. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which has invited other countries to become members, deserves to be mentioned in this context too.

Beyond that, however, the BRICS do not have much in common. They are not promoting a shared vision of how humankind should develop. Until Trump rose to power in the USA, the G7 still had such a shared vision. It was about democracy, liberal trade and multilateral cooperation. The EU, Canada and Japan are still embracing that vision, but the USA is increasingly backing off. The US administration is no longer emphasising human rights, the rule of law and press freedom, for example. Trump is known for attacking judges and journalists whose work he does not agree with.

It is telling that Trump wants the G7 to become the G8 again by including Russia once more. Russia’s autocratic President Vladimir Putin, however, hardly seems interested. His strategic goal has long been to weaken the western alliance, and Trump is fulfilling his wildest dreams. The Democrat-leaning American journalist Josh Marshall writes:

“If candidate Trump and President Putin had made a corrupt bargain which obligated President Trump to destabilise all US security and trade alliances (…) and advance the strategic interests of Russia, there’s really nothing more remotely realistic he could have done to accomplish that than what he has in fact done. Take a moment to let that sink in.

Marshall wrote these lines before the G7 summit, by the way. And he pointed out that Trump has been working hard on undermining the USA’s alliances in the Pacific as well.

In an editorial comment, the Financial Times (another paywall) has valid advice for the G7 minus the USA:

“The G6 and other like-minded countries must band together whenever possible to resist protectionism, attempt to bypass Mr Trump by signing trade deals that exclude the US and keep the apparatus of global cooperation as functional as they can for when sanity hopefully returns to the White House. This weekend showed a world in disarray, where America has abdicated its responsibilities. The rest of the globe should draw consequences.” 

International relations and cooperation
Kategorien: english

Building African resilience

11. Juni 2018 - 14:32
The ARC plans to insure 30 African countries against climate risks by 2020

According to Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency, the financial cost of the 2012 flooding amounted to 2.6 trillion naira (the equivalent of more than $ 5.8 billion) across the country. Housing and agriculture were the worst affected sectors. The crisis made people and communities suffer, and the huge financial loss highlights the scale of the natural disaster. The burden is so great that the affected communities will feel it for many years. They were unable to repair the damage fast because they simply did not have the money they needed.

In Africa, droughts, floods and cyclones have been wreaking havoc in communities across the continent. For example, a severe drought affected the whole of east Africa in 2011 and 2012. As a result, over 9.5 million people experienced harsh food shortages. The event triggered a refugee crisis. In February last year, storm Dino destroyed 20,000 homes in Mozambique.

Climate change means that extreme weather is occurring more frequently, so African nations are exposed to ever growing risks. The grim reality is that disasters are recurrent, so some people are likely to be traumatised again and again.

No doubt, Africa must prepare for climate change. The challenge is to build the resilience of vulnerable communities and deliver timely assistance when they need support. These issues are not trivial. Many people dismiss the capability of Africa to rise to this and other daunting challenges. They say leaders lack the political will and the competence for the kind of effective policymaking that might unlock the required resources.

That perception is overblown. Some progress is being made. In 2012, for example, policymakers came together under the aegis of the African Union (AU), and founded the Africa Risk Capacity (ARC). It is a specialised agency for financing climate resilience and crisis response. It consists of two arms, the AU Specialised Agency and the ARC Insurance Company. The ARC Agency focuses on building capacity within African member states for risk management and provides the necessary tools to support such work. This includes the provision of an early warning tool called Africa RiskView, which is linked to predefined contingency plans. The second arm of ARC, the Insurance Company, issues contracts to governments which serve to finance predefined contingency plans in the event of a disaster.

The ARC Insurance Company started out with a 20 year returnable no-interest loan of $ 200 million in risk capital from the governments of Germany and the United Kingdom. The ARC objective is to provide African countries with funds immediately when disasters strike. This kind of first-response assistance should reduce Africa’s dependency on humanitarian aid. It is an important component of disaster preparedness.

Africa RiskView does not only provide early warning. Its risk-modelling platform can be used to define parameters for disbursing insurance benefits. When satellite data indicates that a drought has occurred, the ARC thus pays at short notice. The process is automated, so the disaster response is timely.

The ARC has been operational for some time. No less than 33 countries have signed up to it. Nigeria is one. Not all, however, have joined the insurance scheme as paying clients.

The initial risk pool consisted of Kenya, Mauretania, Niger and Senegal. The scheme started in the rainfall seasons of 2014/15. The client countries paid insurance premiums worth $ 19 million, and the first set of insurance payouts was made in January 2015, totalling $ 26 million. The beneficiaries were Mauritania, Niger and Senegal because these countries were affected by drought.

However, the ARC can and will do more. The target is to insure 30 countries against drought, flood and cyclone disasters by 2020. This translates to up to $ 1.5 billion in coverage for some 150 million people. For this to happen, African governments must actively participate in the pool and pay premiums. The role of donors is also critical, not only in providing capital but in supporting premium financing for the fiscally most constrained countries.

It is important to understand that the ARC is actually a cost-reducing instrument. By making money available immediately, it reduces the costs of disasters. If a crisis is not responded to fast, the damages and costs keep growing. According to estimates, every dollar spent by the insurance right away saves nearly $ 4.5 dollars that would otherwise have to be spent later.

The ARC is an innovative and promising institution. The question arises whether it will perform well in the long term. Africa has a reputation of being a graveyard of good initiatives – and the reasons are lack of awareness, cynicism and governments’ inability to put their money where their mouth is. If they do not pay the premiums, their nations will not enjoy insurance coverage.

The continent least protected by insurances

Part of the challenge is that Africans are generally somewhat insurance-averse. This form of risk management actually requires a certain level of prosperity. It means to spend money on something one hopes one will not need. The point of an insurance policy is to be able to cope with an unlikely disaster that would be utterly devastating should it occur. Because more customers buy insurance than ultimately need it, the insurance company can cover the damages and make a profit nonetheless. Basically, an insurance scheme spreads the costs of damages over many households. Individual risks are thus managed in a collective way.

In African countries, only the upper and middle classes are prosperous enough to even consider investing in insurances they hope they will not need. This is the world’s least insurance-protected region. People’s prevailing attitude, therefore, does not support the ARC.

This challenge can be surmounted. Policymakers are able to understand the cost-benefit analysis. Such understanding could – and should – be reinforced by peer reviews in the context of NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development) with regard to protecting citizens from natural disasters. The process would also leverage local-level advocacy. It is important to raise awareness. Civil-society organisations should endorse the ARC because it serves to protect vulnerable communities. The point is to ensure that a natural disaster does not become a humanitarian one.

It must be acknowledged, nonetheless, that some governments will find it hard to pay the insurance premiums. Commodity prices are currently depressed, so the budgets of many commodity-exporting countries are strained. Governments are struggling to meet existing commitments. However, they must consider the sheer impact of natural disasters. Including insurance as part of their risk management strategy makes sense because it allows countries to cope with otherwise devastating events that would strain the public purse much more than comparatively small premiums do. The financial and humanitarian costs of natural disasters far outweigh the insurance expenditure. The smart priority is to set aside small sums to pay premiums in order to be able to deliver quick and effective assistance to people when needed.

African philanthropists should consider the ARC too. Donations to the ARC are welcome and can have huge impacts. In response to Nigeria’s 2012 flood crisis, the country’s billionaires were mobilised to contribute to meeting the humanitarian needs. Such an ad-hoc approach cannot deliver assistance fast enough however.

Strong private-sector businesses use insurance schemes to manage their risks. Accordingly, private-sector leaders should endorse the ARC mechanism as well. In the long term, an obligatory, legally coded system is stronger than mere charity.

There is ample scope for private-public partnerships in the ARC context. Every member government should set up a central office to coordinate resource mobilisation for ARC premiums. They should involve the private sector in this effort. This way, Africa can leverage the recent successes in private-sector development and reduce the dependence on foreign donors.

The ARC has a governance structure that represents its stakeholders. Signatories to the initiative make up the Conference of Parties, the agency’s main governance body. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala chairs the governing board. She is Nigeria’s former finance minister and former top manager of the World Bank. Her international reputation is good.

The ARC is set to prove that a little external assistance combined with the resources of African governments and increased private-sector prosperity can deliver disaster relief and support recovery. Africa can become more resilient – and it must do so, given the outlook of growing climate risks.

Chinedu Moghalu was recently appointed head of communication and advocacy for the African Risk Capacity (ARC).

Kategorien: english

Dani Rodrik’s vision for global cooperation

6. Juni 2018 - 12:12
Thursday, June 7, 2018 - 08:00Hans DembowskiProposals for a world in which neither G7 nor BRICS leadLast month, I wrote about Dani Rodrik’s stance on economics and politics. A core point is that the Harvard economist argues that markets only function reliably if they are embedded in systems of governance, and that typically nation states organise such systems.

As I promised in my first blogpost concerning Rodrik’s most recent book “Straight talk on trade”, I now want to tell you what policy recommendation the Turkish-born scholar makes. Given that he emphasises the relevance of national politics, it is no surprise that he does not offer a blue print. On the contrary, he emphasises that policy innovations are needed. In this perspective, leaders must not stay stuck in conventional thinking, but embrace new ideas. Intelligently designed context-specific policies can help to overcome vested interests and gridlock, Rodrik states, and points out areas in which innovative approaches are particularly likely to deliver results:

  • For both developing countries and advanced nations, he proposes more investment in infrastructure building and maintenance. Public spending that builds assets, he argues, should not be confused with other kinds of public spending.
  • Rodrik considers industrial policies favourably, in particular in regard to eco- and climate-friendly approaches (Tilman Altenburg and Wilfried Lütkenhorst recently made a similar case in D+C/E+Z). In his eyes, mainstream economists underestimate the extent to which government agencies in the rich world, including the USA in particular, have been driving technological progress and, by implication, the development of high-tech industries. The internet, for example, was initially developed for the US military. Funding for university research, moreover, often lays the groundwork for entrepreneurship.
  • Rodrik wants governments to become even more involved in innovation. He suggests that they set up equity funds to promote new high-tech businesses. In successful cases, they could then boost social-protection programmes with the returns from such investments. He argues: “The key is to recognise that disruptive new technologies produce large social gains and private losses simultaneously. These gains and losses can be repackaged in a manner that benefits everyone.” He wants the “innovation state” to replace the “welfare state”.
  • In regard to developing countries, Rodrik warns that it is not enough to rely on the commodities boom to drive growth. The key challenges, according to him, are “the acquisition of skills and education by the workforce, the improvement of institutions and governance, and structural transformation from low-productivity to high-productivity activities (as typified by industrialisation)”.

In the professor’s eyes, the established economic powers have lost the dynamism and the credibility to assume global leadership, and US President Donald Trump’s erratic policies are compounding the problems. At the same time, Rodrik does not see the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) rising to the challenge. He argues that they are basically stuck in a shared attitude of opposing the west, but lack a coherent vision for the global community. In general, they are only pursuing narrowly understood national interests. Moreover, he writes that the authoritarian regimes of China and Russia lack the moral authority required to lead internationally.

Ultimately, Rodrik calls for a different kind of globalisation. He wants the international community to promote democracy rather than maximise foreign trade and cross-border investments. Governments needs policy space. Otherwise they cannot draft prudent policies that respond to their people’s demands and reflect specific national circumstances. Technocratic governance that subjects countries to the demands of international investments undermines people’s trust, he warns, and exacerbates dangerous identity politics. According to Rodrik’s assessment, the EU faces a choice: It must either devolve economic decision making back to the nation states, forfeiting integration already achieved, or democratise decision making at the EU level.

Rodrik’s book is inspiring. He convincingly casts doubt on many aspects of the conventional wisdom. His proposals, however, seem somewhat utopian. If the G7 can no longer lead and the BRICS are not ready to do so, who is supposed to drive the transformation to democracy-promoting globalisation? And what impact does it have that major countries – including India, Brazil, Turkey and most prominently the USA – are currently becoming more authoritarian? At the global level, there obviously are no easy solutions, and that is true of the national level too. Policymakers would certainly do well to look for – and test – innovative approaches.  

Dani Rodrik, 2018: Straight talk on trade. Ideas for a sane world economy. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Sustainable business and sustainable environmentInternational relations and cooperation
Kategorien: english

Only walls left

5. Juni 2018 - 13:24
In Syria’s civil war, armed groups plunder the houses of displaced people

Looting is a typical phenomenon of war. In Syria, it started in the city of Homs after civilians fled their homes: a new market was opened, offering only stolen goods.

During the seven years of war, people in all areas affected by military action suffered this kind of mass robbery. The crimes were committed by individual soldiers as well as by armed rebel groups. Videos uploaded on social-media networks by civil-rights activists and photos by the news agency AFP show militias stealing furniture from private houses and taking out goods from stores. They also robbed cars in the town.

In 2011, 28-year-old Noor and her family fled Harasta, a rural suburb of Damascus, leaving everything behind. In 2018, after the battle of Ghouta, Noor managed to return to her house. It was not only damaged, but also empty: after the militia groups took over the city, they stole all of Noor’s belongings. They only left her books behind.

“I used to see my house as a place full of love and passion,” Noor says. “Now there is nothing left but books,” she adds. “It is good that the robbers were not interested in education. But I lost everything else.”

Jad often witnessed negotiations between sellers and customers in the stolen-goods market in Kashkol, but he doesn’t approve of shopping there. “I can’t imagine how it is possible for Syrians to buy stolen items that they know for sure that their fellow Syrians have shed blood, sweat and tears over,” he says.

On the other hand, internally displaced persons often can’t afford any other place to buy goods for their essential needs. Some of them are even searching for their own belongings at these markets, hoping to retrieve some of their lost items. Reem is one of them: the young woman keeps searching to find her stolen furniture. Two weeks ago, her aunt managed to buy her own living room settee back from one of the shops in Kashkol.

Mass robbery starts with gathering goods from abandoned houses which are easy to carry and of high value, like jewellery and money. Next, the robbers take furniture and electronics, and at last they start to dismantle the house itself, taking out windows, doors, water pipes, the electricity system and even flagstones. When the original owner comes back, there are only walls left.

Nawar Almir Ali is a journalist and lives in Damascus, Syria.

Kategorien: english

Local food instead of imported goods

5. Juni 2018 - 12:06
This Ramadan, Libyans cannot afford imported food

Ramadan is the holy month of fasting in Islam. Many Muslims fast during the day and eat only at night. Traditionally, the dishes served for breaking the fast at Ramadan nights are particularly tasty. But this is difficult to maintain in times of conflict and economic woes, like in Libya at present. “Libyans insist on rich food: if they can’t fill their tables with pizza, pastries and sweets, they feel indigent and hungry,” claims 39-year-old teacher and journalist Rabiha Habbas from the capital Tripoli.

Until about 40 years ago, Libyans depended on their natural food resources such as dates, barley and locally planted vegetables. “Now is the season of many vegetables in Libya, such as tomatoes, pepper, cucumber, pumpkin and aubergines,” says Tarek Alsadawy, a 43-year-old farmer. “The kilogramme price of all these vegetables doesn’t exceed 20 cents,” he adds. The farmer calculates the price on the black market rate for dollars, which controls the daily life of Libyans.

Barley is another traditional staple food. “We bake different kinds of bread from barley. The most famous one is Bazen, which we eat with a hot tomato-and-pepper sauce,” says 63-year-old Fouzia Sakran. “We also bake sweet barley cakes, which we call Zamita. The preparation is complicated and takes days, but the result is very tasty. We eat the Zamita with olive oil and date juice,” she explains. “We usually eat it at late night because it helps resisting thirst and hunger during the Ramadan fasting.” There is also ready-made Zamita available at the market. 

“Of course, the traditional food is high in calories,” explains nutrition expert Habiba Saleh. “However, the imported canned food which fills the shelves of supermarkets is no better. Because the performance of the responsible supervisory board of the government is weak, there are suspicions that many of these imported food items are carcinogenic,” Saleh explains. “Many of the colourings and other additions used in these food products are artificial or chemical and cause serious diseases.”

A local NGO called Arraqeeb Libyan Consumers Protection Organization (ALCPO) regularly warns of the risks of food colouring. Whenever they detect canned food that contains dangerous additives in Tripoli’s supermarkets, they post a warning to the public.

Moutaz Ali is a journalist and lives in Tripoli, Libya.



Arraqeeb Libyan Consumer Protection Organization (ALCPO):


Kategorien: english

Managing African migration

5. Juni 2018 - 11:52
When cooperating with authoritarian regimes on migration, EU needs red lines in regard to human rights plus clear rules on funding

Migration management has been high on European policymakers’ agenda since 2015, as David Kipp and Anne Koch write in their introduction. The idea is increasingly to control and stem the flow of migrants outside the EU in order to ensure that refugees do not even arrive at European borders. According to Kipp and Koch, this trend towards “externalisation” is the lowest common denominator of EU migration policy.

The EU is forming so-called migration partnerships with countries of transit as well as origin. The partnerships involve cooperation on issues such as trade, security and development. The EU is not fulfilling old promises of facilitating legal migration options, but is increasingly using financial incentives, including in relations with authoritarian regimes. The authors point out that development cooperation is thus being subordinated to “fighting the causes of flight” and keeping migrants away. The EU is ever more willing to cooperate with undemocratic governments, especially when it comes to security issues on European borders, the study states.

Authoritarian African governments respond in different ways to EU initiatives. The SWP team assessed matters in Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Niger, Sudan and Eritrea. The degree to which these countries are under dictatorial rule varies. In their conclusion, the SWP editors Anne Koch, Annette Weber and Isabelle Werenfels point out that some governments are proactive and want to shape migration policy, whereas others only respond to European proposals.

According to the study, an African government’s stance depends on five distinct issues:

  • state capacities and the quality of statehood in general,
  • the relationship with European countries, which is typically marked by colonial history and liberation struggles,
  • existing migration patterns,
  • regional contexts, including conflicts, and
  • prior experience of cooperation with the EU.

All countries considered have in common that their response to EU proposals is driven by concerns to stay in power and enhance the government’s legitimacy, according to the SWP. Typically, governments are more interested in international acknowledgement and the loosening of sanctions than in development funds. The editorial team concludes that European policymakers should heed their advice in five areas:

  • Migration should be considered a complex international phenomenon, so European policies should take regional dynamics into account
  • Mobility within world regions deserves support and must not be disrupted by restrictive border management.
  • The EU needs a clear policy on funding to prevent that government misuse payments for repressive purposes.
  • The governments of countries that depend on migrants’ remittances are – and will continue to be – interested in legal options for migration.
  • In regard to human rights, the EU should define and enforce red lines.

According to the publication, Morocco’s government is pursuing a migration policy of its own and is interested in raising its international profile, whereas Egypt’s is mostly reacting to European proposals and focusing on entrenching its power domestically. In contrast, the way Algeria and Eritrea respond to European initiatives is marked by scepticism towards cooperation. The editors argue that this is the result of anti-colonial struggles.

In the eyes of the SWP team, the response of Niger is neither strategic nor sceptical. As the regime is interested in both money and a better reputation, the EU is basically able to remote-control its policymaking. The scholars warn, however, that the measures promoted by the EU are disruptive and may trigger conflict. The reason is that, after migration boosted the regional economy, especially in the area around Agadez in Niger’s north, border controls have more recently limited migration. As discontent grows, the mood may turn violent.

Koch, A., Weber, A., Werenfels, I., 2018: Migrationsprofiteure? Autoritäre Staaten in Afrika und das europäische Migrationsmanagement. (Profiting from migration? Authoritarian regimes in Africa and European migration management – only available in German)

Kategorien: english

Mexican power struggle

5. Juni 2018 - 11:06
For the third time, AMLO is trying to become Mexico’s president

This is the 3rd time that AMLO is running for president. The candidate of the party Morena (Movimiento de Regeneración Nacional) is 64 years old and his hair has long greyed. In all these years, he has not managed to become a good orator. He is prone to long breaks and suddenly raising his voice to emphasise one of his well-known catchphrases, which mostly bemoan “the Mafia of power” or express well-founded doubts about Mexico’s electoral process.

His supporters are a colourful coalition. Some of them, including leftist intellectuals, artists and scholars, have always seen him as an advocate of the low- and medium-income masses. In recent times, his message has also been resonating among those who are disappointed in the current president and his predecessor, worrying that the country is stuck in a downward spiral of violence. Finally, there are the opportunists who always want to be on the side of the winner.

According to opinion polls, AMLO is currently more than 10 percentage points ahead of his closest rival Ricardo Anaya, the candidate of the right-wing party PAN. José Antonio Meade, whose party PRI is currently in power, is weighed down by President Enrique Peña Nieto’s bad reputation which has suffered because of violence and corruption.

Critics argue that AMLO is a populist who does not deserve trust. It is true that he does not spell out how exactly he wants to deliver on his vast campaign in pledges in practical terms. In contrast to right-wing populists, like US President Donald Trump for example, however, he does not agitate against minorities. Moreover, he does not only attack elites rhetorically, but actually questions their privileged position.

This is not the first time that AMLO is leading in the polls. In 2006, he was the frontrunner too. Back then, the PAN promoted its candidate Felipe Calderón with advertising that likened the leftist leader to Hugo Chávez, then Venezuela’s president. The Calderón campaign warned of potentially authoritarian and socialist governance which would hurt the economy. AMLO was declared to be “a danger for Mexico”.

In the end, Calderón won the election, though how it was administered remained controversial. Huge rallies demanded a recount, but that didn’t happen. AMLO himself was among the protesters. Once in office, Calderón deployed the military rather than only the police in the fight against drug gangs, and violence escalated terribly.

Twelve years and 234,000 violent deaths later, the people will vote again. This time it is mainly the PRI which is attacking López Obrador. However, the rhetoric of a “danger for Mexico” has become less credible in view of the violence that marks many people’s daily lives, the growing number of disappeared persons and the shrinking space for civic engagement. The PRI is relying on other means too, linking social-protection programmes to conditions, for example, or buying votes, as allegedly happened in previous elections.

Perhaps the attacks on AMLO will succeed, but so far that is not evident – neither in opinion polls, nor on social media, nor in general public support. The Morena candidate has proven his strength several times. The most impressive example was perhaps the successful Twitter campaign #UniversitariosconAMLO (University people with AMLO) and recently #AMLOmania, where people are openly showing their support.

One of his most controversial proposals is an amnesty for certain groups of offenders – but many see it as an alternative approach to start rebuilding peace and tackling social degradation.

The established political forces are currently asking AMLO a highly relevant question: will he accept the election results if he loses? The way things look today, this is what Mexican voters may soon ask the establishment.

Virginia Mercado is an academic at the Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México (UAEM) and teaches peace and development studies.

Kategorien: english

Opposition bemoans democratic setback

4. Juni 2018 - 15:12
Referendum paves way for Burundian president to stay in office for decades

The controversial referendum took place on 17 May. The government has declared that voter turnout was 96 %, of whom 73 % voted “Yes”. Amizero y’Abarundi, the opposition coalition, argues that the referendum was neither free nor transparent nor impartial – and most certainly undemocratic. Its leader, Agathon Rwasa, who also serves as vice president of the National Assembly, speaks of a “fantasised” result and points out several procedural flaws. He has appealed to the CENI, the election commission, to prove its impartiality by declaring the referendum invalid and preparing another one.

Sahwanya Frodebu, an opposition party, similarly raises objections. Léonce Ngendakumana, its vice chairperson, has called the referendum a “setback for democracy in Burundi”, insisting that the fight for democracy will continue. Moreover, Ngendakumana laments the hounding of opposition members who campaigned against the amendment.

Opposition members in exile, who are represented by the CNARED (Conseil National pour le Respect de l’Accord d’Arusha et l’instauration d’un État de Droit), do not only refuse to accept the result. In their eyes, the entire referendum campaign was unacceptable. Jean Minani, the CNARED chairperson, has called it “the funeral rites for the Arusha Agreement of 2000”. That agreement ended the civil war, and its guiding idea was to share power and foster social cohesion. Instead, Minani now sees a dictatorship entrenching its power. 

The amendment allows the president to run for further terms. In theory, Nkurunziza might even hold office until 2034. Previously, a head of state’s tenure was limited to two terms of five years. The new limit is seven terms of five years. Nkurunziza had tried to get the constitution amended in 2014, but the National Assembly thwarted his initiative back then. Accordingly, the referendum was now held.  

Unsurprisingly, the ruling party CNDD-FDD finds the referendum result most satisfying. After the provisional result was announced, Évariste Ndayishimiye, its secretary general, congratulated Burundi’s people, saying the amendment meant democratic progress. At the same press conference he stated: “Those who voted against it must understand that they will be ruled by the new constitution once it takes force.” Other parties close to the government, like the Frodebu Nyakuri, for example, and some civil society organisations appreciated both the referendum and its result.

The campaign had started on 12 December 2017, when Nkurunziza committed the nation to the amendment and told people they should not oppose it. The opposition read this statement as the declaration of a red line that anyone campaigning for “No” votes would breach. The president argued that the constitutional amendment would be approved in a referendum as Burundi’s people had demanded in a “national inter-Burundian dialogue”. It was organised by the CNDI (Commission Nationale du Dialogue Inter-burundais), a commission that he himself had established by decree. According to Domitien Ndayizeye, a former president of Burundi, the result was more like a monologue than a dialogue. 

The election commission fast submitted the provisional result to the Constitutional Court for approval. It did so in spite of referendum results from countries like Ethiopia, Canada and Britain had not been transmitted yet. Burundians with the right to vote reside in those countries. The election commission stated that their votes are not relevant for the final result. On 31 May, the Constitutional Court dismissed an opposition petition to invalidate the result and approved it as constitutional.

Mireille Kanyange is a journalist and works for Radio Isanganiro in Burundi.

Kategorien: english

Who really is burning bridges in US politics

31. Mai 2018 - 11:23
Thursday, May 31, 2018 - 11:15Hans DembowskiFake narrative in The EconomistFake news in the media is getting a lot of attention these days - for good reason. It is worth pointing out, however, that false narratives can distort coverage too. I found a recent example in The Economist so irritating that I wrote the author an email, which I think is worth sharing with you. The Economist does not indicate contributors' names, so I addressed the author by the name of his column.

Dear Lexington,

perhaps you really worry about how to overcome what you call “tribalism” in US politics. If so, I'd suggest that you consider who is driving it. Your column in the May 26th edition of The Economist failed to do so.

The chasm between Republicans and Democrats seems ever harder to bridge. Your basic presumption was one of symmetry, with resentment of the other party growing on both sides. Don't you think it matters that Republican leaders, not Democrats, have been busy burning bridges for decades?

Your column describes a kind of laboratory experiment in Philadelphia. A small group Republicans interacted with a small group of Democrats. The idea was to understand one another. Even in this setting, the Democrats turned out to be more polite, admitting that there was a kernel of truth to the stereotype of Democrats being a bunch of, as you write, “smug, politically correct traitors to the constitution”. Republicans, in turn, rejected the stereotypes of being racist, homophobic, anti-immigrant and hateful, though they did appreciate that they were “gun loving”.

Your column suggests that the attitudes displayed on both sides are somehow symmetric. They are not. The Democrats obviously acknowledged not only that Republicans might consider them smug and politically correct, but even indicated they understood why. The Republicans on the other hand plainly denied that Democrats' perception of them had any substance - apart from their attitude to fire arms. Doesn't it matter at all that their president repeatedly makes racist, homophobic and anti-immigrant statements and that crowds of supporters cheer him on? Doesn't it matter that his policies reflect those statements?

Republicans have a long history of denying that their opponents are real Americans or have  patriotic feelings. Their current leader, President Donald Trump, has an appalling habit of insulting anyone he dislikes. Republicans and supporters have never suffered anything close to this kind of systematic verbal abuse from leading Democrats.

Let's briefly consider Democrats’ sins in this respect. President Barack Obama once said in 2008 about some grass-roots conservatives: “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” Hillary Clinton, in 2016, said that half of Trump’s supporters belong in a “basket of deplorables”. Both soon apologised. How does that compare to Trump making rallies holler “lock her up” again and again. Or, more recently, making a crowd chant “animals”?

A truly independent observer should notice that the Republican base's obsession with Obama's and Clinton's smugness is indeed linked to questions of race and gender. It is quite obvious that many white men do not like the idea of a black man or a woman holding the highest office. Accordingly, they perceive Obama and Clinton to be “elitist”. The same people don’t mind Trump’s personal sense of entitlement. Nor does the Manhattan billionaire’s permanent and blatant untruthfulness bother them.

I have no clear idea why Democrats would accept being called traitors to the constitution in any other sense than insisting that the interpretation of legal principles must evolve as society evolves. Republican-leaning jurists want everyone to stick to the founding fathers' reading, whereas liberal jurists take social and historical change into account.

The latter stance is not treason; it makes sense. Slavery, for example, is obviously incompatible with the constitutional principle of all people being born free and equal. Nonetheless, the founding fathers accepted people of one colour owning people of another. If Democrats say Republicans have a point in calling them traitors that indicates that they have an idea of the other side's legal reasoning. But Democrats are not abandoning the constitutional order as practiced in recent decades.

In many ways, it is not Republicans, but Democrats who are defending constitutional norms these days. Republicans are not doing anything to enforce the emoluments clause, according to which the president is not allowed to accept money or favours from foreign governments. Only very few Republican lawmakers speak out against the president when he puts in question the independence of the courts. Nor do they seem irritated by Trump's constant slandering of free media. Freedom of speech, co-equal branches of government and the emoluments clause are important constitutional principles.

Yes, the deep divide that marks US politics today is deeply disturbing. Yes, it endangers democracy in the long run. If you are really looking for solutions, however, laboratory experiments in Philadelphia are not helpful. You must assess the root causes of the problem. The narrative of animosity growing spontaneously on both sides is not only wrong. It is part of the problem. It distracts from who is actively undermining democracy. It fails to distinguish righteous anger from the self-righteous variety.

Faithfully yours, Hans Dembowski




Democracy and the rule of law
Kategorien: english

More respect

29. Mai 2018 - 14:30
In high risk situations, humanitarian agencies must decide for themselves what goals to strive for and what means to use

All too often, aid workers themselves come under attack. Parties to a violent conflict increasingly do not respect humanitarian agencies’ neutrality anymore or they intentionally sabotage relief workers for strategic reasons. That has happened in Syria or South Sudan, for example, where perpetrators of violence targeted humanitarian convoys, centres and clinics.

Matters are especially bad in Syria these days. In February, Doctors without Borders (MSF – Medecins sans Frontiers), which tends to be among the organisations that work in the most difficult circumstances, reported that more than a dozen of its facilities were attacked and damaged or even destroyed in a town in eastern Ghouta.

A recent event in South Sudan was similarly representative of what is happening in war zones. A group of armed men blocked an MSF convoy in the remote Mundri area and robbed team members’ medical supplies, other MSF goods and team members’ personal items. This attack forced the agency to discontinue the operation of mobile clinics in the region. This work will only resume once all conflict parties promise MSF safe access once again. The sad truth is that people in many regions are cut off from health care because working there has become too dangerous even for impartial doctors.

Respect for humanitarian principles must be restored. All parties involved in conflicts must commit to the protection of wounded and sick people. Moreover, they must appreciate that humanitarian agencies operate in a spirit of impartiality, neutrality and independence.

Relief organisations claim to live up to these principles and they insist that they must be perceived to be doing so. Their workers help those in need, whoever they may be. Beyond doing that, humanitarian agencies do not pursue a specific agenda.

At the same time, expectations and aspirations have been growing. In developmental discourse, it has become common to link humanitarian aid to goals such as peace and long-term development in order to achieve sustainable results. Whether that makes sense – and if so, to what extent it is feasible – must be assessed diligently case by case.

In scenarios of war and crisis, the obvious priority number one is to save human lives. Aid workers‘ security matters too, of course. The mere impression that they are implementing an agenda of their own may imperil them. In places where everyone is at risk, humanitarian agencies must decide for themselves what goals to strive for and what means to use.

To the extent possible, they should adhere to the norms adopted by development policymakers. All UN member countries have approved the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), so this agenda is universally valid. Local ownership, moreover, has long been considered to be essential. Accordingly, humanitarian agencies should pay attention to local actors who can make a difference long term rather than circumventing them.


Sabine Balk is member of the editorial team of D+C Development and Cooperation / E+Z Entwicklung und Zusammenarbeit.

Kategorien: english