Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Formula for Sucess: The Dominican Republic's plan for 2015

"To achieve one MDG we have to achieve all MDGs."

This assessment by a Dominican Government official could not be more accurate. President Leonel Fernandez's Presidential Commission on the Millenium Development Goals (COPDES) has crafted a national, integrated plan to achieve the MDGs by their set date in 2015.

The Dominican Republic is an extremely poor nation suffering from a number of problems, such as disease (mostly malaria and dengue carried by mosquitoes), lack of education, energy crises, migration from Haiti and one of the highest maternal fatality rates in the world, to name only a few.

The President created working groups to partner with various municipalities and achieve local results, providing an example of how countries, with the assistance of the UNDP, can really make the MDGs their own. So far, progress has been noticeable, particularly in the impoverished village of Miches.

The excellent videos below detail the successes of COPDES, as well as the remaining challenges.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Americans support spending increases to meet MDGs

See here for an article that discusses American support for funding the Millennium Development Goals.

In addition, another World Public Opinion poll demonstrates that most people support a greater role for the UN in international affairs, such as establishing a permanent peacekeeping force, regulating arms trade and investigating human rights violations.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon cited this poll in his pledge to translate global policies into palpable human assistance.

UNDP brings On-line training to Grenada

In an increasingly technologically savvy world, those with no Internet experience are inevitably left behind. In light of this, 100 citizens of the small Caribbean island of Grenada are scheduled to participate in an eight-week UNDP program of on-line training on June 6th, facilitated by the Virtual Development Academy world campus initiative with the launch of the Harvard/CBI.

The on-line training is geared to equip public and private officials who engage in negotiations with the skills and knowledge to achieve their professional objectives. These include development and implementation of projects and programs in partnership with international and governmental stakeholders and participation in regional and global processes and forums dealing with relevant issues.

Yet another example of how small initiatives can create large impact.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Changing lives in Tanzania, one pump at a time

Something as simple as quick access to clean water can transform the future of a community.

The 4,000 inhabitants of Lusala, a village in south-west Tanzania, depend on farming for their livelihood, yet the lack of immediate access to water inhibits the community’s growth.

As part of the Community Water Initiative, the UNDP spent $40,000 on a water project in Lusala which enabled local villagers to set up an easy-access water supply mechanism. The water scheme relies mainly on gravity, and is therefore a very inexpensive measure that has life-changing benefits.

One villager is grateful for the changes:

Life is much better now that I have clean water near my house. I don't walk all day in the heat to find water. In three to five minutes you fill your bucket by turning a tap. The water project has saved every woman in Lusala a lot of hardship and time. My children, and even myself, used to fall sick because of dirty water. Now we don't run to the hospital complaining of diarrhea any more. With clean water, we enjoy good health.

This community-led initiative demonstrates the impact that targeted programs can have, and is a great example of how seemingly small projects can achieve direct impact on human life. One step closer to achieving the Millennium Development Goals in Tanzania.

Interview with UNDP Congo

allAfrica has a nice interview with the country director of DRC, Babacar Cisse. UNDP continues to focus on helping the Congolese build the institutions of democracy at the national and local level. But in the long run, UNDP realizes they also need to help create jobs and promote economic development.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Expanding Justice

Any small business can tell you the importance of contracts. For a local book store , they offer assurances that you cannot just be thrown out leased space with no reason or warning. For a printer, they ensure that when someone orders a job they will pay for it when they pick it up. And for a little restaurant, contracts give you peace of mind that your supplies will show up every day - and recourse if someone doesn't deliver without a reason.

Unfortunately, about three billion people live and work in the "informal sector".

While most of the world’s poor possess assets of some kind, they lack a formal way to document these possessions through legally recognized tools such as deeds, contracts and permits. These individuals live
and work in the “informal economy,” outside a set of widely-recognized and enforceable rules.
The Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor, co-chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and the President of Institute for Liberty and Democracy, Hernando de Soto, is working with governments and ngos to figure out the greatest legal challenges that hinder people's ability to lift themselves out of poverty. Because identifying a problem is only the first step, they are also developing "road maps" to enable governments to implement the reforms necessary improve their justice systems.

With that mouthful out of the way, I highly recommend the stories they have compiled and this video below, which illustrate the challenges many of the worlds poorest face every day, and how the Commission can hopefully make an impact.

Rebuilding Southern Sudan

The UNDP and World Bank issued a joint grant of $5.3 million on May 22 to support the efforts of the police force and reorganize the prison system in Southern Sudan.

Under the agreement, the UNDP will construct a network of police stations and training centers, provide equipment, train police forces, and facilitate the development of a code of ethics to enhance professionalism in the force. As for the prisons, the UNDP will improve the infrastructure, provide equipment and facilitate reorganization and training to ensure more humane treatment of prisoners.

The substantial progress made by Southern Sudan since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in January 2005 is largely forgotten amidst the crisis in Darfur, despite positive reconstruction measures undertaken by the UNDP. A more ample view of the situation in Sudan will be necessary if a holistic approach to rebuilding the country is to be adopted in the future.

For more detailed information see the UN Mission in Sudan News Bulletin.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Equator Prize Winners

This year's Equator Prize was announced yesterday.

Five community groups from the tropical regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America won the United Nations-backed Equator Prize today for their initiatives to alleviate poverty while conserving local biodiversity.

The winners include marine and grassland conservation projects in Africa, a farmers education organization in Bangladesh, and two agricultural cooperatives that have improved environmental sustainability while creating jobs for over 700 women in Latin America. For more specifics you can read about the different projects here.

UNEP Helps Plant a BillionTrees

The UN Environmental Program also just announced yesterday that they have received pledges to plant over 1 billion trees this year as part of their (you guessed it) Billion Tree Campaign.

Following a pledge of 20 million trees by Senegal, the five month-old Billion Tree Campaign has surpassed its initial goal some seven months ahead of its original target.
The focus will now turn to making sure the pledges materialize and all the trees are planted.

The idea for the campaign was inspired by Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Best Kept Secret

One story that has been hugely under reported over the past year is the landmark elections held in the Democratic Republic of Congo last year. In 2006 UNDP helped register over 25 million citizens - many of whom could only be reached by helicopter or boat - setup 53,000 polling stations, and help coordinate two rounds of voting.

Considering that country is the size of Western Europe, elections went off with only minor problems and the country's first democratically elected President and Congress were selected to begin undertaking the task of helping the country recover from a 40 year civil war.

Of course elections only mark the beginning - not the end - of recovery. DRC will require further support from its neighbors and the rest of the world as it rebuilds. UNDP is helping out in a number of areas, including a large program to help democracy take root by building local institutions, tackling corruption and helping the new legislators understand what it means to represent their fellow citizens.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Aveda Supporting Indigenous Entrepreneurs

Aveda , the makeup and skin care company, announced today a new partnership with the UNDP Equator Initiative to support environmentally sustainable entrepreneurship by Indigenous groups around the world.

Leading by example, Aveda's strategic business development puts environmental leadership and responsibility at the forefront. "A Dialogue for the Future" will highlight Aveda's sustainable business partnerships with the Yawanawa tribe in Brazil, and Australia's Indigenous Communities of aboriginal peoples of Kuktabubba from whom the Company sources uruku and sandalwood, respectively. A series of events on May 22nd and 23rd presents an opportunity for business leaders to embrace indigenous wisdom inspiring new ideas and support for conducting business in a socially and environmentally conscious manner.

Aveda is a really interesting company that has embraced an environmental sustainability policy because they

also believe that profit and environmental responsibility will increasingly work together as more industries find out that "nature works" for both sustainability and the bottom-line.

Bringing Energy to the Poor

Sustainable sources of energy - like wind turbines and hydro electric - are not only less harmful to the environment than fire wood or fossil fuels, but in many developing countries are the only sources accessible to rural communities. In Kenya, UNDP and the Global Environment Facility's Hydro Power Communities project in the country's highlands are taking advantage of an abundance of water for electricity. UNDPs is helping to create micro hydro power plants for villages across the mountainous region. Check out the video to see the impact this project is already making.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Capitalizing on Africa's Beauty

The Washington Post has an interesting article today on the booming tourism industry in African countries like Tanzania.

Depending on what the situation requires, Fay Amon can say "Hello" in French, "Thank you" in Dutch and "Welcome to Arusha!" in German. He can say "How are you?" in Italian, "I have nothing" in Spanish and "Where are you from?" in Japanese.

One challenge in promoting the safari industry is ensuring that it is environmentally sustainable. Through its Equator Initiative - which promotes sustainable development in tropical countries - UNDP has launched Equator Ventures,

an innovative development and investment initiative capitalized by grants and loans from resources in the public and private sector. Its mission is to provide a “blended” offer of debt finance and enterprise development support to viable small and medium sized biodiversity businesses.
Because developing countries often lack a strong banking system and other capital sources to turn good business ideas into good businesses, Equator Ventures acts as a venture capital fund for innovative businesses like WildLife Adventures that have created jobs for thousands of people around the world. Learn more.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Making Work Fun

Providing clean water has become a major focus of the UN development agencies work in recent years. A shortage of clean and accessible water impacts many other aspects of development - from spreading diseases that take the lives of millions of children and rob the poorest of their strength and work day, to causing crops to whither and exacerbating hunger in rural communities, to forcing children in many places to spend much of their day hiking miles to the nearest well rather than learning to read.

The play pump is

A life-changing and life-saving invention that can provide easy access to clean drinking water, bring joy to children, and lead to improvements in health, education, gender equality, and economic development. The PlayPump systems are innovative, sustainable, patented water pumps powered by children at play. Installed near schools, the PlayPump system doubles as a water pump and a merry-go-round for children.

The company that developed it has also put in place an innovative public-private business model that teams the goal of making a profit with making a difference in the lives of people.

In the UK, people have been working with UNICEF to raise funds to support the installation of these in communities in Africa. Check out this video to see the difference they are making

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Third IPCC Climate Change Report

Last Friday the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its third report, "Mitigation of Climate Change". Today UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis released a response to the report.

"The IPCC reports make clear the urgency of our challenge in facing climate change," said Dervis. "We are already seeing its effects—drought in some places and flooding in others; transmission of vector-borne disease; general resource scarcity-in many of the developing countries in which UNDP works."

Responding to climate change has become increasingly important to the work of UNDP. However, success will ultimately depend on whether we all - rich and poor countries; governments, companies, and citizens - are able to work together to confront this challenge

"We have the resources, and we have the technology, to avoid disastrous climate change and cope with unavoidable climate change without compromising economic and human development," concluded Dervis. "The missing ingredients are political will and coordinated actions."

Millennium Villages

Seven years after the launch of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), 300 million Africans still live on less than a dollar a day.

The Millennium Villages are an attempt to prove that focused, community-led development strategies can help achieve the MDGs on the ground. The Millennium Villages have tried to show, in 10 countries across the continent, that specific, concrete steps can help increase rural Africa’s well-being, quickly and dramatically.

The Villages are based on four premises:

  • Farm productivity must be improved. The yields in Africa are a third to a fifth of those obtained in other developing countries. African farmers grow half a ton or a ton per hectare, compared with three to five tones in other regions. The Millennium Villages have shown that, with the basic inputs, a dramatic rise in farm productivity is possible within just one growing season.
  • Basic social services are desperately needed, starting with infectious and other diseases. Treatment for worms, insecticide-treated bed nets, screening for nutritional deficiencies are examples of goods and services that must be given out (delivering bed nets, like our friends at Nothing but Nets, can cause malaria to fall by 70%). Another important basic need is universal school attendance and school feeding programs using locally produced food can result in universal attendance.
  • The development strategy must take into account the local and regional networks, as well as the cities, to which the villages are connected. In Africa, rural connections to electricity and the internet can be rare.
  • Business is crucial for local development, and the Villages are encouraged to produce goods that can be traded, generating local profits. The idea is also that both public and private investments are essential for development. A major international dairy company, for instance, is considering setting up a factory in two of the Millennium Villages, which would empower local dairy industries and generate employment.

The early results achieved in the Millennium Villages are remarkable. In Sauri, Kenya for instance, maize production has more than tripled — from 1.9 tons/ha to 6.2 tons/ha — after fertilizer and improved seeds were introduced into the Village. A school feeding program has been put into place in all 28 primary schools and is now providing lunch to 17,514 students, leading to increased school attendance and better academic performance. Malaria prevalence in Sauri is down from 55 percent to 13 percent — due to distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets and improved clinics that can now facilitate malaria diagnosis and treatment.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Bringing Clean Water to People

Lack of clean and fresh water is a huge problem in many African communities today, resulting in poor health and bad living conditions for hundreds of thousands of people. Does it have to be so difficult? With the help of UNDP, things are changing for one community in Tanzania.

Lusala is home to about 4,000 people. Mostly farmers, they grow coffee, bananas, corn, and beans. Villagers also raise chickens, goats, and some cattle. For years, shortages sent women and children miles away each day to collect water. The lack of clean water made tending the farms difficult and caused a great deal of sickness.

Bringing fresh water to Lusala, though not cheap, was not prohibitively expensive. The project cost the equivalent of $40,000 - $10 per person. That figure would have likely quadrupled had private contractors implemented it. Instead, community members, with help from government water surveyors and engineers, built the reservoir, installed pipes and provided all the necessary labor! To ensure the water keeps running, a local association is responsible for collecting water fees from users. The money is used to repair equipment when needed.

Today, no one in Lusala needs to walk more than 400 yards to find clean water. Fresh water gushes from taps at 11 drawing-points right within the Tanzanian community.

According to Elizabeth Mtweve, a villager and mother of four:

"Life is much better now that I have clean water near my house. I don’t walk all day in the heat to find water. In three to five minutes you fill your bucket by turning a tap. The water project has saved every woman in Lusala a lot of hardship and time. My children, and even myself, used to fall sick because of dirty water. With clean water, we enjoy good health."

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Happy World Press Freedom Day

Happy World Press Freedom Day! May 3 was first designated in 1993 as a day to celebrate and highlight the crucial role a free press plays in strengthening democracies and fostering development around the world.

To learn more about the day, visit the UN's page. You can also learn more about UNDP programs that support the creation of a free press. I also highly recommend checking out World Press Photo's pictures of the year.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Water - A Youth Perspective

Each year UNDP's flagship Human Development Report takes a hard hitting look at a major issue effecting human development. This past year the report looked at the many challenges associated with water - from access to clean water to its use in farming to dealing with water sources that cross multiple states.

UNDP and Peace Child Int'l have just come out with Water Rights and Wrongs. This short report gives kids from around the world the opportunity to share their perspectives - with photos, poems, and stories - on the issues in the report. It's only 32 pages (with lots of photos) but I highly recommend it.

You can download a pdf or read it online

Mapping the MDGs

For all the discussion around the Millennium Development Goals, one of the big challenges is helping people really comprehend and appreciate what the Goals mean for different countries. UNDP has done a great job as the leader of the UN development system with its Global Progress Report and their comprehensive resource page. But in terms of visually representing them, this new World Bank MDG Atlas is one of the best and simplest widgets I've seen.

Stories from the Field

If you are interested in really seeing the difference being made by UN agencies and NGO's, I highly recommend NEED Magazine. NEED is a new online magazine that is "not out to save the world, but to tell the stories of those who are." While they may be humble in describing their work, being able to help effectively tell what is going on "in the field" is an important need in the development community. The stories are beautifully written and the photography is stunning.

They just posted their second issue, which features stories on UNHCR and the MTV/UNDP Water for Life campaign with rapper Jay-Z.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The Price of Peace

I usually try to stay away from the peacekeeping side of the UN not because it isn't of vital importance to the US, but because there are plenty of people doing an good job covering the topic. That said, I highly recommend this new video by the Better World Campaign on the value of UN peacekeeping to promoting security.

I highly recommend visiting their new Price of Peace site to learn more.