Monday, July 19, 2010

dead aid

i just finished reading dead aid, by dambisa moyo, an economist from zambia. dead aid makes a startling and surprising fact: aid does not and has not helped african countries. quite on the contrary, it has pushed dozens of african countries deeper into poverty.

aid hurts. it breeds dependency. this is because, unlike the marshall plan, which is hailed as greatly helping to reconstruct war-torn europe after wwii, aid to africa is pervasive. there is no timeline cut off. there is very little oversight. unlike the marshall plan, it comprises a much more significant portion of gdp and encompasses not just infrastructure, but includes agriculture, the civil service, healthcare, education, etc.

aid entrenches corrupt dictatorships, impedes the development of a middle class (tax base), and removes the incentives for countries to seek development alternatives. as aid is given from western governments to african countries directly and is seen as a permanent, dependable revenue fix, it is seen as a guarantee, a safety net by some--not all--of africa's rulers. and when it comes down to it, most of government-to-government aid doesn't even reach the people it's meant to help--something like 15% does.

moyo stresses that to achieve economic growth like south africa and botswana, and to mean themselves off aid, african countries need to begin funding themselves, mainly through: 1.) foreign direct investment, 2.) trade, 3.) capital bond markets, 4.) savings, 5,) microfinance, and 6.) remittances. moreover, the discourse on african development should refocus to include the perspectives of africans, and not primarily on western donor interests.

most importantly, this must be done, as donor fatique and uncertainty of future aid commitments further imperils africa's development. while i see the merit in donating to transparent private aid organizations, and will continue to do so, there is much insight to be gleaned from reading dead aid. i'm no economist, but a must read for all those involved in aid work.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

the life you can save

there are few books i've read that have truly left a deep and profound impression on me. one such book is the life you can save by peter singer.

on the way to work, if you saw a child drowning in a pond, would you jump in to save him or her--even at the risk of ruining your new shoes and being late to work? if you knew that a child's life was in danger, would you do what you could to save her or him, even if it meant sacrificing personal time, money, or resources? i think it's safe to say that most people would say "yes" without hesitation.

then why do most people do nothing knowing full well that children in extreme poverty at home or abroad are at potential risk from dying of malaria, malnutrition, drinking contaminated water, and a plethora of easily preventable diseases?

what if the child was drowning in a pond in africa?

peter singer makes the convincing case that we all have a moral obligation to help people out of poverty and that if we have the money to buy things that we don't really need (i.e. that bottle of water, that cup of coffee, or my personal favorite--that extra skateboard), then we have disposable income that can be used to effective safe lives and drastically improve the quality of life for poor people in the developing world.

he rightfully criticizes official aid as woefully inadequate and targeted often times due to political concerns rather than actual need (only a small fraction of foreign aid actually makes it to poor countries).

singer advocates that as a baseline, we should each set aside 5% of our income for aid agencies to alleviate poverty and save lives. he writes of people who have dedicated their lives to others and some philanthropists who have given 50% or more of their income to help the poor. he points to give well as a source for finding particularly effective organizations to which you can donate, among them partners in health and population services international.

for those interested in aid, development, and making this world a better place, i highly recommend the book. you can take the pledge to give at

singer questions how we spend money in general--a huge waste of resources is spent needless on trivial, ultimately pointless expenses while people are literally dying every day.
almost 10 million children die a year from easily preventable deaths. that's 27,000 deaths a day.
this happens while money is wasted on vacation homes, expensive cars, etc. he argues that using money to help others less fortunate is a much more urgent categorical imperative than to frivolously spend it on ourselves.

He writes:

...philanthropy fro the arts or for cultural activities is, in a wolrd like this one, morally dubious. in 2004 new york's metropolitan museum of art paid a sum said to be in excess of $45 million for a small madonna and child painted by the medieval italian master duccio. in buying this painting, the museum has added to the abundance of masterpieces that those fortunate enough to be able to visit it can see. but if it only costs $50 to perform a cataract operation in a developing country, that means there are 900,000 people who can't see anything at all, let alone a painting, whose sight could have been restored by the amount of money that painting cost. at $450 to repair a fistula, $45 million could have given $100,000 women another chance at a decent life. at $1,000 a life, it could have saved 45,000 lives--a football stadium of people. how can a painting, no matter how beautiful and historically significant, compare with that? if the museum were on fire, would anyone think it right to save a duccio from the flames, rather than a child? and that's just one child. i a world in which more-pressing needs had already been met, philanthropy for the arts would be a noble act. sadly, we don't live in such a world.

singer's seven point plan to eliminate world poverty includes the following steps:

1. visit and pledge to meet the giving standard based on your income.

2. check out some of the links on the website, or do your own research, and decide to which organization or organizations you can give.

3. take your income from your last tax return, and work out how much the standard requires you to give. decide how you want to give it--in regularly monthly installments, quarterly, or just once a year, whatever suits you best. then do it!

4. tell others what you have done. spread the word in any way you can: talk, text, e-mail, blog, use whatever online connections you have. try to avoid being self-righteous or preachy, because you're probably no saint, either, but let people know that they, too, can be part of the solution.

5. if you are employed by a corporation or institution, ask it to consider giving its employees a nudge in the right direction by setting up a scheme that will, unless they choose to opt out, donate 1 percent of their pretax earnings to a charity helping the world's poorest people.

6. contact your national political representatives and tell them you want your country's foreign aid to be directed only to the world's poorest people.

7. now you've made a difference to some people living in extreme poverty. (even if you can't see them or know whom you have helped.) plus, you've demonstrated that human beings can be moved by moral argument. feel good about being part of the solution.

singer asked one of his friends what had driven him to spend his life working for others. he replied.
i guess basically one wants to feel that one's life has amounted to more than just consuming products and generating garbage. i think that one likes to look back and say that one's done the best one can to make this a better place for others. you can look at it from this point of view: what greater motivation can there be than doing whatever one possibly can to reduce pain and suffering?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

In Haiti, Typhoid Outbreaks Reported, Diarrhea Threat Looms

Full online version with photos and captions HERE.
In Haiti, Typhoid Outbreaks Reported, Diarrhea Threat Looms
International Action E-Newsletter
July 13, 2010

Last week, I returned from conducting a 6-month post-quake assessment of our clean water program in Haiti. What I saw was truly heart-wrenching. Vast stretches of displaced persons camps and countless makeshift shelters on the street. People collecting filthy grey-water from trash-strewn drainage ditches. Open sewers.

Typhoid has recently broken out in many areas of Port-au-Prince, and the UN Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) Cluster Coordinator has warned of the likelihood of the biggest diarrhea outbreak the world has seen in the past 20 years.

This will not happen on our watch. In the past 2 weeks, we have installed 2 chlorinators in Thiotte, Sudest Department, providing clean water for 20 public water stations serving up to 19,000 people. We also put in 2 more chlorinators for LOCC Mission, an orphanage in the Croix des Bouquets area of Port-au-Prince.

At the last UN "Beyond Water Trucking" meeting, our Haiti Director Dalebrun Esther spoke, and consensus passed that for long-term sustainability, clean water provision must shift from focusing on camps to a neighborhood strategy and that the public water system must be rebuilt.

With your support, we have been the only group focused on disinfecting water at public water stations and providing clean water to neighborhoods from the very beginning, both before and after the quake.

Furthermore, French NGO GRET and the Haitian water agency DINEPA have recommended International Action's chlorinators as the model technology for providing clean water to all of Haiti. We are pursuing partnerships with UNICEF, UNDP, and DINEPA and continue to offer chlorinators and chlorine tablets free of charge to the UN WASH and UN Education Cluster groups, Clinton Global Initiative partners, and any organization in need of them.

Moreover, we've been conducting household chlorine residual testing to ensure that water retrieved from our chlorinators is not contaminated between the points of distribution and consumption. All drinking water containers tested so far have registered with ample levels of chlorine residual. Also, with the help of Water Missions International, we have begun comprehensive microbial testing of treated water from surviving water tanks.

International Action staff distributing deworming pills to children
Our deworming pill distributions, like this one in Tom Gato, Léogâne, focus on children.

What we're doing works—All samples submitted so far for microbial testing (our Duvivier and Mont Jolly #1 and #2 sites) have tested free of bacteria, confirming that our water is high-quality and safe for drinking.

In addition to installing new chlorinators, we're continuing to distribute albendazole tablets and relief supplies. We will distribute another 25,000 deworming pills through Project Concern International's four clinics in Croix Deprez, Nazon, Fort National, and Asile Comunnale beginning this week. We've also passed out deworming tablets, UNICEF hygiene kits and water containers, and mosquito nets to communities in the Léogâne area.

For locations without a water source or where we cannot immediately install a chlorinator, we've distributed PuR water purification satchets kindly donated by P&G's Children's Safe Drinking Water Initiative. Each satchet can clean up to 10 liters of water. We distributed these to orphanages, clinics, schools, and churches in Léogâne and the Delmas area of Port-au-Prince. An additional 75,000 satchets were given to Pure Water for the World for communities in locations where potable water trucking has stopped.

Dalebrun just met with leaders and teachers from 40 schools in Cité Soleil to assess where we can install more water tanks and chlorinators. We're continuing to look for new sites to install chlorinators. If you know of any neighborhood, school, orphanage, church, hospital, or organization in need of chlorinators, chlorine tablets, storage tanks, or deworming pills, please let us know. Help us spread the word.

The need is profound. The time to act is now. Join us in this campaign, and help us quench Haiti's thirst.

Many thanks,


Jeremy Mak
Program Coordinator, International Action
808 "L" St. SE
Washington, D.C. 20003
T: (202) 488-0735
F: (202) 488-0736

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Mission to Haiti

Just wanted to update you guys on my Haiti trip so far. The situation here is pretty sobering...Lots of people living in ramshackle displaced persons camps in Port-au-Prince and Leogane. The sanitation and water provision sector is woefully weak, and almost every other house looks like it's been bombed.

I'm here with International Action ( to network with other groups in need of clean water and conduct a 6 month assessment of our work thus far. Before the earthquake, International Action provided clean water to over 400,000 Haitians previously exposed to deadly waterborne diseases like cholera, typhoid, and chronic diarrhea. We do this through the installation of simple, easy to maintain gravity fed chlorinators that do not require electricity or have any moving parts. These are attached to public water tanks and tanks in schools, orphanages, hospitals, and clinics. The earthquake destroyed 80 or so of our chlorinators on public water tanks in Port-au-Prince, so we are starting over with new installations and working to rebuild the public water infrastructure.

I've linked some photo galleries for you guys below. The Day 3 gallery is of us inspecting a surviving public water tank and doing household chlorine residual testing in Mont Jolly, Port-au-Prince. The Day 7 gallery is of us installing 2 chlorinators to provide clean water for 13,000 - 19,000 people in Thiotte, Sudest Department, rural Haiti.

Get in touch with me if you are interested in helping put a Haitian kid through a year of school.

Days 1 - 2

Day 3

Day 3 UNICEF Distribution in Delmas

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

Day 8

Day 9