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Uncommon Sense: Understanding Today’s Global Hunger Crisis

Dr. Christopher Dunford, President, Freedom from Hunger writes:

As leader of a global organization that strives to eliminate hunger, I want to put the food crisis in perspective and observe how a number of disparate but ultimately interrelated factors combined to create the crisis. Similarly, no single intervention will solve this global dilemma. At Freedom from Hunger, we put tools into the hands of chronically hungry poor people so that they can prevail against such upheavals.

A Growing World Population Demands More

I was an undergraduate at Cornell in 1968 when I first encountered Paul Ehrlich. He had just authored The Population Bomb and was touring campuses to promote his book and his prediction that the 1970s would see hundreds of millions of people die of starvation. Then the Green Revolution started to kick in, and growth of world food supplies soon outstripped population growth and drove down food prices for three decades.

As I was training to be an ecologist, I knew Ehrlich was applying sound principles of population ecology in his doomsday forecast. I was also studying sociology and anthropology and suspected Ehrlich was not appreciating the confounding effects of human adaptability, foresight, and ingenuity. But I took no satisfaction as Ehrlich’s prediction proved wrong. Continue reading

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Getting governance right

 —Dani Rodrik

Too much focus on broad issues, such as rule of law and accountability, runs the risk that policymakers will end up tilting at windmills while overlooking the particular governance challenges most closely linked to economic growth

Economists used to tell governments to fix their policies. Now they tell them to fix their institutions. Their new reform agenda covers a long list of objectives, including reducing corruption, improving the rule of law, increasing the accountability and effectiveness of public institutions, and enhancing the access and voice of citizens. Real and sustainable change is supposedly possible only by transforming the “rules of the game” — the manner in which governments operate and relate to the private sector.

Good governance is, of course, essential insofar as it provides households with greater clarity and investors with greater assurance that they can secure a return on their efforts. Placing emphasis on governance also has the apparent virtue of helping to shift the focus of reform toward inherently desirable objectives. Traditional recommendations like free trade, competitive exchange rates, and sound fiscal policy are worthwhile only to the extent that they achieve other desirable objectives, such as faster economic growth, lower poverty, and improved equity. Continue reading

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Global crisis & Marx

By Simon Caulkin

TO piece together the fragments of today’s worldwide crisis is to grapple with a sense of deja vu. The sweep of globalisation; strident inequalities (the Financial Times recently ran a breathless piece about the Bond-style security mechanisms built into the luxury homes of the international superclass — alongside stories of food riots); vast intervention by central banks to prop up the banking system; the origin of the crisis in the explosive mixture of masters and leftovers of the universe — what does all this remind you of?

It takes a reading of Francis Wheen’s concise and lucid Marx’s Das Kapital — a biography (Atlantic) for the penny to drop. The cantankerous ghost hovering over the global turmoil and glorying in the discomfiture of its chief agents is that of London’s Highgate Cemetery’s most eminent denizen and the UK’s great revolutionary.

The sense of the grinding of the gears of history, the shifting of the political and economic plates, comes straight from Karl Marx (although some might also want to add an element of Groucho). When the governor of the Bank of England talks of protecting people from the banks, and plaintively recommends that graduates should consider a career in industry as well as the City of London (financial sector), shimmering eerily through his remarks is the Gothic vision of alienation and auto-destruction that Marx outlined 150 years ago. Continue reading

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PAKISTAN: Literacy ratio still at 50 percent

“Literacy ratio in Pakistan still remains at 50 percent, mainly because of small budgetary allocations, lack of political will and delays in disbursement of funds, according to Unesco. In the region, Pakistan has been ranked higher only than Nepal and Bangladesh, which have literacy rates of 49 and 43 percent, respectively. Other countries have far better ratios: the Maldives, 96 percent; Sri Lanka, 91 percent; and India, 61 percent.

Sindh has the highest percentage in education which stands at 54 percent followed by Punjab (52 percent) and the NWFP (40 percent). Balochistan has the lowest ratio — 33 percent. Unesco attributed the low level of literacy rate to factors like weak organizational infrastructure, low professional capacity, lack of research, non-availability of proper training institutes, low public awareness and lack of evaluation and monitoring system.”

Source: – full story here


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Food crisis pushes 100 million into poverty

Wed Apr 30, 2008 2:49 am (PDT)
WASHINGTON, April 29: The World Bank chief warned on Tuesday that 100 million people have already been pushed into poverty due to a man-made food crisis while as many as two billion are on the verge of disaster.

“This is not a natural disaster,” said Robert B. Zoellick, president of the World Bank. “Make no mistake; there is nothing natural about this. But for millions of people it is a disaster.”

He noted that hunger and malnutrition were already the underlying causes of death of over 3.5 million children every year, robbing the future potential of many millions more.

In Washington, a US government commission is investigating claims that big investors who buy large quantities for future trading are largely responsible for the current unprecedented hike in food prices across the world.

The use of corn and soyabean as bio-fuel also contributed to this crisis by moving farmers away from food to cash crops and by driving food prices beyond the reach of common people.

After an annual meeting in Washington earlier this month, the bank warned that the world is facing an unprecedented food crisis which may cause riots and wars if not checked.

“The next few weeks are critical for addressing the food crisis,” said Mr Zoellick on Tuesday. “For 2 billion people, high food prices are now a matter of daily struggle, sacrifice and for too many, even survival.”

Mr Zoellick, who issued the statement after attending a meeting of the UN System Chief Executives Board for Coordination in Berne, Switzerland, said the bank believes that already some 100 million people may have been pushed into poverty as a result of high prices over the last 2 years.

For the immediate crisis, the bank urged governments to fill the $500 million food gap identified by the UN World Food Programme.

The bank also launched an emergency management programme called the “new deal,” pledging to nearly double agricultural lending to Sub-Saharan Africa over the next year to $800 million to substantially increase crop productivity.

“Donors must act now to support the WFP´s call for some $755 million to meet emergency needs,” said Mr Zoellick.

He also warned donors to fulfil their pledges, noting that roughly $475 million have so far been pledged. “But pledges won´t feed hungry mouths,” he said. “Donors must put their money on the table, and give WFP maximum flexibility – with a minimum of earmarking – to target the most urgent needs.”

Mr Zoellick said that the proposed `new deal´ must embrace a short-, medium- and long-term response: support for safety nets such as school feeding, food for work, and conditional cash transfer programmes.

He also called for increased agricultural production; a better understanding of the impact of bio-fuels and action on the trade front to reduce “distorting subsidies,” and trade barriers.

“We are urging countries not to use export bans. These controls encourage hoarding, drive up prices and hurt the poorest people around the world who are struggling to feed themselves,” he said.

The international community, Mr Zoellick added needs to commit to working together to respond with policy initiatives, “so that this year´s crisis doesn´t become a generation´s fact of life.”

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SRI LANKA: On track to eliminate malaria

Sri Lanka, once among Asia’s worst affected nations for malaria, is now close to eliminating it. The sharp drop in the number of reported cases to 196 in 2007 — with no deaths — demonstrates that the national malaria control program has been effective even in the traditionally disease-prone northern districts.

About four million people, a fifth of the population, dispersed over the largely rural dry zone are still vulnerable and could serve as a reservoir for the malaria parasite. The Health Ministry is seeking an estimated $40 million in donor aid and government counterpart funds to cover a five-year elimination program in seven of the island’s nine provinces. While overseas aid has helped bridge the shortfall in government expenditure, the low rate of malaria incidence threatens to undermine foreign financing.”

Source: AlertNet

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Dani Rodrik and Arvind Subramanian writing here eloquently for the free movement of global capital..

In the wake of the sub-prime financial crisis, the claims that recent financial engineering has generated large gains are sounding less plausible, and it is becoming clear that domestic finance will come under closer scrutiny. On the international front, even leaving financial crises aside, it seems increasingly clear that the benefits of financial globalization are hard to find. Financial globalization has not generated increased investment or higher growth in emerging markets. Countries that have grown most rapidly have been those that rely less on capital inflows. Financial globalization has not led to better smoothing of consumption or reduced volatility. If you want to make an evidence-based case for financial globalization today, you are forced to resort to fairly indirect, speculative, and, in our view, ultimately unpersuasive, arguments.

It is time for a new paradigm on financial globalization, and one that recognizes that more is not necessarily better. As long as the world economy remains politically divided among different sovereign and regulatory authorities, global finance is condemned to suffer from deformations far worse than those of domestic finance. Depending on context and country, the appropriate role of policy will be as often to stem the tide of capital flows as to encourage them. Policymakers who view their challenges exclusively from the latter perspective will get it badly wrong.

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