Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

GPS puts rural African town on map

January 5, 2010

On the map, Kibera, Niarobi is a blank spot. Not any more.

With the help of a global positioning system (GPS), many willing volunteers and a great deal of technical support from the OpenStreetMap team, Kiberia has been charted and documented for all the world to acknowledge online!

The project  was spearheaded by an OpenStreetMap team in collaboration with JumpStart International, and other partners including Jubal Harpster of WhereCampAfrica, the Social Development Network, Pamoja Trust, Hands on Kenya and Carolina for Kibera, according to AllAfricaNews.com.

OpenStreetMap, a project aimed specifically at creating and providing free geographic data such as street maps, is open to any online user. The project, which now has 200,000 users and  is available in 41 languages, began because many maps that are believed to be free actually have legal or technical restrictions for use, according to the company Web site. Contributors to OpenStreetMap take handheld GPS devices with them on journeys, or go out specially to record GPS tracks, according to OSM. Participants record street names, village names and other features using notebooks, digital cameras, and voice-recorders. It is the responsibility of participants to find the funding for the equipment. The maps are  then uploaded on the internet and can be edited by anyone to provide additional information.

OpenStreetMap, based on the German street mapping system created by Mikel Maron, allows users to access the map and add details through a wiki, or public space to add and edit information freely.

The map will point out landmarks such as churches and mosques, schools, businesses, restaurants, the premises of organisations working in the area and government administrative offices, Marion told AllNewsAfrica. He says the project is not aimed at collecting demographic data, but rather consolidating information on public infrastructure.

GPS functionality available in smart phones such as iPhones and Blackberry phones could make it possible to do plan maps. There are even specific applications on the iPhone beyond providing basic directions from starting and ending points. All iPhones also offer: Mappity Quakes, a simple earthquake viewer, Trails, records, exports and imports tracks, and MotionX GPS, maps biking, hiking, sea and skiing trails and could be useful in planning ecotourism spots. 

“With this kind of knowledge it will be possible to speak from an informed point of view regarding planning of the area in terms of infrastructure. For instance we can flag how many health centres are available, where they are and what needs to be added,” Maron explains. 

 

For those interested in joining a work group, donating funding or participating in a creating a street mapping system in your town, visit: http://www.openstreetmaps.org.

Solutions to AIDS Funding Cuts

December 13, 2009

The candles lit and voices rallying for greater funding for AIDS/HIV wasn’t enough to stop cuts in AIDS/HIV programming, just in time for World AIDS Day.

Despite major progress reached in AIDS/HIV programming, 90 percent of countries with infected populations enacting HIV testing and counseling policies,  funding is still greatly in need. In an attempt to improve upon the success of the past five years and align with Millenium Development Goal #6, health care organizations are investing in techniqus to improve the efficiency and sustainability of health programming.

Out of concern for developing sustainable health programming, PEPFAR plans to integrate AIDS/HIV programming into an overall country health programming model.

This past week, World Health Organization (WHO) also proposed a mandate advising doctors to give patients AIDS drugs a year or so earlier due to rising numbers of AIDS/HIV patients. That’s moving the tally from 5 to 8 million patients. The mandate could leave insufficient funding further strained. Meaning even more people might go without assistance. 

Prenatal and maternal services could be paired with HIV services, according to Christine Lubinski, Director of Center for Global Health Policy.  She considers treatment possibly more effective if two programs are located in the same facility. 

Yet, would this mean that  HIV/AIDS patients could also expect to share the same health care budget with maternal care?

In the past, PEPFAR has made many valiant attempts to find viable solutions to the AIDS crisis:  introducing public-private partnerships.  This would be a truly sustainable way to resolve health care programming in developing countries. Thus far, public-partnerships have been in development for over 4 years between PEPFAR.

Motorolla provided a portion of their proceeds to fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis. The exact amount hasn’t been disclosed. Voxiva,  a technology firm for health care solutions, worked with the Ministry of Health in Rwanda to develop TRACnet. The application collects, organizes and shares data regarding HIV/AIDS care and treatment services.

Increasing accountability is another viable solution for sustainable health care programming. Parners in Health has established partnerships with the governments of participating countries  in partnership with the Clinton Foundation, Irish Aid, and Mission Aviation Fellowship. Their success has led to open, revitalize, and renovate 21 public clinics in just 5 years. Partners in Health has also had great success in developing sustainable programming in Haiti over the past 28 years.

PEPFAR has been praised for developing ways to track programming activities throughout the life of grants. The Center for Global Health Policy and other health advocates support the continuation of accountability programming.

PEPFAR is running capacity building health programming in developing countries, i.e.: human, communications and organizational capacity. The agency is running training and task-shifting programming in hospitals and health clinics. The goal is to train 140, 000 new healthcare workers in 15 target countries by 2014.

PEPFAR’s greatest challenges include the low number of medical service providers, the knowledge gap between those providers, and the lack of medical records and longitudinal information needed to evaluate the successes and failings of prevention, care and treatment programs. These challenges are compounded by difficulties in data management capacity, such as the scarcity of trained technology professionals and information management systems. Without this culture of data and information management, implementing technological solutions in resource-challenged environments requires an intensive manual record keeping process.                                                       

Yet, programming adjustments take time which AIDS patients don’t have.  

 The Center for Global Health feels health care funding in developing countries is still insuffient. The agency has sent out a call to action last week for 25.1 Billion towards global health investments by 2010.

For more information on AIDS/HIV programming, visit: http://www.globalhealth.org/hiv_aids/, http://www.who.int/topics/hiv_aids/en/index.html and http://www.pepfar.gov/.

Diamonds: African companies want their fair share

February 23, 2009

Every issue has it’s season, and usually results in an oscar nomination. But what happens after all the fan fare? The conflict and the issue is forgotten.

It’s been several years since the release of widely acclaimed film Blood Diamonds and responsible consumerism was a hot topic for a season. Now, Sierra Leone’s civil war is over and the Kimberly Process has started regulating diamond trade more closely. But there is a more subversive crime is still being committed against Africans_inequity in business. Will international mining industry giants secede their power and  give a fair share back to local African businesses? 

“We don’t have a figure because you’ve got lots of African countries that don’t actually produce; instead, all they do is act as a conduit”, said Abbey Chikane, Chairman of the South African Diamond Board and the Kimberley Process in an interview with allAfrica.com’s Charles Cobb Jr.

While a post-conflict region is reestablishing a government, exploitation by businesses were a common concern of both European and African leaders and human rights groups. The European Commission and African leaders discussed matters of peace and security in post-conflict regions at the Joint Summit in Lisbon in 2007.  According to reliefweb.org, they determined that “issues relating to transnational organised crime, international terrorism, mercenary activities, and human and drugs trafficking, as well as the illicit trade in natural resources, which are a major factor in triggering and spreading conflicts and undermining state structures, are of particular concern.”

Global Witness released a report, For a Few Dollars More, How Al-Qaeda moved into the diamond trade, claiming that the Al-Qaeda network successfully infiltrated diamond-trading networks in Africa to raise funds for its operatives and launder money. Author of Blood Diamonds, Greg Campbell had also investigated the link between the Al-Qaeda terrorists who committed the 9-11 attacks on the United States and conflict diamonds in Sierra Leone.

Yet, support of the African Union in  the Kimberly Process and the The Clean Diamond Act is still shaky at best. 

 “Burkina Faso and Congo Brazzaville, for instance. They don’t produce diamonds but they export large quantities of diamonds. So in terms of numbers it is very difficult. If you ask me how many diamond-producing countries there are, I will tell you South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Angola, the DRC – there are very few. The rest, like Zambia, Zimbabwe, all these, don’t actually produce diamonds but they trade; they source their diamonds from elsewhere. That will have to be a subject of discussion at our next plenary: Where do they source their diamonds from because they don’t produce?” Said Chikane.

Even if proper regulation of diamond trade is established, Western diamond industries are showing reluctance to share their profits with African partners.

According to AllAfrica.com, Botswana is boasting over recent ownership of diamond mines and the mining “conflict free diamonds”. Yet, reports of “a messy dispute regarding AK 6 diamond project earlier this year”  revealed that African Diamonds will hold only 28 percent share in the AK06 Discovery project while De Beers has 71 percent.  

DeBeers is blaming the dispute on their joint partner, Boteti. The DeBeers.com website indicated that “African Diamonds apparently believes that Boteti should breach its contracts with De Beers by breaking its marketing agreement entered into at the formation of the joint venture…African Diamonds has commenced legal proceedings against Boteti and its fellow shareholders in Boteti (Debot, Debwat)”.

DeBeers claims that they had nothing to do with this dispute, yet, the AK6 project would greatly affect the quality of life in citizens of Botswana. According to DeBeers website, there would be a  “substantial 30% reduction in supply of power by Eskom to Botswana over the next three to four years…projections show that the shortfall in power supply is not expected to be resolved before the middle of 2012, at the earliest.” This is something that DeBeers has not found a way to resolve.

Does this mean consumers should boycott the diamond industry?Not necessarily.  The diamond industry can provide jobs and generate revenue for working African families. The most important point is to support only companies that are sharing an equal portion of the revenue with their African partners.

There are many human rights groups determined to force the diamond industry to find ways to incorporate sustainable business solutions to enable African business partners and communities surrounding diamond mines to flourish not suffer. Fatal Transactions is one such group.

“The commission repeatedly voices its concern on natural resources, conflict sensitivity, unsustainable natural resources management and underdevelopment” . Fatal Transactions insisted on accountability and third party evaluation of natural resource management procedures.

According to a documentary cataloguing his life, Campbell feels boycotting diamonds is the wrong approach. He pointed out that there is would have a negative impact on peaceful nations producing diamonds such as Botswana.  There are many problems with the certification process. He does, however, point out the glaring holes in the current certification process. For example, while diamonds from Sierra Leone had been essentially banned from the legitimate market, diamond exporting from non-diamond producing nations such as The Gambia dramatically rose during the civil.

The best way to make educated decisions about diamond buying is to read the confidence pact on the diamondsfact.org which is affiliated with The Kimberly Process Corporation. These diamonds are certified and are carefully documented by Kimberly Process Corporation employees. The Kimberly Process cannot certify individual jewelers, but you can encourage your jeweler to go online and register for educational information on conflict-free diamonds.

Sources:                                                                                                                                                                          www.debeersgroup.com                                                                                                                                                                       kimberlyprocess.com                                                                                                                                                        www.diamonfacts.org           www.AllAfrica.com                                                                                                                                                                                                                   www.AfricaBusiness.net                                                                                                                                                                                                      The Last Empire: DeBeers, Diamonds, and the World, by Stefan Kanfer                                                                                                Blood Diamonds: Tracing the Deadly Path of the World’s Most Precious Stones, Greg Campbell

Reality bites back: working poor are not a new class

February 11, 2009

A “Week in Review” story in the The New York Times declared the welfare rolls were unaffected by the recession. This simply isn’t accurate and nurtures a major misconception about poverty: only the unemployed are struggling to meet their basic needs. The largest growing population in the United States is the working poor.
 
In 1998, I worked for a welfare lobbying agency and witnessed first hand exactly why the “success” of the 1996 Welfare Reform bill was a fallacy. I saw how the focus on employment rather than sustainability provided short-lived success for my friends and neighbors. One woman had two young children was constantly trying to balance medical and day care issues with work unsuccessfully. Another woman that I knew was able to use her college hours towards welfare job training requirements. She wanted to get a college diploma in Social Work. She dreamed of making more than minimum wage, so she could truly independently support her family. With the welfare policy changes of 2002, she had to withdraw from her college classes to take a job training course in secretarial work. The welfare system has improved since then. Day care and expanded health care subsidies are now available. Yet, the number of working poor continued to grow. These facts shouldn’t be surprising.
 
Many welfare recipients have multiple barriers to work such as poor health, no high school diploma or lack of recent work experience. Without the high school diploma necessary for more than one half of all U.S. jobs openings, many people have fallen into the trap of being unskilled laborers working low-wage jobs. Even those who have managed to find jobs with higher wages are at an even greater risk in this economic climate.  Employers are much more likely to retain college educated workers over those less educated. And minimum wage will not feed a family. In the 2006 US Census Bureau’s report “Still Working Hard, Still Falling Short”, 28% of families were making 200% below the poverty line. This would be the equivalent of one family member working $9.91 an hour in a full-time job to support a family of four. It is unfathomable to me how many more Americans are currently working multiple minimum wage jobs just to feed their family.
 
It’s unfortunate that a tragedy like Hurricane Katrina was necessary for Americans to face the extreme third world poverty happening in our country. What has still not been recognized is the even greater number of employed people that are barely surviving. Americans need to be aware that poverty is a very real situation and old preconceptions of welfare need to be lifted. If Americans truly want to change the course of our country, this is one reality we have to become educated about in order to help our leaders understand and end U.S. poverty.