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UN: More Midwives = WAY Fewer Maternal and Infant Deaths

20 Jun

Want to help save babies and birthing moms in the developing world? Get more midwives out there! The UN released a major report today saying that every year, 358,000 women die while pregnant or giving birth, and nearly 5 million babies die in the womb or soon after birth – but that more than half of those deaths could be prevented with access to midwives. Take it from the dad of two happy, healthy, homebirthed kids: midwives are great, despite how little respect they get in this country.

courtesy of United Nations

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Donating Food, Wasting Money

21 Sep

Who does US food aid help most?

Here’s another one for the annals of pseudo-altruistic aid: turns out that for every dollar of US taxpayer money spent on food aid for Africa, a dollar goes into the pockets of the American shipping companies that take it there. That’s the finding of a new study from Cornell University as reported by IRIN News.

In a nutshell,  75 percent of US food aid is required to be shipped on privately owned, US registered vessels, even if they do not offer the most competitive rates. Result: lots of cash wasted to subsidize the American shipping industry.

“About 20 years ago the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), an independent investigative arm of Congress, looked at the costs of shipping food aid in US-flag vessels rather than using cheaper foreign ships, and estimated that it cost $150 million each year. Another report in 1994 put the cost as high as $200 million a year”, adds IRIN. And how much more might they save by buying food from closer-by sources, rather than shlepping our surplus stuff halfway across the world?

Bouncing Back Five Years After the Tsunami

20 May

A rare bit of good news in the massive international disaster category: five years after the tsunami, Banda Aceh, one of the hardest-hit parts of Indonesia is in some ways doing better than ever, according to Canada’s Globe and Mail. In a nutshell, not only did the billions of dollars in foreign reconstruction aid actually help, but the catastrophic destruction pretty much ended the 30-year war between the Indonesian government and the separatist Free Aceh Movement. Since then, “about 140,000 new houses have been built, along with 1,700 schools, as well as hundreds of mosques, airports and government buildings.”

Bottom line, writes the Globe’s Mark MacKinnon: international aid “has transformed an impoverished, war-torn hellhole into a bustling city of 210,000 people who believe the world cares about them.”

Aceh before and after the tsunami.(image from Digitalglobe)

U.S. Military Retreats from Haiti

17 May

The American military is getting out of the helping-Haitians business. U.S. soldiers hit the ground within hours of the earthquake, and played a crucial role in the emergency relief effort, getting the airport back in business, delivering tons of aid and maintaining order. There were over 20,000 of them in-country or on nearby ships by the end of January. But that number has dropped to some 850 and will soon be down to eight, according to my confreres at Wired.com’s Danger Room.

Now, I’m rarely someone who cheers for American military involvement in other countries. It tends not to work out well either for us or for them, and it’s usually them that get the worst of it. And of course what with Afghanistan and Iraq still dragging endlessly on, it’s understandable that the Pentagon would want to disengage as quickly as possible from a third theater of operations. But. There are still over a million Haitians living in tents, and the hurricane season starts soon. Personally, I wouldn’t mind taking a few troops off Taliban-hunting in Helmand so we could deploy more of them for nation-building in Haiti.

Photo courtesy of Stacy Bourne, stacy.haiti@live.com

Guitar Casualties

14 May

OK, yes, of course, as tragic fallout of the flooding in Nashville this doesn’t remotely compare to the  loss of lives and homes. But as a guitar player of some 30 years (ulp) and a deep devotee of Johnny Cash, this is a heartbreaking bit of news: Soundcheck Nashville, a facility storing the instruments of some 1,000 musicians,  including Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townsend and the Man in Black himself, was submerged in nine feet of water for six days. Most of the gear, of course, is ruined. Guess the Good Lord wasn’t willing – the creeks did rise.

Photo via Gear-vault.com

How Much Help is Haiti Getting?

10 May

It’s really hard to know. CBS News has a dispiriting breakdown of how it is that aid groups are reporting to their donors that they’ve installed over 10,000 new latrines – but the UN counts barely half that number actually on the ground. What’s the deal? According to CBS, “One group may pay for a latrine, two others install it, and all three count it among the total help they’ve provided. There’s nothing improper about that, but what looks like three latrines – may really be just one.”

Meanwhile, at least there’s a little good news next door in the Dominican Republic, according to the Associated Press, via Bloomberg Business Week. After losing business to the recession in 2009, hotels in Santo Domingo have been full since January 12 – thanks to aid workers en route to Haiti.