Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lady to Lead Science, Education, and Culture

AP image from http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5iozTYry2hXNSbkPq74k2MH_S4lGwD9ASGRS00The UN is getting serious about its pledge to help achieve gender equality by putting a woman in charge of the UN Education, Science, and Culture Organization (UNESCO).

Irina Gueorguieva Bokova of Bulgaria won a hotly contested election against the Egyptian candidate. A vote on Monday had the two candidates deadlocked with 29 votes each. Apparently, if no one had one today's fifth round of voteing the winner would have been decided by a drawing of names out of a hat.

UNESCO has some really interesting projects including its list of World Heritage Sites, which promotes preservation of cutlural and natural landmarks around the globe.

Learn more about UNESCO at www.UNESCO.org

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Mozambique Gets Ready to Rock the Vote

Last summer, volunteers could be found everywhere – on the streets, outside of your grocery store, at your local music festival - with voter registration forms, trying to register and motivate new voters to make their opinions count in our 2008 presidential election. Partially due to these efforts, the US saw a huge increase in new voters on November 4th, and also a great enthusiasm for our fair election process. Luckily, the UNDP is helping Mozambique prepare similar efforts for their upcoming October elections to encourage everyone to vote, and also to ensure more fair and transparent elections.

Ever since the first multiparty and parliamentary elections were held there in 1994, the UNDP has been supporting Mozambique’s electoral process. Primarily, the UNDP has helped to improve the technical skills and resources of electoral commissions by training registration officers, polling officers and education agents. These officials are trained to ensure fairness and transparency behind the scenes, and also to help educate the public about electoral practices.

Voter registration is also a high priority. More than 387,000 new voters have been registered so far for the upcoming election, and “registration brigades” are hoping not only to register more voters, but also to encourage people who are registered to get out and vote to counter the country’s historically low election turnout. Although many older voters have yet to be persuaded that their vote really matters, there’s hope. Summed up by one brigade volunteer, “I also know a lot of young people who feel just the opposite: if we are allowed to vote, let’s act. Don’t leave it to others to decide for us!”

Want to learn more about Mozambique’s election preparations? Click Here!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Thailand - Turning Lights on, Taking Pollution Down

Until now, Thailand’s most remote villages lived without continuous electricity. However, villagers in settlements not even charted on Thai maps, such as Mae Ya Noi, now have the ability to turn on a light and use electric-powered devices whenever they want. Better yet, the energy they are using comes from renewable sources! 100 houses in three villages across Mae Ya Noi now receive electricity from a new small hydro power plant.

Targeted renewable energy projects are taking off throughout Thailand – over 180 villages and towns throughout the country are now provided power by small plants such as the one in Mae Ya Noi, and this number is expected to double in the next few years. These improvements come with the help of the United Nations Development Programme, who in 2001 launched an initiative in conjunction with the Global Environment Facility and the Energy for Environment Foundation to promote renewable energy. Through careful cooperation and investment by Thailand’s government, the renewable energy market is now booming, and in the past eight years the country has succeeded in cutting 5 million tons of carbon emissions annually – the equivalent of taking 1.5 million cars off the road every year!

With the support of UNDP Thailand is doing its part to decrease dependency on oil and put an end to climate change. Read more about the initiative here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Cambodian Style is Very Worthwhile

Looking for fresh fashions? Check out what Cambodia has to offer! Fashion designers and garment workers are getting a boost from the International Labor Organization’s new “I am Precious” campaign, supported by UNDP. The campaign aims to encourage the creativity and innovation of the country’s garment workers, promoting the creation of quality products and their trade on the international market. To achieve this, the campaign puts on events such as the “Made in Cambodia” competition, asking for garment workers to submit original fashion designs while at the same time informing participants of career opportunities in this exciting sector. Move over Project Runway, there’s a new fashion show in town!

By 2008, the garment industry was responsible for 70% of Cambodia’s total export value. With 300,000 people directly employed in this industry and an estimated 1.5 million people benefitting from the sales of these products, the garment sector has been identified as one of 19 key Cambodian industries. These 19 sectors are being targeted by UNDP through its TRADE project with the Cambodian Ministry of Commerce. Using a sector-wide approach, UNDP aims at illuminating trade as a means to contribute to the reduction of poverty.

Read more about Cambodian fashion innovation and what it means for development here.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Can the Children Cope until Copenhagen?

As is the case with nearly any global problem, whether it is poverty, illness, or hunger, we see the same groups again and again fall disproportionately victim to its ramifications – women, children, and the elderly. The global economic meltdown and changing climate are no different; they constitute two issues that highly impact children and will continue to do so in the coming decade.

August 12 marks International Youth Day, which prompted Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to recognize the impact of the economic crisis on children—although youth comprise only 25% of the world’s working age population, for example, they account for nearly 40% of the world’s unemployment. Compounding the problem, Ban asserts, is the threat of climate change, which will cause increased economic upheaval as those in developing countries face an escalating and disproportionate ‘ecological debt.’

Fortunately, the current generation of children is growing up with an increased awareness of global warming and climate change, as well as the steps necessary to mitigate the problem. These young people can lead by example, practicing green, healthy lifestyles and making conscious decisions to preserve precious natural resources. The age-old adage thus stands: the children are our future. But, with Copenhagen looming, does that future stand secure?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Mozambique Straight from the Field

Hear about development in Mozambique straight from the field.

According to a country report of the African Peer Review Mechanism, Mozambique has made progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but there is still much ground left to be made up. Achievements crucial to the MDGs such as successful economic reform, advances in health, and improvement of education have all been recognized as a step in the right direction; however, the issues of political corruption, inequality, HIV/AIDS, and prevalent poverty remain challenges.

Much of the praise for Mozambique is due to the government’s “self-assessment” processes. A combined effort consisting of civil society, the private sector, and various political parties, the processes are intended to review and evaluate success and failures of governance in improving the state of the country.

Recognizing Mozambique’s progress in many areas and as the United Nations continued support of Mozambique, UNDP-USA has sent a civilian delegation to the country to witness projects first hand and report to the American public about their experience. Check out updates to our blog throughout the trip -- http://voicesfromthefield.blogspot.com/! And check in after our delegation returns for articles, op-eds, and other updates!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Sounds like a plan, Afghanistan!

Preparation for the August 20th elections is well underway in Afghanistan. With 40 presidential candidates and 3,000 candidates running for provincial council seats, the elections are central to the country’s future. But, organizing such an important election in such a complicated country is no easy task – over 17 million ballot papers and nearly 100,000 ballot boxes are currently being delivered to locations across the country. Ensuring that all materials are successfully distributed, safe and secure, and free of tampering is a great undertaking.

Thankfully, the country’s Independent Election Commission has some help from the UNDP with the UN’s project ELECT (Enhancing Legal and Electoral Capacity for Tomorrow). In addition to providing logistical and technical support, project ELECT has also undertaken the role of training the media to inform citizens accurately about candidates and their positions as well as act as a watchdog on election day. The former is intentioned to help citizens make informed decisions while the latter is intentioned to ensure that the people’s decision is the one made on Election Day.

With the help of UNDP, now Afgans can get out and rock the vote!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Mapping Out a Plan to Save the Forest!

Growing rice is a way of life for the people of the Karen hill tribe in northern Thailand. Their crop rotation system necessitates more and more land to be cleared for agriculture each year. However, this system is leading to rapid deforestation and soil erosion, which in turn has increased the number of environmental disasters in the area, such as flash flooding. New government conservation measures have, thankfully, restricted the forest areas available for clearing, but these new regulations are a problem for the Karen people, who are left unsure of where these new boundaries lie.

Thankfully, the UNDP is sponsoring a project to build 3-dimensional models of the villages and surrounding land, clearly marking natural landmarks such as rivers, as well as also rice-growing boundaries and protected forest.

Young and old villagers alike have taken an interest in the project, excited to know where they live and how their land relates to the larger community. Not only do these efforts help to stop environmental degradation, but they also help to map out future vital infrastructure, such as irrigation!

For more information (and a video!), click here!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Tajikistan Tackles Trafficking (Tricky, isn’t it?)

Well, so is the issue of drug trafficking in this central Asian nation. Tajikistan sits on the crucial frontlines of the drug trafficking flow from Afghanistan to Russia and Europe. Fortunately, the UNDP and the EU have teamed up to develop the Central Asia Drug Action Programme to combat this illicit trade.

The trafficked drugs, such as heroin and opium, create significant health and development problems in central Asia and Europe – infected needles are a major contributing factor to the spread of HIV/AIDS. In addition to these problems, trafficking provides a major source of funding for terrorists and serves as a deterrent to legitimate economic activity and investment in Tajikistan.

Since its launch in 2004, the Central Asia Drug Action Programme has trained 23 members of Tajikistan’s major crime-fighting agencies to use specialized equipment such as endoscopes and test systems, as well as drug-sniffing dogs to root out drugs. And it’s been successful – 58 percent of all drug seizures in central Asia in 2008 were made in Tajikistan!

Want to learn more about Tajikistan’s Traffick-Tackling Program? Click Here!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Feeling Ill? Egypt’s got a Plant for That.

When you think of Egypt, you think of arid desert right? But not all of Egypt is barren! St. Katherine’s Protectorate on the Sinai Peninsula is home to 37 species of plants that are endemic to Egypt alone! There are a total of 316 plant species in the area, 102 of which are actively used by the Egyptian people for medicinal purposes.

In a country with a dearth of arable land, how can Egypt make sure this valuable flora is protected? The United Nations Development Program has partnered with the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA) to achieve just this. In 2003, the Egypt-Conservation and Sustainable Use of Medicinal Plants in Arid and Semi-Arid Ecosystems was launched. The project has so far protected 12 endemic endangered species, created opportunities for generating income through the use of medicinal plants, created an encyclopedia about medicinal plants, and even taken measures to abolish over-grazing of the plants. Through projects like these, UNDP is working hard to ensure the conservation of biodiversity around the globe!

Read more about the project by clicking here.

Also, check UNDP-USA's Voices From the Field Blog to follow Executive Director, Elizabeth Latham and her team on their exciting fact-finding journey to Mozambique.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Sew You Think You Can... Start Your Own Business?

Due to a longstanding historical prejudice against women in business and a lack of access to capital, it’s hard for most women in Bangladesh to be entrepreneurs of any kind. However, thanks to a UNDP initiative, women like Kakuli Aktar are taking business initiatives into their own hands, one pair of pants at a time.

After being widowed with a child at age 14 and with only a seventh grade education, Kakuli was an unlikely success story. However, she refused to become another helpless statistic, and learned how to sew through a UN-supported training program. In 2008, she took out a loan from her local Community Development Committee and opened up her own tailoring shop, which now boasts a thriving business.

Not only is she now able to provide for herself and her son, but Kakuli is currently teaching two other girls how to sew through a UN-sponsored apprentice program. These women’s involvement in their communities, with the help of the UNDP, is helping to significantly break down social barriers by lifting women out of their traditional roles, and out of poverty.

Want to learn more? Click Here!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Turning Brain Drain into Brain Gain!

Here in the US, we have some of the best medical professionals in the world. But what would happen if our aspiring doctors thought they could get a better education outside of the United States, and ended up settling down and practicing abroad? Unfortunately, this is what’s happening in Lebanon – some of the best and brightest in the fields of medicine, law, economics and the environment are leaving Lebanon, taking with them their expertise, innovation and ambition.

Fortunately, the UNDP is turning this brain drain into a brain gain by bringing accomplished Lebanese individuals back to Lebanon so that they can use their expertise to help their fellow countrymen. Through the TOKTEN project (Transfer of Knowledge through Expatriate Nationals), the UNDP is facilitating the return of these talented expatriates to work as volunteer consultants on development projects in several Lebanese ministries.

The TOKTEN project has been especially effective in the treatment of cancer in Lebanon. After the Ministry of Public Health expressed a need for the development of cancer treatments, TOKTEN volunteers implemented a “National Chemotherapy Protocols” project, through which they are helping to improve, regulate and monitor oncology protocols for ailing patients.

Now, not only are the people of Lebanon healthier, but the presence of gifted doctors, lawyers and other expatriate professionals is helping improve and develop Lebanon itself!

Want to learn more about TOKTEN? Click Here!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Forget the Old School, It’s All About the “e-School”

The internet is full of great information – it’s how you found this page, after all. But many children in the world cannot take advantage of the academic and social resources available to many in the Western world due to lack of internet access. UNDP in Albania is attempting to connect primary and secondary school students across the country with computer labs and internet access.

In addition to providing expanded resources, the hope of the program is to provide students and teachers with basic information technology skills – an expertise that will help them connect to a modern and changing global job market. Over 1,600 IT-trained teachers are now running classrooms in almost 1,200 schools, benefiting thousands of students every year.

Have a Facebook or Myspace account? Maybe now you can make an e-friend in Albania!

Monday, July 20, 2009

From Street Gangsters to Kings of Kitchen Science

16-year-old Nuria enjoys cooking low-fat porridges, curd pancakes, and various salads. Her friend Ravshan likes to prepare meat dishes. Both Ravshan and Nuria who were brought up in a Kyrgyz orphanage could have ended up in the street, but instead, with the help of UNDP, they are going to become professional cooks and find their own place under the sun.

In Kyrgyzstan, an ex-Soviet Union country in Central Asia, children proved to be one of the most vulnerable to the blows of transition. Due to economic hardships, they drop out of schools, go to the streets to work and help their parents, or join gangs. Once children find themselves in the street, they suffer from poor nutrition, insufficient winter clothing, and accidents as they take over the tasks of adults.

One of the initiatives that UNDP-Kyrgyzstan proposed in order to address this problem is providing vocational education for such children. Analysis of the Kyrgyz labor market showed that the most demanded professions are those of cooks, builders, and carpenters. UNDP-Kyrgyzstan helped children from vulnerable families, orphanages, and shelters – just like Nuria and Ravshan – to get enrolled in culinary classes where they studied European and traditional Kyrgyz cuisine. Right after the completion of the courses, the cooks-to-be started receiving numerous job offers from the prospective employers.

Hopefully, as the program expands, more street children in Kyrgyzstan will be able to learn a good trade that will provide them with bread and help manage their lives.

Learn more about UNDP’s project “Vocational Education to Street Children in the Kyrgyz Republic” here.