Archive for the 'Poverty' Category

Jan 29 2010

The “bottom billion”, aid, and strategies for achieving economic development

In IB Economics unit 5, Development Economics, several strategies for achieving improvements in the welfare of the world’s poorest people are investigated. Foreign aid has been one of the main focuses of economic development strategies over the last several decades. But is aid in the form of development loans and grants from international organizations and foreign governments always beneficial to those who receive it in the poorest countries (the bottom billion as described by development economist Paul Collier)?

In the discussion that follows, Paul Collier of Oxford and Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo argue that the developed world’s focus on aid to Africa, resulting in a trillion dollars in loans and grants over the last 50 years, has missed the mark and completely failed to achieve meaningful economic development. The focus must therefore shift to opening markets, improving governance, achieving security and creating jobs for the poorest people on the African continent. Watch the two videos below, and respond to the discussion questions that follow. [the time in the video where the question is discussed is in brackets]

Part 1:


Part 2:

Discussion Questions:

Part 1:

  1. What factors does Paul Collier point to that contribute to the “poverty traps” many African nations find themselves in? [3:07]
  2. What have the two main goals of foreign aid policy been over the last 50 years, according to Dambisa Moyo? [4:45]
  3. What are the “four horsemen of the African apocalypse?” How does Moyo think these four obstacles to development can best be overcome? [5:14]
  4. What is Paul Collier’s opinion of the role of free trade in promoting human and economic development in Africa? What does he think about Africa’s traditional dependence on primary products and commodities? [7:45]
  5. Before economic growth and development can occur, security must be achieved. Why is security, according to Collier, the number one obstacle to achieving meaningful development in Africa? [8:30]
  6. In a dissenting view, Dr. Jeffery Sachs argues for more aid to Africa. What types of aid does Sachs believe is absolutely crucial for Africa to continue to receive? [10:39]

Part 2:

  1. Collier makes the claim that aid may create “moral hazard” in Africa. What is moral hazard and how could reducing aid to African governments actually “force good governance”? [5:30]
  2. Is there any historic record of aid working? What strategies accompanied foreign aid that contributed to its greatest historical success? [8:10]
  3. What’s the main difference between Europe’s economic successful development during the second half of the 20th century and Africa’s unsuccessful experience during the same period? [9:00]

59 responses so far

Sep 30 2009

World Habitat Day – Raising awareness of the dire need for affordable adequate housing among the world’s poor!

World Habitat Day – Social Media News Release.

On October 5th the world will celebrate World Habitat Day. The purpose of this day, declared by the United Nations, is to raise awareness about the dire need for adequate housing among hundreds of millions, even billions, of the world’s poor. According to Habitat for Humanity:

Worldwide, more than 2 million housing units per year are needed for the next 50 years to solve the present worldwide housing crisis. With our global population expanding, however, at the end of those 50 years, there would still be a need for another 1 billion houses. (UN-HABITAT: 2005)

Raising awareness and advocating for change are the first steps toward transforming systems that perpetuate the global plague of poverty housing. World Habitat Day serves as an important reminder that everyone must unite to ensure that everyone has a safe, decent place to call home.

The U.N. further states that both developed and developing countries, cities and towns are increasingly feeling the effects of climate change, resource depletion, food insecurity, population growth and economic instability.

Rapid rates of urbanization cause serious negative consequences – overcrowding, poverty, slums with many poorly equipped to meet the service demands of ever growing urban populations.

With over half of the world’s population currently living in urban areas the U.N. believes there is no doubt that the “urban agenda” will increasingly become a priority for governments, local authorities and their non-governmental partners everywhere.

Global poverty facts

  • By the year 2030, an additional 3 billion people, about 40 percent of the world’s population, will need access to housing. This translates into a demand for 96,150 new affordable units every day and 4,000 every hour. (UN-HABITAT: 2005)
  • One out of every three city dwellers – nearly a billion people – lives in a slum. (Slum indicators include: lack of water, lack of sanitation, overcrowding, non-durable structures and insecure tenure.) (UN-HABITAT: 2006)
  • UN-Habitat has reported that because of poor living conditions, women living in slums are more likely to contract HIV/AIDS than their rural counterparts, and children in slums are more likely to die from water-borne and respiratory illness. (UN-HABITAT: 2006)
  • Housing formation generates non-housing related expenditures that help drive the economy. (Kissick, et al: 2006)
  • Investing in housing expands the local tax base. (Kissick, et al: 2006)

The facts are undeniable. Housing for the poor is one of the basic necessities that is simply not being met, both in developed and developing countries.

Today I live in Switzerland, but during my first several years as a teacher, as well as during my own high school life, I lived in Asia, where poverty is far more visible than here in Europe. At my last school, I was able to participate in a Habitat for Humanity trip myself, to Lucena City in the Philippines. The week I spent building a house with my 20 students was one of the greatest weeks of my career as a teacher. Below is the album from that amazing week in a small village in the Philippines:

Shanghai American School, Habitat Philippinese 2007 – Lucena City

In Bangkok, where I had my first teaching job, the problem of urban poverty was visible on every street corner. As part of a senior course I taught on Service Learning, I used to take upper class international school students into Bangkok’s poorest slums to learn about the challenges faced by the city’s poor. The most obvious challenge, visible everywhere in the city of 12 million, was lack of adequate housing. I made the video below to document my students’ “Urban Plunge” into the Bangkok slums, and to raise awareness of the issues faced by Thailand’s poor:

In a few days the world will acknowledge World Habitat Day. Take a moment, follow the link at the top of this post. Read about the issues faced by nearly a third of the world’s population, and see how you can get involved. Oh, and if you have the chance to participate in a Habitat build through your school or community, do it! I promise you, the experience will change your life, but more importantly, it will help improve the life of someone in need of one of life’s most basic necessities, safe shelter, a HOME!

One response so far

May 22 2008

Myanmar relief effort update – a first-hand account of suffering in the Irrawaddy Delta

Published by under Poverty

Justgiving – SAS Myanmar Relief

I had an email from a good friend of mine who teaches at Shrewsbury International School in Bangkok in my inbox this morning. He had seen the “SAS Responds” fund-raiding website, which I emailed to my friends last week, and wanted to let me know what his own school was doing to bring relief to the cyclone victims in Burma.

Shrewsbury has teamed up with a travel agency in Yangon that has been sending envoys of relief workers south into the delta to deliver supplies. The letter below is from an agency employee who recently returned from the delta:

People living in Town:
I talked to the local people in town and asked them why they could not help the victims. It seems they have lost all heart. The whole town was damage. In down town, beautiful old houses collapsed into pieces. I really don’t know how they are going to built it all up again. Everybody seems very poor even before the cyclone they had to try hard even for daily meals. I really have no idea how they are going to make new houses on top of nothing left. I saw people sitting in the half collapsed houses under the heavy rain. Some people’s houses are in good condition and seem good business but it seems they could not give much help to thousands of people. If they give to some the rest of the people will come and they just can’t handle this. So they close the doors.

People living in the villages and rice field.
I saw ruins of thatches and old bamboo in the rice fields. No men there as no land left. All was covered by water. Poor villagers were running after our trucks in desperate need of everything. Men, women, children are sitting each side of the road waiting for the donations. When they saw cars coming they just ran to us. Our truck driver had a hard time not to hit them. We had to advise them to line up to receive donations.

I saw sub-human levels of living. If it rains they get wet then when it is sunny again their clothes are dry again. They only have the clothes that they are wearing. We don’t have enough clothes to provide for all of them so they have to fight to get one old second hand T shirt. Dogs seem to know what was going on. They were also exciting to accompany their masters when receiving donation. Kids are just kids. They are amazing that they could still laugh. They waved to us, they smiled at us and ran after us with curiosity. When they received something they ran back to their parents full of joy!

We could not hold tears back when victims are praying and wishing best of luck to all the donors. We had to leave them behind with a heavy heart. This is about villagers we saw on our way.

People living in the refugee camp (monasteries, Pagoda, church, school compound):

We saw people living in monasteries, church, pagoda and schools. These people are homeless. Their properties are totally destroyed. Monks and churches provide them with food and shelter for a while. They don’t know how to start their life. We neither. The night we went there it was raining. When we met them in the morning we learnt that last night over 3000 people including monks had to stand all night long due heavy rain. If there is no rain they can sleep on the pagoda platform.
We donated rice bags, potatoe bags, bean bags to give them food. We asked all victims to come and sit to get small bags of rice, soap, instant noodles and potatoes to hold on to the situation till international aid comes (hopefully). We donated to more than 5000 people in the refugee camp and 2000 people on the way by hand to hand delivery. So that we make sure that they got it.

We were so glad that we could make it. It was very tiring and a risky trip but we leart more about life and to know how to value our own lives.

Thank you very much for your kindness and help

Kay Zin Tar (Ms.)

Clearly much relief is still needed for the helpless victims of the Burma cyclone. Please visit the SAS Myanmar Relief page to contribute to Shanghai American School’s efforts to help International Development Enterprises bring relief to the Irrawaddy Delta cyclone victims!

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May 20 2008

One version of Windows XP per child…

Laptops for poor to run Windows XP – The Boston Globe

The cute little green alien-looking computer that is the XO PC (aka the “$100 computer” that costs $200) is now available with Windows XP. For anyone who’s had a chance to play with one of these machines, the Linux based operating system takes some getting used to for those of us used to the familiarity of Windows.

As it would turn out, education ministries in the developing world, the market the “one laptop per child” program targets for its cheap, durable PC, prefer machines with Windows on them over the unfamiliar Linux system as well:

…some countries, such as Egypt, want machines that run Windows, the most common personal computer operating system in the developed world.

“They said we would be in a much better position with a Windows-capable machine,” he said.

Meanwhile, Microsoft was working on a version of its Windows XP operating system that would work on the relatively low-powered XO computer.

“Lo and behold, they finalized [it] and have a very crisp-running machine with XP on it,” Kane said.

A statement from Microsoft said the Windows XP version of the XO will be capable of using hundreds of thousands of Windows-compatible programs and hardware accessories.

My first thought at this news was, “well, there goes any chance at achieving a $100 laptop for poor children in the developing world…” Windows XP, which retails for aroudn $250 in the rich world, would push the price of an XO from $200 to $450, if Microsoft were to charge the retail price for its operating system, that is.

In fact, Microsoft is making its popular operating system available for $3 per XO, which is probably close to the actual marginal cost to Microsoft of producing additional copies of XP. What’s the incentive for Microsoft to make this apparently charitable gesture to the OLPC program?

Mike Cherry, lead analyst for Windows at Directions on Microsoft, an independent software-research firm in Kirkland, Wash., said Microsoft doesn’t want cheap Linux-based computers to threaten the dominance of Windows.

“Let’s say they put Linux on there, and people say, ‘Hey this works pretty good,’ and they start looking at it for other applications as well,” he said. Getting Windows onto the XO laptop is one way to prevent this.

“I think it’s along the lines of not allowing anybody else to get a toehold,” Cherry said.

Sometimes when companies like Microsoft act in the pursuit of their own self-interest, society as a whole benefits. In economics we call this predatory pricing. Two firms, Microsoft and Linux, are competing for a larger foothold in developing countries where more new PC users are expected to emerge in the coming decades than anywhere else.

In the name of competition and its desire to maintain market share, Microsoft has taken a product that it usually charges the full monopolist price of $250 for and reduced its price to the marginal cost of $3. To prevent all PC users from taking advantage of this massive price reduction, however, the company will only make the $3 version of XP available on the XO, assuring that only the poorest, most technologically deprived consumers benefit from the company’s price discrimination.

While the price of the XP ready XOs will be about $10 higher, the ability to run thousands of Windows programs will surely give the OLPC program a greater appeal to education ministers and government officials in the developing world. Don’t be surprised if in the near future we begin to see more and more of the little green alien machines in the hands of the developing world’s school children.

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May 19 2008

SAS Responds ~ Myanmar Relief Effort

Published by under Poverty

Justgiving – SAS Myanmar Relief

With the official death count at 130,000 and rising, millions more still need help in the Irrawaddy Delta of Myanmar, where Cyclone Nargis swept through on May 2 destroying homes and lives in thousands of villages.

Shanghai American School is responding to the disaster by sponsoring International Development Enterprises, one of the only international NGOs with people on the ground in Burma. 125 of their staff are already in villages, constructing temporary shelters and providing 200 gallon water tanks to provide fresh water. Their resources are running thin, however, and they need our help.

Follow the link to our fundraising page above, or follow our progress towards our goal of 5,000 GBP in the widget to the right. When you’re ready to help out, click on the link and make your donation! Every little bit helps!

With thanks, Jason

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